UPDATES: Bulguksa Temple and Bunhwangsa Temple

Picture 133

Bulguksa Temple

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just recently my wife and I visited Bulguksa Temple and Bunhwangsa Temple.  It had been 3 years since I last visited Bulguksa Temple.  And it had been five years since I last visited Bunhwangsa Temple.  And while Bulguksa Temple is still the same old beautiful temple I visited three years ago, Bunhwangsa Temple has changed a fair bit since I last visited. In my last post on Bunhwangsa Temple, I mentioned that the temple was in the process of undergoing some changes and renovation to restore the temple to its former greatness during the Silla Dynasty. And while some of these changes have taken place, like the rebuilding of the bell pavilion, the reorganization of the courtyard, and the new entrance way into the temple, the temple still seems poised to undergo even more restoration and renovation.

So with all that said, please check out my updated postings on both Bulguksa Temple and Bunhwangsa Temple. Here:

Bulguksa Temple

Bunhwangsa Temple

Enjoy the updated pictures and descriptions!!

Picture 217
Bunhwangsa Temple

Sinheungsa Temple – 신흥사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

Picture 531

Just one of the mid 17th century painting from inside Daegwangjeon Hall at Sinheungsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

My wife and I have been to most of the major temples in and around Yangsan; however there was one temple we had yet to visit. So yesterday, we headed off to Sinheungsa Temple (not to be confused with the one near Sokcho in Gangwon-do).

Sinheungsa Temple (신흥사) means “New Enjoyment” Temple. And like all Korean temples, Sinheungsa Temple has a great story about why and how it was first built. According to legend, King Suro, the first king of the Gaya Confederation, was praying at the temple when he was advised that there was a poisonous dragon in a neighbouring jade pond.  He was instructed to drive out this poisonous dragon from the countryside. So praying in earnest, the temple building stones turned to fish and drove the dragon out of the countryside and into the East Sea. That’s why now, if you knock on a stone in Sinheungsa Temple, it sounds like metal.  I told you it was great!

Sinheungsa Temple can be approached up an unevenly paved country road. About a 500 metre walk off the main road will bring you to the first gate at the temple. The gate is elaborately painted and is a good indication of what awaits you just up the road. Continuing up the road, and beside the neighbouring stream, you’ll cross over a bridge decorated with a head and body of a dragon. Tying into the creation of the temple, the dragon motif is strong at this temple. Across this bridge, you’ll first notice the visitor’s centre and walled-off compound.  Behind these walls are the temple grounds. The entrance gate with the four heavenly kings is to your right. But don’t rush getting inside, because outside the walls there is plenty to see, like the beautiful stream and bridges. Interestingly, just outside the beautifully adorned second gate, is a pagoda with stones piled on top of it. Through the gateway, and past the four elaborately seated kings, is a beautiful view of the historic treasure: Daegwang-jeon Hall (“Great Light Hall”). Daegwang-jeon Hall is the main hall at the temple. The construction of the temple dates back to 1657. Outside, the temple building is a well-worn brown with the beautiful exterior paintings having been washed away. However, inside the hall, there are uniquely painted pictures of the Buddha, Guardian Spirits, and floral patterns. These paintings date back to the mid-17th century.

This is the centerpiece to the temple, but there are numerous other buildings that are equally beautiful in their design. When you initially walk into the temple grounds, you’ll notice the bell pavilion to your immediate left. This bell pavilion, like the bridge you first crossed over when entering the temple, is ornately decorated with dragons both inside and outside the building’s structure. Beside the bell pavilion is the temple’s Buddhist University. Plainly painted, there is an interesting painting of two scholars playing Baduk (Korean checkers). And up the hill, to the left of the main hall, is the shrine dedicated to the mountain god, San Shin. There are some beautiful views of the neighbouring valley, and a great view of the temple complex. Strangely, to the immediate right of the main hall, is a mini-compound. At first, it almost looked like another dorm for the monks, but looks can be deceiving. With a newly built, yet to be painted, temple building with its back to you, head through the corridor to the left. As you enter though this corridor, you’ll first encounter a hall dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).Like the entire temple, this hall has beautiful paintings decorating it both on the inside and outside of it. To the right of this hall, is the Judgment Hall. This building has four paintings that scarily depict what awaits the life of a sinner. Next to Songnimsa Temple in Daegu, Sinheungsa Temple has the scariest paintings detailing the afterlife for those that have sinned. Inside the Judgment Hall are some of the most unique paintings I have seen at any temple in Korea. These paintings are so unique that I’ve never seen ones coming close to them.

HOW TO GET THERE: Outside of owning a car, or paying a huge amount to a taxi driver, Sinheungsa Temple is nearly impossible to get to. But if there’s a will there’s a way.  To get to Sinheungsa Temple follow Local Road Number 1022 for 24 kilometres outside of Yangsan. And then from there, follow the Wondong/Yongpo-ri for another 5 kilometres. Good luck, and happy hunting! For more information check out Yangsan city website.

