Lunar New Year in Gyeongju

Working at an international school is fun for many reasons, one of them including regional holidays off of work. Lunar New Year was the second week in February, and we traveled southeast with some friends to Gyeongju (경주). Lunar New Year is one of the biggest holidays in Korea. Often, people travel from Seoul to their hometowns to spend time with extended family. Thanks to a friend, we were able to get standing room tickets on the KTX speed train. We left Saturday morning and two hours later arrived in Gyeongju!

Gyeongju is an important historical city. It was the capital of the Silla kingdom which ruled about two-thirds of the peninsula between the 7th and 9th centuries. Today, it’s no longer the capital, but a smaller city. There are many historical sites, which is a draw for tourists.

Where We Stayed
We rented an AirBnB cabin with two other couples. The owner, Minmook, was a wonderful host. He went above and beyond! He made multiple trips to pick us up and drop us off at the house, take us to a grocery store, and get us to the bus stop. He brought by fresh fruit on multiple nights. The guys got to chat with him and hear his interesting story. Minmook lived all over Korea, built the three houses on his property, and recently started a blueberry crop. Though the house is a little out of the way, we highly recommend it! (It’s an easy ₩5,000 taxi ride to the main bus stop and attractions.)


Gyeongju sunset


Gyeongju sunset with hanok roofs


Boys grilling meat


We tried Hwangnam bread, which is original to the region. The pastry is filled with a dense, sweet red-bean paste. It was first baked in 1939 and is now sold throughout Korea.


Traditional Gyeongju bread - Hwangnam bread


Korean fish and bowls


This was the commons area where we cooked, ate, hung out, and enjoyed the firewood stove:


Cabin stove and room


The house had two bedrooms. One had a Western style bed, and the other room used the traditional Korean mattress pads called a yo. David and I stayed in the mini-living room and also used a yo. The bedroom areas had ondol heated floors, which made for some cozy sleeping:


Sleeping floor mats


One day, we visited Bulguksa Temple (불국사), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Admission cost ₩5,000 for adults.


Travel friends


Bulguksa walkway


Iron dragon door knockers


Bulguksa Hanok roof


Bulguksa Seokgatap tower


Prayer rocks:


Balanced prayer rock stacks


I found a cross!


Bulguksa cross detail


Bulguksa architecture and roofs


Bulguksa Hanok roof


Child with a bird water pipe


The next day, we decided to hike to the Seokguram Bell Pavilion, which we could see in the distance from our house. We went way off the beaten path and walked up and down some major hills. My phone said we climbed 155 flights! We also took a wrong turn so our hike ended up being over five miles. But we enjoyed the company, sunshine, and fresh air. When we got to the bell, we only stayed five minutes because we saw the bus and didn’t want to wait another hour to get back into town.


Hiking buddies - selfie in mirror


Seongdeok stucture


Ringing the Seongdeok bell


Though there was a lot more we could have seen in and around town, our weekend was perfect. It was a relaxing retreat to be outside the city.

Where we ate
We ate all but two meals at the house. We took taxis from the train station to Nahbi Brunch & Books for a delicious and cheap lunch (₩6,000 a person!). We also ate at a Korean restaurant by the bus stops down the hill from Bulguksa. We were disappointed by the tourist prices, but the food was decent.


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