Today, we would leave Busan and travel onwards to Gyeongju, South Korea’s “museum without walls.” Therefore, we took our bags and walked from the 369 Hotel in Busan to the nearby Yeonsan Subway Station and took a subway with our convenient T-Money-Card to Nopo Station.
At the Nopo Subway Station is the Busan Bus Terminal (Dongbu Intercity Bus Terminal). It is just to the right after the subway exit. There, we soon found ticket offices. One side was in English for Kobus, the other only had information in Korean. The Kobus just has a few buses a day on the route, so we were sent to the separate counter. Fortunately, we had printed out the main destinations in Korean and therefore found the Gyeongju counter and got two bus tickets. The non-stop bus from Busan to Gyeongju leaves every 15 minutes. With our card, we just took the next. Our ticket had information on it, at which gate it departs, which was easy to find. The bus was excellent – there weren’t many people, and we could store our bags in the bus. It took less than one hour until we arrived at the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal. You can also go by train from Busan to Gyeongju, but there’s no direct train, it takes much longer, and it is also more expensive.
At the bus station, we found a taxi, but the driver refused. Our initial thought was that our hotel for the next two nights, the Gallery Jin Hanok Guesthouse, is probably too close. We didn’t really understand (literally). He looked so angry (I could be wrong) but I have a gut feeling that he was being unpleasant. We eventually had to drag our bags about 20 minutes to the Hanok that we pre-booked online prior to the trip. In our confusion, we missed the street and walked past it. Arriving at the Hanok, we could not check-in yet but we were able to drop our luggage.
It was still in the morning, so we started our sightseeing in Gyeongju, a city with a rich historical past. It was once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla. And today, you still see relics of that time. The Gyeongju Historic Area is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site and consists of five sections.
The first attraction, Bonghwangdae – an ancient tomb – was just around the corner from the hotel in the Tumuli Park Belt-section. Just on the opposite is Geumgwanchong, another ancient tomb, believed to be the burial site of a king. We made the short excursion to an enormous bell we saw by accident. It turned out to be the “Silla Big Bell,” a reproduction of the Sacred Bell of Great King Seongdeok, which is supposed to sound like “the cry of a dragon.”
We went further southwards to the sizeable Daereungwon Tomb Complex, which consists of 23 ancient tombs. It is a great park, where you walk through another time, like a big open-air museum. Although I have to report, the flowering cherry trees seemed to get more attention from many tourists than the tombs.
At the southern end of the park, we came to the exit and a parking lot, where we found a cafe for a break and then also had a snack.
We continued southwards into a massive park with the Gyeongju Royal Tomb of King Naemul and also the Cheomseongdae Observatory, which was built almost 1.400 years ago and is the oldest existing astronomical observatory in Asia.
We walked further into the park and then turned right towards Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village. It is a Hanok Village, where you can book traditional activities, like pottery. We, however, were more interested in the massive Woljeonggyo Bridge. It was, however, under renovation and mostly covered. So, we just walked a bit through the beautiful village.
Back in the park, we walked eastwards to Seokbinggo Stone Ice Storage, an “ancient refrigerator,” which was used to get ice 1.500 years ago. There is also the Wolseong Palace Site, but aside from the Ice Storage there isn´t much left of it.
At the end of the park, we walked southwards along the big road and walked past Donggung Palace and the Wolji Pond, one of Gyeongju´s biggest attractions. We wanted to go there later and first see the sights, that close earlier. A big mistake – we never managed to come back to it! We walked to the nearby Gyeongju National Museum, which presents the rich cultural history of Gyeongju. It offers an abundance of artifacts, and we started with the Divine Bell of King Seondeok, Korea´s largest bell and about 1.300 years old.
Inside, we learned about the Silla Gold Culture, as the kingdom was famous for its crowns, rings, necklaces, and earrings among others. They also have figurines and much more things from another time preserved. It is a vibrant museum and a beautiful site.
From the museum, we walked to the Hwangnyongsaji Temple Site. They were just building a new walkway to it. We only read online about it and didn´t think, it would be much more than some ruins. But we were positively surprised by a new visitor center, that included a replica of a wooden pagoda and also information of what was once Silla´s biggest temple.
From the Temple Site, it was just a short walk to Bunhwangsa Temple, a small but unique temple. We just got there a few minutes before closing time.
There is a bus stop just at the road at the temple. There, we waited for the Bus 11, which goes to the train station, while it was starting to rain. However, we saw at the bus stop, that Bus 700 went the same way and boarded when it arrived. We used our T-Money-Card for the bus fare but then had to kind of guess, where to exit the crowded bus and watch out for the train station through the window. Eventually, we exited too soon, but already saw the tombs, where we had been earlier, which helped our orientation.
Unfortunately, just when we had started to walk, a somewhat unexpected kind of hailstorm started. We were wet in seconds but found refuge under the roof of a gas station. After a while, it seemed to stop, so we began to walk again – the hotel was still a bit away. But then it started back. Now we were already soaking wet and just walked further. Of course, we accidentally stepped into surprisingly deep cold water at times, with our whole shoes under water. After a while, we finally arrived at the hotel.
It took some time to check in, as the reception was deserted and there was just another guest, who told us, that she is waiting already for quite some time. But she said that she saw, that there are bags already in a room and it turned out to be ours. So, we did a self-check-in and only later came back to the office to check in more formally. It is probably best at the hotel, to tell them, at what exact time you will arrive.
We chose the Guesthouse, as it is a Hanok Guesthouse, which means it consists of several small traditional Korean houses, where you sleep basically on the floor. Otherwise, it was completely modern, including a flatscreen TV and – fortunately – an effective heater (our shoes, however, kind of never recovered and felt wet until we reached the Philippines!). I was feeling terrible and had to lie down and get warm, as I already was sick with a cold before the hailstorm. So, I let my friend just get some food from a nearby McDonalds and turned the heater on!