Chuseok in Gyeongju – Part 2

Trying to find our way back downtown proved to be a struggle. Once again, we had no map, no WiFi, no point of reference. Nothing. Pretty much completely reliant on guess work and sheer luck. I could feel blisters starting to form on my feet. I was terribly hungry and thirsty. But we walked. And walked.

Finally, I recognized some of the large mound tombs. We were somewhere in the general vicinity. After making our way closer to the shops and restaurants, we saw a naengmyeon (cold noodle) shop and absolutely had to stop and eat. I got naengmyeon with chicken breast, Steve got spicy noodles, and we shared an order of mandu (dumplings).

My chicken naengmyeon.

My chicken naengmyeon.

Following sustenance and water, we were feeling much more like humans again. The next order of business was trying to find a place to sleep for the night. We checked two guesthouses that were seemingly closed. I was getting frustrated. After the third closed guesthouse, a Korean woman saw us struggling and tried to help. (Side note: she was cycling with a partner and visibly bleeding from the shoulder, and still insisted on helping.) She spoke very little English, but took out her phone and pulled up a map. I took a picture of the map with my phone, and we thanked her profusely. Her kindness was so unexpected, but greatly appreciated.

We walked around for another 20 minutes and still could not find a place to stay. All of a sudden, we saw a Western couple turning the corner, looked at each other, and immediately ran across the street to talk to them. They were from Norway and gave us detailed directions back to the downtown area and bus terminal, where there are many motels.

We thanked them and successfully made our way back downtown. We settled on a place called Motel Icarus, solely because the name was Greek. It cost 50,000 won ($41.00) for one night and it was actually really nice. Not like fleabag motels you find back home. I regret not taking any pictures because the walls were literally covered in images of Santorini. Bizarre. But cool.

We left our things in the room and headed back out to Anapji Pond, which is located in Gyeongju National Park. It was part of an ancient Silla palace complex. When we arrived, there were masses of people making their way around the pond. It was a surreal and beautiful experience.


Anapji Pond.

After leaving Anapji Pond, we walked down the main road and passed many different street food vendors. Everything looked good, but it was a perfect night for ice cream. So that’s what we got. We walked around for a bit, and Steve spotted Cheomseongdae, which is the ancient astronomy observatory. I had been wanting to see it, so we made a little detour. It was all lit up at night, which made it extremely striking.

Cheomseongdae Observatory.

Cheomseongdae Observatory.

Then, we walked some more and came across a little strip with shops and eateries. Steve got a tornado potato at one stand and we noticed the vendor was making something. He told us it was an ancient royal candy. It is called kkultarae and it is made from honey, maltose, and a nut filling. He was so friendly, I just had to buy a box from him. I haven’t tried it yet, but I am really looking forward to!

Man making kkultarae candy.

Man making kkultarae candy.

We were so exhausted after this, so we went back to the motel and called it a night.

Chuseok in Gyeongju – Part 1

Chuseok (추석) is a national holiday celebrated in Korea. It is a harvest festival which falls around the autumn equinox, on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. From what I’ve been told, Chuseok is most comparable to American Thanksgiving. Koreans spend this holiday with their families in the towns of their ancestors and eat traditional foods.

During this time, it is also customary to give gifts. For the past few weeks, I have been seeing many different gift baskets and specialty items popping up in the supermarkets. Some of the most popular ones I’ve seen include Spam (yes, that Spam), oil, and soy sauce. I’ve also seen stations set up selling what I think are little sweets (rice buns and something that resembles a brittle).

Chuseok also means that I get a four day weekend.

So, Steve and I decided to take a short trip to Gyeongju on Sunday, which is roughly an hour by bus north of Ulsan. However, it took nearly three hours for us to get there because of all the Chuseok traffic.

Steve and I on the bus.

Steve and I on the bus.

It was hot and uncomfortable, but we made it there in one piece. Our first order of business was to visit the Gyeongju National Museum and after jumping in a taxi, we quickly learned that the city sights are very spread out. We arrived at the Museum and, to our delight, there was no admission fee. There were also games set up for children and their families to play because of the holiday.

We weren’t there for ten minutes when a Korean man asked us to take a picture of him and his children. After, he asked where we were from and even asked us to take a picture with his kids. His English was very good and he said that his children have never seen foreigners before, so it would be nice for them. It was actually quite cute.

We parted ways and went on to explore the Museum, which was made up of several large buildings (with lots of stairs) and galleries. Most of the galleries were dedicated to Silla art. The Silla Kingdom was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea and was ruled for nearly 1,000 years.

Buddha sculpture at the Gyeongju National Museum.

Buddha sculpture at the Gyeongju National Museum.

Below the main complex, there was also a beautiful structure surrounded by a lovely little pond. We took a walk down there for a closer look.

At Gyeongju National Museum.

At Gyeongju National Museum.

After the Museum, our plan was to visit Bunhwangsa Temple, a temple from the Old Silla Era. However, we might have had a hard time trying to find a taxi. So we walked. And walked. And it was rather hot out. Finally, we saw a taxi approaching and we waved it down. Too bad it already had passengers and they waved and laughed as they passed. With no map and no WiFi, Steve and I had absolutely no idea where we were. So we just kept on walking.

In the distance, we saw a bridge. As we got nearer, we heard music. We couldn’t tell if it was a recording or live, so we just followed it until we stumbled upon Gyochon Village. Gyochon Village is a traditional hanok village that offers glassmaking classes, pottery workshops, quilting, and tea ceremony training. They were having a festival for Chuseok complete with live music performances, costumed performers, and more games. It was so wonderful! We spent a good amount of time there before grabbing some water at the cafe and trying to find our way back downtown.


I’ve been doing tons of research on where I would like to be if I end up going abroad. While I would love to live in Japan, South Korea is seeming like the better option at this point. EPIK, for example, reimburses your entrance fee, takes care of your rent, provides you with a settlement allowance, takes care of 50% of your health insurance, and offers 18 paid vacation days. All in addition to your monthly salary. To me, that’s a pretty sweet deal.

Now, picking a city or province.

I have pretty much eliminated Seoul and Busan from my choices. I want to be somewhere urban, but I don’t think I want to be in such a metropolitan city.

Things that are important to me include that I am placed in an urban area with adequate public transportation, there are lots of cultural opportunities at my fingertips (read as museums. Lots of museums), and I am located near some sort of natural setting (beach or mountains being my preferences). I don’t think that’s too much to ask, but maybe it is.

So here is what I’ve come up with so far:

1. Jeju Island

– Considered the “Hawaii of Korea.” It’s an island, so there are lots of natural formations, like mountains and craters. Jeju is home to the Manjanggul Lava-tube, which houses the largest known lava column in the world. There’s also a teddy bear museum and a green tea museum.

2. Gyeongju (in Gyeongbuk Province)

– Known as “the museum without walls.” I like the sound of that already. This city apparently has “more tombs, temples, rock carvings, pagodas, Buddhist statuary and palace ruins than any other place in South Korea” ( The Gyeongju National Museum is also considered one of the best in all of South Korea.

3. Ulsan (in Gyeongsang Province)

– Home to the world’s largest shipyard and the world’s largest automotive assembly plant (Hyundai). Ulsan has beautiful beaches as well as seven tall mountains. There’s also a traditional earthward village (Onggi) and a whale museum!

4. Changwon (in Gyeongnam Province)

– So many beaches and parks. There’s a musical fountain and Yongji Lake, “Cherry Blosson Street” (which blooms in April), Seongju Temple (which is over 1,000 years old), and the Gyeongnam Art Museum.