Earlier this week, I told you about my first day in Gyeongju last weekend. My friend and I hopped a train from Daegu to Gyeongju and spent the weekend exploring the historical sites in and around downtown. This post will cover the second day.
Our initial plan was to rent a scooter and ride around town, checking out the historical sites that we didn’t have time to see on Saturday afternoon. Then, at the last-minute, my friend called an audible: “I know of a temple just outside the city that is pretty cool.” I couldn’t resist an opportunity to plan on the fly, so we hopped on the #10 bus from the bus stop downtown across the street from the train station (you can also take #11 bus).
The bus ride took about 30 minutes. We were dropped off at a parking lot near the main gate of Bulguksa Temple (불국사), an ancient Buddhist complex built on the side of a mountain that is surrounded by higher mountains. Bulguksa is beautiful and easy to access, which is probably why it was crammed with tourists. The crowding was compounded by the fact that there were several contests (including a painting contest and a poetry contest) being held inside the temple grounds when we arrived.
In fact, there were enough tourists there to support a long line carts selling food, art and cheap trinkets. The carts lined at least 100 yards of the walkway from the parking lot to the main gate.
The first thing that we saw was the temple’s main gate. Like the main gates at most Buddhist temples in Korea, it housed four huge wooden statues. My friend explained that each statue represents one of the four “sky gods” whose job it is to protect the temple and all people therein from the various evils out in the world.
Another interesting place in the temple was an ancient stone pagoda statue. Though the three-story tall statue at Bulguksa is similar in size and shape to those at other temples in Korea, this one was unique because it is one of the oldest intact statues in the country. It is such an important monument that it was memorialized on Korea’s 10-won coin.
After the crowds got to be too much for me to handle, we decided to dip off the beaten path and look at some of the buildings that weren’t on the main tourist circuit. It didn’t take long to find something cool and unexpected.
Surrounding this small building (once a temple residence) are hundreds of piles of small stones. We took a seat and watched as dozens of people wandered by. About half of them stopped to add a new pile. Unfortunately, the picture doesn’t do the site justice as you can only see a small portion of the stone piles.
As we wandered around, the crowds grew steadily. It wasn’t long before we (I) had to head for the exit. Instead of heading home, we decided to take a bus up to the top of the mountain on which Bulguksa is built to see a place called Seokguram Grotto (석굴암). Thought to be 1,500 years old, it is a perfectly preserved stone Buddha. Its amazing condition is believed to be due to the fact that it was built inside a large natural cave that tends to regulate both temperature and moisture year-round.
After Seokguram, we were beat. We headed straight back to the train station and headed to Daegu. I will definitely go back to Gyeongju. It is small, quiet compared to Daegu and other big cities and it is rich in history. If you have the opportunity, I suggest you take a trip, too.
Until next time.