I hiked Mount Namsan (nam= south, san= mountain) in Gyeongju with my co-teachers last weekend. The mountain is like a living outdoor museum, littered with Buddhist relics as well as royal tombs from the Silla Dynasty. It stretches 8km from south to north and is 4km wide from east to west, including over 40 mountain valleys. There are enough hiking routes here to keep you busy for ages- we started at Samneung (삼릉 탐방지원센터) and had a 4 hour hike in mind. Samneung means 3 royal tombs. One of my co teachers is a Gyeongju native and he is the ultimate guide. He loves Korean culture and has been kind enough to share his knowledge with us. He took us off trail a few times to show us some special spots!
Seabed once told me that in the old days, there were so many temples up on Namsan that if you look up at it from the valley below and what is Gyeongju today, it would have been lit up like a small city!
We saw various carved Buddhas, mostly broken and fixed up, but it was the rock carvings that impressed me most. The time, skill and patience it would have required to complete these carvings astound me. Many of the carvings and statues date back to the 8th and early 9th centuries and they have really stood the test of time. We were very lucky that it was a damp morning, because it’s harder to see some of the carvings in glaring sunlight. The only carving we saw that was from the Guryo instead of the Silla period, was the Seated Yeorae. It was interesting to see that the style of the Buddha was different to the others: this one has bigger lips and a wider nose. All the Buddhas I saw had haloes, signifying nirvana. Apparently the shape of the hair/head with its little bun also means that enlightenment has been achieved.
There are 11 temples on this mountain according to the map but we only visited one- Sangseonam. It felt very ethereal climbing the steps to this small temple in the mist, with the monk’s chants getting louder with each step.
We had kkalguksu (칼국수)- handmade, handcut noodles in a sesame (케) broth- a delicious Gyeongju food specialty.
For the hike as a whole, I’ll let the photos do the talking.
How to get there: The bus stations and train station in Gyeongju town all have Information booths with tourist maps available. Take a map and a taxi (which should be around 15,000 won) or take the 500 bus from Naenam sageori (내남사거리), which is located opposite the Cheonmacheong Tomb. Get off at Samneung (산릉) on the west side of Namsan.
More info can be found on these blogs: