Flower Viewing! Or Not….Our Day Trip to Gyeongju!

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.

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Food stands at Gyeongju

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.

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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.

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.

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

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Fun in Nampo-dong! And Korea Jjimjimbangs!

Last weekend, I met up with some friends from orientation at Nampo. We met in front of the Krispy Kreme inside the Gwangbok Lotte Department Store. We looked around, but didn’t buy much since you know…department stores in Korea are uber pricey. We did eat chicken and shop at the Uniqlo where I bought 2 cute bell-sleeved shirts, which would be great for work! We looked around the underground shopping area next and I bought a long sweater for like 5000 won. It’s awesome XD

We went to the Jagalchi Fish Market next. It’s Korea’s largest fish market! And, it literally had everything. Octopus, shellfish, fish- anything and everything. The first floor generally has a lot of live seafood on sale and the second floor has dried foods and restaurants. I bought some squid legs to munch on at home and then we all sat down so I could order some live octopus! Well, it’s dead now, but the legs are still moving after it’s served. This was the #1 dish I wanted to try in Korea and finally…the time had come.

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It tasted about how I thought it would. A bit slimy but crunchy, tastes like the sea and like octopus. The lady was super nice and gave us a lot at a discount! Only 20,000 won instead of the usual 30,000. She also gave us a few fish stew after my friend ordered some makkeoli and raw fish. We also got a few side dishes too. One of my friends was a bit terrified of the live octopus but she gathered up enough courage to try a small piece that stopped moving.

After that, we walked around a bit to digest before heading to the jjimjilbang, or the Korean sauna! We went to Songdo Haesoopia, which is pretty close to Nampo. You can get there by bus but we carpooled a taxi there instead.

As with any Korean spa, you take off you shoes and store them in a locker. To stay overnight we paid 12,000 won, which is a great price compared to $40 at the Spa World for 12 hours in the US. You get a uniform for the sauna and can change in the locker room. Don’t forget to take your respective elevators! Men and women have different elevators. The women’s elevators don’t stop at the men’s locker rooms an vice versa. Once you the locker room, BAM! Naked people. Everywhere. Now, if you’re Korean-American like me, you’re (well, at least me) used to this. I’ve been to a common Korean bath area before, and when I go to the gym, it’s the same. Although, I admit that at the gym it’s usually only the Asians who walk around buck naked. White people, I’ve noticed, change in the bathroom.

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Anyways, we changed into our spa outfits and I made everyone sheep ears, which is a must-do at the Korean sauna. We ordered a few drinks and snacks before trying out some of the rooms. There are a variety of rooms, such as the salt room, oxygen room, black rock room (I don’t know the actual name of this room. It was just full of small, black rocks), and more. The black rock room was my favorite. It was a nice, hot temperature and I could stay in there for a while! After trying out some rooms, we ordered jjimjilbang eggs and some shikhye (rice punch). So tasty!

After that, we tried the baths. My non-Korean friends were extremely hesitant to start, but eventually we all, well…we all got to know each other a little better if you know what i mean 😉

The baths were all saltwater baths with some herbs mixed in. You have to shower before entering, so we did. I reaaalllyy needed a nice, hot soak after a long week and this gave me exactly what I needed. There is an area that’s like a jet propulsion out of the wall, and it felt like a nice shoulder massage to me while to others it was just painful!

Forewarning: If you go to Songdo Haesoopia, take an extra towel and all of your toiletries. They do not offer free shampoo/conditioner/body wash. You also only get 2 towels. Men get unlimited which is unfair. I paid a total of 1,900 won for shampoo/conditioner/body wash. After washing up, I bought some milk before we all headed back upstairs to get some sleep.

Another forewarning: Save a spot. It’s hard to find a spot to sleep in. Luckily, we found the women’s sleeping area and grabbed a few blankets before settling down.

Last forewarning: It’s hot. Well, duh, yeah, it’s a sauna. But the sleeping area and general area are all very warm, much warmer than room temperature, and on top of that the floor is heated. I felt so hot I couldn’t get proper sleep. I think I woke up nearly every 15 minutes because I was so uncomfortably hot, not to mention that hard floors aren’t exactly luxurious sleeping material. Also, people are still talking, children still running around, and as a bonus: people snore. Loudly. So if you decide to sleep at Haesoopia, be prepared for this. At the Spa World in America, I slept like a baby. They have mats on top of the hard floors and the general area is at room temperature. Songdo Haesoopia was a disturbing realization that I liked Spa World better to sleep in even if it was pricier. The sauna and baths were better at Haesoopia though.

Overall, Songdo Haesoopia: Loved the sauna and baths, but would never sleep there again!

When we woke up the next morning, we explored the Seomyun area. We went underground and looked around after we had some street food. For lunch we had chicken again and watched Logan at the theater before parting ways.

Overall, I had a great weekend. This weekend we plan on hitting Gwangali beach, so please look forward to my next post!