“As pretty as a flower”: My Chuesok experience in Gyeongju

The entrance to Bulguksa Temple

I’m sure most of you will be somewhat familiar with Gyeongju. It gets listed in the itineraries as a place to visit after Seoul and Busan. If you are wondering what Korea was like in the past it’s worth going to Gyeongju to see some beautiful temples and monuments.

Getting there

Gyeoungju is 80 kms from Busan in the southwest of the country. You can take the KTX from Seoul or bus from most big cities. We drove from Busan in less than two hours, which included a stop off at a rest station near Yangsan. I find these places the highlight of a road journey and they seem to be something that tourists find fascinating about Korea. Maybe it’s memories of trips with families but there is something very comforting about these places.

eomuk and sodeok from the rest station.

The major venue is Bulguk temple, site of the oldest stone pagoda in South Korea. It’s called Tabo Tab, and is seen on the back of the 10 Won coin. Without knowing what it’s significance is, I can appreciate what a stunning monument the stone pagoda is. It stands out amongst the more brightly-coloured wooden temple buildings which are all to a large degree constructed according to the same basic architectural design.


Bulguk temple – as pretty as a flower

We admired the beautiful tiles of the temple roofs and drank water from the stone basin. There was a gift shop where we could see many souvenirs including model owls and bookmarks. If I don’t have much information about the history of the temple, it’s because there wasn’t much information available. On arrival, we were given a ticket (price, 5000 won). On the back it told us: Erected in the 15th year of King BeopHeung Sinra some 15 centuries ago and later rebuilt by Prime Minister Kim Daeseong on a much larger scale.’

Near the temple there is an information booth containing maps of Gyeongju in English. I wish they had given us some more information about the temple at the start. It would have been good to have been able to study its history more thoroughly.


There aren’t any restaurants near the temple, only a few stalls by the car park selling overpriced Sikhye. It was better to take a drive into Gyeongju city where there are several traditional Korean restaurants, all with off-road parking. Tobakmi Sikdang is a restaurant serving soondubu, pajeon and deok galbi. Portion sizes were good and the banchan was varied, The soondubu contained abalone which made it more than worth the 10,000 won cost.

King’s tombsDSCN0232

One of the most fascinating parts of Gyeongju are the dome-shaped green hills where the Silla kings were buried in the fifth century. There are at least twenty of these grassy mounds, leading me to wonder just how many kings there were during this period.Answer, I don’t know.  Obviously, information is scarce because little was written down at this time in history. I can’t name a single king from this time and there isn’t as much interest in them, as the Choson Dynasty. But at least there is a small museum where we can see inside one of the tombs, which was excavated in 1972. It shows us how their shields were made and one of the coffins itself is displayed, giving us a better understanding of how the kings were buried and what their tombs contained.

Around Gyeongju

What do you do after wondering through temples and tombs all day? Probably what any South Korean would do which is to drink coffee from Starbucks. The cafe, which has a traditional tile roof were packed – and I do mean packed – with families enjoying the Chuseok holiday. It was there that we found several bakeries selling Hwangnam-Ppang, the local speciality. Now, I’m a bread lover, and I was expecting something amazing from these. If you’re going to name bread after your town it had better be super amazing. These weren’t. The pastry is light, and the filling, which is sweet bean paste, takes up over seventy-percent of the bread, making them extremely sweet. Even more aggravating was having to buy them in units of twenty, forcing us to buy 19 more than we actually wanted.


The presentation of the pastries was also disappointing. For the price they could have been individually wrapped in traditional paper but were only cellophane wrapped, making them seem very ordinary and generic.

There were children flying dragon-fly shaped kites and some souvenir shops. Another reason to visit Gyeongju is the theme park Gyeongju World which is near the Hilton Hotel. There is a trendy cafe street as well, which has nothing to do with historical Gyeongju but was very busy anyway.

