Following our fantastic days in Seoul we wanted to explore a bit the rest of South Korea. Our plane to Osaka was to leave from Daegu, to the southeast of the peninsula, so it was obvious where we had to go. I’m a big World Heritage Sites fan, thus Gyeongju proved to be the perfect place. It’s just an hour away from Daegu Airport, and offers great cultural and natural sites. On top of that, the area has a nice lake and the beach is nearby.
Getting to Gyeongju on the super-fast KTX took us 2 hours. Travelling around Korea can be a bit shocking, there are buildings all around. Just imagine a 2-hour train ride within a never ending urban sprawl. But the further you get from Seoul the less populated the country is. Naturally, Gyeongyu is something else. It’s a mid-size city of some 250000 people surrounded by the beautiful Gyeongju National Park. The city center is quite soulless but the southern part, close to the Historic area, resembles a traditional Korean village. There are three World Heritage Sites within a radius of just 40km2: Gyeongju Historic Areas, Bulguksa Temple & Seokguram Grotto and Yangdong Folk Village.
Our charming Bomun World Pension sits south of the Bomun Lake providing all the peace and tranquility needed to chill. While the northern side of the lake is packed with large hotels and shopping centers, rice fields and small houses surround the southern side. We would wake up in the morning and walk to any of the fancy cafés next doors, to do what we like doing the most: having coffee and cake while intaking the views. Our hotel has bikes too, so we hopped on two and explored the area happily on our own.
Gyeongju Historic Areas
The fast train from Seoul arrives at the new train station out of the city. From there we took a bus into the centre and instead of going directly to our lovely hotel we decided to visit the Gyeongju Historic Areas. So we rented two bikes, left our bags and toured the Gyeongju’s main heritage site including its temples, pagodas, tombs and palaces from the 7th to the 10th centuries. All we had to do is enjoy the area, mostly to ourselves since it seems most people come here from Seoul during the weekend. Yes, we had coffee and cakes again.
Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto
Another good thing about our little hotel is its location close to the magnificent Bulguksa Temple. The main temple of the Jogye Order homes seven national treasures. The place is worth visiting, and again we biked there through the Korean countryside. The same day we also visited the nearby Seokguram Grotto which kind of disappointed us. We could only see it from a far; through a thick glass wall isolating it, supposedly to protect it. At least we got to see many squirrels and the path through the forest was simply amazing.
On the third day we had to choose between the traditional Yangdong Folk Village 20km north of the city, or the beach 20km south of our pension. We had seen Seoul’s Bukchon village plus we had to change buses in the city, so we decided to go to the Bonggil Daewangam Beach. We didn’t have high expectations, but it turned out a perfect day. The beach is pretty nice, with locals selling fish and cooking it just in front of us. Locals don’t speak English, but luckily there was a Korean-American guy who helped us choose the right food. Delicious!
The real Korea
Gyeongju is without a doubt one of Korea’s nicest places. We will never forget the warmth of its people, especially our host at the pension who even drove us to the nearest bus stop. The landscape, the coffee and cakes are hard to forget too. If South Korea is on your list be sure to visit its countryside. Seoul is nice, but it’s here in Gyeongju that you get to feel a more relaxed easy-going Korea. Insider’s tip: finding the right location of the world heritage sites and other places of interest can be tricky so I prepared the map below, hope it comes handy. You can go visit the tourist info at the train station too. They have cool maps!