Gyeongju

South Korea Itinerary Part 4: Gyeongju

Also see
For budgettravel infoculture, see Itinerary Part 1.
For Seoul Itinerary Days 1-3, and Days 12-14, see Parts 2 & 8 respectively.
For Andong Itinerary Day 4, see Part 3.
For Gyeongju Itinerary Day 5, see Part 4.
For Busan itinerary Days 6-8, see Part 5.
For Jeju Island Days 9-10, see Part 6.
For Haeinsa at Gayasan National Park Day 11, see Part 7.

South Korea Itinerary Day 5: Gyeongju

Strange that it took the same time traveling half the country from Seoul to Andong and within the Gyeongsangbuk-do province from Andong to Gyeongju–4 hours. By the time I reached Gyeongju, it was 1pm. This entire city of Gyeongju is announced as an UNESCO site.

Bulguksa
There are three must-visits: Seokguram, Bulguksa (pictured above) and Daereung-won Tumuli Park. You can see all three in a day but since I arrived in the afternoon, it was best to split them. If you’re the type of person who likes to do the difficult tasks first, have a quick lunch and rush to the temples. Stroll the park the next morning. If you’re the relac relac sort, take a long lunch and a long leisurely walk in the park. Go to the temples the next morning. Tip: Temples are in the mountains, chilly and windy. Do NOT wear heels and skirts. Bring a jacket.

Bulguksa
Stone piles at Bulguksa. You’ll find many of these all over Korea. I suspect it’s a fertility prayer. Does anyone know?

Bulguksa
Golden pig, one of the zodiac animals, at Bulguksa.

Bulguksa (Bulguk Temple) is probably the most famous temple in South Korea because of its UNESCO status. Built in 528, the stone bridges, stairways and pagodas are original. But I overheard a PRC tourist saying, “It’s very bo-liao.” (Ok, she didn’t use “bo-liao,” she said wu-liao.) And I have to agree with her. If you see one temple, you’ve seen them all.

Seokguram
Clang the bell of Filial Piety at the entrance of Seokguram… for a fee. Yes, filial piety isn’t free.

Seokguram
After a long climb, a disappointing view of the Seokguram cave entrance.

After Bulguksa, take the bus up to Seokguram, another temple of sorts with UNESCO status, with buddha built in a grotto. Also quite bo-liao. The last place to visit is Daereung-won Tumuli Park, a royal burial ground with 23 out of 200 royal tombs in Korea. Nothing much to see here except little mounds like breasts or ass, depending on your sexuality (pictured below as evidence). Only the 5th century Cheongmachong (Heavenly Horse) Tomb has been evacuated and opened to public.

Daereung-won Tumuli Park

When you are coming down the mountains from the temples, there is the Anapji Pond, a royal garden, which seems like it’s worth a visit. But I didn’t because I was sick of Gyeongju. In fact, I think this was the worst leg of my tour. The town is dreary and gray and has evolved to exist for tourism. If you want to skip a day of my South Korea itinerary, skip Gyeongju.

How to Get to Gyeongju

1. Train: KoRail has two train lines, stopping at Gyeongju. KTX (the express train) stops at Singyeongju Station, south of Gyeongju City Center.

2. Bus: Take to Gyeongju Bus Terminal.

How to Get to Bulguksa

Bus #10 or #11 from bus terminals or train station. About an hour’s ride.
Add: 15 Jinhyeon-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
T: +82-54-746-9933
Admission fee: ₩4K (adult); ₩3k (teens); ₩2K (children), free for below 6.
Nov-Feb 7am-5pm, Mar-Oct 7am-6pm

How to Get to Seokguram

Take the same bus as going to Bulguksa, Stop at Bulguksa first and tour it. Then, ask the tourist information where to take the shuttle bus that goes up to Seokguram.
Add: Tohamsan, Jinhyeon-dong 999, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
T: +82-54-746-9933
Admission fee: ₩4K (adult); ₩3k (teens); ₩2K (children), free for below 6.
Nov-Jan 7am-5pm, Mar-Sep 6.30am-6pm, Feb-Mar & Oct 7am-5.30pm

How to Get to Anapji Pond

On your way down from Bulguksa and Seokguram, the same bus number passes by Anapji Pond. Ask the bus-driver to stop you there.
Add: 26 Inwang-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do.
T: +82-54-779-6391
Admission fee: ₩1K (adult); ₩500 (teens); ₩400 (children).
Daily 9am-10pm

How to Get to Daereung-won Tumuli Park

Bus #10, #11, or #70. But if you’re staying near the bus terminal, it’s a 10-minute walk. Tip: If you’re asking for directions, the locals know it as cheongmachong (Heavenly Horse Tomb).
Address: 6-1 Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
Admission fee: ₩1.5K (adult); ₩700 (teens); ₩600 (children), free for below 6.
Summer 9am-6m, winter 9am-5pm.

Where to Stay in Gyeongju

It doesn’t matter where you stay because you have to take a bus to the attractions, which are very far out of town. I’d advise staying at the hotels and motels near the bus terminal or the train station, such as Motel Liebe and Motel Sugar.

Nahbi Guest House
I picked Nahbi Guest House, a 10-minute walk from the bus terminal and boy was I glad. It was the best experience I had in Gyeongju. The Korean male receptionist (boss?) spoke perfect English, so rare.

