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A Trip to Gyeongju

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Budget Accommadations in Gyeongju

Gyeongju is a small city 50 miles north of Busan, known as the “Museum Without Walls” due to its incredible wealth of historic treasures. This was the capital of the powerful Silla Kingdom which ruled most of the Korean peninsula for nearly 1000 years (57 BC – 935 AD) and is without a doubt the most rewarding excursion you can make from Busan.

Gyeongju-South-Korea

We took the KTX bullet train from Busan Station and arrived in Gyeongju in 28 minutes. Less than a half-hour. That’s significantly less time than it even took for us to reach the train station from our apartment. I’ve taken showers that last longer. The train cost ₩10,000 ($9) per person, and was unbelievably smooth and fast. It was mostly through tunnels, though, so you couldn’t see the countryside whipping past.

The Silla Kingdom is among the most long-lived and powerful dynasties in Asian history. They started in the Gyeongju/Busan area, and were the first to successfully unite most of the peninsula. It was a strict monarchy, with a hereditary royalty and aristocracy, and no chance of social advancement for the great majority of people. Sillans spoke Korean, wrote in Chinese characters, practiced both Confucianism and Buddhism, and battled with the Korean-speaking Goguryeo Dynasty for control of the North.

Although Gyeongju’s period of prominence lies over a thousand years in the past, the sense of history is still present in the modern-day city. The most conspicuous remnants of its rich heritage are the amazing royal tombs where kings and nobility were buried. These large, perfectly rounded hills covered in bright green grass pop up all over Gyeongju, like miniature replicas of the mountains that are always visible in the distance. There are 35 royal tombs and over 150 smaller mounds in the city itself, with many more found in the surrounding environs.

In the Daeneungwon Park, tourists have the chance to peek inside Cheonmachong, the Heavenly Horse Tomb, which is one of the most important of the burial sites. When it was excavated in 1973, over 10,000 artifacts were found inside, including a golden crown and a saddle engraved with a winged horse, which gave the tomb its name.

We had two days in Gyeongju, and had just enough time to hit most of the major highlights. Over the next couple posts, we’ll focus on this historic and gorgeous mountain city.

Location on our Korea Map

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July 10, 2012 at 11:59 pm Comment (1)

Return to Mt. Geumjeongsan

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On our first visit to the top of Mt. Geumjeongsan, we had ascended in a cable car and hiked from the South to East Gate. It was an all-day excursion, but we were only able to see a fraction of the gigantic mountain fortress which extends across the summit, and so vowed to return. Our second trip would start at the Northern Gate, bring us to Godangbong Peak and end with a well-deserved feast in the village of Sanseong.

Geumjeongsan-Hike

A trail found on the side of Beomeosa Temple leads through a bizarre rock field in the forest, before turning uphill. We climbed for nearly an hour until arriving at the fortress’ North Gate. Our legs were already rubbery and the day of hiking hadn’t yet begun! Before setting off, we took a break at the ancient gate, which is topped by a gazebo and had recently been renovated.

From the North Gate, the walk to Godangbong Peak took about 90 minutes. Halfway there, we took a detour to the Geumsem “Golden Well”, a rock formation in the shape of a bowl which collects rain water. This is where the golden fish who gave Beomeosa Temple its name descended from heaven. We had to use a set of knotted ropes to get up and over the rock. On the way down the other side, my foot slipped and I came crashing down. Luckily, I escaped with just a skinned elbow and bruised ego, but have made a mental note to remove “Mountain Climbing” from my list of future activities.

Natural Climber
Looking good, 3.54 seconds before slipping

At 801.5 meters above sea level, Godangbong Peak is the highest point on the mountain, and the views over Busan were stunning, even though the day was somewhat hazy. From here, you can see the walls of the fortress and gain a good sense of its immense size.

After returning to the North Gate, we continued on to the Fourth Watchtower, passing Wonhyobong Peak along the way, which is a hill most notable for its amazing view of the curving fortress wall. The path connecting the North to the East Gate is extremely popular — there were a ton of other hikers, and this was on a Tuesday; it must be awful on summer weekends. But at the Fourth Watchtower, we took a detour to the south and the crowds disappeared. The path to Jangdae led us softly downhill through some beautiful forest areas. Jangdae is found roughly in the middle of the fortress and served as its command post. Today, it’s a secluded and comfortable place to take a rest, which is exactly what we did.

From Jangdae, we found the road which brought us to Sanseong Village, famous for its cuisine. Black goat, duck bulgogi and a rice liquor are the local specialties. We grabbed a bottle of the liquor, ordered a heaping portion of duck bulgogi and sat down outside at a great restaurant overlooking the river valley, to eat our richly deserved meal. We had combined this hike with our visit to Beomeosa, making this an unforgettable, but very, very long day.

Location of the North Gate | Godangbong Peak | Jangdae

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June 8, 2012 at 5:52 am Comments (2)