Now and Then: Songgwangsa Temple


Songwangsa 1928

The front facade to Songgwangsa Temple from 1928.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Songgwangsa Temple is located in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do on the western slopes of Mt. Jogyesan. Songgwangsa Temple means “Spreading Pine Temple,” in English. It  was first established in the 1190s. However, Songgwangsa Temple was built on the grounds of a former temple, Gilsangsa Temple, which was built in 867 A.D. The original Gilsangsa Temple was constructed by Seon master, Hyerin. Not only did he help construct the temple, but he also lived there with thirty to forty fellow monks, as well. With that said, very little is known about Hyerin, and some scholars believe he might simply be a legendary figure.

For some fifty years, Gilsangsa Temple remained abandoned in the mid-to-late 12th century. It wasn’t until the 1190, and over a nine year period, that the famed monk, Jinul, or Bojo-guksa (1158-1210) reconstructed the temple. The temple was renamed Songgwangsa Temple at this point, and it was not long after that it became an important centre for Korean Buddhism.

Songgwangsa Temple, like numerous other temples throughout the Korean peninsula, has had a turbulent past. It suffered damage both during the Imjin War (1592-98), as well as during the Korean War (1950-53).

However, coupled with this devastation, the temple has gone through periods of growth and expansion like during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Also, the temple was largely rebuilt in the 17th century after its destruction during the Imjin War. More recent renovations took place in 1988. During this time, fourteen buildings at the temple were refurbished.

In total, Songgwangsa Temple has produced 16 national preceptors. In 1969, the temple was reorganized as a monastic centre for all sects of Mahayana Buddhism. Also, it was made an international meditation centre at this time. Historically, it’s one of the three jewel temples alongside Tongdosa Temple and Haeinsa Temple. Songgwangsa Temple represents the “seung,” or monk aspect of the three jewels with its large monk population, which still exists to the present day. In total, the temple houses four national treasures and a couple dozen treasures.

Songgwangsa 1940

An overview of Songgwangsa Temple from 1940.

Songgwangsa 1920

The welcoming Iljumun Gate from 1920.

Songgwangsa 1960

The picturesque front facade at Songgwangsa Temple.

Songwangsa2 1920

The Cheonwangmun Gate from 1920.

Songgwangsa Main Hall 1930

And the former main hall from 1930.


The present day Iljumun Gate.


The beautiful front facade at Songgwangsa Temple.


The massive main hall constructed in 1988.

Doseonsa Temple – 도선사 (Mt. Samgaksan, Seoul)

Doseonsa Temple, below Mt. Samgaksan

Hi, Everyone!

This is Giuseppe, back with my second contribution to the site. It’s a bit longer than I anticipated, but this temple is jam packed with sights, artifacts, and history. Even more than I was able to mention. I hope you enjoy!

Last year, I asked a friend of mine to recommend a temple to visit in Mt. Bukhansan. “Doseonsa is supposed to be nice,” he replied. Looking it up, it did indeed seem like a nice temple with a wealth of history and attractions. When I managed to finally visit it, “nice” turned out to be a massive understatement!

It was first dedicated in 862 A.D., by the renowned monk Doseon-guksa. He had a highly developed ability to read the flow of energy through the mountains and choose the most auspicious placement for temples. Even after Doseon-guksa’s death, Taejo Wang Geon, the founding-king of the Goryeo Dynasty, ordered that no temple should be constructed or expanded except those recommended by Doseon-guksa in the documents he left behind. I can only believe that the placement of Doseonsa Temple, below the triple peaks of the sacred guardian Samgak (Three Horn) Mountain, is a powerful one. Late in the Joseon Dynasty, around 1870, Doseonsa Temple was named the representative temple of Korea. It remains the largest temple complex in Mt. Bukhansan and Seoul’s most historically significant.

The first object of interest (though it’s at the far rear of the temple) is the 8.4 meter Buddha carved into a triangular chunk of granite protruding from the ground. According to legend, Doseon-guksa carved it using only his wooden staff and there are no signs of chisel marks. The carving is now enshrined in a small, walled-off area where a seemingly perpetual group of laypeople are bowing, praying, or reciting sutras.

