We said goodbye to Kyoto on November 1st and took an overnight ferry across the Sea of Japan to South Korea. The Panstar “cruise” is a Korean-run ferry that sails between Osaka (Japan) and Busan (South Korea) three times a week. We booked our tickets online and picked them up at the ferry terminal without a hitch. The cost of a one-way trip was a little under $500 CAD for the four of us after taxes and port-fees.
The first time Roman and I took this ferry ten years ago, it was very rocky and we were both seasick. My only memory is of writhing on my bunk bed, waiting for morning to come. Luckily, the waters were much calmer this time around. We had a small room to ourselves with four bunk-beds. Each bunk had its own reading lamp and curtains for privacy, and the kids enjoyed shutting the curtains to play in “their room”. There was a television which we hooked up to our laptop to watch a movie. Otherwise the room was tiny. There was a shared public bathroom down the hall, and a “sauna” or shared shower/bath area which we did not visit with the kids.
The Panstar has more expensive suite options, but even among the basic rooms, there were different styles. Ours was Western style with the bunk beds, but I did see some larger Korean-style family rooms which had some closet space, but no beds. Instead, there were futons that could be laid out at night, and everyone hung out on the floor together (the futons in the photo were stacked for the end of the trip).
A buffet dinner and breakfast were included in the ticket cost, and the food was typical Korean fare. There were varieties of meat and rice, japchae noodles, and of course, kimchi and other spicy, pickled vegetables. In the morning, there was cereal and fruit for the kids, as well as rice and meat. The persimmons were juicy and fresh – yum! There was also a small store selling snacks and souvenirs where we tried to spend our remaining Japanese yen, and vending machines on the second floor that sold microwaved meals and cold drinks.
After getting on board, we tried to spend some time exploring the ship. We climbed up to the deck, where all of us except Roman complained about the wind and the cold. So Roman stayed to enjoy the fresh sea air, while I took the boys back to the room. They were tired after a full day of trains, taxis, and walking with their heavy packs, and just wanted to play in their bunk beds.
The karaoke room on the ship was dark and sad-looking. There was a game room next-door which had three ancient arcade games, one of which was Tetris. The boys played a few rounds and lost quickly, so we went back to our room. I had to sneak back to the game room after dinner to play Tetris a few more times and get the top score – it was highly enjoyable.
As evening approached, things got a bit more challenging The kids were over-tired, bickering endlessly, yet refusing to go to sleep. There was a concert in the dining area, and even though our room was a good distance away, the wailing and crooning of the Korean singer still floated down the hall. Peter complained that we were going to bed while everyone else on the ship got to watch the show (there were maybe a dozen people in the audience watching that poor singer). Finally everyone quieted down, and we all slept separately behind our curtained-off bunk beds.
We reached Busan shortly after breakfast the next morning, and the immigration process at the port was quick and painless. Our week in South Korea had begun!