Museum Without Walls

After a busy few days in Busan, on Sunday I took a bus North to the historic city of Gyeongju.  The journey was swift through beautiful countryside and the air-conditioned coach had fabulous huge seats only three across.  I’d never been so comfortable using coach travel in my life, take heed National Express and Eurolines, you have much to live up to. Arriving early afternoon the skies were Man City blue and the temperature a scorching 39 degrees.  I first picked up tourist maps at the bus station kiosk so I could plan my activities that evening. I had been sent a map by my guesthouse and it was only a 10 minute walk past what seem initially erie tombs to my destination. I now know where Tolkein got his ideas for the Hobbit houses in Lord of the Rings. Sa Rang Chae guesthouse consists of a cluster of traditional style buildings around a central courtyard it is extremely cheap (30,000 won per night with private bathroom) and has a very laid-back atmosphere. I am still confused by the name! I discovered that a Sarangbang is a room located in a Korean traditional house (hanok) which served as man’s room, used for studying, writing poetry, and leisure activities.  The Koreans created the sarangbang strictly following the Confucianism principles of the Joseon Dynasty.  In lower class homes, the sarangbang is located across from the women’s space (anbang), separated with a hall called daecheong.  One of the characteristics of the sarangbang is that it usually has a separate study called a sarangchae. The sarangchae is forbidden to women and only men can enter it, hence my confusion at the Confusciousness of it all. In saying that I am in the parallel universe that is SK!

I was first introduced to the main attraction of Sa Rang Chae, Choko. Choko is a Korean native dog, designated as Korean Natural Monument number 368. Living adjacent to Choko is Candy the daughter of Choko. As is usual on my travels, canines quickly become my best friend. Candy LOVE’s people, but she hates pigeons. Whenever the pigeon appears in the yard of Sa Rang Chae, she barks like an insane banshee. The rooms here are of a traditional style with thin walls, paper-backed doors, and blankets to sleep on (not for those with bad backs!). There are also self-catering facilities so that evening I engineered a prawn, hot noodle Ramen style soup with spring onions and mushrooms. Alongside the kitchen are two areas to relax and eat if the weather is inclement, in addition their is a healthy library of books and maps (many in English) to help you plan your stay, I already had Frommers on my ipad but found lots of useful local information and tips relating to buses and cycle routes.

After settling in and chatting to the owners I decided to take my first stroll in Cheongju the first and closet attraction being Daereung-won Tumuli Park (Royal Burial Grounds). The park has 30 large and small tombs from the Shilla period and has been designated Historic site #175. The tombs are presumed to be those of kings and court officials. The dimensions of the tombs vary with heights range from less than 1 meter to 23 meters. Most of them are earthen and mound-shaped. Some double gourd-shaped ones are for the joint burial of a husband and wife. As those excavated were all found to be stone-pilled wood-lined chamber type, most of the tombs here are presumed to be of the same type. The 3 main tombs are Cheonmachong, the Shilla King Michu Tomb and the Hwangnam Daechong Tomb, all three are visible from the side gate of Sa Rang Chae. If you are related to Greg Rutherford your entrance fee could be wavered but in reality a 5 minute walk to the main gate and entrance to this impressive area will set you back £1. The Cheonmachong (Heavenly Horse) Tomb has been excavated and is open to the public, to allow an appraisal of the methods adopted to construct the tombs. Why Heavenly Horse? A saddle flap was excavated from the tomb which had embossed upon it, a flying white horse! Q.E.D. The tomb dates from around the 6th Century AD and precious artifacts have been excavated and are displayed at Gyeongju National Museum.

The tomb opposite is the Hwangnam Daechong Tomb which is the biggest within the complex, this bi-hobbit dwelling was the resting place for a King and his Spouse. Earily relics found within the tomb indicated burial of the living with the dead (Sunjang funeral) but also coins proving there was foreign exchange with countries lining the Silk Road.

