Monday, August 14, 2006


Gyeongju is hot. Very hot.

I came down here yesterday morning by Saemaul train. My economy-class seat on Korea's non-highspeed train was if anything more comfortable than my trip to Busan by highspeed train two months ago - there was no tray table, but plenty of legroom. I wonder what a first-class seat would have been like.

The Gyeongju train station - my first small-town Korean train station - lies on the east side of town, and I soon found cheap accomodations and some mandu for lunch. Gyeongju is compact enough that the central areas are all easily walkable from each other, and so I more or less immediately left the central area and walked south.

I skipped some of Gyeongju's more famous attractions, south of the city center - I was here a few years ago with a friend and took in most of the tombs and ruins of the south-central area - and instead hiked directly to the National Museum, which Lonely Planet rates as the best history museum in Korea, surpassing any in Seoul (though to be fair, the new National Museum in Yongsan is too new to qualify for inclusion.)

The museum turned out to consist of four seperate buildings, all of which had (this seemed like the most important thing at the time) air conditioning. The central building is devoted to archeological finds; not just pottery but also armor, crowns, spearpoints and little statuettes. The art gallery was generally ancient Buddhist sculpture. The remaining two buildings are more tangential.

At the museum I kept encountering the same group of French-speaking foreigners who I had noticed boarding the train back in Seoul and getting off in Gyeongju. I hope they didn't think I was stalking them.

Today, ever mindful of the heat and sunshine (I've been buying bottled water like I rarely have before), I took the bus to Bulguksa, and from there to Seokguram. At Seokguram, Buddha, carved in stone, has been looking out from his cliffside grotto across eastern Korea for over a thousand years. The grotto itself seemed almost an excuse to make the trek up a shaded mountain path from the parking area; even given that it wasn't a totally clear day, the views were gorgeous. (On a clear day apparently you can see the sea.)

I returned to the collection of tourist shops near Bulguksa, ate dotori muk for lunch (I've never eaten dotori muk in Seoul, for some reason, but often have it when outside of the city limits), and... decided against going to Bulguksa this time. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the fact that I'd been to Bulguksa last time I was in Gyeongju and it and similar places I've been to are all running together in my mind. Bulguksa's the most famous Buddhist temple in the country, but it will be there next time I am in Gyeongju.

Now to leave and face the heat once again...

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