Thursday, June 21, 2018

Walking Around Gyeongju

As soon as I had dumped my bags in Chacharang Guesthouse, I went out to explore the historic sites of Gyeongju City. Right next door was the northern portion of the Royal Tombs Park and that's where I started. This is the Noseo-dong area of the park where six tombs in different sizes are found. Five are shaped like hills, and one is shaped like a half moon. Among the items excavated from the half moon shaped tomb was a small gold crown. This tomb is believed to be that of a younger member of the royal family.

South of the Noseo-dong Tombs Park is the Daerungwon Tombs Park. This area has four large tombs. The largest tomb in this area is the Hwangnamdaechong Tomb, which contains two tombs, believed to enshrine a royal couple. About 11,500 items were discovered in a tomb called Cheonmachong Tomb. Cheonmachong Tomb can be entered with an admission fee of 2000 won. But, as luck would have it, it was under restoration work at the time of my visit. Another tomb in Daerungwon is the tomb of King Michu, the 13th king ruler of the Silla Kingdom. Every year there is a commemoration held by his descendants.

These tombs are believed to have been built between the 5th and 6th century for the royal families of the Silla Dynasty, one of the three kingdoms that ruled Korea. These tombs are included in the Tumuli Park Belt of the Gyeongju Historic Areas UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Daerungwon Tombs Park

Daerungwon Tombs Park


Further south are sites included in the Wolseong Belt of the Gyeongju Historic Areas UNESCO World Heritage Site. One is Cheomseongdae, the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia.

Cheomseongdae

Another world heritage is the Gyerim Forest, said to be the birthplace of Kim Al-ji, the founder of the Gyeongju Kim clan. According to the Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms), King Talhae heard a cock crow in the forest. He sent Chencellor Hogong into the forest to investigate where Hogong saw a golden box hanging from the branch of a tree. Hogong informed the King and the King instructed him to bring the golden box to the king. In the box, the king found a male child whom he named Kim Al-ji.

Gyerim Forest

East of Cheomseongdae and Gyerim Forest is the Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond (also called Imahejeon Palace and Anapji Pond respectively). Donggung Palace was one of the main palaces of the Silla Kingdom and many important events were held here. In this area are three restored buildings and a large pond. According to the Samguk Sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms), "a large pond was excavated at the palace, flowers planted, and rare birds and strange animals raised."

Map of Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond



A diorama of Donggung Palace

Artefacts on display in one of the restored buildings

A roof tile to ward off evil spirits



I have been told that it is best to visit Cheomseongdae and Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond at night, when these sites are illuminated. It is free to enter Cheomseongdae, and 2000 won to enter Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond. The 2000 won admission fee for Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond is for one-time entry; once you exit, you need to buy another admission ticket to enter again.

Not having fully recovered and reenergized from the 5-hour hike up and down Hallasan yesterday, my visits to Cheomseongdae and Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond were in the daytime only.

Other places I visited while walking around Gyeongju City were the Gyochon Traditional Village and the Woljeonggyo Bridge.

Gyochon Traditional Village is a cluster of hanok houses. Some of these houses have been converted into shops offering traditional experiences, others are still used as residences.

Gyochon Traditional Village

There is one historic house built in 1779, the premises of which is open to the public (the house though can't be entered). This is the House of "Rich Man" Choi, head of the Gyeongju Choi clan. It is a National Cultural Property. According to the information board at the gate of the house, the Choi family "was widely admired by the local community, not just for their thoughtful management of their enormous wealth for twelve generations, but also for their ethical approach to life and their practice of noblesse oblige."

House of "Rich Man" Choi



In Gyochon Traditional Village, I had late lunch at a famous eatery called 교리김밥 Gyori Gimbap. There were only two things on the menu: noodles (5000 won) and gimbap (7000 won, 2 rolls). I loved the noodles and slurped to the last drop. The gimbap was also very good and had a lot of eggs, but two rolls was too much for one person! There is usually a long line at Gyori Gimbap so it is best to go early or late.

Gyori Gimbap

Gimbap and noodles

On the southeast end of Gyochon Village is the Woljeonggyo Bridge. At the time of my visit (March 2018), one could enter the bridge but could not exit at the other end as it was still undergoing restoration.

Woljeonggyo Bridge



Gyeongju is very historic and there are many more sites included in the Gyeongju Historic Areas I could not cover on foot. Other UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are just a bus ride away are Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto, and Gyeongju Yangdong Historic Village.



