Thursday, October 30, 2014

Downtown Gyeongju

When I booked my [promo] flight to South Korea, I didn't really know where else to go aside from Seoul. After a few Google searches, I read about a place called Gyeongju and immediately knew that I wanted to go there. It's the capital of the ancient kingdom in Korea called Silla so it's rich in culture and history. My worst subject in high school may be History (because I'm really bad at remembering things) but that doesn't mean I'm not interested in it.

After having lunch below Bulguksa, I went to the bus stop to head downtown. There I met a French traveler who, apparently, was also heading downtown. It was great meeting him because finally I was able to speak to someone in straight English lol. We were headed to the same places so I had a travel buddy that afternoon! You see, that's one of the things I like about solo travel-- you tend to meet new people from whom you can learn many new things.

We went first to the Daereungwon Royal Tombs. The tombs of the Silla Kingdom are marked by mounds of earth that look like hills. One of the tombs, Cheonmachong, is accessible to the public and there's even a nice exhibit inside where you can see some artifacts excavated from the tombs. 

They remind me of the Chocolate Hills of Bohol. (I haven't been there but I hope to visit soon!)

They also remind me of sinusoids! *nerd alert nerd alert*

After the tombs, we walked to the famous Cheomsongdae Observatory. Apparently, this astronomical observatory is a national treasure and was very important during the Silla Period. However, to be honest, it's quite underwhelming because it's small. Then again, it was built in the 7th century so I don't really expect a high very structure from that time period.

We walked to Wolseong Fortress which didn't have any traces of walls or a palace anymore but there's a structure there called the Seokbinggo Ice Storehouse which was interesting for me because it reminds me of the dungeon where Daenerys (Game of Thrones) locked up her dragons haha.

I can totally imagine Rhaegal and Viserion inside lol.

And then we walked to Anapji Pond, an artificial pond that is said to be a great example of Silla Kingdom landscaping. There were a few pavilions and one of them even housed an exhibit of relics excavated from the original pond. 

Finally, when we had nowhere else to go, we headed back to downtown. My first whole day in Gyeongju was not bad at all! It's a small city but it's fun because it's very walkable and the beautiful sights are not very far from downtown. The countryside vibe is such a great break from the hustle, bustle and pollution of Manila. Plus, I met new people which really made it a lot more fun!

A random house behind Cheomsongdae. There are so many traditional houses/structures in Gyeongju

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bulguksa: In Which Strangers Treat Me to Lunch

A couple of days before my flight, rains were quite strong and I was worried that my flight to Incheon might get cancelled. Thankfully, it was sunny in Manila that morning and the flight was pretty smooth. I arrived at Incheon International Airport at noon and bought a bus ticket to Gyeongju. After a comfortable 5-hour trip on a luxury bus, I arrived at Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal. That was when the challenge started-- I could not find the bus stop for the local buses and no one spoke English! Well, I found it eventually, rode the correct bus and went down the correct bus stop but another problem presented itself-- I could not find my guesthouse! It was dark, the city seemed asleep (though it wasn't even 8pm yet) and I could not read street signs well. (I really should have gotten my eyeglasses' lenses changed before coming to South Korea.) However, by some miracle, I found my guesthouse. I was staying in a dorm but I had no roommates that night so hurray for sound sleep!

Having spent the entire Sunday traveling, I was, of course, excited to go on an adventure the next day. Gyeongju isn't very easy to navigate because buses are the common mode of transportation and you won't find anything inside the bus translated to English. Also, not all the bus stops have English labels on them! There are many taxis in Gyeongju but because I'm traveling on a budget, taxis are not an option. Thankfully, my guesthouse is near a Tourist Information Center (by the train station) and major tourist spots aren't very difficult to find so I found my way to Bulguksa without a problem.

It was quite a climb from the Bulguksa bus stop to the temple itself but the air is fresh, the surroundings are nice and the weather was cool. It was tiring but it wasn't so bad.

