Back in May I visited Gyeongju with my little sister who came to Korea for a visit, and since this week’s #wowkoreasupporters mission was to come up with a 2D1N itinerary, I decided to choose Gyeongju to recommend to all of you!
Located in Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla dynasty (BC 57-935). So for almost a century, the place remained as the capital for one of the earliest dynasties of Korea, and thus you can only imagine the wealth of historical and cultural artifacts in the city! This is also the reason why I decided to visit Gyeongju with my sister, because we believed that we should learn about Korea from its history too!
Getting to Gyeongju
The fastest way to Gyeongju is by taking the KTX to Sin-Gyeongju station. From Seoul station, it takes just about 2 hours. From Sin-Gyeongju station, you would have to take a bus for about 1 hour to the Gyeongju Bus Terminal, which is the downtown of Gyeongju.
Purchase KTX tickets online here: http://www.letskorail.com/ebizbf/EbizBfIndex_eng.do
Apart from the hi-speed KTX, there are also normal trains running between cities within Korea. There are 2 types of train class, Saemaeul which is the first-class train and Mugunghwa which is the normal train. These trains are much slower than the KTX, they take about 5 hours to get to Gyeongju. However, they are comfortable and you can take the chance to enjoy the scenery along the way!
Tickets for train can also be purchased here: http://www.letskorail.com/ebizbf/EbizBfIndex_eng.do
3. Express bus
This was the option that I had went with, since it was a long holiday and train tickets were sold out. From Express Bus Terminal, it takes about 4 hours to get to the Gyeongju Bus Terminal, with one rest stop along the way. The bus was comfortable and I even had 호두과자 (a type of walnut cake sold at rest stops) along the way!
Tickets can be reserved in advance here (Korean Only): http://www.kobus.co.kr/web/index.jsp
So here comes the most exciting part – where you should visit in Gyeongju! Based on my personal experience, I have made an itinerary that you can follow ^^
Transport: From Gyeongju Bus Terminal, take bus 10 or 11.
Admission fee: W4,000
Designated as UNESCO World Cultural asset, Bulguksa is a temple compound built during the Silla dynasty. Buddhism was flourishing during that time, and the vast size of the temple is perhaps an indication of the importance of Buddhism at that time. Much of the temple was destroyed during the Imjin War, and what we see today is a reconstruction built in Joseon dynasty.
Pagodas are important in Buddhism as holding sites for important relics, and the Dabotap (Many Treasure Pagoda) and Seokgatap (Sakyamuni Pagoda) both found in Bulguksa are representative as a pair that complements each other.
2. Lunch – Kalguksu (칼국수)
At the area near Bulguksa you will find many restaurants and shops selling souvenirs. If you take a closer look, you will find that many of them are Kalguksu restaurants! Kalguksu (칼국수) literally means “knife noodles”, and consists of soft noodles in soup. It is one of the specialty food in Gyeongju!
The one I had in the restaurant were handmade noodles, and the soup was also made from potato and some grains, which is different from the more or less clear soup in Seoul! I swear it was the best I’ve had in Korea for the past 3 years ❤
3. Seokgulram Grotto
Transport: From bus stop in front of Bulguksa, take bus 12.
Admission fee: W4,000
Listed as UNSECO World Heritage, the Seokgulram Grotto is another significant part of Gyeongju’s history. Just above Bulguksa, a great Buddha statue is housed along with carvings of various Bodhisattva.
4. Gyerim Forest and Cheomseongdae
Transport: Take bus 10 or 11 from in front of Bulguksa to Wolseong-dong Office stop
Gyerim Forest is a National Historic site as it is related to the story of the birth of the head of the Gyeongju Kim clan. Even with the historical significance, Gyerim Forest is a beautiful park where you can spend a quiet afternoon with Mother Nature. In the right seasons, you might even catch the full bloom of canola flowers!
Cheomseongdae is just a short walk away from Gyerim Forest. It is well-known as the oldest astronomical observatory still in existence in Asia, and represents the importance of weather predictions via astronomy during the Silla dynasty.
5. Dinner (Ssambap – 쌈밥)
If you continue to walk down from Cheomseongdae for about you will find more and more ssambap restaurants along the way, because you would have reached Ssambap alley! Pick one of them and go, it’s bound to be good!
This meal is really amazing for the fact of the sheer number of dishes!! In fact is it a specialty of Gyeongju because there are so many side dishes. Basically you wrap your rice + meat/dishes in vegetable. Sounds simple, but the taste is amazing and makes you just want to have more!!
Anapji is just opposite from Gyerim Forest, so it’s good to have a little walk after dinner to get back 😀
Part of the old palace of the Silla Kingdom, Anapji pond was almost like the back garden of Wolseong (the palace) where a great variety of trees and flowers were planted and animals reared. It is now one of the biggest attractions in Gyeongju, because of the beautiful night views it offers.
It is really genius, the one who thought of this idea. Personally, it would have looked like any other pond, but with the lights and the reflections in the water, it gives an entirely different feeling and serves as an attractive point!
1. Gyeongju Namsan
Transport: Bus # 11 to Tongiljeon Memorial or #500 to Samneung Tombs
Not to be confused with the Namsan in Seoul, Gyeongju Namsan is often described as an open-air museum due to the hundreds of Buddhist relics scattered around the mountain. I took the trail from Samneung Valley, which was about 2 hours way up for 2 girls with zero hiking experience. It is the trail said to have the most relics around.
From the peak you can either choose to go back the same way, or take another way down and end up on another side of the mountain. My sister and I were a little too ambitious, and we decided to take another trail down to see different things. While the hike up was just tiring in terms of sometimes high steps and the continuous climb, our hike down was more challenging as there were sometimes no steps and we had to use ropes and slide down or slide down from the tall rocks. It took us another 2 hours to get down from there.
The sights are beautiful and the hike up and down is relatively easy if you use the Samneung trail. Remember to wear proper hiking shoes and a lot of water to stay hydrated!
2. Lunch – Haejangguk (해장국)
Transport: From the end of the hike you can walk to the main road and take bus #505, #506, #507, #508 to Palwoojeong.
There is a Haejangguk Street in Gyeongju, where every restaurant on that street sells Haejangguk or Hangover Soup, which a clear soup made from bean sprouts and some jelly.
3. Gyeongju National Museum
From the Haejangguk Street, you can easily walk down for about 15 minutes to the Gyeongju National Museum that is just opposite from Anapji.
In this historical city, how can we miss out on the museum? The museum is perhaps one of the richest sources of information on Silla dynasty, and it is a must-go if you wish to have a quick overview of the history of Silla from the Three Kingdoms period to the Unified Silla period.
1. Chal bori bbang and Gyeongju bbang
These two are usually sold together, and found in many many places in Gyeongju everywhere you go. They are usually sold for about W15,000 in boxes of 20.
Chalboribbang is made from barley, and is somewhat similar to Japanese Dorayaki. It has red bean paste in the middle of two pieces of pancakes, and the taste is really different and fresh!
Gyeongju bbang also had red bean filling, but the skin is a bit harder (reminds me of traditional mooncake skin) and the fact that almost the entire bread is filled with red bean makes it super delicious 😀
These two are definite must-trys in Gyeongju and also good for souvenirs! But note that most expire in 3 days to a weeks’ time, some shops recommend us to put into the freezer and heat in the microwave when we want to have it for the Gyeongju bbang, and I assure you that the steaming hot Gyeongju bbang is super awesome 😀
Hope that this itinerary will be helpful for those of you planning trips to Gyeongju! It is really a beautiful place and I really wish that more people will visit Gyeongju to enjoy its beauty ^^