View 신흥사 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. I was expecting something small, like Garamsa Temple, but Sinheungsa Temple was a very pleasant surprise. Housing some 10 temple buildings that are all beautifully and elaborately decorated, Sinheungsa Temple rates as one of the best temples I have visited for their temple painting, such as the Judgment Hall, the San Shin shrine hall, the bell pavilion, and the second gate. Added to this is the historically and architecturally important Daegwang-jeon Hall, and you have a temple that is well worth the effort to find.

Picture 588
The valley where Sinheungsa Temple is housed.
Picture 408
The first gate that welcomes you to Sinheungsa Temple.
Picture 419
Just a couple of the unique paintings from inside the first gate.
Picture 587
The dragon bridge that spans the slowly moving stream. Knowing the myth behind the creation of the temple really helps you understand why there are just so many around the temple.
Picture 424
Another beautiful stone bridge that spans the stream through the trees.
Picture 428
A view of the visitors centre and the stone rail that leads up to it.  The stone rail is decorated with dragons, toads, and signs of enlightenment.
Picture 433
The elaborately decorated second gate with a view of the 17th century Daegwangjeon Hall inside.
Picture 438
An extremely unique door handle adorning the second gate.
Picture 444
A painting of one of the guardians adorning the second gate. All of the temple buildings were adorned with beautiful and unique paintings.
Picture 472
A view of the bell pavilion.
Picture 479
A look up in the rafters in the bell pavilion reveals even more dragons.
Picture 468
A view of the temple’s university, the dorms, and the shrine hall dedicated to San Shin (the Mountain God).
Picture 484
Two scholars playing a game of Baduk (Korean checkers). It’s situated on the southern wall of the university.
Picture 529
A better look at the shrine hall dedicated to Sanshin.
Picture 510
On one of the exterior shrine hall walls is this realistic painting of a tiger.  It appears through the trees.
Picture 518
And this rather odd painting also appears on the exterior walls of the shrine hall.
Picture 526
This unique painting appears on the inside of the shrine hall.
Picture 527
The amazing view of the temple compound from the shrine hall.  On the left is Daegwangjeon, and in the middle is the Judgment Hall, and to the right is the second gate.
Picture 536
The altar pieces inside the historic Daegwangjeon Hall. The Hall dates back to 1657.
Picture 534
Some more of the paintings that date back to the mid-17th century. They’ve seen better days, but they’re still quite amazing! This specific image is of a guardian.
Picture 532
This painting depicts different incarnations of the Buddha. It is situated on the left side of the main hall wall.
Picture 535
This painting of guardians is extremely unique. I’m not too sure if I’ve ever seen a guardian look anything close to this one.
Picture 538
And blended with the old, is this dynamic painting in the main hall of the various guardians.
Picture 543
Through this corridor is the hall for Gwanseheum Bosal (the Goddess of Mercy) to the left, the Judgment Hall in the middle, and a yet to be finished hall to the right.
Picture 546
A statue of Gwanseheum Bosal is the main altar piece inside the hall that bears the gods name.
Picture 559
Just one of the many unique paintings on the exterior of the Gwanseheum Bosal shrine hall.
Picture 561
Just one of the scary pictures that adorns the exterior of the Judgment Hall at the temple. Next to Songnimsa Temple in Daegu, Sinheungsa Temple has the second scariest paintings depicting the afterlife of a sinner.
Picture 564
Be careful of what you say, as the individual in this painting finds out.
Picture 580
Inside the the Judgment Hall is an ornate altar and Jijang Bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) at its centre.
Picture 577
One of the more unique paintings inside the Judgment Hall. I won’t even try to explain what it means.  Any suggestions would greatly be appreciated.
Picture 583
Another of the paintings from inside the Judgment Hall.  It seems more appropriate for Harry Potter.  Again, not even going to hazard a guess.

Girimsa Temple – 기림사 (Gyeongju)

Picture 184

Just some of the three thousand ceramic Buddhas in Samchunbul-jeon hall at Girimsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Coupled with Manbulsa Temple and Golgulsa Temple, Girimsa Temple was another temple I had long wanted to visit in my four and a half years of living in Korea. So after Golgulsa Temple, and just up the road, we decided to visit Girimsa Temple. In fact, Girimsa Temple is just a mere 3.6 kilometres away from Golgulsa Temple and on the same country road.

Girimsa Temple (기림사) literarily means “prayer forest.” It’s derived from Jetavana Monastery in India where the enlightened Buddha lived and taught. And Jetavana Monastery in Korean translates as Giwonjeongsa. The temple was originally called Imjeongsa Temple and was constructed by the Indian monk Gwangyu in the early Silla Dynasty. In 643, the temple was renovated and expanded during the flourishing reign of Queen Seondeok. It was during this period that the temple changed its name to Girimsa Temple by Wonhyo. Under his guidance it became one of the largest and most important temples in all of the Silla temples. During the Imjin War of 1592, Girimsa Temple acted as a command headquarters for warrior monks. And towards the end of the Joseon Dynasty, it became one of the thirty-one most important temples in the country. Girimsa Temple was the largest temple in Gyeongju until 1945, even larger than the now world famous Bulguksa Temple. In fact, when Bulguksa Temple was first built in 751, it was as a branch of Girimsa Temple. Now, the roles have been reversed, and GirimsaTemple is now a branch of Bulguksa Temple.

