May 14, 2011

Gyeongju, South Korea

A couple of weeks ago I went on a trip to the city of Gyeongju with a travel group called Discover Korea. We took a chartered bus from Seoul down south to Gyeongju, which took a little over 3 hours.

Gyeongju is 230 miles south east of Seoul with a population of 370,000 people. Gyeongju was the capital of the ancient Silla kingdom from 57 BC to 935 AD. The Silla kingdom ruled most of the Korean Peninsula for the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries. Because of Gyeongju's historical significant it is often referred to as a museum without walls and has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in South Korea.

We were in Gyeongju for two days and one night. We toured the city via bikes and road about 10-15 miles each day. The city is one of the most bike-able cities in Korea, with large sidewalks and wide roads. I had not been on a bike for about a year, so it felt great to be outside all day, seeing a new city on two wheels.

The first day out on the bikes we did a route through the heart of the city. This was one of the first weekends of Spring, so the city was booming with people. The Cherry Blossoms were also in full bloom (they only last a couple of weeks) so many people drove in to walk around the parks and enjoy their beauty. Gyeongju kind of felt like a Korean Door County in some ways: a beautiful get away city in the countryside (but Gyeongju is littered with historical landmarks).

We stopped at a small side of the road resturant for some lunch and makgeoli. The restaurant turned out to make their own fresh tofu right on site. We got to watch parts of the tofu making process and then chomp down on some of our own. The best tofu I have ever tasted.

For dinner we tried the famous local cuisine, Sambap. Sambap is a whole meal made up of side dishes, kind of like Korean tapas. Some dishes include, meat, fish, eggs, noodles, korean pancakes, kimchi, lettuce, rice and pickles. Lots to choose from!

After dinner we wondered around the main park and Anapji Pond to check out the Royal Tombs and cherry blossoms at night. The city of Gyeongju does an amazing job of lighting up the park and pond at night to give the tourists a whole new experience.

The next day we took a more senic route for our ride. We went through the countryside, riding admists the rice patties and near Namsam Mountain.

We stopped at a convenient store for some road snacks and found a LG company picnic. As most Koreans would, they invited our group to join them in playing games and drinking makgeolli. Korean's are really some of the nicest, friendliest people around.

After biking some more, we found a perfect place to eat our road snacks and sip on some more makgeolli. Some beautiful rocks, a stream, surrounded by Cherry Blossoms: it could not have screamed spring in Korea more.

We ended our ride in the Gyeongju Park. We wondered around and enjoyed the Spring air and marveled at the ancient Silla tombs.

We had a fabulous trip to Gyeongju and it felt great to enjoy spring in another Korean city. If you have time to tour other cities than Seoul in Korea I would totally recommend it. Korea has so much to offer outside of its largest city. Gyeongju opened me up to some important Korean history and showed me how some Koreans like to enjoy their spring.

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