When I visited South Korea I spread my time across two cities. The bustling capital Seoul and the charming, historical Gyeongju. I started off in Gyeongju by taking part in a Templestay program and for the remainder I booked a homestay near the city centre. While staying there I was able to explore and enjoy the many facets of that delightful city.
The World Culture EXPO in Gyeongju is a large complex with multiple tantalising attractions. There’s a 3D cinema which shows short movies based on Korean folk-tales. A dinosaur area full of fossils and dino-facts. One cool thing about that area was that there was a mini excavation area for kids where they could dig for fossils (although I have a suspicion that some of those fossils were put there deliberately …). Dotted around the out-door garden/park areas were numerous life-size statues depicting events and characters from Korean folk-tales.
I was in Korea around the beginning of April, which was clearly not the height of the tourist season as most of the EXPO was deserted. For me this was great as I could steadily plod my way around, soaking up the various sights and conducting the occasional conversation with myself. It was all very Zen.
Like a Historical Disneyland
Gyeongju has a theme park. It’s called the Silla Millennial Park. It’s theme is the Silla period, an epic time in Korea’s history. The park is populated by a vast number of old-style buildings and other structures. Even just walking around and looking at stuff takes hours!
On top of that the place is also chock full of activities. There’s traditional crafts to make or instruments to play. I had fun dressing up as a Silla warrior and (poorly) firing off a arrows at a distant straw target.
Then there are the shows! From the guide leaflet I knew straight away I wanted to see the Horse Archery demonstration, so I pretty much made a B-line for that as soon as I got through the ticket gate. A series of different riders on horse-back rode around the small arena, doing various acrobatics as well as hitting targets with their arrows.
(This is one of three videos showing their horsey antics. Check the others on the Where? There! Teach. YouTube Channel! )
Another area I really joined was a small park area that was filled large wooden faces. Some of the were animatronic, so as I walked around some of them came to life and started talking. Of course I have no idea what they were saying, for all I know they could have been talking trash about my momma. It reminded me of the scene in Labyrinth where the walls start talking.
However the best show took place by a large pool. On one side there was a seating area and on the other there was a replica castle, with big wooden gates guarding the entrance. I was casually wandering past this area when I noticed that a number of other visitors were starting to gather in the seating area like pigeons sensing the possibility of food. I was a bit tired so I took the opportunity to sit down and to see what al the fuss was about.
After a brief wait, I heard the sound of far-off drums. The doors of the castle across the pond heaved open to reveal a bunch of people furiously drumming away. Next thing I knew there were people in colourful outfits right there in front of the seating area, talking and acting out some kind of storyline. In the water there appeared a pirate ship. I knew it was a pirate ship because everyone on board looked rough and did plenty of exaggerated snarling. A classic story of god versus evil unfolded before us enraptured onlookers. The pirates stormed the castle, the women-folk were terrorized, a hero arose, the pirates were defeated, everyone danced and laughed. It was epic. It was colourful. It was joyous. I half-expected a humanoid animal wearing clothes to appear.
Do Ya Feel Lucky, Punk?
For my last day in Gyeongju I flicked through my tourist map to find something a little different. My eyes drifted toward a small note that spoke of a shooting range. Being from the U.K. I’d never had access to a fire-arm and the opportunity to fire a gun had never really come up. That afternoon I made my way to the shooting range, which was located on the edge of a posh hotel and tourist area. On the way there I was trying to imagine what it would be like. I’ve used bows and arrows a couple of times in my life and I’ve used paint-ball guns, but that was it. I had no idea, but I knew there was one gun I particularly wanted to fire.
I reached a shabby looking building. What may have been a restaurant on the first floor looked closed down, so I found some stairs and went up. The stairway was lined with photos of guns and photos of people holding guns and drawings of guns and adverts for guns and movie posters with guns. There were also guns.
“This must be the place.” I thought.
A beautiful receptionist greeted me in English and we chatted briefly. She showed me the ‘menu’. There were a handful of pictures of different guns (“Definitely the right place”). I’m fairly sure one of them said “007” next to it. However, I barely paid attention as my mind was consumed with a single word:
I found it. It was a bit more expensive than the other pistols. I barely hesitated.
“I wanna shoot dat!” I exclaimed like a child in a sweet shop.
After filling out some paperwork I was ready to go. The owner, a bubbly middle-aged man, greeted me and took me round to the other side of some bulletproof glass to the range. The glistening silver gun was ready, waiting for me. It was secured with chains so that you couldn’t turn it around to shoot anything outside the designated area.
I lifted it. It was heavy. Now I have a better idea of how much “pistol-whipping” must hurt. The cheerful old guy gave me some guidance via simple English and gestures. He taught me the basics of aiming and said that after the first few shots I should just relax and “shoot cool” with one hand. I took a deep breath and took aim at the target off on the other side of the range. The room was cool and so was the Magnum’s handle. I squeezed the trigger.
A crack split the world in two for a brief second. Even with ear defenders on the sound was jarring. Sweat squirted out of me in a sudden spurt. My hands were shaking slightly after the jolt. I let off a couple more shots before switching stance to “cool”. The whole time the owner was standing nearby taking pictures and videos of me using my phone. He wooped like a cowboy in a saloon each time a shot was fired. That’s what I was now; a cowboy. I sneered slightly and sized up the bandito in my sights before releasing my final shot off into the dusty horizon.
I walked back from the Shooting Range at a phenomenally brisk pace, not because I was in a hurry: I just couldn’t slow down. My eyes were wide and my skin was tingly. The echoes rattled around my skull the whole way back to the homestay. I don’t know how much guns could hold my interest beyond this occasion but I can certainly say that I enjoyed myself this time. It was thrilling.
Oh yes, it was a thrill.
My entire time in Gyeongju had been amazing. I’d learned about and become involved with traditional Korean culture as well as enjoying some more modern activities. I wanted to stay longer but it was high time I headed to the nation’s capital. Seoul, my next destination.
Thank you for reading about my time in Gyeongju, South Korea. What did you think?
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