Gyeonjgu - What an odd place (Day 25 - Day 27 by Chris)

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October 11th 2015
Published: November 27th 2015
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Sunday 11th October 2015

We arrived at the Express bus station early for our 3 hour journey South East to Gyeongju. The bus wasn't something I was particularly excited about as it was very cheap costing approx £12 return each so didn't hold many high expectations. Having said that, when we boarded we were more than pleasantly surprised. The Bus was set out like an airplane with just 3 seats per row and each seat reclining back almost flat with a leg support. Plenty of space around the soft leather seat. For the next 3 hours we slept.

Gyeongju was recommended by a few forums and guides we had read. It is about 30km inland from the east coast and is a place where lots of all kings and generals are buried and surrounded by countryside. When we arrived we instantly saw the difference from Seoul where we had been only 3 hours before. This place was small!

We hadn't been able to book any accommodation in the main town which is where we would've preferred to have stayed, but managed to get a hotel on one of the main bus routes from the town to the areas where the main tourist attractions were. The local bus we got took about 20 mins to take us to our stop. On getting off, it was like we'd entered some creepy toy town built in the 80's. Actually, we HAD entered some creepy toy town manufactured in the 80's. We later read that this place was 100% artificial and had been built to encourage local tourists to visit. Our hotel was close to a lake (man made) and close to a theme park.

We had arrived at the time of a huge exhibition (which explains why most decent accommodation had been fully booked) which was showing the history of the Silk Road which is the historic route that Marco Polo had taken connecting many counties across Asia. We paid to enter this exhibition which was an absolute waste of £12. Upon entering we saw a huge queue and being English thought we should join it. We entered the lift that this queue was for and went up to a viewing platform and saw the scale of the toy town we had paid to live in. Within this exhibition hall they also had outfits worn by Korean TV shows in some period dramas that they have aired. I suppose its the equivalent of looking at clothes worn by people in Downton Abbey. The rest of the expo (a they referred to it) had a few stalls from each country along the silk road selling things typically found in those areas, so Kebabs (Turkey) and carpets (Iran). They also had a stage where foreign women, one from each country on the silk road, would dance to some traditional music in their countries style. They were less modestly dressed than Korean women and a group of Korean men (surrounded by mothers and their children) were whooping and clapping whilst these ladies performed. They were shaking their bits quite a lot which these guys seemed to like. It was a strange thing to witness and quite inappropriate given there were hundreds of children watching. The next thing we saw is one of those memories that you will hold forever as its one thing that I have never seen before in my life. As with most theme parks centered around children, you often have some sort of train or carriage to drive the kids around the park in. Well here they had a rickshaw which was pulled by a mechanical teddy bear accompanied by quite a weird piece of music. The children seemed to love it, but we thought it was very unusual. We took a video and upon viewing I'm sure you'll agree it was quite odd indeed.

Upon leaving the expo, we had some food (Dominoes) and headed back to our hotel to prepare for the next 2 days. The hotel itself 'Valentine Hotel' was another sex Motel we believe as it was up a hill out of the way of other hotels and all lit up in Neon, much like the place we had in Busan. Nevertheless we enjoyed the hotel as it was clean and comfortable.

Monday 12th October 2015

Today was going to be a day of sightseeing. We had planned to take the local bus to a Bulguska Temple followed by another bus to Seokguram Buddah. The problem with this area though is that the buses aren't very frequent and we spent almost an hour waiting for the right bus to arrive. When it did we hopped on board and made our way 40 mins to the Bulguska temple. I would like to give you lots of historical information here but it was one of those places that didn't really stick in the memory. It was a nice walk and had some lovely old wooden temples. The signs at the entrance explained that this place was run down by the Japanese when they invaded and many of the buildings and artifacts either stolen or broken. It was nice though to walk through the site surrounded by the many colours of the autumnal leaves on the trees. We spent about 1 hour here and then left, taking the bus to the Seokguram buddah.

This sight was at the top of a huge hill/mountain (it was high up - ear popping) and when the bus pulled up we got off and went straight to a viewing platform that offered amazing views over the country side. You could even see the sea over the horizon. We then paid our fee and entered the gate to which led up a steep dirt track that is surrounded by trees up to the Buddha. Along the way we were greeted by dozens of Korean school children all saying hello as they passed in the opposite direction. We arrived at the top and went to the wooden shed that housed the Buddha. As far as Buddhas go, and I've seen a few, this was fine. He was carved out of a white stone (don't know my stones) and stood (or sat as most Buddhas do) 10 feet tall. We had a good old butchers and then left, walking down the same route we had taken up. On the way down we happened upon a cheeky little chipmunk who ran across our path. Upon realising we had no nuts for him he legged it into the trees.

At the bottom of the hill, back at the bus stop there were 4 old ladies sat on the floor trying to sell some roasted chestnuts. Being quite peckish and cold (we were quite high up) and the fact Gemma commented that she has never had roasted chestnuts, we decided to buy a bag. The old dear stuck 3 fingers up at us indicating that she wanted 3000 Won for them which is roughly £1.70 which we thought was reasonable. We handed over the 3000 and she looked quite shocked. She then gave Gemma a huge toothless smile and handed Gemma another chestnut for free. Turns out she wanted 300 won, about 17p. Ah well, we ripped ourselves off, but at least Mable got a little extra pocket money and she seemed chuffed to bits. We on the other hand got a lovely warm bag of chestnuts. I also got to ring a huge bell which was housed in a bell tower. you pay 1000 won and get to swing a huge plank of wood into the bell. It made a load belling sound (imagine that). Very chuffed with myself.

We took the bus back to our area near the lake with the aim of having dinner close to the hotel. The bus we took here though takes a different route on the way back. Consulting google maps, we realised that the bus driver had gone the opposite way around the town that we wanted and we had to take the bus all the way into the main bus station. We decided to have a walk around the town centre where we had wanted to stay originally and realised that much like were we were staying, there wasn't much going on here either. We then took the bus back to where we were staying and began the hunt for dinner. We came across an all you can eat Korea buffet which for £10 each we filled our bellies with food we recognised and some we didn't. We then slept on full bellies.

Tuesday 13th October 2015

Today marked our final full day in Gyeongju and we decided to have a walk around the man made lake which the area we are staying in is famous for. The lake (Bomun Lake), despite not being natural was lovely. It took us about 2.5 hours to walk all the way around and was a nice relaxing stroll. With this not being the height of tourist season and being a Tuesday, there weren't many people around, other than pensioners taking a stroll. We were accompanied by some 1980's classics pouring out of the speakers that were stuck to trees and lamppost positioned about every 50 metres. At first we thought this was a bit tacky with some soft piano music playing, but when some Culture Club, the theme from Top Gun and some Spandau Ballett started belting out, it made for quite a strange atmosphere and cemented in our heads that this place is in fact a 1980's toy town.

We completed the circuit, went to Starbucks (AGAIN) and had a coffee and used thier wifi to begin planning the forthcoming days in Seoul. Later that evening we went back to the all you can eat Korean Buffet, much to the delight of the 2 teenage boys working on the reception desk who instantly recognised us and ushered us to our tables. We paid up and having our fill and went to bed.

Gyeongju was a strange place. We both enjoyed our time there, but I suppose that is in part down to the fact we are not restricted by time and can afford to see strange places like this without feeling that it is taking time away from better places. If you are in Korea for a short space of time you might want to give it a miss, but as we had over 2 weeks we were happy to visit the strange place that is Gyeongju.

Tomorrow we head back to Seoul to continue where we left off.

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