Sunday 4 June Ulsan, Gyeongju (South Korea)

This morning we ate our breakfast while we watched the scenery as we came into the port of Ulsan Metropolitan City, which is South Korea’s seventh largest metropolis, with a population of 1.2 million and is located in the south-east of the country.
At 9.00am we boarded our buses and our local guide, Kiwan Nam gave us some interesting information about Ulsan and Gyeongjiu during our one-hour bus journey. Kiwan told us that Hyundai is the world’s largest automobile assembly plant producing 9,000 units per day – one car is produced every 10 seconds. She also told us that when Kia Motors went bankrupt, the owner of Hyundai purchased it and gave it to his son, who has put the company back on its feet. Also Hyundai Heavy Industry is the world’s largest shipyard and SK Energy owns and operates the worlds’ second largest oil refinery. She said South Korea has a big focus on education – the kids attend high school from 8.00am to 10.00pm so that they can get entry into university. Another interesting point (and there were many) is that 65% of all people in South Korea live in apartments – the average one is 110 square metres and has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms – and the people can buy one or lease it. They can only lease an apartment for 2 years and they pay the money up front – at the end of the 2 years, they get their money back and can then lease another one or buy one. The apartment owner makes their money by investing the money. The apartment complexes are usually about 10 to 20 towers, with 15 – 20 floors so the average number of apartments per complex is between 2 thousand and 5 thousand+ apartments per complex. The other interesting thing about the apartments is that every complex must have a senior centre, a school, a shopping centre and a playground/park. Kiwan told us that her mother-in-law lives with her and her husband in their apartment because he is the first-born son (the first-born son must look after the parents) and each morning after breakfast the mother-in-law goes to the senior centre in their apartment complex for the day and comes home just before dinner.
A couple of more quick interesting facts: South Koreans have their own language but they borrowed their writing characters from the Chinese; in South Korea there are 35% Christians, 25% Buddhist and 40% Athiest.
Now onto our sight-seeing activities:
We travelled north to the UNESCO world Heritage city of Gyeongju, known as ‘the museum without walls’, that is the ancient capital of the Shilla Kingdom that ruled for 1,000 years from 57 BC to AD935 and is known for its extensive historical remains.
Our first stop was at the Royal Tombs, which has 30 tombs (the city has 1,000 tombs altogether). In 1921, a man was building a house and when they did the excavations, they discovered these tombs. We were amazed by the distinctive landscape created by round grassy tombs – called tumuli.
We visited the Cheonmachong Tomb of an unknown person, so it was named the Flying Horse Tomb as there was a symbol of a Pegasus-type creature on some of the things found with him. It has been established that the man, who was buried in a wooden coffin in a wooden chamber, would have been almost 2 metres tall. The burial chamber was covered with a huge mound of rocks and then dirt to protect the treasures buried with him. We were able to view some of the items that were found with the man – A Shilla dynasty gold crown made from 23ct gold plus some zinc and copper for strength, a wing shaped ornament, a butterfly shaped ornament, a gold belt with pendants and weapons to name a few.
From there we went to the Gyeongju National Museum and saw the Divine Bell of King Seongdeok, which sounds every 20 mins. We learnt about the city’s cultural heritage as we explored the national museum, which was filled with over 3,000 relics. Afterwards, we strolled around the grounds among hundreds of excavated monuments, temples, tombs and pagodas.
Then, a 15 minute drive into the “Resort area”, which has an artificial lake, five star hotels, restaurants, cafes, hot springs and golf courses (Kiwan was very proud to tell us that South Korea are the Ladies World Golf Championship) and we were at our lunch venue – the Gyeongju Hotel Commodore where we had a lovely buffet lunch of Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Western food. Then we were treated to a Traditional Korean Dance Performance that we were told is usually only performed for royalty – the ladies were very graceful and very beautiful.
Our next stop was at the 8th-century Bulguksa Buddhist Temple, which is a World Heritage UNESCO Temple. 40% of priests in South Korea are female, are highly intelligent and are not married. We visited the Main Temple Hall, the Lecture Hall, the Shrine Temple and the Temple for Disciples – the Buddha had 16 disciples. We saw the Priest outside this temple, which is the most famous in South Korea – he was dressed in grey. W enjoyed wandering around looking at the paintings inside and out, as well as two original 6th century pagodas. The original Temple was built in 528 and restored in 1973 and the complex includes a series of wooden staircases and wooden buildings raised on stone terraces and connected by little stone bridges.
We returned to the bus via the Buddhist Art Gallery and Souvenir Shop and after our buses did some interesting manouvres to get into the pick-up point in the car park and then turn around and get back out, we headed back to Ulsan. Along the way, Kiwan gave us more interesting information and stories, two of which are worth noting – South Korea is a drug free nation (according to Kiwan) and there are 5 million cameras installed on street corners, in apartment buildings, shops etc – it is estimated that each South Korean gets photographed an average of 83 times per day.
We arrived back at the ship at 4.30pm and after a quick cuppa, we wrote up some of our blog and had showers ready for our pre-dinner drinks and a port talk for the next few days.
We enjoyed dinner in the dining room with our usual group – Alison, Nic and David, as well as another lovely couple Keith and Sandra.
We have enjoyed our very brief visit to South Korea and are most impressed with this lovely country.

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