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. Thus, believed to be the tomb of a young 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 Chancellor 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. Inside the box, King Talhae 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 (Wolji 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 the soup 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!)
UNESCO World Heritage: Gyeongju Yangdong Historic Village
Joining the Cherry Blossom Loving Crowds in Jinhae
Cherry Blossom Binge Continues in Busan
Busan Museum of Art
(more soon)

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