The entrance to the temple is by the shuttle parking lot, where you immediately come upon the Cheonwangmun Gate. They are carved with fierce expressions, enough to make me wonder whether the chicken wire is meant to keep the pigeons out or keep them in.

Continuing through the gate, the road soon bends, giving the first glimpse of the temple with the massive granite peak looming beyond. There is also a spectacular view of the northern tip of Seoul, perfect for watching the sunrise, framed with mountains fading into the horizon.

Just before reaching the actual temple complex there is a poignant Jijang-bosal, standing tall on a granite pedestal. Among many things, Jijang-bosal is known as a guardian of children and is often depicted holding a child. This statue has a child at his side, reaching up to tug on his robe, but the main feature that caught my attention was the fetus held up in his right hand. After first seeing it, I learned that he is also the guardian of aborted fetuses.

The road continues, steeply, up past the massive building that houses a museum, offices, dining hall, and a small Cheonbul-jeon, Thousand Buddha Hall, crowned with a large Geum-dang, then eventually leads into the courtyard. Centered at the back of the courtyard, facing the Geum-dang is the Daeung-jeon (Dharma Hall) with the beautiful Samseong-gak (Three Spirit Shrine) to the immediate left and the Jijang-jeon on its own separate terrace below, a bit further to the right.

Inside the Dharma Hall is quite stunning, with the glow of pink lanterns illuminating the hall and reflecting off of the three gold shrines, giving the small figures a beautiful pink glow that complements the gold to make a unique aesthetic.

Below the Samseong-gak are low-relief standing Bodhisattvas, cast presumably in bronze and are quite stunning. They include Bohyun-bosal, Gwanseeum-bosal, and Munsu-bosal, elegantly holding a cup of tea. Around the corner, tucked into the far corner of the structure is a unique Gwaneum-jeon, with the object of worship being a low-relief stone carving of the Bodhisattva and the zig-zagging walls lined with rows of small replicas of the Buddha carving outdoors.

Entering the Samseong-gak, there is a nice Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) statue, sitting on a tiger, with an even nicer Sanshin painting behind it, with two tigers, one yellow and one white. In the middle is a Chilseong-yeorae-bul (The Seven Stars). But it’s really the stone Dokseong statue on the right that steals the show. Though it’s known as Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), it’s style suggests that it was likely originally part of a 16 statue set of Arhats (Buddha’s prime disciples) and at some point in time became separated. But, as it’s long been known as Dokseong, it’s now known as a rare example of him carved in stone.

In the Jijang-jeon, on the right, the main points of interest are the portraits enshrined inside. On the left are President Park Chung Hee, South Korea’s most notorious dictator, and Yuk Yeong Su, parents of the current president, Park Geun Hae. On the left side is Hyundai Chairman Chung Ju Yung. I think it’s an interesting display of South Korea’s love/hate relationship with President Park, for his portrait to be enshrined at such a highly revered temple. Though his means were ruthless, he is credited with having pulled the South out of the mud in the decades following the war. “You can spit on my grave,” he famously spoke. First, Yuk Yeong Su was killed during an attempted assassination, then President Park was was assassinated in October, 1979. It’s said that he was a devout Buddhist, though, judging by his rule, he failed to truly grasp the teachings.

Heading across, now, to the large Geum-dang Hall, there is a set of small, but masterfully carved Buddhas. When two of the original set were damaged by fire, they were replaced, in 1740, by Master Monk In Seong and his apprentice, Master Monk Chi Jung. Together, they were known as the premier sculptures of their day. There is a distinctive style, especially in their facial features that give them a recognizable style. In the photo below, the Amita-bul (center) and Daesaeji-bul (left) were the Masters’ work. The Gwanseeum-bosal to the right was from the original set. On the far right wall is a large painting of Cheongdam Daejongsa, a very prominent monk of the 20th Century, who led the Korean Buddhist revival here at Doseonsa Temple. The museum below the Geum-dang is the Cheongdam Daejongsa Memorial Hall, where you can see his personal remains, including his robes, calligraphy set, a dusty old Nikonama camera set, and two staffs that give the impression that they may be holding some magical powers inside. The real treat, though, was seeing his amazing calligraphy on display in the hall.

