The Story Of…Tongdosa Temple

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The famed Geumgang Gyedan Altar with the lotus shaped stone that houses the Buddhas partial remains behind the main hall at Tongdosa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I’m often asked what my favourite temple in all of Korea is, which makes sense because I run a website on Korean temples. For me, the answer is quite simple: Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. There are so many reasons why Tongdosa Temple is my favourite temple in Korea; so many of those reasons revolve around fond memories.

One of those memories is that it was the second temple I ever visited in Korea (the first being Bulguksa Temple). I went with friends from the very first school I ever worked at. Most of those people are still my friends to this day. I’ve also brought a lot of new friends I’ve met through the years to this temple just because it has so much to offer a first time visitor. But perhaps one of my greatest friendships came from a novice Czech monk that was training at Tongdosa Temple not too long ago.

Another reason is that it’s the first temple I brought my mom to when she came to Korea for the first time in 2004. Like me, I wanted her time here to mirror some of the adventures and joys in my life while staying in Korea. And there was no better representation of these feelings than Tongdosa Temple.

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The stunning main hall at Tongdosa Temple.

But perhaps the greatest reason I love Tongdosa Temple so much is that it’s the first place I went on a date with my wife. We fumbled around our feelings, as we wandered around the temple grounds and museum, while figuring out just what we felt for the other. So what better reason do you need to love a place than it being the place where you dated your future wife?

As you can tell, I have so many reasons why Tongdosa Temple is my favourite temple in all of Korea. But outside of friendships, family, and a beautiful wife, the temple is a pretty awesome place to visit, especially when you consider it houses the partial remains of the Buddha.

For more on Tongdosa Temple.

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A colourful look at the amazing Tongdosa Temple.

Bohyunsa Temple – 보현사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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A look outside from the main hall onto the nine-tier pagoda in the temple courtyard at Bohyunsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I was out on yet another temple adventure that explored one of the most important Buddhist mountains in Yangsan: Mt. Cheonseongsan. This time I thought I would explore the north-eastern portion of the mountain, which brought me to Bohyunsa Temple.

When you first approach Bohyunsa Temple, up a long and winding country road, you’ll first see a ledge with a twin set of statues up the embankment. As you approach, you’ll notice that these two statues, uniquely, are a pair of Cheonwang (Heavenly King) statues. Jigook Cheonwang, the Heavenly King of the east stands to the right, while Gwangmok Cheonwang, the Heavenly King of the west stands to the left. They stand in front of a set of stairs that lead up to the temple courtyard.

As you climb the set of stairs, you’ll notice a collection of buildings to the right. These buildings include the temple kitchen and monks’ dorms. Straight ahead is a beautifully situated main hall that sits below the peak of Mt. Cheonseongsan and looks out upon Yangsan. Surrounding the main hall are some nicely rendered Shimu-do, Ox-Herding murals. Inside the main hall, and sitting on the main altar, is a triad centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). All around the main hall, in every nook and cranny, are smaller sized golden statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. To the left of the triad is a black haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). To the immediate right of the main altar is the Chilseong (Seven Stars) painting that is commonly situated in the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. But atypically, the painting is housed right next to the main altar. Next to the Chilseong mural is the guardian painting. Like all the paintings inside the main hall, this painting is beautifully rendered with thirty-two different guardians.

To the left of the main hall is a stunning nine-tier pagoda. Around the base and body of the pagoda are some skillfully carved stone engravings of various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and guardians. Directly behind this pagoda is a large granite statue of what looks to be Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). With a medicine jar in his left hand, he meditatively looks out on the temple grounds. Much like the pagoda, the stone statue of Yaksayore-bul is just as beautifully crafted.

The final building on the temple grounds is the Samseong-gak shrine hall. This hall is to the left rear of the main hall, and parallel to the temple pagoda and Yaksayore-bul statue. The exterior of the Samseong-gak shrine hall is perhaps some of the most originally designed paintings adorning this type of hall in all of Korea. It almost seems as though a temple monk did the paintings. But whoever painted them, the paintings depict various animals and birds like turtles, deer, cranes, pheasants, and a dragon. By far, the most original pair of Nathwi (Monster Mask) are situated on either side of the entrance to this hall. Protruding out of the painted masks are a set of devilish horns that only add to the scariness that these Nathwi are attempting to convey. Inside the Samseong-gak shrine hall are a set of popular shaman deities in Korean Buddhism. In the centre is an older looking Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) painting as well as statue. To the left of Sanshin is a painting of Dokseong (The Recluse). Rather uniquely, there are no assistants in the painting with Dokseong. And to the far right is another older looking painting of Yongwang (The Dragon King).