Gyeongju is a fun destination with some unique sites. The locations were spaced-out but accessible. Doing some reading would help prepare you for the historical background of the city and it would be most convenient to have a Korean speaker with you. Of course there will be tourists here, but not as many as the palaces in Seoul. If you are interested in Korean history, try to find out as much information as possible before you go.DSCN0218 bulguksa

The Bay 101: Favourite tourist attraction in Haeundae

If you check out  out any tourist guide to Busan, you will find this place mentioned as one of the best places to visit for what Koreans call ‘Night View.’ Every time I ask for recommendations of where to go I’m always told that this or that particular place has the best night view of the city, so much that I’m wondering if anywhere in Busan is actually worth visiting in the daytime?

The Bay 101 is situated in Haeundae Marina, right at the bottom of Dongbaek Island (itself a great place to look at the sea at day and night). It’s one of the few buildings that really suits the landscape. Built in the modernist style, it looks out over the bay and offers views of the skyscrapers that dominate the skyline.

On visiting the BAy 101 on Saturday evening, I was afraid that it would be full of tourists. Actually there were so many locals and a few Chinese people, but hardly any foreigners. There are simply dozens of people sitting outside on the terraces. The tables were a close together but it wasn’t a big problem.

The food was worth trying, if not the ultimate reason to come here. Fingers & Chat is  on the first floor of the building where you can eat inside at the restaurant or sit outside (which is what nearly everyone was doing) which we did on Saturday evening.


The menu gave us a choice of sea bass or cod, which was a good selection. There were several sides, including crispy dried pollack, which tasted like dried squid. They don’t give you a large piece of fish as you would get in England. Instead the fish is served goujon style in five pieces as you can see in the picture.


One thing I really liked was that they gave us two servings of mayonnaise as well as some creche. It showed that we were eating at a place which cared about small details. The fries were a little soft but I have yet to find anywhere which serves fries exactly as I would like them to be. We had to ask for salt and I’m surprised how people can eat unseasoned potatoes.

Everyone was having a good time with a fair bit of drinking going on. We stayed for an hour, after taking a few photos of the view. Personally, I’m glad that I have tried this landmark building in Haeundae, even if I’m not rushing to go back.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Ambience: 4 out of 5. There were a lot of people and some children running around.

Food: 4 out of 5. The Fish and chips were tasty and the mayonnaise was superb. 

Price: 3 out of 5. You are paying for the location.

Service: we were served very quickly after standing in line at the counter for five minutes. After I finished I was about to take my tray inside when 

Perfect for: a special romantic occasion. There were so many couples that I wouldn’t recommend going alone, unless you want to depress yourself.



Never talk to girls in bars in South Korea

I recently made a startling revelation and it may blow your mind a little bit. I’m going to tell you something that you might not accept: If you want to meet and date girls in South Korea, you can pretty much forget about meeting them in bars.

Now this may come as a shock, but talking to girls in bars is not something that comes naturally to a lot of Koreans. In fact, the bars I go to have a lot of regulars. It makes it difficult to speak to people. Girls put up a lot of front that is hard to break down.

The main problem I’ve found is girls drink with their friends. They are never going to be happy about leaving their friend behind to go home with you. The best thing is to approach girls on the street. For one thing, you can talk to girls when they are on their own. Finding something they can help you out with (directions, where is the nearest Starbucks) can be an excellent way to get them to open up.

The other thing is that you are not putting yourself out trying to impress them, or having to buy expensive drinks. Getting their numbers is easily done with minimum fuss. You will want to message them half an hour after they leave you. I advise making the next meeting as close as possible to the first. You don’t want her to lose interest in you. These days there are so many distractions calling for a girl’s attention that a guy has to work even harder to keep her interested. But it can do the trick, provided you can send some sexy photos of yourself, making it clear what your attentions are.

So there you have it. I can’t believe I wasted my time and money chasing after women in bars, when I could have been meeting them in a much easier way on the street.