Garamsa Temple – 가람사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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Perhaps the most beautiful and unique depictions of the Buddha’s life at Garamsa Temple in Yangsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

On the way to Yonghwasa  Temple, and down the same steep hillside road, was Garamsa Temple (가람사).  At first, I wasn’t sure if I would go to Garamsa Temple, not because it was disinteresting or any other reason, but because my healing ankle was still hurting me a bit. Who knew that a staff volleyball game could cause a month of pain?  Fortunately, my severely sprained ankle was holding up, so I decided to stop by Garamsa Temple after visiting the neighbouring Yonghwasa Temple.

Situated on the top of the hill, and just above the valley based Yonghwasa Temple, is Garamsa Temple.  Garamsa Temple is situated on the edge of the mountainside, just before it plunges down to the valley basement and the Nakdong River.  In a lot of ways, Garamsa Temple is a far more aesthetically pleasing temple than Yonghwasa Temple is.  Garamsa Temple grounds are bigger than that of Yonghwsa Temple.  As you approach Garamsa Temple, you’ll first see the monk dormitory.  Strangely, the buildings don’t greet the visitor squarely; but instead, they face east, and away from the visitor. To the left of the monk dormitory is a flower garden sitting area that has a great view of the mountains, the valley, and the Nakdong River that all surround the temple. Walking forward, you’ll then be greeted by the main hall, with the shrine hall a bit further to the right, and directly behind the main hall.  As you walk through the gates, there are a pair of beautiful lion sculptures.  Haetae are mythological creatures, both in Korea and China, that consume fire. The main hall itself has beautiful murals depicting the life of the Buddha.  In fact, I would say that these are perhaps the best I’ve seen throughout all of Korea.  They are a mixture of cartoon, feminity, and realism, all mixed into one beautiful set of paintings.  Well, hopefully with the pictures it will. Also, there are some gorgeous ornamental paintings of bouquets of flowers all around the gables of the main hall. Inside the main hall, there are an assortment of standard sculptures and paintings. There is a beautiful golden painting of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left of the main altar piece at the temple.  Just right of the larger statue of Jijang-bosal, are about 100 smaller incarnations of this Bodhisattva.  A little further right is the main altar piece,  Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), and Gwanseeum-bosal (Bodhisattva of Compassion). To the immediate right of Gwanseeum-bosal are another 100 smaller incarnations of this goddess.On the adjoining wall is an elaborate painting of the different incarnations of the Buddha and the Nahan.  Interestingly, there are a couple really interesting individual figures in this painting that I’ve never seen on any other Korean Buddhist mural. Just south of the main hall, as you continue to explore the temple, is a meditative hall for monks only.  This hall has a spectacular view of the valley and river below.  It truly must inspire the monks that meditatively sit in it.

HOW TO GET THERE:  Just like Yonghwasa Temple, there are two ways to get to Garamsa Temple.  Either you can walk the 10 kilometre distance, with a good map, from the PNU Yangsan Campus subway station, or you can hire a taxi to drive you the distance.  The total cost of the ride would probably be just under 10,000 won. The only difference is that Garamsa Temple is situated on the top of the hill, while Yonghwasa Temple is about 100 metres below in the neighbouring valley. Admission to the temple is free.

View 가람사 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. Surprising, I thought that Garamsa Temple was more interesting to visit than the historically important Yonghwasa Temple and its seated stone yeorae statue from the mid to late Silla Dynasty.  What really stood out for me about this temple are the beautiful views of the Korean countryside as made evident by the burgeoning valley below, the Nakdong River, and the all-encompassing mountain ranges.  Added to this are some of the most beautiful and unique paintings of the Buddha’s life in all of Korea.  For these reasons, in my humble opinion, Garamsa Temple rates slight higher than the neighbouring Yonghwasa Temple. Both, combined, can make for a nice little adventure just outside the Busan city limits.

