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Hiking in South Korea: Gyeongju’s Namsan Mountain

Mount Namsan

“You’ve inspired me with your attitude to travel”, Cecilia said.

“I’m pleased”, I replied while anxiously checking the time. It was midday and I hadn’t even started the hike. I’d met Cecilia while looking at an old graveyard at Namsan Mountain’s base. She started talking to me and invited me to lunch.

Burial mounds at Namsan Mountain

“Before we talked, I was so worried about finding accommodation in Italy that I was going to stay in Korea. But there’s more to travelling than the hotel. I’ll do it. Now you should get going.”

I thanked Cecilia for the food and hurried from the cafe. There’s a reason I was rushing. The hike I wanted to do might be unique in the world. It would take me back through the centuries, past old statues and monuments carved from the hillside. This was Namsan Mountain, an open-air museum and home of the ancient Silla Kingdom.

Namsan Mountain

Exploring Namsan Mountain is a lifelong task. The mountain was sacred to the Silla who ruled in Korea for almost 1000 years. The dynasty ended in 935 AD, but its legacy remains. Namsan Mountain is covered with burial tombs, temple sites and fortresses. It’s a lot to see in one day, but I wanted to try.

Buddha statue on Namsan Mountain

The trail I hiked is called the “Three Royal Tombs”. It starts at Namsan Mountain’s base with three massive burial mounds. It then winds up the mountainside. The trail took me past weathered Buddha statues looking serenely out over the valley.

Burial mounds at Namsan Mountain

Buddha statue on Namsan Mountain

At one point I went off track and discovered giant images carved into the rock. There were delicate stone pagodas balanced perilously close to the cliff-edge. All along the trail were rock stacks, built by whom? The mountain had an infectious otherworldly atmosphere.

Carvings on Namsan Mountain

Stone pagoda on Namsan Mountain

Stone stacks on Namsan Mountain

Not to be outdone, the nature put on a show. The valley view showed cars meandering through the yellow fields. Crops stretched to mountains which were hidden in a white haze. I sat at the summit and contemplated Korea’s underrated beauty.

View from Namsan Mountain

View from Namsan Mountain

Korean temple gates in Gyeongju

I took such a long time that when I reached the hike’s end, the buses home had stopped. The sun was setting and I cursed my luck. But it wasn’t all bad. As I walked back to Gyeongju, I got a glimpse of Korea’s rural life. It was a magical day.

Korean rural life

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