Gulamsa Temple – 굴암사 (Eonyang, Ulsan)


The view out onto Eonyang in Ulsan from Gulamsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

On the southern side of Mt. Neungsan lies the unique Gulamsa Temple in northern Eonyang-eup, Ulsan. In fact, as you make your way towards the temple, and around Mt. Neungsan, you’ll notice that the mountain has been damaged by fire in its recent past. But it’s also from the same heights that you get beautiful views of Eonyang down below.

After summiting the mountain, and making a partial decent down the south side of the mountain, you’ll first notice the modern looking visitors centre at Gulamsa Temple. It’s just past this that you round the corner and get some more amazing views of the city down below from the observation deck at Gulamsa Temple.

But it’s to your back that you’ll find the entry to the highly unique main hall at Gulamsa Temple. Up a set of stairs and past some beautifully manicured shrubs, you’ll notice the entrance to the main hall, which also just so happens to be housed inside a cave. This mid-sized cave houses a solitary granite statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) on the main altar. Book-ending the main altar statue of Seokgamoni-bul are two stunning jade pagodas that stand about four feet in height. To the right of the main altar are two more stone statues. The first, on the left, is Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And she’s joined to the right by Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

Outside the cave shrine hall, and to the far left, is a stone relief of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), carved into the face of the mountain. And littered throughout the cracks and crevices of the mountain are various statuettes of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas left behind by temple devotees.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Gulamsa Temple, you’ll first need to get to the Eonyang Intercity Bus Terminal. From here, you’ll need to take a taxi to the temple. The taxi ride will cost around 5,000 won and take 15 minutes. From where the taxi drops you off, you’ll need to walk an additional 300 metres to Gulamsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. This is another hard temple to rate. While Gulamsa Temple has one of the more unique main halls, as well as some pretty amazing views, the temple only consists of a cave shrine hall.


The view from the scenic mountain.


Part of the fire scorched mountain where Gulamsa Temple is located.


The trail that leads towards the temple.


A look down upon Eonyang and Gulamsa Temple.


The entry to the cave that houses most of what Gulamsa Temple has to offer.


An inscription on the mountain’s rock face.


Some of the icons left behind by devotees.


To the left of the cave entry is this beautiful stone carving.


The entry to the cave main hall at Gulamsa Temple.


A look inside the cave shrine hall with a stone statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) front and centre.


To the right of the main hall are these statues of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit)


One last look down at Eonyang from Gulamsa Temple.

Yangdeoksa Temple – 양덕사 (Eonyang, Ulsan)


A look inside the Gwaneum-jeon Hall at Yangdeoksa Temple in Eonyang, Ulsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Yangdeoksa Temple is located next to the turn off from Highway 1 that heads towards Ulsan along Highway 16. This newer temple that belongs to the smaller Cheontae Order lies just east of Eonyang-eup in Ulsan.

After making your way through a few highway underpasses and next to several rice fields, you’ll finally stumble across Yangdeoksa Temple next to a part of the Eonyang River. The first building to greet you is the two storied main hall. On the first floor rests the temple’s visitors’ centre and kitchen. It’s up a flight of stairs to the left that you’ll see the signs pointing you towards the second story Beopdang (or main hall). Wrapped around the exterior walls to this hall are various Buddhist motif murals. But it’s stepping inside this hall that you get to be greeted by a rare occurrence. Resting on the main altar is a fiery framed picture of Sangwol Wongak (the founder of the re-established Cheontae Order). Outside of having Buddhas or Bodhisattva on the main altar, excluding Tongdosa Temple with the window that looks out onto a stone lotus bud that actually houses the partial remains of the Historical Buddha, I’ve never seen this before. To the right of this main altar picture is a guardian mural, as well as a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And to the left of the main altar picture is the scepter symbol, in painted form, that embodies Cheontae Buddhism in Korea.

Stepping outside the main hall, and making your way to the left of the two storied main hall, you’ll notice ceramic pots. Inside these pots are soy bean products that the temple sells. But it’s to the left of the main hall, and the newly constructed Gwaneum-jeon Hall that’ll draw your attention. Housed inside this pagoda like shrine hall is a regally adorned statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). She’s joined to the left by a statue of Sangwol Wongak, once more. The entire interior to this hall is lined with murals of the 33 incarnations of Gwanseeum-bosal, and they’re really quite striking.