King Michu’s Tomb is party to a bizarre tale that when Japanese invaders attacked in the 3rd Century A.D. Soldiers emerged from the tomb with bamboo leaves in their ears and defeated the enemy.  Not being cynical I would like to accept this legend but it seems to me the story may have suffered from the dichotomy between Chinese Whispers and Englishy during translation. Anyway Michu was the 13th Shilla King and reigned from A.D. 262-284.

I wandered further afield to an area known as Cheomseongdae one of the most revered Silla relics. The Cheomseongdae observatory is one of the oldest structures in Korea. This unique bottle-shaped building was built in 647 during the reign of Queen Seondeok of the Old Silla kingdom and was used as an astronomical observatory or was it? Cheomseongdae literally means “star-gazing tower”, and was constructed with 362 stone slabs which represent the days of the lunar year. This bodes well for the observatory rumour or legend but I was told it is more likely to have been a Buddhist Lantern and the site of the original observatory has been forgotten. Who knows?

Beyond the temple is an area of beautiful pastures, including one referred to by the map as the Rape Flower Field (Rapeseed). Bond that are the ruins of  Wolseong Palace,  all that remains today are some slabs and foundation blocks which provide a rough indication of how large it once was and an impressive stone ice house known as Seokbinggo. Sad!

I walked for a further 5 minutes to Anapji Pond. Originally created in the 7th century, Anapji Pond is located on the Banwolseong palace site, in central Gyeongju. The pond was recreated in the 1970s, and subsequent excavation recovered numerous artifacts of religious and daily life from the site. King Munmu (the king responsible for unifying the ShillaKoguryo, and Paekche kingdoms) built Anapji Pond in 674 as a pleasure garden. He designed the pond so that one cannot view the entire pond at once. Only a small portion of the original palace remains. The relics have been restored and many are on display at the National Museum, a short walk away. Before I left I met some kids from Gyeongju Girls High School who were completing an ecological survey on Korea’s national bird, there Englishy was excellent. Beyond Anapji are some beautiful lotus ponds which I wandered around for some 45 minutes before walking back to the Hanok to shower and cook my ramen.

Sa Rang Chae is great budget accommodation and attracts like minded travellers.  I met a number of really lovely French people including Hugo, his wife and Zuco his little boy.  They had been travelling around Korea for a while and I have to say were/are fantastic company.  The family originated from Bordeaux just north of my friends Susan and Paul in Languedoc.  I wa shoping to catch up with Hugo et al tomorrow (17/08/2012) as they are in Seoul but I have to prep for the new semester as I only got notice of some timetable changes today, we start on Monday.  I LOVE SK! Other travellers included a Belgian family, some Americans and a family of Koreans.  The laid back atmosphere fuelled conversation well past midnight, a great experience.

Day two saw me tucking into the eggs and toast at the Hanok before heading to Bulguksa, I set off around 7.30am to miss the crowds taking the No 10 bus to the temple car park. Bulguksa a World Heritage site is linked to Seokguram Grotto by a 3 km hike up Mt. Tohamsan, this would be my second destination of the day.

Bulguksa has become famous as one of the few surviving examples of Silla architecture. According to legend it was founded in 535 A.D. as Hwaeombeomnyusa temple. King Pob-hung built it for his queen, who prayed here for the welfare of the kingdom. Although most of Bulguksa is a reconstruction, the foundation stones and the pagodas are original.  According to the ‘Samguk Yusa’ (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms) the original Bulguksa was designed by the legendary architect Kim Daeseong, who overcame extreme poverty and ugliness to become a great believer in Buddhism. Dubbed “Big Wall” because of his flat forehead, the young Kim took refuge in Buddhism and earned enough merit to be reincarnated as the King’s Prime Minister, Kim Munryang.  Kim Daeseong’s life is shrouded in supernatural legend. At birth he was found clutching a seal inscribed with the characters ‘Kim Daeseong’, his name in his past life. Like his predecessor, the young Kim grew up faithful to Buddhism and as Prime Minister gave it official support. He personally designed Bulguksa as a memorial to his parents.  In its time Bulguksa was dwarfed by major temples such as Hwangnyongsa, Bunhwangsa, and other important temples on the Korean peninsula. Bulguksa’s smaller size did not detract from its artistry, which remained on par with the great Silla temples. In all likelihood the temple was probably not dedicated to Kim Daeseong’s parents. The temple’s name literally translates as “Buddha land temple” and a number of Silla kings styled themselves as rulers of a Buddha land.  The temple was sacked in the 1592 Hideyoshi Toyotomi invasions and all of the wooden buildings burned to the ground. It was partially reconstructed during the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945) but was fully restored during the later years of president Park Chung-hee’s regime (1961-1979).