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The road that leads into Garamsa Temple.
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The sign that welcomes you to Garamsa Temple (가람사).
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The first sign of the temple as you approach Garamsa Temple: the parking lot!
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The main hall at the temple.
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The lion guardian with a beautiful sky up above.
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And a wider view of both lion guardians at the gateway that leads into the main courtyard at the temple.
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A view of the Nakdong River below from just outside the main courtyard.
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The main doors at the temple with the Chinese inscription above them.
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And the view of the valley below and the mountains above.
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The shrine hall at Garamsa Temple, which is just behind the main hall.
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Some of the beautiful paintings at the temple.  This one depicts the death of the earthly Buddha.
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Buddha with his followers.
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Buddha attaining enlightenment.
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The princely Siddhartha Gautama escaping his father’s castle.
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The baby Buddha is born!
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Buddha’s mother dreams about….
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…an elephant.
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A painting and statue of Jijang Bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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And 100 tiny statues of Jijang Bosal.
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The main altar pieces are Amita-bul (The  Buddha of the Western Paradise) in the centre, Gwanseeum-bosal (Bodhisattva of Compassion) on the right, and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the left.
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A beautifully elaborate guardian painting in black.
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At the bottom is a disfigured individual that I’ve never ever seen at any other temple in all of Korea.
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A view of the main hall.
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And one last look at the temple and the beautiful neighbouring surroundings.

Yonghwasa Temple – 용화사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The seated stone yeorae statue, from the mid to late Silla Dynasty, at Yonghwasa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

With my wife spending the night at the in-laws, I decided to wake up early and visit a couple of temples in the area that I had wanted to see for a while.  With the GPS as my guide, I turned up the music in the car and headed over to Yonghwasa Temple (용화사) here in Yangsan. And from what my GPS was telling me, the car ride was a short 7 kilometre drive. So up the winding hillside road that skirts the Nakdong River, I made my way towards the temple. And down the steep face of the mountain, down a little gravel road, I finally arrived at Yonghwasa Temple.

The temple itself is extremely modest with only three temple structures on the compound.  Straight ahead is the main temple building.  To the left is the monk dormitory.  And to the right is the shrine hall for San Shin. The monk dorm is a hodge-podge of material that almost resembles a modern day shack. The shrine hall, on the other hand, stands beside the main hall instead of behind it.  It’s perched on a man-made outcropping adjacent to the mountain. Outside, there is a fiercely realistic painting of two tigers.  Inside, there are three murals.  One is a beautiful painting of Sanshin (The Mountain god), while the other two are traditional Buddhist paintings found typically in shrine halls.

But what makes Yonghwasa Temple stand out is its seated stone yeorae statue from the mid to late Unified Silla Dynasty (668-935 A.D.) in the main hall. The statue was originally housed in the temple site Gamro-ri Sangdong-myeon, in Gimhae; however, the statue was transferred to the Nakdong riverside at the end of the Joseon Period (the 1800’s). And it was finally moved to Yonghwasa Temple, where it’s presently housed, in February of 1947. The statue’s features: narrow eyes, small mouth and nose, are typical of sculptures from the late Unified Silla Period.  On the nimbus (the statue’s base), there are engraved flames, lotus flowers, and clouds. The characteristics of the statues are mid-Silla, but the detailed facial features are late-Silla Period in their design.  And the painted white eyes are a recent addition to the sculpture.

Additionally, in the main hall, there are a couple unique paintings contained within the building. There is an all-black guardian painting with the individuals in the painting only their faces painted white.  I’ve never seen a similar painting at any other temple in Korea.  There are also a couple other older paintings, portraying different gods, inside the main hall. Another unique aspect to this main hall is that there are no paintings on the outside of the main hall.  There are a couple decorative flower paintings on the exterior of the main hall, but there are no ox-herding murals, or the more common paintings detailing the life of the Buddha, on the outside of the main hall.  This absence is unique to Korean temples.

