Heading north from Busan, the next stop was Gongju. A relatively quiet city in the centre of South Korea, it made for a more peaceful stop sandwiched in between two more lively areas.
The train station for Gongju is some distance from the city itself, fortunately there are regular buses even on a Sunday. 30 minutes into the journey and we had arrived, the stop just metres from our hostel.
There was a minor hiccup when the reception of our hostel was closed. Luckily we just needed to phone up to remind them we were checking in today. It wasn’t ideal stood out in the heat, but we weren’t waiting long.
One much needed sleep later we were all set for the 30 minute walk to our first point of interest. It was a more piercing heat, but without the mugginess of Vietnam it was far more tolerable.
The tomb of King Muryeong lies towards the centre of the city, near the Guem river. It is the resting place of a king which ruled the bakje region of Korea from 501–523 AD. He is buried alongside his wife, although access into the tomb was prohibited. Whether this decision was permanent or temporary, it remains to be seen.
I was prepared to pay to enter the tomb area, yet a sign on the ticket office door greeted us saying that it was free entry. Top stuff.
Nevertheless, the tomb is just one part of an expansive woodland area. It consists of tombs, gateways and memorials to a time in which Gongju was one of the biggest and most powerful cities in Korea.
From the vantage point at the top of the park you get an amazing view of both the river and the other side of Gongju and back down onto the monument park, with several other tombs of ancient leaders visible. All covered by a grassy layer.
The following day we ventured out in the same direction but not quite as far. The ancient fort of Gongjusanseong was located just 15 minutes away from our hostel and very easy to locate.
It must be said that it is in an unusual location. GPS told us to follow a Main Street through the city before turning right. There, located on top of a steep hill, was the entrance to the fort. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, so this added to expectations.
The Gongju fortress was built during the Baekje Dynasty and it protected the capital city for 64 years since King Munju transferred the capital from Han River basin during his first year (475) until King Seong transferred the capital again to Boyeo during his 16th year (538).
Once again the views from the perimeter walkways, which are carved into what remains of the outer walls, provided stunning views of nature and the surrounding city. Five gate pavilions are located around the outer rim which have been kept in pristine condition.
The several walking routes around the fort are fortunately well shaded by overhanging trees, adding to the enjoyment of our time spent within the walls. A further interesting note was the presence of an archaeological team surveying an area within the fort, undoubtably on the look out for further relics from a golden age for Gongju city.
Gongju is not at the top of everyone’s list of places to visit in South Korea and admittedly it was only on ours as a half way point between Busan and Seoul. However, it is a peaceful city which doesn’t have the usual intensity expected in a city. It doesn’t have a lot to offer, but what is does have was well worth the visit.
Up next was the short train journey up to the capital of South Korea, Seoul. It is the longest stay in one place, and I am thoroughly looking forward to it.