I had another crash night last night. I think I was just really tired from our whirlwind trip to Gyeongju (경주). Isn’t it funny how sometimes you seem to work harder on vacation than you do at home? Pack your bags, load your bags into the car, get your kids settled, drive, stop for gas and lunch, drive some more, search the map for that elusive turn-off, drive even further, arrive at the hotel, lug your bags up to your room, and then finally venture out to see some of the sights. Then when your trip is over, you do it all over again in reverse, like a boring movie played backwards. I’m definitely not complaining. At least I was working while on vacation. It was well worth the effort! We went to Gyeongju just for only two days; however, it was the first overnight trip my family has taken together in almost four years. We made the most of the short time we had. We decided to leave on Sunday to avoid the heavy Korean Memorial Day traffic. We ran into pockets of resistance en route, but we made it to Gyeongju and back in just under six hours each way.
We arrived in Gyeongju on late Sunday afternoon. We first chose to visit Bulguksa (불국사), a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples in Korea. Sitting high atop Namsan Mountain a few miles southeast of the city, Bulguksa overlooks Namsan valley stretching south of Gyeonju. We were impressed by the artistic blending of the ornate, colorful temple structure with the scenic beauty of the mountain. It is truly one of the outstanding religious sites in the world. The large crowds muted the temple’s beauty, but they did not deter us from enjoying our trip to the temple. At the temple’s center are Tabot’ap and Sokkat’ap, twin gray pagodas in the sanctuary outside the main hall. They stood in stark contrast to the rich reds, yellows and blues that permeated the temple. I loved the paper lanterns festooned around the temple, vestiges of Buddha’s birthday in early May. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it up to Sokkuram, the famous grotto above on the mountainside above the temple featuring a seated statue of Buddha. It was too late in the day to make the journey with a young child in tow. We did stop for awhile so our son could watch the drinking pool and watch visitors create mani stone towers (mani is the Buddhist term for rock piles built as a form of meditation). Despite all the tourists, Bulguksa exuded a peaceful aura. It was a much different feeling one gets while living amidst the hustle and bustle of Seoul.
We left Bulguksa in early evening and headed to our hotel, the Wellich Chosun Hotel & Casino next to Lake Bomun. Lake Bomun is a man-made reservoir just east of Gyeongju and home to many of the area’s best resorts. The Wellich Chosun Hotel is a beautiful place with affordable room service and a delicious breakfast buffet. Because of our son, we dined in our room on Sunday night and retired early. The room was a bit small but adequate. Because we arrived on an off-peak day, our room rate was a bit lower than it would have been if we had arrived on Friday or Saturday. It was the perfect get away place.