When we arrived at this temple with such a long and interesting history, a gang of ajummas were taking down all the paper lanterns from the Buddha’s Birthday festivities.  The temple was a bit out of sorts, but all the buildings were still accessible, and the beauty of the temple could still be seen through it all. Passing through the beautifully decorated first gate, you’ll make your way up a winding path for about 400 metres beside a rolling stream, until the forest recedes and you can see the temple compound. There are two ways in which you can go: You can either head left towards the newer, elevated, courtyard; or you can head right towards the lower elevated older courtyard. We headed towards the older courtyard, where most of the buildings date back to the late 1600’s and throughout the 1700’s. As you walk through the rather unimpressive guardian gate, you’ll come to a cluster of these brown weather worn temple buildings. To the immediate right is a cute water fountain. Continuing along, you’ll first pass by the long Jinnam-ru lecture hall. Veering right, as you pass by this hall, you’ll enter the main courtyard at the temple. The most impressive feature to this temple is the Daejeokgwang-jeon main worship hall. This hall sits directly across the courtyard. This hall dates back to 643. It was then renovated in 1629. Inside the hall are three huge and uniquely designed Buddha statues. In the centre is the Vairocana Buddha with the Seokgomani Buddha and Bodhisattva Nosana on either side of this central figure. These Buddha statues are made of gilt clay. In this building, as in all of the buildings at Girimsa Temple, there are no pictures allowed. To the right of the main hall is Yaksa-jeon hall. Inside this smallish hall is the Buddha of Medicine. Directly in front of this hall, and under the towering Bodhi tree, are 16 foundation stones that mark the site of a former wooden pagoda that use to reside at the temple. This wooden pagoda dated back to 660 A.D. The other building in this courtyard, other than the monk dorm, is Ungjin-jeon hall. Inside this hall there are nearly 500 cramped wooden Nahan figures each unique in their design.

On the newer, and elevated, courtyard are brightly painted halls. On the northern side of the compound you’ll first encounter the Gwaneum-jeon hall dedicated to its namesake: Gwanseheum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Without a doubt, this statue is one of the most beautiful and intricate statues in all of Korea of this Goddess. Further along this courtyard, you’ll come across Samcheonbul-jeon (“Three Thousand Buddhas Hall) with Seokgomani Buddha (The Historical Buddha) as its centre piece. On either side of the Seokgomani Buddha are two bodhisattvas. But the most impressive feature of this hall is the hundreds of seated green ceramic Buddha figures. Again, no pictures are allowed! Still continuing straight ahead, and on another elevated part of the temple, is the Myeongbu-jeon, the Judgment Hall, at the temple. On the far side of the courtyard is a newer looking bell pavilion.

Usually, I don’t visit the museums at temples, but I knew that the museum at Girimsa Temple had a couple really interesting pieces. The most important piece is a one metre tall gilt lacquer statue of Gwanseeum-bosal that dates back to 1501. At its core is sculpted paper and silk, with layers of lacquer and gold leaf adorning its exterior. There are also numerous paintings of head monks throughout the ages that are of note as well.

HOW TO GET THERE: Much like Golgulsa Temple, you’ll first have to get to Gyeongju. From Gyeongju, you can take either bus 100 or 150 that goes towards Gampo. Get off at the Andong-ri intersection. You can either wait for the infrequent bus number 130, or you can walk the 40 minute hike. Or if you’re going to Golgulsa Temple, just walk the 3.6 kilometres from Golgulsa Temple to Girimsa Temple. Both temples are situated on the same winding Korean country road. And to get into Girimsa Temple it costs 3,000 Won.

View 기림사 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. While not nearly as impressive as Golgulsa Temple, Girimsa Temple has a charm and history that make it an important temple to be seen. The most impressive features of this temple are the amazing multi-armed and multi-faced Gwanseeum-bosal statue, the Daejeokgwang-jeon main worship hall that dates back to 643, and the gold-leafed Goddess of Mercy in the temple museum. This, coupled with GolgulsaTemple, can make for a nice day trip to Gyeongju!

