When I travel, I like to go to smaller cities. Maybe it’s my small-town upbringing, but I feel that smaller cities and towns gives a better feel for the country’s culture instead of trying to keep up with trends and technology. I won’t pretend that Gyeongju is actually “backwoods” (it still gets quite a few tourists), but it’s not as easily accessible and sometimes it’s nice to feel a little lost.
When we found that Gyeongju was home to a few UNESCO sites (Bulguksa Temple and Daereungwon Tomb Complex as part of the Gyeongju Historic Areas), we booked tickets on a high-speed Korail train, and went for a few days as a way to see life outside the city.
We arrived around 3 in the afternoon and bravely look the bus from Singyeongju Station. Not only did the driver speak no English (to be expected; we weren’t in Seoul anymore), but he was very comfortable driving the route and went very quickly. He was able to get that bus to pivot around corners like a car 1/3 the size, and he never broke the tired/bored expression on his face while doing it.
Once we found our stop, our bus adventures over for now, we found ourselves at our place of residence for the next few days: Tavo House run by a woman named Kanye.
Kanye was extremely nice. She was taking English lessons and made a valiant effort to speak it to us with varying degrees of success. Her English was certainly better than our Korean (we knew ‘Anyong’ from Arrested Development, everything else required a guidebook). She answered all of our questions and even gave us tips on what to do while in Gyeongju.
The house itself was very nice and, in stark contrast to Seoul, was on a quiet backstreet in a neighborhood.
As I said before, we got into Gyeongju later in the afternoon. Our plan was to wander and find the Royal Tombs at Tumuli Park (also called the Daereungwon Tomb Complex) and then maybe explore the rest of the Gyeongju Historic Areas on foot. So we began by walking back towards downtown.
Gyeongju and the Daereungwon Tomb Complex
On the way, we found the “Street of Fashion”.
When we arrived at the tombs, darkness was falling and I had to open the aperture really wide in order to not dim the pictures. And the overcast skies didn’t help any.
Though this required aperture setting did make it easy to get pictures like this one:
The entire park was covered in these mounds, the point being that the more important you were, the more dirt was heaped on your burial site. From pictures and the descriptions I’d read online, I didn’t expect them to be this large. Some of them were probably as large as a three-story building (citation needed) and the huge park was full of these mounds. While being a site of historic importance, it’s also a park so there were locals meandering around too.
It is impossible for me to understate how peaceful this park was. I could easily spend hours just avoiding people in there.
Eventually, we got to one that had an entrance. This was Cheonmachong Tomb.
Inside was an actual burial site. There wasn’t much to take a picture of because the body had been in the ground since the site is “believed to date probably from the fifth century but perhaps from the sixth century CE” (wikipedia) and it was mostly dirt. However, some artifacts remained in great condition like this Gold Crown of Silla (No. 188 National Treasure).
Gyeongju Historic Areas
If you do your research online for this trip, you’ll find that a lot of places have multiple names: “Royal Tombs at Tumuli Park” and “Daereungwon Tomb Complex” are the same place, but it just depends on where you look. Because of this lack of clarity, we thought that the rest of the “historic areas” would be close-by when in fact Gyeongju Historic Areas are quite spread out. But on that walk from one area to the next, we apparently crossed into Jurassic Park.
The Cheomseongdae Observatory was, admittedly, one of the sites that led us here. The name “Cheomseongdae” literally means “star-gazing tower” in Korean and is “the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia and maybe even the world.”
All around the observatory where excavation sites where new things were being dug up. Because it was historically significant land, there were no houses or anything; just open plots of land.
Gyeongju at Night
By now, darkness was falling. Our day had consisted of a train ride across Korea and walking eight miles. We wanted nothing more than to eat and sit down. Unfortunately for Sarah, I discovered that my “new” lens (see the “About This Site” page under the section where I talk about lenses) was actually decent at night. So when we walked past Seongdong Market, I got these photos.
We were confused and thought this was the Night Market (different place, don’t make the same mistake we did). All of the vendors had packed up for the night, leaving only the smell of seafood. We didn’t understand our folly until Kanye had a good laugh at our expense back at Tavo House.
I also got a few photos of signs and storefronts on the walk back when we went down the Street of Fashion. The first was this rather blunt but honestly on-the-money life philosophy seen in a clothing store window:
And also a store that, once again, left me wondering what they were trying to say.
Tomorrow, we’d be going to the Yangdong Folk Village.