HOW TO GET THERE:  There are two ways to get to Yonghwasa Temple.  Either you can walk the 8 to 10 kilometre distance, with a good map, from the PNU Yangsan Campus subway station, or you can hire a taxi to drive you the distance.  The total cost of the ride would probably be just under 10,000 won. Admission to the temple is free.

View 용화사 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 3.5/10. All but for the seated stone yeorae statue, Yonghwasa Temple has very little else to offer the Korean temple adventurer. The monk dorm quarters are non-descript, and the outside of the temple buildings are rather plain and boring.  However, the interior paintings of the shrine hall and the main hall somewhat redeem the aesthetic of this temple.  Also, the uniqueness of the beautifully intact stone statue from the mid to late Silla Dynasty, make this temple somewhat worth seeing for the more die hard temple adventurer.  See this temple at your own discretion.

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The road that leads down to Yonghwasa Temple with the Nakdong River in the centre.
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That way to Yonghwasa Temple (용화사).
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The shrine hall at Yonghwasa Temple.
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One of two tigers adorning the exterior of the shrine hall.
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The painting dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), inside the shrine hall.
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A painting of Yongwang inside the shrine hall at Yonghwasa Temple.
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A view of the main hall from the shrine hall.
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The front doors and the inscription above the main hall.
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An ancient memorial tablet to the left of the main hall.
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A couple small statues in the cracks of the neighbouring mountainside at the temple.
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Umm….the patented spoon lock at the main hall?
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The uniquely all-black guardian painting inside the main hall at Yonghwasa Temple.
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 One of the older paintings I’ve seen inside of a main hall at any temple in Korea.
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Another of the beautiful paintings inside the main hall at Yonghwasa Temple.
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Another picture of the ancient seated stone yeorae statue at Yonghwasa Temple.  It dates back to around 700 to 900 A.D.
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 An upclose picture of the finely sculpted features of the Buddha from the mid to late Silla Dynasty.
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There were about 50 of these tiny gold Buddha statues and about 50 tiny white Buddha statues.
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An upclose of Jijang Bosal.  This tiny Buddha was dedicated to someone named Yeo Min Gyeong.
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One last look at the shrine hall at Yonghwasa Temple from the main hall.
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One last look across the main hall with the paper lanterns on display for the Buddha’s birthday on May 10th.

Seounam Hermitage – 서운암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

Picture 487A view of Seounam Hermitage with Gochujang (red pepper paste) and Ganjang (soy bean sauce) jars surrounding it.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The last stop on our Tongdosa Temple hermitage tour was Seounam Hermitage (서운암). It had been nearly 8 years since I last visited Seounam Hermitage in 2003.  In fact, it was one of the first places my wife and I went when we were first dating.  So it has a lot of sentimentality attached to it for the two of us. And very little has changed with the hermitage, unlike at Okryeonam Hermitage. It was nice to be back at a place that holds so many good memories for us.

As you approach the hermitage, you’ll first have to pass by the hermitage parking lot, which is usually quite packed. To your immediate right is the main compound where all the hermitage buildings are situated.  Unfortunately, these buildings are off limits.  But you can still take a few nice pictures from a distance.  However, what makes Seounam Hermitage noteworthy, strangely, aren’t the temple structures.  Instead, what makes Seounam Hermitage memorable are the beautiful views of the Korean landscape and the massive amounts of Gochujang (red pepper paste) and Ganjang (soy bean sauce) earthen jars that greet you just as soon as you pass by the hermitage buildings. When we visited this time, there was a Korean photography club out taking pictures of these ornamental jars and the neighbouring valley. As we passed by the jars to the left, we made our way up the winding hermitage road that leads to monk dorms up on the hill.  As we walked up this elevated road, we walked by a maintenance tent with an impromptu zoo that houses a solitary guest: a beautiful peacock. At first, the peacock ignored us, that is, until my in-laws kept saying you’re beautiful (in Korean), which allowed for some up-close pictures of the peacock. Instead of walking all the way up the hill until the monk dorms, since we were tired after already viewing three other temples/hermitages, we veered right towards the top of a hill that overlooks the small valley below.  My wife told me that this valley is extremely colourful in the springtime, and since it’s only now entering into the first few days of spring, we were only able to see the budding beauty of the flowers and trees below. Fortunately, there were many more great views of the valley besides the flowering trees and flowers, like the wandering rabbit that came right up to us. Strangely, at least strange in comparison to other temples, the main feature of this hermitage isn’t its buildings or artwork; but instead, the views of a beautiful Korean landscape and wildlife.