Picture 113
The first gate that welcomes you to Girimsa Temple.
Picture 120
The path that leads to the temple.
Picture 124
The second gate at the temple. This gate contains the four guardians of the temple.
Picture 127
One of the guardians at Girimsa Temple.
Picture 136
A view of the beautiful bell pavilion on the upper/newer courtyard.
Picture 138
The long Jinnam-ru lecture hall at the temple.
Picture 142
A view of the main hall, Daejeokgwang-jeon. This hall dates back to 643. And out in front are two members of the ajumma posse.
Picture 144
Inside the main hall. These are two of the more unique centre pieces at any of the temples I’ve ever visited.
Picture 151
A view of the hall next to the main hall. Yaksa-jeon is dedicated to the God of Medicine.
Picture 147
Inside Yaksa-jeon is the Medicine God.
Picture 146
And finally, in the older courtyard, is Ungjin-jeon hall with some more of the ajumma posse.
Picture 152
The well weathered 3 tiered pagoda in front of Ungjin-jeon hall.
Picture 153
The 500 Nahan figures inside Ungjin-jeon hall.
Picture 139
The path that leads up to the upper/newer courtyard at Girimsa Temple.
Picture 160
Perhaps the most beautiful statue of Gwanseeum-bosal in all of Korea.
Picture 178
A view of Samchunbul-jeon hall (Literally, “3,000 Buddhas Hall”).
Picture 172
Along the exterior of the hall are paintings depicting the Buddha’s life.
Picture 173
Another of the beautiful paintings.
Picture 181
Inside Samcheonbul-jeon are 3,000 Buddha’s, as well as the Historical Buddha as the centre piece of the altar in the hall.
Picture 180
A look at just a hundred of the thousand green ceramic Buddha statues.
Picture 175
A beautiful Japanese Maple keeping the Judgment Hall at Girimsa Temple company.
Picture 194
The beautiful bell pavilion at Girimsa Temple.
Picture 192
The drum inside the bell pavilion.
Picture 224
The museum that houses so much of Girimsa’s treasure.
Picture 213
And the priceless gold Bodhisattva of Mercy.

Golgulsa Temple -골굴사 (Gyeongju)

Picture 100

The impressive 9th century Seokgamoni Buddha sculpture with pockmarked caves surrounding it.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Manbulsa Temple had been on that list of temples I had wanted to visit in the four and a half years I’ve lived in Korea, but because of the difficulty of getting to them, I never got to visit.  Golgulsa Temple (골굴사) in Gyeongju was another one of these temples. So another temple that had been on the list of hard to reach temples was checked off yesterday.

Golgulsa Temple (“Bone Cave Temple) is located in a narrow valley on Mount Hamwol. The temple dates back to the 6th century.  It was first built out of solid rock by Saint Kwang Yoo and his followers from India. Golgulsa Temple is known for two things: Seonmudo (zen martial arts) and a 20 foot tall stone carving of the Seokgamoni Buddha (The Historical Buddha). The practice of Seonmudo dates back to Silla Dynasty, when the priests Won’gwang and Wonhyo taught the martial art of mind and body to an elite corp of military personnel. Seonmudo was passed on from generation to generation until it was finally surpressed by Japanese colonizers during their occupation from 1910-1945. Finally, in the 1970’s, Seonmudo was revived under the watchful eye of the head monk Yangik. Training people started in the 1980’s.  And in 1990, a practice studio was built for monks and people to learn the ancient martial art. Free demonstrations are given daily at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The other key attraction at Golgulsa Temple, and what has historically drawn more people to the temple, is the 20 foot tall depiction of Seokgamoni Buddha (The Historical Buddha) on a mountainside rock face. This sculpture dates back to the 9thcentury during the Silla Dynasty.

As you first approach the temple from the highway, you’ll first encounter the unimposing gate. Continuing up this road, you’ll come across the dorm for the temple stay and the parking lot.  To the right is the practice facility for Seonmudo.  And the day we went, it was busy with foreigners coming in and out of the building.  It’s good to see that Seonmudo is doing so well! To get to the actual temple, you’ll have to continue up a winding road that runs on an increasingly elevated pitch. Half way up this road, you’ll encounter the monk dorm: this will be the first time you’ll be able to see the Seokgamoni Buddha sculpture off in the distance and under the Plexiglas and steel protective casing. A little further up the road, and a little more out of breath, you’ll finally come to the base of the temple. Looking straight up from where you stand, you’ll see a pagoda to the far left, the main hall slightly to the left, and a maze of caves pock marked throughout the limestone face of the mountain.  This maze includes the statue of the Historical Buddha. Trekking up the long staircase, you can either turn left or right. Left will bring you to the main hall and right will bring you to the Seokgamoni Buddha statue. Take your time, and first stop off at the main hall.  The main hall has a beautiful view of the valley below.  Also, there are numerous uniquely illustrated paintings adorning the exterior of the newly built main hall which highlight the temple’s affiliation with Seonmudo. After you’ve got your fill of the main hall, finally make your way up through the limestone maze of smaller sized caves.  In total, there is said to be twelve of these caves. The first of these caves is dedicated to the Mountain God: San Shin, as well as another shrine to its immediate right. A little further up on the rock face is a shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). At a plateau, there is a worship hall in one of the larger caves on the limestone rock face. This shrine is dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The  Bodhisattva of Compassion). Now, get ready for some hand over hand rope climbing to get to the 20 foot tall sculpture of the Seokgamoni Buddha. Through a limestone “O” ring, you’ll make your way along a narrow passage way and then finally up to the sculpture.  Make sure you bring comfortable and sure of foot shoes as this route is a bit tricky. Finally, at the top of the mountain, you’ll have both a great view of the valley below and the awe-inspiring Seokgamoni Buddha from the 9th century. The sculpture is protected by a small rock overhang and a Plexiglas protective casing. The years haven’t been all that kind to the statue as flakes of it have fallen off throughout the years. It’s an amazing sight to be had! Finally, when you’re ready to make your way down, be just as careful, as it’s just as tricky on the way up as it is on the way down. To the left of the main hall, and perched on an opening, is a strange looking pagoda symbolic of the Seonmudo order of martial arts. From here, you can get some great pictures of the entire rock-face and main hall.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to Gyeongju.  From Gyeongju, you can take either bus 100 or 150 that goes towards Gampo. You can catch this bus across from the intercity bus terminal. Get off at the Andong-ri intersection and walk the 20 minutes to the temple entrance.  Keep your eyes open as there are only a couple signs that mark the way to Golgulsa Temple. And it’s free to get into Golgulsa Temple.

