Monday, 15 April 2013

Our Weekend: Gyeongju

Recently I've been feeling a bit 50/50 about being back in Korea. Nothing seemed new or special anymore, the workload had increased, and then the recent news seems to be worrying everyone at home! A couple of weeks ago Nick and I decided to sign up for a trip to Gyeongju with a tour group called WINK, or When in Korea, and I'm so happy we did as I can feel my enthusiasm for my decision to stay seeping back to me now.

Gyeongju was the ancient capital of the Silla dynasty hundreds of years ago, which is a big deal, and considering the amount of times that Korea has virtually been burnt to the ground and rebuilt through war and invasion, Gyeongju is a gem of history amongst its concrete sister towns and cities.

It only takes 20 minutes to get to Gyeongju from Busan, so we met the tour group at the bike shop where I went and chose probably the most impractical bike for the job, but, in my defence it did have a basket. The sun was shining and it was such a perfect day. The first day we cycled around the town, stopping off to look at the sites that we stumbled across, including Cheomseongdae Observatory, Hwanghyongsa temple and the lake.

We stopped for a picnic of gimbap, ice cream and makeolli before we rejoined with the rest of the group to make our way to the hostel. The tour leader took us through the rice fields, rather than follow the roads. It was so interesting to see a side of Korea that I'd never seen before. There was nobody on the roads apart from the odd sun dried ajumma who worked hard in her field. Even in places like Seoraksan you pass hundreds and hundreds of people who are all following the same marked path to the top of the mountain. It was so peaceful and serene and felt like I was getting a glimpse at what Korea could have been like years and years ago, before Dunkin Donuts and K-pop.

We eventually arrived at the hostel, sun burnt and tired, but quickly showered before heading back into Gyeongju for some food and a late night stroll around Anapji Pond. I loved seeing the cherry blossoms at night.

The next day we got up super early to head to Bulguksa temple, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. I loved going there so early, and hearing nothing but the odd worker sweeping away at the dusty paths before the rest of the tourists and worshippers started to arrive.

Following this we headed up the mountain to Seokguram Grotto, a cave that contains a huge buddha inside of it. The highlight of this visit was definitely getting the opportunity to ring the HUGE bell and eat delicious roasted chestnuts.

After a bit of sightseeing, it was time to get back on our bikes. Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse, and forced us to stop for lunch while we waited for it to clear. This actually turned out to be lucky as we discovered an amazing restaurant in the middle of nowhere that served really fresh food. I wish it was more local!

The sun finally decided to make an appearance, so we got back to Gyeongju, stumbled across a Hanok village where Nick was hit on by two Korean men who thought he was really handsome, and managed to squeeze in the tombs of the old Korean kings at Daereungwon before it was time to hand in the bikes, say good bye to the others in the group and head back to Busan. But not before I had the chance to try the small bread buns that Gyeongju are so well known for.

An amazing trip that reminded me that there's so much more for me to see in Korea with the months I have left.  Thanks to Nick and the Wink Group!
Korean Rental Bike
Gyeongju Bike Rental
Korean Bike Trail
Korean Bike Tour
Cheomseongdae Observatory
Korean lookout
Gyeongju Bike Tour
Gyeongju Bike Tour
Hwangyongsa Temple
Bomunho Lake
Well deserved lunch
Gyeongju Bike Tour
Gyeongju Bike Tour
Creepy Korean House
Gyeongju Bike Tour
Cheomseongdae Observatory at night
Anapji Pond at night
Cherry Blossoms at Anapji Pond at night
Anapji Pond at night
Anapji Pond at night
Cherry Blossoms at Anapji Pond at night
Bulguksa Temple
Bulguksa Temple
Bulguksa Temple
Bulguksa Temple
Bulguksa Temple
Bulguksa Temple
Bulguksa Temple
Bulguksa Temple
Vendors outside Seokguram Grotto
Roasted Chestnuts
Ringing the bell at the Seokguram Grotto
Seokguram Grotto
Seokguram Grotto
Korean food
Buddhist Lunch
Gyeongju Bike Tour
Traditional Korean Games
Korean Friends
Hanok village
Makeolli and King's tombs
Tombs of Korean Kings
Gyeongju Bread
Gyeongju Bread
Our bikes// Gyeongju fields// The oldest observatory in Asia// More of Gyeongju//
The lake// lunch// rice fields// This house looked creepy enough to be haunted//
Our hostel// The observatory at night// Anapji pond// Bulguksa temple//
Roasted chestnuts// Ringing the HUGE bell// Seokguram Grotto//
Lunch time// Buddhists eating lunch too// Traditional Korean games//
Nick's fanclub// The King's Tombs// Drinking Makeolli amongst the dead//
Delicious Gyeongju bread

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