Thailand: One Night in Bangkok

The final day and a half of my Thailand trip was spent in Bangkok (Krung Thep to locals).  After almost a week in island paradise, Bangkok presented a sharp contrast to the relaxed lifestyle.  Like any city, the City of Angels was hot, noisy, crowded, and smelly.  But it was also full of beautiful sights, delicious food, and friendly (and not-so-friendly) people.

As with the rest of this trip, nothing was planned in advance.  We caught a cab and told the driver to take us to Khao San, the popular tourist street.  Near this area we found a hostel called Wild Orchid, which I would recommend.  Definitely cheaper than the islands, if you can believe it!

While in Bangkok, we
– saw the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
– were approached by gem scammers but avoided trouble and scored a cheap tuk-tuk ride and free visit to the Golden Mount (as well as a free admission to a fake Buddha)
– explored the infamous Khao San road… on a Buddhist holiday on which the sale of alcohol was prohibited! A few bars paid off the police and served alcohol in coffee cups, however.
– took lots and lots of riverboats

We only had one night… so we made what we could of it!

Khao San
Making our pad thai
in a tuk-tuk
Wat Arun from across the river
in front of the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
Plinking satang (essentially Thai pennies) into 108 pots for good luck
A Thai man and a Buddhist monk
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Gyeongju: The Museum Without Walls

 This post contains a lot of photos, because many of my readers are not on Facebook yet! It also contains a few links, so feel free to click those to find out more information about the topics you are reading about.  And as always, you can click on the photos to enlarge them and bring up a slideshow of sorts.  Happy reading!

On Saturday, Andy and I traveled to Gyeongju, about an hour away.  Gyeongju (경주) is the former capital of the ancient Silla Kingdom, which reigned from 57 BC – 935 AD.  Korea was ruled by three kingdoms throughout history, and at one point, Silla held 2/3 of the peninsula (including modern day North Korea).  Being the capital city, Gyeongju contains all sorts of architectural and historical treasures.  For this reason, Gyeongju is also known as “the museum without walls” – you don’t have to walk far to find something amazing.

Gyeongju is on the right, in North Gyeongsong province

May 5 also happens to be Children’s Day in South Korea.  Usually there is no school, but this year it happened to fall on a Saturday.  Parents frequently buy their children gifts, and take them out to fairs, zoos, or other kid-friendly locales.  Gyeongju was very crowded with families and little ones.

From Dongdaegu Station, we took the Mugunghwa (slow train) to Bulguksa Station.  Then we took the 10 or 11 bus (I forget which, but they’re the same route) to the temple grounds.  From there you must walk up a vendor-lined lane through a park.  The park was full of picnickers, street food, and souvenirs.

Chestnuts, beondegi, and other snacks for sale

Bulguksa (불국사) is a beautiful Buddhist temple located on the slopes of Tohamsan (Toham Mountain).  Not only is it a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it contains 7 national treasures of Korea and enjoys tourists from every corner of the globe.  Originally built in the 7th and 8th centuries, many buildings were burned by the Japanese in the 1500s and later reconstructed, although the stone structures are original.  It costs 4000 won to enter.  If you’re looking for a peaceful and calm environment, I highly suggest skipping Bulguksa on a holiday… Bulguksa on Children’s Day was such a tremendous contrast to sleepy Donghwasa.  But it was enjoyable nonetheless.

Foreground: Three-storied Pagoda, Background: Dabotap Pagoda (on the 10w coin)
A bronze-gilt seated Buddha statue
Andy and his rock pile – each one represents a wish!
Sarira Pagoda, stolen by the Japanese and later reclaimed
Bridge over a koi pond

From the base of Bulguksa, you can take the #12 bus to Seokguram Grotto, our next stop.  Admission is also 4000 won.  Seokguram Grotto (석굴암) is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and definitely worth a visit.  It is also possible to hike, but the 80 degree heat and steep slopes dissuaded us.

