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Published: November 9th 2009
The base of the hike is crawling with restaurants and shops
I never thought I would see a second Chusok weekend in South Korea but there I was 13 months in and so happy that we had a long weekend! Since staying in the city for Chusok was not at all what any of us had in mind we enlisted the services of Jusine’s very awesome Korean Co-teacher, Sophia, to help organise us a little get away to Gyeongju so see the cultural centre of South Korea. Naturally trying to co-ordinate train tickets on Chusok weekend for six girls all with different departure schedules proves a little challenging and getting myself a train ticket was proving imposable so I opted to take the bus (supposedly a mere 4hr journey) and was due to meet the girls around 11:30/ 12ish in Daegu and from there we had planned to head through to Pohang the next day for a day of nature captivation followed by a trip through to Gyeongju for our cultural fill.
All excited and very game for a weekend of fun with the girls I trecked across town to Seouls express bus terminal and was headed toward Daegu by the time 8:30 came around! There is only one trouble however,
bus travel and Chusok are just two words you do not use in the same sentence and it soon became apparent that there was no way that I would be getting to Daegu in 4hrs given that the Chusok traffic was backed up from the moment we left the bus terminal. Thank goodness I had managed to commandeer the entire back seat of the bus and so I settled myself in for what would turn out to be an 8hr bus ride. My poor Chingus were not enamoured with the fact that they had to come out in the drizzle to fetch me at 4:30am and I have vowed that there is no way I would ever again even consider taking a bus anywhere on Chusok weekend but all this being said I was so happy that it was Friday and I was on Holiday rather than anticipating my 5 morning classes of 4, 5 and 6 year olds!
After a couple of hours sleep in the most comfortable bed I have slept in all year (gotta love the abundance of luxury Love Motels) we got up and started to make our rather epic journey to Pohang for a
Seems you shouldn't be fooled by the look of the shops exterior it doesn't mean its not lucrative :-)
hike to the waterfalls. It turned out a taxi would have been a very very expensive option, since Pohang was hardly around the corner from Daegu and you can only imagine the amount of luggage that we had between the 6 of us and hiking with a shoulder strap bad crammed with weekend essentials is not precisely a good idea so we headed to the bus station to find a locker to stow our luggage and then to buy tickets for the epic day of travelling but unlikely there weren’t any lockers thankfully Laura had the genius thought that in all Korean Super markets there are lockers and as luck would have it we were just opposite a Home Plus so the six of us headed into the super market with all our luggage, commandeered a good few lockers and in 30 minutes we were all set for a lovely ‘luggageless’ hike in Pohang.
We were all pretty ravenous by the time we arrived in Pohang, 2hrs on busses and taxis is pretty mean going, so before embarking on the hike we sat down at a cool little sichang and had a wonderfully Ajuma treat us to all kinds
And The Holiday begins
....in a psychedelic blue bus
of service on top of our order. Once suitable full we headed onwards towards the waterfalls. The hike and waterfalls were well worth the epic transportation indaba and the six of us had a great time fooling about in the cool water and just enjoying the RnR time. When late afternoon started to rear its head and it started to get a little chilly we headed back to base, found a taxi that would take us back to Pohang and we then boarded our 100th bus for the evening headed for Gyeongju where we were booked to stay for the remaining two nights of our trip.
Naturally travelling with six people does pose a little problem when you are trying to take taxis because you ordinarily have to split into two groups, resulting in a fairly costly exercise when divining a distance. We were faced with this very debacle on arrival at Gyeongju bus terminal cause none of us were particularly keen to get on yet another bus after the day we’d already had but we also didn’t want to fit the hefty bill that would take us to the condo we were staying in, on the other
And The Holiday begins
....in a psychedelic blue bus
side of the city. While hacking with a decision we managed to find a taxi driver who was convinced that he would be able to squeeze the six of us and our luggage into his taxi for a negligible extra surcharge. Tired and all travelled out the six of us decided we’d take the taxi driving Ajoshi up on his offer and so the six of us and our luggage piled into the taxi and started edging closer to a bed. On rout the Ajoshi suggested to our trusty Korean friend Sophia that he would be happy to spend the day driving the six of us around to all the sights we’d wanted to see for a flat rate. With a little artful negotiation Sophia managed to enlist the Ajoshis services, at a really good price, from 10:30am the following day and we would not have to run the risk of wasting hours of valuable time waiting for busses.
Suitably exhausted and very happy to be off a moving vehicle we arrived at a very fancy (but somehow very reasonably priced) Cono. We literally dumped our bags and headed out to organise some food and spent the rest of
And The Holiday begins
....in a psychedelic blue bus
the evening eating dodgy Korean fried chicken and watching movies in true girl slumber party style before hitting the sack for some much needed zzzz.
