Friday, December 13, 2013

Gyeongju, South Korea

It was a last minute plan. Plus, there wasn't any public holidays nor any flight promotions. But we proceeded anyway. Return flight ticket to Busan via Air Asia was RM905 with shared 20 kg luggage check in and no other add ons.

Day 1: Gyeongju Historic city
Fri 15/11/13

It was an early morning flight to Busan at 1.15am, and we arrived at 8.30am local time (+1 hour from Malaysia). Bursts of cold air slapped our faces when we stepped out of the plane into the bus that would be connecting us to the terminal. We had underestimated our clothing! We had only brough autumn clothing, but it was cold like winter, especially when the wind was blowing.

We decided to take the train to Gyeongju as our guesthouse is located nearer to the train station compared to the bus station (walking distance), and it was still early (or so we thought!). From the airport, we would first have to take the subway to Haeundae to catch the Mugunghwa class train (slow train) to Gyeongju. The airport (Gimhae) is accessible via light transit rail to Sasang station. We would then change to take the subway from Sasang to Haeundae. The self operated ticket machine at the airport wouldn't give us back our change, but it was quickly solved by the LRT staff once we pressed the help button. We found out that the machine only accepted up to 1000 KRW notes only, but we had put in a much bigger note. No small denomination? No worries, there is another machine which could exchange your notes into smaller denominations. We only found this out after we encountered the problem.

Anyway, some minor glitches aside, we were then on our way to Haeundae station. It was rush hour, so we couldn't get a seat on the subway, although it is more spacious and longer than KL's Rapid Transit. We only got to sit later in the journey.


After arriving at Haeundae, we quickly proceeded to Korail's Haeundae train station which is connected to the subway station. It was around 10.30 when we reached there. However, I made a mistake of not checking the train schedule as the next train would only depart at 12.15 noon! We were given allocated seats and the ticket cost KRW 5900 ( RM 18) So we had 1+ hour to kill. 

So we proceeded to one of the plethora of coffee cafes in Korea – the De Chocolate Coffee and had our simple breakfast since the last meal we had was the night before at LCCT. After breakfast, we still had some time, so we walked a bit to Haeundae beach (visible once you exit the subway station). It was sunny, yet cooling. The beach was beautiful, with hotels, shops and skyscrapers surrounding the beach. On the way back to Haeundae train station, we passed through the Haeundae Market where we saw live sea creatures (eels, fishes, octopus, clams etc) in the tanks, ready to be cooked and dined.

de chocolate coffee
Haeundae market
Haeundae beach

Back at the station, we had a bit of difficulty deciphering our Korean language printed ticket, other than the seat no. and coach no. There were 2 platforms, so we weren't sure which platform to wait at. The announcements were all made in Korean too. Luckily we met Chiwoo, a local Korean gal who was also going to Gyeongju. She guided us on what the announcement was about and where to wait. We also had a bit of chat about Gyeongju and the weather. She reccommended us to take the Gyeongju bus day tour. Although a bit pricey, we wouldn't have to wait for the bus, and we would be transported to all the major attraction sites. She would be taking the tour to Bulguksa Temple / Seokgoram Grotto. According to her also, it would be the start of winter on Monday (3 more days) and Gyeongju would be colder than Busan! She also commented on our rather thin layer of clothes and said we would need more than what we had on now! To be safe, we should have packed an extra thicker / insulated clothing although it wasn't expected to be really cold. Lesson learnt the hard way!

see Chiwoo's thick jacket!

Finally the train arrived and we were on our way to Gyeongju. It was a rather scenic ride, first by the sea, then through the mountainous terrain of the countryside where we saw the first glimpse of autumn foliage. How beautiful they were! It was our first time experiencing autumn, and were loving it! The train is also clean and comfy, so we could catch a bit of sleep. 

comfy train
view from train

We arrived Gyeongju station at around 1.45pm. As told by Chiwoo, we sought some info from the Information Centre just outside the train station. We decided to walk to the sites that were nearby and take just the normal bus to Bulguksa and Bomun Lake resort area the next day and follow our own itinerary at our own pace. We would definitely need more time to take pictures, which would be limited if we were taking a guided tour.

Gyeongju train station

After asking for directions to our guesthouse – Hostel Dahyun (KRW 50000 per room per night or RM155) from the Information Centre, we managed to find it. Not really 7 minutes as claimed by the Hostel, but around 15 minutes walking instead. Already hungry, we made our instant noodle meal at the neat multi purpose room (kitchen, TV, laundry). It felt homely. Our rooms were also clean and cosy, although quite small, but there was enough space to perform prayers, so it was good enough. 
our room

After the meal and freshening up, we continued our mission to the Cheomseongdae Observatory, Wolseong Forest, Gyerim Forest and Daereungwon Park (all Unesco Heritage Sites under Gyeongju Historic Areas). The autumn foliage there was really beautiful! We had a field time taking pictures there, and imaginaning ourselves being transported back to the Silla Dynasty era. It was getting drastically colder after dusk, so we quickly sought refuge at yet another coffee shop, Topsia.

rape flower field

Wolseong forest
Gwiyerim forest
pathway aldong Dongbu historic site
Cheomseongdae Observatory
After recharging for some heat, we walked to Anapji Pond. Entrance fee is KRW 1500 (RM 4.50) True to what most travellers have noted- it was more beautiful to visit at night. Not that we came again in the day to verify, but just looking at illumination and the reflection on the water would make you nod in agreement.

