Lunar new year is a big holiday in Korea. And I got a few days off from teaching English in Wonju, so I went to play tourist in Kyongju.
There are more historical bits per square meter than anywhere else in Korea.
I had made train reservations a few weeks before and on Friday night I was at the Wonju train station with my bag packed and ready to go. I sort of stupidly missed my train (human error, mine!). I showed my ticket to the ticket guy and he sort of shrugged, had a bit of a conference with another customer and they suggested I take a taxi to the next station. (All this of course with no English on their part and less Korean on mine) Out we flew and packed me in a "Takeshi" our one common word.
What followed was the most exciting Takeshi ride I have ever had in my life. With horn blaring, flashers flashing, never mind trafic lights, we flew to the next town and I got my train with 10 minutes to spare! No roller coaster was ever as exciting as this ride was. Remember Korea is a country of mountains with a few valleys in between, we're careening on mountain roads here! My driver loved it!
The next morning off I went to the museum. An amazing building or rather collection of buildings. I guess its not so hard to have a great museum when you have goodies of this caliber.
From the mandatory prehistoric pottery all the way to astonishing crowns and ornaments of the Shilla kings.
There are a few pieces that are particularly great. A bronze Buddha took my breath away.
The Emile bell also lives on the grounds of the museum
If you want more information on the museum let me know, I can talk ad nauseum about it.
One of the nice things about Kyongju is that wherever you walk there is something.
Near the museum there is an observatory. Its really a tower in which the observer would climb and observe. Its all terribly symbolic though. There are about 365 stones, 12 layers, and all kinds of astronomically related proportions.
There are a whole bunch of tombs right in town. The Shilla used to bury their kings in big mounds of earth. They made a burial chamber out of wood or other material then buried this in a huge pile of rock and soil. There are 30 or 40 of these Tumuli, as they are called, around Kyongju.
The whole town is really neat because there are lots of the traditional curved tiled roofs , and a real effort has been made to integrate newer buildings with old stuff. The downtown is no great shakes but out of the commercial centre it's great.
There is a plethora of temples and monuments, but my favorite temple was Pulguksa. It took a beating during the Japanese occupation in the 15th century, but it's being restored gradually. It's absolutely stunning.
A pleasant hike up Tohamsan mountain (my 4 th mountain) brought me to the entrance of the Sakkukran.
There is a grotto with a white carved Buddha, Sakkuram. It's one of those sacred places that really stay with you. Unesco helped in its restauration. I'm told its crawling with people during the summer, but this is February, and Lunar New year, so there is no one here. Just me and a family. The man quietly bows. I just stand there and listen to the monk who is chanting in front of the statue. Kyongju is worth visiting, just for this. It somehow doesnt matter that there is a glass wall, to help maintain a safe athmosphere for the statues.
The Buddha is housed in a little grotto with a very unassuming little pavillion in front.
There is a large bell at the top of the mountain as well, and it is rung at 12:00.
It's possible to drive up if you are not up to the walk. It's a bit of a steep climb.
On my way back I stopped to the craft village. It was fun to look at stuff. There was nice pottery, jewelry, and various craft things including masks.
On the last day I went for a nice walk around Namsan. (South Mountain) It has more tombs and some carved reliefs of Buddhas.
On the way I stopped at the little stone garden trough where a king used to play poetry drinking games with his courtiers, and float drinks to the loosers. Its cute and tiny. Its called Posukjun.
Anapji pond is a peaceful garden complete with a pond (!) and various pavillions. At this time of year the colours are ambers and ochers and soft greens, but in summer it will be all greens and flowers.
It proved to be a great source of stuff when they decided to drain it to restore it and fix bits that were falling in.
They found litterally thousands of artifacts in the pond. These are on display at the museum. there was even a boat.
As I was leaving the hostel, Master Kwon, my hostel owner, presented me with a calligraphied page. He's a calligraphy artist and will do a poem for you if you want. Master Kwon is a warm and pleasant man who well deserves the write up he gets in Lonely Planet. He speaks excellent English and can direct you if you need help.
He collects stamps and coins so if you need to bank a bit of good will send him some stamps or coins. ( remember, what goes round comes round!)
I came home with no problems this time completely pleased with myself. 3 days was a perfect amount of time to spend in Kyongju.
I took lots of photos and will post pictures when I get some. I promise I'm not in all of them.