Across from the Geum-dang, heading there is a trail that leads into the hillside, past the bell pavilion and to a large granite staircase with four terraces, including a statue of Cheongdam Daejongsa, a memorial stone on the back of a dragon-turtle that reminded me A LOT of Bowser from Super Mario Bros, and finally an impressive stone pagoda encircled by a wall of small Buddhas, and a seated Jijang-bosal overlooking in the center. The granite rail surrounding the pagoda has several dragon heads poking up, to add some interesting detail.

There are a few other things to see, but I’ll leave them for you to discover.

HOW TO GET THERE: There is a free shuttle bus up to the temple entrance from across the street from the Uidong bus terminal, or it’s about a 40 minute walk. Several green and blue buses will get you to Uidong, including 151 and 109 (the last stop for both). 109 passes in front of Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces early in their routes though I caught it at the Jogyesa bus stop. 151 and 109 can both be caught at Mia Station, as well.

OVERALL RATING: 10/10. You will not find a better temple than Doseonsa Temple in the Seoul area for its combination of beautiful setting, historical significance, and wonderful artifacts. It also has ties to two hugely significant Seon Masters. And depending on where you live in the city, it’s really not difficult to get to.

View of Mt. Samgaksan from the shuttle park

Cheonwangmun Gate

One of the Four Heavenly Kings

Northern tip of Seoul on a misty morning

Jijang-bosal, holding a fetus. He is the guardian of aborted fetuses.

Cheonbul-jeon, Thousand Buddha Hall, early on a winter morning

Doseonsa Temple’s Daeung-jeon, on a lovely, early fall morning. You can spot the Samseong-gak, just below the lanterns.

Daeung-jeon, with its colorful lantern display.

An interesting shrine that I’m not sure of its significance. It seems to summarize some of the temples history or something similar.

View from the upper terrace, through the entrance of the stone Buddha shrine.

The stone Buddha shrine.


Face of the large Buddha carving.

Bodhidharma, riding the a reed across the sea. He usually has a single sandal dangling from his staff, but not here.

“Bul” (Buddha, 亻(person) + 弗(‘fo’, phonetic pronunciation of Sanskrit word for Buddha))

Inside Daeung-jeon, Great Spirit Daehwa on the left, Daeseaji-bosal, Amita-bul, Gwanseeum-bosal in the center, and Jijang-daehwa on the right.

Detail of the Great Spirit Daehwa


Hell scene detail in the Jijang-daewha

The beautiful Jijang-jeon. I always love the blue tiles.

President Park Chung Hee and Yuk Yeong Su

Hyundai Chairman Chung Ju-yung

Inside the Geum-dang. The central Buddha and the Bodhisattva on the left are Master Monk In Seong’s work.

Daesaeji-bosal, close up

Amita-bul, close up

Portrait of Cheongdam Daejeongsa, in the Geum-dang

Geum-dang, just before sunrise

Inside the well hidden Gwaneum-jeon (you may have to ask where to find it.)

Sunrise just striking the highest peak of Mt. Samgaksan.

Samseong-gak, Three Spirit Shrine

Stone carving of Dokseong, the Lonely Saint

Sanshin, the Mountain Spirit

Sanshin, Mountain Spirit, lights, inside the Samseong-gak, Three Spirit Shrine.

The legendary Buddha carving

Gwanseeum-bosal, below the temple souvenir/gift shop.

I was waiting for Toad to pop out from behind and say, “We’re sorry, Mario, but the princess is in another temple!”

Shuttle schedule from Uidong (the red is the driver’s lunch break)

Full-circle… Uidong bus terminal on the right, Doseonsa Temple shuttle on the left.

Gyeongunsa Temple – 경운사 (Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The beautiful main hall and grounds at Gyeongunsa Temple in Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Gyeongunsa Temple is located on the west side of Gimhae and past a few plots of land that grow vegetables. Located at the base of Mt. Gyeongunsan is the temple by the very same name: Gyeongunsa Temple.

Up a long flight of stairs, and to the left of the temple’s visitors’ centre, are the main temple grounds at Gyeongunsa Temple. The temple grounds are well kept. Past a pair of stone lions lies the temple’s main hall. However, before you make your way up to the unique main hall, have a look at the tiny meditative pond to the left of the twin lions.

