Thursday, November 27, 2014

Yonggungsa on the Cliffs by the Sea

On my first day in Busan, I went to Yonggungsa, a Buddhist temple situated on the cliffs by the sea.  Most Buddhist temples are actually situated in the mountains that's why this temple is quite unique. 

From the bus stop at the Haeundae subway station Exit 7, I took Bus 181, went down the Yonggungsa bus stop and walked more or less one kilometer to the temple itself. Many people alight at the Yonggungsa bus stop and there are signs along the road so it's difficult to get lost. The road was full of slopes which made my calves hurt even more. (I was still sore from the hiking I did in Gyeongju the day before.) However, this view made all the pain worth it.

Statues of the twelve zodiacs were by the entrance.

This dragon totally reminds me of Dragon Ball lol.

It was a warm afternoon but it was super windy by the sea so I couldn't take off my coat.

Buddha of Mercy

Just a word of caution, the toilets inside Yonggungsa are stinky because they don't have proper water closets. I swear it's the stinkiest toilets I've been to (and I live in Manila) so if you need to pee, do it somewhere else. There are many establishments just outside the temple.

Toilets aside, I think among all the Buddhist temples I've been to, Yonggungsa is my favorite because the environment on which it was built is just amazing. It's one thing to see it in photos and another to actually feel the sea breeze on your face while admiring at the views. To be honest, I didn't enjoy Busan very much because its character doesn't fit my personality. However, even if only for this temple, I would definitely recommend people to go to Busan! For people who like temples and culture, it's a must-see!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Something with Four Strings

I bought a new toy. I was supposed to wait until the end of the year before buying a ukulele but after all the stress and frustrations from work over the past two weeks (the kind which makes me want to scream and pull my hair), I decided to buy one last weekend.

It's a tenor made of jackfruit (langka) wood. I got it from The Four Strings in Cubao X.

Over the past few days, I've been filling the house with strumming sounds. The fingertips on my left hand are quite sore and are starting to develop calluses but I keep playing anyway because it's fun and it helps me cope with stress. I can't wait to learn more!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Back to the Big City: First Day in Busan

On my fourth day in Korea, I left Gyeongju and went to Busan. I took the Mugunghwa (regular train) from Gyeongju Station to Haeundae Station. It was a cheap (KRW5300) yet comfortable and scenic ride that took over an hour. There are also buses that go from Gyeongju Bus Terminal to Busan Bus Terminal that takes about 50mins but the train was more convenient for me because my guesthouse in Gyeongju is a few hundred meters from the train station and the guesthouse I booked in Busan is in Haeundae (far from the Busan bus terminal).

When I arrived at Haeundae Station, I was not aware that it's not the same as the Haeundae subway station (which is near my guesthouse). I got confused because I could not find the right landmarks and there wasn't any tourist information booth at the station so I was forced to ask at the ticket booth. Thankfully, the lady at the ticket booth was very nice and she even wrote down the address of my guesthouse for me to give to the taxi driver. Basically, I had no choice but to take the taxi lol. I actually didn't want to take the taxi because I was on a budget but I figured that my guesthouse shouldn't be so far. I ended up with a KRW5100 taxi fare, which wasn't so bad even though it's almost equal to my train fare. The driver was very nice too and he can speak a little English. 

I arrived at my guesthouse at around 12nn, left my luggage, rested a bit, went out for lunch, went to Yonggungsa (I will share my experience in the next post) and then went back to hang out at Haeundae beach at dusk.

Haeundae was quite nice, the beach was long and wide and pretty clean. However, coming from a country with so many paradise-like beaches, I was naturally not very impressed. However, what's very interesting for me is how Busan maintains its beaches despite the urban environment. In the Philippines, I don't know of any beach that's surrounded with so many high-rise buildings. I'm guessing Busan really puts a lot of effort into keeping their beaches clean and that, for me, is impressive. It makes me wonder if Manila Bay can still be cleaned and restored.

Busan International Film Festival was ongoing when I was there. I was given a chance to watch one of the movies during my stay (another guest at the hostel was giving away a ticket) but I had to pass because I was really sore and tired that night.

South Koreans definitely love their monopods/selfie sticks.

I had this kimchi stew for dinner which doesn't seem like a lot but it was actually too much and I couldn't finish it!

Haeundae is also known for nightlife. I actually tried to bring myself to it but being a morning person and a non-partying type, I just couldn't. I guess partying/clubbing just isn't for me. I ended up getting a cocktail from this bar/restaurant and then going back to my guesthouse.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Gyeongju National Museum: Where I Spent My Last Afternoon in Gyeongju

After the Namsan Mountain hike, I rested a bit at my guesthouse and then went around downtown to visit the Gyeongju National Museum. It's quite a big museum with free admission and it houses quite a lot of relics.

I rented an audio guide (for KRW2000). However, that day, I learned that audio guides aren't exactly for me because most of the stuff in the audio guide can be read in the exhibit. Plus, I'm not good at remembering things so most things I learned really just slip away eventually lol.

Actually, if you're not such a museum/history/art nut and you've seen the relics in Anapji and Daereungwon Tombs, the museum could be quite redundant. Nevertheless, admission is free so it's actually a good way to pass time when you're downtown. Also, photography is allowed. (You can't use flashes and tripods, though.)

Doesn't this remind you of historial Korean dramas?

Silla Kingdom was definitely a wealthy kingdom.

The civil engineer in me had fun learning about roof construction.

