South Korea
Bongjeongsa

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  • Day36

    Sansa & South to Gyeong-ju

    October 2, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ 🌧 19 °C

    Up early again for another busy day. We had one more site to see around Andong, so we grabbed another bus at the bus station and headed off into the mountains, though in a different direction. This stop was a Sansa - nothing to do with the Queen in the North from Game of Thrones (it's actually pronounced Shansha anyway), but a Buddhist monastery. Since the Joseon dynasty ruled Korea as Confucians for over 600 years, adherents to other religions like Buddhism had to hide themselves away in isolated areas like this.

    So the WHS is a collection of Sansa (literally: mountain temple) monasteries located around Korea. Again, there's about 20 of them included on the list but we were contenting ourselves with just one, though it's usually considered the most important. Off the bus, we left our luggage with a friendly parking lot attendant and walked the 20 minutes up the hill to the monastery. It was quite beautiful, again located in the forested mountains and surrounded by cascading streams and brooks.

    It had the typical Buddhist layout of a central courtyard, with a prayer hall in the rear, two dormitories on the flanks, and a pavilion for lectures/studying/meditating at the front above the entrance gate. Behind this little complex was another treasure - what's considered to be the oldest extant wooden building in Korea, dating from the 14th century. Nobody actually knows when it was built, but a temple record mentions roof repairs in 1369, so obviously it was earlier than that! Pretty cool. We had a nice wander around, did our filming, and before 90 minutes was up we were completely done. And that was even after sitting in the main hall and listening to a solitary monk chanting for a while.

    Wandered back down, collected our luggage, and got back on the bus. While waiting we helped out a French lady named Arlette who reminded me a lot of Marie. She was trying to contact her sister back in Andong that she'd meet her at the markets for lunch at midday. But she was relying on wifi and of course a 14th century Buddhist monastery doesn't have wifi. So I sent a few Whatsapp messages to her sister for her, they had a brief conversation and I think all was good.

    We hopped off at the bus terminal (Arlette stayed on for downtown), had another lunch at Lotteria while we waited for our bus south to Gyeongju. A few hours on another comfy bus (it's remarkable how efficient the system is) and we arrived in Gyeongju. Wandered to our nearby hotel and dropped bags, as the overcast conditions turned into steady light drizzle.

    Undeterred, we caught a local bus to the nearby museum for our first sightseeing stop. This was the Gyeongju museum, where the most important local artifacts were stored. Gyeongju was the centre of the ancient Silla kingdom, which ruled south-east Korea for about 1000 years, roughly 50 BC - 1000 AD. Along with Baekje in central Korea and Gogoryueo in the north it was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, and in around 600 AD they (with some help from China) conquered the other two and were the first to unify Korea. They were also Buddhist, which makes them unusual in Korea.

    Since it's a lot older than other historic stuff we've seen in Korea, most of the physical legacy is stuff recovered from graves etc which is now in the museum, hence our visit. The highlight was a collection of 6 delicate golden crowns recovered from tombs in the city, assumed to be kings and queens of Silla from about 650 AD. Very impressive.

    Since we'd started late in the day we hurried through the museum and finished just as it closed, emerging into the darkness to find an absolutely torrential downpour. This was biblical stuff, getting-wet-underneath-your-umbrella situations. Thankfully I'd put on thongs (not my shoes with a now-enormous hole), as we ran across the carpark to the bus stop and hopped on the bus. Dripping wet, we rode back into town to our hotel, where we picked up dinner from the 7-11 next door since we couldn't be bothered going further.

    Turns out it was the leading edge of a typhoon that was predicted to pass by overnight!
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Bongjeongsa, 봉정사