As for the main hall itself, it’s fronted by some amazing latticework. At the top of the latticework are a selection of various Bodhisattvas which include Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). At the base of the latticework are an assortment of water fowl including ducks and cranes. As for the exterior walls of the main hall, they are decorated with some unique Palsang-do murals. And up in the eaves, near the roof, you might be able to see a pair of monkeys near the hall’s nameplate.

Inside the main hall, and resting on the main altar, sits Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal (The Power and Wisdom of Amita-bul). To the left of this triad stands Jijang-bosal. And to the right is the first V-shaped guardian mural I have seen in Korea.

To the right rear of the main hall, and up the embankment, are two shaman shrine halls. The first to greet you is the Yongwang-dang, which is spelled backwards as 당왕용. Inside this hall is one of the most original murals dedicated to Yongwang in all of Korea. Yongwang is very non-traditional, as he almost looks like a super-hero in the painting.

Slightly to the left of this shaman shrine hall is the Sanshin-gak. Housed inside this hall is another original painting, probably by the same artist, of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). With a unique headdress and two descriptively painted assistants, this painting is something to take your time and enjoy, as well.

The remaining structure to the rear of the main hall is the miniature replica of Dabo-tap pagoda from Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. While only a third of the size, this newly constructed pagoda is just as intricate in its design. And the final building on the grounds that visitors can enter is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall to the left of the main hall. Rather strangely, there are only two paintings inside this hall: the Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) painting and the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) painting. But both are rather rudimentary in comparison to the other two highly elaborate murals to the north of the main hall.

HOW TO GET THERE: On the Busan/Gimhae subway line, you’ll need to get off at the Royal Tomb of King Suro, stop #17. After taking exit #2, you’ll need to walk to get to the bus stop, which is called Gimhae Library. After boarding the bus, you’ll need to take the bus for 6 stops and get off at the Oedong chuk hyeop stop. Walk 10 minutes towards Mt. Gyeongunsan and you’ll find the temple behind Gaya Elementary School.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10. While rather small in size, Gyeongunsa Temple packs a punch. This punch comes in the form of two amazing shaman murals and a highly decorative and detailed main hall. Enjoy the Yongwang mural at this temple, because you’ll probably never see anything like it at any other temple in Korea. Also, the amazing latticework is nearly unrivalled. This shaman packed Buddhist temple is a must for any Korean shaman aficionado.


The long flight of stairs that await you at the entrance of the temple.


The view from the pond towards the main hall.


Some of the latticework adorning the front of the main hall. This, in particular, is Gwanseeum-bosal.


 The wooden monkey that takes up residence up in the eaves of the main hall.


Just one of the Palsang-do murals.


The main altar inside the main hall at Gyeongunsa Temple.


The path that leads up to the Yongwang-dang.


Yongwang: The Super-hero!


The Sanshin-gak.


With the highly original Sanshin mural inside.


 The view from behind the Dabo-tap pagoda replica.


The Samseong-gak Hall to the left of the main hall.


The rather rudimentary, and somewhat cross-eyed, mural of Dokseong.


The view from the Samseong-gak towards the main hall.

Temple Stay: Magoksa Temple (Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do)


The sun shining on the main hall at Magoksa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Introduction to the Temple:

Magoksa Temple is situated on the beautiful Mt. Taehwasan in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do. Magoksa Temple was first established in 640 A.D. by the famed monk, Jajang-yulsa. Having fallen into a bit of disrepair, the temple was reconstructed in 1172 by Bojo-guksa. The name of the temple has a bit of an interesting story behind it. After a believer looked at the temple and said it looked like a flax stack in a flax field while Bocheol, from the Silla Dynasty, was preaching. So Magoksa Temple, in English, means “Flax Valley Temple.” Uniquely, and unlike almost all other temples on the Korean peninsula, Magoksa Temple was spared any damage during the destructive Imjin War (1592-98). In fact, during the entire Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the temple suffered no wartime damage.

