Sanbangsa Temple – 산방사 (Seogwipo, Jeju-do)

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 The beautiful shrine at Sanbangsa Temple in Seogwipo, Jeju-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just to the west of Bomunsa Temple, literally a ten foot walk, is Sanbangsa Temple. This hard to identify temple, simply because it looks like an extension of Bomunsa Temple, has quite a few unique features to it.

As you make your way up towards Sanbangsa Temple, you’ll be greeted by the stately bell pavilion that is beautifully framed by Mt. Sanbangsan. The bell pavilion is joined by a couple of masterful sculptures dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), as well as Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Next to these statues stands a cairn constructed from the dark black volcanic rock that is everywhere on Jeju-do Island.

Just a little further along, and up a couple more sets of stairs, you’ll enter the temple courtyard. Straight ahead lays the main hall. Inside this hall are numerous murals that line the walls. These paintings include a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), a Gamno-do mural, and Samshin (Shaman Deity of Birth). Samshin is an extremely rare deity to find at a temple, so have a look at the far right corner of the main hall to see this grandmother figure. Finally, sitting on the main altar are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Jijang-bosal and Gwanseeum-bosal.

The final thing to enjoy at Sanbangsa Temple is an altar just to the right of the main hall. This colourful altar is inhabited by numerous green statues of Gwanseeum-bosal. At the head of the altar are a triad of stone statues composed of Seokgamoni-bul, Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). This entire statue is fronted by yet another masterful statue of an elegant Gwanseeum-bosal.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Seogwipo Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take bus #702 for 22 stops. The ride should last about an hour and eleven minutes, and you’ll need to get off at the Sanbangsan bus stop. From this stop, you’ll be able to see the temple on the mountain to the left of Bomunsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. While it’s the least spectacular of the three, which includes Bomunsa Temple and Sanbanggulsa Temple, Sanbangsa Temple is a nice addition to this set. With its beautiful views, its green Gwanseeum-bosal shrine, and the shaman Samshin mural, this temple can add a lot of unique features to your temple travels, especially if you’re already in the area.

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The beautifully framed bell pavilion at Sanbangsa Temple.

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The view from the main hall.

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A look up at the main hall and Mt. Sanbangsan.

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Another beautiful statue of Gwanseeum-bosal at Sanbangsa Temple.

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The amazing green altar at the temple.

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The main altar inside the main hall.

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A set of murals that line the walls of the main hall including the Samshin mural to the far right.

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The Gamno-do mural.

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And the guardian mural.

Yeonjuam Hermitage/Yeonjudae – 연주암/연주대 (Gwacheon, Gyeonggi-do)

 

Yeonjudae, viewed from the look off

Throughout my years of living and traveling in Korea, I’ve always had a small collection of “comfort” places that I tried to get back to now and again, depending on where I lived. I appreciate the sense of intimacy that develops from this relationship with a place; getting to know some of the locals, enjoying a specific restaurant, finding hidden trails, knowing a place through the four seasons. Since moving to suburban Seoul, Yeonjuam Hermitage, and its spectacular Yeonjudae, perched on the edge of a sharp cliff, has been one of those places.

The great and fondly remembered monk, Uisang Daesa, is credited with having first established the temple in 677. The complex of halls and shrines were rebuilt, starting in 1392 and continuing throughout the 1400’s. This early-Joseon era complex was completely wiped out and buried by a landslide, eventually being relocated higher up the slopes, on safer grounds, I assume. Much of the temple, in its current incarnation, was built during or after the 1970’s. Its original name was Uisangdae, but was changed to Yeonjudae (戀主臺), which roughly translated to “Adoring the Kingdom Cliff”. There are two legends attached to this name. The first is that loyalists of the fallen Goryeo Dynasty came to stay here as the view allowed them to peer across at their former kingdom in longing. The second is that two princes, Yang-Ryeong and Hyo-Ryeong, retreated here after their younger brother was named their father’s successor (and became the Great King Sejong). From here they looked over the kingdom, longing for the throne. I think both instances are plausible. If it was already a place known for its view of Seoul, it makes sense that the two brothers would have also chosen to come here. In the ruins that were excavated, several dragon and phoenix insignia were found, meaning this temple was strongly connected to the royal palace.

It’s not an easy temple to get to, you must hike, and it wasn’t until my third attempt that I managed to find the right trail. If your goal is just to see this temple (not a bad reason to climb Mt. Gwanaksan!), the most direct route starts by Gwacheon Hyanggyo, 500 meters up from Gwacheon subway station. Following a gorgeous, rocky trail along the stream that flows down from the temple, you eventually arrive at a steep, massive stone staircase that leads to the courtyard between the Gwaneum-jeon and the temple office. The Gwaneum-jeon houses a severe looking 1000-armed Gwanseum-bosal, quite stunning actually. During my last visit, in May, the Hall of Arhats had been completely torn down and the collection of hand-carved statues, each one unique, were sitting in the far-side of the Gwaneum-jeon. They are some of the best wooden Arahat carvings in Korea, and the largest collection I’ve encountered

Turning left, you face the courtyard and a medium-sized stone pagoda with the main hall standing behind. To the left of the main hall, upon a terrace is the temple bell and further up the slope is the Sanshin shrine. To the right of the main hall, the trail continues beneath some twisted pines, where I often see a couple of morning doves. It leads a short way up to a small shrine that houses a painting of the Grand Prince Hyo-Ryeong.

