history Korean culture Ruins & remains tips for tourists

The Juryeonggu (주령구): Party Dice of the Silla Royalty

Replica of Juryeonggu Dice (image from Yonhap News Agency)

Replica of Juryeonggu Dice (image from Yonhap News Agency)

Although I fancy myself a history buff, I can sometimes find the long halls of pottery shards and bronze daggers at the Gyeongju National Museuma to be bit repetitive and boring.  However, the Museum is also home to one iconic Silla artifact that is sure to squeeze a smile from any visitor, especially former frat boys or D & D enthusiasts.  During the excavation of Anapji Pond (안압지)  in the 1970’s, amidst all the roof tiles and gilt bronze Buddhas archeologists unearthed a wooden dice with 6 square and 8 hexagonal sides.  On each side of this curious object were inscribed in Chinese what appear to be instructions for a drinking game, earning the object the name Juryeonggu (주령구), or literally “drink command tool.” read more »

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Hotels and housing Noseo-dong tips for tourists

Housing: Love Hotels (러브호텔) in Noseo-dong

Hotel Show, Noseo-dong, Gyeongju

Hotel Show, Noseo-dong, Gyeongju

I think the question I get asked most often on this blog is where to find good hotels in Gyeongju and people usually act like I’m joking or crazy when I point them to the dozens of “Love Hotels” in Noseo-dong, the neighborhood just behind hind the Inter-city and Express Bus Terminals.  Now it’s true that “Love Hotels” (러브호텔) get their name for  hosting secret trysts between unmarried college students and cheating spouses from out of town.  And if you’ve never stayed in one before, you might think they’re nothing more than seedy dives with peeling wall paper, cigarette-stained sheets and broken head-boards.  But really, the rooms at the newest “Love Hotels” in Gyeongju can sometimes rival the accommodations at local pensions and the hotels at Bomun Resort, for only a fraction of the cost. read more »

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Buddhist culture photography Temples & shrines tips for tourists Ulsan Yangsan Yeongnam Alps

Photos: Fall “Maple Tripping” (단풍 구경) in the Yeongnam Alps (영남알프스)

Tongdosa Temple in the Fall

Tongdosa Temple in the Fall

The fall leaves are already a big deal in Korea and I don’t know if it’s due to global warming or radioactive rain from Japan, but the autumn colors have been especially vibrant this year. Gyeongju is a pretty popular destination for hikers and weekend visitors out on their yearly “Maple Trip” (단풍 구경) and I’ve already posted on a few good spots to check out the fall leaves around Gyeongju. However, this year I’ve been exploring the area south-west of town known as the Yeongnam-Alps a bit more, as it’s only about a 30 minutes drive out of town. I’ve taken the family here twice for a “Maple Trip” (단풍 구경) over the last few weeks, so I thought I share a some of my photos here on the blog. read more »

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Bomun Resort East Sea Gyeongju tips for tourists Wierd Gyeongju

Wierd Gyeongju: Dinosaur Village Herb Land (허브랜드공룡마을) and Gyeongju Herb Land (경주허브랜드)

Dinosaur Village Herb Land, Gyeongju

Dinosaur Village Herb Land, Gyeongju

Just like Teddy Bear Museums, “Herb Lands” have been of popping up around Korea lately in all the tourist hotspots.  And somehow, also just like Teddy Bear Museums, Gyeongju is blessed with not just one but two of these so-called Herb Lands. If you aren’t quite sure what a Herb Land is, its kind of like a cross between your local garden center and a miniature golf course. Or better yet, try imagining an amusement park without any actual roller coasters or rides. If that sounds kind of lame, then you’ve probably already guessed that Gyeongju’s Herb Lands are not really on my list of must-see local highlights and I wouldn’t really recommend them to anyone visiting just for a short weekend. However, for visitors who possess a warped appreciation of cheesy tourist traps, or have children under 10 years old, Gyeongju’s Herb Lands are a perfect fit.  Luckily for me, I have both, so it was only natural that we would eventually pay them a visit. read more »

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Gyeongju Hotels and housing Korean culture tips for tourists

Housing: Stay Overnight in One of Gyeongju’s “Goteak” Traditional Houses (경주 고턕체험)

Seoak Seowon, Seondo-dong, Gyeongju

Seoak Seowon, Seondo-dong, Gyeongju

If you’re one of those intrepid travelers who enjoy staying in unique or unusual accommodations, then I definitely recommend spending the night in one of the “Gyeongju Goteak” traditional houses during your visit.  The Gyeonjgu Goteak program was established a few years ago by the Ministry of Employment and Labor as a creative effort to help pay for the upkeep of a number of local historical buildings by renting them out as housing for visiting tourists.   Currently run by the Silla Cultural Institute (신라문화원), Gyeognju Goteak offers housing at five or six different historical “hanuk” style houses in the Gyeongju area, most of which are several hundred years old.  Although, I’ve not actually stayed in any of these places myself, I visit a number of them frequently as they’re quite scenic and are worth visiting even if you’re not staying the night.  In addition to providing unique and photogenic lodgings, a stay in one of the Gyeognju Goteak also includes complementary cultural activities, such as a tea ceremony and traditional arts and crafts. read more »

