Gyeongju, South Korea - Highlights and Lowlights
Our two night, 3 day trip to Gyeongju was an adventure-filled weekend. We went for a holiday weekend, so we left Friday morning and came back on Sunday afternoon. Because it was a holiday weekend, I had a hard time finding a hotel with a good location. I wasn’t able to find one that was near the center of the tourist attractions, so we had to stay about a 10-minute taxi ride away. While the hotel was okay in quality, the location turned out not to be the best for us.
Namsan Mountain Hike
Hiking Namsan Mountain in Gyeongju was our favorite part of the trip. The trailhead is very easily accessible from anywhere in Gyeongju by bus. It was only about 10 minutes away from the cultural village south of town. There were many trails on the mountain, but we chose to take the path to the peak. It was a steep trail with lots of stairs. The entire hike from start to finish (up and back) took us a few hours. We did spend a good amount of time resting at the top and taking pictures. The views were amazing and well worth the hike.
The trail is riddled with remains from the Silla Dynasty which ruled the area thousands of years ago. Buddha statues are standing and carved into the rocks all around the mountain. Some of these Buddhas are headless. Apparently, during the Joseon Dynasty era, a few hundred years ago, Confucian radicals went around and chopped of Buddha's heads for religious rebellion reasons. Needless to say, you can really feel the centuries of deep history all around you on this mountain, and I’m definitely grateful for the experience.
Daereungwon Tomb Complex (Cheongmachong Tomb)
Another highlight of the trip was seeing the burial mounds scattered all around Gyeongju. These burial mounds are tombs that hold ancient rulers from the Silla Dynasty. I was shocked by how many burial mounds there were everywhere. The Daereungwon Tomb Complex is a park near the center of town where you can pay 2,000 won (~$2) per person to enter and walk around paths the weave through various tombs. While you can see these burial mounds all around town for free, I would recommend walking around this park. They played traditional music all along the path through speakers, and it was a very peaceful walk.
Location and Finding Food
While our hotel was fine, it was a bummer not being very close to most tourist activities. We had a hard time finding good food in our area. One night, we were walking around for a long time trying to find food and ended up accidentally ordering pig feet. We tried the pig feet but didn’t like it, so we left. We then found a decent looking Korean barbecue restaurant, but we found out they only served cow intestines and heart. We ate the cow intestines, but it was a little bit traumatizing for us, and probably not something we would want to do again.
In addition to this struggle, a lot of places we tried to eat were closed. We found a restaurant online called “Nahbi” that we really wanted to go to, but both days we tried to go, they were closed with no explanation. This was a common theme, as a lot of places we tried to go that weekend were randomly just not open. When we visited the cultural village around 4:30 PM on Saturday, the first five restaurants we tried to go to turned us away because they said it was “break time.”
Overall Tips for Visiting Gyeongju, South Korea:
DO Find a hotel or hostel that is SOUTH of the Bukcheon River and preferably near the Daereungwon Tomb Complex area, which will be walking distance to many fun things.
DON’T go to the traditional village between 3 pm - 6 pm. Basically, every restaurant will be closed.
DO take the bus out to Namsan Mountain for some hikes.
DO take the time to walk around the Daereungwon Tomb Complex; it’s worth the $2!