Korean Road Trip, Day 1: Gyeongju (Part I)
Looking for a change of pace and wanting to see more of the country, we decided to rent a car and drive across the country for a little road trip. Our destination was Ulsan, where Andrew used to live, but we stopped in Gyeongju the first day. Our adventure started as soon as Matt and I got off work on Friday–Andrew was already waiting for us at our house, with snacks on hand. Matt’s co-teacher helped us rent a car, and as soon as we picked it up, we were on our way! Gyeongju is about 4 hours from Gwangju, and we stopped for dinner at a “truck stop” (which is basically like a nice shopping center with a food court), so we made it into Gyeongju sometime around 10. We checked into a “love motel,” which are cheap motels designed for lovers trysts…and weirdly enough, they are not as seedy as they sound. Much cheaper than regular hotels, these motels are basically budget hotels. They are clean, usually decorated to some theme, and are overall somewhere between what we think of as a motel room in the U.S. and a standard hotel room. Anyway, we were worried they would think it was weird that three people were trying to stay in one room, but the owners were cool with it and brought up extra pillows and a toothbrush and razor for Andrew! There were already two of each in the room, plus some other things, on the seedier side.
The next morning we decided to explore Gyeongju a little. The Lonely Planet Korea book tells me that Gyeongju is known as “the museum without walls,” which I find pretty fitting. We set out trying to find a specific restaurant to eat at, but when we couldn’t find it, we ventured into a market instead. I am so happy we did, it was such a cool market! The whole thing is tented, and there are aisles and aisles or every kind of food you can imagine–it’s like a giant farmers market meets fisherman’s market. There were also a bunch of mini restaurants inside, so we sat down at the only one where the lady didn’t aggressively yell at us to come eat in there, and had a fabulous market meal!
After we ate we headed out of town a little to check out the Seokguram Grotto, which holds a giant statue of Buddha that was built in the 18th century. Now the grotto is on the Unesco World Cultural Heritage List, and is considered an international treasure. It was pretty cool. We couldn’t take any pictures of the actual Buddha, but here are some from our mini-hike up to the grotto and of the bell tower near the parking lot. If you can’t tell from how bundled up we are…it was really, really cold up on that mountain!
After seeing the Buddha, we got back into the car and headed to the Bulguksa temple, but that will be another blog, another day!