Kat: It’s been an exciting week at Monkey HQ! We hosted our very first Couch Surfer. Couch Surfing is an international community of travellers who practice hospitality by putting people up in their homes for a couple of nights. It might seem somewhat scary to invite a stranger into your house, especially off the internet, but Couch Surfing has a great system of vouching and feedback (a bit like ebay). So we met Edgar, a lovely guy from the Philippines who is also a travel writer and photographer. Edgar blogs at Eazytraveler, which really captures his chilled out nature.
Justin: Yes indeed one of the major perks of working in South Korea is having two separate apartments. When my parents where here they comfortably slotted into the second unit. We’ve also hosted people from Busan and Ulsan on a fairly regular basis. We love practicing good hospitality and it’s a good habit to get into as so often you are reliant on others showing the same consideration. So we met Edgar who has a really great and mobile job roaming the earth taking snaps and writing for in flight magazines. Cool gig and he loves what he does.
Kat: On monday we took Edgar out to Gyeongju to visit the UNESCO world heritage sites of Bulguksa and Seokguram temples. While we’d visited Gyeongju before to check out the cherry blossoms, we’d never got to the temples on the far side of the city. We quickly learnt that the map is most definitely not to scale as our taxi driver buzzed past the fields of yellow flowers and into the winding mountain roads. Bulguksa is hidden partway up a mountain…
Justin: Yes the Gyeongju map is definitely not to scale. My parents and I cruelly discovered this when we went for a stroll down the main road toward one of the highly forgettable mounds honouring a dead king and found ourselves spending most of the day to get about two thumb widths down the map! C’mon Korea we need a scale and we need it now!
The temple was impressive, kinda reminded me of going to Seoknamsa temple with my parents not too long ago. Ancient Buddhist temples are enjoyable to visit.
Kat: After paying our entrance fees, we saw a sign for a free English tour. Why not? I’ve always found free tours to be a great way to get new insight on a place. The tour started innocuously enough, with some historical facts and description of how the design imitates Buddhist principles. Then as we reached the interior court, our guide started asking us deep questions about our inner life… in my head I was thinking “It’s 10am on monday morning, really don’t want to be asked about the meaning of life right now”.
Justin: Yes, we has an overzealous guide inclined to proselytise than just show us around. I enjoyed clarifying his misconceptions about Christine doctrine. My opinion is that proving yourself right doesn’t mean proving others wrong. He was harmless enough, just a little misguided – shocking pun ain’t it.
Kat: In theory, Seokguram Temple sounds incredible. It’s regarded as one of the finest examples of Buddhist sculpture and it’s a Korean national treasure. The pictures hinted at a yellow cave with an enormous Buddha carved out of the rock, reminding me of Indiana Jones going into a cave to find a treasure. Instead, it’s a sculpture in a grotto covered in reflective glass, with a security guard lazing behind his desk to stop anyone from taking photos.
Justin: This was a let down, pure and simple. It’s classified as one of the must see places in Korea and it’s totally forgettable and a little uninspiring. Perhaps being a devout Buddhist would make it more sacred. So we got into this temple and found the Buddha sitting like a Buddha generally does behind thick and foggy glass. They let people get a little closer to the Mona Lisa than they do this Buddhist sculpture.The temple itself was extremely small and unremarkable, although apparently its small size is because it was used exclusively by royalty in the Unified Silla period in Korea. The sculpture itself is meant to be one of the best Buddhist sculptures in the world.
Kat: The walk through the forest to get to Seokguram Temple is far better than the actual sculpture. High up in the mountains above Gyeongju you can look down on the city between layers of green elms.
Justin: The best thing about the temple was its position, in a very memorable spot when the sun rises. I actually much preferred being down on a lower level under a prayer flag pavillion and gazing at the bright colours of the many lanterns.
It was still well worth going to these parts of Gyeongju – I never get tired of showing newbies around Korea and hanging with the Koreans around the sites and hiking trails. Places where Koreans actually justify their penchant for all things fluoro and hiking!