South Korea Spring 2018
Jeju Accommodation: Sum Guesthouse Jeju Airport
Traveling Around Jeju by Bus
Checking out Cafes in Jeju
Jeju: Location, Location, Location (for a Photoshoot)
Jeju Eats
History and Nature in East Jeju
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Jeju
Hiking Hallasan via Yeongsil and Eorimok Trails
Daegu International Airport to Gyeongju
Gyeongju Accommodation: Chacharang Guesthouse
UNESCO World Heritage: Gyeongju Historic Areas
Walking Around Gyeongju (you're here!)
(more soon)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

UNESCO World Heritage: Gyeongju Historic Areas

The Gyeongju Historic Areas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a group of five areas in Gyeongju:

Mount Namsan Belt
As the name suggests, this area is on and immediately around a mountain called Namsan. It includes ruins of 122 temples, 53 stone statues, 64 pagodas and 16 stone lanterns. The Namsan Mountain Fortress, Poseokjeong Pavilion site, and Seochulji Pond are also within this area.

Wolseong Belt
The palace site of Wolseong is an expansive area which includes the Gyerim Forest, Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond (also called Anapji Pond), and the Cheomseongdae Observatory.

 Gyerim Forest

Imhaejeon Palace site and Anapji Pond

Cheomseongdae Observatory

Tumuli Park Belt
The Tumuli Park Belt includes three groups of Royal Tombs. Most of the tombs are mounds, like small hills, but some are half-moon or gourd-shaped. The tombs contain (aside from coffins) gold, glass, and ceramics.

Royal tombs

More royal tombs

Hwangnyongsa Belt
This includes two Buddhist temples: Bunhwangsa Temple (whatever is left of it) and Hwangnyongsa Temple site. Hwangnyongsa was the largest temple ever built in Korea.

Sanseong Fortress Belt
This area includes the Myeonghwal Sanseong Fortress.





South Korea Spring 2018
Jeju Accommodation: Sum Guesthouse Jeju Airport
Traveling Around Jeju by Bus
Checking out Cafes in Jeju
Jeju: Location, Location, Location (for a Photoshoot)
Jeju Eats
History and Nature in East Jeju
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Jeju
Hiking Hallasan via Yeongsil and Eorimok Trails
Daegu International Airport to Gyeongju
Gyeongju Accommodation: Chacharang Guesthouse
UNESCO World Heritage: Gyeongju Historic Areas (you're here!)
Walking Around Gyeongju
(more soon)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Gyeongju Accommodation: Chacharang Guesthouse

Why bother staying a night in Gyeongju? Gyeongju is a very historic city with many UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Bulguksa TempleSeokguram Grotto, Gyeongju Yangdong Village, and Gyeongju Historic Areas. Some sites that are included in the Gyeongju Historic Areas are walking distance from the city center (Royal Tombs, Imhaejeon Palace Site & Anapji Pond, Cheomseongdae Astronomical Observatory, Gyerim Forest, Banwolseong, etc) and other World Heritage Sites are a short bus ride away (Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Grotto, Gyeongju Yandong Village, etc). For history buffs, a night in Gyeongju would not be enough.

Photo from booking.com

And the best location to stay, in my opinion, would be near the sites and near the bus terminal. So, you know, I could just walk to the sites and to/from the bus terminal when I arrive/leave.

Chacharang Guesthouse is just a 10-minute walk from the Intercity and Express Bus Terminals. It is right next to the Royal Tombs park. Plus there are nearby bus stops (for city buses).

I arrived at Chacharang Guesthouse in the morning, hours before check in time, but the kind, elderly owner immediately let me check in. The guesthouse had many rooms: 6-bed dorms (all-female/all-male) and private rooms (for two, four, and five persons). I stayed in a 6-bed dorm. There were lockers in the room, one for each bed. A bath towel the size of a hand-towel was provided for each guest. The bunk beds didn't have a curtain, nightlight, and dedicated power outlets. But I did see four power outlets in the room. Each room had its own private toilet and shower. Shampoo, soap, and toothpaste were also available.


 6-bed dorm

Ensuite toilet and shower

Breakfast of toast, jam, eggs (cook your own), coffee, and tea is available from 830am to 1030am at the dining area on the ground floor. (But when I went down at 730am, the owner was already up and the food was available.)

I guess it was lean season—I only saw two other guests: my roommates who arrived later that night. And, maybe because we were only three guests, most of the lights in the hall and in the reception and dining areas were turned off and these areas were too cold.

On a positive note, the owner was very kind and helpful. He searched for the bus schedule for Yangdong Historic Village when I couldn't find the info. And he also allowed me to leave my luggage at the reception after I checked out and while I visited Yangdong in the morning.

