South Korea – 11. Gyeongju

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Why go:

Lovely old streets to wander around (hanok village), interesting Kings’ burial mounds in the park, lot of blossom trees in spring, pleasant shopping area and a good indoor market. It’s also close to the Gyeongju, near Tumuli Park – I just really liked these statues high speed line between Seoul and Busan (the KTX, high speed, train station, Singyeongju, is about 10km out of town).

Is it worth going out of your way to visit:

I think so, but it’s not as exciting as the guidebooks suggest, it being frequently described as “the museum without walls”. I liked it because there was a nice feel to the town and the main part of town wasn’t at all touristy. The touristy area was concentrated around Tumuli Park, which is more interesting than beautiful because of the somewhat bosom-like burial mounds, one of which you can go into.

I think so, but it’s not as exciting as the guidebooks suggest, it being frequently described as “the museum without walls”. I liked it because there was a nice feel to the town and the main part of town wasn’t at all touristy. The touristy area was concentrated around Tumuli Park, which is more interesting than beautiful because of the somewhat bosom-like burial mounds, one of which you can go into.

We stayed in a traditional guest house on the edge of the hanok village. It was quiet and a pleasant place to stay, though a bit far to walk into and out of the main town for lunch and dinner (there are places around that area; more touristy though). I would go again to stay somewhere pleasant and reasonably cheap and because it felt nice there. I also get the impression there is a fair bit to do around the area. We stayed there two nights as one day we wanted to take the KTX train to Busan for a day trip, having decided we didn’t want to drive into and stay in a big city. It is an easy day trip and there are plenty of trains.

What were my highlight:

Eating a traditional Korean set meal in a lovely, traditional and atmospheric restaurant, Dosolmaeul.

Walking around the hanok village.

The covered market near Gyeongju bus station(there are far, far more interesting/bigger markets in other towns but the one in Gyeongju was the one I enjoyed most – it’s kind of “Market Lite”, as it were!).

Overall comments:

If you like your coffee, there are some unexpectedly good coffee shops in the “new” town and along the main road, Daejongno.

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Eating at Dosolmaeul. There is a pathway along the (sort of) west side of Tumuli Park. If you are walking from the southern part of the park where all the touristy stuff is largely located (and the ticket office to enter the park), you will see “Sarangchae” hanok guest house on your left. That has a clear sign. Dosolmaeul is maybe 30 seconds further along on the left (on your right is the Tumuli Park wall) and is not written in English but as it’s a traditional South Korean restaurant, it’s pretty easy to be confident you’ve got the right place. You enter via the courtyard.

We ate in one of the rooms opening onto the courtyard. We had read about the place in our guide books and went for the set meal, 18,000 won for the two of us. We went there for lunch and were very full afterwards. As with all South Korean food, most of it wasn’t to my taste (fermented stuff, hot pepper paste; it just doesn’t rock my boat!). But it was fresh, fun to try and there were some delicious plates.

It’s also worth going for the novelty factor because it is traditional. I liked the toilet there too, though I really can’t remember what it was I liked about it as I think about it now!

Walking around the hanok village is interesting and refreshing (ie seeing traditional buildings) but I wouldn’t say it’s worth going to Gyeongju just to see this as the area in Seoul is a lot more exciting and vibrant and the Hahoe Folk Village is more traditional in terms of agriculture too. But it is really nice and it is one of the more memorable aspects of South Korea for me, ie the old houses.

The covered market, like the hanok village, to me isn’t a destination place. I just really enjoyed it. Both of us got quite giddy about the food areas and I had some freshly made and prepared sushi

rolls, which were delicious. It’s just a pleasant and manageable town to walk around and maybe I enjoyed it all so much as it wasn’t too touristy or busy. But, again, we went in April not in summer. And there were quite a lot of tourists around for the blossom and the park.

Practical information:

The tourist information office by the bus station was very useful. We got maps and we also had someone there find us accommodation at Lucky Won, which wasn’t in our guide book but which was the right price (50,000 won for the room) and in the hanok area, where we’d wanted to stay.

It’s an easy town to drive around and park in.

It is c10km to the KTX high speed station. You can get buses there but we got a taxi (c16,000 won from Tumuli Park – lots of taxis around there).

There are lots of “Bakeries” in Gyeongju. If for a minute you get excited and think that means nice bread, stop those cravings straight away for they will not be satisfied. They are bun type things that you largely buy in big souvenir boxes.

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