HOW TO GET THERE: From Nopo Subway Station, line #1, stop #134, take Bus #58 for 26 stops. You’ll need to get off at the Cheonseong river town stop. After that, you’ll need to grab a taxi for 13 minutes, or 2.7 k.m., to get to Bohyunsa Temple. The taxi fare should be between 4,000 to 4,500 won.


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OVERALL RATING: 5/10. While this northeastern Mt. Cheonseongsan temple won’t blow you away, it certainly has a lot for the discerning Korean temple adventurer. Such things as the pair of Cheonwang stone entrance statues, the stone statue of Yaksayore-bul and the nine -tier pagoda, as well as the exterior paintings around the Samseong-gak shrine hall and the Dokseong painting make Bohyunsa Temple well worth the effort to find on the eastern outskirts of Yangsan.

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The road that leads up to the temple.

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 The stairs that lead up to the main hall with two Heavenly Kings guarding the way.

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 The beautiful main hall.

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The nine-tier pagoda at Bohyunsa Temple.

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Just one of the ox-herding murals that adorns the exterior walls of the main hall.

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 A look inside the main hall at the main altar.

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 The statue of Jijang-bosal, which is to the left of the main triad inside the main hall.

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 The beautiful guardian mural inside the main hall.

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 The mural of Chilseong to the left of the main altar.

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 A closer look at the Yaksayore-bul statue, which is situated next to the nine-tier pagoda.

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 The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, which lies just behind the main hall.

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 A small shrine with a statue of Sanshin.

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 The unique painting that adorns the Samseong-gak.

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 As well as one of the more creative Nathwi paintings.

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 The painting of Sanshin inside the Samseong-gak.

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 As well as the painting of Dokseong.

The Story Of…Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

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The beautiful view at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone and Merry Christmas!!

Like so many people, I mark the passage of time through the milestones of certain achievements or memorable moments in my life. But unlike the vast majority of people, I tend to mark these memorable moments in the way that Korean temples change. I know that that sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, these religious beacons that stand the test of time, but Korean temples do in fact change aesthetically. Perhaps this is indicative of the ten years I’ve been here, and perhaps it points to a greater affluence in the Buddhist community in Korea. Either way, change is in fact all around us.

Perhaps there’s no greater example in the way that temples change than Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Busan. This once out of the way temple, at least according to 2003, has grown to be arguably the most popular temple in Busan (and for good reason).

The first time I ever attempted to get to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple was in the winter of 2003. And the first taxi driver I attempted to get a ride from in Haeundae hadn’t even heard of Haedong Yonggungsa Temple; and that was with the aid of a Korean written note to assist both him and I. It took a second taxi driver to finally know where I wanted to go. And when I finally did arrive, the temple parking lot was nothing more than a dirt road that they dropped you off at before you hiked your way towards the temple by the sea. Back then, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple didn’t even have a main hall.

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The view of the temple from 2005 with the newly built main hall.

But like so many things, time has a way of changing things, whether it’s a gradual change or quite dramatic in style. Now, when you arrive at the temple, there’s a large paid parking lot with a loud corridor of vendors that are pushing their wares. Also, if you’d rather a bus ride to take you out to the temple, there’s now a direct bus that takes you to the temple with a convenient bus stop just outside the well manicured grounds. Included in all this change are the number of shrines that have popped up all around the temple like the tire shrine to help those Koreans that don’t want to get into a car accident. Additionally, there’s now a golden statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) that is situated on a rock outcropping. Before this, it had been all black; and back in 2003, it simply didn’t exist.

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A look at the black Jijang-bosal, which is now gold.

Even the ocean-side view that formally had no fencing protecting you from the waves that crash upon the shore, has a knee-high fence warning you of any potential dangers from the mighty sea that gives Haedong Yonggungsa Temple so much of it’s amazing beauty. Yet another dramatic change from the winter of 2003 is that Haedong Yonggungsa Temple now has a beautiful, large main hall that is elaborately decorated both inside and out. But perhaps the greatest change comes in the form of just how many visitors frequent the temple each and every day. It used to be that you would be one, among a handful, of visitors. Now, especially if you visit on the weekend, you can be crushed (or at least pushed) by the throngs of people that come to the beautiful Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.