OVERALL RATING: 5/10. Yangdeoksa Temple has a couple of really unique features that largely centre around Sangwol Wongak, the founder of the re-established Cheontae Order. I’ve never seen a picture of a non-Buddha or Bodhisattva on the main altar of a main hall. And yet, Yangdeoksa Temple has just that. Added to this uniqueness is the beautiful new Gwaneum-jeon Hall at Yangdeoksa Temple.


A look up at the main hall at Yangdeoksa Temple.


A few rice pots in preparation for Buddha’s birthday.


The stairs that lead up to the Beopdang main hall.


Some of the beautiful lanterns at this Cheontae Order Buddhist temple.


A look towards the newly constructed Gwaneum-jeon Hall from the temple’s main hall.


Some of the soy pots at Yangdeoksa Temple.


Inside the very unique Beopdang main hall.


The main altar inside the Beopdang with a picture of the revered Sangwol Wongak front and centre.


The large guardian mural to the right of the main altar.


It’s joined by an equally large mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal.


The painting to the left of the main altar that lets you know that the temple is part of the Cheontae Order.


Lining the interior of the main hall were some murals, like this one, of Gwanseeum-bosal.


The view from the rear of the main hall towards the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.


One of the Gwaneum-jeon Hall’s murals that adorns the exterior walls with Munsu-bosal making a presence in the top right.


The view as you make your way towards the Gwaneum-jeon from the main hall.


Under a canopy of paper lanterns in preparation for Buddha’s birthday.


A look up towards the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.


A grassy dongja with some dangling paper lanterns above him.


A look inside the Gwaneum-jeon with Gwanseeum-bosal sitting in the centre of the main altar. He’s joined by Sangwol Wongak to the left.


The tall guardian mural inside the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.


As well as another mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal.

Bogwangsa Temple – 보광사 (Ulju-gun, Ulsan)


The temple courtyard and main gate at Bogwangsa Temple in Ulsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

In the very southwestern part of Ulsan, and next to Tongdosa Temple under Mt. Yeongchuksan, is Bogwangsa Temple. Located in and amongst the small factories and one rooms is this assuming temple.

First approaching from a rural road, you’ll be welcomed to the temple by a beautifully adorned front gate. This gate is elaborately painted with two Biseon adorning the front gates. Both Biseon (Flying Angels) are making offerings.

Once you’ve entered the compact temple grounds, you’ll notice a small garden to your right and the first story of the main hall to your left. The first floor to the main hall is occupied with a visitors’ centre and the temple kitchen. It’s only up a set of stairs to the far right of the first floor that you’ll in fact find the main hall on the second floor of the two story structure.

Around the exterior walls to the main hall are a collection of beautiful murals. The first set, which is the largest, is the Palsang-do set which depict the eight scenes from the Buddha’s life. Above this set, and up near the eaves rather uniquely, are the much smaller Shimu-do, Ox-herding, murals. And spaced between these sets, and decorating the hall’s pillars, are the Four Heavenly Kings, as well as various guardians. Buttressing both ends of paintings are two elaborate paintings dedicated to an all-white Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). One other unique feature to the outside paintings are a pair of side-ward leaning Nathwi. Typically, the eyes to these Monster Mask murals are pointed sideways and not the entire mask.

Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll first notice a large, golden canopy that spans the entire length of the main altar. The triad sitting on the main altar is centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). To the left of the main altar is a large mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). While to the right hangs a beautiful mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). If you look closely, you’ll notice a dongja (attendant) offering Sanshin an immortal peach. The only other mural in this hall is a large guardian mural, which is somewhat unique in its composition.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Tongdosa Temple, you can catch a taxi to get to Bogwangsa Temple. It should take about 10 minutes, or 3.9 km, and cost you 4,500 won.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. The murals and paintings spread throughout the main hall, both inside and out, are what distinguish Bogwangsa Temple. From the Sanshin mural inside the main hall to the sideways Nathwi, the Four Heavenly Kings that are on pillars, and the sets of Palsang-do and Shimu-do murals, the intricacy and beauty of all these murals will be enough to keep you busy for some time. So take your time and enjoy their mastery.


A look at both the entry gate and main hall at Bogwangsa Temple.


The elaborately painted gate at the temple.


One of the Biseon that adorns one of the entry gate’s doors.


The garden at the temple.


The dual exterior wall paintings on the main hall. The larger Palsang-do murals are on the bottom, while the much smaller Shimu-do murals are up near the eaves.


A painting of Gwanseeum-bosal that adorns the exterior wall of the main hall.