From here, bear right and follow the path to the top of a small crag where a brand new white pagoda has been installed. Or, head left, past where the Hall of Arhats had been and continue along the stone path about 400 meters to Yeonjudae. There is a couple of tricky steps, so watch your footing. About halfway to the top, there is a look-off that gives you the best photo-op. I usually spend a fair amount of time here, soaking it in. For some, just this view might be enough but if you wish to continue to the shrine, at the peak follow the rope and stainless rail as it veers right of the peak.

Climbing over the granite stones is a bit treacherous, especially in the ice or rain, but with a little extra care, it’s not too bad. As you approach, there is a sign asking that day-hikers do not enter, as it’s a site of devotion, but no one will turn you away. That said, an amount of respect is best shown. As you round the wall of granite that keeps Yeonjudae hidden until you’re right beside it, there is a white Medicine Buddha carved in the wall that is said to have magical healing powers for those who pray to it. In front of the shrine, there is usually a crowd gathered doing bows (it’s a great place for 108 if your knees feel up to it!). The view from in front of the shrine is spectacular, spanning all of Seoul. Taking pictures of the view isn’t a problem but you’ll have to use cunning to photograph the shrine, when none of the attendants are looking. My favorite spot to sit and have a snack is on the far side of the shrine, between the rail and the cliff. I like to grab a mat and looking across, over Yeonjuam Hermitage.

At this point, I’ll head back to the Gwaneum-jeon, where on the bottom floor, half way down the stone stairs, there is a dining hall (Don’t wait too long, it’s not open long passed noon). The bibimbab is a bit salty but the doenjang guk hits the spot and is always appreciated for the hike down the hill. The food is free but it’s temple etiquette to eat all your food.

HOW TO GET THERE: The best root is from Gwacheon Station, Line 4. Take exit 7 and head straight up the path, about 400 meters, then turn left when you reach the end. After another 100 meters or so, you will arrive at the trail-head, an open space with a large stream bed and a bridge that leads to Gwacheon Hyanggyo. Cross the bridge and continue past the vendors selling gimbap, boiled eggs, drinks, and hiking gear. It could take anywhere from one to two hours to reach Yeonjuam Hermitage, depending on your pace.

There are several trails that lead to the peak, including from Sadang Station and the Seoul National University grounds, but I’m not familiar enough to recommend them. These trails have stunning mountain scenery but are quite long and very easy to get lost on if you do not know the way.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10 I give Yeonjuam Hermitage bonus points for being a lively temple with a great atmosphere at the top of a mountain. This is a rare experience. If it were at the base of the mountain, it wouldn’t seem nearly as spectacular. Also, the view of Yeonjudae is a 10/10. Absolutely stunning, and worth a bonus point, for sure!

Gwacheon Hyanggyo, you’ll know you’re at the trail when you see this

scenery early along the trail

arriving at Yeonjuam, the dining hall and large Gwaneum-jeon on the left

the thousand-armed Gwanseum-bosal

Yeonjuam Hermitages’s Three-Storey Stoen Pagoda and Daeung-jeon (Great Dharma Hall) beyond

in the snow

The temple bell. I love being around when they are rung. It vibrates through your chest.

detail

cushions

reciting a sutra

this small hall houses Prince Hyo-Ryeong’s painting

Arhat Hall

Yeonjudae

follow the rail to the right (BTW, you should have excellent cellphone reception up here!)

almost there!

 

the health-giving Medicine Buddha

lay-people, bowing at Yeonjudae

late spring

early fall

mid winter

lunch

Bukjijangsa Temple – 북지장사 (Daegu)

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Nature reclaiming its own at Bukjijangsa Temple in northern Daegu.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Bukjijangsa Temple is located on the south side of the famed Mt. Palgongsan in northern Daegu. In English, the name means “North Jijang Temple,” after the Bodhisattva of the Afterlife. The temple was first believed to have been constructed in 465 A.D. by the monk Guktal-hwasang.

You first approach the temple up a long, uneven, country road. In a bend in the road, and slightly to the right, you’ll encounter the temple’s entry gate. This gate is overgrown by shrubbery, which almost seems like nature is trying to reclaim it. As you enter the gate, you’ll notice two fiercely painted guardians on either side of the walls.