The temple is considered as a masterpiece of the golden age of Buddhist art in the Silla kingdom. It is currently the head temple of the 11th district of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. I have a more lasting memory of Bulguksa; whilst I appreciate the intricate carving of both wood and stone it’s the stoney face temple guardians with faces akin to slapped arses that will live in my memory.  It is a typical “no photo” UNESCO site, why “no photo” because they want to sell you shit, tasteless souvenirs! Let’s compare with Seokbulsa in Busan:

One is hard to get access to, one is easy.

One is personified by serenity another is a tourist trap.

One is attended by smiling, kind buddhists another with scowling banshees.

Sorry Bulguksa, Seokbulsa wins hands down. I think UNESCO have a lot to answer for!

Onwards towards the hiking trail to Seokguram Grotto. It’s a small miracle this is here at all, since the Japanese tried to cart it off during the occupation. The only reason they didn’t get it is that the local governement refused (at great risk) to cooperate in it’s removal. At Seokguram is one of the most famous and beautiful Buddhist statuary pieces in the world. Made out of granite and flanked by several guardian deities, this is an amazing piece of art. The only drawback at the UNESCO designated World Heritage Site is that you’re not allowed to take pictures (although you can buy excellent postcards :-)) and the Buddha is behind a very reflective glass wall. All I can say sadly is that I have seen it and the exercise in climbing that hill led to knees more painful than the site of that “trapped” Buddha. Touris trap, trapped Buddha there’s a song there somewhere. Ivor throw me that Novello!

I took the number 11 back to Gyeongju and sampled the local markets before having a siesta at the guest house.  Around 3.30pm I headed out for another walk catching Gyeongju Hyanggyo which was a hyanggyo or government-run provincial school during the Goryeo and Joseon periods, and is located the neighborhood of Gyo-dong.  It was fascinating to meet two Ghananian girls who spoke FANTASTIC Englishy and who were volunteering for my best buddies UNESCO.  They were on a 14 day stay mapping trecking trails on Namsan mountain, great stuff, beautiful positive people.

I continued to view the House of Choe Sik  and a hanok where they produced wine before walking through Gyerim Forest which spreads out to the south of the observatory. According to legend, in the year 65 AD, townspeople heard a rooster crowing in the middle of Gyerim and, upon investigating, discovered a golden box hanging from a pine tree. Inside was Kim Alji: the original progenitor of the Kim Clan, who would go on to found Silla. Today, 1.7 million Koreans believe that their lineage traces directly back to Kim Alji, and the Gyerim Forest is considered the birthplace of these “Gyeongju Kims”. Hallelujah!!!!! Long live the Kims who must have invented Kimchi? Yeh! Well don’t they have  a lot to answer for? Kimchi, pulling teeth, UNESCO which is most painful? Returning to the Hanok I had another great night with the cosmopolitan crowd in residence.

Day three and four were dedicated to trekking further afield by cycle, hired at an astronomical cost of £4.50 per day. These can be hired outside the main gate of Daereungwon and if you mention Sa Rang Chae you can collect them the night before to allow for an early morning start.

I had found some cycling trails on the Internet and this was to be a pretty flat circular trail around Gyeongju City. Firstly I headed for the Five Tombs Complex.  On the way I passed a lovely site of people manicuring some tombs adjacent to the main road, it has been difficult to ascertain but I believe the main tomb here is that of King ????? From here I spotted the fateful Brown Sign which led me to the Heungnyunsa Temple.