So much about Haedong Yonggungsa Temple has changed in the ten years I’ve been here; but then again, the temple is really just symbolic of the many changes that have occurred in my life. Not everyone has something tangible to point to to highlight the rapidity of change, but I have Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.

For more on Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.

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The coastal view where Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is located.

Daegaksa Temple – 대각사 (Nampo-dong, Busan)

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The beautiful blue lit Christmas tree in the heart of Nampo-dong in Busan. 

Hello Again Everyone!!

It had been nearly ten years since I last visted Nampo-dong, which is one of the major downtown areas in Busan. Just because of where I live now, and the distance it takes to travel to Nampo-dong, it’s been just as long since I last visited Daegaksa Temple, which is in the heart of it all. This part of town is usually pretty busy, but it’s easy busier (as you’ll see) during Christmas because of the lights and all the shopping.

Daegaksa Temple was first created by the Japanese during colonial rule. So a lot of its features still have a somewhat different feel than the typical Korean Buddhist temple. While the temple was quickly converted to be more Korean Buddhist-centric, there are still a couple holdovers from this earlier period in its history.

You first approach the temple down one of the wider roads in the Nampo-dong area. All but for a sign above the entrance to Daegaksa Temple, you might simply pass by the temple without even noticing it. Surrounded by coffee shops and apartments, this little Buddhist oasis is well tucked away from the daily life of most Koreans.

As you enter the compact temple grounds, you’ll immediately see the long main hall at Daegaksa Temple. This is the only building you can enter at the temple. To the left of the centrally placed stairs are two distinctly different pagodas. The first is a Korean-style five tier pagoda. Around the base are various motifs like a pair of fish, a lion, and a dragon. As for the body of the pagoda, there are five open chambers shielded by stone latticework. And at the base of the body, there are miniature stone stairs leading up to the first of these open chambers. It’s a very unique pagoda. Next to this pagoda, and surrounded by beautiful trees, is a Japanese-style pagoda. This pagoda harkens back to the days of Japanese rule, and it’s natural in its stone design.

Up the stairs, you’ll be greeted by a row of four small wooden lion statues. Around back are ten fading Ox-Herding murals, while on the left and right side of the main hall are two pastoral paintings. And hanging from the rafters are some of the largest paper lanterns that you’ll see at any temple in Korea.

Stepping into the spacious main hall, you’ll first notice the canopy of paper flowers overhead. These are joined by paintings of the Nahan (The Disciples of the Buddha) up near the ceiling and rafters. As for the main hall, there are seven statues that rest on the altar. The central statue on the main altar is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined to the right by a similar looking Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To the right of this statue is a beautiful standing statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This statue is backed by an equally stunning multi-armed mural of Gwanseeum-bosal. The final statue to the far right is a smaller sized statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). To the left of Amita-bul, and the first in line, is similar looking Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine). Next to Yaksayore-bul is a statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). Without doubt, this Indian looking statue of the Future Buddha is a beautiful departure from a Korean influenced one. The final statue in the row to the left of Amita-bul is a reclining stone statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). In Korean, this statue is known as 일월동명불 (Ilwol Dongmyeong-bul). To the left of the seven statues that rest on the main altar is an older looking Shinjung Daenghwa painting, while to the far right is a golden memorial for the dead.

The only other structure at the temple is the visitors’ centre and the monks’ quarters, which are to the left of the main hall. Additionally, you get an amazing view of the Busan Tower from the main hall at Daegaksa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: You’ll first need to take the Busan subway, line one, to the Nampo Subway Stop, #111. Once there, go out exit #1 and head towards the stores. You’ll eventually come to the main road that intersects the Nampo-dong shopping area. Head towards the Christmas tree/statue of a woman with birds flying above her. Head up the road that runs to the north (the road that runs at a right angle). Head up this road for 200 metres until you see the Daegaksa Temple sign (대각사) on the left side of the road.


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OVERALL RATING: 3/10. I first stumbled upon this temple back in 2004, when I was shopping in Nampo-dong. It had been nearly ten years since I last visited, and so little has changed about it, while so much around it has. The temple on its own is rather small and underwhelming, but there are enough unique features to look at to pay it a visit. This, in combination with perhaps a day of shopping or an evening out for dinner, can make for a nice little time-out from the hustle and bustle of downtown Busan.