I only went to three exhibition halls but I think there are a few more. I was just really tired that afternoon so I decided to rest my feet and have some snack at the cafe inside the museum. And then before dusk fell, I started walking back to the restaurants downtown to find dinner.

I passed by Wolseong area at sunset and chanced upon these beautiful views. It just felt perfect. I can't remember the last time I watched the sun set in the mountains (in Nepal, most probably).

And then it came to me that I was going to leave for Busan the next morning and I realized how much I enjoyed my stay in Gyeongju. I climbed a temple, met very nice people, went hiking and I did a lot of walking. The language barrier proved to be a challenge but Gyeongju was definitely amazing.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Gyeongju National Park: My First Solo Hiking Experience

This is something I debated with myself for a long time the night before: should I go hiking at Gyeongju National Park in Namsan Mountain or spend my day somewhere else? So I asked Google and read a bunch of articles and blogs.

I wanted to go because (1) I was very interested in seeing carvings and statues in the mountains, (2) they say it's a must-see in Gyeongju so I kind of didn't want to miss out on that, and (3) all the articles and blogs I read say that it's an easy hike (one even said that even children can manage the hike). 

Now the reason I was hesitant to go is because (1) I didn't have proper gear (Heck, I didn't even bring my running shoes because my backpack was full.), (2) I get tired rather easily, and (3) I was scared of going alone. (Remember the mountaineer who died in Mt. Maculot while he was hiking alone? I didn't know the guy but he was my high school batchmate's boyfriend... may he rest in peace.)

However, I remembered that I've climbed Mt. Banahaw in Quezon wearing flip-flops so why wouldn't I manage Namsan Mountain in my flats? I also read that Namsan Mountain always has a lot of hikers so I guessed I wouldn't really be alone. Also, the French traveler I met the day before apparently likes hiking so I asked him what he loves about it, then he showed me some photos of beautiful views he took in his previous hikes and then I was like "Ohh I see now!" I guess I also got curious about the whole hiking thing so I wanted to try it.

That morning, after breakfast, I went to the bus stop near my guesthouse (the bus stop in front of the Post Office, near Gyeongju Station), rode bus #500 and went down at Samneung Valley. (I actually wrote down my stop in hangeul in a piece of paper and gave it to the bus driver but, turns out, I didn't have to because it was a common stop.)

From the stop, I walked back around a hundred meters toward the Tourist Information Center (located at the parking lot). The staff there did not speak English but through some illustrations and gestures, I was able to understand his instructions haha.

Three Royal Tombs

At the foot of the mountain, I did my stretching and then started my hike. It was very easy at first and there was even a short boardwalk. However, at some point, it became really difficult.

Boardwalk with pine trees all around

Looks easy... at first

Damaged stone Buddhas
Seated stone Buddha without a head

Gwaneumbosal Image Carving

When I reached this carving called Yukjonbul, I couldn't find a proper trail but I saw a group of middle-aged people climbing the side of the rock without a fuss (Apparently, that's the rock trail that the map mentioned.) so I went as well.

Yukjonbul Rock Carving (the carvings are not very noticeable but they're there)
See the a man above? Yup, I climbed that rock.

At this point, I realized that hiking without proper gear was a very bad decision. I almost slipped a couple of times which could have resulted to a very bad fall or maybe even worse ugh. Thankfully, a group of Spanish travelers (around 50 to 65 years old) whom I helped with directions earlier that morning were there as well so they helped me out. And as much as I'd like to back out, I could not because the way back would be even more dangerous. I had no choice but to continue moving up. (Oohh doesn't that sound a lot like life? Lol.)

Seated Yeorae Image carving (plus the Spanish travelers who helped me)

We reached this carving called Yeorae and then when I looked behind me...

"Wow" was all I could say.

I couldn't properly capture the beautiful view but all I can say is that when I saw this view, I finally learned why people love hiking. Sure, I see many photos of friends' and acquaintances' hiking trips all over Facebook and Instagram but it just doesn't compare to seeing this view in person.

A few more hurdles and we finally got out of the difficult part of the trail and after a few minutes of rest, I felt energized again so I carried on. There were man-made trails but the path was getting steeper so I kept huffing and puffing and my breaks were becoming more frequent.

Seated Stone Buddha of Samneung Valley

Eventually, I reached the Sangseon-am Hermitage, where many locals were praying. At that point, I was debating with myself whether to continue going up to the Geumobong Peak or to go down? I was already very tired and I was scared of slipping again. Well, I decided to go down because I didn't want to risk myself any further. It was quite a fast way down and I didn't have to pass by the difficult rock trails anymore so it's much easier.

At the Sangseon-am Hermitage

I also decided to take a look at the temples at the foot of the mountain. The walking turned out to be a good way to cool down.

I also passed by a graveyard.

Mangwolsa (Temple)

Baeri Standing Stone Statue Buddhas in Sambulsa

Sambulsa (Temple)

Well, that was a really amazing, albeit risky and scary experience. The whole hiking took me 3 hours (10am to 1pm) and then I returned to my guesthouse for some rest before going out again.

Lessons learned? (1) Never hike without proper gear. (2) Don't believe the internet when it tells you that a hike is easy... at least not when you're a clumsy non-hiker like me. (3) NEVER. HIKE. ALONE. EVER. (4) Hiking is fun!

I'm actually looking for some easy hiking trips around Manila but I ought to find some hiking buddies first. :)