CONTRIBUTED BY SHERRI B LANTINGA
Driving around Bomun Lake in Gyeongju, the capital of the historic Silla Dynasty (between Busan and Pohang near the East Sea), my husband and I came across the East Palace Garden and Bird Park. Curious, we stopped. We didn’t find a palace, but the Bird Park was a fantastic treasure. This small zoo, easily identified by the 50’ (15m) steel feature at its entrance, has hundreds of mostly-exotic birds along with some other small creatures.
We were enchanted from the moment we stepped into the two-story glass building and saw large enclosures with macaws, cockatoos, parakeets, toucans, and other brightly-colored birds. We were fascinated by their beauty and behavior: eating, flying, snoozing, swooping down to perch on the mesh screens to check us out, and screeching to each other as the mood struck them.
As lovely as the birds were to watch, the very best part of our visit was touching and holding them. Most enclosures are accessible to visitors via spring-loaded doors, and no staff members hovered nearby to monitor us. In one area, a flock of brilliant yellow sun parakeets circled above then landed to explore our heads and shoulders.
In another enclosure, I slowly raised my forearm to a blue macaw’s chest, and he hopped on, walking up my arm to my shoulder. Despite my fear of getting bitten, he was very gentle; he used his stubby black tongue to lick my arm and ear, maybe searching for food or enjoying my salty skin. Some birds were quite interested in anything shiny, including earrings and eye-glasses; the red Australian parrots succeeded in removing some zipper teeth from our jackets. We were delighted to spend as much time as we liked with the birds in each area.
In a smaller, second building, we walked through hanging chains to access areas with trees and smaller birds. A staff member gave us plenty of birdseed to attract parakeets to our hands, where they pecked quickly, flying off to look for more food in other hands. Other birds (including some penguins) watched from the small pond and trees, and young rheas ran around their enclosure, entertaining us with their antics.
In addition to the birds, small displays with ferrets, a chipmunk, snakes, lizards, fish, and (touchable) tortoises were tucked along the sides of the bird enclosures. Between the two bird buildings were enclosures with farm animals: turkeys, peacocks, and chickens; ponies; goats; and even dogs (which loved to be petted). Outside of the Bird Park, the rest of the East Palace Grounds include several greenhouses with flowers and vegetables, a pond with fountains, animal and zodiac statues, walking paths, and a small shop with traditional Korean food and arts (we’ve bought many gifts there).
Amenities are also a strong point. We ordered western-style lunch at the cafeteria in the main building (e.g., hot dogs, fries) and enjoyed watching birds in the nearby enclosures as we ate. The restrooms are very modern and clean. Two gift shops in the bird park buildings have many animal-themed keychains and toys, lots of scented items, and herbal teas.
If you’re heading to Gyeongju and tired of all the Silla history, the Bird Park is an excellent adventure that is well worth the price of admission.
Gyeongju Bird Park
Admission: 17,000 won (can get a combination ticket to also explore the gardens and greenhouses) Purchase at the parking lot’s kiosk machine or at the staffed booth. Be prepared to present your ticket as you wander through the park.
Phone: +82 054-777-7200
Address: 74-14 Bomun-ro, Bukgun-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
(경상북도 경주시 보문로 74-14, 경주버드파크/동궁원)
GPS Coordinates: 35.8494606, 129.2615294
Sherrie posted a version of this article on her personal website on July 8, 2014; we are republishing it here with her permission.