Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Discovering Korean History in Gyeongju

Fall light up at Anapji Pond in Gyeongju

One of the best things about living in Pohang was its proximity to some really interesting places like Busan (just an hour and a half away by bus) or Gyeongju (only ~30 minutes away.) This made it easy to go away for a weekend or just get out on a day trip, especially considering how inexpensive it is to travel by bus in Korea.

Gyeongju is a really fun place to visit, with so much history that it should be on anyone's travel itinerary when traveling or living in Korea. It was the capital city of the Silla Kingdom, one of the three major kingdoms that existed in ancient Korea. The Silla Dynasty was around from 57 BCE to 935 CE, and according to Wikipedia, was "one of the world's longest sustained dynasties." You can read more about Silla here.

Map showing pre-unified Silla at 576 CE (photo from here)

As the capital city of Silla, Gyeongju is rich with historical sites ranging from old temple complexes to the burial mounds of royalty. The city itself is also fun to wander around, with a lot of marketplaces selling typical street food like ddeokbokki (rice cake in a spicy red sauce) and odeng - 오뎅 (fish cake, aka Japanese oden - おでん.) 

Stopping to eat some street food for lunch

Inside the covered marketplace in Gyeongju

There are also a lot of nice traditional restaurants, cafes, and plenty of entertainment for tourists, such as hot air balloon rides, a water park, bike and scooter rentals, fancy hotels and golf courses, etc. 

Starbucks got a Korean makeover in Gyeongju

Another fun thing about Gyeongju is the way that everything there looks old-fashioned: even the Starbucks has a tile roof.

Gyeongju's Top Sites

The Burial Mounds

Two large burial mounds inside the park

A partially excavated mound that you can look inside

Lily pond in the burial mound park

You can actually see burial mounds all over Gyeongju, but the biggest and most impressive are located in a park near the center of town. The bigger the mound, the higher the status of the person buried there, and in this park you will see some that contained royalty. At one end of the park, there is even a mound that has been partially excavated so that you can walk inside and see how the mound was built and what was typically buried within.

The Temples


Paper lanterns at Seokguram


Beautiful painting and architecture

Temple gate

Temple guardians inside the gate

One of the many crowded temples in Gyeongju

There are a lot of nice temples in Gyeongju, but the most famous are Bulguksa and Seokguram. They are both located up on a small mountain overlooking the city of Gyeongju and you can get to them by car, bus or a hiking trail. Both temples are really nice, I particularly liked Seokguram which was a little quieter and more interesting, since the temple itself was built into the side of the hill.

Wolseong Yangdong Village

An old house in the Wolseong Yangdong Village

Gateway to a traditional house

Village guardians

Garden in the Yangdong Village

A beautiful collection of old, traditional style houses and buildings, including a Confucian school where you can still see young Korean kids learning about culture and history at times. It's nice to rent bikes and cycle through this area, although be warned that it gets very crowded with tourists at certain times of year (spring and fall weekends especially.)

Anapji Pond

An island at Anapji Pond lit up in the fall

Buildings reflected against the pond

Bamboo grove

There is a really beautiful garden here with a large pond and some traditional style buildings. The best time to see it is at night when they light everything up and the reflection of the buildings and trees glows in the water.

Bomun Lake

Korean style "hanami" at Bomun Lake

Lots of LED's and cutesy decorations to go with the lit up trees

This is where you'll find the most tourist-y stuff, like the resorts, golf courses, etc. But the lake is nice to walk around and in the spring it's a great spot to go see the cherry blossoms. Like Anapji, it's really nice at night when they light up the cherry trees. I went to see it last spring with my Korean language class, part of the free service provided by the Pohang City Hall. It was a really nice way to finish up the second semester with a great teacher.

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