Since we had seen everything we wanted to see in Busan, we decided to take a day trip to Gyeongju, a coastal city of South Korea. We hired the same driver for this day trip as the one who had shown us around Busan. The drive was under 2 hours from Busan. Gyeongju was the capital of the ancient Silla Kingdom between 57 BC and 935 AD. There are many different historical sites to visit in Gyeongju which is why it is often referred to as the “museum without walls”. You need to visit Gyeongju if you have an opportunity to do so. If your time is limited, I would suggest starting with the list below. These places were perfect for our day trip from Busan.
The Bulguksa Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site as of 1995. It is a rather large area on which sits the individual structures of Geuknakjeon, Daeungjeon, and Birojeon. When you are walking around Bulguska Temple, you will see many paper lanterns with prayer requests hanging from them. While the temple, pagodas, and various structures were beautiful these colorful paper lanterns contributed to the atmosphere for me. Take your time wandering around the complex as there are lots of different structures to learn about and see.
The Seokguram Grotto sits on the slopes of Mount Toham. Inside is a giant Buddha statue that was built during the 8th century. It is a bit of a flat hike to get to the area where the Seokguram Grotto is located. While walking you pass many colorful lanterns along the path. Once you arrive at the area you walk up quite a few stairs. The Buddha is sitting and facing the ocean to the East. The Buddha offers protection against enemies who would be invading from across the East Sea. Additionally, when the sun rises it strikes the Buddha’s forehead. On a nice sunny day you can take in the beautiful mountains that surround the temple. You are not allowed to take pictures of the giant Buddha, but the view from just outside the grotto is gorgeous.
Gyeongju Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond
The Gyeongju Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond was formerly known as Anapji Pond. It served as the secondary palace site for the crowning of the prince of the Silla Kingdom. During this time period it also served as the banquet site for important national events and visitors.
The Silla Kingdom ruled south-eastern South Korea from 1st century BCE to 7th century CE. Today, many people enjoy visiting this location at night when the lights help create beautiful reflections in the pond. Wolji Pond means a pond that reflects the moon. It clearly lives up to its name.
Daereungwon Tomb Complex and Cheonmachong Tomb
The Daereungwon Tomb Complex is made up of 23 large tombs. As you walk through the complex you see the large hills under which the tombs are buried. While you cannot enter the majority of the tombs, the complex has walking paths that allow you to take a leisurely stroll and enjoy the feeling of the history from the Silla Era. While there, make sure to visit the Cheonmachong Tomb and see the artifacts that were placed inside it.
Cheonmachong means heavenly horse tomb. It is believed to date back to the 5th or 6th century during the Silla Era. It stands 12.7 meters tall with a circumference of 157 meters. The tomb was built by placing a wooden coffin and chest on the floor. A wooden box/room was built around it before piling rocks around the tomb. Lastly, the mound of dirt was placed on top of the tomb. This tomb was excavated in the 1970s and over 11,500 artifacts were found during the excavation. Among the lavish artifacts found were a gold crown and a painting of a flying horse. I really enjoyed exploring the tomb as it allows you see how people lived back in the day.
If you have the opportunity to take a trip to Gyeongju it is worth it to take in all the history there. As I mentioned earlier there are many other historical sites that are worth a visit as well.