Just what is it that makes the cherry blossoms so special?
Why doesn’t that old adage of “seen one, seem them all” apply here?
Rolling up on the ancient enclave of Gyeongju – a place where the Shilla dynasty once ruled supreme – the hundreds of Yoshino cherry trees line the roads. There’s a heavy-handed Hanok influence, too. Almost all the buildings here resemble some sort of pre-modern Korean homestead. Quaint for a day or two perhaps, but I can only imagine that the novelty must wear off pretty quickly.
If anything, Gyeongju bears a striking resemblance to another iconic East Asian city; Kyoto. Both are imbued with a deep sense of cultural significance – the latter being the past capital of Japan and the former being the seat of the Shilla dynasty, as I’ve mentioned. Both are a distinct mix of old and new; amongst all the Hanok-styled structures you’ll find a plethora of fusion foods and many imports, not too dissimilar to the Kansai powerhouse.
So what’s there to do in Gyeongju? Last year I had only spent an afternoon here (opting to spend more time in Jinhae), but this year I’d planned to spend a full 1.5 days instead.
The tombs of Daereungwon aren’t much to write home about, but sure enough, a nice way to kill time while exploring Gyeongju. The road adjacent to the tomb site has some gorgeous blooms and Bulguksa, too, is worth a morning trip. The temples here seem a little more imposing than the others I’ve seen, and the forest of King Cherry trees outside the northern gate is lush, creating a dense canopy of blooms that somehow provide protection from the sun but don’t sacrifice anything in the way of shade.
Looking for a way to spend your evening? Donggung Palace is your best bet. Once again, the comparison with Kyoto seems obvious, just because photo ops await at every turn, and attractions abound. Bomun Lake is the go-to spot for viewing the blossoms here, and amongst the throngs of visitors you'll be able to soak up the blossoms in all their glory.
Make no mistake, the cherry blossoms are the star attraction and make the visit out here worthwhile. And even though I’ve seen them once before, they are still as breathtaking as that first time I laid eyes upon them.
Maybe it’s the fact that in a world of uncertainty where few things are guaranteed, nature’s time is never in doubt.
Perhaps it’s because they’re a sign of hope, of life springing anew after a brutally cold, oppressive winter.
Or it could be because they’re just so damn pretty. Their aesthetic appeal simply never fades. And that in itself is something special.