In our last South Korea Travel Blog post, we shared our experience of our first day touring Gyeongju. After an evening spent dining at another great Korean BBQ house, washed down with plenty of soju, we were up fairly early to visit some other cultural treasures from the Silla period.
Day Two – Gyeongju Tour Itinerary
The ‘Bulguksa Temple’ is the must see attraction for many tourists. This site was the busiest we visited in Gyeongju, mainly due to its prestigious UNESCO World Heritage status, but you still find quiet moments to appreciate the architecture.
The temple is a fairly large complex of shrines and pagodas, which for many visitors involves a spiritual pilgrimage. The temple was majorly restored in 1973, and although done fairly sympathetically, I feel a different approach would have been adopted should restoration take place today.
Constructed on a flat surface on a high embankment, supported by stilts, the site contains two eye catching towers. The first is the Three Storied Stone Pagoda of Bulguksa, which was undergoing renovation and viewed from behind glass at the time of our visit. The other impressive tower is known as the pagoda of many treasures, Dabotap Pagoda of Bulguksa. The bridges at the temple are said to connect to the Buddhist world. It is easy to spend a couple of hours here appreciating the views, buildings, bridges and serene gardens.
The Silla History and Science Museum appeared to concentrate on the intriguing construction of the Seokguram Grotto, as well as zodiac and astronomical matters. There was limited English interpretation and we gave this a very quick and cursory view. Escaping from our tour group, we spent our time meandering around the Folk Art Village.
The name suggests some tacky ill-conceived tourist trap. Far from it, the village is very tranquil, we marvelled at the peace and calm of the place as we wandered around the houses and shops. You can see local craftsman, as they’ve done for hundreds of years producing ceramic works of art.We were quite taken with the Shilla Kiln pottery, especially the large pots traditionally used to ferment the addictive Korean red paste, we’ve both become so fond of.
Apart from ceramics you can also purchase gemstones, jade and plenty of other souvenirs here.
The ‘Bunhwangsa Temple’ was one of the greatest temples in the Silla period. The pagoda was originally nine stories high, there are three remaining today. The granite door frames are eye-catching, as are the Buddhist sculptures.
Located next door is the ‘Hwangnyongsa Temple’ site which allows visitors to appreciate the scale of the temple by looking at the stones still remaining in the ground
The ‘Tomb of General Kim Yusin’ is surrounded by carved guards. This carving is considered to be particularly good, compared to later versions. The tomb is over 30m high and you don’t need to spend much time here to appreciate this site.
It was good to view the tomb in isolation, so you can focus on the detail. The ‘Daereungwon Royal Tombs’ are a spectacle to behold, being the largest ancient tomb site in Gyeongju. The 23 tombs rise high into the skyline, and without being disrespectful, you feel you’ve entered ‘teletubby’ nirvana.
A great place to stroll around. or pay your respects, and marvel at these vast mounds of tombs. Here you will find the Cheonmachong tomb.
The ‘Cheonmachong Tomb’was opened in 1973, and can now be viewed inside by the public. It’s an eerie but exciting journey going inside the tomb. You can view how the tomb was constructed and observe reconstructions of the excavation and what was discovered there, including a gold crown and belt along with other relics.
‘Anapji Pond’ is highly recommended as a stroll around the gardens and buildings. It is believed to have been constructed to hold banquets for the emperor. The pond makes for good photographic opportunities, but we visited on a very overcast cloudy afternoon so can’t really pay justice to the beauty of the structures.
The boat that was originally on the pond can now be seen at the museum. This place is particularly good to visit in the evening when the floodlights add some drama to the scene. If you are staying in the downtown area you can easily walk or cycle here, provided you can bring yourself to leave one of the many eating houses.
‘Cheomseongdae Observatory’is the oldest observatory in Asia. It’s thought that ladders were used to reach the top. It is the landmark iconic building for Gyeonju, in a similar way as the Eiffel Tower or Tower of Pisa. You’ll see its image plastered on souvenirs around the city.
Things we didn’t get chance to see and do.
What we did in Gyeongju was just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty more historic sites to see and other things to do. Shamefully, I regret that we didn’t have time to visit these UNESCO listed sites including the Yangdong Village, Wolseong Fortress, and Fortress District. Neither did we go hiking in the Mount Namsan district which has some excellent trekking routes.
We also passed the Gyeongju World Culture Expo Park, and having worked in parks and gardens for many years, would have been somewhere I’d have liked to have spent a couple of hours walking around and admiring the landscaped gardens.
Gyeongju is a destination with mass appeal. Just because a place is popular, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. Therefore, if you’ve got a bit more time than we did, you’ll probably want to explore what else is on offer.
Thanks and well done, you have managed to reach the end of one of our South Korea travel blog posts. I sometimes wonder if this amount of detail is boring for you to read. This is the sort of information we sometimes look for when reading other travel blogs.
Please feel free to share and/or comment if you found this itinerary useful or on the contrary boring. Lack of responses will see future posts containing more pictures of two middle-aged men getting drunk, smoking, eating and dancing badly!