Finally having passed through the entry gate, you’ll find yourself being greeted by the compact main hall. The main hall, which was first constructed in 1623, is largely unadorned all but for the dancheong colour schemes on the exterior walls. Rather remarkably, and this is a first for me, Jijang-bosal sits all alone on the main altar. This stone statue was first found behind the main hall. The mudra that Jijang is striking is a symbolic gesture to ward off evil spirits. It’s believed to date back to the latter half of the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C. to 935 A.D.). And while it was found without a pedestal or nimbus, the statue is extremely well preserved for its age.

Just to the left of the main hall is a room, alongside monks’ dorms, that houses a plain shrine hall. Sitting in the centre of the triad of statues is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). Uniquely, this triad is joined on the side by a masterful wooden sculpture of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), which is then framed by a fairly common painting of Yongwang (The Dragon King).

One more building in this courtyard is the Sanshin-gak, which houses a gentle-looking mural of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Uniquely, there are wooden dragon-like door handles placed on all the entries to this shaman shrine hall.

The final part of the temple you can visit is past another set of monks’ dorms and a storage shed, both of which have seen better days. However, during the fall months, the monks hang persimmons from the eaves for them to dry in the warm sunlight. Just behind this storage shed is the Jijang-jeon. For obvious reasons, this hall is extremely popular at Bukjijangsa Temple.

Out in front of this hall are a twin pair of three-story stone pagodas that are believed to date back to the Silla Dynasty. While rather typical in design, they are well preserved and joined by a koi pond near the exit that is well stocked with large fish.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Bukjijangsa Temple is a bit complicated. First, from the Dong Daegu subway stop, you’ll need to head towards Ansim, which is on the first line. After two stops, get off at Ahyanggyo subway stop. Take exit # 2 and head towards the bus station. From there, you can either take bus #401 during the weekdays or the Palgong #2 bus on weekends or holidays. The bus ride will last 30 stops; after which, you’ll need to get off at the Jinin-dong (yangji maeul) stop. From there, you’ll need to walk 25 minutes towards the Daegu Ole gil Palgongsan 1 course (hiking trail). On foot, you’ll head up this road for 18 minutes, or 1.2 km.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. Bukjijangsa Temple is beautifully framed by the towering Mt. Palgongsan. In addition to its natural beauty, you can also enjoy the historic, and extremely rare, stone statue of Jijang-bosal that sits inside the main hall. There’s a lot to see at this temple on a restful autumn day.

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A persimmon tree at the entry of the temple.

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Fall colours at Bukjijangsa Temple.

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One of the guardians inside the entry gate at the temple.

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The compact main hall at Bukjijangsa Temple.

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The very rare statue of Jijang-bosal inside the main hall.

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To the left, and inside a makeshift hall, is this triad of statues.

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Just to their right are Dokseong and Yongwang.

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The Sanshin-gak to the rear of the main hall.

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Just one of the dragon-like door handles adorning the Sanshin-gak.

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The mural of Sanshin inside the shaman shrine hall.

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The view from the Sanshin-gak.

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And a look towards the main hall.

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The popular Jijang-jeon at Bukjijangsa Temple.

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A storage building with persimmons hanging from the eaves.

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One of the Silla-era pagodas.

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 And finally, the koi pond at the temple.

Jungsaengsa Temple/Neungji-tap – 중생사/능지탑 (Gyeongju)

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The beautiful Neungji-tap Site in Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located on the west side of Mt. Nangsan, which is more of a hill than a mountain at an elevation of a couple hundred metres, is the famed Neungji-tap Site. Located just outside Jungsaengsa Temple is the four and a half metre tall two-story stone pagoda. The pagoda was first built during the Unified Silla Period (668-935 A.D). It’s believed that the pagoda was built as a tomb. Also, it’s believed that the famed King Munmu’s cremation might have taken place at this site. The foundation to the Neungji-tap Pagoda was reconstructed in 1979, and the two story pagoda was once believed to tower five stories in height. And around its granite base are all 12 of the zodiac generals. The open field is lined by mature red pines, and the left over stonework from its reconstruction in 1979 are left lying to the north of the site.

Just a little further along the narrow dirt road, and you’ll come to the beautiful Jungsaengsa Temple. Straight ahead is the compact, but older looking, main hall. The exterior walls to the main hall are lined with two sets of paintings. The first, which is on top, are quickly fading Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. These bluish tinged murals are joined by pastoral paintings in a yellow hue. As for inside this hall, and sitting all alone on the main altar, sits Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s backed by two beautiful dragon murals. The entire interior to the main hall is lined with older Buddhist themed murals like Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) together in the same mural. There is also a curmudgeonly looking dharma, an agwi, as well as a whole host of murals inside. An older looking guardian mural hangs to the left of the main altar.

To the right of the main hall are a set of temple buildings, including the temple’s kitchen. It’s just past this building, and up a long set of stairs, that you’ll come to the newly built Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. There is a pair of fierce-looking tigers just outside the hall’s doors. These paintings prepare you for some of the most beautiful shaman paintings dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) in all of Korea. Have an especially close look at the colourful peacock fan that Sanshin is holding. Simply stunning!

