18.06.2016 – 21.06.2016
As Korea is such a small country and public transport is a high quality, no destination is too far. Gyeongju is a 4 hour train ride from Andong and about 7 hours from Seoul. Gyeongju is a happening town with lots to offer(The main reason for our visit was to complete a templestay – read further below). The centre of town has plenty of shopping and good food. We couldn’t believe ourselves when we found an Isaac Toast store in town! Still not as good as the one in Myeongdong, but pretty close. The best Korean food in town was Gyeongju Noodles and Gimbap (Korean sushi).
The main reason this town is a tourist location is the ancient tombs littered through the local parks. There are 23 of significance. From the outside they just look like a simple mound, but inside, powerful individuals from hundreds of years ago are buried. The Koreans liken the set-up of the mounds to the Egyptian Pyramids. You can pay a small fee to enter a park dedicated to preserving the best of them and even enter into a tomb where a cross-section has been taken away. Around Gyeongju there are enough attractions to keep you occupied for weeks, but it’s important to do you research and pick only a few. There is Namsam Mountain for a hike or endless temples and ancient villages. Either of the two tourist information centres in town will get you up to speed.
The highlight of our time in Gyeongju was definitely doing a templestay. They can be found all over Korea, and are set up to give anyone an insight into a Buddhist lifestyle. We chose the Golgulsa Temple which also offers Sunmudo training, a Buddhist martial art. Once we arrived we were given our gorgeous outfits to wear and shown to our gender specific rooms. Bedding was a thin mattress and wasn’t as bad as we first imagined. We were put to work straight away by cleaning the floor of the main hall as part of community service. Afterwards we had dinner; a completely vegan menu with rice and vegetables and fruit. The even session started with an introduction into the Buddhist philosophy and significance of much of what we would encounter during our stay, including bowing, chanting and Sunmudo. The 90-minute Sunmudo training session was incredibly hard. It included time stretching, meditating and doing yoga and martial art moves like kicking and grappling. We both slept well that night, and for many after!
Each morning you are at the temple, you’re expected to wake up at 4:00am to arrive for the 4:30am chanting and meditation session with the monks. Meditation is such a peaceful exercise that requires incredible amounts of patience and focus. Every time I thought I was nailing it, I’d look at my watch and notice only 3 minutes had passed! After our walking and meditating it was time for breakfast and more Sunmudo training before we completed 108 bows and lunch. A full bow is as follows; start standing, then kneel, then forehead to ground and butt to ankles (hard position to explain), before rocking back on your toes and standing again. 108 of these gets very tiring. You work up a sweat! The monk chants and bows with you. It was a really interesting two days, we both learnt a lot and enjoyed our stay, moving on was nice though, meant we could get some exciting food again!
OUR FAVOURITE BITS
- Temple Stay at Golgulsa Temple (Meditation and Sunmudo training).
- Walking around the town parks, full of ancient Korean tombs.
- Staying no longer than 2 nights, one full day is enough to explore the town. It’s only a one hour bus ride from Busan and is definitely worth a visit.
- A temple stay is a must in Korea. Make sure you do your research and find out the program before you arrive.