So, I went to Gyeongju a few weekends ago with some friends and I had a blast! Also, I know I should be updating a lot sooner but I’ve been…preoccupied >_>
I bought bus tickets for us all online at kobus.co.kr and it’s easy to use if you know Korean. This site is helpful for those who don’t. You can see the site in English and find bus times, but you can only reserve tickets through the Korean site. Tickets to Gyeongju only cost 4800 won!
The bus terminal is in Nopo, which is the last stop on the orange line. After picking up tickets, we went downstairs and helped ourselves to a common Korean street food: Oden skewers. Delish! Later, we found that one of us would be late and would very likely not make it in time. And she was. She bought the tickets for the next bus though and we were soon on our way. FYI: There are more bus times than what is listed on the site. The site give you times for express buses, which are nicer. We took a not-as-nice bus but we were OK with it since it was relatively empty. We talked the whole ride there and shared snacks. Also, buses in Korea leave exactly on time so make sure you get there at least 15 minutes early!
Once we reached Gyeongju Station, we got off and saw a bunch of tents in the distance. We decided to check it out and apparently there was some kind of street food festival because of the cherry blossoms! We walked around and saw all sorts of street food: oden, spicy rice cakes, kebabs (I LOVED IT, it’d been so long since I’d had anything not Korean), silk worms (ewww), octopus skewers (so tasty mmmm), and more. At one point, one lady offered us samples of Korean blood sausage/soondae. She then offered us samples of her waffles, one huge waffle too, for free! We all shared it and felt bad so we bought another one from her. She was so grateful and so were we. Overall, it was a bit of an awkward but enriching experience.
Afterwards, we walked to royal tombs of Korean kings and queens and paid 2000 won to get in. The flowers were only partly in bloom, which was a shame, but the pink shade from the buds in the trees was still pleasant to see. It was a nice change after living in the city for over a month! There were also many girls walking around in hanboks/traditional Korean clothing. There’s a hanbok rental store nearby and I really wanted to try it but I decided to do it later when I wasn’t as tired or shabby looking hahahha.
We also went to Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond, or what’s left of the palace, I mean. It’s where the crown prince of Shilla used to reside and now all that’s left are a few pavillions. It was beautiful. I had been told by my parents that Gyeongju is known for being one of the most historical sites in Korea and they were right. We walked to this area after the royal tombs and also had to pay another 2000 won to enter this area.
Pavillion at Donggung Palace
Afterwards, we went to Bulguksa temple, Korea’s oldest standing temple. It’s been around for over a thousand years! It was a bit of a climb and cost us 5000 won, but it was well worth it. You can reach this area from the bus stop at Donggung Palace by taking bus 12. So, because Buddha’s birthday is coming up in May, the temple was beginning its preparations with a vivid, colorful array of paper lanterns. They’re strewn about in various locations and it was so cool! But, the temple made me feel quite nostalgic as well. It reminded me of when I lived in Seoul when I was really little- about 3 or 4 years old. My grandmother would take me up the mountain to a remote temple in the woods. I remembered the steep, stone stairs I climbed using my entire body, the trickle of water from the communal water fountain, and the large prayer room in which a profound fragrance of incense pervaded the quiet, distilled air. I remembered people lined up in columns silently kneeling and praying on the floor on top of pillows as the head priest chanted in rhythmic tones. The whole temple just kept reminding me of my grandmother and I could feel myself tear up in her memory. It made me want to visit her grave even more so I could apologize. On a lighter note, I could see the temple as a very peaceful place to visit if it wasn’t filled with tourists. I wouldn’t mind staying there for a few days to just relax and unwind.
Lanterns hung up in preparation for the celebration of Buddha’s arrival
After that we took the 700 (I think?) bus back to Gyeongju Station and another bus back to Busan. It had started pouring so we all decided to part ways and go home.
I think I walked a total of 20k+ steps (quite a large feat for someone who’s a regular couch potato!) and I was in such a great mood that I didn’t feel my fatigue at all and even went grocery shopping afterwards! Overall, Gyeongju is an excellent place to visit if you want a more cultural experience in Korea. But, I recommend making sure to research that the flowers are in bloom! XD