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.

Jeju Island-Day 2

Our day 2 on Jeju Island was jam-packed. We got up early and headed to the town of Seongsan to visit the UNESCO World Natural Heritage site of Ilchulbong or “Sunrise Peak”. Jeju is the first place in the world to receive the UNESCO triple crown. After some dolhareubang chocolates, a quick stop at a black sand beach and breakfast at Starbuck we started our trek up Sunrise Peak. 

Many mandarin oranges grow on the island so there are many orange flavored chocolates and other goods. Oranges weren't in season when we visited but they hang fake oranges on the trees for photo opportunities (of course Korea).

A black sand beach with Sunrise Peak in the background. 

Our neat little car.

Sunrise Peak is a cone type mountain that really looks amazing from aerial views but you can hike up 180m to the crater to look over Seongsan and Udo Island in the distance. 

The busy walk up to the top. 

At the top-looking across the crater.

Looking across to Udo Island. Although a really popular island in Jeju, we didn't manage to visit it. The side of the island looks like a baboon face doesn't it?

When we were in Seongsan we were lucky to see some of the famous Jeju diving grannies. These women dive for shellfish and urchins without any breathing equipment for many minutes. The tradition started when men found loopholes in the law that they would not have to pay tax if their wives did the work. So instead the wives would dive for food and the men would look after the children. Some of these women are as old as 70. The tradition of the diving grannies is fading and so we were lucky to see some.

Getting ready to go diving. She wouldn't let us get a proper picture of her. 

We had a most enjoyable visit to the Jeju Maze Park. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a real maze and it was good fun trying to find our way to the centre to ring the bell. The Jeju Maze Park was actually developed by a western man who loves living in Jeju. He must also love cats because the park has a bit of an underlying cat theme and there are about 20 cats hanging around the entrance. 

Styling in raincoats.

Around the corner from the maze is Manjanggul Cave, another UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. The Majanngul Cave is a long (13km but long about 1km is open to the public) underground cave formed by volcanic eruptions. It is a famous example of lava tubes and it is one of the longest in the world and has many lava features. The cave is quite deep underground and it gets pretty cold (poor Dean didn’t have a jersey and was shivering the whole time). You walk 1km to the end of the cave before you turn around and walk back. The cave really is amazing. It’s difficult to capture the experience of the cave on a camera because it is dark and water droplets sometimes mist up your lense. 

At the end of the 1km tunnel walk. 

Umbrellas are useful to avoid the water drops falling from the cave roof.

Our last stop on our second day in Jeju was Yongduam or “Dragon Head Rock”. The rock formation is along the seafront of Jeju-si and is a big tourist attraction. We visited in the evening and it was very busy. I’m not quite sure what the hype is about but it is clearly very popular. 

Walking along the promenade. 

I'm not quite convinced I can see the dragon...