Departed for Busan Station via subway. Here, I bought economy tickets to Singyeonju station, the new KTX station of Gyeonju. The self-vending ticket machines refused to acknowledge my mastercard because the Korean system only recognised a 4 digit pin, while my card used a 6 digit pin. Well, gotta queue up and buy my ticket over the counter. Nonetheless, playing around with the machines, allowed me to choose the available departure times, as well as the price. This made buying ticket over the counter much easier, as not all of the staffs speak english.
There were 2 basic types of seat in the economy class of KTX, forward facing and backward facing. So make sure you get the right type of ticket. I chose the forward facing seats. Seats were comfortable and capable of reclining to a pitch of about 50 degrees. There was also sufficient leg room for my outstretched leg.
The amazing thing about Korea, was the high level of social etiquette and responsibility. In Jeju I had seen cafes operated without staffs, based purely on the trust that customers would operate machines responsibly, pay appropriately into the payment box, and clean the tables and cutleries after use. Here in the KTX railway station, I witnessed another aspect of Korean social maturity. After buying my rail ticket, I made my way to the departure gate, only to find that it was unmanned as well. There was in fact not much of a separation between the main hall and the departure area, apart from a sign reading departure. On the train, there were no attendants checking my ticket too. In fact, if one hadn’t bought any ticket, he would still be able to get on to the train. This was totally different from the express trains I had taken in other countries, e.g. China and Taiwan. In those instances, there would be a first check at the boarding gates, a second check on the train, and a final third check upon exit (at least for China, and yes, you will need to keep the ticket stub).
After exiting Singyeongju station take a right turn towards the public buses and taxi stand. If you had chosen a five star hotel, such as Hilton, there were free hotel shuttle buses directly straight ahead from station exit. Don’t bother hailing a taxi at the taxi stand, as most wouldn’t take passengers to Gyeongju-si, aka Gyeongju Downtown. According to the tourist information staffs, all the public buses at the bus stop had stops in Gyeongju-si. I booked a room in Sono Hotel (as it turned out later, it was Sono Motel), I took bus 50, which had a stop quite near the hotel. I had my iphone gps on, and used google map to guide me as to when to alight. A safe bet will be to alight after the bus past a market on the left and makes a right turn at a t-junction. Walk back to the t-junction, pass the market, cross one block, and make a left turn. The hotel should be quite visible.
Sono Motel was situated some distance away from the Express Bus Terminal, about 15 min walk. It was easily identifiable, as it was the only modern looking building in its area, especially at night. I understood it just underwent a renovation in 2011. The room were spacious. Apart from the toilet and a single king sized bed, there was also a sofa in front of a large LCD screen and a dressing table. My only gripe was the hotel alley, which was purposely left dark and lit only by blue and red lights, probably to create a romantic ambience, afterall it was a Korean love motel. The staffs at this motel speak no english at all, but were otherwise very helpful and friendly. Upon checking in, I was handed a map of the area, with the bus stops pointed out. Buses going to famous tourist spots were also highlighted, making it the most useful travel aid for exploring Gyeongju.
My first tourist destination for the day was Yangdong village. Buses 200-208, 212 and 217 would all bring you to Yangdong, with the best being 203, which stopped right inside the village. These information, together with the bus stops where the buses were available were all present in the Sono Motel map. I took the first 200 series that came (couldn’t remember its number now). Remember to tell the bus driver Yangdong village, so that he will shout out the name and make sure you alight. The bus journey took 45 minutes, and ended with the bus dropping me along a highway with a sliproad going right. At the junction between the sliproad and the highway was a stone with Korean inscription on it, probably saying Yangdong Village. Along the sliproad was a railway track, and next to it a walking path. Follow the path in and you will reach Yangdong Village.
The entire Yangdong Village was designated as a cultural village and a UNESCO world heritage site. All the houses here were built in traditional Korean style, with its tile-roof and wooden beams. The entire village was preserved, and there were still people living in the houses, as opposed to village replicas seen elsewhere attempting to attract tourists. If you ever wanted to visit a Traditional Korean village, this’s the village to go. The village was huge, and could take an entire day to cover. For me, I spent about 2hrs here, climbing hills to immerse myself in the beautiful foliage and get a bird’s-eye view of the village, exploring backyards of people’s home, having a hands-on experience in hammering rice dough, watch a master craftsman make clay figurines, and exploring the different house architectures. I only visited half the village, as traditional-house-fatigue began to set in. To get back to Gyeongju-si, take bus 203 at the only bus stop in the village. It is located near a big parking space, next to a small shop selling coffee and instant noodle. Buses were scheduled once every other hour. I would advise anyone to check out the bus timings first before exploring the village.
Back in Gyeongju downtown, I walked around some of the king’s tombs. There were numerous tombs scattered all around downtown. Quite majestic in view. Randomly exploring, I found the Noseo-dong Tumuli and Nodong-dong Tumuli. I also chanced upon the original site of the Divine bell of King Seongdeok. The bell had been moved to Gyeongju National Museum.
One downside of staying in Gyeongju downtown was the lack of shops with english signs and menu, apart from Paris Baguette. Luckily, I found this BBQ shop near my hotel, where the owners were Chinese, hence they speak Chinese! After exiting the hotel, take a left turn, walk to the main road, take a left again, and the shop should be in plain view. The BBQ was relatively cheap, at SGD15 for a pull platter of thinly sliced pork. After dinner, I went to the nearby market to enjoy their little concert.
|South Korea Day 5, Busan||South Korea Day 7, Gyeongju|