There are two Temple Stay programs that Magoksa Temple offers a visitor. The first is called the Magoksa Experiential Templestay. This program focuses on experiencing various activities that a monk would participate in like prayer and meditation. The other program, the Recharging Templestay, focuses on a more restive stay with less activities and more free time for participants. The schedule is a little more open than the latter program.

For more information on Magoksa Temple.


The beautiful stream that flows next to Magoksa Temple.


From the Gongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you can get local Bus #770 that will take you directly to Magoksa Temple. The ride lasts about 40 minutes. The first bus leaves at 6:10 in the morning, and the last bus departs at 20:30. In total, the bus leaves 15 times a day.

General Schedule:

Magoksa Temple runs two different programs for their Temple Stay program.

A: Magoksa Experiential Templestay: This program is a scheduled program that runs one night and two days.

Day 1:

4:00-14:30: Arrival and registration in the Yeonhwa-dang

14:30-15:00: Orientation in the Yeonhwa-dang

15:00-16:00: A temple tour

16:00-17:00: Making 108 beads in the Yeonhwa-dang

17:30-18:30: Supper

18:30-19:00: Ringing the Dharma bell at the bell pavilion; and in the evening Yebul (Chanting) in the Dharma Hall

18:30-20:00: Tea with a monk in the tea room

22:00: Bed-time


Day 2

03:00-03:30: Wake up

03:30-04:00: Dawn Yebul (Chanting) in th Dharma Hall

04:00-05:00: Individual practice or rest

05:00-06:00: Seon meditation in the Yeonhwa-dang

06:00-08:00: Breakfast (a traditional temple meal) in the Yeonhwa-dang

08:00-09:00: Team work

09:00-10:30: A guided walking meditation

10:30-11:00: Feedback and group photo in the Yeonhwa-dang

11:00-11:30: Cleaning-up and packing

11:30: Closing



(Courtesy of the Korean Temple Stay website).

B: Recharging Templestay: This program is a scheduled program that runs one night and two days.

Day 1:

15:00-17:00: Registration and a temple tour

18:00-18:30: Dinner

19:00-19:30: Evening Buddhist chanting ceremony

19:30: Free time and sleeping.


Day 2:

03:00: Morning Buddhist chanting ceremony

06:00-07:00: Breakfast

07:00-12:00: A free schedule

12:00~12:30: Lunch and check out



(Courtesy of the Korean Temple Stay website).

Magoksa Temple Information:

Address : 567, Unam-ri, Sagok-myeon Gongju-si Chungcheongnam-do

Tel : +82-41-841-6221 / Fax :

homepage :

E-mail :



Adults: 70,000 won; Teens: 60,000 won; Under 13: 40,000 won (Magoksa Experiential Templestay)

Adults: 50,000 won; Teens: 40,000 won (Recharging Templestay)


Reservations for the Magoksa Experiential Templestay at Magoksa Temple.

Reservations for the Recharging Templestay at Magoksa Temple.


The Sanshin-gak on Mt. Taehwasan.

Now and Then: Seokguram Hermitage


Seokguram Hermitage in 1930.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Alongside Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Hermitage first began construction in 742 A.D. by then Prime Minister, Kim Daeseong. The hermitage was completed in 774 A.D. not long after Kim Daeseong’s death. Originally, the temple was called Seokbulsa Temple, which means “Stone Buddha Temple,” in English. The reason that the hermitage was first constructed, at least according to legend, was to pacify Kim’s parents in his previous life.

The grotto at Seokguram Hermitage houses the most beautiful Buddhist sculpture in all of Korea. Underneath the nearly seven metre tall man-made dome, and measuring nearly 3.5 metres in height, is the serenely smiling Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul. Seokgamoni-bul looks out towards the East Sea and he is surrounded on all sides by equally beautiful sculptures of the Four Heavenly Kings, the Nahan, and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

Throughout its history, the hermitage largely remained untouched for the first one thousand years of its design. It wasn’t until the 18th century that this changed under Confucian religious rule in 1703 and 1758. It was left seriously damaged before colonial Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945. The hermitage was first discovered by a visiting Japanese postman. From its discovery, Seokguram Hermitage underwent three rounds of full-scale restoration. The first of these restorations started in 1913 and lasted until 1915. Under the efforts of leading Japanese architect and scholar, Tei Sekino, Seokguram Hermitage was completely disassembled and reassembled. It was at this time that a one metre thick outer concrete dome was formed around the artificial grotto. With the addition of 200 stones, the original grotto was irrevocably damaged.

