We spent most of Wednesday on a bus to Kyongju. The entire trip cost only US$12 per person and was quite comfortable. Some people like to travel at night to save money and time, but it is not always convenient. Some people can't sleep on buses and you also miss everything between one place and another. Anyway, in Korea there are no night buses, so we took the afternoon run and arrived pretty late in the evening. Luckily I had phoned ahead and made sure we had a place to stay at the famous Hanjinjang Hostel. The owner, Mr. Kwon, speaks perfect Korean (obviously), English and Japanese and is very helpful by providing a map of the area and great advice. His yogwan is highly recommended not only in Lonely Planet, but in the Japanese equivalent, How to Walk Around the World (Chikyuu no Arukikata). We got a huge room there with private bath and TV (which had some English and Japanese shows) for three nights at about US$29 per night.
Thursday was a bit of a rainy day. It is still a little chilly and gloomy in March. Most people recommend going to Korea in the fall. Anyway, we bought an umbrella and went out to the sites over the city. Kyongju is small enough that one can see most things on foot. From our hostel we first walked to the Tomb Park. It was basically a regular park with a lot of curious hills that happened to be old burial mounds. One of the hills is carved out so that people can walk inside and see the wooden chamber inside. It reminded me of the tomb of King Midas that I saw in Turkey.
Next we walked down the road a bit to a Chomsongdae Observatory that sits outside the city. We were the only people around there. In fact, we had a little trouble paying the guy at the gate because he was out back peeing in the bushes when we walked up. Eventually we paid and got to see this wonder. It is cute little tower claimed to be an used in the 7th Century to look at stars. There are a number of mathematical equations that can be calculated using the tower's height and number of stones and whatnot. It was nice, but not very convincing.
Next on our tour was an Anapche Pond which was recently fixed up. In the old days it was a sort of villa/park used by the royalty to entertain guests. It was quite nice, but hey, it was raining.
Our final stop for the day was Kyongju National Museum. It was really quite amazing. There were three large buildings full of models and artifacts and information found in and around Kyongju. There is an English or Japanese earphone thing that will explain all the treasures to you. Brica and I spent the afternoon wandering around here before going back into town for pizza.
Some of this may not seem to exciting. Honestly, it wasn't very exciting at all. Since Brica was born in Korea, and I have an interest in the place, we enjoyed ourselves. However, if you like beaches or mountains or discos, I imagine you can find those in your own country. Personally, I like to see a little bit about the history, food, lifestyle, etc abroad. I bought a CD of popular music that night. I like to listen to it now and then and pretend that I know something about Korea.
On Friday we decided to take a bus out to the crown jewel of Korean Buddhist Temples, Pulguksa. It sits on the side of a hill not far out of the city. It is definitely an impressive site, but I couldn't help but compare it to temples in Japan. Many people told me that Kyongju was comparable to Nara or Kyoto in Japan (or Konya in Turkey) because it used to be the capital and is a historical treasure. There are definitely a lot of things to see there, but I would not say that it is as exciting as the parks and temples in Japan. I can't say why exactly. Perhaps it is only because it was spring and quiet and gloomy; it only seemed less exciting. Perhaps. it is because Korea is now almost half Christian and some of the Buddhist history is dying out. Perhaps it is just because Korea is not as rich as Japan, so they don't waste a lot of money fixing up their tourist sites. At any rate, Pulguksa was a nice place, but the workmanship in Japan seems a little better to me.
From there we decided to take the long way up to Sokuram Grotto. We walked up a rather steep path to the top of a higher hill. From there we could see the Japan Sea (known as the East Sea in Korea) beating against the shore below. Around the corner inside a cave was the most beautiful statue of Buddha that I have ever seen. It was carved from a beautiful white rock that looked as smooth as it must have been hundreds of years ago when it was made. It was added to UNESCO's World Heritage list in 1995 and is a true wonder. I would say that it is better than Japanese statues that are judged by size or amount of glitter.
We had a little trouble getting down from the mountain top, though. It seems that we missed the last bus and the tourist were slowly thinning out. We started to get a little worried as it was chilly up there. We gave the lost-typical and asked somewhere if there was another bus. The woman in the shop looked worried and immediately took it on herself to find us a ride home. I must say that it was the first time that I ever hitchhiked anyway, but I completely enjoyed it. It was a little awkward because people expect that Brica can speak some Korean (she was born in Seoul), but we couldn't say much to the three 20somethings who gave us a ride. Nonetheless, they got us back into town without any troubles. Only in Korea.
Time was passing rather quickly and it was already time to head back to Seoul. We took the same five hour bus ride back. I was thinking about what our experience. I thought that Korea looked a little poor and dirty. Then I realized that this observation was only because the windows on the bus were dirty and and grey and everything looked old through that glass. Anyway, I concluded that it is difficult to judge a country in only one weeks time. In fact it is hard to judge a country at all. There are so many different places within Korea that I cannot say exactly what the country is like. At any rate, it was a nice place to visit.
We went out for "California Cuisine" with one of my other Korean friends that night. We talked about life in general. When you talk to people on that level, you get the feeling that life is not so different anywhere in the world. Everyone has the same worries and joys. There are really only so many personality types in the world, regardless of national boundaries. In the morning, we left the boundary of Korea for two weeks of fun in the sun of Thailand.