Silla Kings in South KoreaGyeongju is one of Korea’s most traditional cities and was the capital of the Silla dynasty which lasted for almost one thousand years (57 BC – 935 AD). A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is awash with history and places to explore.
Our bus arrived at the station in the centre of town after a two hour drive from Busan. From there it was a short walk to yet another “love motel”. Upon check in we were handed the now obligatory pack of shampoo, toothbrushes, condoms etc. and shown to our room.
The young couple managing the place were really helpful. When we asked about places to eat they went one better and took us to a place just around the corner and helped us to order as no one in the restaurant spoke English. We enjoyed superb meal of barbecued pork accompanied by around 10 delicious side dishes. Great food for 16k Won ($15) in a place we just wouldn’t have found by ourselves- it didn’t even look like a restaurant from outside. We rounded off our meal with a small bottle of Sochu or “Happy Water” from the 7-11 (tastes a little like rough Sake and is made from yams apparently). It is hugely popular in Korea and now with us!
Gyeongju is known for its many “Tumuli”, grassy domes about 30 metres high containing the tombs of the Silla kings. They are are found all over the city, but most are in the Five Tombs Complex and the Daereungwon Tomb Park. At night many of these tombs are floodlit making the whole place a just little spooky.
We visited Daereungwon early in the morning and had the place virtually to ourselves until the arrival of a group of University students. Before long we were shyly approached by one of the students and asked if we would mind asking a few questions to help with there studies. We naturally agreed and we were immediately surrounded by the rest of the class, all so smartly dressed.
The questions came thick and fast; Where were we from? How long were we here? What did we think of Korea? Were we scared visiting Korea??? Bemused, we asked why they would think that we would be scared. They explained that they had all just returned from a student exchange in the USA. Apparently they found that many Americans were reluctant to visit South Korea because they were worried about a war breaking out with North Korea. We said the thought hadn’t even occurred to us although our visit to the DMZ was a stark reminder that a possible conflict is never too far away. But if it did happen it probably wouldn’t matter much where in the world we were!
The tombs are basically underground burial chambers similar, I suppose to the Egyptian pyramids but these are round and green. One of them Cheonmachchong (the heavenly horse tomb) is open to the public and has a few relics on display inside prompting us to wonder how much gold and other relics are still buried under all the other tombs?
Gyeongju is relatively compact and an easy city to get around. We hired a couple of bikes from the motel to enable us to cover a bit more ground and explore a little further out from the city centre. Cycling was along the small streets out into the countryside and along the roads lined with cherry trees in full blossom was a really nice way to spend a day. Riding along one cherry tree lined boulevard it started to get very windy and the blossom came off the trees and it was like riding through a snowstorm.
On reaching Namsan Park we saw the start of a number of trails up into the hills. The original plan was to spend half a day hiking these, but neither of us were feeling too great from the bug we had picked up, so we gave these a miss and just wandered around the park at the base.
It was here, so legend has it, that King Heongang held banquets and used to play drinking games with his buddies. There is a very small canal, about 6 inches wide, which winds around in a loop under one of the trees. Apparently, the royal court would all sit around this canal and the King Would compose the first line of a poem and then place a cup of rice wine on a little boat. If, by the time the boat had reached the next person, he had not composed the next line, he had to drink the wine. True or not, it sounds like a great game!
Onwards from there we went to the Five Tombs Complex. Set in another beautiful park there are, unsurprisingly, five tombs. All very quiet and peaceful and a great place to visit in the late afternoon, especially as the cherry trees were still in blossom. Watch out for the next for more on the five tombs.