Around Gyeongju

Many tourists do this area as a day trip out of Gyeongju - and wish they'd budgeted time to stay overnight. It's hard to improve on the outstanding examples of traditional Korean architecture in sublime settings.

Vanqdonq Folk Villaqe

21% OhS

This beautiful and peaceful hillside Joseon-dynasty village (Map ppl98-9) is full of superb mansions and traditional wooden houses. It's been designated as a preservation area.

The village was established in the 15 th and 16 th centuries and consists of around 150 houses typical of the yangban class - a largely hereditary class based on scholarship and official position. Yangdong was the birthplace of Son-so (1433-84), a scholar-official who was one of the key figures in quashing the revolt against King Sejo in 1467. His grandson, the great Confucian scholar Yi Eon-jeok (pseudonym Hoejae; 1491-1553), was born in the same house. Much of the area around Oksan Seowon (below) is devoted to him.

Highlights among the larger buildings include the Yi Hui-tae (1733; with its many outbuildings), Simsujeong (1560; the village's largest structure) and Hyangdam (1543; known for tight-knit spaces) houses. Most of the houses here are still lived in, so you need to observe the usual courtesies when looking around; some of the larger mansions stand empty and are open to the public. There are descriptive plaques with English explanations outside some of the more important structures. If buildings are locked, you may be able to ask for a key nearby. The people who live here tend to be very friendly. There are no entry fees to any of the buildings. You should plan on spending several hours here.

Uhyangdasil (dishes W4000-13,000), just behind the church, is a friendly cafe in a traditional building, serving tea, wine, snacks and small meals. There are also some simple restaurants and shops for snacks and drinks.

From Gyeongju, buses 200, 201, 202, 203 and 206 (all 200 buses go toward Angang-ri) will get you to within 1.5km of Yangdong. From the bus stop, follow the train line and then go under it. There's only one road into the village, about a 30min walk.

It's easy to catch buses back to Gyeongju or continue on to Angang-ri and from there to Oksan Seowon.

Oksan Seowon & Around

A seowon is a Confucian academy, and Oksan Seowon (Map ppl98-9) was one of the most important. It was established in 1572 in honour of Yi Eon-jeok (1491-1553) by another famous Confucian scholar, Toegye (see p220). Oksan Seowon was enlarged in 1772 and was one of the few seowon to escape destruction in the 1860s. However, an early-20th-century fire destroyed some of the buildings here; today only 14 structures remain.

During the summer holiday period, the banks of the stream are popular camping spots, and swimming is possible in the rock pools below the waterfall. It's also a great place for a picnic.

SIGHTS

Dongnakdang

A 10-minute walk beyond Oksan Seowon, along the road up the valley, will bring you to Dongnakdang (Map pp198-9; admission free; h by appointment), a beautiful collection of well-preserved buildings, constructed in 1515 and expanded in 1532 as the residence of Yi Eon-jeok after he left government service. The walled compound is partly occupied by descendants of Master Yi himself.

Due to past vandalism, the family requests visitors to book appointments in advance (ask at tourist offices). They will open up the inner rooms and answer any questions (in Korean). Even if you don't speak Korean, a visit feels like a private tour of a special place.

Dodeokam E^S

About 1.75km beyond Dongnakdang, up in the forested mountains near the end of the valley, is this tiny, intimate hermitage (Map ppl98-9; % 762 9314; admission free). It's a rustic place perched on a rock outcrop from which two springs emerge. The views, both above and below, are magnificent.

Dodeokam is a steep walk up from the road, meaning that it's about as far as you can get from the madding crowd. Barely any Koreans even know about it. To get here, take the main road through the valley past Dongnakdang and Jeonghyesa. Follow the stream for another 600m and you'll see a rusty sign on the left. Turn left and follow the zigzag path up the mountain. It's about 900m from here to the temple.

SLEEPING & EATING

Home stays and basic info on this area can be arranged by phoning %017-533 2196, where a lady sets up accommodations for families or groups.

Oksan Motel (Map ppl 98-9; % 762 9500; dW30,000; a ) Near the sights, the late-1990s Oksan has ondol or bedrooms with shower and an attractive setting.

SanjangSikdang (Mapppl98-9; % 762 3716; chicken/ duck stew for 2-4 people W25,000/35,000) specialises in free-range duck and chicken. Tojongdak baeksuk and onhanbang baeksuk are chicken and duck stews served with rice porridge. Note: stews will take up to 40 to 50 minutes to prepare, so you can take it easy (there's outdoor seating if the weather's nice) or have a Korean speaker phone before you arrive. It's not far from Dongnakdang.

GETTING THERE & AWAY

Bus 203 (W900 to W1300, every 30 to 40 minutes) to Angangri connects Gyeongju train station and Oksan Seowon.

The farthest of the royal tombs (Map ppl98-9) from central Gyeongju, this was also one of the last ones constructed during the Shilla dynasty. It's one of the most complete and has a pretty setting among the trees.

The tomb is 4km north of Angangri, about halfway between Oksan Seowon and Yang-dong Folk Village.

Close to the summit of the thickly forested mountain Obongsan (640m), Bokduam hermitage (Map ppl98-9) features a huge rock face out of which 19 niches have been carved. The three central niches hold a figure of the historical Buddha flanked by two bodliisattva (Munsu and Bohyeon); the remainder house the 16 arhat monks who have attained Nirvana. The carving is recent and although there's an unoccupied house up here, the actual hermitage was burned down in 1988 after an electrical fault started a blaze. There is also a recently erected statue of Gwanseeum, the Goddess of Mercy, just beyond the rock face. Just below the hermitage is a stunning viewpoint from the top of a couple of massive boulders. It's a great place for a picnic lunch.

The trail is well maintained and easy to follow, but bring water as there are no springs along the way. The walk up will take around an hour. From the bus stop in Songseon-ri, follow the creek up along the narrow road about 500m to a small temple (Seongamsa). The trail starts just to the left of this temple and is well marked with Hangeul.

A further 3.8km up the road from the bus stop for Bokduam and Jusaam, remote Sinseonsa temple near the top of Danseoksan (827m) was used as a base by General Kim Yu-shin in the 7th century. It has seen a bit of renovation work since then. About 50m to the right as you face the temple are some ancient rock carvings in a small grotto - it's believed to be one of the oldest cave temples in Korea. It's about a

IV2- to two-hour circuit walk from the bus stop. There's a little village along the way, about 2.5km from the bus stop.

En route to Sinseonsa, Danseok Sanjang sells drinks and light meals.

Bus 350 (W1300, every 40 minutes) from Gyeongju passes Songseon-ri for Bokduam and Jusaam. If you're continuing on to Sinseonsa, tell the driver that's where you'd like to get off.

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