That comes from the fact that in the Silla kingdom period ( from around 50 - 600 AD) this was the capital of Korea with an estimated population of around a million. In town and its surrounding valleys you find Temples, Shrines, Pagodas, Buddha Statues carved in rock and the Kings graves. These Kings graves are called Tumuli and are a kind of huge mounds now covered in grass in which the tomb is placed. You find these graves in groups all scattered around the valley but the main ones are in the center of Gyeongju. We spent one day hiking in the Namsan mountain area. On the hike going up to the peak and down along another way you come across some of these Tumuli, Buddha Statues, Pagodas and Shrines. It really feels like walking in an open air museum. A great day of hiking and culture combined! The other day we visit the Bulguk Sa temple and the grotto of Seokguram. Both situated in the green hills around Gyeongju. As it is a free day for the Koreans it is packed with people at the Bulguk Sa Temple which takes away a bit of the charm. The Temple itself is beautiful especially the stairs leading up to the main Temple area. The Grotto of Seokguram has a beautifully carved Buddha statue and equally beautiful carved guardians. After Gyeongju we take the train to Danyang a small resort town along the river.
The hotel we booked was quite far out of the center so we decided to change hotels and booked into a more centrally located hotel. We're in Danyang to visit the recently founded (1966) order and Buddhist temple complex of Guinsa. As it is a Sunday we expect crowds like we had at the Bulguk Sa temple but to our surprise there were hardly any visitors. As the complex is still used by monks and nuns you feel more the serenity here than at the other temples we visited as you can hear the monks chanting. The setting with the halls on different levels in the lush green hills adds a lot to it as well. The carvings of the buildings and the statues inside are also impressive. Definitely a temple not to be missed.
But we feel that we have seen enough temples. Time for some hiking in the mountains. Therefor we head to Sokcho which on the east coast near the National park of Seoraksan. We plan to do 2 days of hiking in the area. Our hotel is close to Sokcho beach and we get an upgrade to one of the roof, self contained, apartments with a nice view over the beach and the Japanese sea from the balcony. After settling in it is time to explore the raw fish food markets for which Sokcho is also known. We are close to one of the main markets. The way it works is as follows. All the restaurants have several tanks with all kinds of fish swimming in it. You decide which fish, squid or lobster you want and they put it in a bowl so you can see what you order. Then the price is decided. You take a seat and they clean and fillet the fish. It is served raw and you get some soy sauce and wasabi to go with it. For some fish it was recommended to dip it in a red chili sauce. It is absolutely delicious. You can’t get it any fresher. As we ordered a squid only parts of it were served raw the rest came later cooked and stuffed. A real treat and quite an experience.
The second time we were at the market the left overs of the fish we ordered were served as a spicy broth with vegetables. Again a delicious meal. But we were here for hiking! Unfortunately the weather decided to change dramatically and the first day it poured with rain so we didn’t even go to the national park for a hike but decided to relax a bit in the apartment and walk around town for a bit. The 2nd
day starts with rain again but we decide to go to the national park for a hike anyway. A short bus ride takes us to the national park. We decide to do the hike to Ulsan Bawi a big granite cliff. Due to the rain no amazing views of the surrounding mountains but the clouds in the mountains give it a bit of an eerie sight. The walk to the cliff is not too difficult and halfway the hike luckily it stops raining. The climb to the top of the cliff is a bit more strenuous but nothing we can’t tackle as it is merely an 800 step but steep stairway! The view from the top is spectacular with on one side a view of the city of Sokcho and the sea. The other side you have views of the mountains of Seoraksan National park.
On the way down the sun decides to peek through the clouds and we get some better views of the mountains. We decide to take the cable car for some more views. From here we can see the Ulsan Bawi Cliff and realize it was quite a climb! It turned out to be a nice day of hiking. This brings us already to the end of our trip in Korea. We take the bus back to Seoul for some shopping and relaxing before we start a new chapter on this trip. We’re off to Japan and our first stop is Beppu.
So from the bustling city of Busan we took the bus to Gyeongju. This city is also known as the open air museum of South Korea. Again we have a reservation for a Love motel. The hotel is in a street that is lined with Love Motels that at night look like a street in Las Vegas with all the neon lights. The Love Motels here are of different class than the one we had in Busan. The rooms here (all on display outside the Motel) are decorated from very bright pink / red/ green with lots of mirrors to a more classy kind of interior. Luckily ours is one of the last kind. It is a huge room with a big flat screen TV and 2! PCs. A big sliding door separates the bedroom from the toilet, Jacuzzi and shower area. What a luxury. Like I said Gyeongju is also known as open air museum.