We were still run-down from the hailstorm the day before, mainly as we were already kind of sick with a cold even before that. My friend had a sunburn and a cold actually at the same time. Still, it was our last day in Gyeongju, and we didn’t want to give in and let the day pass without seeing anything. So, we reduced our day plan and started with the Gyeongju Bird Park.
We had seen online, that Bus 10 stops at the Bird Park and also on the street, that leads to the train station, the Hwarang-ro, close to our Guesthouse. But it was a Sunday and with a cold – and still wet shoes – we avoided a crowded bus and allowed us a taxi ride (we had printed out the name of the Bird Park in Korean and showed it to the taxi driver). It was much cheaper than expected, especially as we spent quite some time in traffic jams. Gyeongju seems to be actually full of traffic jams on the weekend – it looks like a famous destination also for local tourists.
At the Bird Park, we bought a combi-ticket, which also included the Gyeongju East Palace Garden, which is just next to it. The main building of the Bird Park is impressive, and inside we were greeted by a bird-photo-opportunity.
In the Philippines, where I grew up, we have a large variety of colorful endemic birds. And I like to see the variety of birds and nature. But it is a big building with many smaller cages inside, and I have to say, it wasn’t my favorite. I liked the Bird Park we visited in Singapore much more, as it was more spacious and more like a park with more nature. The much smaller, but beautiful Malta Falconry Center we visited last year also deserves a special mention at this point. But back to Gyeongju – I was hungry and so went to the cafe inside the building. There, we got coffee, waffle, and some surprisingly large honey bread with remarkably too much butter in it.
Behind the main building, we found some farm animals and another building with birds before we walked towards the East Palace Garden.
The glass buildings of the East Palace Garden, home of a botanical garden, are quite impressive and inside it was fine too. Still, it couldn’t compete with the Gardens by the Bay we visited in Singapore.
I actually love botanical gardens. We even visited one in Iceland, went to a Cacti Pavilion in Slovenia and gardens in Malta. However, my favorite is still the northernmost botanical garden, which we visited in Norway.
When we were finished with the East Palace Garden, we thought about retaking a taxi but didn’t find one, so we had to take the bus. We’re supposed to ride the Bus 10, but the Bus 700 came first, and the info at the bus stop suggested, it will go to the Bulguksa Temple as well. Both buses actually pass many attractions on the way along the Bomun Lake: If we had been better, we would have stopped at some of them, like the Shilla Millennium Park, the Gyeongju World Culture Expo Park and maybe Gyeongju Folk Craft Village.
The bus got somewhat crowded, but fortunately, we could sit. That was great, as there was a lot of traffic. I was feeling under the weather from the previous day of gloom and rain. I had a bit of fever and chills the night before due to the icy-cold rain. But still, have managed to go out for the tour. Bulguksa Temple, we have read, is a must-see attraction in Gyeongju and that proved to be true. It is a vast place and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, established in the 8th century under the Silla Dynasty.
From the bus stop at the big parking lot, we had to walk a path upwards, past some booths, where you can buy a snack or some souvenirs, like wooden back scratchers. After buying tickets, we came to a beautiful stone bridge, where we rested, and I took some shots.
We went through a gate with statues and soon arrived at the Bulguksa Temple. There, we followed a path up to get inside the temple grounds and to the Dabotap Pagoda and the Seokgatap Pagoda. We were just looking around at the rich variety of ornaments when we were approached by a Korean woman, who turned out to be an (official) guide of the temple. She offered to guide us through the grounds (for free) and told us a lot of backgrounds. For example, that the big wooden fish we adored, actually is a symbol for all the animals, which are also welcomed in the temple by Buddha. That’s why the fish also has antlers. Same as the deer and a dragon.
She also told us that the stairs at the front of the temple once lead to a lake, which was drained some time ago. That’s why one of the “stairs” is actually called “Lotus Flower Bridge.” We also learned, that the golden pig in front of another building, which many believe when you touch it, it brings good luck, but is only for the tourists. The original is a bit hidden up at the entrance of the building. Tourists used to fall down and hurt themselves when they all gathered there, so they put a new one on the ground level. We could all use some luck and good fortune so eventually touched the pig and wished for something at the Buddha statues and continued through the site with our personal guide.
In the end, our friendly guide asked us, if we would be willing to fill out a questionnaire of the local Tourist Office, as they try to improve services for foreign tourists (in fact, we didn’t see many western tourists in South Korea). We gladly complied, of course, answered the questions and were offered free coffee at their booth at the temple. The temple and the (free) tour was really a highlight while in Gyeongju. From the temple, there’s also a bus (Bus 12) and a possibility to hike to the Seokguram Grotto, but it was too late for us.
We then walked back to the bus stop. It was already late in the afternoon, and many fellow tourists had the same idea. You can actually take Bus 10, 11 or 700 back to the train station. The Bus 10 came first but was overcrowded, so we decided to take next Bus 11 – both buses circle the same route (more or less I think) just in different directions.
We got seats and then drove back past Bomun Lake again. We were pleased, that we weren’t there, looking for a bus, as the bus got crowded so quickly, that it didn’t even stop anymore at the bus stops, where people waited unless someone wanted out. It took quite some time, as there was still substantial traffic. We alighted at the Gyeongju Train Station, where we got train tickets to Andong for the next day. Then we walked back to the guesthouse, passing many restaurants and shops. Later, we returned to get our dinner.
All said, Gyeongju is a great destination with so much history. After all, it’s the former capital of the Silla Kingdom. Inside the “old town,” no skyscrapers are allowed and there are so many attractions within walking distance of either the train station or the central bus station. The day before, we actually used a bus just once. We could have easily spent more time there. However, it’s probably best to visit on regular weekdays.
With another day at our hands, we would have taken the Bus 500, which stops at the central bus station, the train station (at the Gyeongju Post Office) and the Daereungwon Tomb Complex, to get to Namsan Mountain. The bus also passes the Oreung Royal Tombs, the Poseokjeong Pavilion, and the Samneung Tombs. On the maps, it looks like, that you can start a Namsan Mountain hike from the Samneung Tombs.