Sunday, June 11, 2017

South Korea - Day 3 - Gyeongju

Another catch-up post on South Korea...

This morning we travelled by subway and bus to Gyeongju, a coastal city northeast of Busan.
Before exploring Gyeongju, we took another bus into the countryside to visit Yangdong Folk Village, a traditional village dating back to the 1400s, now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Interestingly there are still people residing in many of the 160 houses, their cars and satellite dishes juxtaposed with their thatched roofs.
The village was much more expansive than we'd expected, with clusters of houses spanning several hills. Although we couldn't walk it all, we did make it far enough to lose the other tourists and appreciate its peacefulness.
Several houses of prominent individuals are highlighted in the visitors' centre. Seobaekdang, built in 1454 by Yangdong's founder, is the oldest house in the village. It was neat to see the now 560-year-old juniper tree in the front garden still going strong.
We took the bus back to Gyeongju and dropped our bags off at 141 Mini Hotel, where we're spending the night. (Funny story -- we actually couldn't find the hotel, having gotten off at the wrong bus stop, so we went into a pharmacy to ask for directions. The pharmacist ended up phoning the hotel and the hotel owner surprised us by showing up in his car to give us a ride!)

As it was too early to check in, we set out on foot to check out Seongdong Market, a huge covered market with stalls selling everything from seafood to produce to clothing.
We watched fishmongers expertly filleting fish and blanching octopi.
The next aisle was filled with food stalls, and we stopped at one for a lunch of tempura seafood, gimbap, and banquet noodle soup.
Further down the aisle we picked up red and mung bean-filled doughnuts for dessert.
We dropped by the hotel to check in, then headed out to walk around the historic areas. Gyeongju is smaller and quieter than Busan and is rich in history, having been the capital of the ancient Silla kingdom; it's a lovely city to explore on foot. Our first stop was Tumuli Park, where large grassy mounds uniquely dot the landscape, each an ancient royal tomb.
One of the tombs, Cheonmachong, is open for tourists to enter; we walked into the excavated dome to see a replica of the wooden coffin and a sampling of the many relics buried alongside it.
From Tumuli Park we walked to Cheomseongdae, a humble appearing stone tower that long ago was used for stargazing. Built in the 7th century, it is actually the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia. Its construction carefully incorporated symbolism; for instance, its 362 stones reflect the 362 days in the lunar year.
Our next stop was the Gyeongju National Museum, which we admittedly rushed through a little too quickly -- it was closing in 30 minutes. Fortunately it was free to enter.
A docent kindly led us through the galleries to point out highlights amongst the several-thousand artifacts on display. One of the most impressive was an ornate gold and jade crown excavated from the Cheonmachong tomb we had visited earlier.
Cheonmachong crown
also spotted a doctor budha -- the Bhaisajyaguru Buddha (late 8th/early 9th century) --
holding a medicine bowl, it is said to heal all illnesses, "even the disease of ignorance"
When the museum closed we headed over to Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond. Although the palace is long gone, its artificial pond, built in 674, remains, alongside three restored pavilions. We visited at the opportune time to appreciate the colourful Silla architecture by daylight and reflections in the pond after nightfall.
The coolest thing was how perfectly the trees were reflected in the water, creating the illusion of roots extending into the depths.
After walking around the pond we took a bus back to the hotel.
our room had heated floors -- cosy


  1. This looks absolutely amazing! I think S. Korea is definitely the next country I'd like to visit :-)

    1. It really was an interesting trip! I wasn't sure what to expect, but really enjoyed everything; the culture, history, scenery, food... Do go if you get a chance -- I'm sure you'll love it!

  2. fascinating tomb/mound.... The next international meeting is in S. Korea. So tempted to go!


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