Seokguram Grotto is about 2,500 feet (750m) above sea level, and on a clear day it is possible to see all the way to the Sea of Japan.  It was too hazy for us, but you are still rewarded with a great view of inland Korea and Gyeongju.  Construction of the grotto began in 742 (or 751), and the structure is original.  No mortar was used to build the grotto, including the domed roof – instead it is made of a series of interlocking bricks.  The actual (seated) Buddha inside is about 12 feet tall.  Since it is so ancient, the grotto is blocked by a panel of glass to protect it from visitors.  Once a year, on Buddha’s birthday, the glass is removed.  Photos are prohibited, but I will include one from the internet so you can see what it looks like inside.  In my opinion, you should visit this grotto on a less-crowded day to really appreciate the detail and tranquil nature.  I felt like I was at the gorilla exhibit at the zoo.

Andy ringing a giant bell!
Inland Korea… past the mountains is the sea
The grotto is inside that building, the mound is the domed roof
Seated Buddha at point of Enlightenment, 1300 years old
You can buy a tile and write a message, to be used later for building repairs

We then caught the 12 bus back to Bulguksa and the 10 or 11 to Gyeongju Station.  Walked through the Seongdong Market for a spell, ate in a traditional restaurant (I tried daseulgi tang, or black snail soup – it was actually pretty good!), bought some Gyeongju bread (filled with red bean), and headed home.  There were other things I had hoped to see in Gyeongju, but there simply weren’t enough hours in the day.  Luckily it’s not too far away!

A pig’s face brings new business owners good luck – at Seongdong Market
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Video: Buddhist Monks at Donghwasa

While I was at Donghwasa, I took some video on my digital camera.  It’s not the best quality, but I wanted to record some of the unique moments and capture the gorgeous temple grounds.

It’s one of my first forays into recording.  Hopefully you enjoy.

In case you missed my post about Donghwasa Temple, you can find it here.

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Donghwasa Temple

Today Andy and I visited Palgongsan (Palgong Mountain) on the northern border of Daegu.  Palgongsan is home to nature parks, popular hiking trails, and many cultural sites.  This post has many pictures – you can click each photo to make it larger.

After trying (and failing) to find the cable car to the peak, we walked to nearby Donghwasa. Donghwasa is an ancient Buddhist temple that is still in use today.  The first temple was built on the site in 493, but since then many new buildings have been constructed.  Most of the current buildings seem to be from the 1700s or later.

Here’s a map of what you can visit.  Admission is 2,500 won.  English (and other language) maps/brochures are available for free at the information center.

We arrived fairly late in the day, and were worried many things would close (not sure if they do…), so we didn’t see everything.  There are halls all over the property, but many were closed off because monks were worshiping inside.

Not being able to know what everything was for didn’t detract from the buildings’ beauty at all.   It’s incredible to realize that some of these buildings are almost 300 years old.  They are extremely well-preserved and the colors are absolutely vibrant.
Seolbeopjeon Hall

Daeungjeon Main Worshiping Hall
Donghwasa may have an ancient history, but it is constantly evolving with new additions.  One of the most breathtaking is its massive Buddha statue.  Lanterns lined the path to the statue.
 The Tongil-daebul (Great Reunification) Buddha statue was erected in 1992, and at 33 meters tall, it is one of the largest stone Buddhas in the world.  Tongil-daebul was created to save the wishes of devotees for the reunification of the two Koreas.  Inside the statue are two relics of the actual Buddha’s cremated remains, as given by the government of Burma (Myanmar).
Tongil-daebul (Great Reunification) Buddha
The temple grounds were incredibly peaceful, and I felt privileged to be able to visit.  Many practicing Buddhists were worshiping in front of the statue, and monks were worshiping and meditating in the halls.  There was so much detail in every stone carving… I wish I could capture it all in a blog post, but it’d be impossible.  It absolutely needs a visit.  I wish I knew more about the Buddhist religion, because I constantly saw things I did not understand and would love to learn more about.
After visiting the Buddha, we walked back to the main halls.  Several monks gathered in a pavilion and began to beat a tremendous drum.  They lined up and seamlessly took turns, never breaking rhythm.  After this concluded, an equally tremendous bell began to chime, and the monks began to beat this hanging wooden fish and metal plate.  It was amazing, but sadly I have no idea what it symbolizes or why they do it.
Buddhist monks beating a drum

My visit to Donghwasa has inspired me to learn more about the Buddhist religion and traditions.  Since we did not have time to visit all of the temple grounds, I hope to make a second visit.  Maybe next time I’ll be able to understand it all better.  Donghwasa also offers temple stays for the interested.

Edit: I have added a video of the drumming on another post.  To see the monks in action, check it out here.

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