Gyeongju is up next and as I got on the train to the bus stop, which is out of the main city, aren’t they always?! Least unlike SE Asia you don’t have to rely on rip off taxis taking you. I could sense this guy with bright purple hair staring at me, then he came over to talk to me because I looked ‘bored’. He was Korean but just returned from living in Singapore. It’s funny what complete strangers what to divulge to you, as he proceeded to tell me that he didn’t like Korean people as they are rude. I was a bit wary of him saying his out loud on the train, which he sensed as he looked around the carriage and goes ‘see, no one can even be bothered to learn English’. Hmmm, time to change the conversation I think. But to be honest, this was the first friendly, approachable Korean person I had met, a sweeping statement I admit.
Once at the train station I grabbed my ticket and made the bus with minutes to spare and off to Gyeongju we went. Ironically, what with all the buses I've been on throughout Asia and with their erratic driving skills, I found myself putting on my seatbelt for the first time in nearly 7 months. Probably because they drive more unpredictably and they have motorways, at least in the other countries you knew they were going to floor it and you could prepare for that. At least the scenery was pleasant to watch fly pass. Once in Gyeongju, I picked up a map from the Tourist Info Centre which was conveniently next door and headed off for 2km in the direction of my hostel; Gyeongju Tour Guesthouse. My rucksack always seems to feel heavier making the walk a killer but I was glad to dump it at the hostel. The guy behind reception was so lovely and helpful and really chatty and even though I couldn’t check in yet, he advised and helped me with what I should do with my afternoon as I was only in town for a couple of nights. Being half asleep I thanked him for his help and went into the main shopping area to find a café for a strong coffee to set me up for the afternoon and abuse their wifi to work out what to do. Concocting a plan, I headed to the bus stop and jumped on a bus heading to Bulguksa Temple. Had to check with a couple of drivers first to find the right bus as it is not as easily identifiable as you would think. But using google maps it was easy to find where to get off. Bulguksa Temple is around 30 minutes out of town and once the fee is paid you can enter the grounds with its array of temples to explore. I was somewhat disappointed thought, whilst the temples were lovely examples of Korean architecture and vibrantly coloured, they are modern. The original temples, built and completed back in 774, were restored in 1969 – 1973 as they were heavily destroyed during the Japanese invasion of 1592. But it does an insight into what the complex was like back in the heyday of 774. Maybe I am just bitter because I really am missing Japan.
Up a nice forest pathway into the mountain and its valley sits the Seokguramgrotto where you pay another entrance fee and follow the path around to the grotto itself. In front of the grotto, they were preparing for some sort of celebration as they were hanging paper lanterns across the courtyard making it a lively looking atmosphere. But up at the actual grotto, again maybe unjustly, I was underwhelmed. The grotto was small but it did contain a large Buddha portrayed in the cross legged position but to me all the paper lanterns were more impressive. Sorry. So on that note I grabbed the bus back to town and checked in just in time for the heavens to open. The friendly chap helped me find and use the washing machine, oh the exciting things backpackers get to do ey?! Not long after that Verena and her Korean friend, Soli arrived and we spent the evening chilling in the hostel, wandering around the shops where I spent far too much money on penny sweets, and a big slap up Korean meal with the assistance of Soli as translator (thankfully). Stuffed, tired and all chatted out, we crashed out for the night.
The next day, we hired some bikes from the hostel and went to tick off a few more sights, the first stop being Cheomseongdae Observatory an ancient stone astronomical observatory dating back to the 7th century, but it’s a relatively small tower, but was probably huge in those days. The park that the observatory sits in was pretty with all the rapeseed plants flowering making a yellow carpet across the fields. It was funny watching the army guys out on a field day here and standing in groups to take selfies amongst the flowers. I even got approached by a group of 3 soldiers asking for us to have a picture taken with them. Two girls found it funny that they asked me because of standing out with the blonde hair, after so many months in Asia is it weird I’m use to people asking to have a photo with me?? We hopped back on the bikes and got lost cycling around the Gyerim forest and then we cycled over to Anap Pond but as you had to pay an entrance fee we decided to skip it and go over to Gyeongju National Museum as that was free. Elements of the museum were really interesting and contained some stunning gold crowns and it was nice to walk around the different displays for an hour or so. When we came out, my bike had a completely flat tyre so I had to push it back to the hostel but in time to have a late lunch there. Sadly, I had to get a new bike as the other one was beyond repair, god knows what happened to the tyre whilst was in the museum.
So after lunch and sure that none of our bikes would fail us, we rode several kilometres out of town to Bomun Lake where they played a range of random music around the lake, from classical to rock. We found a golden statue of a queen sat around a round table with two people so we had a bit of fun taking photos sat around the table with them. After a while we decided to hop back on the bikes to the hostel and get some food. I left the girls to cook whilst I went out and bought a cheap meal deal, only to find out it was designed for 2 people! Worse, I ate it all and I think to the staffs amazement and disgusted. Needless to say, I was stuffed after that and more or less rolled back to the hostel feeling very uncomfortable. We sat around at the hostel watching films and eating Korean sweets before feeling more comfortable and ready for bed. This was a pleasant town but feeling like I had done everything here that I wanted to, I was ready to be leaving for Daegu the following morning.