Gyeongju (travel directions here) is in the far south eastern corner of South Korea and it took about 3 hours to reach the Bulguksa temple from Daejeon. Since it was a public holiday AND Buddha's birthday the train was packed! We could only buy standing tickets on the KTX (all the seats were booked) even though we booked two weeks early!
Once we arrived at Singyeongju station (the KTX station nearest Gyeongju City) we then had to catch the number 700 bus to get to Bulguksa temple (which is the last stop for the number 700 bus). The bus was packed. We managed to squeeze on (there were no seats left) for the 1hour 20 minute bus trip to the temple.
The temple is a short walk up the hill from the bus stop.
The construction of the temple was started in 751 and completed in 774 and served as the center of Silla Buddhism. The entire temple was burnt down (thanks Japan...) in 1593 because it was used as a base for the volunteer militia. Though the main hall and a few other principal buildings were rebuilt, it was not until 1969-73 that it was completely restored.
A little further along the path, and we came to the main temple. As you can see, there were lanterns everywhere. According to Buddhist beliefs, lanterns symbolize wisdom in that they bring light into the world. Decorating the whole temple with these lanterns is an important ritual in Buddhism to give respect to Buddha. That said, I found them to be incredibly annoying. They were everywhere and often hanging way too low to walk under (where is the wisdom in that?). I may have appreciated them more if they had all been carefully hand made and each one was unique, but that wasn't the case. They were all the same (apart from the colour) and mass produced in a factory somewhere from plastic.
This picture was taken inside the courtyard. To the left of the picture is the main temple (Daeungjeon) which is home to a large Buddha and to the right is the pagoda called Dabotap.
Photos are prohibited inside the temples, but I was able to find a picture on Google that I have included below.
The Dabotap pergoda is national treasure number 20 of South Korea and was built in 751. I am told that it stands 10.4 meters high and was built in an ornate style not seen in other Buddhist countries. There were originally 4 stone lions (one on each side), but now only one remains. One of the lions is located at the British Museum in London, but the whereabouts of the other two is unknown (*cough*, Japan).
Staircase (decorated with lanterns.....) to a different section of the temple complex.
Around the next temple were thousands of stones stacked on top of each other. The idea is that you make a wish and put one stone on top of another. As you can see in time they grow tall as different people come along and make a wish.
Random photo of me posing next to a bridge.
Once we finished walking around the temple we decided to climb the mountain to see visit the Seokguram grotto.
It was only 2.2km, but the hill was bloody steep and it felt like much further. If you don't want to hike up the hill, you can go back to the bus stop and catch a bus (the number 12) to the top of the hill).
In Australia Jihyeon was a little shocked when I told her that when you go hiking in Australia there is no guarantee there will be a toilet so you need to be prepared to go bush. I had a chuckle when I saw this. We were half way up the side of a mountain in dense thick forest and what do we find? The rolls royce of toilets, built of brick and concrete it was complete with electric sliding doors, hand driers, flushing toilets, hot water and even a small room for, what I assume assume, cleaners to chill out in when they were not busy cleaning.
Half way there, 1km to go. We took a 100m detour off to the right to see the mineral water spring (Yaksuteo).
Once there I filled my water bottle.
We kept climbing the mountain and eventually reached reached the summit. We could hear the giant bell getting rung long before we could see it. Pictured here is the building that houses the bell.
And here is the giant bell. It cost 1000 won (about AU$1) to ring the bell.
And some glamour shots with the bell and my hairy arm.
The view from the bell building (what is the structure called? I want to call it a bell tower, but it isn't a tower).
We continued on (about another kilometer, but thankfully it was flat) to Seokguram grotto. Along the way I spotted this little guy at the edge of the path.
We finally reached the Seokguram grotto. It was first constructed by Prime Minister Gim Dae-seong in 751 and was originally called Seokbulsa. As you can see in the diagram below, the grotto has a rectangular antechamber and a round main hall. In the rotunda hall sits a large Buddha carved in granite. According to the Samgukyusa, Gim Dae-seong founded Seokguram for the parents of his previous life. Seokguram represents not only the supremacy of Silla arts, but also is regarded as the best oriental Buddhist work.
Since it was Buddha's birthday there were people everywhere. There was a huge queue of people waiting to get into the grotto.
And (as is often the case in Korea) you need to take your shoes off before you can go in.
Normally you can't go all the way in. There is a large glass window you have to look through.
But, since it was his birthday, we were allowed all the way in.
I am not sure on the exact details, but the Japanese knocked down part of the grotto. When it was rebuilt, these stones were left over. No one was sure where they were meant to go. Nice to know I'm not the only person who has parts left over when I reassemble things :).
Here they were selling writing space on roof tiles to help raise money. People were writing their wishes on the tiles which will be used in various construction projects around the temple.
We then started to make out way towards our accommodation for the night. Jihyeon called the owner to get some directions on where we exactly needed to go. He instructed us to start walking down the hill along the edge of the road until we reached a spring. We took one look at at the narrow winding road and the heavy traffic and decided it was a bad idea, especially since we didn't know exactly how far down the mountain the spring was. So.... we did the sensible thing and used a taxi. We gave the taxi driver the address of the accommodation and off we went. About 20 minutes later we arrived..... in the middle of nowhere. The taxi driver phoned the owner of where we would be staying, and proceeded to shout at him for a good few minutes before doing a U turn (while still talking on the phone and shouting) and proceeded to drive back the way we came. It turns out the GPS was wrong and we had to back track for about 15 minutes to reach the driveway to our accommodation (which was 950 meters long).
The owner came and picked us up in his lovely truck (charged us 3000 won).
And drove us down his long dirt driveway....
To his farm house...
He had built some rooms off to the side of his home for guests to stay in. This is out the front.
And this is inside. I actually thought the ceiling was quite interesting. It looks like he just chopped down local trees. I was impressed..... for a moment.
This was our room. It was very small (which was fine since we were only sleeping there one night), but the floor was not as clean as it could have been, and the bed was dirty. There is also no sound proofing and you can hear people quietly talking quite clearly from the room next door.
I looked up to see his dodgy DIY wiring for the lights.
I then decided to check out what the bathroom was like. I had to step through a very small door off to one side of the main common room.
And this was the bathroom.
Shower (complete with spiders and cockroaches)
And the toilet.
I then decided to step outside and get some fresh air. On my way out I spotted this nifty locking mechanism.
And this was the view from out the front. Trees, trees everywhere.
To give you an idea of the detour the taxi took us on, we actually drove well past those wind turbines you can see in the distance here.
It was a very long day for us both. We had traveled all the way from Daejeon (Jihyeon even further from Iksan) and been on our feet all day, so we opted to have dinner at the accommodation. Not the best idea of the day. No meat, just rice and kimchi soup, lettuce, bean paste and seaweed paper. He charged us 6000 won..... each!
We had originally booked two nights here, but Jihyeon managed to find us somewhere else we could stay closer to the city on Saturday night. We are still waiting for the owner to refund us for the second night that we didn't stay there....
The website for where we stayed can be found here http://www.hyangjun.com/. I would not recommend staying there. I am still trying to recover from the terrible nights sleep I got there.
Stay tuned for what we did on Saturday in Gyeongju city.....
EDIT: I just finished. You can read about our Saturday adventure here.