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Scattered through the hills and valleys of Kyongju lie the glorious remains of Korea's Silla Dynasty


One thousand years of Silla Dynasty dominance came to an end in the 10th century, but its glorious remains are scattered throughout the hills and valleys of the era's capital, Kyongju, South Korea. Four-and-a-half hours by train from Seoul, Kyongju offers visitors a wealth of treasures, in tombs, museums, temples and woods. Hiking through the hills around Kyongju leads you to serene Buddha faces carved into the mountain rock as long ago as the 6th century. The magnificently restored Temple of Pulguksa and the Sokkuram Grotto were both designated World Heritage Cultural sites by unesco. Built on the slopes of Mount Toham in the 8th century, Sokkuram features a monumental statue of Buddha gazing out at the East Sea--also known as the Sea of Japan. Both Sokkuram and Pulguksa are frantic with tourists on weekends, so it's best to visit in the early morning hours or midweek. Many of the area's ancient temples and relics have been restored, including gold crowns and necklaces found when some royal tombs were discovered in the 1970s. When a pond constructed by King Munmu in the year 647 was dredged in 1975, archaeologists found a perfectly preserved royal barge, now at the National Museum in Kyongju. Guides are available, but it's best to arm yourself with a map of the well-numbered relics and let the public bus system take you on a self-made tour. Alternatively, hike or rent a bike and go where you may; paved paths snake between finds and there is plenty off the track as well. A trek down a simple dirt lane might lead you to a copse of gnarly pines protecting the burial mound of an ancient king. Archaeologists make discoveries every year, so who knows what treasures await wanderers in the woods of Kyongju?

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