Compounding these mistakes was the renovation that took place in 1917. Because of the moisture forming in the grotto from the concrete shell formerly installed by the Japanese, moss was collecting inside the grotto. So to alleviate this problem, the Japanese installed a drainage pipe. Additionally, the concrete was covered in lime mortar and clay.

And finally, from 1920 to 1923, a third round of renovations was conducted. This time, once more, the renovations were conducted to lessen the mistakes from the first time around. This time, waterproof asphalt was added on top of the formerly applied concrete. However, this still didn’t help the moisture problem inside the grotto.

Through their efforts, and after being liberated from the Japanese, Korean engineers attempted to fix the moisture problem inside the grotto. It wasn’t until 1966, with the installation of an air handling unit, that the problem was finally fixed. And in 1971, the glass partition was installed to protect the sculptures and statues from any damage that visitors might do to the historical grounds, as well as control the moisture level inside the grotto.

Seokguram Hermitage is registered as National Treasure #24; and with Bulguksa Temple, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The path that formerly led up to the grotto in 1912.


A look at the grotto before Japanese repairs.


A better look at the extensive damage and neglect.

Seokguram 10

Japanese restoration.


The dismantling of the grotto.

Seokguram 11

Seokguram Hermitage stripped down.


The landscaping at Seokguram Hermitage after Japanese restoration efforts.


Some Japanese posing in front of the grotto during its occupation of Korea.


How the grotto looks today.


A look inside the grotto at the amazing statue of the Buddha in 2014.

Wonhyoam Hermitage – 원효암 (Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do)


The view from behind the main hall at Wonhyoam Hermitage in Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located on the far eastern slopes of Mt. Palgongsan, tucked away in a valley fold, lies Wonhyoam Hermitage (which should not be confused with the more famous Wonhyoam Hermitages in Busan or Yangsan).

Up a zig-zagging road, you’ll finally come to a ledge that acts as the hermitage’s parking lot. It’s just past a sandy cliff that you’ll arrive at Wonhyoam Hermitage. When you first approach the diminutive hermitage, you’ll notice the amazing views from the valley below.

When you get your fill of the views, you’ll first encounter an old storage shed that must be several hundred years old and is still used to the present day. After circumnavigating this natural wood building, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with the beautiful new main hall. The exterior walls to this hall are decorated with some of the more beautiful Shimu-do murals in all of Korea. As for the interior, and housed upon the main altar, sits a solitary statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). To the right and left of the main altar are two red murals. One of these murals is the guardian mural, while the other is dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

Just past the hermitage’s kitchen and dorms, and slightly up an embankment, sits the temple’s Sanshin/Dokseong-gak. This shaman shrine hall houses a very impressive Sanshin mural. The elderly looking Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) is standing on a ledge with a staff firmly in hand. He is joined by a dongja (assistant) and arguably either Sanshin’s wife, a female Sanshin, or simply another dongja. This painting is joined to the right by an older style Dokseong mural.

The entire hermitage, especially in the fall, is beautifully framed by colourful autumnal hues.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gyeongsan Intercity Bus Terminal, you can catch Bus #803. After 64 stops, you can get off at the Solmaegi stop. You’ll need to walk an additional 15 minutes to get to the hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. Wonhyoam Hermitage, like the other Wonhyoam Hermitages in Korea, is beautifully, but remotely, located. Because of its remoteness, it is serenely located. In addition to its beautiful location and views, Wonhyoam Hermitage has one of the most masterfully executed murals dedicated to Sanshin in Korea. So if you have the time, and you’re up for the hike along Mt. Palgongsan, you should make Wonhyoam Hermitage a stop along your way.


The view from the hermitage parking lot.


The amazing view as you first approach Wonhyoam Hermitage.


The old storage building at the hermitage.


The main hall at Wonhyoam Hermitage.


A beautiful Shimu-do mural that decorates the main hall.


A look inside the main hall at Amita-bul on the main altar.


The guardian mural also housed inside the main hall.


The intricately painted main hall.