Nahbi Guest House
And everything is based on trust here. Need a towel? Just take one, and put ₩1K on the desk. It’s a wonder nobody attempts to steal the money on the desk.

Nahbi Guest House
I think this might be the family room (3 people, ₩60K a night) but since I booked the single bedroom, the boss charged me the single room price (₩28K a night). I felt like I was robbing the hostel for allocated such a big room and toilet.

What to Eat in Gyeongju

Gyeongju food
This is a color-coded list provided by Nahbi Guest House. The restaurants are in yellow highlights, and the cafes in orange.

Sleepless in Seattle Cafe
I didn’t really eat much at Gyeongju. Had a drink and what sounded like “or ni bun,” a rather delicious bun, with warm butter at its core, drizzled with caramel, at Sleepless in Seattle Cafe. Not too bad.

jjimdak
The other restaurant I went was to eat jjimdak, or steamed chicken, a specialty of Andong. Since Andong and Gyeongju are in the same province, I thought they should taste similar. Nothing special: It was really just chicken steamed in sweet soy sauce or spicy kimchi sauce.

jjimdakThis is the address. Click to enlarge.

To be continued…

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Categories: Gyeongju

16 replies »

  1. I enjoyed reading the info you have posted. Very honest and practical. I’m looking forward to more of your sharing on your trip to Korea especially DMZ and Seorakan Mountain. I have actually booked myself in Gyeongju Guesthouse for 2 nights. Now, I may just reduce to 1 night. I would be going there in December. Can’t wait to read the rest of your post. Keep them coming! Thank you!

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    • Thanks, thanks. :) I’d advise you to skip Seorakan and go for a temple stay at UNESCO temple Haeinsa at Gayasan Mountain for a night. You can hike at Gayasan and have a cultural stay. DMZ is the #1 tourist spot in Korea, but a bit touristy for me.

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  2. Hi there! i think it’s interesting that you mentioned travelling to Andong from Seoul/Gyeongju takes the same time. Given that I’ll love to visit the Hahoe Village, and have the option to head there from either Seoul or Gyeongju, where would you recommend I stay before setting off to Hahoe – Seoul or Gyeongju?

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    • Do you like experiencing culture or visiting historical buildings? If you like culture, go to Andong/Hahoe. If you like historical temples, Gyeongju. Personally I’d pick Hahoe. I feel that you should pick between Hahoe and Haeinsa (which I included in the itinerary), not Hahoe and Gyeongju.

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      • Hello! Thanks so much for your reply! Actually I have enough time to visit both Gyeongju and Andong, so will be doing both for sure :) I’m just wondering if you think I should travel up to Andong from Gyeongju, or travel down to Andong from Seoul. Based on your experience, which journey is more fuss-free and straightforward?

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  3. Hi, I also went to Gyeonju as part of my 15 day Korea trip covering Seoul/Busan/Jeju as well. I didn’t think that Gyeonju was bad at all during my 2 day visit.
    I agree that the new town is very ugly and for that reason a lot of travelers (especially local Koreans) stay within the Bomun lake resort area instead during spring/summer/autumn when visiting Gyeonju. It is much more pleasant to base yourself there as you can take walks around the lake which is lined with cherry blossom trees. You can also boat or rent bikes to cycle around the lakeshore. There are plenty of hotels, apartments, restaurants/cafes, shops and activities here.
    From there we rented cabs for half-day/full-day periods to cover the following:
    (1) Hiking up Namsan Park area from Samneung tomb site to see the numerous Buddhist sculptures and temples
    (2) Wolseong historic and park area including Gyeongju National Museum, Anapji pond, Wolseong Fortress, Gyerim Forest and Fortress, Imhaejeon Hall, Cheomseongdae astronomical observatory
    (3) Tumuli park
    (4) Seokuram Grotto and Bulguksa temple
    I do agree that Seokguram is underwhelming (we didn’t realise you can’t actually get inside the grotto) but Bulguksa is pretty impressive, particularly the stone stairway bridge and the relief carvings. Having a guide (scheduled tours in English) also helps in the appreciation of the symbolism of the individual structures and the setting.
    My opinion is that, individually the attractions (other than Bulguksa temple) may not be outstanding or “must-sees” . But taken as a whole, Gyeongju offers a lot for travelers who are into history or ancient temples as you have said. Because many of the attractions are scattered across in a non-linear pattern, it is a must to get cabs if you are not driving and have limited time as it will take you too long by bus to get to all the different sights and areas.
    Food wise, we also had some of the better meals of our trip here in Gyeongju including a Soondubu stew (handmade and semi-curdled tofu) which rewrote our expectations for how good the dish can be, delicious grilled ribs from free ranging cows, and sulphur-fed duck served with ssam-bap. We had looked up the website of the Gyeonju Tourism board for recommendations on restaurants. We also tried the local specialty- Gyeongju bread, a kind of soft pastry filled with fresh red bean filling. It was so delicious that between two of us we finished a box of 24 pieces in less than 2 days!

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  4. This is one of the most comprehensive travel plans I have come across. Especially when traveling alone, with so many details to take care of, it helps to prepare end-to-end plans. Good job on putting together amazing resources.

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