View 골굴사 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10. Golgulsa Temple truly blew me away.  It’s rare when I’m actually that impressed by a temple. But Golgulsa Temple is an impressive temple to visit. You can spend a night at the temple for 50,000 Won and participate in the ancient martial art of Seonmudo. Or, you can visit the impressive caves and 20 foot tall Seokgamoni Buddha that stands at the top of the mountain at Golgulsa Temple. Either way, you’re sure to be inspired when you visit. I highly, highly recommend this lesser known temple in Gyeongju!

Picture 001
The entrance gate at Golgulsa Temple.
Picture 002
The practice hall for Seonmudo at the temple.
Picture 008
The jovial dharma that sits in the parking lot as you continue your ascent towards the main hall and sculpture. Picture 011
The monk’s dorm with the Seokgomani Buddha off in the distance (top left).
Picture 019
Finally, at the base of the rock face. To the left is the main hall and to the right is the ancient sculpture of the Historical Buddha.
Picture 023
A look to the right at the ancient stone sculpture of The Historical Buddha.
Picture 044A look to the left is the uniquely painted main hall at Golgulsa Temple.
Picture 084
One of the unique paintings linking the temple with its Seonmudo past, present and future.
Picture 085
A Seonmudo martial artist that’s as light as a crane.
Picture 029
An extremely unique painting that combines the life of the Historical Buddha and the central sign for Seonmudo (you’ll see it again in pagoda form).
Picture 031
The journey towards enlightenment.
Picture 032
A painting depicting the harmonization of the mind and the body through Seonmudo.
Picture 034
The main altar piece at the main hall at Golgulsa Temple.
Picture 037
Another monstrous creation that hangs on the walls inside the main hall. It’s a lot like the black creature at Garamsa Temple in Yangsan.
Picture 082
The shrine for Sanshin, the Mountain Spirit.
Picture 078
A pantheon of Buddhas, centred by Jijang Bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), in a rock outcropping.
Picture 080
A shrine hall formed around a cave.
Picture 047
 Inside is a a statue of Gwanseheum Bosal (The Bodhisattva of mercy) with smaller statues perched on natural cave outcroppings.
Picture 068
 The view of the valley below from on top of the shrine hall dedicated to Gwanseheum Bosal.
Picture 051
 Finally, at the top of the mountain: the 9th century statue of the Historical Buddha is awe-inspiring.
Picture 052
A closer look at the statue reveals stones slowly flaking away upon its breast.
Picture 092
As was mentioned earlier, the pagoda that symbolizes the Seonmudo martial arts.
Picture 097
And one last look at the main hall with the pock-marked limestone caves and the 9th century stone statue of the Historical Buddha.

Manbulsa Temple – 만불사 (Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

Picture 018The truly breath-taking lantern tower at Manbulsa Temple in Yeongcheon.

Hello Again Everyone!!

For Children’s Day, the Korean family and I decided to head up to Gyeongsangbuk-do and visit Manbulsa Temple (만불사).  Manbulsa Temple (“Ten Thousand Buddhas Temple”) is a temple the wife, in-laws, and I wanted to visit for some time. So with a day off for all of us, we decided to head up to the neighbouring province and see what Manbulsa Temple had to offer.

So hopping in the trusty KIA Pride, we headed up Highway 1, and were at the temple in just over an hour.  As we approached the temple, the first thing you’ll see is Yongcheon Pond to your right.  In the centre of this rather large pond is a seated Buddha.  Continuing up the road, you’ll see the first row of the 10,000 Buddhas yet to come. At the end of the first row of Buddhas, you’ll come to the temple parking lot.  As you approach, you’ll notice that Manbulsa Temple is a temple still largely under construction.  Having only started constructing the temple in 1995, a lot of the buildings are still being constructed or refined.  So keep that in mind when looking around and walking around the yet to be paved roads.