And just to the left of the main hall, and past the monks’ dorms, is the Rock Carved Seated Buddha Triad of Mt. Nangsan. Up a little pathway, and under a newly built wooden pavilion, rest the badly faded triad. In the centre sits the best kept of the three: an image of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). You’ll have to look closely to see the almost unrecognizable stone reliefs dedicated to the other two images of the Bodhisattvas. If you look close enough, you’ll notice that these Bodhisattvas are holding weapons. It’s believed that this relief dates back to the Unified Silla Dynasty (668-935 A.D).

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to board Bus #604 towards the Gyeongju National Museum. The bus ride lasts 9 stops, and you’ll need to get off at the Cheotbaeban Stop (첫배반). From the stop, walk nice minutes uphill towards both Jungsaengsa Temple and Neungji-tap.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Combining the two together, both Neungji-tap and Jungsaengsa Temple, makes for a pleasant trip to one of the lesser known sites in Gyeongju. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but they are well worth a visit. Neungji-tap pagoda is beautiful in its quiet simplicity, while Jungsaegsa Temple has a little bit of everything for everyone from its masterful shaman paintings to its ancient rock relief. So if you want something a bit different, and outside the norm in Gyeongju, then look no further than these two sites.

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The two-story Neungji-tap Site in central Gyeongju.

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A look as you first approach the pagoda up the pathway.

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A closer look at the second-tier of the pagoda.

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Just one of the zodiac generals that guards the base of the structure.

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One last look before heading towards Jungsaengsa Temple.

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The view as you first enter the temple grounds.

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The pavilion that houses the fading images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas.

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A closer look at the fading triad. Look closely!

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Perhaps a better angle to see Seokgamoni-bul joined to the left by a fading Bodhisattva.

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The main hall at Jungsaengsa Temple.

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One of the yellow pastoral paintings that adorns its exterior walls.

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The main altar with Birojana-bul front and centre.

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To the left hangs this guardian mural.

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If you look up towards the rafters, you’ll see a pair of beautifully crafted dragons’ heads.

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A curious looking agwi.

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The newly built Samseong-gak.

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A smiling Dokseong.

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Joined by an equally stunning Sanshin mural.

Jusaam Hermitage – 주사암 (Gyeongju)

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The amazing fall foliage at Jusaam Hermitage in northern Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located on the northern part of Mt. Obongsan in the northern portion of Gyeongju sits Jusaam Hermitage. Up a long and winding road that is precarious in parts, you’ll finally arrive at the end of the road where the beautiful hermitage lies.

In a gap in the mountain’s rocks is the entry to Jusaam Hermitage. In fall, this part of the hermitage is beautifully coloured in autumnal hues. Past the hermitage’s visitors centre aligns a row of hermitage buildings that begins with the main hall, or the 큰법당, as it’s called at the hermitage. The exterior walls are painted in variously themed Buddhist motifs. As for the interior, and rather interestingly, the entire interior is lined with miniature statues of what looks to be Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Resting on the main altar are five smaller sized statues in vaulted wooden alcoves. Sitting in the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who is joined on either immediate side by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal. And on the far left wall is a descriptive guardian mural.

Next to the main hall is the newly constructed Nahan-jeon. Housed inside this shrine hall is a triad of statues resting on the main altar. Sitting in the centre of these statues is a rather squat, golden statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul. He’s joined on either side by wooden depictions of the Historical Disciples of the Buddha.

Out in front of the Nahan-jeon is a beautifully placed bell pavilion that has a scenic view of the mountains off in the distance and the rolling valley down below. Just to the rear of the bell pavilion, and up a set of side-winding stairs, is the Samseong-gak. Housed inside this shaman shrine hall are some of the oldest murals dedicated to these shaman deities in a collection at one hermitage. The scowling Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) is of special interest. However, Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Yongwang (The Dragon King) are something to enjoy, as well.

Down the set of stairs to the left of the bell pavilion, and to the right of the monks’ dorms, is a beautiful, rocky cliff that looks out over nature from 600 metres up. The name of the rocky cliff is Madang Bawi, and it was the location for the very popular Korean T.V. drama about the famed Queen Seondeok. But the views, truly, are outdone by very few other places in Korea.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #704 towards Ahwa. You’ll need to ride the bus for 18 stops and get off at the Ahwa Intercity Bus Terminal. From there, you’ll need to take a taxi the rest of the way. The ride will take about 30 minutes, and it’ll cost about 10,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. The first place to start with this hermitage is its location. With its beautiful fall leaves to its dazzling views, Jusaam Hermitage truly has it all when it comes to nature. And then, when you add into the mix the historically, and beautifully crafted, shaman paintings, as well as the uniquely designed interior to the main hall, and you’ll need to make your way all the way up to Mt. Obongsan to see the beautiful Jusaam Hermitage in Gyeongju. A bit off the beaten path, it’s well worth the trek.