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Downtown East Sea Geumcheok-ri Gyeongju history Hwangnam-dong Korean culture photography Ruins & remains Stories, legends & people tombs

“From Fusan to Wonsan by Pack-pony” by Rev. H. O. T. Burkwall: A Turn of the Century Missionary’s Travelogue of Gyeongju

Old Photo of Silla-era Royal Tombs, Gyeongju

Old Photo of Silla-era Royal Tombs, Gyeongju

In the course of my Masters research, I’ve sometimes run across interesting tidbits of Gyeognju history that are completely off-topic which I file away for future blog posts.  Here is one such tidbit: a brief  travelogue written by perhaps one of the earliest westerners to visit Gyeongju; the awesomely-named missionary Rev. H. O. T. Burkwall.  Rev. Burkwall’s account was printed in the January 1903 edition of the “Korea Review” (pp. 18 – 22).  The “Korea Review” appears to be one of the earliest English-language academic journals devoted to Korean culture, history, religion and literature and was published between 1901 and 1905 by the Methodist Publishing House in Seoul.  For those interested, .pdf files of the whole 5 year run of the “Korea Review” are currently hosted online by Royal Asiatic Society of Korea. read more »

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Book Reviews Buddhist culture history Stories, legends & people websites

Silla Buddhism: New Translations of Masters Wonhyo (원효) and Uisang (의상) in the “Collected Works of Korean Buddhism”

Wonhyo's Awakening, Seonggwangsa Temple

Wonhyo’s Awakening, Seonggwangsa Temple

Maybe only Korean history enthusiasts or Buddhism geeks like me get excited over this sort of thing, but last year saw the publication of a document of great significance for western scholars of both Korean history and East-Asian Buddhism.  In the summer of 2012 the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism released a critical edition of the Hanguk Bulgyo Jeonseo, or “Collected Works of Korean Buddhism,” translated into English.  Not only that, but all 13 volumes are free to download in high-quality .pdf format.  Two volumes of this publication in particular concern the lives and work of the Silla Buddhist Masters Wonhyo  (원효) and Uisang (의상) and are thus significant contributions to the western study of Buddhism during Gyeongju’s famed Silla Dynasty.  read more »

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Gyeongju tips for tourists

Gyeongju Google Maps Finally Go High-Resolution


View Larger Map

I may be the only person in Korea to get excited over this, but as I was finishing up my last post, I noticed that Google Maps has finally upgraded the quality of their maps and satellite images of Gyeongju.    For years I have been muttering curses over Google’s pitifully lousy low-resolution satellite images of Gyeongju and I’d like to think that somebody in the offices of Google Korea finally realized that a major tourist destination like Gyeongju deserved better.  But in reality, it looks like the improvements are part of a broader, and long overdue, overhaul of Google Maps.    Google’s satellite views of Gyeongju are now way sharper than before and you can actually make out the details of important historical landmarks, like Cheongmacheong Observatory and Anapji Pond.  It also looks like Google has given their actual maps an upgrade and now lists street names in both Hangul and Romanized Korean, which is handy.  These upgrades should be a huge help to foreign visitors as well as Google’s lagging market-share in S. Korea….. maybe. read more »

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Arts & crafts Gyeongju history Ruins & remains tombs

The Tou (토우): Mysterious Burial Figurines of the Early Silla Dynasty

Tou Figurines (image from heritagechannel.tv)

Tou Figurines (image from heritagechannel.tv)

If you take a stroll down the Bonhwang-ro street of traditional crafts and culture in downtown Gyeongju, you’ll probably notice a series of odd-looking stone sculptures depicting amorphous animals and lumpy  people with exceedingly large genitalia.  You’d probably be forgiven for assuming the city government has wasted the local taxpayers’ money on some abstract and tasteless public art.  In reality, these odd sculptures are actually enlargements of several “Tou” (토우); miniature clay figurines made during the Silla peoples in the 4th and 5th centuries.  These figures actually served funerary vessels and were unearthed from early Silla tombs by the hundreds and they now make up one of the more interesting permanent exhibitions at the Gyeongju National Museum. read more »

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Downtown Food & drink restaurants tips for tourists

Restaurant Review #23: Pyeongyang Naengmyeon (평양냉면)

Pyeongyang Naengmyeon Restaurant, Downtown Gyeongju

Pyeongyang Naengmyeon Restaurant, Downtown Gyeongju

I’ve probably use the phrase “hidden gem” on this blog way more often than any decent writer should.  However with Pyeongyang Naengmyeon (평양냉면) the phrase doesn’t fit any better, as I’ve literally walked by the place for years without realizing it was even there. The restaurant sits at the end of long, narrow corridor leading into the courtyard of a traditional “Hanuk” style traditional house; a hidden oasis in the middle of one of downtown Gyeongju’s busiest blocks.  But just because it’s is hard to find doesn’t mean that Pyeongyang Naengmyeon isn’t popular.  In fact the restaurant’s been open for over 65 years, which is probably a record in these parts, and is actually quite famous among locals and Korean tourists alike. read more »

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