Last weekend Daniel and I went to Gyeongju, known as “the museum without walls” according to my Lonely Planet Korea. It is full of tombs, temples, rock carvings, pagodas, palace ruins, and pleasure gardens. It was the capital of the Shilla dynasty for 1,000 years, starting in 57 BC.
We woke up bright and early on Friday to catch the 8:53am KTX from Suwon to Singyeongju. (From Migeum station exit 2, bus 720-2 takes about 1 hour 15 minutes to Suwon station.) We arrived at Singyeongju station at 11:17am and caught a bus to Nahbi Guesthouse (take bus 50 or 51 to the Jungang Market stop). Seoul T-Money works in Gyeongju!
We dropped our bags off at the hostel (full review at the end of this post) since we couldn’t check in until 2pm. While there, we also had the woman at the front desk make a reservation for us for a bus tour the next day. Then we headed out to do some sightseeing. If you exit the hostel, turn right, and then turn left at the first stoplight, there is the cutest little coffee shop down the street. The woman working there was so friendly and my blueberry smoothie was delicious. We tried to go back the next morning but it wasn’t open yet!
Next we explored the burial mounds in the center of town. They were way bigger than I thought they would be! I thought it would be rude to climb on them but I saw several Koreans doing it so I did… But just for one photo. Then I felt bad. (P.S. After I did it, I read in my LP that it’s disrespectful, which makes sense.)
Then Daniel decided that Bulguksa Temple was his “must see” for Gyeongju. So we headed to the tourist info office to figure out how to get there. (From there, take bus 10 or 11 from the opposite side of the street. The buses also go by Nahbi Guesthouse on the opposite side of the street.)
Bulguksa is supposedly one of the greatest temples in Korea. But, it looked like all the others to me. (Haedong Yonggung is the coolest IMHO.)
We enjoyed a long, relaxing, late lunch at a random restaurant across the street from the temple entrance. Then we headed back to the hostel and continued relaxing for the rest of the evening.
On Saturday, we went to the Gyeongju City Tour office (near the tourist information center and bus terminal) to check in for our bus tour. We took Course 2, which is only available on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. We chose this one since it visited a lot of out-of-town sights not easily accessible by public transportation. (We had planned to visit all the sights right near the town on Friday, but ended up being too tired as usual.) We were the only foreigners on the tour and our guide didn’t speak English. Luckily the man sitting next to us acted as a translator. I would still recommend the tour company though. They were really nice, organized, and made sure we made it to the train station in time to catch our train. Also, all tours only cost ₩15,000 per person, which is a pretty good deal. (We also paid ₩4,000 each to enter Seokguram Grotto and ₩7,000 each for a buffet lunch.)
Our first stop was Gwaereung Tomb. It is the tomb of King Wonseong, 38th king of the Shilla Dynasty.
Seokguram Grotto is an artificial stone temple made of granite. It overlooks the Sea of Japan and was built in the 700s. I was excited to visit but it was kind of a letdown since it was behind glass (and you can’t take photos). There was a nice walk through the forest to get there though… You would not believe how excited Koreans get when they see one freakin’ chipmunk!
The Underwater Tomb of King Munmu was another place I really wanted to see. Not that there was much to see… We had to view it from the shore. Still cool though!
Halfway through the tour we stopped for lunch. Too bad it was all yucky Korean food and no meat. I had rice, watermelon, and tomatoes! LOL.
Next up: Gameunsa Temple. Built by King Munmu (and after his death, finished by his son) in the 600s to drive away the Japanese pirates from the country with the power of Buddha. All the buildings have burned down except two pagodas.
Next we went to the Gyeongju Silk Museum. The museum part was pretty boring (and all in Korean) but watching them make and weave the silk was cool. And we got pretty handkerchiefs as a free souvenir!
Last stop: Golgulsa Temple. What a hike to the top! I must say I didn’t even go all the way up but Daniel said I didn’t miss much (just foreigners on a temple stay who looked bored!). Golgulsa literally means “Stone Buddha Temple” and is the only temple cave in Korea. On the top of the temple stands a sculpture of the Maya Tathagata Buddha and surrounding the sculpture are twelve rock caves used as a prayer sanctuary.
On the way home we rode in first class! Not that much different, just more room and a few amenities. (All of other seats were full when we booked our tickets.)
Hostel review: I was going to give Nahbi Guesthouse 4 out of 5 stars but Daniel told me a story and we decided to drop it to 3. Overall the hostel was a fine place to stay. We paid ₩35,000 for a private room. Everything was mostly clean, the showers were hot, the walls weren’t too thin. They provide a lounge/game room, a kitchen, wifi, and computers. They offer free breakfast (bread, butter, jam, eggs, tea, coffee) and you can pay for dinner if you like (we didn’t). The staff members I interacted with were friendly and helpful. But here’s what happened to Daniel: He went to the “lounge party” that they have every night from 9pm-12am. When it was getting close to midnight, the employee who was hanging out with everyone said that they couldn’t drink there after midnight. They wanted to go on the roof but he said that wasn’t allowed either. So, they decided to go down the street to the local 7-11. The employee (Daniel doesn’t remember his name) got very upset and said it was a new rule that they can’t leave the hostel after midnight. Of course Daniel ignored him and they left anyway. He waited for them outside the hostel until they came back. Weird…