The uniquely painted dual masks of the Nathwi on the main hall.


On each of the major pillars of the main hall are the Four Heavenly Kings.


The elaborate and extensive golden canopy that hovers over top of the main altar of the main hall.


The decorative mural of Bohyun-bosal that’s painted above the entry at the main hall.


The large guardian mural housed inside the main hall.


The beautiful Sanshin mural.


And a better look across the main altar at Bogwangsa Temple.

The Story of…Sujeongsa Temple


 Inside the elaborate and colourful main hall at Sujeongsa Temple in Ulsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Sujeongsa Temple was recommended to me by a friend. He glowingly spoke about the temple and its double Samseong-gak (a shrine hall inside a shrine hall). It only took us a couple drive-bys and misses to finally spot the unmarked turn-off to the temple. Up a long and narrow one lane road, we finally arrived at the end of the road and the temple at the same time.

Getting out to explore the unassuming Sujeongsa Temple, we were greeted by a volunteer at the hermitage. She was happy to see me again at the temple. I looked at her with a confused look on my face. So my wife talked to her for a bit more clarification, as she explained to the woman that it was the first time for me to visit Sujeongsa Temple. With a surprised look on her face, I realized that she was confusing me with my friend. I’m pretty sure that we’re the only two expats to have ever visited this out of the way temple.


 A closer look at the breath-taking main altar.

The next person to approach us was the head nun at Sujeongsa Temple. As I was exploring the main hall and my wife was praying, the head nun introduced herself to us. She went on to basically give us a private tour of the temple, as there were no other visitors at the temple but us. She told us how she had a dream about how the interior of the main hall should look. So with a professor from Dongguk University, she was able to see her vision come to fruition. Surrounding the main altar is an elaborate relief of seventeen Gwanseeum-bosals (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This relief is joined by an equally beautiful relief of a Shinjung Taenghwa (guardian motif) and one of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), as well. The base of the altar amazingly depicts the Palsang-do images, and the main chandelier that hangs from the main hall is made from the same material as airplanes.


 A look at the double Samseong-gak at Sujeongsa Temple.

She then directed us towards the Samseong-gak, which is a shrine hall inside another shrine hall. The head nun told us how she had initially intended to simply knock down the 200 year old Samseong-gak; however, Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) appeared to the head nun three times in a dream. During an early morning ceremony at the Samseong-gak, a picture was taken that captured what looked to be a neighbouring pine tree on fire. The head nun took this as a sign, so she built a new protective Samseong-gak around the old one. The reason she did this, as she explained it, is that if she didn’t, someone would die.


 The apparent flame above the old Samseong-gak.

The final stop along the tour led by the head nun at Sujeongsa Temple was of the Yongwang (The Dragon King) shrine to the far left of the Samseong-gak. She explained to us that before you pray, you can lift the stone that sits on the Yongwang altar. However, once you pray, you’re no longer able to lift this stone. So me being me, I decided to put her words to the test. And strangely, she was right.

We were very fortunate to have the head nun as our personal tour guide. It’s not very often that this happens. And as we were saying thank you just before we left, a collection of cars arrived at the temple.

For so many reasons, we were lucky in the time we had at Sujeongsa Temple in Ulsan.

For more on Sujeongsa Temple.

Sinheungsa Temple – 신흥사 (Buk-gu, Ulsan)


Inside the main hall at Sinheungsa Temple in Ulsan.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

Sinheungsa Temple was formally known as Geonheungsa Temple. It was founded in 635 A.D. by Monk Myeongrang. According to temple records, the temple helped train 100 warrior monks in 678 A.D. It was also central to the defence of Korea against the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-1598). And when Ulsan fell to the Japanese, it sent 300 bags of rice and warrior monks, led by Monk Jiun, to help the Korean forces. Unfortunately, and like a lot of other famous temples and hermitages throughout Korea, it was reduced to ash. Fortunately for us, however, it was rebuilt by Yi Geup, a military commander, in 1646. It was also at this time that the temple changed its name to the name that it is now known as: Sinheungsa Temple.

You first approach Sinheungsa Temple down a very long and winding road. And if you visit during the summer months, you’ll see a lot of Korean campers taking up residence near the valley and river that flows through it.

Up a tall set of stairs, and past an ancient and towering tree, you’ll finally make your way to the front of the Cheongwangmun Gate, which also acts as an open-air pavilion on the second floor. As you pass through the entrance, you’ll be welcomed by four atypically painted murals of the Four Heavenly Kings. After being greeted by these four celestial beings, you’ll make your way out of the tunnel gate, and out into the temple courtyard. To the far right is the monks’ quarters. And next to this residence is a spring for which Sinheungsa is famous. And to the far left is an administrative office.

