Arriving in Gyeongju & Nahbi Guest House
Our travel day to Gyeongju was first a 1-hour flight from Jeju Island to Busan, then a 1-hour bus ride from Busan to Gyeongju. Out the window of the plane, we got a nice view of the Korean coastline and its many islands. In Gyeongju, we stayed at the inexpensive but very nice Nahbi Guest House.
5-Day Street Market
Just after we finished checking in to our hostel, we walked right across the street into the 5-day street market. Later we found out that, as the name implies, the market only happens every 5 days. There were several city blocks lined with vendors selling red peppers, kimchi, fish, meat, produce, baked goods, clothing, and a lot of other things. Many of the vendors had bowls of small wriggling fish in front of their stalls, our best guess was that these scared flies away from the food.
Daereungwon Tomb Complex & Cheonmachong Tomb
Gyeongju is the ancient capital city of the Silla Kingdom, and also the final resting place of many of the Silla kings. The city is filled with burial mounds, some of which have been excavated and found to contain historical treasures. There is actually tourist access to the inside of Cheonmachong Tomb in the Daereungwon Tomb Complex.
Cheomseongdae Observatory & Tumuli Park
Tumuli Park is a large park in the middle of Gyeongju that contains many more tombs as well as Cheomseongdae Observatory, a tower built in the 7th century to study astronomy. It is the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in East Asia. We also happened to be in the park during a festival — many children were flying kites and there were Taekwondo, sword fighting, and traditional Korean dance performances. Later, we went out for dinner at a noodle shop across the street from our hostel. The Korean woman working at the shop didn’t bring us a menu, just two bowls of noodles. She cut the noodles by hand and dinner was really good.
Watch the Restaurant Owner Chop the Noodles
Anapji Pond is an artificial pond and garden that was part of an ancient Silla palace. The pond was destroyed but rebuilt in 1974 after an extensive archaeological survey of the original site.
Bulguksa Temple is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with the nearby Seokguram Grotto. The temple was built in 751 AD by the Sillas. The temple is quite large and contains stone pagodas, many wooden temple buildings, and very interesting and old stone staircases.
Seokguram Grotto is the other half of the UNESCO World Heritage Site shared with Bulguksa Temple. The grotto and nearby hermitage are located high up the mountain (sort of) near Bulguksa Temple’s main complex. After hiking to the grotto, we were amazed by the Buddha statue inside. Since pictures were not allowed inside, we just downloaded a picture of the Buddha later from the Wikipedia page.
The Statue Inside Seokguram -- Pictures were Not Allowed Inside the Grotto, So We Downloaded This One Later Credit: Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seokguram]
Hiking Mt. Namsan, Part 1: The Hike Begins
Mt. Namsan is a mountain in Gyeongju National Park that was holy to the Silla people. The mountainside is considered by some as a “living museum” and is covered in ancient carvings and statues. There are several routes to the top of the mountain, and we picked ours because it seemed to have the most statues along the way.
Hiking Mt. Namsan, Part 2: We Make Friends Midway
Halfway up the mountain, we stopped at a statue of a seated Buddha. Near to the statue was a small cave with a shrine inside. As we were resting and taking pictures, a Korean halmoni (grandma) came out of the cave, approached us and offered us coffee. The coffee actually turned out to be a slightly alcoholic blend of coffee and soju. As we talked, another group of Koreans also came over and joined the conversation — two middle school students and their teachers. The halmoni didn’t speak much English so the teachers helped translate from Korean. She kept saying how beautiful Linley is. Then, she offered us some traditional Korean cake. We ate, she offered us more coffee. Then she pulled out an entire new cake, wrapped it up, and insisted we take it with us. After a sad farewell, she gave us more parting gifts: a persimmon, a bag of blueberry candy, and a water bottle filled with more coffee/soju. We miss her. 🙁
Korean Halmoni (Grandma) Cutting Us a Slice of Cake -- She Later Gave Us the Whole Thing to Take with Us. (Plus Blueberry Candy, Soju-Spiked Coffee, a Persimmon, and a Very Sad Goodbye!)
Hiking Mt. Namsan, Part 3: Buddhist Monks, Tea, Dinner, and Alternative Medicine
A short ways up the trail from the hermitage, a Buddhist monk said hello to us. We started talking, and he offered to give us a tour of the top of the mountain. He showed us the view, pointed out some sights in Gyeongju, and then started reading our palms. After a long conversation, he offered to show us some of the off-limits part of the mountain: shrines that only monks are allowed to go to for prayer. After this, he insisted that we visit his monastery for tea. We did, and then he offered for us to stay for dinner when his other monk friends arrived. In the meantime, he performed healing on us. He cracked Linley’s back with his knee, and told her that her left side was sick. Her right side was not sick. He lit a small incense on her and then it was James’ turn for healing. He pulled out a wooden device (picture a 4×4 slice with 4 spikes carved into the end) and told James that he should make this at home — it would help his back. Then, we ate dinner of kimchi-kooksoo (kooksoo noodles together with homemade kimchi). The other monks (from China) arrived and they also took a go at healing James’ back. They told him there is one man in all of China that can heal his scoliosis and gave us his number. We all shared boiled sweet potatoes, Gyeongju bread, and a taxi home. Thank you to the Chinese woman monk who paid for our ride! Overall it was quite a bizarre, crazy, and fun hike up Mt. Namsan.
Yangdong Village is a well preserved village from the Joseon Dynasty about 45 minutes outside Gyeongju by bus. It’s filled with many thatched roof houses as well as a few examples of aristocrats’ wooden houses.
Leaving for Seoul
We took the high speed KTX train from Gyeongju to Seoul. The train was comfortable and it was very fast.