Friday, October 9, 2015

Gyeongju Day #2 - The Free Day

No tours. No schedule. No one to follow. Just a free day to explore Gyeongju by myself!

My plan is to try to visit places that won't be on tomorrow's full day tour. This includes the Gyeongju National Museum (as it's closed on Mondays), and for something completely different, the Love Castle (more on that later). The rest of the day, I'm going to play by ear.

I wake up bright and early. The weather is lovely: a perfect day to explore.

I eat a simple breakfast of an egg sandwich and bottled water from the convenience store and head off.

Around the bus terminal.

Time to catch a bus!

It's my first time riding public transportation in Gyeongju. The bus is clean and nice, maybe even newer than Seoul buses (which are old anyways).

While riding, I get to relax and enjoy some views of the city and countryside...

Even the gas stations are given ancient styling.

After a shorter than expected ride, I arrive at the museum.

Gyeongju National Museum

You must get a ticket, which are free.

The architecture and decor of the grounds are gorgeous...

The main building consists of old artifacts from the Silla period (which dates even before Korea was one country)...

The next building consists of Silla art. The final paintings of trees call to me...

These paintings are eerily reminiscent to a simple practice painting I did in college...

It's as if the painting I did in college was foreshadowing for my future life in Korea.

Outside and down this path is another building with primarily Buddhist artifacts...

Random, modern-day display.

I feel like it's going to break.

There's also a gift shop. After much debating, I settle on this $8 lamp figurine...

Behind the main building are these epic looking structures...


Something about them makes me think of Southeast Asia.

And tucked away in the back is yet another building focusing on Silla daily life...

A peek into history. 

On the way out, I enjoy the sights and sounds for one last time...

Easily one of the best museums I've ever attended. You could spend the whole day here. I spent nearly two hours.

Waiting for the bus to take me back to the city center.

The City On Foot

At this point, my only plans are to kill time exploring random places before attending the Love Castle. What exactly is the "Love Castle"? Well, to put it frankly, it's a sex museum.

I'm not super interested in a sex museum or anything like that! It's just that it's something completely different to go to and not something you'd expect to find in a "conservative" country like Korea. Interesting places make for interesting stories.

I jump off at Gyeongju Station. It's the first train station I've seen here so I was curious.

It's not exactly bustling. And there literally only seems to be two or so destinations, one being Pohang. And while the styling is old, it feels clean and new, as if I am back in time.

 I rest in this park before heading to Seongdong Market.

This was on the list of recommended places. I venture inward.

It's abandoned. Old. Cluttered and messy while at the same time, functional and organized.

Due to the Chuseok holiday, all the stores are closed. I would have loved to see this place bustling. At the same time, I can't even imagine crowds of people navigating through these narrow pathways.

At this point, I wonder where to go next in the city. I check my tourist map. Hwangseong Park is written in red letters. And there's an illustration of a man on a horse. Looks interesting. I decide to head north on foot.


The sidewalks are nearly empty as I walk up 1980's Korea. Nearly every store I pass is closed. The Chuseok holiday will do that to a city.

This tax office is one of the few modern buildings I see.

This bridge will get me one step closer to the park...

This bridge must be their version of the Han River. 

Housing on the other side of the bridge.

Even the apartment buildings are short. In Seoul, apartments touch the clouds.

At this point, I'm so exhausted from walking and hungry as well. I spot a convenience store down this street...

 And have myself a late lunch. The convenience store has nice seating.
I settle for a spicy, chicken burger.

After some much needed rest and nourishment, I finally enter...

Hwangseong Park

Trees. Glorious trees.

To the right of the park is the main library...

And to the left of the library is a pathway. Up the pathway, I can already spot the man on a horse. I follow the path.

I love these stairs. I feel like I'm walking up some ancient pathway.

Finally, I find the man on the horse...

General Kim Yu-Shin. He helped unify Korea. There's also a statue of him in Seoul.

The first city view I've seen. Gyeongju is lacking tall buildings.

Time to make the descent down...

I was just up there!

Below, I am greeted by a psuedo-forest.

It is rare to find forests in Korea, let alone fields of grass. As I walk deeper along the path, I make another discovery...

My internet research says that this is called Chunghon Tower although that may be incorrect. In any case, I can't find much information on it. It looks so amazing though, like something out of the Legend of Zelda or an Asian fantasy\sci-fi production from the 1980's.

Even the views from the platform are stunning...

I really feel like I'm in another world.

I check out Gyeongju Public Stadium just because it's nearby, and I have time to kill.

Anyone is free just to walk inside.

Interesting because I rarely go to stadiums but otherwise, not much to write home about.

This model is just outside the entrance.

I continue to walk the rest of the park back to the entrance I came but through a different path. Along the way are some random sights...

Looks like a tomb.

Another tomb or memorial.

This looks like some kind of war memorial. If not for the statue of the soldier, this could have been straight out of a Zelda game...

A Korean gazebo.

Out the park I go.

Overall, it was a magnificent park filled with many surprises. At this point, the sun is setting. I feel I have killed enough time, and I should make way to the Love Castle.

I take a look at their website and find directions from my phone. According to Google Maps, a bus trip will take... one and a half hours! What the hell? I knew it was a little bit out of the city but not that out. A round trip would cost me three hours: too long to dedicate to one museum. I give up going to the museum.

Now what?

I look on my tourist map for nearby places. The East Palace Garden looks amazing but Google Maps says it is too far out. However, Sungsinjeon Shrine looks walk-able, and the words are written in red. Plus, it passes by City Hall so I could see how that area is like. The Shrine it is!

I head east on foot.

The Journey to Sungsinjeon Shrine

Along the way is a rail passing.

This has to be the first rail passing I've come across in Korea. I really feel like I'm in a small town.

The streets become more filled with stores but most are closed due to the holiday...

And I reach city hall...

Another building along the way...

After this building and down the street, it gets a little weird...

The street is littered with norae bangs (singing rooms), but they're obviously not the regular kind. This must be the red light district. At night, this street must be glowing with neon lights.

I continue eastward towards the shrine...

It's a pretty long walk. Soon the stores disappear, and it becomes mostly houses. The sun is setting, and I sort of feel like I'm wasting time. Still, I set out to go there and so I must go there!

Finally, I reach Sungsinjeon Shrine...

But the gates are closed, and I can barely see anything as the sun has set already.

I take long exposure shots with my digital camera...

Note that I can barely see any of this! This is what my camera picks up after a long exposure.

Tired from walking, I catch a bus back home.

The Night Streets of Nodong

Along the way back while riding the bus, I spot a bright lit busy street. Looks interesting. The next street is also brightly lit and so is the next one. I get off the bus.

It's filled with clothing stores and little coffee shops and snack restaurants. There are several people walking around at this time. I imagine during the day, it must be filled with young shoppers.

Down the longest street, if I keep going down, it gets quieter for a little bit and then filled again... with foreigners.

It's like a mini foreigner district. It's filled with mostly south and southeast Asians.

At the end of the street, this singing room is the only business open...

I can hear a woman singing inside. I wonder if it's a normal singing room or a "special" one.

Back the way I came and on a parallel street closer to the park, I find this road.

It's quieter than the others and the neon light posts give it a retro-futuristic feel. I imagine this would be a nice street to walk down with your girlfriend.

It also gives me a good ending for the day. I get dinner...

And head back "home"...

It was a fairly productive day despite missing a castle, a garden, and shrine (the last I reached when it was closed).

I pack my backpack with most of my belongings. I've got to wake up early and check out.

Tomorrow will be the busiest day of them all.


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