Heungnyunsa Temple was the first Buddhist temple built in 544 after Buddhism was adopted as the state religion in 528 during the reign of the Silla King Beopheung according to the Gyeongju historic plaque at the temple. The temple was built to pray for Princess Seongguk, who was a daughter of King Michu. The temple was built as a request from the famous monk Ado. However, with all that said, after a roof tile was removed, an inscription read “Yeongmyosa.” So a recent theory now claims that the temple site was actually or originally called Yeongmyosa Temple.  The plaque isn’t clear either way. According to the records in Samgukyusa, Heungnyunsa Temple is the one that Gim Daeseong (who constructed Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram), offered as farm land in his before life, also this is the place that Gim Hyeon made a karma with a tiger. I hope he enjoyed that encounter!  In the main hall, the Maitreya Triad is enshrined along with the portraits of some of the greatest Buddhist priests of Silla including Ado, Ichadon, Wonhyo, Euisang, Jijang, Hyegong and Pyohun. If they had played rugby sevens, the commentators would have a nightmare, except of course the exceptionally talented Claire Balding :-).

A 5 minute cycle ride brought me to the Five Tombs Complex. According to Samgugyusa (history) as they were burying Park Hyeokgeose (the founder of Shilla) and his wife, Alyeong, a huge snake appeared and interrupted the ceremony. The corpses were divided into 5 sections (Why not six? I don’t know unless he got an extra tomb for his Willy Wonka), this is why they are known as Oreung (5 tombs). This peaceful park being none UNESCO is a real chill out zone and early morning no more than 15 visitors gorged on this very status. This is another great place to relax and take a picnic, I love how the authorities in central Gyeongju allow these sites to exist as parks were local residents can retreat and find a little solace for the princely sum of 60p. I chilled here for an hour or more before remembering the scale of my days historical “hit-list”. In saying this I headed in the general direction of the National Museum passing men constructing a “traditional” Hanok house and stopping to admire a giant blue headed Buddha at a modern temple adjacent to the main road. On reaching the Gyeongju National Museum I was elated to find out that entry was free.

The architecture of the museum is a little brutal, no Zaha Hadid biological morphs here, very little zen and much more Tiananman Square concrete triumphalism. In saying this the artifacts located in the  grounds were very interesting if inaccessible due to the less than welcoming signs, no “please do not touch” but plenty of “keep out”, will they ever learn etiquette. This is not a US Airforce base it’s a home for national treasures. Inside the treasures are beautiful, solid gold Silla head dresses and funeral garb, very very impressive. If you read anywhere that this place is not worth the visit then ignore, seeing these few items ignites a view of what this civilisation was more than the stone relics  scattered around Gyeongju, they are must sees!

Next stop on the East side of the city is the (10  mins cycle) Bunhwangsa Temple, which was originally built in 634 A.D. and translates to “Fragrant Emperor”. The temple has been renovated and rebuilt throughout its lifespan, so doesn’t look anywhere near its age. Except, that is, for the ancient stone pagoda which stands in the courtyard. It’s thought to have originally stood nine stories tall, though only three levels remain today. Bunhwangsa is also worth a visit for its huge bell which you can pay to ring unless you are the tyrannical Hugo whose misspent youth as a hooligan meant he went ahead anyway :-). In 1915, it was dismantled and repaired after the Japanese destroyed it……bastards! It has double-hinged-door-type gamsils on the four sides of the body stone on the first story of the pagoda, where Buddhist statues are enshrined, on both sides of which Inwangsang (guard) statues (which keep the teachings of Buddha) are sculpted in relief. Bunhwangsa temple is one of the more peaceful temples in Gyeongju. It is not so “touristy” and is much quieter than Bulguksa Temple. There was a great atmosphere there as a couple of well behaved school parties listened intently to a lecture about the temples history. Well worth the visit and also there is a place to sit in the shade, refuel and observe the daily goings on.