CSC_0758 - 복사본

The plainly painted Sanshin/Dokseong-gak.


The view from the shaman shrine hall.


The Sanshin mural.


The older Dokseong mural.


A look around the main hall at some of the fall colours.

Now and Then: Bulguksa Temple


Bulguksa Temple from the early part of the last century.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I thought I would start up an all new series. It’s been a while since I have, and I thought there was no better way than to explore the history of Korean temples through historical pictures. Throughout the years, I’ve collected my fair share of historical Korean temple pictures, and I thought I would reveal a few of them through a now and then perspective. So I hope you enjoy this all new series.

The first temple I thought I would reveal through pictures is the famous Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. Before Bulguksa Temple was first constructed, a smaller sized temple first occupied the exact same grounds. Later, in 751 A.D., Prime Minister Kim Daeseong decided to build Bulguksa Temple to replace the former. It was built to soothe the spirits of his parents. Finally, in 774 A.D., after Kim’s death, the temple was completed by the Silla royal court. It was at this point that the temple was renamed Bulguksa Temple, or “The Buddhist Country Temple,” in English. Throughout the years, the temple has undergone numerous renovations and rebuilds. One of the earliest renovations was during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). But during the Imjin War (1592-98), all the wooden buildings at Bulguksa Temple were completely destroyed. Only a few years later, in 1604, Bulguksa Temple was reconstructed and expanded. This was followed by forty more renovations over the course of the next 200 years.

After 1805, the temple fell into disrepair, and Bulguksa Temple was often the target of looting. It was during colonial rule by the Japanese, from 1910-1945, that the Japanese started the restoration process. After the Japanese defeat at the end of World War II and the Korean War, did the Korean government start to restore the temple to its past glory. Under the orders of President Park Chung Hee, from 1969 to 1973, extensive archaeological investigation, restoration, and repair were conducted on the temple. Finally, after almost two hundred years of neglect, Bulguksa Temple was rebuilt to its past glory. And with all of the stonework and pagodas of the temple dating back to the original construction date, as well as the beautiful wooden artistry and paintings, Bulguksa Temple is nearly unrivaled for its beauty among Korean Temples. In addition to all this artistry, the temple also houses six national treasures and three additional treasures!

Now, Bulguksa Temple is one of the most popular temples to visit in Korea. Also, with its front façade that sports two national treasures, which include the first set of stairs that are known as Cheongun-gyo (“Blue Cloud Bridge”) and Baegun-gyo (“White Cloud Bridge”); while the stairs to the left are known as Yeonhwas-gyo (“Lotus Bridge”) and Chilbo-gyo (“Seven Treasures Bridge”), it’s perhaps the most recognizable temple in all of Korea for international visitors. Two additional national treasures that people can enjoy are Dabo-tap and Seokga-tap pagodas that stand stoically in the main temple courtyard. In addition to all this stone masonry, there are over a dozen temple buildings visitors can explore and enjoy. And in 1995, in combination with the neighbouring Seokguram Hermitage, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Without a doubt, Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju is one of the most beautiful Korean temples on the peninsula.

Now, enjoy a look into Bulguksa Temple’s past through pictures!


The neglected front facade of Bulguksa Temple from the early 20th century.


Another vantage point of the two national treasures.


One more look at what 200 years of neglect looks like.


National Treasure #22 : Yeonhwas-gyo (“Lotus Bridge”) and Chilbo-gyo (“Seven Treasures Bridge”).

bulKukSa4 1919

The front facade of the temple from 1919.


A look at two more national treasures from the turn of the last century: Dabo-tap and Seokga-tap pagodas.

Bulguksa dabotap

A closer look at National Treasure #20: Dabo-tap pagoda.

The main hall Bulguksa

What Bulguksa Temple’s main hall used to look like.

1914 Bulguksa

A better look at more of the temple grounds from 1914.

Bulguksa 1973 Bak Chung Hee

Park Chung Hee inspecting the newly renovated temple grounds in 1973.


And a look at Bulguksa Temple today.


A closer look at Dabo-tap pagoda today.


And now, a better look at the entire renovated temple grounds.

