BUYEO HOLDS the history of Baekje—one of the Three Kingdoms* of Korea; Sabi, present day Buyeo, was Baekje’s capital. In remembrance of the city’s golden days, historical sites were preserved and restored to welcome visitors to immerse themselves in the heritage of the wise Koreans of the past. Yet, Buyeo is still a relatively less-known tourist destination, and many Koreans have only heard of the city in their textbooks. I planned this one-day trip with a sense of duty to tell others about the hidden travel gem.
Go-ran Temple and Nak-hwa-am Rock inside Bu so san seong Fortress site
The first thing you should do on arrival at the Buyeo Intercity Bus Terminal is to visit the Bu so san seong Fortress site; its entrance is within walking distance (800m) from the bus terminal. The Bu so san seong Fortress site has much historical significance as the last mountain fortress to protect the royal palace of Baekje. However, the walls were destroyed when the kingdom fell in AD 660, and only the buildings that were constructed later during the Goryeo** period remain in Mt. Buso. A thousand years have passed since descendants of Baekje built temples and pavilions to commemorate the once glorious kingdom.
Visitors have to follow steep, serpentine path to get to the Go-ran Temple located at the very top of the mountain, a peaceful hideout with colorful lanterns and lazy kittens welcoming its visitors. It is also surrounded by amazing scenery; we can see a panoramic view of the Geum River at the Go-ran temple. Chimes from the belfry occasionally ring in the air, and if you hear closely, you will notice the sound of water dripping. I couldn’t miss out on the mineral spring that is located behind the temple. It is said that kings of Baekje also drank from the “magical mineral spring” to prevent illnesses and to recapture youth.
A ferry operates between the Go-ran Temple and the Gu-deu-rae Quay, located at the other end from the Bu so san seong entrance. A replica of an old Baekje Hwang-po boat***, the ferry passes by the Nak-hwa-am Rock on a cliff west of Mt. Buso. The rock, which translates to “rock of the fallen flowers (women),” was named after a legend that appears in the Sam guk yu sa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms). We learn the story of how every concubine and court ladies under King Uija, the last king of Baekje, jumped under this rock when joint forces of Silla**** and Tang China***** invaded Bu so san seong while enjoying the breeze as the ferry carries us across the river. Although it is just a boulder with its name engraved on the surface in red, Koreans cherish the Nak-hwa-am Rock for the story it holds.
Baekje Cultural Land
Baekje Cultural Land is a historical theme park full of all things Baekje with a museum, royal palace, Buddhist temple, and a village. Baekje Historical Museum displays excavated relics and dioramas of what the city would have looked like during its “Sabi period.” Visitors then go through the Jeong-yang Door to enter the restored complex of the Sabi Palace.
Inside Cheon-jeong-jeon, the main building of Sabi Palace, the king’s throne stands tall. In other buildings, visitors can have fun trying archery with the wooden bow and arrow or put on traditional clothes of Baekje with vibrant colors and golden embroidery. A five-story wooden pagoda catches people’s attention with its towering structure and glowing golden spire. At this royal temple, Neung-sa, people can make a wish by walking around the pagoda three times. The “living culture village” in one corner of the theme park sells traditional Korean food and drinks like pa-jeon****** and mak-geol-li******* so you can treat yourself before leaving the complex.
Buyeo National Museum
The Buyeo National Museum is famous for owning the Geum dong dae hyang ro********, a representative work of Baekje and Buddhist art. The incense burner was more than just a decorative item; rather, the Geum dong dae hyang ro was considered sacred and was used during important rituals, including ancestral rites in the Baekje royal family.
The upper part of the incense burner is shaped like a mountain (with a phoenix standing at its top) and the lower part is shaped as if wrapped by lotus flower petals. From the holes on the lid, smoke comes out and covers the mountainous part with mist when the incense burns. The lid is also embellished with patterns of creatures like dragons and heavenly musicians, so the overall design of the incense burner resembles a Buddhist paradise. Geum dong dae hyang ro is kept in a separate space inside Exhibition Room 2. The lighting is dim to protect the national treasure, and the masterpiece glows in the dark room.
After seeing the beautiful lotus flower motifs on the incense burner, one can see real lotus flowers at the Gung-nam-ji Pond. According to the book Sam guk sa gi (History of the Three Kingdoms), the place was likely built during the reign of King Mu, the 30th King of Baekje. What is left now is only one-third the size of the original site. Today, the pond is surrounded by waterways and willow trees. The waterways lead to different directions, but everyone eventually stumble upon the beautiful flora in the park. Waterways and the pond in the middle overflow with lotus flowers that are in full bloom during summertime. Sunflowers and other wildflowers are also spotted in every corner of the park.
During the Lotus Flower Festival held in July, visitors can go kayaking along the waterways. Gungnamji is a great place to saunter along the walking trails all year round. Visitors can also walk across the bridge that leads them to the pavilion on the small artificial island floating in the middle of the pond. The bridge lights up at night, which makes the pond a popular place to see the nightscape.
Although there are no direct trains to and from Buyeo, the city is definitely worth visiting. The bus ride costs less than W30,000 for a round-trip from Seoul, and there are plenty of attractions to visit. Wherever you look, lotus flower patterned sidewalks will remind you that you are at Buyeo—Baekje reborn.
*Three Kingdoms: Three Kingdoms period (circa 57 BC to AD 600) of ancient Korea consisted of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla,
**Goryeo: kingdom that ruled the Korean peninsula during the period AD 918-1392
***Hwang-po boat: traditional wooden boat with a yellowish sail
****Silla: Silla conquered the other two kingdoms; Unified Silla period (AD 676-935) followed the Three Kingdoms period
*****Tang China: AD 618-907
******Pa-jeon: savory Korean pancakes with green onions
*******Mak-geol-li: Korean rice wine
********Geum dong dae hyang ro: 288th national treasure of Korea