I had an excellent weekend! I finally visited a city that I have wanted to see for over a year now. Gyeongju (경주), a small town to the east of Daegu, is only an hour away by train or bus. It is a historically significant area because it was the nation’s capital during the Silla Dynasty (668AD – 935AD). The Silla were the first to unify all of the Korean peninsula under a single ruler.
I’ll only cover Saturday night in this post. We saw too many cool things to cover the weekend in a single post.
We took the slow train (무궁화) from Dong-Daegu Station (동대구역) to Gyeongju Station (경주역). It took almost exactly an hour and cost 5,000 won ($4.75) each. We arrived mid-afternoon, so I was worried that we might not have time to see much. Fortunately, the train station is in the center of town and directly across the street from the historical district. The historical district is littered with signs that talk about the history of many of the buildings.
We began with Hwangseong Park (황성공원), an ancient royal burial ground. The park was filled with huge man-made mounds in which tombs were constructed for royalty and other important people. They were similar in appearance to the burial mounds at Bullo-Dong in Daegu, but their sizes varied much more and the Gyeongju mounds are spread farther apart.
An interesting fact I learned about the burial mounds was that Sweden plays a small role in their history. Only a few of the 100+ burial mounds have been excavated. Nearly 100 years ago, the Swedish crown prince (later crowned King Gustav VI) and a group of Swedish archaeologists assisted in the excavation of the tomb of an ancient Silla King, where they discovered an original Silla crown.
After the burial mounds, we decided to get dinner at a restaurant downtown. I wanted to try something interesting, so my friend suggested that we eat Hae-Jang-Gook (해장국), a mildly spicy and salty soup made with buckwheat tofu and vegetables (this is a unique Gyeongju style of Hae-Jang-Gook). It didn’t look appetizing when it hit the table, but it was absolutely delicious.
The restaurant at which we ate Hae-Jang-Gook was small and old. All of the walls were covered in mold and the menu was a piece of wood with three options engraved in it. We spoke to the old woman who owned the place and she told us that she has sold the three dishes in that space for 50 years. She pointed out her prize possessions, three framed photographs of her being interviewed by various reporters after winning an award for her soups.
The old woman spoke to us periodically as we ate. She thanked me several times for visiting Korea and for eating at her restaurant. My friend spoke to her every time, so she assumed that I didn’t understand what she was saying. As we left, she slapped me hard on the back and (in Korean) said to my friend: “He looks strong. Is he rich?”
We finished the night out at a place called Ajapji (안앞지), or Anap Pond. The pond was built nearly 1,500 years ago by the Silla king Munmu. It was repaired and turned into a historical site in the 1970s. Thanks to the underwater lights in the pond, Anapji is a popular nighttime destination for tourists and locals alike. As soon as we walked through the main gate, my blood pressure went through the roof. There was a constant stream of people pushing and shoving their way along the path surrounding the pond. The congestion was magnified by the groups of people standing in the pathway taking pictures.
We fought our way around the pond, skipping some of the popular stopping points because they were basically tourist mosh-pits. The worst was a gazebo near the entrance with several artifacts and a large model of the original buildings surrounding the pond. We found a few places off the normal path around the pond where we snapped some decent pictures.
We finished out the night at a quiet bar near downtown. We needed the rest for a Sunday full of hiking to some amazing sights. More on that later.
Until next time.