It’s impossible to visit Gyeongju, a city in Gyeongsangbuk-do province of South Korea, without being overwhelmed by its rich history. There are World Heritage and South Korean National Treasure sites in every corner of Gyeongju, which is virtually a museum without walls.
Wander among stone pagodas, temples and burial sites reading inscriptions on gravestones, marvelling at sculptures and paintings that are thousands of years old. Most of the historical sites are from the Silla Dynasty, where three kingdoms within the Korean peninsula united to form the country’s most successful empire.
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- Things To Do In Gyeongju
Things To Do In Gyeongju
Gyeongju’s seven districts include the Namsan district, with its Buddhist statues, stone pagodas and hundreds of temples, and Mount Tohamsan, where the famous Bulguksa Temple and its assembly of orderly terraces, curling tiled roofs, ornately decorated halls is located.
1- Explore Bulguksa Temple
The temple’s courtyard is always teeming with tourists, many from other parts of South Korea who come to admire the temple’s two famous pagodas, the 10-meter high Dabo Pagoda to the east and the three-story Seokga Pagoda to the west.
Young South Koreans whirr and click, capturing images of the ancient structures with shiny new mobile phone cameras and camcorders.
The pagodas are picturesque but the most important building is the meditation hall Museoljeon (hall of no words) because Buddha’s teachings cannot be taught with words alone.
2- Visit Daereung-won Tomb Complex
Silla Dynasty kings were buried in 23 tombs at Daereung-won Tomb Complex.
Cheonmachong Tomb is the most well-known and is a 12.7m mound of layers of rocks.
11,526 items were buried in this tomb, including a precious artwork known as Cheonmado.
The tombs are interesting and you’ll also be interested to watch the parades of school children dressed in colour-coded sweatshirts marshalled by whistle-blowing teachers.
The young ones laugh and giggle, covering their mouths with their hands, and make funny faces for my camera.
It’s a heartening snippet of life in South Korea.
Daereungwon is at 9, Gyerim-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do.
3- Admire Cheomseongdae Observatory
A key Silla figure was a woman, Seunduk, a queen and priestess with legendary shamanistic powers.
The oldest stone relic in South Korea, the Cheomseongdae Observatory was built during the queen’s reign (from 632AD to 647AD).
4- Watch a Shaman Ritual
During your visit, you may get a chance to see a shaman performance where women in dazzling robes danced as if possessed by spirits.
The rhythmic pounding of the drums and the abandon in which the women lost themselves in the music was a spellbinding distraction from the silent monuments.
5- Explore Yangdong Folk Village
Yangdong Folk Village is Korea’s largest traditional village and a showcase for Joseon Dynasty culture.
The Joseon Dynasty was Korea’s last imperial rule.
Explore the yard of a typical home where elderly couples tend to their vegetable patches and soak up the rural scene.
Freshly-picked green vegetables strewn across a low table next to a spread of red beans drying on a sheet of old newspaper.
Their home is a traditional stone cottage with a thatched roof.
6- Stroll Around Anapji Pond At Night
Once part of the grounds of the royal family’s palace, the pond was dug out thousands of years ago during King Munmu’s reign (661 to 681AD) and planted out with orchids, peonies, lotus and azaleas.
Swans, peacocks and deer once roamed here.
The pagodas and gardens around the pond are lit up like a fairyland.
You can easily imagine dashing princes and royal ladies in beautifully embroidered hanbok feasting in the lakeside pavilions.
The scene is peaceful and serene.
7- Visit Bunjwangsa Temple
Bunhwangsa Temple was once a sanctuary where monks and artists came to write and paint.
When there’s a celebration, visitors gather in front of the Mojeon stone pagoda and it’s amazing to see men and women in business suits (Koreans tend to dress well) hold hands with hostesses dressed in cream and burgundy hanbok dancing beneath rice paper lanterns.
The women swirl gracefully to a cacophony of traditional music.
8- Listen to Korea Music
A South Korean friend once described Korean music as imitating the sounds of nature: a trickling stream, grass rustling in the wind or rain pelting on the temple roofs.
Sometimes you might be lucky enough to watch a musical performance at a temple so listen hard to the music.
For a glimmer of a second, you might think the ancient stone walls are whispering to you.
9- See The Sinseonam Hermitage Rock-carved Bodhisattva
A 1.4 m image of Bodhisattva carved in rock is an impressive historic landmark to see on Namsan Mountain.
Buddha looks like he is floating on a cloud deep in thought while watching the world from above.
The Sinseonam Hermitage Rock-carved Bodhisattva in Namsan Mountain is at Namsan-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do.