October 28, 2017
Voltaire’s departure left a gaping hole. On our first Saturday morning in South Korea, Joy and I woke up with lesser enthusiasm – the future is bleak because we haven’t prepared for our southern trip. The only thing going on our favor is that Joy and I are so used to each other’s whims. Nevertheless, we dragged ourselves awake to prepare for our next journey. Before preparing for our journey, we had breakfast at the hostel we were staying in. Most hostels in South Korea offer free breakfast which is usually comprised of cereals, coffee, bread, and jam; we had the same in Sokcho and, later, in Gyeongju.
While we were having our breakfast, we met fellow Filipino travelers staying in the hostel, a father and his daughter. He was once a teacher who got was dragged into the trip by his daughter. Meeting fellow countrymen in a foreign country does provide some kind of relief. They just arrived and were as happy as we are in this unexpected meeting. Over the course of our breakfast, we talked about our respective travel plans. Moreover, we discussed a lot about our country, particularly political.
After the breakfast, Joy and I prepared for our journey south. So that we won’t have a lot to carry, we left most of our things in our hostel. Thankfully, the hostel helpers were kind enough to grant our request. We proceeded to Seoul Station as we are going to ride the KTX, which drew fame due to the apocalyptic horror film, The Train to Busan. KTX is part of the Korea Rail Corporation (KoRail) There are two ways of getting to the south, either through the bus or the train. The latter is more expensive than the former but since it is our first time in South Korea, we want to experience it.
For those who want to maximize the KoRail, they offer KR passes. The pass allows unlimited access to KoRail trains for a certain number of days – one, three, five, seven or ten days. Caveat, the passes must be used in CONSECUTIVE days. You can check more details in KoRail’s website. However, before purchasing one, one should first determine if it will be more beneficial; this will be based on your itinerary and on how you plan to move around South Korea. The KTX is certainly convenient but it could cause a huge dent on your budget. As Joy and I are only going to use the KTX once (going to Gyeongju), we decided not to avail of the pass.
However, we forgot one thing – today is a weekend. We didn’t expect the surge of passengers who are going to use the train. When we arrived at the terminal, the earliest trip is 2 PM as the other trips were fully booked. Thankfully, some train trips permit standing. So yes, we found ourselves standing on the last train wagon. Man, this is going to be a memorable trip. At exactly 11 AM, the train departed. Now, I am feeling the goosebumps, expecting those zombies to pop out when we least expected it. Haha!
So this is how it feels to ride the KoRail. To say it was convenient is an understatement. Even though Joy and I were standing, we barely felt stressed. The train was moving efficiently; the train was moving fast but we never felt it. The only way we saw how fast the train is moving is when we look out the window. As we zoomed past the countryside, we saw how the landscape drastically transformed. The Korean countryside is pretty much the same as the Philippine countryside.
We arrived in Singyeongju station after more than two hours. Singyeongju is the primary train station serving the Gyeongju area. The first thing we did is go to the tourist information center. This is one of the things I really liked about South Korea – in every major travel destination, there is a tourist information center. They provide tourist maps for free and entertain all questions willingly. They helped point out where accommodation is located as well and guided us on how to go there. I believe every train station has a tourist information center and are usually located near the entrance/exit area.
When we walked out of the station, I saw how the gloomy the skies are; this was the kind of atmosphere Voltaire wanted but something I don’t. He said that this is the kind of atmosphere provides great shooting conditions. I’d say otherwise. From Singyeongju, we rode the city bus to get to Gyeongju proper. For everyone’s reference, bus numbers plying Gyeongju city center are 50, 60, 61, 70, 203 and 700. Again, let me reiterate, always ask the bus driver before getting in to avoid getting lost. When we arrived in the city center, I was surprised at how laidback Gyeongju is. Unlike Seoul with its towering skyscrapers, the atmosphere in Gyeongju is more quaint, more archaic. After alighting from the bus, we walked to our accommodation.
As we arrived early in the afternoon, we still have time to explore Gyeongju. After leaving our things at our hostel, we walked around. One of the great things about Gyeongju, I have learned, is that it is very walkable. Most of the main tourist destinations are within walking distance of each other. We just wandered aimlessly until we reached a park which was filled with mounds. These mounds are remnants of the Silla Dynasty. Gyeongju was once the capital of the Silla Dynasty. It is believed that these mounds house treasures and the remains of prominent Silla kings and artisans.
The park, referred to locally as Daereungwon Tomb Park, was buzzing with festivity. Even though we didn’t have any idea what was going on, Joy and I let ourselves be absorbed by the frenetic activities. The first order of the day, though, was coffee! There were food trucks parked along the park pathways, so it wasn’t difficult buying a cup of coffee. When my body has been revived by the afternoon coffee, I started to appreciate my surroundings. The mounds in the park reminded me of the pictures I saw of Bohol’s Chocolate Hills (sadly, I have never been there yet).
It was just great immersing into the local scene. As it was a weekend, the streets of Gyeongju were buzzing with tourists, including some buses filled with local tourists. While wandering around the park, we noticed a piece of paper containing different destinations all around the city – it is the Gyeonju Cultural Heritage Stamp Tour. The mechanics to the game was easy, visit the 12 destinations in the stamp tour to earn the individual stamps. It piqued our interest so my friend and I both got our own individual copies. We earned our first stamp at the Park…
Now we’re off to our next destination. This is going to be fun!