HOW TO GET THERE:  Just like Okryeonam Hermitage, Samyeongam Hermitage, and Baekryeonjeongsa Temple, you’ll have to first take a bus to Tongdosa Temple. To get to Tongdosa from the Gyeongsangnam-do area, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. And from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Once you get to the parking lot for Tongdosa Temple, keep walking up the road for cars to the left.  Follow this road for about a kilometre.  The road will fork to the right or straight.  Follow the road that leads straight, and keep heading straight (unlike the three previous Buddhist structures that veer slightly to the right). Continue up this road for about a kilometres and follow the signs as you go; either that, or you’ll just simply find the hermitage because that’s where this road ends and where the hermitage begins.

And just like Okryeonam Hermitage, Samyeongam Hermitage, and Baekryeonjeongsa Temple, the admission to Seounam  is free to get into; however, you’ll have to pay the 3,000 won entrance fee at the Tongdosa Temple entrance gate.  But that 3,000 won sure does pay for a lot, like being able to see Tongdosa Temple, and any other hermitage your time and effort will allow you to see.

View 서운암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10. Just like Baekryeonjeongsa Temple rates four point five out of ten, so does Seounam Hermitage, but for two completely different reasons.  While Baekryeonjeongsa Temple gets the rating it does for its temple buildings, Seounam Hermitage gets the rating it does for the beautiful outdoor adornment (the Korean traditional jars) and the beautiful views of the Korean landscape and wildlife. So often you’ll hear that all Korean temples/hermitages look the same, but if you want to see something a bit different from a Buddhist temple or hermitage, Seounam is certainly the place to visit.

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A view of the temple compound at Seounam Hermitage from the parking lot.
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Picture 473The first field of Gochujang (red pepper paste) and Ganjang (soy bean sauce) in earthen jars nestled beside the hermitage compound.
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And a view of the second field.
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One last look at both fields with the hermitage in the background, just before we made our climb.
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The monk dorms that sit on top of the hill above.
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The beautiful peacock that is housed  in the supply tent at Seounam Hermitage.
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The wild rabbit that we came across when cresting the neighbouring hill.
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A better look at it as it approached us for food.
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The beautiful valley below that was just beginning to bud in preparation for spring.
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Another view of the beautiful Korean landscape.
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An evergreen standing solitarily on the hill with the monk dorm in the background.
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Just one more look at the beautiful valley below us.
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A glimpse of the trail that was to lead us back home.
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A better look at the cherry blossoms that were in bloom.
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Yep, spring is just around the corner!!

Baekryeonjeongsa Temple – 백련정사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The uniquely situated main hall at Baekryeonjeongsa Temple

Hello Again Everyone!!

In this posting, we’ll be covering another of the beautiful religious structures inside the Tongdosa Temple grounds.  This one’s a bit different, as it isn’t a hermitage, it’s a temple.  The vast majority of religious structures on the Tongdosa Temple grounds are hermitages.  I was really surprised when I came across Baekryeonjeongsa Temple (백련정사).

