This month on The Korea Blog, I’m exploring the ancient Silla capital of Korea: Gyeongju. Last week, I stepped inside Bulguksa and the Seokguram Grotto, two of the city’s most famous attractions; however, some feel you can’t say you’ve been to Geyongju until you’ve been to Namsan. So in this second installment, we’re going to meet that challenge and hike the trails of Namsan.
Namsan, the South Mountain
Namsan (남산) is a relatively small mountain to the south of the city center. It measures just shy of 500m in height, but that doesn’t mean it’s without charm. In fact, the phrase, “the museum without walls” was coined from this location because of its rich history. On this mountainous terrain, thousands of Buddhist tombs and relics have been recovered over the years, making it one of the best places to hike.
Making your way from Gyeongju Town is easy. At the bus stations and train station, there are Information booths with tourist maps available. Taking one of these free maps and pointing out where you’d like to go to a taxi driver is certainly one of the easiest ways to get to Namsan (about W10-15,000 fare). Alternatively, visitors can take bus 500 from Naenam sageori (내남사거리), which is located opposite the Cheonmacheong Tomb. The bus lets passengers off at Samlleung (산릉) on the west side of Namsan and a Tourist Information Booth. Traveling by bus in Gyeongju is easy, since they are equipped to take T-Money cards.
Namsan is crisscrossed with trails over the hilly terrain. While the climbs are not that difficult, it is advised to wear comfortable shoes with a fair amount of traction. Those starting from the Samneung area can take one of the advised routes through the same named valley to Geumobong Peak. It offers spectacular views of the surrounding area. From there, travel along the ridgeline to Yongjangsa. The second course outlined on the tourist map, closely reflects the path showcased in the video. The third recommended trail begins at the eastern Information Center and Tongiljeon and heads south to the Chilburam Hermatige and ultimately ends at the three storied stone pagoda of Cheollyonsa.
For those looking to hit the trails to find countless treasures will not be disappointed. The northern and eastern slopes do have a number of sights to be seen; however, the bulk of the Buddhist statues and temples are on the western face of Namsan. This is fortunate, since bus 500 drops one off near the trail head. In addition to the countless artifacts one will see, another reminder of this holy place are the scores of burial mounds dotting the landscape. It’s virtually impossible to hike more than ten minutes without seeing an ancient grave site. Most have fallen into disarray, with brush covering them, bet every once in a while, you’ll come across one that’s been tidied up and presented with fresh flowrs.
Once on the trails, hikers will be easily able to navigate the pathways to history. Each junction is clearly marked in Korean and English. Since Namsan is located so close to town, additional safety markers are present, should an emergency arise. Total hiking time on Namsan varies for a number of reasons: fitness level, distance travel, fun. I mentioned the last item, because when hiking Gyeongju’s Namsan, there are just so many interesting things to see, one can easily spend hours gazing at the intricate carvings.
Traveling to Gyeongju is an amazing experience, but hiking Namsan is probably one of the best things to do in town and not to be missed. I’ll head back into town next week and show one of the more historic places within the city limits.