Buddhist Site in Gyeongju

In the mountains above Bulguk-sa is this world-famous Unesco-listed Buddhist grotto, a magical place when rain and mists envelop the mountaintops and chipmunks dance in the thick woods. Sitting within its rotunda is a statue of Buddha surrounded by over three dozen guardians and lesser deities, including an 11-faced Gwan-eum (관음). The set up is a little underwhelming, though: Buddha sits behind glass that reflects light and you can actually see very little as you must stand at a distance.

The carving of Gwan-eum (the Goddess of Mercy) is not visible, hidden behind the main statue, so you have to make do with a poor quality photograph. Photography is not allowed.

Buddha's position gazing over the East Sea (visible in clear weather) has long made him regarded as a protector of his country. Seokguram was quite a feat of engineering when it was constructed in the mid-8th century. Huge blocks of granite were quarried far to the north at a time when the only access to the Seokguram site (740m above sea level) was a narrow mountain path.

But it is the setting that is most rewarding, after you are quickly filed past the image of Buddha, so revel in the mountain scenery. The 2.2km walk down the steps to Bulguk-sa is enjoyable and not strenuous, or you can continue uphill to the peak of Toham-san, 1.4km distant.

Bus 12 runs hourly between the car parks for Bulguk-sa and Seokguram (₩1500, 20 minutes). From the Seokguram car park, it is a 400m walk along a shaded gravel track to the grotto.