As you approach Baekryeongsa Temple, up the temple driveway, you’ll notice a Korean poem inscribed on a standing slab of stone. It’s just one of the more unique features to this temple. Continuing up the driveway that leads up to the temple, you’ll pass by a tiled fence with mud as mortar.  Up the stone staircase, you’ll initially pass by the visitors centre to your left.  Once you enter the temple’s pebbled courtyard, your first surprise awaits you.  You’ll quickly notice that there’s no main hall where it should be on the lower level.  Instead, all that’s awaiting you on the lower level are the monk’s dorm, study hall, and visitor’s centre.  You have to look up on the hill to see the main hall perched up above, as though guarding the rest of the temple grounds from something unseen.  After taking a couple pictures around the lower level, the family and I made our way up the stone staircase to get to the landing where the main hall at Baekryeonjeongsa Temple is situated. From this vantage point, there are a lot of beautiful pictures to be taken of the lower courtyard below, like the ancient and towering trees scattered throughout the lower courtyard, and the cherry blossoms that were just beginning to bloom.  It’s a nice sign because it means spring is just around the corner and the warmer weather with it. As for the main hall itself, it stood solitarily on its perch without either a shrine hall or bell pavilion. So when I say the temple is unique, it’s unique in a couple of ways.  First, you enter through the monk’s living quarters, only to make your way up to the main hall on the hill without any other buildings to keep it company. With that being said, the exterior of the main hall at Baekryeonjangsa Temple has a fair bit to offer the temple adventurer.  The theme of the temple building is roosters, and there are numerous blue and red roosters adorning the temple.  Additionally, there are several unique paintings adorning the exterior of the building, several I’ve never seen before at any other temple. These types of paintings are the reasons I love going out to new temples.  Honestly, no two temples are the same, and it takes a keen eye to spot the differences; however, if you’re patient enough, you’ll spot them.

HOW TO GET THERE:  Just like Okryeonam Hermitage and Samyeongam Hermitage, you’ll have to first take a bus to Tongdosa Temple. To get to Tongdosa from the Gyeongsangnam-do area, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. And from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you’ll eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Once you get to the parking lot for Tongdosa Temple, keep walking up the road for cars to the left.  Follow this road for about a kilometre.  The road will fork to the right or straight.  Follow the road that leads straight. Continue up this road for another two kilometres and follow the signs as you go because there is more than one hermitage back there. In this case, you’re looking for a sign that will read, in Korean, Baekryeonjeongsa Temple. It’s in the same proximal area as the other two listed hermitages.

Again, like Okryeonam Hermitage and Samyeongam Hermitage, Baekryeonjeongsa Temple is free to get into; however, you’ll have to pay the 3,000 won entrance fee at the Tongdosa Temple Entrance gate.  But that 3,000 won sure does pay for a lot, like being able to see Tongdosa Temple, and any other hermitage your time and effort will allow you to see.

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OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10. While the temple is well manicured, unique in its set up, and has some beautifully unique paintings to see, it doesn’t quite stack up to the hermitages that neighbour it. So if you drive a car, I would suggest quickly stopping by to see it; otherwise, I wouldn’t if you were short on time.  Both Okryeonam Hermitage and Samyeongam Hermitage are far more worth the effort to be seen.

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Your first look at Baekryeonjeongsa Temple as you approach the complex.
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The standing stone slab with a Korean poem adorning it.
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The tile and mud mortared fence that leads you towards the temple.
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 The pebble courtyard and slabs of stone with the monk’s dorm in the background.
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One, of four buildings, in the lower courtyard at the temple.
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The entrance to the trail that leads up to the main hall at Baekyeonjeongsa Temple.
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One of the many beautiful views on the way up with spring clearly just around the corner!
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A haunting picture, if I do say so myself.
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Another look at the main hall as we approached.
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The front doors on the main hall at Baekyeonjeongsa Temple.
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The phoenixed theme at the temple.
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I’ve never seen a painting resembling this one before. Any suggestions on what it might symbolize would greatly be appreciated.
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One of the most unique paintings I’ve ever see adorning a temple. Obviously, the man is attempting to reach for something sweet, with the rats chewing away at the roots that hold him, with snakes ready to pounce if he were to slip.  Highly symbolic!
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A better look at what I previously described.
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The eternal struggle between war and peace.
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One last look at the temple courtyard before we were off to our fourth and final temple/hermitage of the day. More to come…