If you’re only in Gyeongju for a short time, definitely take a day to check out the big sights like, Bulguksa, Seokuram, Anapji Pond, etc. (Honestly, I’d give the Museum a miss, unless it’s raining). But if you really want to experience what makes this city so cool, take an afternoon to hop on a bike and ride around the countryside.
When they say that Gyeongju is an outdoor museum, they aren’t kidding. Around the valley there are literally hundreds of relics, ruins, ancient Buddhas, temples, etc. scattered among the farm villages and rice paddies. And the easiest way to see them all is by bike. If you’re into cycling, you could spend 4 or 5 days biking around here.
Fortunately Gyeongju is pretty well equipped with bike rental shops. There are several around the bus stations, just outside the train station to the left, and one or two around the south parking lot for Daeneungwon Tombs Park. The going rate is about 7,000 won for the day (if they try charge you 10,000, tell them your friend got it for 7). They have street bikes, mountain bikes and tandems (for the romantically inclined). Most shops let you keep the bikes out till about 6 or 7 pm, but you will have to leave some form of photo ID as a deposit.
In spite of what the Gyeongju English Tourist Information Map says, my best advice for cycling is to stay off the main roads. If not, you’ll spend the whole ride sucking exhaust and being blown about by the trucks tearing off to Ulsan or Pohang. The whole valley around Gyeongju is a maze of farm roads weaving about through the rice paddies and they’re perfect for cycling. They’re cement, generally flat and the only traffic you’ll come across is the occasional tractor or farm truck. Don’t be afraid to explore. If you can keep some general landmarks in sight, you really can’t get that lost.
I hope to get a few cycling routes posted up here eventually. Until then, if you’re short on time and only have an afternoon, I suggest biking along the east or west sides of Mt. Namsan and stopping off at the tombs, temples, tea houses, etc. along the way. You should definitely pick up both the English AND Korean maps of Mt. Namsan at the tourist kiosk before you go, as the Korean maps actually have the roads on them along with some cycling routes. Too bad they haven’t bothered to translate these maps into English yet.
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