EXPLORING KOREA: A Road Trip to Gyeongju

by Aaron J JacksonCrabb, 24/03/2011

Nearing the end of April, Ross and Kayla invited Shauna and myself to road trip with them to the city of Gyeongju in Gyeongsangbuk-do. Gyeongju is well known for the artifacts, relics and ruins from the Shilla Dynasty, 57 BC to 935 AD . Another reason to travel here are for the hundreds of hiking trails within the Gyeongju National Park system and to seek out the hundreds of Buddhist carvings, hermitages, shrines, stone pagodas and temples.

Ross explained to Shauna who relayed the information down that the drive one direction would be five hours from Paju city in the northwestern corner of South Korea to Gyeongju along the southeastern corner of the peninsula. Our departure time changed by one hour because Kayla wanted to be sure we would have time to take a three-hour hike on Namsan Mountain as well as a visit Bulguk-sa temple and Seokgarum grotto on Saturday. At 5am, on the morning of our drive down, I tossed my messenger bag into the trunk shoving, my pillow, blanket and (over 6') self into the cramped backseat and immediately fell asleep. 

Waking up around 11am, just before the tollgate in Gyeongju, I inquired about our travel route. Ross relayed the information about our journey. We went down highway 23 heading south into Seoul. Then about 15 km or 9 miles on the outskirts of Seoul we connected to highway 100. Highway 100 loops the entire city and along its perimeter are several tollbooth interchanges all charging 1,000 won to enter their respective segments. Eventually we reached Expressway 1, paying another toll and receiving our expressway ticket.

Two hours and fifteen minutes later, we pulled off into the roadside rest area for a stretch, a pee, a cup of coffee and to fill up the gas tank - 80 won for 38 liters of unleaded. Once back on the road, it was back to sleep and we drove until finding the departure exit along the expressway for Gyeongju. 

At the tollgate, Ross handed our ticket to the ajumma, who swiped it revealing a fee of 15,900. After handing over our money,  we drove off in search of Namsan Mountain. Our plans were to hike Namsan Mountain to Chilbulam Hermitage where the rock-cut carvings of seven Buddha statues rest. After returning to the car, we traveled to Bulguk-sa and then to Seokguram grotto before retiring to our hotel.

On Sunday, we walked through Tumuli Park, visited the far east’s oldest observatory: Cheonmachong, wandered around Anapji Pond, checked out Gyeongju National Museum and viewed the three stone statues of Buddha at Beum-ri.

Ross made a decision to leave by 3pm on Sunday afternoon in hopes of avoiding traffic on the way to Seoul. He explained there are two reasons for traffic on a Sunday evening, a car accident or congestion. With Kayla at the wheel we set out for home after purchasing gas, road snacks and beverages. During the road trip back Shauna and I played the card game Kings and Little Ones. Two hours into the drive, we stopped at a roadside pullout station to stretch, grab a coffee, and use the facilities.

We all idly discussed our likes and dislikes of the trip. Then, nearing Suwon city, we found our first signs of Sunday evening traffic. Ross quickly spoke about his hope for a car accident not congestion because congestion can last up to 24 hours. While explaining this I observed several tow trucks sitting in the shoulder lane of the expressway. Ross explained how the tow truck operators were hoping for car accidents, too because they can charge exorbitant fees and make off like thieves. Thankfully our return trip was unimpeded the remainder of our journey back home.

About the Author: Full of vim and vigor, Aaron is a globetrotting freelance photographer and writer, who has lived in Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the United States. He has traveled extensively throughout the oceanic region and back again. Catch up on his latest misadventures on his blog
Photo:  Roadside Reststop on the way to Gyeongju by Aaron J Jackson Crabb.

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