Just past the parking lot, and across the road, you’ll see an ox-herding statue depicting all the different stages of the journey within the Buddhist faith. There are a couple other statues and a cute looking water fountain in the area. But once you see these, you’ll get your first good glimpse of the bell tower, the lantern tower, and the main hall. So cross the road once more, and you’ll first see the spectacularly beautiful and breath taking lantern tower. I’ve never seen anything like the golden lantern tower at any other Korean temple.  With the triple golden spires reaching up towards the sky, and thousands of miniature Buddhas adorning its exterior, this lantern tower is probably the most spectacular thing at the temple.  At the base of the lantern tower are stone statues of babies with red caps adorning their heads.  These statues are there for babies that died all too young. Directly to the left of the lantern hall, and in the same courtyard, is the Manbul bell tower.  While not spectacular in its painting or refined woodwork, the bell that is housed in it is amazing in its size, as is the height of the bell tower.  Supposedly, the bell tower is the tallest bell tower in all of Korea. Between both the lantern and bell towers is the main hall: Manbul Treasures Hall. This is an extremely unique main hall.  As you approach, there is a small garden with various sculptures, the most impressive being a green Buddha statue in the process of the Buddha gaining enlightenment. Up the stairs, you’ll first notice tiny Buddha statues.  These tiny Buddhas are in both the exterior and interior of the temple.  These Buddhas all have name plates attributable to donors of the temple. Inside the hall, there are large, masculine looking Buddha altar pieces. When I was there, there were two monks conducting a service while dozens prayed.  This is a very popular temple, so I’m pretty sure this is typical of any day you might want to visit the temple. Just to the left, and to the rear of the main hall, is a maze with the Buddhist scriptures on golden rolls that can be spun.  If you touch these golden Buddhist sayings, all your bad karma will disappear.

Further along, you’ll arrive in another courtyard.  This courtyard is for Avaloketeshvara hall.  Avaloketeshvara will save people with great mercy and compassion.  Along with this mercy and passion, there is also a tree in a plastic tent.  This tree is a descendent of the tree that the Buddha sat under to gain enlightenment. There is also a small bell tower, and for a small donation, you can ring the bell and gain good luck from its reverberations.

Continuing up the unpaved road, and along the ceramic Buddhas that will keep you company along the way, you’ll finally arrive at the crest of the hill.  At the top, there is a small zoo for deer.  To the immediate right, you can walk towards the 33 metre tall Amita Buddha (The Buddha from the land of pure bliss).  But before you head towards this 33 metre tall golden Buddha, head left.  There is a hall for the Amita Buddha.  Amongst the headstones for the cemetery, there is a Buddha statue that is lying down.  This Buddha of Nirvana is 15 metres long from head to toe, and if you rub its feet, you’ll also gain good luck.

After rubbing the Buddha’s toes, finally make your way to the Amita Buddha. It won’t be hard to follow, because the 33 metre Amita Buddha stands like a beacon over the rest of the temple. The walk will take you about 5 minutes. The 33 metre tall Buddha is nicely situated on top of a hill, but it’s a bit garish and gaudy, lacking the refinement of stone Buddha at Donghwasa Temple in Daegu. Down the nearby stairs, you’ll get some really good pictures of the entire temple complex from on high. Take your time and capture from great pictures from the side of the mountain. In total, the trek from the parking lot and back again, will take you about 45  minutes, while taking enough time to take some great pictures.  Some enjoy the trek and take your time.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can catch a train to the Dongdaegu station. From Busan, this train ride takes an hour by KTX.  And from Seoul, it’ll take you an hour and thirty-seven minutes.  A bus to Manbulsa temple, from the Dongdaegu station takes about an hour and ten minutes.  For more information about directions or information about the temple check out the Manbulsa Temple website.

View 만불사 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. While a bit garish at points, such as the plastic looking Buddhas and the 33 metre tall Amita Buddha, the temple has a lot to offer the average temple goer.  And I would highly recommend visiting this temple at least once while you’re in Korea.  The lantern tower alone, with the golden spires is worth the visit.  But add to it the elaborate main hall, the massive bell tower, and the lying Buddha of Nirvana, and this temple is more than worth the trek to the Gyeongsangbuk-do countryside.

Picture 163
Yongcheon Pond is the first thing to greet you at Manbulsa Temple.
Picture 003
The main courtyard at the temple with the bell tower to the left and the 33 metre tall Amita Buddha to the right.
Picture 004
The ox-herding statue which is symbolic of the journey towards enlightenment in Buddhism.
Picture 014
The amazingly beautiful lantern tower at Manbulsa Temple.
Picture 020
The rows of baby statues and the zodiac statues intermingled amongst the red capped children.
Picture 159
The Manbul Bell Tower with paper lanterns out in preparation for Buddha’s Birthday.
Picture 158
The main hall which is adorned with hundreds of Buddha statues both inside and outside the hall.
Picture 024
The uniquely green statue of the Buddha gaining enlightenment with the main hall and altar piece in the background.
Picture 035
The main hall altar pieces at Manbulsa Temple: Birojana-bul is in the centre of the triad.
Picture 039
Rows of rolls with Buddhist scripture on them.  If you roll them all your bad karma will be extinguished.
Picture 057
The courtyard for Avaloketeshvara Hall with dozens of ornamental Buddhas.
Picture 065
The top of the hill where both the lying Buddha of Nirvana and the 33 metre tall Amita Buddha are located.
Picture 071
The hall for the Amita Buddha (the Buddha from the land of pure bliss).
Picture 072
The altar piece from inside the hall.
Picture 076
A view of the headstones as well as the Amita hall and the 33 metre tall Amita Buddha in the background.
Picture 078
The lying 15 metre long Buddha of Nirvana.
Picture 077
A view of the beautifully serene face of the Buddha of Nirvana.
Picture 083
And another view of the Buddha’s ornamental feet. If you rub them, you’ll receive good luck.
Picture 094
Finally, the Amita Buddha is within walking distance.
Picture 115
The 33 metre tall golden Amita Buddha. It lacks the refinement of the stone Buddha at Donghwasa Temple in Daegu, but it’s still a sight to behold.
Picture 122
Perhaps, this is Gwanseheum Bosal, but either way, this is a unique sculpture at the centre of the 33 metre tall Amita Buddha. It’s strangely reminiscent of Mother Mary holding the baby Jesus. (Or am I the only one that thinks this?).
Picture 123
An amazing picture of the Amita Buddha with the sun shining on it.
Picture 141
And the climb down to the parking lot from the 33 metre tall Amita Buddha.
Picture 146
And one last look over top of the main Manbulsa Temple buildings.