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The road that leads up to the hermitage.

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The V-like entry of rocks at Jusaam Hermitage.

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Some of the beautiful fall foliage at the hermitage.

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The row of hermitage buildings at Jusaam Hermitage.

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A look inside the rather unique main hall.

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The Nahan-jeon to the left of the main hall.

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A look inside at the main altar inside the Nahan-jeon.

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The amazing view that the bell pavilion gets to enjoy.

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A look up towards the Samseong-gak.

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The curmudgeonly-looking Sanshin inside the Samseong-gak.

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And the accompanying Yongwang painting.

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The beautiful view from the Samseong-gak.

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A look out towards Madang Bawi.

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The amazing view!

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A look towards some of the neighbouring fall foliage.

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Another amazing view.

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One last look out towards northern Gyeongju.

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A canopy of fall colours at Jusaam Hermitage.

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And one last look from the main hall before it was time to go.

Sanbanggulsa Temple – 산방굴사 (Seogwipo, Jeju-do)

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 Inside the cave shrine at Sanbanggulsa Temple in Seogwipo, Jeju-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just behind Bomunsa Temple on Mt. Sanbangsan in Jeju-do sits a cave temple called Sanbanggulsa Temple. Just to the right, and up some stairs, you’ll make your way towards the largest cave temple I have yet to see in Korea. Along the way, you get some spectacular and gorgeous views of the South Sea off in the distance.

One hundred and fifty metres in distance, the climb is moderate with several plateaus along the way so that you can catch your breath. Interestingly, each plateau, according to legend, is symbolic for vastly different reasons. While one plateau, and its rocks, is for childbirth, another might be for eternal love. There are Korean and English signs along the way to help you discover what each plateau is meant to represent.

Finally cresting that ridge that houses Sanbanggulsa Temple, you’ll be greeted by the yawning cave entrance that is at least ten metres in height. Along the face of the cave are ancient Chinese characters. Some, you might wonder, how they even got there because of their height. Up a set of stairs, and past the people praying, is the main altar that houses the solitary statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Several metres in height, this black statue appears to be made from volcanic rock which is in abundance in Jeju-do. In addition, there is water dripping from the roof of the cave that visitors can drink from the pooling water below the Buddha.

There are spectacular views that can be enjoyed from these heights. Also, you get some great views up at the volcanic Sanbangsan mountain with its many crevices and cracks. Unfortunately, this is farthest you can go up this mountain that has a peak like a dome.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Seogwipo Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take bus #702 for 22 stops. The ride should last about an hour and eleven minutes, and you’ll need to get off at the Sanbangsan bus stop. From this stop, you’ll need to make your way to the right of Bomunsa Temple. Behind the large golden statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul is a set of stairs that leads all the way up to Sanbanggulsa Temple. It’s a 150 metre climb up these stairs to the cave temple.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. Without a doubt, Sanbanggulsa Temple is the largest cave temple I’ve visited in Korea. Also, there are spectacular views of both the South Sea and Mt. Sanbangsan as you make your way towards the temple. As for the temple itself, there isn’t all that much to see, but the scenery makes up for any shortcomings.

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The view just as you pass by the neighbouring Bomunsa Temple.

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A look out towards the South Sea.

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Yet another spectacular view, as you make your way towards Sanbanggulsa Temple.

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A look up at the only shrine at Sanbanggulsa Temple.

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The view from the heights.

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Some of the Chinese characters etched on the face of the mountain.

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A look up towards the peak of the mountain.

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A closer look at Seokgamoni-bul.

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The amazing view that Seokgamoni-bul gets to enjoy!

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One last look before heading back.

Bomunsa Temple – 보문사 (Seogwipo, Jeju-do)

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 The view from the main hall out onto the South Sea at Bomunsa Temple in Jeju-do Island.

Hello Again Everyone!!

On the south-west side of Jeju-do Island rests a smaller-sized temple. Sheltered by the bubbling Mt. Sanbangsan, Bomunsa Temple has a commanding view of the South Sea and the tiny islands that dot the horizon.

You first approach the temple past a crowded parking lot and up a set of wide stairs. The temple, much like the famed mountain, is frequented by numerous tourists throughout the day. The first thing to greet you when you enter the temple courtyard is the rather large main hall. Out in front of the main hall is a beautifully sculpted statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), as well as a five-tier stone pagoda and a misspelt dharma wheel with the Eightfold Path written on it. As for the main hall itself, and sitting on the main altar, is a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal. Just behind this statue, and still resting on the main altar, are hundreds of smaller-sized white Buddha statues. On the far left wall hangs a black Gamno-do mural for the dead.

To the right of the main hall, and past the temple’s bell pavilion and visitors’ centre, sit a line of stone Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha) statues. From where they sit, you can get an amazing view of the South Sea from this vantage point. A little further along, and you’ll see the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall that rests inside a cave. The paintings are rather plain in design, but the building is anything but ordinary.