Price:
Dorm beds start at 18,000 won.
Private rooms start at 70,000 won.
Book Chacharang Guesthouse through booking.com



South Korea Spring 2018
Jeju Accommodation: Sum Guesthouse Jeju Airport
Traveling Around Jeju by Bus
Checking out Cafes in Jeju
Jeju: Location, Location, Location (for a Photoshoot)
Jeju Eats
History and Nature in East Jeju
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Jeju
Hiking Hallasan via Yeongsil and Eorimok Trails
Daegu International Airport to Gyeongju
Gyeongju Accommodation: Chacharang Guesthouse (you're here!)
UNESCO World Heritage: Gyeongju Historic Areas
Walking Around Gyeongju
(more soon)

Friday, June 15, 2018

Daegu International Airport to Gyeongju

Did you know there is a direct flight from Cebu to Daegu via T'way Air? I discovered it while I was searching for flights from Jeju to Daegu, which I saw was the nearest airport to Gyeongju, the city I was planning to visit after my five days in Jeju Island. I can't tell you what to see and do in Daegu as I was only passing through.

How did I get from Daegu International Airport to Gyeongju? From the airport, I had to go to the Daegu Complex Transit Center to take a bus to Gyeongju. Daegu Complex Transit Center is where one can take a bus to other provinces in the country. The Transit Center is also connected to Dong Daegu Station where one can take the KTX (Korea's high speed train) to Seoul, Busan, and others, or take the subway to other points in Daegu City.

From Daegu International Airport, go to 대구국제공항건너 Daegu International Airport bus stop across Gonhang-ro (the main road right outside the airport) and take either bus 101 or 401 to 동대구역지하도1 Dongdaegu Station Underpass 1 bus stop. The fare is 1250 won, payable in cash or transportation card (such as T-money).

Across 동대구역지하도1 Dongdaegu Station Underpass 1 bus stop is Dong Daegu Station. Go through Dong Daegu Station and exit on the opposite end, right across will be Daegu Complex Transit Center. Bus tickets can be bought at the third floor. The bus departure bays are on the third and fourth floors. Buses for Seoul, Gyeonggi, Chungcheong, and Jeolla are on the third floor. Buses for Gyeongsang are on the fourth floor. The Transit Center also has convenience stores, restaurants, Shinsegae Department Store, and Alive Aquarium Daegu.

I bought a bus ticket to Gyeongju for 4900 won. The bus ride would take 50 minutes.



South Korea Spring 2018
Jeju Accommodation: Sum Guesthouse Jeju Airport
Traveling Around Jeju by Bus
Checking out Cafes in Jeju
Jeju: Location, Location, Location (for a Photoshoot)
Jeju Eats
History and Nature in East Jeju
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Jeju
Hiking Hallasan via Yeongsil and Eorimok Trails
Daegu International Airport to Gyeongju (you're here!)
Gyeongju Accommodation: Chacharang Guesthouse
UNESCO World Heritage: Gyeongju Historic Areas
Walking Around Gyeongju
(more soon)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Hiking Hallasan via Yeongsil and Eorimok Trails

What was I thinking? Why did I hike Hallasan (Halla Mountain), the highest mountain in South Korea? I was not thinking, that's what! Hahaha!!! I didn't know it was so (the highest mountain), until after I had hiked it.

I woke up early to buy food for breakfast, snacks, and lunch at the nearby convenience store before catching the first bus (bus 240 at 630AM) to Yeongsil Ticket Office of Hallasan. Upon arriving at Yeongsil Ticket Office, I asked for a map then started on my warm up: a 2.5-kilometer uphill walk (on concrete sidewalk) from the Ticket Office to the trailhead. The signs to watch out for snakes and boars every hundred or so meters made me wonder what I would do if I ever encountered one or both of them. I drew a blank. Thankfully, not a snake or a boar stopped for a chat. Nor any car. Many cars zoomed past. One slowed down and looked at me, but did not stop to offer a ride. Maybe he saw I was not Korean and did not know how to offer a ride in English? I would like to think so. Had he offered a ride, I would have gladly accepted it to conserve my energy for the official hike ahead.

Yeongsil Trail (Click to enlarge)

Reaching the stone engraved with "1280masl," I was officially at the trailhead of Yeongsil. The trail began in a wooded area for a few hundred meters, then the "A Grade [Difficult]" section. The "difficult" section did not involve ropes or scrambling, nor was it very steep. The section started to incline with flat stone steps that then later on gave way to seemingly endless wooden stairs through open area (without any trees to provide shade). It was indeed a long climb on stairs and, in some sections, on steps made of rock. But the 360-degree view was so beautiful that I always had an excuse to stop and take a breather.

