One of my favorite memories from my first year in Korea involved riding my new scooter to Gyeongju to see the cherry blossoms with my friends. This year, I rode my motorcycle along the same winding, rural road from Pohang to Gyeongju–the cool breeze of early spring whipping the falling cherry petals in swirls and eddies of color. Luckily, this time, my helmet covered my entire face; no more choking on falling blossoms for me!
The route we took made its way through farmland, trading the main thoroughfare for narrow roads passing through villages and concrete paths through fields. At times, the boughs of cherry trees formed a canopy over the road, the blossoms trembling in the wind as we flew past.
Our destination was Bomun Lake Resort (보문관광단지), one of the main tourist centers of Gyeongju. After parking our bikes, we came upon a giant mill, which dwarfed the other buildings in the plaza around it. A horde of people milled about the grounds while children on mini ATVs and motorcycles cruised around haphazardly at knee-level.
Gyeongju was the original capital of the Silla Dynasty–a dynasty which, having existed for nearly a millenium, has the distinction of being one of the longest sustained dynasties in history. Being such an important historical site, Gyeongju has many examples of Silla architecture on prominent display.
As one might expect, the crowds around the lake were nearly ubiquitous, people jostling and leaning precariously for the perfect picture. The press of humanity didn’t deter us from enjoying the tranquility of the nature surrounding us, however!
We walked along the path towards the end of the lake, crossing a picturesque bridge to the other side. Over a small rise, we came upon a pathway made with massive stepping stones, the kind which require little people to hop. Beyond, roller coasters and a Ferris wheel marked the location of Gyeongju Land–the local theme park.
After crossing the stepping stones, we made an amazing discovery. The crowds had disappeared! As with many places, going just a little off the beaten path in Korea can yield very pleasant results. We walked a bit more, enjoying the quiet and soaking in the beauty of our surroundings.
Before long, it was time for us to head back. As we walked, I thought about Korea and how lucky I’ve been to spend nearly two years of my life here. I’m moving on this September, but I know I’ll miss a lot of things about this place–including the beautiful springtime.
An interesting tidbit for fellow history nuts. The present-day Mongolian word for ‘Korea’ is Solongos (Солонгос), which is derived from their name for the Silla Dynasty. That name is a derivation of solongo (солонго) the Mongolian word for ‘rainbow’. I talked about Solongos often when I was in Mongolia and had been curious about the origins of the term. Now I know. Yay for research!