This is post seven of twelve on our autumn trip to South Korea. Check out the other posts in this series here:
- Back for One Last Score: Intro to our Korean Babymoon
- 4 Nights at the Stylish Park Hyatt Seoul
- Checking Out Seoul’s Spirits
- Eating Our Way Through Seoul
- Seoul’s Other Palaces
- Staying at the Hilton Gyeongju
- Visiting the Silla Kingdom: 1 Day in Gyeongju
- 4 Nights is Not Enough at the Park Hyatt Busan
- Temple Time in Busan
- Tricked out Again: The Busan Trick Eye Museum
- Busan BBQ: A Mixed Bag
- 14 Hours in Hong Kong: Protests, Dim Sum & Giant Buddhas
Gyeongju is one of the oldest cities in South Korea, dating back 57 BCE. It was also the capital of the Shilla Kingdom, the dominant group that ruled Korea for three centuries starting in the 7th century. Which meant one thing to me: ruins!
I love ruins, temples, and anything ancient. Mrs. Selfish and I spent an amazing 23 days in Kyoto during our Selfish Year, partially because I am obsessed with shrines and temples and that city has literally hundreds of them. So I was kind of expecting it to be something like that.
Unfortunately, while Geyongju has some truly beautiful sites, it’s also home to some of the most insidious tourist traps I’ve ever seen and is populated with crappy theme parks, golf courses, hot air balloon rides and super-kitsch attractions like the “Teddy Bear Museum.”
Actually, I kind of regret not going here now. Look at all ‘dem bears!
Normally I’m all over that kind of stuff, but we were looking for bona fide, authentic slices of history here.
Gyeongju may be overrun by kitschy tourist attractions, giant coffee chains, and massive hotel complexes, but there is still something very beautiful about it – you just have to know where to look.
Not a bear in sight!
The Royal Tombs and Cheomseongdae Observatory
Close to downtown, the tombs are more like giant mounds. You can’t really see much, but they are eerily lit at night, which makes for a fun walk. The Gyeongju tourist board knows what the what people want to see, and dropped some major wons on good lighting.
From there, we strolled to the Cheomseongdae Observatory. Asia’s oldest observatory, the Cheomseongdae Observatory was built in the 7th century. So yeah, pretty old. It looked like it was in relatively good condition, however, which is one reason to use stone as a material.
The Anapji Pond
From there, Mrs. Selfish and I walked to the Anapji Pond – our real reason for hitting Gyeongju at night. Although it was windy and surprisingly cold, the walk was only a good 10 minutes and was totally worth it.
The Anapji Royal Pond Garden is the reconstructed remains of a former royalty hangout. The site it open until 10pm, but they stop letting people in past 9:30. Like everything in South Korea, entrance is dirt cheap. In this case it cost 2,000 KRW (~$2 USD) per person.
The garden is epically lit at night (and that is not a word we take lightly here at the Selfish Years). You basically walk around the pond on a well lit park, gawking at the reconstructed towers and trying to imagine what it would have been like hundreds of years ago when it wasn’t well lit and swarming with gawking tourists.
Still, pretty frickin’ cool.
They also have a display of Shilla artifacts and a miniature version of what the pond would have looked like if you had a time machine.
The following morning we hopped in a cab for Bulguksa Temple. Located South East from the Hilton, it took us roughly 20 minutes and 12,000 KRW ($12 USD) to get there.
The Bulguksa Temple complex is massive, and was easily the best temple we saw in our trip to South Korea. Created in the 8th century, the Bulguksa Temple is still a working Buddhist temple.
Entrance to the temple was 4,000 KRW (~$4 USD) per person. They were doing some repair work on the temple, as one of the pagodas was damaged by an earthquake, I believe, but the rest of the temple was in great shape and still very beautiful.
From there, Mrs. Selfish and I headed over to the Seokguram Grotto, which was a short 10 minute cab ride. The Grotto was sold as “not to be missed” on tripadvisor, with a giant, ancient Buddha as the main drawing point.
Unfortunately, the site was experiencing massive renovations and wasn’t in the best shape. We also weren’t allowed to take any pictures of the Buddha itself.
While the stone Buddha was impressive, I was slightly let down. Then again, we have seen many Buddhas in our time, so perhaps I’m a bit of a Buddha snob. If you like Buddhas in general (or haven’t seen many) this is worth a visit, if not, I’d probably skip this one.
From there we grabbed a cab back to our hotel, grabbed our bags, and hopped on a train bound for Busan, which was only a short 30 minutes away.
Join us tomorrow, when I’ll review our best Hyatt stay yet, the excellent Park Hyatt Busan!