Straight ahead is the large sized main hall. This is a newer main hall that was constructed in 1998 to replace the old one. Around the exterior walls to this main hall are various murals dedicated to the Nahan (The Disciples to the Historical Buddha). As for the interior walls, they are adorned with various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. And on the far right wall is an amazing guardian wood-relief carving. It’s populated with numerous shaman deities and Dongjin-bosal (The Guardian of the Buddha’s Teachings) in the centre. As for the main altar itself, it’s occupied with a triad of atypically rendered statues with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre. The main altar is backed by an equally amazing wood-relief of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Additionally, there is a massive red canopy that frames the entire altar.

To the left of the main hall is the compact Nahan-jeon Hall. This hall is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it use to be the main hall at the temple until the new one was built. This hall dates back to the late-Joseon Period. Out in front of this hall is a three-tier pagoda with large sized pebbles placed on it by travellers  As for the interior of this hall, and another interesting aspect to this hall, are the white rock statues of the various Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha) that sit on the long main altar. Eerily striking a pose, they surround a triad of statues that sit at the centre of the main altar. In the centre is a white-clad Seokgamoni-bul. The final interesting aspect to this hall are the fading murals that adorn the entire interior to this hall from the floral patterns, to Nahan, to dragon heads. This interior has it all.

Finally, the last shrine hall at this temple is the Samseong-gak shrine hall dedicated to shaman deities. It’s up a long, overgrown, set of stairs. Strangely, there was a can of mosquito spray inside one of the stone lanterns just outside the shrine hall. As you enter the shrine hall, you’ll be greeted by some more beautiful etched wood-reliefs of the three most popular Korean shaman deities: San shin (The Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Dokseong (The Recluse). All three are masterfully designed and colourfully painted.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Sinheungsa Temple in Ulsan, you’ll first have to get to the Hogye train station in northern Ulsan. From this train station, you’ll then have to take a taxi for twenty minutes until you arrive at the temple. The taxi ride covers 8.7 kilometres, and it’ll cost you 7500 won.

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OVERALL RATING: 6/10. While not the most impressive temple in Ulsan, there are some definite highlights to this ancient temple like the altar and the guardian etching inside the main hall. In addition, the Nahan-jeon Hall is a must see. Finally, the wood-etchings inside the Samseong-gak are inspiring.

The long and steep set of stairs that lead up to the temple courtyard.
The two-storied Cheonwangmun entrance gate.
Inside of the gate are these murals that depict the Heavenly Kings (Cheonwang).
On the second floor of the Cheonwangmun is this mural of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
The main hall as you exit the Cheonwangmun Gate.
The elaborate altar inside the main hall.
The stunning guardian wood-etching.
And one more look back at the main altar.
To the left of the new main hall is the former main hall. Now, it stands as the Nahan-jeon Hall.
The altar inside of the Nahan-jeon Hall with a white Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) at the centre.
To the left and right of the main altar are these highly unique white stone sculptures of the various Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha).
The over-grown path that leads up to the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.
The view of the neighbouring valley and the temple buildings.
The altar inside of the Samseong-gak with Chilseong (The Seven Stars) in the centre and San shin (The Mountain Spirit) to the left and Dokseong (The Recluse) to the right.
A better look at the wood carving of Dokseong.
And finally, after a long hot day, it was time to head home.

Baekyangsa Temple – 백양사 (Jung-gu, Ulsan)


The amazing main hall at Baekyangsa Temple in Ulsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

While finalizing my itinerary for my trip to temples in Ulsan, I came across Baekyangsa Temple by chance. While scouting out another temple in the downtown area of Ulsan, I came across this little known gem. And boy, was I really happy that I did discover it, because it quickly became the highlight to my little adventure to Ulsan.

