Gyeongju 경주 was the stronghold of the Shilla 신라 Dynasty, one of the largest kingdoms in Korea; today, only relics and tombs remain of this kingdom that helped shape Korea. It may seem that there is not much to see in Gyeongju, but once you get there, your days will be full of picturesque scenery, temples, delicious food and cafes, and more things to do than you can fit in two days.
One of the things I love about Gyeongju is how much of the area’s history was accessible to a non-Korean speaker. In most places in Korea, you have to Papago the historical signs, which are infamous for giving little to no historical information about their subject. I was surprised by some of the things I learned about Korean history while in Gyeongju. One of the things I learned was how influential China was throughout Korean history. There’s evidence of the silk trade reaching Korea. Most records from this period have been destroyed between wars and fires, plus a lot of the relics in this area were taken to Japan during the colonial period, but a few pieces of glassware from the Roman Empire survived all of this. These artifacts show that ancient Korea wasn’t totally isolated from the west at this time.
Another thing I learned was that Shilla was the last dynasty in Korea to introduce Buddhism. Human sacrifices were common during burials for the rich when it was introduced to the dynasty. Once Buddhism became popular, they made a switch to statues and other objects. In Gyeongju, you will learn about parts of history that are left out or skimmed over in other national museums.
Enriching history aside, the funniest Korean fact I learned was that some Korean drinking games have been played for centuries. Gyeongju National Museum houses dice people would take a drink and throw, then they would have to do whatever the die says. Somedays, I feel like Koreans are the ultimate drinkers where every night out feels like a giant frat party.
Between going to the museum, walking burial mounds, and seeing Cheomseongdae Observatory 경주 첨성대, the oldest standing night sky observatory in the world, you get hungry. I recommend stopping food in the tourist shopping area along the Daereungwon Ancient Tomb District 대릉원. It is here you find some of the best food in Korea. One night we had these delishious rice bowls and and coffee and another we tried savoy Hotteoks. Forgive me, I forgot to mark the resturants but dont wory any place you stop here is sure to be good. Many restrants have a long wait here so wanting to try try Shabu Shabu 샤브샤브, my friend who I was traveling and I decided to brave the 2-hour wait at On Cheinjip try it.
Shabu Shabu translates to swish swish in English and is a Japanese-style soup. A pot of broth comes to your table, where you cook it by adding the veggies and hand-cut noodles yourself. When everything is cooked, you take the thin meat slices with your chopsticks and swish them in the broth until they are cooked.
We tried their Curry Shabu Shabu. It came with three mushrooms, Bock Choi, Napa cabbage, Tofu, mugwort, the best hand-cut noodles I have ever had, and thinly sliced beef. The curry broth was out of this world. It was sweet, savory, spicy, and buttery with a hint of cinnamon. This may have been one of the best meals I have ever had and well worth the 2-hour wait.
Their are many Buriel mound scattered aroung Gyeongju and many that a long bus ride to get to. My friend and I decided to adventure to Seongdeok Royal tombs. It was quite an adventrue to get to them especial since we missed the small street after the busstop we were suposed to see. After getting lost down farmers roads and guessing which road to take we found them! The area is very intresting and kept up. I would definitly recomend getting off the beaten path to get a feel for how most Korean tombs used to look like when they were surounded by nature.
To take a break from the burial mounds, my friend and I hopped on a bus venturing out of town to Bulguksa Temple 불국사. This temple is considered one of the best representations of Buddhist artwork of this time in Korea. It even houses a version of the Dharani Sutra, one of the world’s earliest woodblock prints. One of the cool things about this temple is that it has tours for English speakers. We decided we wanted to explore the grounds on our own, taking in the shrines and temple at our own pace.
Although I spent two days here, I feel like I barely scratched the surface of what Gyeongju offers. There were more temples I wanted to see, mountians to hike, and a tomb on the ocean I wanted to go to, not to mention all the delicious food I did not enjoy. Gyeongju is a must-stop for history lovers and one you won’t forget.
Places To Go
Gyeongju National Museum – 국립경주박물관 – FREE – 경상북도 경주시 일정로 186 국립경주박물관- 76 Inwang-dong Gyeongju-si Gyeongsangbuk-do
Cheomseongdae Observitory – 경주 첨성대 – FREE – 경상북도 경주시 첨성로 140-25 – 839-1 Inwang-dong Gyeongju-si Gyeongsangbuk-do
Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond – 경주 동궁과 월지- 3,000krw – 경상북도 경주시 원화로 102 (인왕동)506 – 1 Inwang-dong Gyeongju-si Gyeongsangbuk-do – This under construction when I went but I heard it’s stunning light up at night
Cheonmachong Ancient Tomb – 천마총 – 3,000krw to go inside – 경상북도 경주시 계림로 9 – 262 Hwangnam-dong Gyeongju-si Gyeongsangbuk-do- We’ll worth the money to see inside a tomb.
Seongdeok Royal Tomb– Free- 산8 Joyang-dong Gyeongju-si Gyeongsangbuk-do- This is an adventure to get to because it’s in the middle of farms. There’s a street right next to the bus stop your let off at going from Gyeongju. You want to turn on to it and it’s over the train tracks
Bulguksa Temple – 불국사 – 3,000KRW – 경상북도 경주시 불국로 385 (진현동) – 385 Bulguk-ro Gyeongju-si Gyeongsangbuk-do – Don’t be like me and miss the Seokguram Grotto a 2km hike or 10 min bus ride east of the temple.
On Cheonjip– 온천집 -+ 25,000krw – 경북 경주시 사정로57번길 13 온천집
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