Yeongsil Trail started off in a wooded area

Last bits of snow at the end of March

 Stairway to heaven


It continues on to the ridge

After about 1.5 kilometers of exercising on the StairMaster-with-a-view, the landscape turned into grassland with a boardwalk cutting through and pointing towards the peak of Hallasan. According to the trail map I had seen earlier, there was a potable water source somewhere. But the view made me forget to look for water.

The B Grade [Normal] section of Yeongsil Trail

A rocky path to tread carefully on


The boardwalk branched off to the left and I took the turn and climbed some steps to the viewdeck on Witsejogeun Oreum.

At the Witsejogeun Oreum viewdeck

But this was not the end of Yeongsil Trail. I went back to the boardwalk and continued following the boardwalk to Witseoreum Shelter, carefully walking through snow-covered portions of the path.

 To continue or not to continue



There were already many people at Witseoreum Shelter [1700masl], all of whom were sitting around, taking a break, and eating their packed lunches. I did the same. And ravens landed and slowly hopped towards me. I quickly moved away, afraid these black birds would steal my lunch.

After avoiding the ravens and eating my rather dry sandwich, I followed the snow-covered path to Nambyeok Bungijeom (Nambyeok Junction), but a few hundred meters of gingerly walking on slippery snow, I gave up and turned back. (I did not have the proper shoes for such conditions.)

Back at Witseoreum Shelter, I tried to look for someone who had taken the Eorimok Trail to get here so I could ask for the trail conditions. I found one man who had hiked Eorimok that day, but he had very limited English vocabulary and could not say how Eorimok Trail was. I weighed whether to descend the same way I had come—Yeongsil was a beautiful trail and I was now familiar of its condition—or take a chance and go down via Eorimok Trail—it would have a different view, but I had no idea what to expect, would it be a rougher trail (no wooden stairs)? Would it have more snow?

I took the chance and took the Eorimok Trail. It started off easy: a gradual descent on a boardwalk, which went on for 1.5 kilometers, some areas still covered in snow.

Eorimok Trail (Click to enlarge)

C Grade [Easy]

 Looking back at the peak of Hallasan

 Looking ahead....a long walk to Eorimok trailhead

 Ugh, snow

Then the 800-meter B Grade [Normal] section of stony descent. Somewhere in this section, I overtook the two ladies and I didn't see anyone else ahead of me. The two ladies took their time and soon fell back and I was left all alone...not a soul in sight ahead or behind me.

 The B Grade [Normal] section of Eorimok Trail


 Uneven stones....walk carefully

The last section of my descent via Eorimok Trail was 2.4 kilometers of very uneven stony steps down through the woods. Portions of the path was covered in slippery snow. I had to step carefully while silently praying for safety. I did not want to slip and sprain my ankle as there was no one immediately ahead or behind me. I was ever so slow. One man eventually hurried past me and quickly disappeared down the path and behind the trees, and I was left alone again.



As I reached a bridge, I knew I was almost home free! Almost—because from Eorimok trailhead (970masl) down to the bus stop, it was another 10-minute walk. But an easy-peasy walk along a wood plank sidewalk compared to the rocky and slippery descent I had just been through.

Home free!

It took me five hours up and down Hallasan. I laughed and mentally patted myself on the back for pulling it off without any preparation nor thorough research. Mind, it was a fairly easy hike in that the trail was clear cut and not a technical one. But, it could be hard on a person who hasn't hiked on a mountain for a long time and especially one who has no proper hiking shoes and clothes (I was in jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers).

Important! Cut-off times for hiking (ascending and descending) Hallasan is imposed. The time will depend on the season. Best to start hiking early!

Directions by bus to Eorimok or Yeongsil: From Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal, take bus 240 to 어리목입구 Eorimok Entrance bus stop (40 minutes) or 영실매표소 Yeongsil Ticket Office bus stop (55 minutes).


South Korea Spring 2018
Jeju Accommodation: Sum Guesthouse Jeju Airport
Traveling Around Jeju by Bus
Checking out Cafes in Jeju
Jeju: Location, Location, Location (for a Photoshoot)
Jeju Eats
History and Nature in East Jeju
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Jeju
Hiking Hallasan via Yeongsil and Eorimok Trails (you're here!)
Daegu International Airport to Gyeongju
Gyeongju Accommodation: Chacharang Guesthouse
UNESCO World Heritage: Gyeongju Historic Areas
Walking Around Gyeongju
(more soon)