I love hiking. I love the sense of accomplishment when I arrive at my destination, I love the spectacular views that you can get by walking up a mountain or hiking to far away and more secluded places that aren’t accessible to everyone.
I love the people you meet on the trail and the quick friendships that are formed.
But I also hate hiking. I’m incredibly unfit and I’m incredibly clumsy. I get blisters really easily and my legs can’t stand inclines.
Sport has never been my thing and whenever I begin a hike I know I’m in for a whole world of pain.
However stubborn as always I still continue to do things like climb mountains because I’m not going to let something like the frailty of my body stop me from enjoying everything a hike has to offer.
Mt Namsan is not a very large mountain- the peak we climbed to was only about 468m above sea level. However it has a lot more to offer than simple height.
Mt Namsan is dubbed by many as an open air museum. A climb up any of the trails will bring you upon many ruins and relics, some of which are over a thousand years old.
That’s one of the reasons that Mt Namsan forms part of the Gyeongju Historical Park that is now UNESCO listed.
There are many routes you can take up and down the mountain- we found it difficult to find information online about the different routes, the distance they were and the level of difficulty.
However we found this handy map at the top of the peak (a little too late don’t you think!) so you’ll hopefully be able to plan easier than we did.
Most people seem to depart from the Samneung Tombs, which is easily accessible by a bus from downtown Gyeongju. However we had just been to visit the Seokgurum Grotto that morning and really didn’t want to bus back all the way into town and then out again.
Luckily there was another track leaving from Tongiljeon Hall which was on our way back into town from the Grotto. Clearly this departure point is not as popular because after being dropped off by the bus we spent a long time trying to find the start of the track.
Nothing was in English and we were very confused. Finally we managed to find a sign saying ‘Geumobong peak’- 3.2km’ and we set off.
Unfortunately the trail wasn’t well signed and we ended up accidentally crossing off onto a bush track.
At this point my unfitness was definitely kicking in, especially because of the sharp incline the bush track took us on as opposed to the main trail.
My legs were burning, I was almost hyperventilating with my unfitness and I thought at any point my heart would jump out of my chest or stop altogether.
However I found the way to overcome this was to take frequent breaks- slow and steady wins the race! Setting small goals for myself like going 100m without taking a rest also seemed to help.
The climb was made worse by the humidity, although the canopy of the forest did provide some protection from the hot sun. I’d definitely recommend at least taking 2 litres of waters because I definitely went through a lot more than I thought I would and didn’t have much left for the climb down.
We finally found ourselves back on the main trail after our bush track ended with a fence blocking people from the main track from going the wrong way. Opps! We still aren’t sure whether it was a short cut or a long cut!
When I arrived at a sign about 1.5 hours into our hike and realised we weren’t even half way I almost wanted to give up.
Luckily, the open-air museum that is Mt Namsan had a nice surprise for us that gave me the little bit of motivation I needed to keep going.
This amazing pagoda has been reconstructed but the real ruins of the original structure are still scattered around. It’s amazing to think that they created so many places of worship so far up in the mountains!
At the rate we were going I didn’t think we were going to make it back in daylight which was a very scary thought. But once we made it to the nicer trail we started to move a lot quicker.
Well except for that one time we stopped to admire this view…
Getting to the top was definitely an amazing feeling. Making it to the top of a peak is always such a rush for me. The sense of accomplishment combined with the rush of endorphins from almost destroying my body had me feeling really good. The peak is actually enclosed in trees though so the view wasn’t very spectacular!
At the top we meet some older Korean ladies- one of whom had really good English and was very keen to talk to us.
Thus we spent the next two hours walking down the mountain with them while chatting about anything and everything including what university is like in Australia, what Korean food we liked, where we had been.
Oh and they were also super keen to take photos for us!!
We decided to take another route (the Samneung Tombs one) on the way down so we could find some more amazing ruins like this one….
And this little temple right up in the mountains…
I definitely noticed this side of the mountain was more saturated with the historical and ancient Buddhist relics. I’d definitely recommend starting from the Samneung Tombs as the path also seemed easier, the distance was definitely not as far as from Tongiljeon Hall and the ruins are better.
Although I think it’s a great idea to change the scenery by going up one way and down the other!
Climbing Mt Namsan was an awesome experience. The exhaustion, pain and inevitable blisters that came as a result of the 5.5 hour climb was definitely justified by the amazing pieces of history we got to see on the way.
Where Should I Stay in Gyeongju?
AirBnB is a great option if you are on a budget or looking for a bit of space.
For all of your bookings, whether hostel or hotel I always recommend Booking.com, specifically because most of the time you can make a reservation without a deposit and many bookings are fully cancellable and refundable. I love being able to lock in my accomodation early, but then shift things around if my plans change!