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GYEONGJU-SI, South Korea – For a lot of people, the bustling cities of Seoul and Incheon are usually top of mind whenever they think of paying a visit to South Korea.
While getting lost in a big city can be a romantic prospect, if you’re looking to get away from the stressful and busy city life, then Gyeongsangbuk-do is the perfect alternative. The province is rich in heritage sites and the perfect place for history buffs to immerse themselves in South Korea’s vibrant past and learn about Bhuddist culture.
Here are some places in and around the cities of Pohang and Gyeongju in Gyeongsangbuk-do that you should definitely check out:
Pohang Homigot Sunrise Square
The Homigot Sunrise Square is located at the tail of the tiger (the Korean Peninsula). Celebrations are held here every January 1 to welcome the first sunrise of the incoming year. There are shops nearby where you can grab a cup of coffee and pick up street food before heading to your next stop.
Shilla Millennium Park
The Shilla Millennium Park is a historic amusement park where you can try your hand at traditional arts and crafts like painting and dyeing. Some of the park’s attractions include the Emile Polis, which houses replicas of Shilla houses for nobles, the Shilla Royal Palace, and the Dammogwon, where you can check out different jangseung or ancient village protectors.
A famous show you shouldn’t miss at the park is the Art of the Hwarang where performers present various stunts while on horseback.
Nestled near the sprawling wild flower garden, the Cheomseongdae Observatory is the oldest astronomical observatory in Asia. You can rent a hanbok from a shop across the street and have photos taken on the observatory grounds. Hanbok rentals go for KRW10,000 to KRW15,000 per hour or P450-670. From the observatory you can also see some of the Daereungwon Ancient Tombs.
Considered to be the center of Silla Buddhism, the Bulguksa Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site which is home to several National Treasures. Construction of the temple began in 751 and was completed in 774. Take your time walking to the temple complex after entering the gate and enjoy the beautiful greenery.
The Cheongungyo and Baegungyo stairways are are National Treasures, and are the first things you will notice when you face the complex. Climbing up is not allowed, so entrance is from the side. Inside the complex are the historic Seokgatap and Dabotap pagodas, built during the Unified Silla Period, as well as other National Treasures scattered throughout the temple grounds.
They also offer temple stays where you can stay with the monks for a couple of days and participate in their activites like the tea ceremony and meditation.
Choi’s Old House in Gyeongju
Also known as the Gyeongju Gyochon Village, the village was home to 12 generetions of the illustrious Choi family. Visitors can catch a glimpse of how they lived by paying a visit to the Choi family house, see their quarters, and learn about how they lived. You can also rent a hanbok and take pictures around the complex, as well as take home some traditional Korean snacks and souvenirs from several shops within the village. The Choi family is also known for brewing the famous Gyodong Beopju, a traditional rice wine. Pick up a bottle when you visit!
Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond
We recommend you save this place for last in your itinerary, since a visit to Donggung and Wolji is best enjoyed at night when the lights hit the pond and you can see the beautiful architecture of the palace mirrored on its surface.
You can try to come in the afternoon, just as the sun sets and watch as the place turns magical at night. According to our guide, Donggung served as the banquet hall of the Crown Prince. Entrance is at KRW3000 or P133.
Getting there and getting around
Philippine Airlines has daily flights to Busan and will be adding a Tagbilaran to Incheon route starting June 22, 2017. If your point of entry is Pohang or Busan, there are buses that can bring you to Gyeongju.
As for getting around, our tour guide said the best way is by bike or motor scooters but if you feel like walking, you can also walk to some of the sites since they’re pretty near each other. Another option is renting a car, as long as you have an international driver’s license.
This familiarization tour was facilitated by Korea Tourism Organization Manila