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 The beautifully lit tree in Nampo-dong, which is extremely busy during the Christmas season.

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 A closer look at the tree. It’s up this road that you’ll find Daegaksa Temple.

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 The sign that greets you at the temple.

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 The temple courtyard and main hall at Daegaksa Temple.

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 A better look at the rather long main hall.

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 The atypical pagoda that stands to the left of the main hall.

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 A closer look at its intricate beauty.

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 The lion that adorns one of the sides of the pagoda’s base.

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 The all-natural stone pagoda that is a hold-over from Japanese colonialism.

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 The compact bell that’s situated just outside the main hall doors.

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 Two of the lions that line the main hall.

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 A peek inside the main hall.

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 The weathered guardian mural inside the main hall at Daegaksa Temple.

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 The reclining stone statue of Seokgamoni-bul that rests on the main altar.

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 He’s joined by a Indian interpretation of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).

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 And to the far right is this beautiful statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

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 A combination of two towers: the stone pagoda at Daegaksa Temple and the neighbouring Busan Tower.

The Story of…Cheontaesa Temple

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The view from the mouth of the waterfall at Cheontaesa Temple

Hello Again Everyone!!

So often, you’ll go to a temple and it’s packed with people like at Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju or Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. For some people, like me, this takes a little bit away from the zen-like feeling I kind of expect at a Korean Buddhist temple. However, expectations aren’t always met by reality.

Fortunately, there are temples and hermitages outside the sphere of touristy trappings in Korea. There are more of these less frequented temples than I can even count with numerous halls and unique features to both enjoy and experience.

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The beautiful grounds at Cheontaesa Temple

For me, the closest zen-like feeling, or seon-like feeling if you’re Korean, that I’ve experienced at a Korean temple was at Cheontaesa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. Bored one day, I decided to visit an out of the way temple that’s at a bend in the road. Seldom visited, least of all by expats, I was able to enjoy the temple primarily to myself.

There are numerous halls, paintings, and shrines to be enjoyed at Cheontaesa Temple like the large sized Dokseong-gak Hall, the well populated Cheonbul-jeon Hall, and the unique shrine dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). Also, there is a massive relief dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) that must stand well over ten metres in height. This relief is joined by a neighbouring stream that runs up against a Buddhist cemetery.

But the real highlight, and where I had my “moment,” is at Yongnyeon Falls. The falls flow about a fifteen to twenty minute hike up a valley. This hike is a bit treacherous at times; in fact, you’ll need to repel up a few boulders using a thick rope to get there. But when you do finally get to the falls, and climb all the way up the brown staircase, you’ll be standing right next to the mouth of the falls.

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The boulders you’ll have to climb to get to the falls.

Amazingly, you can climb down a precarious set of rocks to stand right next to where the water goes over the falls and takes the twenty metre plunge. There’s a rock bed at the top of the falls, where you can take a bit of a breather. It’s also from these heights that you get an amazing view of the valley down below, where Cheontaesa Temple rests, as well as the jagged surrounding cliffs from Mt. Cheontaesan. Everything is simply perfect from this vantage point. And it’s from here, while simply enjoying the view, that I had my zen-like moment. It’s really hard to even describe, and I think words would cheapen the experience. It was really something amazing and indescribable to feel.

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The somewhat dehydrated Yongnyeon Falls, where I had my zen-like moment.

Suffice it to say, it was a pretty unique moment I had at the mouth of the waterfall, looking down from its heights, as the water poured out into the valley below. I’ve had a few other moments like these, but certainly nothing quite as strong as my experience at Cheontaesa Temple.

For more on Cheontaesa Temple.

Bogyeongsa Temple – 보경사 (Seodaeshin-dong, Busan)

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The view of Mt. Gubongsan from behind the main hall at Bogyeongsa Temple in Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

So I continued to explore the Seodaeshin-dong part of Busan, which also includes the Busan Station area. This time, I looked around a part of the city that I last explored in 2005. This time, I re-visited Bogyeongsa Temple on Mt. Gubongsan.

Bogyeongsa Temple is situated on the highest part of Mt. Gubongsan on the south side. You get to the temple through a trail that leads past Hwaeomsa Temple. The hike is a very easy 200 metres up a forested trail. Along the way, you get some beautifully shrouded pictures of the Busan port and harbour.

