Gyerim(Chicken Forest), the legendary birthplace of Kim Al-ji, the founder of the Kim clan. According to the story, King Talhae heard the sound of a chicken in the forest, at that spot, a gold box was found hanging from the branch of a tree, with a white chicken under it. A baby, Kim Al-ji, was found in the box. This forest was located at the between Cheomseongdae and Wolseong fortress
Now before you think I'm talking about the recent crap that the music industry is churning out, I'm not. "Bbang" is korean for bread and the Gyeongju Hwangnam Bbang is about the most delicious morsel of dough and red bean I've ever tasted in my life. Just a bite of this sweet bread is enough to make me sing Ricky Martin's song over and over again, even though I sound worse than William Hung.
This small but fat cookie is a "must-try" when you're in Gyeongju. There are about 20 or more shops selling this little delicious things but go for the one that's called Hwangnam. You'll smell the shop even before you go there. Yes, let the sweet scent of eggs, dough and hot sweet red bean guide your directions.
King Munmu-Wan (660~680?) was the 30th ruler of the Shilla Kingdom.
The story says that he was cremated in a Buddhist ritual and that his ashes were buried in the East Sea per his wishes. This allowed him to be reincarnated into a dragon to protect the Shilla.
This is reportedly the only undersea burial site in the world. (Korean National treasure 158)
The tomb is on the south east coast, near the Gameunsa Temple (Korean National treasure 112).
National Treasure No. 20
Built in 751 during the reign of King Kyongdok in the Unified Shilla period, this pagoda is dedicated to Prabhutaratna Buddha, call Tabo Yorae in Korean. Standing 10.4 meters high, the pagaoda shows unusual design, excellent sculpture techniques and beautiful proportions, demonstrating the marvelous artistic talent of Shilla's artisans. It is said that a number of Buddhist relics inside the pagoda were lost in 1925 during the repair work done by Japanese colonialists. The first storey of the pogada is believed to have held four stone lions, each facing one of the four directions. One stone lion still stands on it. One is known to be on display in the Britisch Museum and the other two are missing.
"A Tragic Legend About Sokkatap & Tabotap"
Asadal, a mason who lived in the former Paehche area, came to Kyong-Ju to build the two pagodas. He first completed Tabotap and the Shilla people thought highly (of the newly built) pagoda. When Asadal was making an effort to construct Sokkatap, his wife, named Asanyo, came to the Capital of Shilla to meet her husband. Then a monk of the temple earnestly requested her not to meet him until the completion of the pagoda. She responded to the request and stayed by a pond called Yongji near the work site waiting for the completed pagoda to cast a reflection in the water. One night, the nervous woman saw a figure of Tabotap, not Sokkatap, in the water and threw herself in the pond. After completing Sokkatap, Asadal went to the place where his wife had stayed. As he found that she had been dead, Asadal also threw himself into the water, saying " I lost my love because of my art. Art and life would be useless without you. I will never leave you again." Hence, Sokkatap, which had not cast a reflection in the water, earned the nickname: Muyongtap (Pagoda Wihtout Reflection).
There are a large number of Shilla's royal tombs in and around Kyong-ju, most of which are nearly two thousand years old. These royal burial mounds are largely grouped in Tumuli Parks (Tomby Park), called Kobungun in Korean. Each park hold several to tens of tombs. The Central Great Tombs Park is in the downtown area, containing about two dozens of large and important tombs. Among other major parks are Sondosan Kobungun, including King Muyol's tomb, Kumgangsan Konbungun including King Talhae's tomb, Namsam Kobungun, Sonamsan Kobungun and Tongnamsan Kobungun. During the Three Kingdoms period, people built tombs by using stone and earth in the shapes of circle, square and gourd. Most of the Shilla Royal tombs are circular,and some even are over 20 meters high with a diameter of more than 80 meters. The gourd-shaped mound is a twin-tomb, in which husband and wife, or father and son were buried together. There remain some ten twin-tombs in Kyong-ju and the largest one is Tomb No. 98 that is 25 meters high with a diameter of 83 meters. There is only one square tomb in the middle of the road to Bulguk-sa temple.
One of the tombs belongs to King Mich'u, the 13th King of the Shilla Dynasty. A seventh-generation descendent of Kim Alchi, Mich'u was first King to come from the clan Kim founded. During his 22 year reign, the King led Shilla to become a powerful country ande defended it from invasions by neighbouring Paekche. After his death, the country came under attack. Legends tell of soldiers with bamboo leaves in their ears appearing out of his tomb to repel the invaders. The tomb is thus called Chukhyonnung (Bamboo Soldier Tomb).
The main reasons for building temples and Buddha statues in the Shilla Kingdom were to pray for national prosperity, reincarnation of royal family and realization of one's wishes. The Seokguram Grotto is a hermitage and part of the Bulguk-Sa temple complex. It lies four kilometers east of the main temple on Mount Toham-san. The Grotto overlooks the Sea of Japan (East Sea) and rests 750 meters above sea level.
In 1962, it was designated the 24th national treasure of Korea. In 1995 Seokguram was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, together with Bulguk-sa temple, as it exemplifies some of the best Buddhist sculptures in the world.
The Grotto is said to have been built by Kim Dae-Seong, and was originally called Seokbul-sa (Stone Buddha Temple). Construction began in 742 (or in 751), when Kim Dae-Seong resigned his position in the King's Court.
