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Gyeongju – Wednesday

Earlier in the week, I’d left a message on my friend Pete’s Basefuck page to the effect that I was in Gyeongju. I reminded him that it was close to where he’d lived when he was in Korea, namely Ulsan (I’m sure he didn’t need reminding). In reply he said I should go to Bulguksa. And that’s what I did on Wednesday.

I spent a bit of time in the morning erasing my memory stick and backing up my Documents folder on to it – the dialogue box showed ridiculous durations like 1 hour 30 minutes for each of these operations (it didn’t quite take three hours, though).

Once I was ready, I headed over to the main street – specifically, to the bus stops there. One bus pulled in just as I got there with the destination of Bulguk Station. I found out from the driver that I needed the number 10 or 11 bus (‘ship beon, shibil beon’). A short while later the number 10 came along, and I got on it. The fare was ₩1,500 and the ride took 20 or 30 minutes, passing through Bomun Resort on the way.

The parking lot at the temple was fairly empty – this was a normal working day, after all. From there there was a short walk to one of two gates.

Bulguksa Temple is a complex of several different halls, each dedicated to a different figure or theme. The front of the temple has two large staircases leading up to the historical entrances. But you’re not allowed to use these, so you have to go round the side.


The first courtyard you enter from the right-hand side contains the Daeungjeon – the Great Enlightenment Hall – and the Dabotap and Seokgatap. These latter two are stone pagodas or towers and are important Korean monuments. The Dabotap appears on the ₩10 coin, and I was looking forward to seeing it; unfortunately, it was undergoing renovation and was covered up with scaffolding and screens (although it was possible to climb some stairs to get a peek inside).


There were various other halls in the complex, and a little way away was a nice pond (although much less impressive than Anapji). Once I’d finished wandering and photographing I headed back out of the entrance that I’d come in and asked at the Tourist Information kiosk in the car park how I could get to Seokguram Grotto.

The answer involved going to the temple other entrance and walking two kilometres or more up the forested mountainside. It was a pretty tiring walk, but enjoyable. Apart from the endless groups of schoolchildren – it was a bit annoying to walk by a crocodile of children all calling ‘Hi! Where you from?’ at you. Or maybe I’m just too curmudgeonly (or maybe I’m just like my father, too bold …).


When I got to the Seokguram Grotto site there was a modest group of buildings there – the ubiquitous souvenir shop and toilet block, as well as a shrine and the grotto itself, and possibly a temple – but that was off limits. From the outside the grotto looks like any other shrine or temple building except that it abuts the mountainside.

Inside, it was pretty special. Magical, even. There was a short passage leading into the mountain with a small chamber at its end, both separated from viewers by a glass screen. The passage and chamber extended for maybe 10 metres or so. Carved into the grey stone were a number of figures, including two warriors sporting mohican-like topknots guarding the chamber’s entrance. The chamber itself was almost filled with a beautiful statue of Buddha. The statue seemed all the more impressive for being in a confined space.

Unfortunately, photography wasn’t allowed, but you can have a look at the Wikipedia entry for images and more information. I hung around for a few minutes, hoping for a quite moment, but there was a continual stream of people coming and going (although there weren’t many of them, despite the huge crowds of schoolkids below). And there was ajumma on duty.


I got a bus back to Bulguksa, then another number 10 bus for the second part of its circular route back to Gyeongju. The fare for the former was ₩1,500, but for the latter it was only ₩1,000. And, when I got off at the station, the driver, for reasons best known to himself, pressed ₩2,000 of small change on me.

From the station I walked through a large indoor market (will be going back there to take photos on Friday) across the Bukcheon Stream to Hwangseong Park. On the edge of the park there’s a large library in an oriental-style building, while at the centre of the park is an imposing statue of General Kim Yu-sin. There’s also a monument called Chunghontap – I have no idea what this commemorates, as there was no information board – at least, not in English.


And that was Wednesday. All that was left was to pay a visit to Kimbap Cheonguk for some sundubu and spend some time drinking coffee, writing and on the internet. Back at the hotel I prepared for bed by watching an episode of Father Ted – ‘Chirpy Burpy Cheap Sheep’.

Categories: Travel
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