This past Saturday I had the opportunity to travel to Gyeongju with some passionate history students from Dong-A University in Busan. They’re our friend Joe’s students (from G’s birthday yachting experience) who wanted to share their Korean pride, culture, and history with Koreans and foreigners alike. This trip was an absolute steal at KRW 50,000 ($50 Canadian) inclusive of a luxury coach bus, 7 cultural sights (including lunch at one of Korea’s most famous restaurants!), a series of student tour guides telling us about each and every stop, not to mention the fantastic photographers/ videographers who have already posted a few photos AND an entire video detailing the trip! We had an amazing experience that can’t (and won’t!) be distilled into one post, so get ready for my series on Gyeongju – an action-packed day fit for a Queen (…I mean – if the crown fits, right?).
We started off at the crack of dawn (well…7:30 AM) leaving Hwamyeong (our neighbourhood in the Westernmost point of Busan; almost in Gimhae). We trekked out to the Jagalchi Market to meet up with our tour group, narrowly making it in time for my first trip to Starbucks in Korea. I was a Starbucks addict in Toronto, but it is ridiculously expensive in Korea. No more delicious skinny venti bevvies, that puppy was a tall decadent(ly-priced) skinny vanilla latte (yes – I went basic B*) that I sipped sparingly before boarding the bus.
When we boarded the bus we were given name tags which we initially put on with a groan, but then noticed the entire trip’s time-specific itinerary was listed on the back. For planners like me it was a total bonus to know exactly where we would be at what time. While there was some fine print stating the schedule might change throughout the day, I found that we stayed true to the minute on most scheduled stops. We began the trip with a fun little “Scavenger Hunt” through our bags/ purses to find novelty items, keys, mints, hair elastics, and other non-mentionables for some wicked prizes including the Elsa (from Frozen) socks I won (for showing off my key first), and our Doctor kit for my hair elastic. A Starbucks giftcard was won by none other than G for the prophylactic in her purse.
With all the fun and games the trip out to Gyeongju was a blur (as you can see!). We arrived ready and excited to venture into the ancient tombs of Daereungwon, where twenty-three tombs of Kings, Queens and ancient nobility of the Silla Kingdom (some 1,500 years ago) are located. I couldn’t get over how green everything was – in Busan was have tons of trees, grass, rivers, and lush mountains, but the vibrant green colour you’ll see in the majority of the photos to follow just completely blew my mind. I felt like we were visiting somewhere entirely different from my “new” home.
I don’t think I took a bad photo the entire day. Everything was so tidy and well-managed. The Daereungwon Tomb Complex (home to Hwangnamdaechong and Cheonmachong tombs) are well-respected and taken care of with great detail. Next, it was time to visit Cheomsungdae. Well…kind of…
On the bus we were told an ancient tale of the first King of Silla. When I saw the white horses I knew we had to go visit them. Here’s an outline from http://english.visitkorea.or.kr:
“To the southeast of the royal tomb, is a small monument that has been erected among the pine trees; next to the monument is a well called Najeong. According to Samguksagi (Historical records of the Three Kingdoms) and Samgungnyusa (Memorabilia from the Three Dynasties), Park Hyeokgeose, the founding monarch of Silla, was born by this well. In 69 BC, Sobeolgong, the head of Goheochon Village, saw a white horse on its knees by the well. When he approached the well he found that the horse had magically disappeared and that a large egg was left in its place, from which a boy was born. When the boy turned 13 years old (57 BC), he was appointed king by the village chiefs and began to rule the area then called ‘Seorabeol’. A memorial stone (2.25 meters high, 45 centimeters long, and 21 centimeters wide) was erected in 1803 in the third year of King Sunjo’s rule (Joseon Dynasty) detailing the historical origins of the founding father of Silla.“
We ventured off from the group (briefly!) to check them out and take a couple quick snaps before heading across the street to marvel at Cheomsungdae. Along the way we joked around with one of our awesome group leaders (S) and met some new, regal pals:
We stopped at the oldest surviving observatory in Asia: Cheomsungdae. At first it may not look like much, but this building was designed with painstaking detail representing the days of the lunar year as well as the days in a month.
“Cheomseongdae is the oldest existing astronomical observatory in Asia.
Constructed during the reign of Queen Seon-deok (632-647), it was used for observing the stars in order to forecast the weather. This stone structure is a beautiful combination of straight lines and curves, and was designated as National Treasure No.31 on December 20th, 1962.
Cheomseongdae was built in a cylinder shape with stones 30cm in diameter. 362 stones were piled up to make 27 levels. Roughly 4.16m up from the bottom there is a 1㎡ square entrance and a space to hang a ladder under it.
The inside is filled with soil up to the 12th level, and the 19th, 20th, 25th, and 26th levels all have long rocks hanging on two areas, shaped as the Chinese letter ‘井’ (jeong).
It stands 9.17m high and the base stone on each side measures 5.35m.
The Vernal Equinox, Autumnal Equinox, Winter Solstice, Summer Solstice and the 24 solar terms (also known as the astronomical solar year) were determined by the observation of stars. The pavilion stone is believed to have been used as a standard of deciding directions, north, south, east and west. The 362 stones used to build Cheomseongdae represented the 362 days in a lunar year.”
– Visit Korea Cheomseongdae Observatory
We stuck around the observatory for a bit with our tour leaders and were coaxed into trying on traditional outfits – free of charge! Never have I ever heard the sound of so many shutters going off in fierce syncopation. We had at least 5 photographers taking photos of the silly Waegoogins (foreigners) all dressed up. I’m a little bitter that that crown didn’t make its way home with me. I feel like it would have been highly appropriate attire for rowdy nights in KSU or Gwangan…
Even if you haven’t researched there are a variety of interactive ways to get around the grounds and learn about the history (we stopped into a little air-conditioned space with a media wall in various languages for tourists, but there are also bike tours and walking tours available). After 30 minutes wandering and taking in nature it was lunch time – but we’ll save those side dishes for another post coming your way soon 😉