Baekyangsa Temple (백양사) is situated near the city centre of Ulsan. And it’s a rather large temple compound with numerous buildings. As you first approach the temple grounds off of the neighbouring city street, and make your way past the compact bell pavilion that sits near the temple parking lot, you’ll be greeted by the face of a beautifully adorned shrine hall. It isn’t until you pass through one of the two entrance gates that you realize that this building is the Gwaneeum-jeon hall dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). The exterior is one of the most beautifully adorned halls in all of Korea with elaborate paintings of animals, the Four Heavenly Kings, and paintings of Gwanseeum-bosal. It’s should also be noted, that all of the temple buildings at Baekyangsa Temple are adorned with my favourite Buddhist painter’s murals. As you step inside of the sparsely decorated Gwaneeum-jeon, you’ll notice the main altar to your right. It took me a bit to realize that the flame standing statue was that of Gwanseeum-bosal. The reason it took me a bit to realize which Buddha or Bodhisattva it was, was that this statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion is one of the most feminine statues of this Bodhisattva that I have yet to see in all of Korea. And she is backed by an equally eloquent painting of herself joined by Yongwang (The Dragon King).

As you step out of this hall, and back into the temple courtyard, you’ll notice the main monks’ residence to your immediate right. This hall is adorned with beautiful Shimu-do (Ox-Herding) murals. And to your immediate left are numerous buildings like the monks’ quarters for the rest of the temple’s monks as well as the kitchen and administration office at the temple.

But by far the highlight of this temple is the amazing main hall, which doesn’t even do the hall justice in words. Out in front of the main hall are a variety of stone statues like twin elephants, the eightfold path wheel, and the 12 zodiac generals, as well as Biseon, and massive stone lanterns. As you approach the main hall, you’ll realize just how intricate the dancheong paintings are. In addition to the colours, you’ll be greeted by some of the finest renderings of the Shimu-do paintings in all of Korea. In addition, there are equally amazing paintings of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on the exterior walls of the main hall. As you step into the main hall, you’ll be greeted by five large statues on the main altar. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). And book ending these three central statues are Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left and Gwanseeum-bosal to the right. To the far right is the guardian painting which is fronted with a fierce looking bronze guardian statue.

To the left of the main hall is the Nahan-jeon dedicated to the 16 Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha). Wrapped around the exterior walls to this hall, once again, are some of the finest Palsang-do murals in all of Korea. As for the interior, and rather conveniently, are the 16 Nahan statues with each of their names written in Korean. These sixteen statues surround a triad of statues that sit on the main altar. In the centre of these smaller sized statues is Seokgamoni-bul.

And to the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon hall. Around the exterior of the hall are various murals that depict an individual from younger age to older age with his aging mother. Also, and probably one of the most spectacular paintings in all of Korea, is the Dragon Ship of Wisdom that adorns the right exterior wall to this hall. As for the interior, there are large sized statues of the 10 Kings of the Underworld that join a statue of Jijang-bosal that sits all by himself on the main altar to this hall. Much like the Nahan, the 10 Kings of the Underworld conveniently have each of their names beside the corresponding King.

And next to this hall is a shaman hall that houses both the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural in the centre and a Dokseong (The Recluse) mural to the right. Atypically, this hall also houses a mural, to the left, of the founding monk at Baekyangsa Temple.

Finally, and up a side-winding set of stairs, fronted by a tacky and fading picture of a tiger, is the San shin-gak. It’s from this vantage point, from the San shin-gak, that you get a great view of Ulsan. As for mural inside of the San shin-gak of its namesake, San shin (The Mountain Spirit), is a ghost-like mural of the usually healthy deity.

HOW TO GET THERE: The directions to Baekyangsa Temple, like some temples in Korea, are pretty difficult. First, from the Ulsan Train Station, you’ll have to get to the Ulsan City Police Station Headquarters (Ulsan Jibang Gyeongchalcheong), where you’ll have to take City Bus #5003. From this bus, you’ll have to get off at the Samhogyo Bus Stop. You’ll then have to transfer buses and take City Bus #408 for 6 more stops, where you’ll have to get off at the Gungdojang Bus Stop. From this bus stop, you can walk to get to the Ulsan City Police Station Headquarters, which should take you about five minutes. And from the police headquarters, you can continue to walk another 5 to 10 minutes (or 600 metres) to get to BaekyangsaTemple. Difficult, but not impossible.

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OVERALL RATING8/10. There is just so much to see at this temple that is beautiful from the stunning murals that adorn all the halls, both inside and out, to the ghost-like mural of San shin, to the statues of Gwanseeum-bosal, the 10 Kings of the Underworld, and all the other statues at the temple to make Baekyangsa Temple well worth the effort to visit. In addition to all this beauty, there are also all the statues that sit out front of the main hall, as well as the mind-blowingly beautiful lattice work that adorns the doors to the main hall. There’s a lot to take in artistically at this temple, so have fun!