As you leave the temple, in a rapeseed field are the remains of Hwangnyonsa Temple, all thatremains is foundations and flag poles, it was once the largest temple in Asia covering 66,000 sq metres.

I cycled North from Bunhwangsa towards the main road (Guhwanggyo) that signals the periphery of Gyeongju and some 5 minutes later came to the Royal Tomb of King Talhae, this tomb was adjacent to a shrine from which I was banished, Sungsinjeon, which had a beautiful setting against a rock face (Pyoam). A temple sat precariously at the top of the ridge.  This whole complex was for some reason closed.  It’s strange how these important sites are indicated as significant on the map but entry is only by pole-vault! Anyway I peaked over the walls and the washing line suggested Sergeii Bubka was at home but not for sharing it with me. Pyoam is the place where the founder of Alcheon Yangsan Village legendarily descended from heaven (I am worrying about the competition to the man from Nazareth).  This place is considered sacred. Here, the elders from six Village held a meeting, called ‘Hwabaek,’ or ‘Democratic Council of Nobles.’ they agreed to the foundation of Silla. Later, they erected the Yuheo Monument and Pyoamje Memorial in memory of the agreement.  King Talhae was the founder of the Seok family. The tomb of King Talhae is very simple, without any decoration.  On the west side of the tomb, the Sungsinjeon Shrine was built to his memory and admiration of his achievements. I’, becoming obsessed with picnic areas but again this is a great place if you are cycling around Gyeongju.  Just far enough away from the main road and supported by a loo there is plenty of shade, on my visit around10 local ladies were having lunch.

Just down the side road and situated at the entrance to Mt. Geumgangsan, I came to what appeared to be another small temple, I think someone was actually using it as their home.  Beyond this and a short climb up a steep road is the Stone Buddha of Gulbulsaji Temple  Site (Seokbulsang) which sits below Baegyulsa Temple.

This is a favourite stopping place for trekkers and is a very peaceful stop well away from the main road. The buddhist statues are carved from one large rock and face in all four directions.  This is because it is said that the holy land of the Buddha is located in all four directions, for those Koreans lacking spatial awareness i.e. all of them, this means everywhere. The style of the Buddha is characteristic of Mahayana Buddhism. This seems to be a well frequented shrine as many candles had been lit but in saying that what I witnessed was people coming and going quite quickly so it was not overcrowded.  It’s another place to spend a half hour or so just soaking up the gentleness of the buddhist religion and it’s devotees. My next stop was Hwangseong Park some 10 minutes away.

In the midst of a pine tree forest, Hwangseong Park hosts local sporting activities like Korean traditional archery and Ssireum wrestling. In October or April, depending which information you care to believe, visitors can join in pounding rice dough with a huge mallet and concocting alcoholic rice drinks at the Gyeongju Liquor & Rice Cake Festival. Korea’s famed rice-cake shops offer their creations in all colours and flavours most of which I find cloying and distasteful. That is not to say you would not fall in love with them but I think of them I picture door stops. They have the consistency of lead! Once again this is a great place to relax away from the searing heat of summer, arround the edges of the park street vendors supply wholesome food at reasonable prices.  The best ones have groups of locals congregated around them.

The Park has a large Pine forested area and also contains the Statue of General Kim Yu Sin, he is one of the most respected figures of Korean History. His statue sits a top a huge man made mound and when I visited was the site of some mad step training routine carried out by a man who appeared to be in his 70s.  Maybe he was running off the rice cakes? Cycling West past the Chunghon-tap Memorial which respects those lost in the Korean War I came to Gyeongju Public Stadium and Gymnasium before crossing the main road following the signs to the Tomb of General Kim.  Across the Hyeongsangang (Seocheon) River I noted Geumjangdae Pavillon and beyond that Dongguk University. I followed the river until I came to Chungnullo Cycle Bridge where I crossed over the river. and 5 minutes later I came to Chungmu Park which sits at the foot of the hill below the Tomb of General Kimand at the front of Sunmujeon Hall.