One of the final things a visitor can see at Bomunsa Temple in Jeju-do is the massive, golden, statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). Yaksayore-bul serenely looks towards the main hall and welcomes any and all visitors to the temple. Just a little up the mountainside, and as you head towards the peak of Mt. Sanbangsan, you’ll see a triad of life-sized stone statues dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul, Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom).

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Seogwipo Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take bus #702 for 22 stops. The ride should last about an hour and eleven minutes, and you’ll need to get off at the Sanbangsan bus stop. From this stop, you’ll be able to see the temple on the mountain with the golden Buddha statue to the right.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. Bomunsa Temple is a bit of a difficult temple to rate because it’s housed next to two other temples in the immediate vicinity. But if you’re just to look at Bomunsa Temple, it’s a pretty nice place to visit; however, when you include the others, Sanbangsa Temple and Sanbanggulsa Temple, it can make for quite the nice little part of a day trip in Jeju-do.

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The rounded Mt. Sanbangsan.

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The main hall and Buddhist artistry at Bomunsa Temple.

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A look inside the main hall.

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The beautiful view of the South Sea at Bomunsa Temple.

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The Nahan statues with perhaps one of the best views in Korea.

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Bomunsa Temple.

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A look inside the shaman cave.

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The serene Yaksayore-bul at the temple.

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 The triad of statues as you make your way up Mt. Sanbangsan.

Gwaneumsa Temple – 관음사 (Jeju City, Jeju-do)

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 The Buddha on the Hillside at Gwaneumsa Temple in Jeju-do Island.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Gwaneumsa Temple is named after Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This fairly common temple name in Korea is located on the northeast side of Mt. Hallsan. It’s believed that the temple dates back to sometime during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). However, there is very little proof that indicates the exact year of Gwaneumsa Temple’s construction. During the early 1700’s, when the Joseon royal court proclaimed Confucianism as the state religion, Buddhism suffered horribly from this policy decision. In fact, Gwaneumsa Temple was completely destroyed during this time in Korea’s history. However, in 1912, the temple was rebuilt by the Buddhist nun, Anbongryeokwan. It was later renovated and expanded in 1964.

You’re first greeted to the temple by a wide Iljumun Gate with a copper-coloured roof. Just beyond this is the pathway that leads up to the temple. The pathway is lined by numerous stone statues dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha), as well as towering cedar trees. It’s perhaps one of the most picturesque entryways to a temple in Korea. Slightly to the right, and just past the cedar trees, is a large statue dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This large statue is surrounded by descriptive statues of various life-sized statues of guardians.

A little further up the trail, and you’ll see the Cheonwangmun Gate that houses murals dedicated to the Four Heavenly Kings. There are some more Mireuk-bul statues, this time housed atop stone spires, as well as a cave where monks once meditated inside it. Now, it’s a shrine for prayer.Before you enter the temple’s courtyard, you’ll see a beautiful koi pond with a brick pagoda in the centre of it. The Temple Stay building is slightly to the right as is the gift shop.

Finally, you’ll enter into the temple courtyard with the main hall, the Daeung-jeon, straight ahead. With its beautiful copper-colour roof, and paper lanterns out in front, it makes for quite the view. Housed inside the main hall is a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).

To the right of the main hall is the Jijang-jeon. Housed inside this double altar hall is a large green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left and an intricately painted Dragon Ship of Wisdom mural to the right. To the far left of the main hall sits the bell pavilion, as well as a stout three-tier stone pagoda.

Housed slightly to the left of the main hall, and up a set of stairs, is the rather large Samseong-gak shaman shrine. The exterior walls to this hall are decorated with various murals including a painting dedicated to the Bodhidharma. As for inside this hall, and sitting in the centre of the main altar, is a rather long, but slender, mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). This painting is joined on either side by a mural dedicated to both Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and Doseong (The Lonely Saint), respectively. Perhaps the most interesting painting of the group is the mural dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King) with its vibrant colours and stoically seated king.

The final part of Gwaneumsa Temple that visitors can see is a large golden statue of Mireuk-bul sitting on top of a neighbouring hillside. He’s surrounded by a pantheon of smaller sized statues dedicated to various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Slightly down the hill, and to the left, are a triad of larger stone statues dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal, Munsu-bosal, and Bohyun-bosal, respectively.

Admission to the temple is free.

HOW TO GET THERE: You’ll need to take a bus towards Sancheondan from Jeju City. The bus departs every twenty minutes and the ride should last about 30 minutes. When the bus drops you off at Sancheondan, you’ll need to walk an additional thirty minutes to the temple. The signs should help guide your way.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. Perhaps the most famous temple on Jeju-do Island, Gwaneumsa Temple has a lot for the temple adventurer to see. From its beautiful entryway to the koi pond, the temple has a lot of aesthetic beauty. And when you couple it with the large-sized golden statue of Mireuk-bul on the hillside, as well as the Dragon Ship of Wisdom and Yongwang murals, you’ll definitely need to make Gwaneumsa Temple a stop in Jeju-do!

