South Korea - Gyeongju

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January 30th 2017
Published: January 31st 2017
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Suzanne here...

Before our trip I'd read up about Korean New Year and had been led to expect total travel chaos the day before. So I was worried we'd struggle to get a bus to Gyeongju, and even if we did the traffic would be horrendous. In reality the bus was half empty and we breezed there in an hour. I'd also read that it's a big time of year for tourism so had booked The Apple Motel before even leaving England. Again, there was absolutely no need to worry. Still, it did seem to fascinate the owner who was very pleased to finally meet the people who had booked a room in a standard little small town motel six months in advance! He even called over another member of staff to tell her how long ago we'd booked. To be fair I've since read that Chinese tourism is currently at a real low. But, yeah, the advance booking was still unnecessary.

For once we were shown two rooms and given the choice (perhaps wanting to be sure I was happy after waiting so long for our stay!). The room we chose was nice. As we're coming to expect, rooms are equipped with underfloor heating and a PC. This one even had an electric blanket which we knew we'd appreciate.

There are aspects of Korean hotel rooms that I just can't get my head around. First of all, as you are expected to remove your shoes they provide slippers, but not disposable ones. I'm afraid I don't really want to wear used slippers. Even more bizarre though, they supply things like hairspray... and a hairbrush. Not a new one. I can't believe this is is just me.... who the hell wants to use a hairbrush that countless previous guests have used? Also, in the bathroom are big bars of soap, which have already been used. I appreciate that soap is self-cleansing but I still didn't fancy it thanks. Actually in the Apple the soap was new for a change (guess the next guests will be left with it though). Odd as it seems to us, it's the norm here. Just shows our cultural diferences. Such as pushing past without so much as an excuse me (which is not meant to be rude but comes across that way to us westeners). Or bowing, which seems incredibly formal but everyone does it.

Once we'd established ourselves in the room it was straight out to find some money. We were running very low but I wasn't too worried even though David had tried a few ATM's in and around Busan bus station. We know from experience not all ATMs take his card. I did begin to worry when we'd tried about six, including one we'd read definitely accepted it. By this point we were both worried that we might have a serious problem. Thank God, one (KEB) finally deigned to give us some cash. The relief! We both did a little happy dance right there in the bank.

Next it was on to Gyeongju National Museum. It is an amazing collection. Full of finds from the Silla dynasty tombs that can still be seen all around town. Very impressive and very enjoyable. Highlights included some gold crowns and a huge bronze bell from 771A.D. I particularly liked the eight-sided dice used for drinking games!

We'd read that fried chicken and beer is a real institution in Korea. So much so that they have a word for it - Chimaek - formed from Chicken and Maekju, the Korean word for "beer". There is even a Chimaek festival. Of course we had to try it. It was bitterly cold so we did not want to walk too far. We found a place called Mexican Chicken (it wasn't Mexican) and David managed to order ten pieces of fried chicken and a jug of beer, mainly by pointing. It came with salad and, naturally as this Korea, some kind of kimchi as well as garlic and a spicy sauce. It was very nice. So much so that we ordered another jug of beer and some of the spicier chicken. Everyone was eating their chicken with chopsticks. Now, we can manage a bowl of noodles with chopsticks, but how the hell do you eat a chicken wing with them? In fact we didn't get the chance to try as we were automatically given forks. We honestly tried to use them but in the end admitted defeat and ate with our hands. Possibly reconfirming the fact that westerners are ill-mannered savages. I also knew that it is a no-no to pour your own drink, but would David let me pour his? No, he poured them for us both, probably looking like some kind of servant. In any case, nobody actively mocked us and it was a really fun evening.

The next day was New Year's Day. Most places were closed as it is a family day. Tourist sites are open luckily. The sun was shining and it was much milder than it had been. It was a really plesant afternoon actually. Warm enough to take our time and just stroll. The reason Gyeongju is a UNESCO site is down to the Silla dynasty. It lasted 1000 years, leaving behind some amazing sights. Best of all were the numerous tombs, which are everywhere. Some quite modest, some huge. We tried some of the apparently famous Gyeongju bread / cakes (nice enough, nothing special) and visited some excavation sites, a 7th century observatory and an old ice-house. David had a fried, battered hotdog on a stick. I didn't try any myself but according to David it was amazing. Hot and crunchy on the outside, soft and tasty on the inside. I heard a lot about the magnificence of this sausage. We finished off with a stroll around the lovely Anapji Pond.

Back at the hotel we got one of the South America flights (Bolivia to Brazil) booked, which was good to get off the to-do list. It being New Year we knew lots of restaurants would be shut, but we figured Indian is always a good bet at these times. Indeed it was open. A bit pricey, and with a hilariously rude waitress (although to be fair she warmed up at the end) but tasty enough.

Unfortunately the next day was cold and wet. Despite the rain we stuck to our plan of visiting the Bulguska temple. Buses 10 and 11 go straight there. It was 5000 won to get in (we've never been charged to enter a temple before) and irritatingly the museum was shut. But it was very picturesque and good for an hour and a half of wandering. Had it been warmer we would have stayed longer, but it was quite chilly so we caught the bus back to town and had a coffee at 'A Twosome Place', a Korean dessert chain (although we opted for a bagel). We were back at the hotel very early but we had some South America research to do and the weather was a good excuse to stay in and do that.

Dinner that night was Pizza Hut. I know, I know, but we were feeling lazy and Gyeongju does not seem blessed with amazing cuisine. We did go for the salad as well as a pizza, to get a few vitamins into us. The rainy day and cloud cover meant that it was not as cold as previous nights. So we took the opportunity to walk around one of the tomb areas again. It was well lit and quite atmospheric. We didn't feel any concern being in the park at night. Like Taiwan we've not seen any evidence of crime at all.

In the morning we walked the five minutes to the bus station. The Rough Guide swears there are direct buses to our next destination - Daejeon - but a visit to the bus station the day before had showed that was untrue. We had to get a bus to Daegu first. We got tickets for the next bus, at 10am.

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