Kim Yushin (595 – 1 July 673) was the son of General Kim Seohyeon and Lady Manmyeong, who was a daughter of King Jinheung of Silla. He was born in GyeyangJincheon Countyin 595, became a Hwarang warrior at just 15 and was an accomplished swordsman and a Gukseon (국선, 國仙; Hwarang leader) by the time he was 18 years old. By the age of 34 (in 629) he had been given total command of the Silla armed forces. Three years after Princess Deokman became Queen Seondeok of Silla, who kept Kim Yushin as commander in chief of the royal army in 7th-century Silla. He led the unification of the Korean peninsula by Silla under the reign of King Muyeol of Silla and King Munmu of Silla. He is said to have been the great-grandchild of King Guhae of Geumgwan Gaya, the last ruler of the Geumgwan Gaya state. This would have given him a very high position in the Silla bone rank system, which governed the political and military status that a person could attain.

Adjacent to General Kims Tomb is the Kalguksu restaurant at Sungmujeon (숭무전), it’s set in a rustic traditional house to the side of the complex and serves up bowls of son kalguksu (손칼국수), or ”hand-cut wheat noodles” for only 3,500 won a serving. It’s just a 5 minute walk down the hill from the tomb, so definitly check it out if you’re in the area. By now it was around 3.30pm and from here I headed to my last site on this circular tour of Gyeongju City.

Tumuli in Seok-ri and the Tomb of King Taejong Muyeol are set into the foothills of Mt. Seondosan. Because of its location this area is also uncrowded and there are fantastic views of Mt. Namsan and Gyeongju City. By this stage one tomb is another tomb in terms of what they look like so I suggest you arm yourselves with the free booklet that is available from tourism kiosks. It’s called “Gyeongju, Meeting Place the Scent of Culture Time to Surpass”, another fine example of Korean Englishy.  If anyone can translate into Lancky please forward it to me at your earliest convenience. I cycled home to another convivial evening with my new friends in Sa Rang Chae. I had intended to trek up Mt. Namsan the next day but my aching knees suggested I should stick to the less stressful cycle.  I therefore retained my bike for a second day planning to follow routes to the East and West of Mt. Namsan which would take me into the countryside on the outskirts of the city.

I set of at 7.30am on my final full day in Gyeongju and the last full day of my 3 centre holiday in Korea. I first headed out East passing the Anapji Pond and the National Museum of Gyeongju following signs to the Royal tomb of Queen Seondok.  The weather was looking a little overcast and dodgy but I decided to press ahead firstly coming to Neungitap Pagoda which is the resting place of King Munmu and it has carvings of the Zodiac signs around its periphery.

I then took a ramshackle path to the right of the pagoda which led me to what I thought was a derelict temple until I was greeted by two small dogs. The prayer room itself seemed abandoned but an adjacent structure showed signs of life in that the dogs rested there and washing dried on the line. Just to the left of the temple was a well tended shrine in front of a stone Buddha, turning 180 degrees this afforded great views across to Namsan. Apparently the Buddha is known as Maae Sambojol but I can still not ascertain the name of the temple. I returned down the path turning left and upwards, a sign said Queen Seondok’s Tomb but the map indicated I carry on. Downhill on the right was a modern Buddhist temple, passing through the paddy fields I came an Arts and Crafts Centre in a small village where they provided water for me, the humidity was really high.

Travelling on I came to the Three-storey Stone Pagoda at Hwangboksaji Temple Site which surveyed the surrounding countryside in all it’s simple grandeur. I carried on across the fields admiring the way they irrigate these huge expanses. There was a central canal which had a series of locks maintaining the water levels in the paddies which explains the lushness of the terrain.

Cycling on I came to the Tomb of King Jinpeong of Silla, unusual in that it stood alone. The tomb afforded great view across the countryside and towards Namsan mountain, at this point you really feel part of rural Korea and hiring bikes is the best way to get out and about to experience this.

