October 29, 2017
Bulguksa has revived our spiritual stamina but the healthy Korean buffet we fad after revived our physical stamina. Moreover, it was our cheapest meal in South Korea and it was all worth it. It was just unfortunate that we couldn’t make it to Seokguram Grotto. Although it was technically part of the Bulguksa Complex, it is located about 30 minutes from the main complex. Because Joy and I were afraid we’d miss the bus going to Busan, we decided to skip it. We departed from Bulguksa at around 1 AM and reached Gyeongju city center about an hour later.
As we still have a couple more hours to spare, we alighted at Donggung Palace and decided to take a last walking tour around the city. We want to collect more stamps – we were able to collect a measly four stamps so far. But considering our rushed arrival in the city, it wasn’t all that shabby. Consulting with the main, we tried searching for the nearest destinations we could reach just by merely walking.
Thoroughly scrutinizing the map, we deemed that Gyeongju Hyanggyo (Gyochon Village) is the most logical destination; its proximity to Donggung Palace is the biggest contributing factor to why we chose it as our last destination. We wanted to go there the day before it was already too dark for us to walk around. Some parts of the city are not well-lit; hence, it could be a challenge for non-locals like us to find our way in the dark.
After walking for a couple of minutes, and scouring every street, we finally found our way to Gyeongju Hyanggyo. However, before exploring the Hyanggyo, Joy and I explored the nooks and crannies of Gyochon village, a hanok village adjacent to the Hyanggyo. Hanok villages are popular across South Korea as they are microcosms upon which visitors can learn more about Korean traditions and culture. Hanok is the traditional Korean house. Amongst the renowned hanok villages are Bukchon in Seoul and the Jeonju Hanok Village in Jeonju. Nearly every major city possesses one, including Gyeongju.
Compared to the two previously mentioned hanok villages, Gyeongju Hyanggyo is comparatively smaller. However, it didn’t lack the same amenities found in the same villages. There are numerous shops selling a wide range of dry goods like traditional Korean clothes, handicrafts and art works. For the hungry ones, there are cafes and restaurants all around the village. There are booths where one can play traditional Korean games as well. For a more authentic atmosphere, visitors can rent hanbok.
As it was a cold breezy afternoon, Joy and I simply walked around the village, exploring every possible corner we could and enjoying the festive air – it was a busy Sunday afternoon. We stopped in every shop that we could. There were things we wanted to buy but it would push our budgets further. With a heavy heart, we had to turn a blind eye. Although most houses are open to the public, some of the houses are private residences and are off limits from the public.
Gyochon Village is near a river. We saw kids playing there and thought might as well join the fun. We skipped on the rocks placed in the middle of the river. Fishing enthusiasts can reel in their fishing rods in the river. Gyochon is a great place to learn Korean culture and history but it is also a great place to play and have fun, like a child. From Gyochon, we then went to explore the Hyanggyo. A hyanggyo is a Joseon traditional school teaching Confucian philosophy. It is still currently offering Confucian lessons to those who are interested. Just like the different temple compounds we have been to, the school compound is beset with tranquility.
After earning our fifth stamp, out of a possible 16, Joy and I walked back to our hostel to retrieve our things. Although we can use the KTX to get to Busan, Joy and I agreed that we are better off riding a bus as it is cheaper. As we are unfamiliar with the city, we asked the hostel owner how to get to the bus stop. Due to the language barrier, he had a difficult time explaining to us how to get there. In the end, he offered to take us to the bus terminal. Joy and I were a bit embarrassed but still, we took his offer because why not. Thankfully, the terminal wasn’t that too far. We were are now used with the Korean transportation system; we were able to book our trip to Busan without a fuss.
I Am In Love With Beautiful Gyeongju
However, I left Gyeongju with a heavy heart. This quaint laidback city has so much to offer and had I prepared in advance, I would have probably dedicated more days here than in any other parts of South Korea. Yes, we were able to see and explore SOME of the main attractions but due to our short stay, we unfortunately missed out on a lot of them. But still, what little we saw has filled me with awe.
This magnificent city doesn’t only have a historic and cultural flair but the city glowed with a warmth that is inviting. The gesture of our hostel owner, who happens to be a taekwondo instructor, is a proof of this warmth. He actually gave us his business card but unfortunately, I lost it. Of all the places I have been to in South Korea, Gyeongju is the place that I want to go back to the most. It is also the place I would highly recommend for everyone. For most Filipino tourists who are only familiar with Seoul, Busan and Nami Island, Gyeongju is an off-the-beaten path that is surely worth your time.
As our bus departed for Busan, the late afternoon sky glowed with an amazing spectrum of colors. It was memorable. It was beautiful, as beautiful and as memorable as Gyeongju is. Someday, I will surely go back to this city and breathe it in in slow but fulfilling gasps.
The Train to Busan Gets Real
Two and a half hours after departing from Gyeongju, Joy and I reached Busan. The bus terminal is located quite a long way from the city center. We had to ride the subway to get to our accommodation located near Haeundae Beach. Due to the distance of the terminal from Haeundae beach, it took us some time before we reached our accommodation, which, for a change, is a hotel. After checking in, Joy and I went out to fill our stomachs. The autumn wind was going full blast; it was so cold outside. Enduring the cold, we were able to find a restaurant nearby. The joke is on me though. We are in Busan, a coastal city where the staple food is seafood. I had to make do with the egg rolls as the restaurant don’t serve non-seafood-based food.
After our dinner, we went back to the hotel. And booyahhhh! The horror film The Train to Busan is playing on the television. What a greeting indeed! As I am not a fan of horror films, I automatically switched channels, lest I am going to have a long sleepless night.
Watch out for our first day excursion in South Korea’s second largest city!