Changdeokgung Palace – 창덕궁 (Jongno-gu, Seoul)

Picture 094A view of the beautiful Biwon garden at Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul.

Hello Again Everyone!!

And before you say it, I know, I know, I know, Changdeokgung is a Palace and not a temple.  But who in their right mind, after visiting it, wouldn’t post a description and pictures about it on their blog.  So being of sound mind, and without any further delay, here’s Changdeokgung Palace!

I was up in Seoul from April 22 to April 27 to complete the mandatory EPIK training. And while it wouldn’t have been my first, or even second of things to do while up in Seoul, at least they brought us to Changdeokgung Palace (창덕궁) as a bit of an introduction to Korean culture and history.  Before, I had been to Changdeokgung Palace in 2004. Fortunate for all us EPIK teachers, it was raining when we went to visit the palace.  But just as fortunately, it stopped about half way through the tour.

Changdeokgung Palace (“Palace of Illustrious Virtue) was constructed between the years of 1405 and 1412 as an annex to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Like most major structures during the Imjin War, Changdeokgung Palace was burned to the ground; however, what makes it different is that angry Korean citizens were the ones to set it on fire when it was being evacuated. In 1611, a full 16 years after the war with the Japanese ended, the palace was restored to its former beauty. And from 1610 to 1868, the palace stood as the seat of government as well as the royal residence. In 1868, after years of restoration, the seat of government and the royal residence moved back to Gyeongbokgung Palace, where Changdeokgung Palace was left in disrepair as a result. Changdeokgung Palace was then renovated in 1907 and was then again used by King Sunjong, Korea’s last king. And even though King Sunjong was forced to abdicate his throne by the Japanese colonizers in 1910, Sunjong continued to live in Changdeokgung Palace until his death in 1926. In fact, Queen Yun, Sunjong’s widow, lived in the palace until her own death in 1966. Also, the last crown prince of Korea died in Changdeokgung Palace in 1970, and the last royal family member lived at the palace until her death in 1989. Like all of Korea, Changdeokgung Palace represents the harshness of its past. In 1997, the palace was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for best preserving and maintaining Korea’s beautiful and storied past.

As you first approach the palace you’ll first be greeted by the massive Donhwamun gate (“Gate of Mighty Transformation”). This massive two storied gate was first built in 1412, and it’s the largest of all palace gates in Seoul. And like the rest of the palace, it was burnt down in 1592 and then later restored in 1609. After passing through this massive gate, you’ll enter into the tranquil setting of the palace, and away from the noise of Seoul. To get to the palace grounds, you’ll first have to cross over Geumcheongyo Bridge (“Forbidden Stream Bridge”), which dates back to 1411, and is the oldest bridge still in use in Seoul. After crossing this bridge, you’ll make your way towards Injeong-jeon (“Hall of Benevolent Government”), which is the throne hall at the palace. It was first built in 1411, and later rebuilt in 1610 and 1804, as a result of two devastating fires. Uniquely, this hall had electricity installed in it in 1908. Next to the throne hall is Seonjeong-jeon (“Hall of Disseminating Government”), which was used by the king for everyday government affairs and more informal meetings. An unusual feature of this hall is that the tiles are blue. Only buildings that housed the king were allowed to have such a bold feature. Next to this hall are Seonjeong-jeon, Huijeong-dang, and Taejo-jeon, which were the private living quarters of the king and queen. In this cluster of living quarters are also the palace pharmacy and garage.

In the next compound of buildings, a bit further east of the throne hall compound and living quarters, is Nakseonjae (“Retreat of Joy and Goodness”). These secluded living quarters were first constructed in 1847 for one of King Heonjong’s concubines. Although lacking colour at the exterior of the building structures, these buildings more than make up for it in the uniqueness and stylishness of their design. Also, these buildings were used as the private home of the last descendants of the Korean royal family after the Japanese occupation.

