After a good night sleep camping at Mt. Tohamsan we drove back down the super-windy road to the city of Gyeongju. Our first stop was Bulguksa Temple. Actually, our first stop was a convenience store for some snacks and drinks for breakfast. It’s always an adventure selecting packaged foods in Korea – we hope to tell whats inside based on the graphics outside the package, but it’s always a
surprise. Avi made the find of the day: chocholate filled whole grain nuggets. Anyway, Bulguksa is a big temple with a grounds area that is very old – back when the Shilla fought outsiders and Buddhist monks kept out the Japanese. The place is gorgeous. Our first site was a beautiful pond with willows, lotus and a super nice bridge. The kids loved this, and exploring the gardens. In the temple area Avi was accosted by some older ladies for a bit…calling him baby buddha, but he took it in stride and laughed at them. Zoe is now way more reserved and backs off when Korean folks get a bit to close for comfort. There was a primary temple with huge buddha’s and lots of smaller shrines and temple structures. All were very well labelled with information about both the history and the intention of worshippers at each place. There were even some monks doing chanting as we walked around. It was really neat.
From their we drove into downtown Gyeongju proper and parked at the Gyeongju National Museum. It is a great FREE musuem with FREE parking. We learned alot about the Shilla culture in ancient Korea, and especially about their burial traditions. That is where alot of archaeological studies have been done, and Gyeongju is a hotbed of burial grounds for ancient kings and queens. We also learned a bit about the royalty, saw ancient crowns, and enjoyed all the pottery. Zoe was super interested in the burial info; she has been curious lately about burials after noticing all the flowery graveyards back in PA. It was interesting to compare burying techniques from the different Korean cultures through time as religion evolved.
After the museum we walked into downtown via an old rice-paddy edged road. On the cartoony Gyeongju tourist map it looks like a quick jaunt with a neato old bridge. It is not, and the bridge is not yet completed. It will be a great way to do a loop of the city sites when it’s done. We made the best of it and poked around in the rice paddy a bit to check out rice plants. I’ve never seen how the rice actually hangs at the top of the stalk…cool. In town the big site bustling with Korean tourists is the ancient tombs park – called something else – and it was neato. The old tombs are huge mounds surrounded by cool gardens. There is one that has been excavated and repaired for touring. Zoe was again enthralled by learning the ancient king was buried with a lot of his stuff for the afterlife. Avi didn’t care and was tired of being in the stroller. Instead he ran around the park like a nutcase and was super mad when we strapped him back in. But then he fell asleep which made lunch at a little rice and noodle shop enjoyable.
Our next venue was to walk along the old historical route in town past an ancient star observatory, through an old forest that used to be a formal gardens, and then up onto the town’s hill that was the Shilla kindgoms’ primary fortress for a millenium or so. The weather was beautiful and the walk was nice. Avi slept, Zoe enjoyed all the flowers and super old trees, and Bryan and I loved being outside. The walk finishes at Anapji Pond – the super formal reception palace and gardens that the Shilla king or queen used to recieve visitors or host parties. The pond itself is a bit green and stagnant, but that allows for an amazing growth of lotus. There were also willow trees, shade gardens, boulders, and all the other vegetation you expect to see in an Asian garden. A walk around the pond found us going the wrong direction through the gardens and square shaped paved areas of former buildings. It just meant more direct attention for the kids. Finally, we walked to the car and returned, exhausted, to our campsite after a super quick stop off for some noodle bowls to take for dinner.
The campground was all but empty, so we moved to a nicer location higher on the hill with a huge platform. No noise tonight – just a great evening in a misty cool Korean mountain forest. Noodle bowl for dinner, playtime with the dragonflies, and Avi and Bryan took a cold shower since Avi was unbelieveabley filthy. We did take a quick hike up to the lookout tower, and then followed a surprise trail out for an up close with some new wind turbines. On the drive up the mountain we could see the crane placing the parts for 4 gigantic turbines, and this trail led us right to them. HUGE HUGE HUGE!! Thats all.