Moving on across a country road was another temple which had a rather unconvincing guard dog and a chunky smiling Buddha. Leaving the temple and further on North I turned right back into the paddy fields to see the remnants of another once great temple Dangganjjju. All that is left is the flag poles. Riding across the paddies I rejoined the original path which took me back to the sign for the tomb of Queen Seondok.

I turned left and upwards along a dry verge (next to which were some old vineyards) and I entered an old pine forest.  As I descended through the trees I caught a glimpse of the perfectly manicured tomb of the Queen who has her own drama series on Korean TV, Queen Seondeok of Silla. From here I headed back towards Gyeongju following the outline of Namsan Mountain travelling West.  I stopped to take on some water before having to take an horrendous dual carriageway past the 5 tombs on the right, looking for Najeong Well.

I found the well….well what a disappointment. This is the legend: the founding monarch of Silla, was born by this well. In 69 BC, Sobeolgong, the head of Goheochon Village, saw a white horse on its knees by the well. When he approached the well he found that the horse had magically disappeared and that a large egg was left in its place, from which a boy was born. When the boy turned 13 years old (57 BC), he was appointed king by the village chiefs and began to rule the area then called ‘Seorabeol’. This is the reality!


I saw some more brown signs which led me to some flag poles indicating the site of another Silla temple. From here I had spotted another stone pagoda high up on the hillside. I tried to cycle but the ground was too uneven but managed to push the bike noticing that the path was disappearing into undergrowth. About halfway up the hill, I don’t know why, I looked down and as my foot hit the floor a 2 metre snake slithered past my toes.  I am not accustomed to screaming and there was no one around to hear me or administer an antidote, but scream I did, listening to the echo around the valley.  I hurriedly ascended the path to the site of the pagoda, which was not particularly well tended and whose gate was corroded and dangerous.

The site is known as Changnimsa which is said to be the first palace site of the Unified Shilla Kingdom. It was built in 855 A.D in King Munseong’s reign and was destroyed during the Joseon Dynasty, only the pagoda remains. I did NOT walk back down the hill but risked life and limb free riding to the bottom.  I noticed a sign indicating a footpath leading to the Poseokjeong  Pavilion site, following the footpath swiftly to avoid any advancing pythons I reached a village and beyond that the pavilion. This site has the most oversized car park since Christendom began, it’s simply huge with room for 60 or more coaches. The tranquil surroundings indicated that this Airbus 480 sized space is unlikely ever to be filled. Poseokjeong  Pavilion is the site where the Shilla Royal family held religious services and banquets. As is my bequithed role in life, expectation turned to disappointment as no buildings are left. It is a lovely shady space and again a venue to get out of the summer heat and chill, so I had a wander round stopping at the only remaining artefact, the abalone shaped granite loop, 22m in circumference.

It is known as the place where Yusanggoksuyeon was played.  This is a ceremony were floating shot glasses are placed in the channels to whoever the shot glass floats this instigates the recital of a poem.


I attach a modern reconstruction of this 1000 year old ceremony imported from China.

From here I followed the trail to yet another tomb that of King Jima, further on I passed through a landscaped wildlife area and a woodland before I came across a temple called Sambulsa. The temple had a resident monk and a pavilion containing a triad of standing Buddha’s known as Baeri. They are known for their smiles that change depending upon the angle of the sunlight, two-faced Buddha’s what next? The middle Buddha is the best carved and it’s austere and refined appearance gives off a strange aura. I followed the trail all the way back into Gyeongju and the bosom of Sa Ran Chae for another great evening, my last of the vacation.

Rising early the next morning I took aboard my usual three scrambled eggs and said my goodbye to Hugo et al before taking a final walk around central Gyeongju.  I caught my bus at 2,30pm arriving back in Chungju by 6.30pm.  The journey gave me time to reflect on a great vacation made on a very low budget and one that was full of incident, greta memories and fantastic places.  If I had taken this trip from England the cost would have been astronomical. A thumbs up to budge independent travel and any adventures that the future may hold. Phew, I haven’t written so much since Uni. Arriverderci.