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Asia » South Korea » Gyeongsangbuk-do » Gyeongju
June 20th 2016
Published: June 26th 2016
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In Gyeongju in the south east of Korea. (I’m disposing with the “South” in South Korea. Just easier. I’m not sure the North would understand, but I’m not going to worry about it.) The town is a nice relief from Seoul’s 10 million population, with a population of just about 250,000. It’s said to be a great outdoor museum.

Arrival was by very comfortable bus with reclining seats and leg rests. About 3.5 hours. Korea is small. My hotel, Apple Motel, is just a few blocks from the bus station and a short walk downtown and to the sights.

The town is the center of the Silla kingdom. It began in 57 BC and lasted to 935. About 1000 years. Tombs of the Silla kings and other notables dot the town. They’re obvious as large grassy mounds. Strangely, despite how obvious they are, excavations really didn’t start in earnest until the 1970s. An enormous number of relics have been unearthed and there appear to be many sites left to explore.

The relics include plenty of impressive gold pieces, as well as pottery and bronze pieces. It is amazing that the tombs hadn’t generally been found and robbed years ago. The tombs have wood lined chambers covered with stones and then by earth. These tombs are big. As high as 40 feet and 500 feet in circumference. One area has 30 tombs of various sizes. A total of 11,500 artifacts were excavated from just one tomb.

Besides the tombs, archeological work is just beginning on a large temple site.

In the hills above Gyeongju is a Buddhist temple, Bulgukasa. It was the center of Silla Buddhism in the 7th Century. As in Seoul, the temple was burned by the Japanese, but during their first invasion in 1593. It wasn’t rebuilt until 1969.

In view of the history of invasions, it is a good thing that the tombs weren’t excavated until recently and amazing that they weren’t plundered at some point either by Koreans or invaders.

The town is a pleasant place to hang. Fairly flat and bike friendly, so I enjoyed getting on one for a day and touring around.

One thing I spotted in Seoul doesn’t seem to have made it to the smaller towns yet. Seoul is a caffeinated place. There are more cafes per block than I’ve seen anywhere. Starbucks is here, of course, but many home grown competitors have popped up. Literally. They are everywhere. While there’s some conflicting information, per capita coffee consumption in South Korea is the largest in Asia by far and at this point it seems to be centered only in the major metropolitan areas. Plenty of room for more caffeinating.

Heading further south tomorrow to the beaches of Busan, the Korea’s second largest city.

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