Just one of the entry gates that allows you into the temple grounds at Baekyangsa Temple.
But before you enter, you can have a look at the compact temple bell pavilion with a beautiful bell that’s adorned with the likes of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
The first hall that greets you at the temple is the Gwaneeum-jeon hall.
The Gwaneeum-jeon at the temple is adorned with some of the most unique and beautiful murals in all of Korea.  This is a mural of just one of the Heavenly Kings that adorns the hall.
And this mural of a monkey.
Inside the Gwaneeum-jeon is this very feminine statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). She is perhaps the most feminine statue of this Bodhisattva that I have yet to see in Korea.
And in front of the Gwaneeum-jeon is the massive main hall that is intricately and gorgeously decorated with various murals and dancheong colour schemes.
Before you enter the hall, you’re first greeted by various stone statues like this attendant.
As well as the 12 Zodiac Generals.
Some of the finest lattice artistry in Korea.
Inside the main hall resides these five statues on the main altar. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).
To the right of the altar inside the main hall is this bronze guardian in front of the temple’s guardian mural.
This painting in the Palsang-do set of murals adorns the Nahan-jeon hall.
A look at the main altar inside of the Nahan-jeon.
 To the right of the main hall is this hall, the Myeongbu-jeon.
On the right exterior wall of the Myeongbu-jeon is one of the finest examples of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom.
Inside, and seated on the main altar, is a statue of Jijang-bosal.
Next to the Myeongbu-jeon hall is a shaman shrine hall that houses the likes of this painting and statue of Dokseong (The Recluse).
Up this winding path is the San shin-gak dedicated to San shin (The Mountain Spirit).
The view from the San shin-gak down at the main hall and at Ulsan off in the distance.
And a look inside the San shin-gak and the ghostly San shin.

Video: Munsusa Temple

Hello Again Everyone,

Munsusa Temple, located on the outskirts of Ulsan, came highly recommended from a friend. However, it was months before I got around to seeing this temple. But I was really happy that I did finally go out and see it because it was gorgeous with its scenic views, ornate halls, and expert paintings. So follow me as I explore Munsusa Temple.

Munsusa Temple – 문수사 (Ulju-gun, Ulsan)


The heavenly view from Munsusa Temple in Ulsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Munsusa Temple in Ulsan was recommended to me by a friend. Unfortunately, there were several other temples on my to-see list before it. But during my summer vacation, I was finally able to get out to Ulsan and see this mountain-side temple.

Munsusa Temple (문수사) is situated up in the clouds on Mt. Munsusan. You travel up a 6 kilometre long road until you arrive at the outskirts of the temple that is placed preciously on the face of the mountain. It’s as you approach that you’re able to see some spectacular views of the city of Ulsan down in the valley below as well as the cloud and fog covered peaks of Mt. Munsusan.

Before you pass under the bell pavilion, you’ll pass by the kitchen area to the temple. Just past the kitchen area is a trail that leads up to the peak of the mountain. Also, and between the kitchen and the banks of the mountain, is a path that leads up to the monk-only meditative hall. You’ll get a better look at this crowning hall from the vantage point of the main hall.

Finally having passed under the bell pavilion, you’ll be greeted by the large sized main hall and the adjoining visitors centre. Unfortunately, the front of the main hall is adorned with an ugly green Plexiglas enclosure for the numerous visitors that can’t quite squeeze into the main hall. Sitting and standing on the main altar are five statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In the very centre is a large sized seated statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). The two accompanying Bodhisattvas to the immediate right and left of Seokgamoni-bul are Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) [Ed. Thank you Brian Barry for this information]. And the final two, in the set of five, are a standing Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the far left and a standing statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the far right. And on the far left wall is a large sized guardian painting.

Next to the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal. But before you enter this hall, you’ll notice an aged pagoda between the two halls. Surrounding the exterior of the Myeongbu-jeon hall are some nicely rendered Ox-Herding murals. As soon as you step inside the Myeongbu-jeon hall you’ll be greeted by a colourful main hall with a green haired Jijang-bosal sitting with a golden staff in his left hand. But the true highlight to this hall are the extremely grotesque paintings for sinners that adorn the interior walls to this hall. Usually, they’re saved for the exterior walls, but a bit of creative license was taken with the artistry of this hall. Of note is the vulture eating the eye out of a sinners head.