This time period was the cultural peak of the Unified Shilla. The Grotto was completed by the Shilla Court in 774, shortly after Kim's death. An old legend relates that the Bulguk-sa temple was dedicated to Kim's parents in his present life, while the Seokguram Grotto was dedicated to Kim's parents from a previous life.
NOTE: Picture Taking is NOT Allowed Inside the Grotto!!!
The Bulguksa Temple is a the foot of Tohamsan Hill where you can find the Seokguram Grotto. The temple is Unesco World Heritage moment (the region has quite a few of these). Especially the paintwork and setting in the landscape is good.
The temple complex is rather large, and is nice for exploring.
Just outside Gyeongju there is the village of Bulguksa (Trains to Busan call here). Here you can find the Grotto, an old buddah overlooking the hills. For a small fee a bus takes you from the hotel area (right at the Bulguksa Temple) up on the hill in 15 minutes.
With good weather you can overlook the whole area and even see the Sea of Japan which is a truly impressive sight.
There's also a trail on which you can walk up/downhill. It is recommended to walk your way down and enjoy the beautifull nature. If you look closely you can see striped squirrels.
This Buddhist temple dates back to the Silla dynasty. It was enlarged during the reign of King Yejong (1468-69). It has several of Korea's national treasures, including a mulit-layer stone pagoda from 1472, a stone bell and lamp from 1376, and a monument to the wood-block Buddhist library that once stood here.
A small park now, it used to be a pleasure garden for royalty. It is "famous" for the abalone shaped waterway in the garden, where ancient royalty would float wine cups in it. A small park with many trees, the place looks pretty derelict and you really need to excercise your imagination to see how the royalties would have derived any pleasure from this garden.
A peaceful place to picnic and rest though. Located in the Namsan area, you'd probably drop by on your way after the trekking in the mountains.
Namsan, located on the outskirts of Gyeonju has numerours interesting treks. During the Silla period, it held great importance serving as the "capital-of-the-capital". Many temples, Buddhist sculputures, tombs of royalties are scattered in the mountains.
Indeed, as you concentrate on your climb to the peak, there are many forked trails leading to that obscure temple or stone sculpture of lantern or Buddha statue craved into the rock. The silence and serenity of the track, occasionally broken by the Buddhist chants of that mountaintop temple (exemplified with loudspeakers - LOL) fills the trek with a sense of mysticism.
Atop the peak, you can get a good view of the farmlands at the foot of the mountain. Mine was the golden fields of Autumn with rice waiting to be harvested.
Note that there are 3 trailheads with different paths but most people would start with the one at the Oreung tombs. During my visit, I also tried to locate the trail behind the Poseokjeonji (the pleasure garden with the abalone shaped waterway), but there was some ongoing road repairs and infested with mosquitoes in late afternoon.
Not far away from the Bulguksa temple,there was a stream of water flowing.It was said that this was pure spring water from the mountain.You may want to bring a empty bottle along.The spring water is very cooling and refreshing.
I also saw other similar looking water collection area,but they are from taps,not sure if they are consumable.
Have a meal under a cherry tree . It's a wonderful experience if you don't mind a sprinkling of petals on your food each time the wind blows! I had mine near Bulguksa temple. Yes, there's a couple of shops there but only one has a giant cherry tree in front of it.
This is definitely off the beaten path... and I mean, it's on its own path all together!
Yangdong Folk Village is about 20-30 minutes North of Gyongju. It is a national heritage site, home to over 20 traditional houses, several of which are considered national treasures.
This site is a little tricky for a few reasons. First, it is quite out of the way, and should be done as a full day trip on its own. The village is best explored on foot, but it is quite spread out, and takes a few hours to get around. Second, there is not very much information about the village available to visitors. Particularly unfortunate is the lack of maps indicating where all the houses are located, and whether or not the houses are open to the public. This makes the site a little hit or miss.
All this being said, the site is quite amazing. We went on a Saturday afternoon, and there were very few tourists about. We were the only foreigners visiting (and we were there on a long weekend). The houses themselves represent the best of the best when it comes to Korean architecture. The homes were mostly for Korean nobility, so they are quite magnificent in some cases. The people are also quite friendly. We were fortunate enough to be picked up by a local from the bus stop and driven the 1.5 km road to get to the village. We stopped in at a pottery shop and had tea with the artist herself. We were greeted by the local ajummas. If you take the time, you will likely find that the people who live here are quite welcoming.
To get to the village, take any bus between #200-208. The fare to Yangdong is 1650W per person.
Try going to Namsan and enjoy its beauty. But please be warned that you could easily get lost...I did go on my own and got lost several times ;0).
Most locals do not know how to speak English so it was really a big challenge for me to locate the attractions from my hand-drawn map. The feeling of uncertainty will leave you feeling nervous and excited at the same time.
Trying to look for the nice remote places will also give you a chance to interact with the locals which for me is very unforgettable. The people of Gyeongju are sooooo nice and I hope I could get back there soon.
If you are short on time (like I was), you can visit these attractions in a halfday tour....give or take some hours for times that you get lots :0):
Note: It took me 6 hours to see the first 4 attractions. I miss the Twin Pagoda as nobody seemed to know about it. It helps if someone could translate the names of attraction in Hangul. Remeber..Persistence is the key word!