Justin in front of the observatory.
Bobby, Meena, Justin and I decided to be spontaneous this weekend and take a roadtrip to Gyeongju, a city famous for it's historical ties. It was formeraly a capital of one of the ancient dynasties which explains the presence of dozens of royal tombs. Gyeongju is also known for Bulguksa, one of the most famous temples in Korea. Up the mountain from the temple is a stone grotto with a large Buddha carved from one piece of stone. We heard great things about it. Too bad we didn't get to see it.
Several times during our trip we all decided that next time it would be smart to add some planning to are "spontaneity". Or maybe we'll be spontaneous but we'll choose do so on a weekend that is not a national holiday and therefore one of the busiest travel periods of the year.
Biking in the countryside.
When we arrived in Gyeongju late Friday night we had not been counting on the mass exodus of tourists to Bulguksa for Buddha's birthday. We should have known, we've experienced other Korean holidays and know all too well how crazy it is to travel on those days. So, needless to say, we had some difficulty this past weekend. After two hours of searching for a cheap hotel and coming up empty because there were no rooms left, we finally stumbled onto a building about a 20 minute walk from the bus terminal. There was one room left with korean style sleeping arrangements (aka blankets on the floor) that the manager would give us for 100 bucks (for people- keep in mind the room was supposed to be for 2 people and normally was 30 bucks a night.) We took a peek and when we asked if there were any more rooms available, the manager hesitated a minute, then unlocked the room next door which had a plush western-style bed.
Bobby and Meena getting their bearings.
We were happy that we would have two rooms but later we realized that the room with the bed was actually being lived in (on a long term basis)- it turns out the occupant was away for the weekend but the manager decided to let us have it anyway (despite the fact that the occupant's clothes and personal possessions were scattered around and the room had not been cleaned). It was definitely a little awkward sleeping in a stranger's room- I was afraid that the occupant would return home in the middle of the night and discover two strangers sleeping in his bed- I imagine it would not be a pretty encounter.
Luckily, the next morning we woke up after a peaceful night's sleep with no angry tenant's barging in. We looked into renting scooters to drive around the city but they were all rented out.
Our delicious noodle lunch at a shikdang big enough for 8 people.
We were going to take a cab to Bulguksa but realized 10 minutes after getting in that it would probably cost us 30 bucks or more to even get close to the temple and we knew traffic would be horrendous the closer we got. Instead, we hopped out of the cab and walked to the National Museum. It was a beautiful day outside and the admission was free so we had a nice, relaxing time. Next we waited almost an hour for a city bus that would take us to Bulguksa but when it finally came it was packed like a can of sardines. The driver refused to stop because it was so full. Finally we caught a different bus that would take us to the base of the mountain on which Bulguksa was located. However, after arriving there we saw that all of the shuttle buses to Bulguksa were packed too, so we gave up hope of trying to see it.
A little girl playing beside the ancient royal tombs.
Instead we had a great lunch of homemade veggie/noodle soup and bussed it back downtown. There we found some bicycles and decided to rent them for a couple of hours. Our bike ride made up for our whole lousy experience thus far. The countryside was beautiful, the landscape was dotted with rice paddies in the valleys between the mountains and the sunset created a a gorgeous site. We biked past the ancient burial mounds and stopped at one of the largest, oldest observatories in Asia. Meena was expecting an actual telescope in a building filled with exhibits about astronomy. What we found was a simple stone structure that you could walk around (outside of) in about ten seconds. At least the admission was only 50 cents a person. And now we know why :)
After the observatory we continued our bike ride and attempted to make it to the base of the mountain on which bulguksa was located. We had not tried riding bikes there before because we heard it was too far away but after a 40 minute bike ride we had almost reached our destination. Unfortunately we had to turn back because it was getting dark and it's not exactly safe to be riding along side traffic in Korea without lights, helmets, or any protection whatsoever. After returning the bikes we had a great spicy chicken dinner downtown (the restaurant was empty except for us because of the Avian Influenza scare) and Justin and I hopped on the bus back to Daegu. We meant to catch the last bus from Daegu to Gwangju but we missed it so instead we walked 5 minutes down the street and found a love motel for 25 bucks a night. It was much nicer than the place we stayed at in Gyeongju and a ton cheaper.
I wouldn't say that our trip to Gyeongju was a bad experience, it was just "interesting". And the next time we decide to be spontaneous we are definitely going to plan ahead :)