Seongamsa Temple – 성암사 (Nam-gu, Busan)


The fall colours at Seongamsa Temple in Nam-gu, Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

On the southern slopes of Mt. Hwangryeongsan in Nam-gu, Busan lies Seongamsa Temple. Through some twists and turns in the road and down some back alleys, you’ll come to this well-hidden temple.

You’ll know you’re close when you come to the end of the narrow road and there’s a parking lot. Up a slight bend in an adjoining road, it’ll lead you towards Seongamsa Temple. As you enter the temple courtyard, you’ll notice that it’s surrounded on all sides by beautiful, mature trees that are especially colourful during the autumn months.

The first building, rather uniquely, to greet you at the temple as you approach from the side is the Daeung-jeon main hall. The rather boxy main hall disguises the elaborate interior. As you first enter the main hall, you’re greeted by a set of Gwaneeum-bosal murals. The main hall, while narrow, runs rather deep with a wide main altar. Sitting in the centre of a 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). And all three are surrounded by miniature statues of the Buddha. To the far right sits Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha); while to the far left sits a golden capped Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) who is surrounded by tiny, white statues of himself. And on the far right wall hangs one of the larger guardian murals I have yet to see at a Korean temple.

Past the temple’s bell pavilion, and just beyond the narrow seven-tier stone pagoda, sits the rather large Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Housed inside this hall are a set of beautiful shaman murals. While the Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars) murals are rather typical in their design, it’s the Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) mural that really stands out. Dressed in a yellow robe with a brown headdress, the Seongamsa Temple Sanshin really makes an impression.

A little hidden, but not impossible to find to the right of the Samseong-gak, you’ll see a brick wall with an opening in the centre of it. This is the Yongwang-dang. With wall-to-wall lights, ornamental stone flooring, and a radiant Yongwang mural, this Yongwang-dang is different from most others that I’ve seen in Korea. Of course, it’s the intricate mural dedicated to the Dragon King that truly stands out with three swirling dragons and a majestically seated Yongwang in the centre of it all. Have a look and get your fill, because this Yongwang mural is one of the best of its kind.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Munjeon Subway stop, line #2, stop #217 , you can board a taxi after exiting out exit #2 or #4. The ride should last about ten minutes, and it should cost you about 4,000 won. Either that, or you can simply walk the distance towards the temple. Head east towards Munhyeon Elementary School and the Munhyeon Girls High School. To head in this direction, go out exit #2. When you arrive at the schools, you should continue towards Hyeondae apartment. It’s just behind these apartments that you’ll find Seongamsa Temple. The walk should take you just under 30 minutes to cover the two kilometre stretch.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. It’s the shaman murals of Yongwang and Sanshin that really stand out about this temple; however, with that said, the autumnal hues and the elaborate main hall are something to have a look at, as well, when you visit Seongamsa Temple in Nam-gu, Busan. While little visited by foreigners, it’s well worth the effort to go and see, especially if you’re in the area.


The view from the temple.


A look up towards Mt. Hwangryeongsan.


As you first enter the temple grounds.


The temple’s main hall.


Inside the main hall with a look at the main altar.


A look to the right reveals Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha).


Keeping Yaksayore-bul company is this massive guardian mural.


While to the left is this golden Jijang-bosal statue.


Lining the interior of the main hall are several murals dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal.


A look towards the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.


Inside reveals this amazing Sanshin mural.


The Yongwang-dang entrance.


Inside is this beautiful mural dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King).


Finally, it was time to go.

Sanbangsa Temple – 산방사 (Seogwipo, Jeju-do)


 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.


The beautifully framed bell pavilion at Sanbangsa Temple.


The view from the main hall.


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


Another beautiful statue of Gwanseeum-bosal at Sanbangsa Temple.


The amazing green altar at the temple.


The main altar inside the main hall.


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


The Gamno-do mural.


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 Hyo Ryeong Hall enshrines the portrait of Grand Prince Hyo Ryeong. 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 beautiful little Samseong-gak, with a wonderful old set of paintings, from left to right, Sanshin, Chilseong, and Dokseong. The quality of the work executed on these paintings is quite exquisite.

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.



reciting a sutra

this small hall houses Prince Hyo-Ryeong’s painting

Arhat Hall


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