Gyeongju, once the capital of the 1,000-year-long Silla dynasty, is known to be a history museum without walls and often recommended for its autumn foliage. Wanting to see a bit of Korea’s countryside and smaller towns, we decided to do a day trip to Gyeongju from Busan by train. (Read about our trip to Busan here, if you missed it.)
Depending on where you are located in Busan, there are different train and bus options available and it’s definitely worth checking out the schedules beforehand. We decided to go on our own, as we don’t like group tours and they were already sold out, and jumped on one of the first trains in the morning that took us to Gyeongju’s high speed train station ‘Singyeongju’ and took a bus from there to the main sights in the historic area closest to the station and explored everything by foot:
- Cheonmachong – a burial mound created in the 5th or 6th century
- Cheomseongdae – remains of the first observatory in Asia
- Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond – a palace complex and pond
- Bunhwangsa – Buddhist temple built in 634
The first three places were all very pleasant and we learned a bit about Korean history. The parks were widespread and it felt calming to be in nature opposed to the big cities of Seoul and Busan. However, there wasn’t a point in time when we thought that these sights are absolutely incredible. (But then, we were also not blown away by the Xi’An Terracotta Warriors, that most people are really impressed by!)
Between each place, we walked through a quiet town center with not many residents and most restaurants shut down. It took us almost an hour to find an open restaurant for lunch, before visiting the last sight that was the one that made it for us: Bunhwangsa Temple.
Even though it’s not a vast complex and we’ve seen so many Buddhist temples in Asia now, this one was just really special. Of course, the beautiful autumn colours helped!
Overall, I would recommend Gyeongju as a day trip from Busan or Seoul, just to see a completely different scenery. I think it would have been a much more exciting experience if we had rented a car or gone on a private tour to the mountains with the big temples that are further out and hidden away. By bus, it would have taken us another 1-2 hours to get there (after already having travelled a good 1.5 hours by train), so we were not up for that. Looking back at our trip to Korea, the autumn foliage definitely impressed me the most in Gyeongju.
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