Behind this hall, and up a set of stairs, is a stone courtyard with two of the more unique stone statues of Buddhas. On the left is a faceless statue of a Buddha that has been formally smashed into three separate pieces. Fortunately for us, this statue has been repaired. Next to this ancient statue is a newer statue dedicated to what looks to be Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). What’s interesting about this statue is the glass orb that he holds in his left hand. Never seen that before.

The final building at Munsusa Temple is the Samseong-gak. Inside, and to the far right, are row upon row of caged electrical candles, which really heats up the hall in the summer. To the left of these electrical candles are paintings dedicated to San shin (The Mountain Spirit), Dokseong (The Recluse) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Of note is the highly original colour scheme of the San shin mural

Admission to the temple is free.

HOW TO GET THERE: There’s really two ways you can get to Munsusa Temple. First, if you decided to travel directly from Ulsan, you can catch the Munsusa Temple shuttle bus from the Ulsan Gongeuptop Rotary. It leaves at 8 and 9 A.M., respectively during the weekdays. The shuttle bus will drop you off at the Munsusa Temple parking lot. From the parking lot, you’ll have to walk an additional 500 metres to get to the temple.

The other way you can get to Munsusa Temple is from Busan. First you’ll have to get to the Nopo-dong subway station. From the bus stop outside the station, you can catch either bus #2300, #1137, #1127, or #2100 and get off at the Shinjeong bus stop and walk to get to the Gongeuptop Rotary. The bus trip from Busan to Ulsan will take about 2 hours. From where the bus drops you off in Shinjeong, you’ll have to walk an additional 5 to 10 minutes to the rotary. And then, much like if you live in Ulsan, you’ll have to take the temple’s shuttle bus.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. By far, the highlight to this temple is the view. If you go on a clear day, you can either see Ulsan and/or the ocean below. And if you go early enough, you can see the fog slowly receding over Mt. Munsusan’s peaks. In addition to all of its natural beauty, the murals inside of the Myeongbu-jeon, the twin statues in the stone courtyard of the Buddha, the set of statues that sit on the altar inside the main hall, and the shaman deity murals inside of the Samseong-gak hall make Munsusa Temple a must see if you’re in the Ulsan area.

When I arrived, the fog was still lifting from the peaks at Mt. Munsusan. CSC_0963
The main hall as you approach the temple grounds.
If you turn left, instead of right, when the path forks, you’ll find this golden Buddha just before the stairs that ascend to the monks’ quarters.
The bell pavilion that you’ll pass under to gain admittance to the temple courtyard.
A different look at the main hall at Munsusa Temple.
A look inside the main hall at the five statues that reside on the altar.
The older looking three tier pagoda that stands between the main hall and the Myeongbu-jeon hall.
Sitting on the colourful altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon hall is this green haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
One of the gruesome paintings that welcomes you to the Myeongbu-jeon.
And an even more graphic painting of a sinner having his eye plucked out by a ravenous vulture.
One, of the two, Buddha statues that resides in the upper courtyard at Munsusa Temple.
 The newer Buddha statue that has a crystal orb in front of it.
And in the neighbouring Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall is this beautiful San shin (The Mountain Spirit) mural.
And one last look from the temple courtyard up at the monks’ quarters at Munsusa Temple.

Sinbulsa Temple – 신불사 (Ulju-gun, Ulsan)

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The extremely rare image of Samshin Halmoni at Sinbulsa Temple in Ulsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

After being told about this place from a friend, and seeing a couple pictures, I couldn’t help but visit Sinbulsa Temple (신불사) on the southwestern part of Ulsan. I’m not too sure how the friend found it, because it doesn’t show up on any map on the trusty GPS in my car, but Sinbulsa Temple was well worth the treasure hunt to find for a couple of unique features that it houses.

When you first arrive at the temple, after wandering around the outskirts of the Samsung factory, you’ll first see a stone sign that reads “신불사.” Down the elbowed road, the road splits to the right and the left. To the right is the temple compound and to the left are a row of buildings (more on that later).

Straight ahead, on the right road, is a newly built bell pavilion that houses a really large sized bell, especially for how small the temple is. Adorning the bell are beautifully large Biseon and Korean poetic writing. Walking past the bell pavilion, you’ll be greeted by the main hall to the left, and straight ahead is the monks’ dorm.