A path that lies to the side of Huijeong-dang, leads to Biwon. Biwon (“Secret Garden”) is 78 acres of tranquility set in the heart of Seoul. Originally, this garden was called Huwon, but it was later renamed Biwon by King Kojong. This garden was originally constructed solely for the use of the royal family and palace women. The first group of pavilions surround the stone-lined lotus pond, better known as Buyongji. This pond was built by King Jeongjo, who also built Suwon Fortress. Probably the most photogenic pavilion at the pond is Buyong-jeon, which is a multi-sided pavilion that extends over the south side of the pond. The rather plainly designed Yeonghwa-dang pavilion occupies the west side of the pond. And like a crown, the north side of the pond is Juham-nu pavilion, which is notorious for being the sight of the excesses of King Yeonsan, the 10th Joseon Dynasty king. Over a ridge is Aeryeongji, a second pond, which is fronted by two gates. We were given one of two options by the tour guide before we entered this area, either we could enter Geummamun (“Gold Horse Gate”) and receive greater intelligence, or we could enter through the stone gate, Bullo-mun “Gate of Eternal Youth”) and never grow old.

The final area of the tour we went on was to the far rear of Biwon garden. This area is only made open to special tours, which I guess the EPIK group was. This area of the garden lies just over the next ridge. The first area you’ll encounter is Gwallmji, which is a natural lotus pond, which roughly forms the shape of the Korean peninsula. And Gwallam-jeong pavilion extends over part of the pond. Networks of paths lead past several more beautiful ponds and pavilions, culminating in the Ongnyucheon area of the garden. Ongnyucheon (“Jade Stream”) is a rock garden, a beautiful stream and tiny waterfall, as well as ancient trees. There is a 750 year old Chinese juniper tree, and a 400 year old mulberry tree in this area of the garden, as well as a few 300 year old trees. The rock garden area also contains a U-shaped water channel that was first carved in 1636 for floating wine cups to the royal family. Also, there is an inscribed poem on the large boulder just above the tiny trickling waterfall. In total, there are five pavilions in this area.

HOW TO GET THERE:  It costs 3,000 Won to get into the palace, and 5,000 for a tour of the palace and Biwon.To get to Changdeokgung Palace you can get off at Anguk Station, exit 3, upon subway line three in Seoul. It’s about a 5 minute walk. Changdeokgung Palace is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m April to October; 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. from November to March, with the exception of November and March, when the palace is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (I know, confusing). And you can only enter the palace grounds as part of a tour group. Tours are offered in English at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. Tickets for the 80 minute tour usually go on sale 30 minutes before the tour starts. However, there are no tour guides on Thursday, so you have to show yourself around the palace grounds. Also, internet-only reservations are taken for special tours that go to the Ongnyucheon part of the Biwon garden.  You can order them through this link:

http://www.cdg.go.kr/reservation/reserv_01.htm (and only if you can read Korean). For more information, check out the Korean government page at:


View Larger Map

OVERALL RATING: 10/10. Without a doubt, this palace is the most beautiful in all of Seoul.  While Gyeongbokgung Palace is bigger in size, Changdeokgung is the best preserved. Also, the palace garden, Biwon, is unbelievably beautiful. If you can, make sure you make a reservation to see Ongnyucheon. It’s amazing in its simplicity and beauty. So if you’re in Seoul, and you’re only able to see one palace, make sure that Changdeokgung Palace (including Biwon Garden), is at the top of your list.

Picture 001The massive Donhwamun gate at Changdeokgung Palace.Picture 017A view of Geumcheongyo Bridge.  It dates back to 1411 and is the oldest bridge still in use in Seoul.Picture 023Injeong-jeon: The throne hall at Changdeokgung Palace.Picture 026A close-up of the throne hall.  It dates back to 1411.  And it’s been rebuilt twice in 1610 and 1804 after do devastating fires.Picture 036

The throne that Korean kings sat upon.Picture 033

The courtyard that surrounds the throne hall.Picture 034 (2)

The intricate patterns adorning the throne hall.Picture 048A uniquely designed building at the palace.  The reason it’s so unique is that it was built by the Japanese during their colonial reign.Picture 046

A closer look at the unique sculptures on top of the palace buildings.Picture 052A view of Seonjeong-jeon.  This building was used for the everyday affairs of the Korean government.  One unique feature to this building is that all the tiles are blue.  These were only used for the king.  And the present day presidential hall also has blue tiles.

Picture 053

Another unique building at the palace.Picture 065Part of the royal residence.Picture 070

A look inside the Nakseonjae compound.Picture 073

A look at one of the pavilions inside the compound.Picture 077

Three gates stretched out in a row at Nakseonjae compound.Picture 079

Another look at the colourless compound.Picture 083The path that leads into the Biwon Garden.Picture 096

A view of Bujongji lotus pond.Picture 095

Buyong-jeon: Probably the most photogenic pavilion  at the pond.  Part of its walls stretch out over the pond.Picture 088Yeonghwa-dang Pavilion, which was made famous for its debauchery by King Yeonsan.Picture 121Geummamun gate, which will give eternal youth if you pass through it.Picture 125A look at Aeryeongji Pond.Picture 132

A look at another beautiful pavilion inside Biwon.Picture 133

Gwallmji Pond is a natural pond roughly the shape of the Korean peninsula.Picture 136And finally, our last stop upon our tour: Ongnyucheon rock garden.Picture 147

The jade stream that flows with the rock garden.Picture 150

And one last look at Ongnyucheon garden before we had to leave.