True to his word the ajoshi was outside our condo at 10:30 ready for a day of cultural sightseeing. We started off our trip at the pretty city waterfall, we then headed for a lovely walk along the lake and then up towards Bulguksa temple via the World Cultural Expo Park building that had a vacant centre in the shape of a temple (possibly one of the most ingenious buildings I’ve seen). Bulguksa temple was stunning, set up above the city of Gyeongju amongst the trees it’s just spectacular and I think even nicer at Chusok when the offerings to Buddha are laid on the tables. Once we’d spent a good deal of time at Bulguksa temple we headed to Hwangnyongsa to see the Pagoda and worship rooms offset from it and once we’d had our fill of temple wondering we decided that lunch would be a good idea and so we go the Ajoshi to recommend a good restaurant. True to form the Ajoshi took us to a good yet rather randomly decorated
The base of the walk
traditional Korean restaurant where we sat down to eat sambap, I have to be honest though the food did nothing for me and solidified the fact that I am only partial to a very limited and very specific kinds of Korean food. This being said though the food wasn’t in edible and it was nice to sit around the table and banta with the girls.
After lunch we headed off to check out the sacred Tumuli burial mounds that, along with the blooming of the water lilies in summer, are one of the most marked things about Gyeongju. The burial mounds are really fascinating and a real marvel and we spent a good deal of time in the burial mound park taking in the beauty and wishing that we could climb to the top of one of the mounds, a real no-no as on stupid westerner found out when I thought it a good idea, found out.
By this stage we had bid our taxi driving Ajoshi farewell and we made a group decision to hire bikes to complete the last couple of sights that were are our list. Andrea, Hayley, Sofia and I decided that we would
try our hand at tandem bike riding and so the fun and games began. Let me tell you riding a tandem bike is most certainly not an easy experience and Andrea and I felt like 6 year olds learning to ride and balance on a bike again. It did make for a good laugh though and it was a huge amount of fun. We managed to complete a good few kms around Gyeongju, though the pretty gardens, past the observation tower, through the water lily ponds and then around the back of the city before the sun started to set and the temperature started to drop. It was really such a lively afternoon and while I was pretty cultured out by the time we deposited our bikes back at the bike hire spot I was amazed at the amount of sights we managed to pack into one day.
Since Gyeongju is the cultural and historic hub of South Korea, coupled with the fact that it was Chusok there was a big cultural concert on the go at Anapje temple and so after some sustenance and a little resting of the legs outside the convenience store we headed to see
what happens at a Korean variety show and my were we treated. It turned out that residents and visitors to Gyeongju were being entertained by a company of really awesome North Korean dancers and entertainers which proved. The dancers, specifically, were really beautiful specially set against the stunning night lights of Anapje pond and temples, had it not been for the penetrating cold that had set in that evening I suspect we would have stayed to watch the entire show.
Frozen to the bone we decided to head into town and see what nightlife Gyeongju had on offer. Turns out that Gyeongju only has one area worth a visit after regular hours and that’s the University area so we caught a cab got dropped off in University town and settled in at the WABar for a drink and some food. Turns out there is a whole haunt of South Africans that dwell in Gyeongju and so we spent the evening making new friends from back home and having a good time before calling it a night.
While we seemed to have done a huge amount already we were all wondering where on earth the weekend had disappeared to
when Sunday morning arrived and the realization that our 6hr standing room train ride was very fast approaching. With only a little time left we popped past the Hot Air balloon so that we could get a view of Gyeongju from Above and from there we headed out, enlisting yet another Ajoshi for a flat rate, to take us down to the beach to see the Sea Tomb of King Munmu and to bask in the sun and play in the sand. Justine and Hayley were even brave enough to swim. After a lovely morning with sea sand between our toes we ended the weekend off with lunch and then made our way to the train station to get our heads around the epic train ride ahead.
Boy oh boy standing room on a packed commuter train was another thing I’ve placed on my list of never to do agains. We bought newspaper and managed to spend 6hrs like real hoboes sitting on the news print on the floor of the aisles leaning on each other’s backs. In the Korean trains the seats can swivel to face each other and since a lot of families were travelling together many
of the seats were indeed swivelled to face each other, creating a tent shaped back between the back to back seats. At one point I commandeered this space to allow myself a little space to spread out and do some work but wow what a crazy experience. We very gratefully arrived at Seoul station on time and couldn’t have been happier to get off the train.
Another wonderful weekend drew to a close marked with new memories, new sights discovered and good times freshly implanted in my mind. If you are in the ROK and looking for a nice natural and cultural getaway Pohang and Gyeongju are most certainly worth the visit just be prepared to do a fair amount of travelling!
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