October 29, 2017

Our first day in Gyeongju has been a truly memorable one. Despite the crowd and their suffocating presence, Joy and I had a wonderful time stamping our presence all over the place. We basked in the history and the Gyeongju scene. Even though we have been here for just a short while, it has already exceeded my expectations. We had fun exploring every nook and cranny of the city, from the royal mounds to Cheomseongdae and to Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond. There is just so much to love about this city.

For our second day in the city, Joy and I were quite unsure yet of where we are going. Thankfully, the stamp tour gave us an idea. One of the places we can get a stamp is Bulguksa, which, together with Seokguram Grotto, was designated as UNESCO World Cultural Asset/Heritage. This is going to be our nth UNESCO Heritage Site in South Korea! The country is teeming with UNESCO Heritage Sites. However, the temple is located a bit away from the city center and to get there, we have to take the bus. Moreover, we are departing later in the day; we are moving further south to Busan, South Korea’s second largest city.

Before preparing for the day, Joy and I feasted on the free breakfast that the hostel offered. The staple food, again, are cereal, bread, and coffee. But this time around, our hostel was offering eggs. However, we didn’t know how to use the gas range (I guess it was too modern for us). Thankfully, a Korean couple helped us. It was embarrassing because it made us look as though we belonged in a very backward country. Nevertheless, we are thankful to the Korean couple who helped us. Kamsahamnida! Post-breakfast, we prepared our things for our journey later in the day. Now, we are set for Bulguksa.

The inescapable beauty of autumn can be felt wherever one goes.
The quaint pond reflects the lush background.

To get to Bulguksa, ride either bus number 10 or 11. The travel time is approximately one hour. We reached Bulkugsa around 10:30 AM. Our first order of business is to check with the tourism information center. When everything was in order, we proceeded with our Bulguksa tour. To get to the temple, we had to climb for a couple of minutes towards the mountainside. Yesterday, the weather was gloomy but today the cerulean skies opened up in an amazing display. The sun gave the trees and the mountains we passed by a brilliant glow.

Before entering the temple, we first have to pay our admission fee of 5,000 Won. Because the temple opens at 7 AM, it was already crowded, mostly with local tourists. We didn’t encounter that many Filipino tourists though. The first thing that greeted us upon entering the temple ground is the thick autumn foliage which gave us a shade against the sun. The path eventually opened up to a, unsurprisingly, a pond. Who am I to complain? The pond was pretty as it was surrounded by the different colors of autumn.

We walked further to the main temple area. The temple was built in 528 AD, during the reign of the Silla dynasty. The original temple was built during King Beop-Heung’s reign (514 to 540 AD). It has undergone numerous renovations and rebuilding programs. Just like most historical structures in Korea, it has been razed to the ground before it got reconstructed. Full reconstruction begun in 1969 when the Bulguksa Temple Restoration Committee was formed. Most of the old buildings were rebuilt while some were repaired. The temple is also home to several important Korean historical and cultural relics.

Bulguksa is the third temple we have visited in South Korea, after Sokcho’s Sinheungsa and Seoul’s Jingwansa. Come to think of it, we have visited at least one temple in every city we have been to, so far. There is very little that separated the temples as their structures and formations are very similar. However, each temple is unique and special in its own way. Like the two other temples we have been to, Bulguksa also offers temple stay to those who are willing to participate.

Sokgyemun, a double-sectioned staircase, used to be the main entrance to the temple. The stairway is comprised of 33 steps as a reference to the 33 steps to enlightenment. The lower section of the stairway is called the Cheongungyo (Blue Could Bridge) while the upper portion is refereed to us the Baegungyo (White Cloud Bridge). The stairway has been included as part of the Korean National Treasures. To preserve these old structures, the stairways have been closed and a new access point was opened for visitors.

The centerpiece of the main temple compound are the two towering pagodas – Seokgatap (Sakyamuni Pagoda) and Dabotap (Many Treasure Pagoda). Most temples only have one pagoda but Bulguksa has two, the former a minimalistic structure while the latter a more intricate structure. Both have been designated as Korean National Treasures. Behind the two pagodas is the main hall, Daeungjeon, the Hall of Great Enlightenment. Built in 681 AD, it houses the Sakyamuni Buddha. Behind the main hall is Museoljeon, the Hall of No Words, which is one of the oldest structures in the compound.

Joy and I simply went with the crowd and in an hour, we were able to tour all corners of the complex, including Gwaneumjeon, Birojeon and Geuknakjeon. There are other interesting structures as well, like the Sanira Stupa located near Birojeon, and the bell tower. Behind Birojeon, visitors can stack stones and make wishes. It was a challenge taking pictures because of the crowd. To get one, we must perfectly time it when there are very few people around, which is very rare. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our time exploring Bulguksa.

The towering pagodas are amongst the most prominent structures in the temple grounds.
Silence resonates in the Hall of No Words.
The Daeungjeon is the centerpiece and the main temple hall of Bulguksa.
The Geuknakjeon (Hall of Supreme Bliss) houses Korean National Treasure Number 27 – a seated gilt bronze Amitabha Buddhist statue.
These intricate designs characterize Korean Buddhist temples.
Lanterns are all over the temple.

We were having a grand time exploring Bulguksa. It has so much to offer. The structures and the historical relics housed in the temple gave us a deeper peek into Korean culture and history. Despite the crowd, the place is beset with tranquility. The spiritual aura emanating from it is “enlightening”. Nearly all temples we have been to possess that flair of spiritual fortitude. However, it offers more than spirituality. It is more about inner peace, healing and enlightenment.

As the clock was approaching lunch time, Joy and I went back down to the main road. We contemplated on going to Seokguram but as we are traveling later in the day to Busan, we opted out. Instead, we delved into the buffet near the bus stop. At 6,000 Won per person, it was so far our cheapest meal so far in South Korea. Take note, it is buffet! Joy enjoyed the buffet especially because it offered healthy food choices.

When we had refilled our empty stomachs, we returned to the city center to embark on the next leg of our journey.

Visitors stack stones and wish on them for wellness.
Trying to find myself in the sea of the crowd.
Such an idyllic sight. The autumn foliage certainly made the temple come alive with colors.
Bulguksa is a National Treasure in itself, a must see!