Enjoying Gyeongju

Gyeongju Travel Blog

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Bulguksa

Today I tackled the two main (World Heritage) sites Gyeongju is known for: Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto.  Like most sights in Gyeongju, they are located outside the town, tucked into the surrounding mountains.  The area surrounding Gyeongju is a big national park (Gyeongju National Park, as a matter of fact), so as you might imagine it's easy on the eyes.  There is lots of oooh-ing and ahhh-ing involved.

Bulguksa is a fantastic temple that involves several different structures and temples within temples, and is set about mid-mountain, so there is beautiful scenery both above and below.  It's bright, cheery, ornate, delicate, intricate, and other-worldly.  The landscaping itself is wonderful, and I couldn't seem to take enough photos of random trees sporting vivid fall colors.

Bulguksa
  Finally the fall foliage I've been craving!  Cloudless, clear blue skies, blazing sunshine and a pleasant breeze, bright yellows and oranges and reds interspersed throughout the green forest, and a spectacular, sprawling temple to boot.  Absolutely gorgeous.

From Bulguksa I took a bus up the mountain to Seokguram Grotto.  There's a hiking trail you can do between the two, but it's nearly three miles long and I opted for the lazy bus route telling myself that I wasn't being lazy, I was being time-efficient.  Yeah well this little buckaroo was happy indeed when the bus wound up and up and further up still.  Holy crap that would have been the most grueling three miles I've ever walked!  There was no mention of "you'll be walking straight up the steep side of a mountain, so get ready to wheeze and swear yourself silly for the next eternity.
Bulguksa
"  No one said anything about mountain hiking, they said path.  WALKING path.  Um, yeah.  Maybe someone should modify that signage for the poor unsuspecting tourists who come along and figure they'll be troops about it.

From the bus (which stops directly next to the end of the "walking path," which is so steep you get vertigo just looking down and trying to imagine exactly how you would place your first step) it's a good 15 minute walk through the woods and the mountain up to the grotto anyway, which means I felt worse still for these hypothetical unsuspecting mountain hikers.  The "grotto" is just a small temple-like building that houses a sitting Buddha statue.  It's very zen and almost inspires an impromptu spiritual reflection.
Bulguksa
  But, as with everything else that's worthwhile on the inside, there is no photography allowed (and a barking Nazi enforcing it), which puts a damper on things.  That, and you've just wheezed for who knows how long hiking up the side of a mountain and finally when you reach the peak it's just a tiny little box with some statue inside and no photos allowed, I don't know about you but I'd be pretty pissed off if that had been my reward after nearly killing myself on the longest three mile "walking path" in existence.  Doing my best to admire and appreciate the breathtaking views and the zen Buddha, I then made my way back down from the peak and waited for the next bus to take me back to Bulguksa.  From there I caught a bus back into town, and did my favorite no-no: popped into a grocery store on an empty stomach.
Bulguksa


On my first afternoon in Busan I was in a convenience store buying aloe juice (that stuff is so good -- it's like kool-aid with crack in it) and three school girls were buying ice cream sandwiches.  They looked pretty tasty.  I made a mental note that I should check one out at some point.  Enter today's grumbling tummy prowling the aisles of a grocery store.  I passed an open freezer bin on my way to the bakery (where I picked up some sort of sugar-coated pastry) and went "ooooh! ice cream sandwiches!"  They had the one that the girls bought, yellow wrapper and looks like vanilla wafers with vanilla ice cream (good), but has what looks like an oreo stamped on it which leads me to think the ice cream is actually some garbage like cookies and cream (bleh).
Bulguksa
  And I was about to get one anyway, in the spirit of trying different things (read: eating everything in sight), when I noticed that next to these little treats was a slightly different ice cream sandwich, involving a wafer that encased the ice cream on all sides (kind of looked like a big waffle), and a nifty little cross section illustration showing vanilla ice cream and healthy-sized chunks of chocolate.  One had chocolate, one had cookies.  But on the other hand, one had vanilla ice cream, which beats that cookie garbage any day.  So I round up some milk and tea for tomorrow and snag a bunch of concord grapes and a bag full of clementines, which I've been buying from street vendors by the dozens.  Back out into the sunshine and ripped open that ice cream sandwich and WOW was that tasty bueno!  (It's a Smith-ism.
Bulguksa
  You dig it.)  Between you and me, this little heffer is going to keep an eye out for those delicious wonders and develop a bad habit.  YUM.

I then came back to the guesthouse and did something I haven't done yet, even when bleary-eyed and jetlagged: NAPPED.  Not sure why, but I was beyond beat.  I kept fighting the urge, but it was closing in on 4pm and I finally thought eh, what's the harm.  It was wonderful.

For dinner I wandered around downtown again, and was becoming increasingly discouraged and thinking I'd have to settle for a chain restaurant (I wanted Korean but wanted a real meal, not street snacks again).  I had just about given up when I said ok, one more street, and wandered down the next block.
Bulguksa
  I found a restaurant that looked so nice and welcoming, so didn't think twice about popping in.  The woman and man both froze and looked at me blankly, like they were confused by my appearance and were waiting for me to turn around and walk out.  So I smiled and gestured that I wanted a table for one, and they snapped out of their reverie and showed me a table.  They brought me a big ceramic pot of steaming hot milky water, almost like it was starchy pasta water.  (I've since discussed with fellow travelers and we think it's starchy rice water.)  Then the assortment of side dishes and whole chilies and spicy accouterments and the such came out, at least a dozen dishes theatrically arranged in front of me.  Then a big bowl of rice, and two boiling (yes, literally boiling in big hot stone bowls) main dishes: a soft fluffy egg custard of sorts, unlike any egg dish I've ever had, and the crowning jewel: soft tofu soup.
Bulguksa
  The soft tofu soup is apparently a specialty of the region, and is a spicy broth with loads of soft tofu.  Mine also came with octopus and mussels.  AMAZING.  Soooo good!  Everything was delicious.

Very happy tummy, back at the hostel enjoying a Black Beer Stout I found today.  Not quite as good as my beloved Guinness, but certainly good in its own right.  Talk about a full, satisfying day.

fransglobal says:
I'd love to know what the something else was. Guinnes is very good but is not great when a man is thirsty. I lived in Belgium for four years and they have the best beers or maybe the Germans. I would have a slight preference for German. Czech Republic also - including the original Budweiser...
Posted on: Oct 17, 2009
domnicella says:
So they say -- my dad said Ireland had the best beers ever, Guinness and something else. And I LOVE Guinness on draught. Yum.
Posted on: Oct 16, 2009
fransglobal says:
I've never tried kool-aid with crack in it myself!
And as it seems you've never been to Ireland, you've never tasted Guinness.
I really liked Gyeongju-high up in the list of places I've been.
Posted on: Oct 16, 2009
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View from Seokguram Grotto
View from Seokguram Grotto
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View from Seokguram Grotto
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Soft tofu soup feast. Delicious!
Soft tofu soup feast. Delicious!
Soft tofu soup feast. Delicious!
Soft tofu soup feast. Delicious!
Gyeongju
photo by: Deats