Saturday, April 08, 2017

Gyeongju: The Golden City

So you've been to Seoul--seen the sites and toured the town. Maybe you've been to Busan, too. After a while, big cities all look the same, eh? For my coworkers (and other foreigners living in Korea) who don't have the money or maybe time to go international, look no further.  For those tourists who want to see more than another big city, be prepared to travel a little further off the popular route and head to Gyeongju.
Near 보문Lake (English: Bomun, pronounced Bo-Moon Lake)
The only reason I travelled to this smaller city was because my mum came to visit and she wanted her "international debut" on the racing circuit. There weren't any races happening near me so I pulled up the list to find one that we could easily travel to from Jeju. When I spotted the Gyeongju CHERRY BLOSSOM Marathon, I said heck yes to flowers while running. Let's go. A simple google search revealed that it was only about hour bus ride from Busan or Daegu. Or a couple hours on the KTX from Seoul.

My mum and I were originally only going to stay one night--fly in the night before, wake up to do the race and then leave. However, when I mentioned my plans to one of my students, she said that there was a lot to do in Gyeongju and that as part of Korean schooling, most public schools orchestrated trips to the Golden City. Why? I asked. Because, she said, Gyeongju was the capital during the Silla (신라; pronounced more like Shilla) dynasty. 

The Silla kingdom is one of the world's longest enduring kingdoms and there is a lot of history there. Intrigued, I extended our stay an extra day. I'm so glad I did.

Traditional Korean Hanok House and our Airbnb in Gyeongju. Isn't it lovely?
From what I've seen, the price to stay in a Hanok style house in seoul is expensive and can be a couple hundred a night. With the multitude of Hanok houses in Gyeongju, it's a lot more affordable.
I like the juxtaposition of the traditional style and current day construction.
I was expecting something similar to Jeju City or maybe even Cheongju City. Many Korean cities are built on and around mountains (Busan and Seoul being the big examples), and whereas Gyeongju shared the proximity to small mountains, it definitely was not the same. Nestled within the folds, Gyeongju has a small-town feel. The tallest building I saw had 10-12 floors. If you're up for a longer walk, you could easily get around a large part of the city on foot--or you can rent a bike/scooter at one of the many rental shops by the bus terminal. 
There's a couple rental stops right across from the Bus Terminal.
My mum and I rented bikes shortly after arriving and then headed out to the race course to scope out the scene. Our hostel was near the terminal and the course was by Bomun Lake and the tourist complex. It was at max a 10km bike ride out to the edge of the lake which was really nice along the river. My mum and I didn't explore much around the lake, but it looked like there was a number of cool museums, a bird sanctuary of some sort, and even a water park for warmer weather.

Back toward the central town area, there are a number of historical sights--aside from the fact that many buildings around town are built in the traditional style.
Sacred Bell
Mum and I just wandered around nearby the day before our race, and ended up at Daereungwon (대릉원). Both us of wondered about these giant hills that dotted this park as well as some other areas of town. 
Trail through Daereungwon beneath a Magnolia Tree.
What we learned was that these giant mounds of earth were actually tombs.
This is a tomb. Human captured for size perspective (not in Daereungwon).
To think that somewhere on the other side of the world, another civilization aside from Egypt thought that the best way to bury its kings was by constructing giant tombs... Definitely cool. A couple of the tombs have since been excavated and their artifacts are now at Gyeongju Museum (which we didn't have time to visit), BUT at the park, they left a door into one of the mounds so that you can see the layout and what the tomb would have been like from the inside. 

My mum spent the rest of the day lazily wandering before turning in early for the night. Lots of rest before race day! If you have more time, there are a few more tourist spots in the surrounding area--at most about 18km from the bus terminal according to one map. 

Unfortunately, our Cherry Blossom Race was probably 2 days too early for most of the trees. But we could see the buds. I can only imagine how beautiful Gyeongju is at the prime time for these soft flowers.
These trees were so close to blooming and probably only needed 2 more days!
In the midst of the pack.
And I'll end with this last picture of Starbucks merely because it's one of the coolest looking Starbucks I've ever seen, being built in the traditional style. For those of you who might be interested, Gyeongju has it's own unique Starbucks mug as well. 
Fancy looking Starbucks.
That's it for this mini-trip. Until next time!

Love and Hugs

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