Finally arriving at the temple, and past the orange bamboo railings that line the path, you’ll be greeted by a beautiful green lawn. Bogyeongsa Temple is a small temple. There are only two buildings on the temple grounds: the monks’ dorms and the main hall.

Standing in front of the modern-looking main hall is a five-tier stone pagoda. It is beautifully adorned around the base with the Eight Dharma Protectors. The plainly painted exterior walls of the main hall are made up for by the paintings inside the hall. Sitting on the main altar sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the immediate left of the altar statues are three paintings. The first is an original Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha) painting. It is joined to the left by a Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisatttva of the Afterlife) painting, as well as a painting of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom. To the right of the central main altar is a very ornate painting of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and a painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) next to it. The final painting inside the main hall is the guardian mural (Shinjung Taenghwa).

It’s next to the guardian mural, and if you look close enough, that you’ll notice a tiny crack of a door next to this mural. It’s through this door that you’ll enter the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. You can also enter this hall, when looking directly at the hall from the exterior, from the far right door. Inside this hall hang three beautiful murals of shaman deities. In the centre hangs an attractive Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) mural, as well as a statue. To the left is a statue and mural of Dokseong (The Recluse). And to the right is plain painting of Yongwang (The Dragon King), as well as an eye-popping statue of Yongwang.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Bogyeongsa Temple, you’ll first need to make your way to Choryang Subway Station, on the first line, stop #114. From this subway station, exit out exit #8. You’ll need to take a taxi, which should take about 8 minutes (or 1.5 k.m.). And the taxi ride should cost you under 3,000 won. Ask to go to Wolbongsa Temple. From this temple, you’ll notice a mountain trail to the right of Wolbongsa Temple. Take this trail for 200 metres until you get to Bogyeongsa Temple. You can do that, or walk, which should take about 25 minutes straight up towards Mt. Gubongsan. Head towards Busan Middle School to help you towards the temple. But by walking, it might be a lot more difficult to find Bogyeongsa Temple.


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OVERALL RATING: 3.5/10. While nothing special in its own rights, Bogyeongsa Temple in combination with the ten other temples in the area make for a nice afternoon excursion. In fact, this is how I first found it. The two main highlights to the temple are the paintings inside the main hall and the statue of Yongwang inside the Samseong-gak.

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 The trail that leads up to Bogyeongsa Temple.

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 The former gate that once led into Hwaeomsa Temple.

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 The neighbouring Hwaeomsa Temple (it’s not clear if it’s still open or not).

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The view of Busan Station down below from the trail that leads up to Bogyeongsa Temple.

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 The orange lined bamboo path that first welcomes you to the temple.

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The modern-looking main hall with the five-tier pagoda out in front of it.

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 The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon.

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 A look to the left at the three beautiful paintings inside the main hall.

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 And a look to the right at the three others inside the main hall.

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 The tiny sliver of a door next to the guardian mural.

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 The altar inside the Samseong-gak.

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 One last look before I was onto my next temple adventure.

The Story Of…Samneung Valley in Gyeongju

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 The Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul up Samneung Valley.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Sometimes, a temple adventure isn’t always amazing, or adventurous for that matter. However, Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju was both amazing and adventurous; but it was also something else: embarrassing.

I had been enjoying all the sites along the Samneung-gol Valley like the Headless Mireuk-bul Statue, the Gwanseeum-bosal Image on a Rock Face, the Two Lined-Carved Buddha Triads, the Seated Stone Buddha, and Sangseonam Hermitage, where I was able to take a bit of a rest and enjoy the amazing views that Mt. Namsan offers.

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The Gwanseeum-bosal Image on a Rock Face mid-way up Samneung Valley.

The final destination was the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul. I followed the trail that leads to the left of Sangseonam Hermitage, attempting to find perhaps the most important statue on Mt. Namsan. Somewhere along the way, I must have got lost because I ended up at Sangsaam Rock, which I knew was well past the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul; so either I had missed it completely, or it was well hidden.

Back-tracking down the mountain, I was finally able to spot the massive statue. However, everywhere I turned, it was roped off. I was finally able to figure out that the government ropes off the area in winter to protect hikers from the icy stairs. It must have been at this point that the Canadian in me kicked in, because I wasn’t going to let a little ice prevent me from hiking all that way and not see the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul.

