Bulguksa Temple

Bulguksa Temple is perhaps Korea's most famous temple and it was a must see while we were in Gyeongju. We went there early on a Sunday morning before all the crowds. We timed it well because it started getting really busy as we left just before midday. The spring morning was again really misty but luckily no rain. There were so so many cherry blossom trees, they really were beautiful and I was constantly in awe.

Bulguksa Temple was built in 528 during the Silla dynasty has some interesting history behind it. It was almost destroyed during Japanese invasions but has since been resorted and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can read about the history as you walk around the temple grounds. Entrance to the temple complex is 4000won. It's definitely recommended to go early because it is Korea's most visited temple and is bound to be crowded. I think Bulguksa is one of the nicest temples I've visited especially because the surrounding grounds are so pretty. I would recommend a visit.

Outside the main entrance, towards the back, there is a path that heads up the mountain. Some ladies at the information booth told us the trail was about 2km and would lead up to the Seokgurum Grotto. We walked the trail, which is a nice gradual walk up. It was so peaceful and we hardly saw anyone else walking. I'm sure the views would have been lovely if there wasn't such thick mist. We were a bit surprised when we got to the top as we reached a busy car park. To enter the Seokguram Grotto, you have to pay 4000won and walk for about 500m from the car park. This path was lined with Buddhist lanterns and quite crowded. The grotto is also a UNESCO site and there is a Buddha set in the grotto. It is protected by a glass window and no photographs are allowed. The grotto was a bit disappointing, perhaps because of the crowds. Perhaps it would be better on a sunny day when you can apparently see the sea. Afterwards we walked back down to the temple because the buses down the mountain only come on the hour.

How to get there

There are a few ways to get to Bulguksa Temple. There are a few local buses which take about 40 minutes. If you time it right, you can catch a train to the town of Bulguksa from the Gyeongju Station. We caught the train there (8:13am). This only takes 10 minutes and then you can catch a bus up to the temple. Buses 10, 11 and 700 run between  Gyeongju and Bulguksa. We caught a bus home which took ages because of the traffic jams, it was rather unpleasant but at least we had a seat because the bus got fuller and fuller the closer we came to Gyeongju.

Beautiful Gyeongju

While cherry blossom season was in its prime, we visited the old city of Gyeongju. Visiting Gyeongju has long been on my bucket list because it is the ancient city of Korea. It was once the capital during the Silla dynasty (57BC-935AD) and is filled with ancient sites. It is also a really popular tourist destination as it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gyeongju is really far from Jeonju so our time there was limited. We caught a bus via Daegu which made the trip about 4 hours. 

We went to Gyeongju during the first week of April and the amount of cherry blossom trees constantly blew my mind. My mum was visiting us in Korea for the second time and she timed her trip well to see the beautiful spring flowers. They were in full bloom everywhere but unfortunately the weather was rather miserable. The actual city of Gyeongju is a bit of a dump with the attractions scattered around the outside. It's really easy to find your way around because there aren't any skyscrapers blocking your views and things are well signposted. After we arrived in the afternoon we wondered to the area of the Daereungwon Royal Tombs. On the way we passed beautiful streets lines with blossoming trees.

The entrance to the tombs is 2000won. Under these mounds there are kings and queens buried. The park was peaceful with not too many people around.

At the back end of the park you can walk out to the Wolseong Forest and the Cheomseongdae Observatory. This area was really beautiful and the blossom trees were huge. You can rent bikes to ride around but we opted to walk. Just as we were at the other end of the forest, it started to absolutely pour with rain and there was thunder and lightening too! With no umbrellas, we had to sprint (along with many others), to find shelter. The rain didn't stop for ages and we were completely drenched. We had wanted to visited some other sites around like Anapji pond in the evening, but we were soaked and cold so we went back to our hostel for an early night instead. Although I was disappointed not to be able to see everything I had wanted, I still enjoyed the seeing the tombs and all the blossoms.

A must thing to do while in Gyeongju is visit Bulguksa Temple, which we did the next day (post coming soon). 

Maehwa Spring Flower Festival

Winter has sure been long and cold here in South Korea. We have been anxiously waiting for spring for a while and now the temperatures are slowly starting to rise. Spring started rather suddenly, just last week we had freezing weather, but this week has been rather pleasant. One thing I have been looking forward to with the end of winter, are the spring blossoms. Blossoming trees are a big deal here and in South Africa we don't get to see too many.

With the start of the warm weather, we felt like doing a day trip so we headed south to see the first blossoming trees. We have already been to a summer flower festival in Korea, so we wanted to check out a spring one. We went to the earliest spring festival in Korea, the Gwangyang International Maehwa Festival (광양매화축제). The festival takes place for 2 weeks every March. The trees in the south start flowering first and we haven't seen any in Jeonju yet. 

The Maehwa Festival is unlike many of the other spring flower festivals in Korea as the blossoms are white apricot blossoms, compared to the pinkish cherry blossoms. The apricot trees at the site cover 83 acres, making it the largest number of apricot trees in Korea. 

We packed a picnic and caught the train south (more on how to get there later). The weather was so lovely and warm. After a long walk, (with a Korean guy who followed us the whole way), we were a bit dissapointed when we got to the festival site. Unfortunately most of the trees hadn't started blooming yet and the mountain was mostly brown. Apparently it is normally covered in white. We wondered up the mountain and went in search of some flowering trees, there were a few! The crowds weren't too bad when we were there (I think most of them were stuck in traffic), and only started to pick up when we were leaving. 

We wondered the festival site, had our picnic, ate some ice creams and took some pictures. Although the trees weren't as impressive as they were ment to be, we still enjoyed ourselves and it was a good way to start off the spring season. I'm really looking forward to the cherry blossoms and can't wait to see Korea in spring.

How to get there:

We had instructions from one of our colleagues how to get there but unfortunately it didn't go according to plan. She had made some calls and found it would be quicker to go via Hadong instead of Gwangyang. We caught the train to Suncehon from Jeonju (1hour) and then transferred to Hadong (45min). From there we planned to catch a bus to the festival but when we got to the bus station we found that the buses had been cancelled. We were a bit stuck with how to get to the festival and in the small "town" of Hadong, no one spoke Englsih. We tried to ask a taxi driver to take us but he wouldn't because there was too much traffic going to the festival and it would be quicker to walk. We ended up walking there (and back) which was about 5km and took about an hour. It's not a bad walk as you walk along a river and pass many flowering trees on the way. Oh well, good exercise, and we got there in the end! I don't think there was a quicker way to get to the festival as we were walking faster than the cars were moving, so if you go, be prepared to walk.