Gyeongju

Dabotap, a stone pagoda in Bulguksa Temple complex

Gyeongju (경주시, 慶州市; formally romanized as Kyongju) is in North Gyeongsang province, South Korea.

Understand

Gyeongju was once the capital of the Silla Korean kingdom, and is possibly the foremost location in Korea where many ancient buildings, burial grounds and artefacts can be found. Driving through this city you will notice that the typical modern Korean buildings are frequently interspersed with large burial mounds. It's one of the country's most popular destinations. Most of the visitors are domestic or from elsewhere in East Asia — seemingly westerners haven't discovered Gyeongju yet.

Forested hills dominate the region, between them there are rice fields as well as houses and roads. Downtown Gyeongju is a small city without high-rises. These, on the other hand, can be found some 5km to the east, namely "Bomunhu Resorts", a collection of several expensive hotels next to an eponymous lake. According to a 2012 census, there are some 264,000 inhabitants in the city. The region is famous for the traditional roofs on the houses, even some gas stations have them.

History

There has been human settlement at and around the site of the present-day town of Gyeongju from the prehistoric period. The Silla clan became the rulers of the south-eastern part of the peninsula in 57 BCE. They chose Gyeongju as their capital. There followed a long period of internal struggles between rival kingdoms. With the help of the Tang Dynasty in China, the Silla Kingdom defeated its rivals in the 7th century and established its rule over most of the peninsula; this remained unchallenged until the beginning of the 10th century.

The legend of King Munmu

King Munmu was the first ruler to unite the Korean peninsular in 668. In order to protect Korea from Japaneses invaders after his death, he decided to take on the form of a sea dragon by having his ashes interred in the ocean. Today his grave can be seen among several rocks off the coast near Gyeongju. His son, King Shinmu, also built the temple Gameunsa nearby in order that the dragon may have a place to rest.

The Silla rulers embellished their city with many public buildings, palaces, temples, and fortresses. Their tombs are to be found in the surroundings of the ancient city.

Mahayana Buddhism spread from China into Korea during the course of the 7th century and was adopted by the Silla Kingdom. Mount Namsan, which had been venerated by the existing cults of Korea, became a Buddhist sacred mountain and attracted its adherents, who employed the most outstanding architects and craftsmen of the day to create temples, shrines, and monasteries.

With the end of the Silla Kingdom, Korea underwent a further period of internal strife. It was unified again under Korean rule by the Yi (Chosun) Dynasty, which reigned until 1910. However, the country was invaded and devastated by the Japanese in the late 16th century and the Manchu in the 18th century, before being annexed by Japan in 1910. Throughout this long period, Gyeongju has maintained its urban identity, though many of its major buildings have suffered degradation and demolition.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 5.7 7.3 11.9 17.8 22.8 25.1 28.7 29.7 25.1 20.9 14.6 8.6
Nightly lows (°C) -3.3 -1.8 2.3 7.8 12.8 17.0 21.4 22.4 17.4 11.3 5.1 -0.9
Precipitation (mm) 34.4 45.2 63.8 82.9 71.6 128.8 195.4 172.7 154.7 63.3 51.9 26.2

Source:w:Gyeongju#Climate

In the summer heavy rainfall is common and the day temperatures hover around +30°C. Late fall is the best time to visit, when the temperatures are lower and the sky usually clear.

Tourist Office

The tourist offices are located at the bus station (Phone: 772 3842), at the railway station and at the Bulguksa temple. The staff speaks good English and are helpful. At the tourist office you can get English-language brochures about the region's sights and ideas for which of them to visit if you just have little time to spend. You can also inquire about hiking paths and bus connections there.

Get in

By plane

The nearest airports are Busan Gimhae International Airport and Ulsan, each about an hour away by express bus. From the airport in Ulsan there are four daily buses and tickets cost ₩4500, from the larger Gimhae airport there are twelve daily buses and tickets cost ₩9000.

Seoul's Incheon International Airport will allow you to come to Gyeongju directly via the high speed KTX train in 2014. Bus service between the airports and Gyeongju's main terminal runs hourly. There are also 5 direct return coach journeys per day between Incheon International Airport and Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal. These services take around 4 hours and cost around ₩40,000 each way.

