Gyeongju: A museum without walls

Holy crap, Gyeongju (kee-young-ju) is amazing. You barely need to leave the motel to run into ancient burial mounds 5 stories tall, stone Buddha’s from the 9th century and a myriad of pagodas, temples and artifacts.

Hwangseong Park, General Kim Yusin

We rented bicycles near the bus terminal and managed to cover tons of ground. We’ve found that if we just put the map away, we’ll have a lot more fun.  In just hours we ran into a sweet statue of General Kim Yusin that towers over the city, a tremendous stone Buddha and the Sunngsinjoen shrine.  By nightfall we had a pretty good understanding why this city was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Cowed by fear of eating assholes and chicken feet, we crashed early without food and it was a good thing too.  The next day in Gyeongju was fan-freaking-tastic and all this Korean food is making us fat.

For 12 hours we wandered from ancient burial mounds, to the Cheomseongdae Astronomical Observatory, through the Gyerim forest, to the National Museum where we learned just how far Korean culture dates back.

Gyeongju Burial Mound

Again with map issues, John Wayne believed that the Namsan forest was just a few kilometers from the National Muesum and so we began to walk. And walk. And walk. AND WALK…  The Namsan forest is rumored to be this awesome hike where you trip over fortresses, rock Buddhas and temples.  We didn’t get there (yet) because John Wayne was wrong and it’s about 20KM from the museum.  Instead we caught a bus to the Bulguk-sa temple and Seokguram Grotto.

Right move!

This is the stuff that I want to see: an ancient temple where you can almost hear the accompanying Quentin Tarantino soundtrack and an 8th century stone Buddha high in the mountains with only a billy goat trail to carry up the granite that was used to build it.

It was already 3PM and we had dinner plans at 8:00, so we decided to hit the grotto first.  John Wayne thought it would only be about a 20 minute walk  – 2.2 km really isn’t that far and we both finished the SF half marathon this summer….


.5km into our vertical climb

Koreans are surrounded by mountains and know how to climb.  And climb we did, 2.2km walking straight up a freaking mountain – no switchbacks!  There were groups of Korean ajumma’s in track suits who passed us, a business man smoking a cig passed us — we died wheezing our way up this hill. Only when we reached the top did we notice there was a bus shuttle available between the grotto and the temple… (We wouldn’t have taken the bus away, buses are for weak girly-men).

Seokuram Buddha

The Seokguram grotto is a sight to behold -  a massive granite Buddha looking out to the East Sea (don’t call it Sea of Japan while you’re in Korea).  While at the top of the mountain, we paid 1,000 won (a dollar) to ring a giant bell that resonates over 3km through the village below. What a great time for all the people in that town!

Hiking back down was much easier, and we arrived just in time to check out the Bulguk-sa temple – classified Historic and Scenic Site No. 1 by the South Korean government.  El Numero Uno, bitches! The Bulguksa pagoda’s are replicated all throughout Korea, so it was super cool to see the real deal.

Not bad for a two day adventure.

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