Tag Archives: gyeongju

Cycling from Pohang to Gyeongju (40km/ 2 hours)

On Hangeul Day, a public holiday in Korea, I finally made time to cycle from Pohang to Gyeongju. The bus journey between the 2 cities takes 30-40 minutes and the straightest line (on highway 7) makes it just over 30km. But I’m not looking for straight lines. I’m looking for curves that will swoop around beautiful stretches of farm land, small villages, rivers and streams.

The first time I did the ride I had the good fortune to be stopped by a farmer who was having a barbeque with his family and friends. I met his family, horses, dogs and cows and sampled some really tender beef! It was a random but great encounter, just another example of the extreme generosity and kindness you will come across in this country.

The route back was slightly less auspicious as I left Gyeongju a bit late and got horribly lost on the small country roads. It took me 4 hours to get home, double the time it should have taken! It was a beautiful night ride though, the night after the lunar eclipse: huge moon, clear skies… you could even see some stars. The silence of the sleepy countryside was intermittently interrupted by the sound of a stream or river nearby. It would have been true bliss had I not been so lost.

I was determined to try the route again since it’s a nice easy ride that’s easy on the eye. I made a pig’s ear of  the route on the way there so I’m only going to post my return route (Gyeongju-Pohang).

Most of the route will be on quiet concrete country roads/ nice bike paths, maybe 55%, about 5% on road, 15% gravel and 15% side walk/ shitty bike paths. I did the ride on my road bike, which handled the gravel sections fine but beware of uneven surfaces just before leaving Pohang and when you’re cycling in Gyeongju (next to the main road – there are some truly awful bits that can give you a snakebite if you’re not on the look-out). Obviously it’s common sense to take a spare tube, patching kit and a pump with you.

Some cool restaurants  near the Express Bus Terminal in Gyeongju include:

– Hawa Dhaba 하와다바 (Indian food) – google 하와다바 HawaDhaba 경상북도 경주시황오동 108-2

– Kong Story  꽁스토리 (Falafels)- opposite the Express Bus Terminal. OMG so good.

– NeCoZzang 네코짱 (Japanese Ramen)- also very near the Express Bus Terminal.

Here’s my route on Strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/209040367/embed/dbbd52f4072d70d513c188145f42f5158175d1b1

My Pohang start/ end point is Posco bridge, since it’s a well-known landmark. My Gyeongju start/ end point is very near the Express Bus Terminal. Where you can see loops it signifies going off-route so just go straight (none of the detours are huge though, should they occur). If you are starting from Pohang, you will need to cross the road when you see the huge retail park between Pohang and Gyeongju, otherwise you’ll be cycling against highway  traffic coming around a corner. Do-able but not safe at all.

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Manbulsa Temple (10,000 Buddhas)

I first read about Manbulsa Temple on another blog. It sounded so fascinating that I convinced my co teachers to arrange a trip so we could check it out.

It’s currently being renovated so there’s a lot of digging and building going on- not very tranquil. However, if you have a thing for Buddha statues, this is the place for you! Manbulsa mean 10,000 Buddhas (man= 10,000, bul= Buddha, sa= temple). It’s a bit of a theme park.

You know how some foreigners say “seen one temple, seen ’em all” ? Well, I learnt a few new things here.

– Dead babies. This was creepy: there are rows upon rows of baby Buddha statues with little caps, being guarded by  Chinese Horoscope sign characters. Some little statues have chocolates and others have money and trinkets hung around their necks. All of them have names though. These statues represent babies who died before being born- these are the parents efforts to ensure that the baby gets re-incarnated.

– Graves. I’ve grown used to seeing round mounds on mountainsides and assumed this was the standard way of burial for Korean Buddhists but there are a couple of different graveyards here.

– Wishes: A water fountain with little Buddha figures adorning it. Apparently if you make a wish and pour water over the statue’s head three times, your wish will come true. Let’s see about that!

– Sin: There is a small bell that you can gong 3 times to absolve all your sins. Wow, that was easy! I’ll be back for more no doubt!

I really liked the “sleeping pose” Buddha, a.k.a death pose Buddha because it reminded me so much of the one in Bangkok, only this one is A LOT smaller, as in 10m long and it’s bronze, not gold leaf. I liked his golden robe, meters of fabric sewn together and draped over him to keep him clean.

Manbulsa Temple has a novelty factor that you won’t find at many other Buddhist sites in Korea so I definitely recommend going- only wait a month or so to give them time to complete their renovations!

How to get there: Follow the directions on the official website.

Hiking Namsan, Gyeongju

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.

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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:

http://blog.korea.net/?p=16106

http://gyeongjulove.blogspot.kr/2012/01/mt-namsan-place-called-outdoor-museum_19.html

http://www.hikekorea.com/trails/saunter-back-time-through-silla-namsan/