By bus

Gyeongju is well serviced by intercity buses from the   Intercity Bus Terminal. Service from Daegu, Pohang, and Busan (depending on terminal) leaves at least every twenty minutes, and every 40 minutes between Gyeongju and Seoul. Travel time from Seoul is approximately four hours, and Daegu, Pohang, and Busan are usually 40 minutes to an hour. There is limited daily service to other parts of Korea, and travelers going between Gyeongju and other cities will usually be routed through either Daegu or Busan, depending on direction of travel. An inter-city bus leaves directly from the Incheon International Airport near Seoul.

By train

  Gyeongju station is located in the city center, and is served by 7 direct (but slow) Seamaeul trains per day from Seoul. These trains take up to five hours and stop at a large number of stations along the route.

The KTX (Korea's high speed train) also serves Gyeongju directly, although the train goes to the brand new out-of-town station called   Singyeongju station where the journey time from Seoul is two hours. From the new station, many buses will take you to the city in about 15 minutes. Use buses 50, 60, 61, 70, 203 and 700. Ask the driver to let you off at the Express Bus Terminal (Gosok Teominal) which is a pretty convenient location. One way economy class Seoul-Singyeongju by KTX costs a little over ₩40,000, and tickets can be purchased from the automated machines (in English or Korean) at the station. Check Korail's website for schedules and fares.

An alternative option is to take the KTX high speed train to   Dongdaegu Station in Daegu and transfer to the Saemaeul there, which takes about 3 hours as well as the transfer time.

Owing to its location off the central train lines (Gyeongbu Line) to Daegu and Busan, train service to other parts of the country is limited or indirect. There is, however, train service to Busan, Daegu, and Pohang. In addition, there is extensive commuter train service to surrounding communities.

If coming from Busan/Haeundae in particular, consider the train as the route is rather scenic varying from being sandwiched between pine forest and blue ocean during the 15 minutes after Haeundae Beach to the curious sight of and passing through Ulsan elevated over the city with the endless industrial smokestacks in the distance. Most importantly though, there exists a second stop specifically servicing the Bulguksa World Heritage Site called   Bulguksa station. Get off here, take the number 11 bus and it'll typically zip you up to the temple much faster than the intercity bus route.

Get around

Be sure to visit the two tourist kiosks to get maps and guides. One is next to the express bus terminal while the other is beside the main train station. Whether walking or biking, if you know your destination's Romanized or Hangul name you will find countless signs along the path at just about every intersection pointing the direction to the nearest attractions with distances provided.

By bike

The best way to get around the central city is to walk or bike. A bike can be rented for ₩7,000 per day, return by 7PM from the bike rental shop 3 minutes east of the express bus terminal, motor scooters are available next door but are much pricier for a much shorter duration. Bikes can be used on some of the trails and within a few of the city's parks, so with good planning a bike can save you money compared to buses while providing a more enjoyable experience and allow you to see more attractions in a day. However, riding a bike on a hot summer day can be a sweaty experience. Gyeongju is an extremely difficult place to get lost in when visiting its famous sites.

By bus

Sites further afield can be reached using the city's bus system. Note that there are no timetables at the bus stops and sometimes you may have to wait long for the bus. The #10 and #11 buses circle the central city, and many of the most notable tourist destinations, in opposite directions. All buses cost ₩1,500, and don't offer a transfer (transfers using local transportation cards unconfirmed). The buses don't accept Daegu nor Daejeon Hankkumi but they do accept Busan Mybi and Seoul T-money cards. There are stops in front of the train stations and the bus terminal. All the stops for the most popular attractions are voice recorded in Korean followed by English.

There are also guided bus tours to the main sights; the ticket price includes the entrance to the sights and you don't need to wait for those public buses. Mostly they are good value for money, but sometimes the visits to particular sights are shortened if you are lagging behind schedule. The English of the tour guide is acceptable, but you would probably like to read up a bit about the sights yourself before going on the tour.

See

Map of Bulguksa Temple

Gyeongju is home to South Korea's first nominated UNESCO World Heritage Site — Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple — and numerous other national treasures.

Within the city

Around the city

Gameunsa

Royal tombs

There are many royal tombs including: The Gwoereung Tomb, Oreung Tombs Park, Baeri Samneung Tombs, Gyeongju Hwangnam-ri Gobungun Tomb Park, Nodong/Noseo-ri Tombs Park, Seoakri Gobungun Tombs Park, Kim Yushin's Tomb, King Munmu's Underwater Tomb.

Bomunho Resort

The resort is located about 5km east of downtown next to the man-made lake Bomun. Here you can find splurge-level hotels and services including stores, activity parks, a golf course and a swimming pool. You can walk or bike along the banks of the lake. The lake boasts the highest fountain in Korea, named Gosa. With its six jets, water is shot more than 100m into the air and in the night it is illuminated.

Gyeongju National Park

Other

Do

As a major tourist destination in Korea, Gyeongju is host to many festivals and events.

Buy

The best items to buy in Gyeongju are mostly reproductions of Silla craftworks, such as ceramics, metalworks, and artwork. There will be numerous vendor stalls on your hikes to Bulguksa and a few more if you continue onto Seokguram Grotto in addition to the souvenir shops that sell mostly the same goods plus some higher ticket items in addition to small trinkets and nicknacks. You are more likely to get a good deal from the street vendors who you might reward buying multiple items with a discount off the ticketed price.

Seongdong Market

Eat

Making "Gyeongju ppang"

Unlike many cities in Korea, there is no particular dish the area is known for besides a general association with seafood. However, there are some famous edible items found in Gyeongju that have become renowned throughout Korea: Hwangnam ppang (ppang being the Korean word for "bread"; derived from the Portuguese word "pan") which is a small ball of silky-smooth sweet red bean paste surrounded by a thin pastry shell, and Gyeongju ppang which is the same sweet red bean paste enclosed between two thin barley bread pancakes. Both can be purchased many places in town (including from a booth at the train station) but the best way to taste them is fresh and warm from the bakery, just across the street to the east from the Flying Horse Tomb (Cheonmacheong) Park.

For seafood, many locals head to Gampo, a village directly on the coast. Most of Gyeongju's fishing catch is brought here and served locally, rather than being exported to other markets. The local hoe (sashimi) is excellent and very fresh.

If you happen to drink too much Gyeodong Beopju you might want to check the famous Haejangguk a pork spine and coagulated blood stew at the "Hangover Soup Street".

The area around Bulguksa's bus stop and carpark hosts a veritable village of restaurants. The owners will, unusually for Korea, tend to aggressively tout their shops over others but there are enough around that if you can ignore their advances, you can pick and choose. Prices are surprisingly standard, given the location.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Gyeongju is known for Gyeodong Beopju, a mild rice wine. Although it is principally made from glutenous rice and spring water, locals believe that a boxthorn or Chinese matrimony vine growing near the wellsource of the water has imbued the wine with special medicinal properties and flavor. Bars and clubs are mostly concentrated around Dongguk University. Some of them serve snacks (anju) at a price of ₩10,000-20,000.

Sleep

Budget

Near the train station there are some yeoinsuk (guesthouses) where you can stay for as little as $10 USD/night. However, none of these places have hot water, making it difficult to use the very dirty facilities. There are also roaches in many of the rooms. Far better are the few "motels" near the train station that charge around $20/night.

Mid range

Splurge

Bomun Lake Resort Area is home to several luxury hotels aimed at Korean tour groups, including the Hyundai and Hilton Hotels, as well as the Concord, Chosun Spa Hotel, and other more moderately priced hotels. There are also many accommodation facilities near Bulguksa.

Go next

Further away

Buses and trains regularly leave to Busan and other cities, the intercity and express bus terminal are very close to each other at the river in the southwest of the city. Take the #100 (local) bus, across the street from the express bus terminal, to get to Gampo.

KTX trains to get to cities northwest of Gyeongju require a transfer at Daegu (Dongdaegu Station), however for short trips the Saemaeul will be cheaper and more convenient.

The travel time to Daegu by train or bus is almost the same but there are far more frequent buses and they're also cheaper. Express buses to Daegu and Busan run about every 10 minutes during the day, and to either destination it's just under an hour.

Routes through Gyeongju

Dong-daegu  NW  SE  Ulsan Busan


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, February 04, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.