For more info on Gyeongju Historical sites, please visit

Anapji pond
Satisfied with our mission today, we walked back to our guesthouse, dropping by at the shops to get proper winter jackets. However, seeing the price tag at KRW 350,000 + (RM 1000+), we aborted the idea. Ah we were so glad to be greeted back by the warmth of the guesthouse heater and had another round of hot cup noodles.

Day 2 Bulguksa – Folk Village - Expo
Sat 16/11/13

We had a simple breakfast of toast, eggs, juice and milk at our guesthouse before starting our mission today – Bulguksa temple and Bomun Lake area. Since we arrived at Cheomseongdae Observatory at almost dusk, we visited the area again today. We wanted to take pictures of the autumn foliage at daylight. Absolutely beautiful! Next we made a stop at a nearby shop to Daereungwon Park and ate some traditional Gyeongju bread (made of red bean paste) which cost KRW 14000 or RM42 per box. We didn't enter Daereungwon Park, just taking pictures from outside as the tomb mounds were visible from outside. It was a unique tomb set up where the rulers of the Silla Dynasty were buried under mounds, which I thought made it look like an arty garden.

Cheomseongdae Observatory in daytime

Can't get enough of Gwyerim forest

Royal tomb of King Naemun

Gyeongju bread

We then walked to the Gyeongju bus station, asking people around for directions. Try to ask from youngters instead as the elder people mostly didn't speak English. One ahjussi (uncle) tried to help us, but gave the wrong direction! Luckily we bumped into some youngsters around. It was quite a distance to walk actually, but since the weather was pleasant, we didn't sweat. We later found out that we could just wait for the bus at any of the bus stops along the way- but then again, the signages were in Korean, so we had to go to the terminal anyway where there is an Information Centre with English speaking staff. We paid KRW 1500 ( RM 4.50) to go Bulguksa temple. Not within walking distance, but possible by cycling, but you must be fit and athletic to climb the hilly part towards the temple.

It was already crowded when we reached the temple. Not much Caucasion tourists though, probably because it was already approaching winter and they mostly were searching for sunshine.

We had to climb a bit to reach the temple, guided by 2 female Buddhist monks who spoke English. On the way up we passed by some stalls selling food and souvenirs. The monk pointed out the must try dishes to us – some looked like fried insects / maggots. We politely declined. 

The temple view was really beautiful, surrounded by old trees with colourful bursts of autumn foliage. Heritage plus natural beauty rolled into one.

need to climb a bit to Bulguksa
Bulguksa temple

We then proceeded to the Gyeongju Folk Craft Village at the foothills of Toman mountain in the hopes of taking pictures wearing a Hanbok (traditional Korean costume). Another KRW 1500 (RM 4.50) for the short bus ride. However, only hanbok for sale was available, no photoshoots / wearing of Hanbok. Sigh. The artisans still live here in traditional houses (hanoks). So we didn't get any hanboks, but we got hanoks instead. Ah well. I loved one of the hanoks there. So lovely with a pond in the compound. Not many visitors here, in fact very few. You could buy traditional handcrafts here such as pottery, brassware, woodworks and jewellery.

beautiful hanoks
Next stop was Gyeongju World Culture Expo Park. KRW 1500 or RM4.50 for the short bus ride. So it would be better if you planned your journey carefully to avoid taking more bus trips than necessary as each ride regardless of distance would cost KRW 1500. There was no Day Pass available, perhaps the Tourism Ministry could device this soon. We wanted to go to the Gyeongju Teddy Bear museum at the Bomun Lake Resort and thought we could walk there from the Expo park, and later found out it was quite far. Since we were a bit tired from walking, we decided to ride on the hot air balloon which cost KRW 15000 (RM 45) each person for about 15 mins. We got a bird's eye view of the mountainous terrain of lovely Gyeongju. Marvellous isn't it? Bomun Lake and Gyeongju World Amusement Park were visible from up the air. But we didn't feel like having a splash at the amusement park as it was already very cold!

View of Gyeongju landscape

After the hot air balloon ride, we decided to go back to our guesthouse. We asked a young policeman for directions and he happily obliged, in English. We alighted at the bus stop opposite Gyeongju train station (this is where we should have waited for the bus to Bulguksa instead of walking all the way to Gyeongju Bus Terminal – what an incredible feat!) and dropped by the Jung-ang market for some groceries shopping for our dinner – eggs, sweet potatoes and oranges. We would be cooking in our neat little kitchen hurray! We wanted to buy some fish, but the portion was too big to be finished in a single serving (only 1 night left before departing for Busan tomorrow). The street food looked really tempting – especially the fried vegetables fritters and pancakes. Oh my! But since we were not sure of the cooking oil source, we decided to forego it. Off then we went to cook up a storm at our lovely kitchen with the stomach already growling. It was really fullfilling after a hard day's work of walking. 

spoilt for choice at Jung-ang market

slurp slurp



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