Barbee Travels travel blog

Tumuli Park Tombs

Bulguksa Temple

Buddas view at Seokguram Grotto

Nelson and KH laughing like Budda


On Friday, Nelson suggested we head north to Gyeongju (a city of 266,000 and contains several UNESCO World Heritage sites) about 2 hours from Busan via bus and train. Gyeongju is known as the museum without walls because it contains more tombs, temples, rock carvings, pagodas, Buddhist statuary and ruins of palaces, pleasure gardens, and castles than any other place in South Korea. In 57 BC, Gyeongju became the capital of the Shilla dynasty and remained so for 1000 years and was the capital of the whole peninsula. The cities population peaked around one million but as empires go it fell due to division within and conflict from without. Gyeongju is vast at 1323 sq km. We only had time to take in a few of the sites: Tumuli Park, Bulguksa, and Seokguram Grotto. Tumuli Park located in the center of town has 23 tombs of Shilla monarchs. They look like grassy mounds very obvious as we walked around. They have yielded great treasures which are on display at the national museum. After touring Tumuli Park we ate lunch with one of Kyoung-Hee's old co-workers before heading up to see the temple Bulguksa. Bulguksa is a series of stone terraces set in the hills 16km southeast of Gyeongju set among gnarled pines and iris gardens. It is the crowning glory of Shilla temple architecture. The site illustrates the excellent carpentry and skill of its painters. However, I was surprised to find the site a a little run down. The exterior paint was moderately faded. Nelson also commented on the state of appearance. We found it surprising that a theme park could be constructed to help attract more visitors and vacationers but not to update the painting on such an important piece of Korean history. The race to the last site on our trip Seokguram Grotto as the sun was slowly melting into a sea of color over the distant mountains went quickly. The walk to the grotto was through a thickly wooded path that ends with a engineering feat of the mid 8th century. The Seokguram Buddha was constructed with huge blocks of granite quarried far to the north then the only access was a narrow mountain path. Because of his position overlooking the sea, many regard him as the protector of his country. Our time had come to an end and it was time to begin making our way back to Busan. One of the most exciting parts of the day was the bus ride from Gyeongju to the rail station at the north end of Busan. Apparently our bus driver was late for a hot date and drove the bus like a race car weaving in and out of traffic. I though we were going to have an accident before arriving at the station. Forget North Korea the real concern to personal safety here is Korean drivers.

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