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The Iljumun Gate at Gwaneumsa Temple.

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The beautiful entry path that leads up to the temple grounds.

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Just one of the statues helps guide the way.

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The Cheonwangmun Gate at the temple.

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The meditative shrine cave at Gwaneumsa Temple.

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The beautiful koi pond at the temple.

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The view as you first approach the temple courtyard.

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To the far left stand this three-tier pagoda and two story bell pavilion.

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Straight ahead is the copper-coloured main hall.

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 The main altar inside the main hall with Seokgamoni-bul sitting front and centre.

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To the right of the main hall is the Jijang-jeon.

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The altar inside the Jijang-jeon with a large statue of the Bodhisattva of the Afterlife sitting all alone.

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To the right hangs this highly elaborate Dragon Ship of Wisdom mural.

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Up the embankment stands the larger sized Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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Housed inside is this colourful mural dedicated to Yongwang.

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A bit up the hillside, and you’ll be welcomed by a golden Mireuk-bul.

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Back at the entrance rests this beautiful shrine dedicated to Amita-bul.

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He’s joined by this fierce guardian statue.

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 And this one, as well.

Jeongamsa Temple – 정암사 (Gohan, Gangwon-do)

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The Seven-Tier Stone Pagoda at Jeongamsa Temple in Gangwon-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Jeongamsa Temple, which was first built in 638, was established by Jajang-yulsa to house the Buddha’s remains. The Jeokmyeol Bogung is one of five alongside the famed Tongdosa Temple and Beopheungsa Temple. Nestled amongst the folds of Mt. Hambaeksan, and alongside Jajang Stream, lies the temple.

The first temple buildings at Jeongamsa Temple to greet you are the monks’ dorms and a jovial stone statue of the dharma. Up above, and off in the distance, you can see one of the highlights, the seven-tier stone pagoda hovering over top the temple off on the neighbouring hillside.

The closer you get to the temple courtyard and you’ll see the temple’s bell pavilion, which is uniquely perched alongside the neighbouring stream. Across the bridge to the right and you’ll see the Jeokmyeol Bogung main hall. The brown weather-worn exterior of the hall is plain in appearance. The interior to this hall is void of altar statues much like Tongdosa Temple; instead, a window, which seems to be covered by gold, looks out onto an embankment where the Buddha’s remains are purportedly buried. While not as elaborate as the Geumgang Gyedan Altar at Tongdosa Temple, this shrine is just as venerated as any of the other historic sites that house the Buddha’s remains. Interestingly, and just out in front of the main hall, is a tree that is supposedly from Jajang-yulsa’s walking stick. If true, this would make the tree almost 1400 years old.

Back across the bridge, and you’ll come to a small collection of shrine halls. The first, which almost looks like the monks’ dorms, is the Gwaneeum-jeon. Inside sits a solitary statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Up a set of stairs, and past the temple’s kitchen, are two additional halls. The first of the smaller sized shrine halls is dedicated to the founding monk of Jeongamsa Temple: Jajang-yulsa. The second hall is the Samseong-gak, which houses an emaciated mural of Dokseong (The Recluse), a rather plain looking Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural, and a mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) who wears a rather unique hat/turban.

The final structure to have a look at is the seven-tier brick pagoda that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The pagoda, which lies ten minutes up a hillside trail, was built from quartz bricks. Throughout the years, it’s been repaired numerous times with the most recent being 1972, when the Buddha’s sari (crystallized remains) and some scrolls were retrieved from the brick pagoda. There is a door at the base of the pagoda with wind chimes adorning each angle of the pagoda. Out in front is a place for devotees to pray, and you get a great view of the neighbouring countryside and Jeongamsa Temple down below.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gohan Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take the “Manhang” bus. This bus leaves four times a day at 6:40 a.m., 9:50 a.m., 2:10 p.m., and 7:00 p.m. The bus ride only takes ten minutes, and you’ll need to get off at the Jeongamsa stop.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. While smaller in size compared to the more prominent Jeokmyeol Bogung temples, Jeongamsa Temple has a charm all to its own. Because it’s one of the historic repositories of the Buddha’s remains, it rates as highly as it does. But when you add into the mix the seven-tier stone pagoda overlooking the temple, as well as the historic main hall, Jeongamsa Temple can make for a pleasant visit to this remote part of Gangwon-do.

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The beautiful forest and mountains that surround Jeongamsa Temple.

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The jovial dharma with the temple in the background.

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The temple’s bell pavilion.

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The tree that grew from Jajang-yulsa’s staff.

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The Jeokmyeol Bogung at Jeongamsa Temple.

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The hillside shrine halls.

