October 28, 2017

And our Gyeongju excursion After exploring every nook and cranny of Daereungwon Park, Joy and I explored further. All over the park and its proximities are numerous mounds. There is a tranquility that I felt while we were walking around. It is miles away from the tumult of urban life, something that I know a thing or two about. Moreover, our afternoon walk was education as we are learning more about Korean history through these mounds.

There used to be more mounds. Unfortunately, during the Japanese invasion, some of the mounds were desecrated and purposely dug up to be pillaged for their wealth. Some of items taken were eventually returned but most were lost in the annals of history. There were some mounds as well that were being dug up for archaeological and educational purposes. Because of these digs, some parts of the park were off limits. Due to these historical and archaeological potentials, the historic district of Gyeongju has been granted a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As we walked further beyond the park, we reached the Cheomseongdae Observatory area. Our friends took wonderful pictures of the observatory the week before. To our horror, numerous tourists have crowded around the observatory. So long for those candid shots of this architectural marvel. Cheomseongdae, built during the Silla period, is the oldest surviving observatory in East Asia. In spite of the crowd, we earned our second stamp! Yay, happy kids nevertheless.

This is the best and the only unimpeded picture of Cheomseongdae I was able to take.
Because it is a weekend, many local tourists have flocked to the historic city often called as “museum without walls”.

While walking around the observatory, my friend and I saw numerous kids flying kites. The gloomy skies of Gyeongju has been peppered with these small flying implements. The kids and adult alike were having fun. Joy and I then agreed to purchase one and try our luck in flying it. The conditions were great for flying and without much effort, we were able to make our kite fly. Like a madman, I was running back and forth to make our kite soar higher. In a matter of minutes, our kite was the one that was flying high. I kept reeling the thread out for our kite to fly even higher (yep, that’s the competitive spirit in me).

As a child, it has been my fervent desire to fly a kite. Watching those Milo kite competitions filled my heart with awe. Unfortunately, it was all pipe dreams. Never once did I fly a kite as a child. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to make one fly in Gyeongju. No words can explain the childlike euphoria that I felt that moment the kite I reeled out was soaring above the skies. It is quite ironic, I realized at that moment, that away from my usual environment I am getting to experience many things for the very first time.

With our kite safely treading the afternoon sky, I gave the handle to Joy so that she can try steering the kite. The gusty wind ensured the stability of our kite above. Unfortunately, due to the number of kite flyers, our kite got tangled with the others. I then reeled in our kite. Although it was short lived, the experience filled me with awe, with genuine pleasure similar to what I have experienced when I rode a bike in the open fields of Nami Island.

A childlike wonder seizes one when he is able to achieve what he once thought was impossible.
More royal mounds – the Five Tomb Complex. It is lit up at night as well.

After our kite-flying experience, Joy and I again resumed our exploration of the area. Beside the Cheomseongdae area is the Five Tombs Complex. It is a part of the Gyeongju Historical Stamp Tour but try as we might, we could not locate the stamp. So as not to waste our time, we went exploring other areas. Our restless feet brought us to a hill where another excavation area is located. The Korean archaeological association is excavating what was once a crescent moon shaped palace called the Banwolseong (literally “Half Moon Fortress”). The palace was built during the Silla dynasty and now one can freely enter the vast excavation area. There are exhibits as well where remnants of excavated items are displayed.

It was already dark when we were exploring the palatial excavation. But it was fine for us because our next destination, the Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond, opens at 7 PM (for the night view). These two areas are located next to each other. Prior to entering the Donggung Palace, we bought admission tickets first. Tickets cost 2,000 Won for adults. Although normal operating hours begin at 9 AM, visitors tend to flock the palace ground at nighttime because the night atmosphere appeals more to most visitors. Visitors are advised to buy tickers hours in advance because of the surge of visitors for the night view. Last tickets are issued 30 minutes before closing time of 10 PM. As expected, there were numerous visitors who are itching to get into the Palace Grounds.

When Joy and I got into the palace grounds, it was already buzzing with activities. We just went with the flow. Located in the main hall is an exhibit showcasing the former glories of the palace and its inhabitants. A replica of the palace and its environs shows how vast it used to be. Donggung Palace and Anapji Pond are indeed historical Korean treasures. Despite the darkness the enveloped us, the place was teeming as everyone was trying to get the best spots to take a picture of the palace and the pond. And amongst their company are Joy and me.

Remnants of the past are being excavated at Banwolseong. In this area once stood a grand Silla palace.
A replica of the Donggung Palace, showing its former glory.
Vestiges of the past are displayed in Donggung as well.

It was a struggle looking for the best spots to take a picture of the palace. Nearly every imaginable breathing space was taken over by overly enthusiastic visitors. We cannot impose, of course, because we all came with the same aim. Thankfully, we were still able to get some wonderful pictures of the palace. From the Palace, we walked back to our accommodation because it closes at around 10 PM. Simply walking around during autumn is a pleasure in itself.

While walking back, we stopped by a small pavilion housing the Silla Big Bell. We noticed it earlier while we were walking towards Daereungwon Park but we decided to postpone our exploration later in the day. As the night was still young, Joy and I decided to explore Gyeongju central business district further. Just like in Sokcho, there are numerous clothing shops scattered all over the area. Some were even offering discounts and sales.

From the “fashion district”, our feet led us to the city market where we checked the food scene. One of the stalls I first notice is the one selling “Philippine japchae”. Checking the stall seller, I immediately noticed that she was a Filipina. Shyness aside, we approached her. She was happy to meet us because we were the first Filipino travelers she met. Most Filipinos she encountered were like her, earning a living in South Korea. Moreover, we learned that the Philippine japchae is our local delicacy, pansit.

As our feet badly need some reprieve, Joy and I decided to call it a day. We still have a lot more to explore in the next day.

The challenge in Donggung is finding the best spot to take a picture. Here’s one angle.
Here’s another one.
It is no wonder that visitors prefer the night view of Donggung Palace. The darkness make it seem as the the structures are levitating.
The Silla Big Bell resonates with history.
Good night for now Gyeongju!