The exterior walls of the main hall are rather plain in their decoration. The four paintings that adorn the exterior walls seem rather childish in composition. However, inside the main hall, the hall is both colourful and beautiful. Sitting on the main altar is a set of six Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In the centre of the set is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To the Buddha’s immediate right and left are statues of Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). And next to these statues are statues of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Light). And next to Amita-bul is Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom of Amita-bul). Left of this set of altar statues is a statue of a traditional looking Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And next to this statue is an even more unique statue of Jijang-bosal: this time, he’s seated on an elephant and backed by individual paintings of the 10 Kings of the Underworld. On the far right wall is another statue of Gwanseeum-bosal, as well as a beautifully large guardian painting.

Just past the main hall is the monks’ dorm. And next to that is a shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). Inside this shrine hall is a seated golden statue of Yongwang with a beautiful mural behind him. This mural has Yongwang to the left and a blue dragon to the right. Just in front of the golden statue of Yongwang is an open pit where the mountain water flows, and to the immediate left are rows upon rows of green jade statues of Buddhas. Next to this shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang is an open outdoor shrine dedicated to Dokseong (The Recluse). Again, this shrine is large and golden, much like Yongwang, and the mural that backs this statue is beautifully rendered.

Across the creek, and over the bridge, is a courtyard with a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal in the centre of the grounds. There are two beautiful flanking stone lanterns and a tiny stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal to the right of the courtyard. It’s rather plain and cluttered, but the design of the stone sculptures and statues are beautiful.

Now, heading back through the temple grounds, and back to where you first began, you should now head left where the road originally forked. This part of the temple, and this row of shrine hall buildings, is definitely the highlight of Sinbulsa Temple. To the right of the shrine halls is an interesting little display case that opens. Inside is a painting of Samshin Halmoni. She is extremely rare to find at a Korean Buddhist temple, as she’s almost exclusively used in Korean shamanism. Inside the first shrine hall is the Sanshin-gak with a nice statue and painting of San shin (The Mountain Spirit). Uniquely, there’s a large stone boulder from the neighbouring mountain inside the hall. To the left of the Sanshin-gak shrine hall is yet another highly unique painting of Samshin Halmoni with Dangsan Cheonwang. Inside the final shrine hall are some older looking paintings of guardians I am unfamiliar with.

HOW TO GET THERE: To say that this temple isn’t the easiest one to find in Korea is to put it mildly. First, you will have to take a bus to Yangsan. From the Yangsan Health Centre, near the Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take either local city bus 63 or 67. The bus ride until your destination is about one hour. You will then have to get off at the SDI (Samsung Development Institute) factory. Take the first left that heads towards the main entrance gate at the factory. The road will fork to the left just before you arrive at the entrance gate. Follow this road, as it twists and turns for a good two to three kilometres. But don’t worry, there is good signage leading you towards the temple the entire way. On your way, you’ll pass by a forested area, as well as a few factories to the rear of the SDI facility.

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OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. While the temple buildings themselves and temple statues are rather unimpressive, it’s the statues and halls dedicated to the shaman deities that make this temple so special. So if you have the time and the energy it takes to find this temple, it’s well worth the effort.

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The entrance to Sinbulsa Temple.
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The view of the temple complex as you approach down the winding road.
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The view of the newly built bell pavilion as you head right towards the temple complex.
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A better look at the rather large bell at Sinbulsa Temple.
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A vibrant look up at the main hall at the temple.
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A look at the shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang, as well as the outdoor shrine dedicated to Dokseong.
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Inside is this golden statue of Yongwang with an elaborate painting of Yongawang, as well.
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A closer look at a golden Dokseong.
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A statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) from the courtyard at the temple.
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Inside the beautiful and colourful main hall.
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A beautiful rendering of the guardian painting to the right of the main altar.
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A statue of Gwanseeum-bosal to the right of the main altar.
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A unique statue of Jijang-bosal riding an elephant with all ten of the Kings of the Underworld behind him.
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And next to one Jijang-bosal, is another statue of a more traditional statue of Jijang-bosal.
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The buildings to the left of the main courtyard. Inside these halls are some extremely unique paintings.
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Like this one inside the first shrine hall.
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As well as this one.
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The entrance to one of the most unique shrine halls I’ve ever seen at a Korean temple. This one is dedicated to Dangsan Cheonwang and Sam shin Halmoni.
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A better look at the two holding hands.
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Another shrine hall is the Sanshin-gak shrine hall dedicated to the shaman Mountain Spirit.
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Accompanying San shin are these two paintings to the side of the altar.
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Yet another interesting part of this temple was this altar dedicated to Samshin Halmoni.
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A picture of the painting of Samshin Halmoni inside the altar.