I had the honor to be part of a group of Far East District civilian employees and spouses on a 3 day trip to Gyeongju at the end of October. The trip, part of the Korean Foreigners Friendship Cultural Society, included 2 nights lodging at the beautiful Gyeongju Hyundai Hotel, transportation, a travel guide, and all meals.
Enroute to Gyeongju, a coastal city in the far southeastern corner of North Gyeongsang Province, we stopped for a buffet style Korean lunch, followed by a tour of several historic areas. We saw a remarkable concentration of Korean Buddhism in the form of sculptures, pagodas, and the remains of temples and palaces. On the first day we visited the national museum, anapji pond, and chonma-chong, which means “gold crown.” If you are interested in Buddhism or the magnificent culture of royal palaces, Gyeongju is a place you should not miss! We had a wonderful buffet dinner at the hotel, which was situated on a beautiful lake.
The next day we visited the Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto, which is classified as a national treasure by the South Korean government and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. Within the Grotto there is statue of Buddha that is 3.5 meters high.
We then went to Ulsan, which is South Korea’s seventh largest city with more than 1.1 million people. Ulsan is the industrial powerhouse of South Korea. While in Ulsan, we were treated to a tour of the Hyundai Motor Company plant, where our gracious hosts presented us with a die cast model of their first ever car, a 1976 Hyundai Pony. From there, we went to tour Hyundai Heavy Industries, Inc., which is the world’s largest shipbuilding company. We learned quite a bit about Chung Ju-yung, who was a South Korean entrepreneur, businessman, and founder of all Hyundai Groups of South Korea. Chung started Hyundai and Hyundai Civil Industries in 1946 after the liberation of Korea from Japanese control and he continued throughout his life to grow and diversify the company into one of South Korea’s major conglomerates. We returned to the hotel for another excellent buffet dinner and were treated by our hosts to a dance performance by a local dance troupe.
On the last day we traveled to Pyeongtaek Naval Base and were given a tour and briefing of the Cheonan ship sinking which occurred on March 26, 2010 killing 46 seamen. Although North Korea denied responsibility, an investigation by a team of international experts concluded that the ship had been sunk by a North Korean torpedo fired by a midget submarine. From there we traveled to Suwon, where we visited Hwaeseong Haenggung Palace and Fortress, another UNESCO World Heritage site. After watching a martial arts demonstration we went to an archery range in front of Dongjangdae that showcased the traditional Korean archery or Gukgung. We were given a brief introduction on basic postures and how to shoot the arrow and everyone shot 10 arrows. After a wonderful dinner of Korean barbecue, with all of the side dishes, we arrived back at Yongsan thoroughly exhausted, yet very grateful for the informative and wonderful opportunity awarded to us by our Korean friends.