South Korea Day 7, Gyeongju – Bulguksa, Seokguram Grotto, Bunhwangsa, Gyeongju National Museum, Anapji

Bulguksa and Seokguram are both UNESCO sites located in Gyeonju. From Gyeonju Downtown, take bus 10 or 11 to arrive at Bulguksa Temple. Bulguksa Temple was burnt down during the Japanese Occupation, and was later restored in 1969-73. The Bulguksa Temple also has a Sarira Pagoda. This is quite a large temple, and is a tourist hotspot, which means it will be crowded, especially during weekends. Apart from temples and pagodas, I also found the yellow, orange and red colours of the leaves of the deciduous trees alluring. Such a backdrop really made the ancient architecture much more captivating. As such I thought I was really lucky to had visited it during the late autumn early winter period.

Bulguksa Temple
A really beautiful tree. 观音松.
View of a lake. Really gorgeous. 太诗情画意了
Path towards the main temple
. One of the gates to the main temple
A view of the wall surrounding the main temple
Wall, towers and gates
This is the main temple. It was REALLY crowded, As you can see, there was a guard frantically waving at me to stop taking photos.
A small temple
Sarira Pagoda of Buguksa.
Bridge across a stream

From Bulguksa Temple, there are two ways you can choose to go up to Seokguram Grotto. The first will be to take bus 12. The bus stop is near where you alight from bus 10 or 11. The second, will be to climb up to Seokguram along a side trail off the main entrance of Bulguksa Temple. There is a bus schedule for bus 12 at the bus stop. It comes once every hour. The climb up the mountain takes 30-60mins, depending on your speed. It can be quite steep at times. Since the weather was cool, and the trees looked so beautiful, I decided to take a hike. Along the way, there was a water spring. The water was refreshing and was a good place to refill my water bottle.

Path up the mountain
Further up the mountain trail
Overview of the surrounding plains
Water Spring
Mountain path
Finally. After a 40min hike, I made it to Seokguram Grotto. The drum tower was the most welcoming sight.

After the hike, and the beauty of Bulguksa Temple, I held high expectations for Seokguram Grotto. However, I thought it was a let down. Despite the same cost of 8000 won as Bulguksa Temple, the main attraction of Seokguram Grotto was really small compared to Bulguksa. Not only was it small, Seokguram was sealed up, and visitors could only view Seokguram through a piece of glass. As such, it was impossible to view some of the wall carvings along the wall and at the back of Seokguram. The viewing area was really small and narrow, and given the vast amount of tourist, the place became packed really fast. It was also a no photography zone, but nonetheless, I stole some shots to make it worthwhile. Forget the majestic photo of Seokguram you saw in brochures. With all the shoving and pushing around by the crowd, I think Seokguram Grotto was the most disappointing attraction of my entire Korea trip. After this disappointment, I decided to take bus 12 down to Bulguksa and transfer to bus 10 or 11 back to Gyeonju Downtown. Seriously, if you did not had the time to spare, you could give this place a miss.

Seokguram Grotto. UNESCO site
Path towards Seokguram Grotto
Seokguram Grotto. Picture was over exposed, as the viewing area was dark. It was really packed with tourists, and having to do stealth photography was a challenge.
This was the viewing house of Seokguram.
This was a shot taken at the carpark while waiting for bus 12 to bring me back down to Bulguksa.

Taking bus 11 back to Gyeonju Downtown, I chanced upon another temple, Bunhwangsa Temple. Since it was still early, I decided to alight and checked it out. Bunhwangsa Temple used to be a huge temple complex. All that remained of it now was a pagoda and a small temple. The pagoda was believed to had been nine stories high, but had since collapsed on itself, and now stood at three stories.

This pagoda used to stand at nine-stories high, but had since collapsed on itself.
Behind the door laid the ruins of the collapsed upper stories of the pagoda. Among which a female statue could be seen peeking out.
A well
God of medicine temple
A sarira pagoda

Outside of Bunhwangsa, there was a side road leading towards a huge open field. As it turned out, this huge open field used to be the largest temple complex ever built in Korea, Hwangnyongsa Site. It was destroyed in 1238 during the Mongolian invasion and was never rebuilt.

Hwangnyongsa Site
Pillar base
Hwangnyongsa Site
Stone remnants
More ruins

Following a road that ran the length of Hwangnyongsa Site, past a railway track, and I reached Gyeongju National Museum on my left, and Anapji Pond on my right. Since it was still an hour or more before the sun would set, I visited the Gyeongju National Museum (admission was free ). The museum had quite a number of exhibition halls, of which I only visited 2. The huge bell of Great King Seongdeok was moved here from a site that I chanced upon yesterday. One of the exhibition hall I visited documented the history of Anapji Pond, which was previously known as Wolji Pond. If one had more time, Gyeonju National Museum was definitely worth exploring. However, since I was here to bide time till sunset, I departed the moment the sky darkened.

Divine Bell of King Seongdeok
Model of Wolji (Anapji) Pond
A row of headless buddha statues

Diagonally across the road of Gyeongju National Museum was Anapji Pond. Anapji Pond looked fantastic at night, and it’s highly recommended to visit it after sunset. The night view in Anapji felt really serene, and I couldn’t help but admired the wisdom of ancient kings in building such beautiful art pieces. Of course, the beauty of Anapji at night was mainly contributed by modern lighting, but nonetheless, it was still a sight to behold. To get back to Gyeongju Downtown, almost any of the buses that stopped at the bus stop outside Anapji should do the job (just my guess), the safest bet would still be bus 10 (it happened it was the first bus that came, so I boarded it).

A night shot of a burial mound across Anapji
Anapji pavilions
Anapji
Anapji
Melancholic tree
Water trough

Nov 2012

South Korea Day 6, Gyeongju South Korea Day 8, Seoul
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