Sunday, January 03, 2010


Gyeongju, in the southeastern part of South Korea, is its archeological treasure, the ancient capital of the Silla kingdom, akin, perhaps, to Japan's Kyoto, but on a much smaller, sleepier scale. If the history weren't enough, the fact that it's about fifteen degrees warmer than Seoul at the moment (which is in the teens, fahrenheit) provided some relief from the oppressive cold.

The photo above is the ubiquitous Gyeongju bread, a sweet red bean pastry with a thin outer layer. It's nothing special, but everywhere you look there are places that make only this item. I'm guessing it's largely that since this is the one food that's specifically associated with the town, and there are so many Korean tourists that the market can bear all those bakeries.

A building of the Bulguksa Temple complex

More interesting than the red bean cakes are the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Bulguksa Temple site and Seokguram Grotto (the whole area gets the World Heritage designation, actually). The grotto contains a spectacular carved stone Buddha (photography not allowed).

Right in town, right next to my guest house as a matter of fact, is Tumuli Park, the site of the ancient royal burial mounds which look just like--big mounds. The Silla kings, like the Egyptian Pharaohs figured they need plenty of room for all their stuff in the afterlife. Most of the chumps who believe in an afterlife these days don't have nearly as much stuff.

Gyeongju is definitely not the culinary capital of Korea. The greater part of its restaurants, it seems, specialize in ssam bap, which is a spread of twenty or so small dishes with rice and various leaves for wrapping them all up in. The small plates are actually the banchan, or side dishes that are served with almost all Korean meals, only instead of about five you get about twenty. A ssam bap meal goes for under $8 per person, but it can get tired pretty quickly, I think.

Earlier that day I had a happier meal of barbecued pork, made from special pigs in overalls.

The astronomical observatory isn't much to look at.

Directly across the road, however, is a great place to hang out at, Mario Del Monaco, a cafe run by a Korean opera singer. All day long they play DVDs of opera performances.


Blogger Steph said...

Korea is on my short list of places to visit! Sounds like you're having quite an adventure, as always.
For now I'll continue to travel vicariously through you to Asia and South America...though Mexico is on my horizon.

Happy New Year!

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Cairns Hotels said...

Just like Steph korea is on my top 10 places to visit. I want to taste their foods and to see old temples and shrines.

9:38 AM  
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