Ben tells us a yarn or two about what makes this part of South Korea an ancient wonder.
Gyeongju is a historic city covering 1,323 square kilometres. 291,000 people live in this city which contains some of the most precious treasures from Korea's 5000 year history.
Gyeongju was the political and cultural capital of the Silla Kingdom for 1000 years and its valley has a great concentration of historic buildings, temples and artifacts. Rich with Buddhist temples, tombs, shrines, palaces and sculptures, the region is called "the museum without walls".
In the town's centre is Tumuli Park, a huge walled area with 20 royal tombs, one of which is opened in cross section. It is presumed the tombs are those of kings and court officials. A few hundred metres away is something resembling a tower of bricks, but which is actually Cheomseongdae Observatory, one of the oldest astronomical observatories in the world. Its bottle-shaped stone structure is a mathematical allegory for the days and months of the year and is admired by archaeologists worldwide.
Pulguksa Temple is a magnificent temple built on a series of stone terraces 16 kms from Gyeongju. It appears to emerge from the rocky terrain of the 740 metre Mt Tohamsan, following the ancient beliefs that manmade structures should not be obtrusive, but rather harmonize with the surroundings.
Eight of the original 80 buildings survive and large, stone balustraded staircases that were constructed without mortar dominate the main temple's façade.
Seokguram Grotto Buddha Shrine is located on the mid-slope of Mt Tohamsan and is reached by a 15 minute walk through a bushy area. The Buddha faces the sea and was positioned so the first rays of sunrise hit the diamond in his forehead. Sadly, the diamond was long ago stolen and the Buddha is now encased in a dome, but it is still worth a visit.
Laws prohibit construction of anything higher than three storeys in the region and whatever is built must be in Silla style. Homes, shops and even petrol stations are made of stone and look wonderful under tiled pagoda roofs.
Homestay is a terrific way to experience life with the locals. Called minbaks, they vary in capacity but usually accommodate four to five visitors at a time. Some provide meals, but this also varies. In rural Korea, elderly women congregate at bus stops and encourage tourists to stay in their homes.
Stays can be arranged online before leaving home and accommodation is safe, clean and friendly.
Cycling is an excellent way to see all the area has to offer. Most roads are safe, there are lots of bike tracks and rental is simple. The route around Bomun Lake is particularly good.
To simplify your stay, we have discovered the Korea Pass Card, a new prepaid card exclusively made for foreigners visiting or staying in Korea. You can use it for a wide range of services transportation, public telephone and credit payment. Because of this convenience, the need to exchange money into foreign currencies or count coins or bills is gone. Pay your KPC with your credit card or cash. It can only be purchased in Korea.
370 kilometres south-east of Seoul in Korea.
Korean Air flies daily to Seoul with connections to Gyeongju.
Go Holidays offers a five-night Gyeongju package starting at $1305 per person, including return airfares and home-stay accommodation.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.
Korea National Tourism Organization
Ph: (02) 9252 4147 1800 211 717www.tour2korea.com
Korea Pass Cardwww.koreaspasscard.com
Go Holidays: Ph: 1300 737 747