So hopping the roped off area, and with the winter wind seeming a bit cooler, I finally saw the amazing Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul. It was everything I had imagined it to be and more.

Finally back at home, after an amazing tour of Mt. Namsan, and Samneung-gol Valley in particular, I realized I had torn the crotch of my pants. Not only had I torn my pants, but I had completely blown a hole in them. Seeing this, I finally realized why it felt that much colder after hopping the roped off fence. But what is most embarrassing is that I’m sure there must have been at least a dozen Korean hikers watching me with amazement with a huge hole in the crotch of my pants! Sometimes, I’m just so embarrassing…

For more on Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan Pt. 1

For more on Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan Pt. 2

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 Said pants…

Seondosa Temple/King Jinheung’s Tomb – 선도사/진흥왕릉 (Gyeongju)

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 The triad of statues that you can find at Seondosa Temple in western Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This weekend, I decided to head back to Mt. Seondosan to visit Seondosa Temple. Originally, it had been part of the plan the day I toured around Gyeongju with David Mason; but it was late in the day, so it was scrapped for another day. Well, that other day turned out to be this past weekend.

Mt. Seondosan, which is on the western part of Gyeongju, was regarded as the Pure Land in Korean Buddhism by the Silla people. This was especially true of the peak area of the mountain, which is where Seondosa Temple is located.

You first approach the trail head area of the climb just north of four royal tombs, one of which is the Silla king’s, King Jinheung (more on him later). There are in fact two trail heads, one to the left and one to the right. I would suggest the much easier road trail to the right; but unfortunately (and unknowingly), I took the much tougher left trail. In total, the hike to the top of Mt. Seondosan, which stands 390 metres tall, is about a kilometer in length. However, if you take the overgrown trail, like me, it will seem twice that distance. As you take this trail, which leads past several laypeople’s tombs, you’ll quickly notice that much of the landscape has been scorched by a recent fire. This has made the mountain landscape haunting in parts.

When you finally do get to the top of the mountain, with whichever trail that you’ve taken, you’ll be greeted by a wall of buildings. The very first building of the set is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, which lies between a storage building and the monks’ dorms. This building looks a lot like the storage shed beside it, but don’t be fooled because there are three highly original paintings inside of this building. The first of the set, and the one hanging in the centre, is a Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) mural. In the painting, there is a large ferocious tiger looking over Sanshin’s shoulder. And both Sanshin and the tiger are joined by a pair of white cranes and red pine trees. To the left of the Sanshin mural is probably the most original Yongwang (The Dragon King) mural I have yet to see at a Korean temple. Yongwang is joined by a pair of attendants and a pair of expressive dragons that swirl around in the mural. The final mural of the set lies to the right and is dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

Past the monks’ dorms lies the diminutive main hall at Seondosa Temple. Unfortunately, this hall was locked when I visited, so I was unable to see inside. But to the left of the main hall, and just around the corner, is the real highlight to Seondosa Temple: the Buddha Image Carved on the Rock Surface in Seoak-dong, Gyeongju.

This large rock triad is centred by a highly disfigured Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). In total, this central figure stands in relief at 6.85 metres in height. The face of Amita-bul has been split on either side (not sure if this was on purpose or through age), and Amita-bul’s face is now shaped like a V. In fact, Amita-bul’s entire body is well worn and almost indistinguishable in parts. Amita-bul is joined to the left by a crowned Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Like Amita-bul, Gwanseeum-bosal is damaged on its left side. To the right stands Daesaeji-bosal (The Power and Wisdom of Amita-bul). Of the three statues, Daesaeji-bosal is the least damaged of the lot. It’s believed the triad dates back to the 7th century.

A bit smarter, and more aware, I decided to take the road trail back down the mountain. This allowed for some more amazing, yet haunting, views of Mt. Seondosan. When you finally do get near the base of the mountain, you’ll come across four royal tombs. The first, and perhaps most important tomb, as you make your way down the mountain, is King Jinheung’s tomb. King Jinheung reigned from 540 to 576 A.D., and he was the 24th king during the Silla Kingdom. King Jinheung was a strong advocate of Buddhism. He did this so he could strengthen the nation. He also founded the famed hwarang, who were a group of warrior youths. King Jinheung also annexed the neighbouring Gaya Kingdom, which further expanded Silla territory. The tomb itself measures 20 metres in diameter and 5.8 metres tall. And out in front of the tomb are two memorial tablets dedicated to the prominent king, King Jinheung.

