Less than a month after arriving in Daegu, we were spoilt with the Chuseok Harvest festival quickly approaching.
Chuseok is a festival held on the full moon of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. Korean families traditionally come together for this holiday, more so than Christmas and prepare food together, play games and enjoy each others company. You can think of it as a close comparison to an American Thanksgiving. This year since Chuseok was on a Tuesday, there was a five-day holiday for which we wanted to make the most of.
After some thought and deciding not to travel far due to the pandemic, me and three other friends chose to travel to Gyeongju. This is a small town about an hour away from Daegu and is famous for its historical significance, old architecture and pretty scenery.
The KTX (Fast train) does go past Gyeongju but the station is a ways away from the town meaning the slow train (Mungwha) at only an hours ride which was much more cost and time efficient. We arrived into Gyegonju station at 10am and headed straight to the main tourist area.
Gyeonju is a city of two halves. Whilst the train station and our air bnb were nestled in the modern downtown of the city, the tourist attractions are all a short walk away in the old town. On the way to the old town you won’t get lost with huge burial mounds surrounding you as you walk. These are dotted all over the city and are tombs of old kings and queens of the Silla dynasty. They are well preserved and are fascinating to learn about. Before the introduction of strict Buddhism into the Silla kingdom, once a King died, their servants were also buried with them in the tombs so they would continue to serve them in the next life!
As soon as we got to the old town we stopped for a coffee and bite to each. Gyeongju is famous for it’s red bean bread (빵) and the café we stumbled across catered to just this. We gave it our first try and found it to be really nice but very heavy on the red bean!
The old town is all low rise with traditional buildings and rooftops as far as the eye can see. The main street is full of cafes, street food stores, gift and clothes stores and photo booths. We enjoyed wondering along the street and trying various different foods. My favorite of that row was the Japchae Hotteok.
Around the old town is a huge green area full of many attractions. These include Cheomseongdae, an ancient astrological observatory, flowers fields, Gyeongju History Museum and Ananpji Pond. We explored more of this the next day but did visit Cheomseongdae for some photos and wondered around the flower fields where the Muhly was starting to come out for Autumn.
We chose to stay at Gyeongju Kitchen which is located a short walk away from the old town in the downtown area of Gyeongju. Our host greeted us and let us settle into our room before we started our Korean cooking class. The house was split between a kitchen, dining room downstairs and a bedroom upstairs. It was more than enough space for the four of us for two nights.
I am so glad we did the cooking class as it was a lovely experience to do over Chuseok. Our host taught us many simple and veggie friendly dishes including various types of Jeon, royal tteokbeoki and gaerang mari. My personal favorite was making the Jeon as it is traditionally made for Chuseok and was declicious!
Our host was so welcoming and insightful – we learnt a lot from her and are so glad we chose to stay where we did.
On our full day in Gyeongju we decided to hire bikes to cover more of the city. These were only 5,000won for three hours and we used the time to cycle to the National History Museum and visit. The museum covered the Silla dynasty in the area and it was fascinating to see how ancient and established this civilization was. The Silla dynasty started around the time of Christ and stayed until 935AD when the Three Kingdom period came to the region. The dynasty had well established villages with temples, palaces and a civilized way of life.
The traditional dress from the time, Hanbok, changes throughout time but is still a well-loved traditional item from Korean history. When visiting areas of cultural signification in Korea it is popular for both Koreans and foreigners to wear Hanbok when they visit. We decided after seeing a few people dressed up so prettily that we wanted to join in the fun and booked Hanbok to wear for two hours.
Hanbok rental stores were dotted around the high street and have so many colours and options to choose from. I went for a lighter colour style whilst my friends went for more royal reds, blues and blacks. When wearing Hanbok you start with a hoop skirt (so much fun) and then the main skirt. This goes up to your chest and wraps around. The final piece if the top portion which covers the arms and your midriff. The store also had various accessories to choose from and hair styling equipment as well.
Walking around felt like being a princess for a few hours and we loved getting compliments from older Korean ladies! We walked around the main tourist complex and took photos in the flower fields, Woljeonggyo bridge and at the Joseon Dynasty cultural village. This was a fun aspect to our trip and allowed us to connect further with the culture.
That evening we weren’t too hungry thanks to a coffee shop stop that included a huge cake each. We instead went to a bar we’d spotted during the day in the old town which was oddly Cuban beach themed. We sat outside on a beach bench style surrounded by surfboards and Cuban tourist images and videos playing on a large screen. It was an odd theme for sure but we enjoyed our Cuba Libre’s in the warm autumnal weather.
On our final day which happened to also be Chuseok we woke up to rain. Rather than heading out of town to the famous Bulguksa temple we instead decided to just go to a coffee shop and explore some of the shopping on the main old town street. We found an adorable cloud themed coffee shop with great views out over the town. After the rain cleared a little, we did some shopping around the town and grabbed some lunch as well as presents to bring back to our schools from our little holiday.
Three days was the perfect amount of time to explore Gyeongju but I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to check out more of the city as well as Bulguksa temple which we missed out on due to the weather. The city is small but is easy to navigate and has so much history to explore. Autumn was a great season as the flower fields were full of seasonal flowers and plants, but I’ve heard spring with the cherry blossoms is equally beautiful, I’ll have to go back then!
We returned to Daegu well rested and ready for a day of rest at home before we headed back to work. Gyeongju was a great city to explore for a short break and is a must to add to your South Korean itinerary.
Hi! I'm Holly, a twenty something traveller from the UK. Over the years I've been lucky enough to live and travel in many countries. I've studied in America and working holidayed in Australia and New Zealand! I currently live in South Korea. Learn more about me below!
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