Friday, 22 November 2013

Gyeongju - Ancient Silla Capital: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

Next our explorations took us to Anapji Pond, an exotic garden built in the 7th century for King Munmu, one of the rulers of the Silla Dynasty.

You can see artists sitting and painting by the banks of the pond.

After a walk around the pond we were close to the painters we'd seen from the other side.
Angela posing in the bamboo garden.

After leaving Anapji behind we caught a bus up to the grounds of Bulguksa Temple. 
On the path up to the temple we saw more gorgeous autumn scenery.

Bulguksa is considered a masterpiece of the golden age of Buddhist art in the Silla kingdom. In fact, the temple is classified as Historic and Scenic Site No. 1 by the South Korean government.

Though I never contribute one of my own (perhaps I ought to?), I always enjoy seeing the many stone pagodas left by visitors to these temples.

A secret hideaway we found.

Our final destination was located a few miles from Bulguksa: a grotto called Seokguram, which required a short walk along a path high up in the mountains.
There were some pretty views of the nearby scenery.

The grotto itself was being refurbished.
We weren't allowed to take photos, but here's a picture I found on Korea's official tourism website, showing the Buddha that we saw inside.
We had to wait around an hour for the final bus to take us back to Gyeongju.
Fortunately there were some pretty - if rather hazy - views over the hills below.
The next day we took the KTX back to Seoul in the early afternoon.

I have to say, Gyeongju was probably one of my all-time favourite cities that we've visited in Korea. It has a tranquil, small-town feel and the ancient tombs and temples that are dotted around its centre really do make it feel like a living, open-air museum. I'd consider it an essential must-see sight for any visitors to Korea, even those only staying for a short time.

Gyeongju - Ancient Silla Capital: Part 1

Last weekend, Angela and I went to Gyeongju, an old city in the southeastern corner of Korea. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Silla, which ruled most of the Korean peninsula between the 7th and 9th century. As a result, it is filled with archaeological treasures and ancient monuments, many of them listed as UNESCO world heritage sites, lending the city the nickname, "The museum without walls." In fact, many of the rulers of the Silla Kingdom are still buried in giant tombs that dominate the centre of the city, and there are temples and traditional Korean buildings everywhere. Even some of the gas stations and convenience stores looked like old hanoks or pavilions!

We'd been wanting to visit Gyeongju for quite some time, and it turns out we chose a really great time to visit. The weather was sunny, and the fall colours really added a lot of charm to the old tombs and temples. It was a lot quieter than most Korean cities we've visited, with plenty of greenery and pleasant walking spaces instead of the usual concrete highways and apartment blocks that characterize most cities here. As a centre of Korean historical heritage, it's comparable to Kyoto in Japan, or Xi'an in China, making it an essential place to check off on any South Korean travel itinerary.

We took the KTX, Korea's high-speed rail system, to Singyeongju Station, located just outside the city. It took a mere 2 hours to get almost to the southern tip of the country, a journey that would take five or six hours by bus (or even longer during peak periods). As we arrived we were welcomed by colourful, autumnal hills that enveloped the ancient city of Gyeongju.
At the KTX station.
We took a taxi to the city and found a motel with fancy, modern interior designs.
Out on the streets near the bus terminal, there were already signs of traditional style buildings by the sides of the road. This hyper-patriotic cyclist passed us as we took in our surroundings.
Close by was Tumuli Park, which is named for the dome-shamed tombs and burial mounds of the ancient kings, queens and noblemen of the Silla empire.

Angela stands near the foot of one of the tombs to give a sense of its scale.
There was something so aesthetically pleasing about the perfect forms the burial mounds took.

A pretty temple we caught sight of near the tombs. The chanting of a monk added to its mysterious charm.

This is Hwangnam, a double-mounded tomb in which an ancient king and queen are buried.

Thought it was cute to see this couple taking their photo nearby.
Couldn't stop admiring the striking autumn leaves.
In fact we had to go play in them.

As we exited Tumuli Park we encountered some stone horses... well as some real ones.

Despite being in the centre of the city, there were still vast expanses of open grassland. This was one of the things we came to love about Gyeongju: a completely unspoiled, fresh-aired and quiet cityscape, so untypical of the average contemporary Korean city.

This tour bus resembles a Jewel Bug, the wings of which were used in decorative jewellery during the Silla era.
This is Cheomseongdae, an ancient astronomical observatory, the oldest of its kind in East Asia.

Soon we were wandering through a pleasant forest area.

The entrance to another burial mound.
Here's how it looks inside. I guess whoever was entombed here has been removed.
A pretty reservoir.