For more on Seondosa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll need to get to Gyeongju, if you want to see Seondosa Temple. From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you can catch a taxi to get to the east side of Mt. Seondosan and Seondosa Temple. The taxi will cost you about 4,000 won, and it’ll take about 10 minutes. From where the taxi drops you off, you should be able to see the trail head markers that lead you towards Seondosa Temple. Take the road trail that is a much easier kilometre hike than the bushwhacking trail I took.


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OVERALL RATING: 6/10. While a bit of a trek to get to, Seondosa Temple has a beautiful and ancient triad of reliefs waiting for you. The highly disfigured reliefs are unique in their own right, and different from most anything you’ll see in all of Gyeongju. Add to it the highly original shaman paintings and the view, and you’ll have a good reason to make the kilometre hike. Then, when you take into consideration the rest that Mt. Seondosan has to offer, like King Jinheung’s tomb, you’ll have an even better reason to visit this little traveled part of Gyeongju.

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 A kilometre that way to Seondosa Temple.

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 The golden fall colours of Mt. Seondosan.

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 And the haunting remains of a forest fire on Mt. Seondosan.

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Nearing the peak of Mt. Seondosan with a combination of burnt trees and autumn colours.

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The first view of Seondosa Temple.

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Both the triad of statues and the main hall at Seondosa Temple.

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A closer look at the triad of statues with Amita-bul in the centre joined by Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal on either side.

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An up close and personal with the fractured Amita-bul.

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The view from the main hall down onto Gyeongju below.

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The storage shed-looking Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Seondosa Temple.

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Inside the Samseong-gak, and rather uniquely, this Sanshin painting hangs in the centre on the main altar.

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To the left is this highly expressive painting of Yongwang.

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The much easier road trail that leads to the base of the mountain.

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Along the way, you’ll come across the tomb of King Jinheung (to the right).

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The memorial tablets that rest in front of King Jinheung’s tomb.

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 One last look before completing the decent.

The Story of…Beopcheonsa Temple

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 The temple courtyard at Beopcheonsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The very last major temple I had yet to visit in Yangsan was Beopcheonsa Temple. The first time I attempted to visit this nunnery in the mountains of Mt. Geumjeongsan, which borders on Busan to the south, I thought I was going the wrong way down a dirt road. The road simply seemed to be headed to nowhere. I hadn’t brought a map with me, and the prospect didn’t look all that promising, so I turned around.

A week later, and with map in hand, I headed back to Beopcheonsa Temple. Upon second look, if I had in fact followed my instincts, and the road that appeared to go no further than a farmer’s field, I would have ended up at the beautiful Beopcheonsa Temple.

After arriving at the temple parking lot, I was greeted by a beautiful Cheonwangmun Gate and stone lanterns. After passing through the gate, and coming out on the other side, I was nicely surprised with the unique main hall that had windows behind the main altar statues that looked out onto the mountain, as well as a Samseong-gak joined by twisting read pines.

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 The pair of ducks that walk around the temple grounds.

As I walked the grounds, I was able to see a beautiful pond where a pair of colourful ducks were swimming, as well as an area for some stone statues of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Amazingly, the entire grounds were populated by stray cats that the nuns at the temple took care of. It was only when I got to the north side of the temple grounds, and was walking around the Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) shrine that a nun called me over. I thought, oh no, now I’m in trouble for trespassing on a part of the temple that I shouldn’t have been visiting.

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 The Jijang-bosal shrine where I thought I was going to get in trouble.

But when I got to her, she invited me in to the temple’s visitors’ centre. I thought, okay, why not. When I entered, they offered me a coffee and tangerines. We talked exclusively in Korean. They asked me questions about my time in Korea, whether I was married, and why I was so interested in Korean Buddhism. As we were talking, a half dozen cats came in to have a drink of milk that the nuns had provided inside the visitors’ centre. After about 30 minutes, they gave me a Buddhist CD and wished me well upon my way.

The offering up of coffee to me is a bit funny. It’s a bit funny because I never have coffee unless a Buddhist monk or nun offers it to me, which upsets my coffee-loving wife to no end.

For more on Beopcheonsa Temple.

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 Inside the main hall as one of the nuns I had coffee with conducts the morning prayer service.

