Chuseok in Autumn is Korea’s answer to thanksgiving and meant that I had five days free to travel and explore a little more of Kimchi land so I headed down to Gyeongju -the former Capital of the Silla Kingdom and South Korea’s oldest and most historic city.
In this post I will show you some of the best things to do in Gyeongju.
I was so pleasantly surprised when I stepped out of the bus terminal and was met with rolling green fields spanning as far as the eye could see, and the smell of fresh grass, instead of the typical high-rise apartment complexes and congested roads that you usually see in Korean cities. As Gyeongju is such a historic place, businesses and residential developers cannot even obtain planning permission for such infrastructures so it gives you a nice insight as to how the Country used to be.
Gyeongju is known as “The Museum without walls” and for good reason – upon every turn, you are met with a new historical site. It can feel a little overwhelming at first, as there is just SO MUCH crammed into the small city, however a lot of the main attractions are within walking distance of each other.
From the centre of Gyeongju, you can take the number 10, 11 or 700 bus (Bulguksa is the last stop). The journey takes about 30 minutes but it went by in a breeze as I enjoyed the peaceful countryside scenery as a backdrop to the journey.
Bulguksa was possibly the most active temple I have seen on my travels, with Monks chanting and performing Buddhist rituals in almost every Dharma Hall.
From Bulguksa, you can take a short bus journey to Seokgurum grotto. Seokgurum is a mountain top temple featuring a majestic Buddha carved out of granite dating all the way back to 751. It is considered the best example of Asian Buddhist work and is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Buddha is now behind glass to protect its’ beauty and you are not permitted to take photographs inside the grotto. It was impressive, but as was the stroll through the forest as you as ascend towards the grotto, and the accompanying views of the Gyeongju province below.
[You can take the number 11 bus that connects Bulguksa and Seokgurum. There is also a pleasant hiking trail from one to the other that takes around 30 minutes. Buses run hourly so it is prudent to check the times before entering Bulguksa]
Dae Reung Won Tombs and Forest
Dae Reung Won are the royal tombs from the Silla Period and have been formed as giant mounds in the grass. A lot of them collapsed, so only a handful remain… They look a bit rude if you ask me…
Truly though, the park and surrounding woodland that encompasses the tombs are stunning. Traditional Korean music plays out from speakerphones that are dotted throughout the woodland as you take a peaceful stroll through.
Cheomseongdae & Gyerim Forest
Cheomaeongdae (“Star gazing” in Korean) is one of the oldest observatory towers in Asia, dating all the way back to 632AD. As with Dae Reung Won though, I was more fascinated with the beautiful nature that surrounded Cheomseongdae than the attraction itself – there were fields filled with beautiful flower arrangements, families having picnics and children flying kites.
Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond
The Wolji pond was pretty darn beautiful.
The palace looks as though it is floating atop the water, and by night the whole place is illuminated making it look almost magical. My photos really don’t do it justice… I guess you have to go and check out its beauty for yourself…
There are two Hanok (traditional Korean) villages within Gyeongju – Gyochon and Yangdong where you can stay in an Ondal style Korean Hanok Guesthouse.
A Hanok Guesthouse is a traditional Korean style home whereby the rooms are generally bordering a central courtyard and you rent a room from a Korean family. The bathrooms are typically wet rooms and you sleep on a futon on the floor.
This was my second stay at a Hanok – I am ALL ABOUT that futon life.
I know you may question sleeping on the floor, but I swear it’s comfier than it may look and does wonders for your back!
If you need any advice on traveling in Korea, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Have you been to Gyeongju? What were your favorite things to do in Gyeongju?