Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Gyeongju, Act I

Soon after I arrived in Korea, I asked a few locals about their favorite place in Korea. Several said that Gyeongju, ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty and "museum without walls", was worth visiting. I decided to go during one of my term breaks before it got too cold.

I invited a few people who, for various reasons, couldn't join me on this trip, so I ended up going solo. Going solo for me is awesome in many ways, but not all ways. I'll tell you why...but first, let's talk about Gyeongju and how I got there.

I left Seoul for Sinyeongju (the KTX high speed rail station that services Gyeongju) on Wednesday night at 9pm, got to Sinyeongju a little over two hours later, took a bus that almost went to my destination, took a taxi that got me closer, walked 200 meters in the wrong direction, and then walked another 400 meters to the Gyeongju Guesthouse, where I crashed a little after midnight.

I discovered that the city is not only an ancient capital, but a UNESCO World Heritage Site...well, to be exact, most of the city is a World Heritage Site. Thus, the buildings can't be over a certain height, allowing Gyeongju to keep it country.

My first destination was Bulguksa Temple, which I'd heard a lot about. I took a bus around a large reservoir, past a theme park and some sort of expo, to the temple. I got to the entrance, where I found out that the entrance fee was 4000 won ($4 USD).

At this point, I said to myself, "You've got to be kidding. Extortion." You see, in Seoul, I've gotten used to entering epic temple grounds for much less money, as in free. I've been spoiled by this. I later found out that Bulguksa is one of South Korea's National Treasures (not quite like this), and thus, there's an admission fee. Apparently, the other temples I've been to don't fall under that category.

But I digress.

The temple was lovely. There were plenty of chances to take pictures of the temple grounds among the fall foliage.

After spending some time at the temple, I decided to travel up a hiking path to a place called Seokguram, where a large stone Buddha statue sits in a cave surrounded by Bodhisattva statues. This path was a perfect place to traverse on a day so close to Halloween. See, look!

Before I got to Seokguram, there was yet another 4000 won fee. Fine, I thought at the time. There was another trail to walk to the actual cave. What I saw when I arrived was...what's the word...

Oh yeah. Disappointing.

Oh hey, construction, I paid to see a treasure, not you, but this is cool too, I guess.
To be fair, perhaps if I knew Korean, I may have seen some sort of warning. And maybe one of my coworkers had been here the previous week and suggested that I steer clear and maybe I forgot. I was able to go to the cave, but the scaffolding around the entrance of the cave and the awkward glass panels didn't lend themselves to the grandeur of the site. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

I returned to the Seokguram entrance and the hike continued. I decided to hike a different way than the way I'd come. A few times, I doubted my decision, but then I saw some pretty rewarding views. I should mention that while the temple and cave were rather crowded, the trail was remote.


This also seemed Halloween-appropriate.

I left the trail and entered a small village called Sibukgeori and waited for a bus. I'm currently regretting the realization that I didn't take pictures of this place. It was a farming community, and the only buildings were small homes. Very quaint.

I decided to check out the Gyeongju Culture Expo before heading back to the guesthouse. The Expo had several interesting structures, and there were other places that I would have likely appreciated much more if I watched Korean dramas. Alas.

Attention citizens: Someone has cut a nine-story pagoda shape into an office building and removed it. Please return it immediately. Your prank has run its course. Thank you.

After this, it was time to go back to the guesthouse where I thought I was done for the day, but then I joined someone for sightseeing at a place called Anapji Pond. I'll talk about this person, and the rest of the trip, in later posts, because this is getting long. For now, I'll leave you with these pictures from Anapji:

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