Gyeongju is now on the top of my list for best cities to visit in Korea. One weekend certainly wasn’t enough to explore this traditional area. The first thing I noticed was the lack of high rises and practically every building with traditional roofing. Even the gas station! Gyeongju reminded me of Kyoto, low key, traditional structures at every corner.
We began sightseeing at the radiant Anapji Pond, a must see at night! Although very similar to other Korean temples, the illumination, reflections on the water, and remaining Cherry Blossoms added to the scenery making this stop worthwhile.
It was getting late but the city continued to glow. Families, couples, and young kids were wandering through the streets and a nearby field of flowers, displaying wide smiles, laughing effortlessly, and looking way more relaxed compared to the midweek grind — us included!
Exhausted from a week of work we had a quiet night strolling through the downtown area. By midnight Koreans were just starting their evening with Korean barbecue dinners and accompanying soju. I was ready for sleep! Our go to 24-hour jjimjilbang was no where to be found so we ended up at a hotel.
After a much needed night’s sleep we jumped on a bus to head to the historical Bulguska Temple. The bus was completely full so we got a good leg work out standing during the stop and go of traffic. I thought, a packed bus must mean this is quite a sight! Bulguska Temple is raved about online, the number one tourist destination in Gyeongju, so of course I put it on my Korea bucket list.
Have you ever been really excited to see something or go somewhere and then it didn’t quite meet your expectations? This was Bulguska Temple for me. Yes it has a lot of history and yes it’s a UNESCO World Heritage, but I mean, you’ve seen the pictures, doesn’t the red and green structures look familiar? So I may have been a little disappointed.
When the majority of people got off the bus at a street filled with colors, people, and restaurants maybe we should have followed.
Since our breakfast consisted of a shared corn dog we were starved. We wandered down the street and found a quaint Korean restaurant for some traditional bibimbap (rice with mixed veggies and an egg). It was a great area to relax on the patio and enjoy the view.
Check out the coffee shop across the street, it even has the traditional Korean look.
After our bellies were filled we jumped on a bus to head back down the
mountain hill. We had to find that neat area we passed before.
I had spotted a certain area on the bus previously that looked interesting, where a lot of people exited but we didn’t go there. Instead we stumbled into Gyeongji Yangdong Village. Although it was touristy, commercial, and a remodel of buildings, I still really enjoyed walking through this area! I often find the best occurrences are usually the ones not planned!
We jumped in and it felt empty, nobody was in sight. I felt like I needed to sneak around the buildings to not disturb a sleeping giant. The late afternoon sun cast shadows onto the dirt paths and a light breeze cooled us from the heat. It wasn’t an eerie feeling. I felt like I had just landed into something special.
I noticed a sign that said Four Cities so we followed the curved path through the trees, admiring stone idols. First discovering a pottery area for kids, then chuckling at the carved wooden garden. The entire place was so unique. Even the bathrooms were hidden in shrubbery with individual aged wooden doors and a small clay sink outside.
Fallen Cherry Blossoms decorated the water like icing on a cake. The lack of tourists and stillness in the air added to the perfect picturesque scenery. Now let’s see, can you guess the four cities?
I really, really liked the change in architecture. This part was a laid out as a plain creme four wall structure from the outside, walking through the archway literally was breathtaking. It was astounding to see something so different. It made me feel so small, there are so many diverse areas in the world!
We ended the tour examining the zodiac animal statues and of course had to get a shot of one of us by our sign. James the Ram and I am the snake (I hate snakes!). We continued down the street trying to soak in all the distinctive architecture we’ve been so deprived of throughout the rest of Korea.
As the sun began to set we knew we had to catch a bus to make it back in time for the subway — the way of public transportation! We both lingered. There was a hesitation from us both of not wanting to leave this little mountain area. It was clean, quiet, and so very traditional Korea. We hadn’t even explored the heart of Gyeongju.
I can’t put my finger on what exactly made this area so mystical. It’s like it knew something I didn’t know, it was holding a secret and I was about to find out, but left too soon. I don’t necessarily want to go back; I like this feeling of discovering “a diamond in the rough” or “hidden gem” of Korea. It will forever be a place I’ll fondly remember in South Korea.