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A look at Dokseong inside the Samseong-gak.

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The uniquely attired Sanshin.

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The view from the shrine hall that houses a painting of Jajang-yulsa.

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The seven-tier brick pagoda that overlooks Jeongamsa Temple.

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A better look at its beauty.

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Jeongamsa Temple down below.

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One last look at the ancient pagoda.

Hyuhyuam Hermitage – 휴휴암 (Yangyang, Gangwon-do)

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The Stone Shrine Dedicated to Yongwang and Gwanseeum-bosal at Hyuhyuam Hermitage in Yangyang, Gangwon-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

While in Yangyang, Gangwon-do, my mother-in-law suggested we visit Hyuhyuam Hermitage. At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go after already visiting 5 temples that very same day; however, I was really happy that I ended up visiting this coastal hermitage.

You first approach the hermitage from a compact temple parking lot that always seems to be busy. A short distance away is the Iljumun Gate with stone boars at its base. Passing through this entry gate, you’ll be standing in the compact hermitage courtyard. If you go at the right time, you’ll be greeted by a friendly nun with a bird that talks (definitely a first for me!).

Straight ahead lays the Wontong-jeon main hall. The exterior walls are decorated with playful murals of youthful monks. As for the interior, and standing all alone on the main altar, is the most beautiful artistic manifestation of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) that I’ve personally seen at a Korean temple. The multi-armed and headed Bodhisattva is backed by a fiery nimbus and a masterful relief and canopy. To the right and left of the main altar are paintings of an angelic Gwanseeum-bosal and people finding solace at the hermitage’s waters.

To the right of the main hall is a cave like grotto that houses a collection of sari (crystallized remains), purportedly, from the Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul. There is both an inner and outer chamber to this grotto. The outside canvased surface to the grotto is covered in masterful paintings of guardians and Bodhisattvas. As for the inner, and resting on the main altar, is a glass vessel that contains a dozen sari under a colourful canopy.

As you make your way down from the upper courtyard to the lower, you’ll pass by the monks’ dorms, a visitors’ centre, and administration offices. A little further along, and you’ll next come to another hall dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal. This Gwaneeum-jeon houses yet another masterful rendering of a standing Gwanseeum-bosal. With willow spray in hand and a blue dragon at her feet, this Gwanseeum-bosal is yet another amazing feat in Buddhist artistry. To the right of the main altar is an amazing relief and statue of Yongwang (The Dragon King); while to the left rests a guardian relief.

Having made your way past this shrine hall, the ocean will finally come into view. Straight ahead is the temple’s bell pavilion with a rather uniquely painted golden bell inside. It’s to the right of the bell pavilion that you’ll see a large stone shrine dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal. While not as refined as the statue at the neighbouring Naksansa Temple, this one is both beautiful and large in its own right. Standing at either side of the Bodhisattva of Compassion is an attendant and the largest statue of Yongwang I have seen. Intricately carved around the base of all the statues are amazing, and I mean amazing, aquatic engravings of marine life. Also, there’s a mermaid wishing well.

There’s a way down to the ocean from this area. You can enjoy both the beautiful ocean side views and a shrine dedicated to Yongwang.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Yangyang Intercity Bus Terminal, you need to board the Jigyeong-ri bus. You’ll need to take it for 26 stops and then get off at the Gwangjin-ri bus stop. From there, you’ll then have to walk 4 more minutes to Hyuhyuam Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. What isn’t to love about this little known, but uniquely populated, hermitage by the sea? From the nun with a bird that speaks, to the stone grotto with the Buddha’s remains, the hermitage uniquely has it all. And when you couple it with the most beautiful statues of Gwanseeum-bosal in all of Korea, as well as the maritime statues of Yongwang and Gwanseeum-bosal, and you’ll need to add this little known hermitage to your list of things to see the next time you’re in the Gangwon-do area.

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The Iljumun Gate that greets you at the hermitage entry.

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A look inside the main hall at the splendour of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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Some of the accompanying main hall artwork of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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A look inside the cave grotto.

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The Agwi artwork that adorns the grotto’s outer chamber.

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As well as an image of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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A look towards the inner chamber’s main altar.

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A look at the glass vessel that houses a dozen of the Buddha’s sari.

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The ocean side view and the Gwaneeum-jeon beside it.

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The amazing main altar inside the Gwaneeum-jeon.

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With Yongwang to the side.

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A look back towards the temple grounds.

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And a look towards the bell pavilion and Gwanseeum-bosal shrine.

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The golden temple bell and fish gong.

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A stone frog that looks like it might have jumped straight out of an animation.

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The beautiful ocean view.

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The Gwanseeum-bosal shrine.

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The mermaid wishing well that joins them.

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A Yongwang relief.

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A whale relief that is etched at the base of the shrine.

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Yet another amazing maritime relief.

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And finally, at the base of the much larger statue, is an ornately etched Gwanseeum-bosal relief.