Bulguksa is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Treasure of South Korea. It's a big complex and there are many structures to see.

Sometimes, I wish I knew more about Buddhism so that I will be able to admire Buddhist temples better but even so, I enjoyed exploring Bulguksa. Thankfully too, the place wasn't crowded.

The paintings in South Korea's temples are amazing.

At noon, I went down toward the bus stop and then my tummy started looking for lunch. I found a complex full of restaurants near the bus stop. The place was very big but it seemed almost deserted. I went inside one of the restaurants and found that the only customers was a middle-aged couple. I read from somewhere that in Korea, dining out is considered a social activity so I guess that's why after I ordered food, the said couple invited me to share their table. Thinking that there's no harm sharing a table, I obliged. The lady spoke very little English and her boyfriend practically none. They kept talking to me in Korean and I just kept smiling. We shared food and they even shared makgeolli (alcoholic beverage made with rice) with me. It was actually fun. I mean, I was eating with locals!

Eventually, I decided that I wanted to continue exploring Gyeongju so I told them that I was going to another place and then when I was about to bring out my wallet to pay for my meal, the lady stopped me from bringing it out. I got surprised and confused... were they telling me that they're going to pay for my meal?? Apparently, yes. 

And that's the story of how strangers paid for my lunch in Bulguksa. Ah, such kindness!

Friday, October 24, 2014

And Then Baler Happened

A few days after I came back from South Korea, we went to Baler for our semi-annual company outing. Our first day was rainy but it didn't stop my co-workers from trying out surfing. 

The next day was sunny, luckily, so we went to Ditumabo Mother Falls, Ermita Hill and Dicasalarin Cove. 

Going to Ditumabo Mother Falls required a 30-minute trek which included crossing the streamwith fast currents multiple times and crossing a couple of roughly-assembled albeit seemingly-sturdy bridges made of bamboo. It wasn't very tiring though... the trail was not steep and I guess my body got tempered after all the hiking and climbing I did in South Korea. Plus, the trek was full of lovely views so it was actually enjoyable.

Walking above the penstock of the hydropower plant was the easiest part lol
When we arrived at the falls, there were lots of people taking selfies by the edge of the water so we had to battle a little to be able to get into the water and swim. It was super cold but I enjoyed a lot because the water is so clean!

After Ditumabo Falls, we had lunch and then went to Ermita Hill.

a view of Baler from Ermita Hill

Later that afternoon, we went Dicasalarin Cove. It was a scary winding ride up and down the mountains before reaching the cove but the views were breathtaking. It's quite unique too because while Sabang beach is filled with black (volcanic ash) sand, Dicasalarin on the other hand has white sand.

It's not a beach for swimming because the waves are big, the water was low and beneath the water are rocks. However, the sandy area of the beach was really big and it was just perfect for chilling, making sand structures and collecting seashells.

Baler was amazing. Even the ride was very scenic. It's a small town where food, including seafood, is cheap. (It was my first time to eat lobster!) It was a very beautiful experience and sharing it with my co-workers was fun! And right now, I am very glad that I'm able to explore the Philippines more and more. This is actually the eighth local municipality/city I visited this year! As they say, "Huwag maging dayuhan sa sariling bayan." (Don't be a stranger in your own homeland.)

Cheers to more travels!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


I just came back from a 10-day trip in South Korea. I visited Gyeongju, Busan and Seoul and went to day trips to Suwon and Gapyeong as well. I went alone and it was cool. I visited many places and met amazing people too.

Bulguksa in Gyeongju

Yonggungsa in Busan, situated on the cliffs by the beach, is now my favorite temple

The Cheobjong (Palace Guard Inspection Ceremony) held in front of Gyeokbukgung in Seoul

Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon City

Nami Island in Gapyeong

I'm in a serious backlog (I haven't even finished writing about my Japan trip last year haha) so I really need to catch up! On a lighter note though, that means I won't be running out of things to write about anytime soon.