Gyeongju is a tiny town which packs a heck of a lot of value. Once the seat of the Silla Kingdom, the area around it is now littered with sites of tremendous historical significance, including the tombs of an unknown number of members of the royal family and their court officials.
In the centre of Gyeongju, between its intercity bus terminal and train station, is Tumuli Park, or Daereungwon in Korean. The park contains several tombs, a couple of which have been excavated and yielded treasures now designated as important cultural properties by the South Korean government.
The main entrance is in the centre of the northernmost edge of the park. While maps show a second entrance at the south, I found this to be locked whenever I walked past it, with no signage as to whether this was a temporary or permanent arrangement.
The park is peaceful, and very pretty. Even if you don’t enter the famous Heavenly Horse Tomb it’s a very pleasant place to stroll around and have a picnic. But you’ve paid your entrance fee, and come all this way; of course you’re going into Cheonmachong!
This is a very popular destination for buses filled with schoolchildren, none of whom are shy about yelling “Hello!” at tourists.
Cheonmachong has an excellent tourist information booth outside its entrance which provides information in several languages about the park and the tombs within it. The quality of the free English-language guides obtainable at South Korean sites is phenomenal, and this is no different. Make sure you get a copy: it contains information not only about the park and its tombs, but also about the town itself. It’s very useful, plus it includes photographs of the treasures and insides of Cheonmachong – handy because you aren’t allowed to take pictures inside.
During the stroll around the park, I encountered an elderly lady whacking a persimmon tree with a fallen branch to dislodge fruit. Mostly this encounter was marred by said fruit landing directly on my head. Watch out for old ladies bearing sticks!
Visiting Tumuli Park:
Approximately 5-10 minutes’ walk from Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, along the main road. Walk in the direction away from the river. Remember if you are asking for directions that the Korean word is Daereungwon: 대릉원. There is a tourist information office on the corner of the correct street, and they can provide you with maps and directions.
Admission: ₩1,500, covers entry into the park and into Cheonmachong. Free guidebooks available within.