Bukdaeam Hermitage – 북대암 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The amazing view from Bukdaeam Hermitage onto Unmunsa Temple down below.

Hello Again Everyone,

It had been a couple years since I last visited Unmunsa Temple, and it had been just as long since I wanted to explore the hermitages that surround it. One of the more prominent hermitages at Unmunsa Temple, in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do, is Bukdaeam Hermitage that overlooks the entire Unmunsa Temple grounds. Placed precariously on the face of Mt. Unmunsan is the beautiful Bukdaeam Hermitage, which means, “North Gate Hermitage,” in English.

You first approach Bukdaeam Hermitage up a long, winding road that eventually becomes a steep and winding trail. Finally, after a few hundred metres up Mt. Unmunsan, you’ll finally come to the hermitage’s grounds. The first things to greet you are a wall of hermitage buildings like the nuns’ living quarters and kitchen. To the right, and a little further up the trail, you’ll notice a beautiful hall on a mountain ledge. This colourful hall is a shaman shrine hall dedicated to both Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and Dokseong (The Recluse). Be careful when climbing the stairs to this hall, because they are both steep and narrow. Inside this hall is a very Asian, somewhat Chinese, looking Sanshin mural. He’s joined by a somewhat average looking Dokseong mural. It’s from this that you get amazing views of the peak of Mt. Unmunsan behind you, and the surrounding mountains around you.

Below this shaman shrine hall, and on a much broader ledge, is the main hall. The main hall’s exterior walls are adorned with some beautiful Palsang-do murals, which illustrate portions of the Historical Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul’s, life. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of golden statues. Sitting in the centre is a statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined to the right by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), and to the left by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). This triad is joined on either side by two murals. The one to the right is the Shinjung Taenghwa (guardian mural), and to the left by a well populated mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal.

Out in front of the main hall is a solitary stone lantern that stands all by itself. It’s from this angle that you get an amazing view of Unmunsa Temple in the valley below. Unfortunately, there are several black power lines that obscure the view a bit. To the far left of the main hall are some more nuns’ quarters. And behind the main hall sits the Chilseong-gak with a beautiful older looking mural of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) inside. Both Unmunsa Temple and Bukdaeam Hermitage are best visited in the fall months when the leaves are changing colour.

HOW TO GET THERE: There are two main ways that you can get to Bukdaeam Hermitage; but first, you’ll have to get to Unmunsa Temple. The first is from the Daegu Nambu Bus Terminal. In total, there are sixteen buses that leave throughout the day from 6:20 in the morning until 8:00 at night. The trip from this bus terminal to the temple is an hour and twenty minutes. The bus trip costs about 5,800 won. The second main route you can take is to get a bus to the Cheongdo Bus Terminal. Buses from this terminal run every hour and cost about 3,200 won. To get to Bukdaeam Hermitage from the front gate, you’ll first have to walk about 300 metres to a stone marker that points you in the right direction (if you get to Unmunsa Temple, you’ve gone too far). After turning left at the stone marker that reads – 북대암 – you’ll need to hike up the road that eventually becomes a trail. In total, the hard hike lasts about 700 metres.


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OVERALL RATING: 6/10. The views alone from Bukdaeam Hermitage makes it well worth a visit. When you add into the mix the shaman paintings of Sanshin and Chilseong, as well as the colourful main hall, and you have a good enough reason to explore the beautifully situated Bukdaeam Hermitage. And with Unmunsa Temple, it can make for quite a nice day trip.

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The view from Unmunsa Temple up at Bukdaeam Hermitage up in the mountains.

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The stone sign that welcomes you to the entrance of Bukdaeam Hermitage.

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The amazing view of Unmunsa Temple down below as you make your way towards Bukdaeam Hermitage.

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Part of the steep trail that leads to the hermitage.

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Finally, the view of the hermitage is within sight.

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The first thing to welcome you to the hermitage is this shaman shrine hall dedicated to both Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and Dokseong (The Recluse).

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The Chinese-looking Sanshin inside the hall.

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The view from the shaman shrine hall down onto the main hall and the sprawling mountains that surround the hermitage.

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The main hall to the left with the peak of Mt. Unmunsan to the right.

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Just one of the Palsang-do paintings that surround the walls of the main hall.

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The interior to the main hall.

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The amazing view from the main hall and a solitary stone lantern.

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Behind the main hall is the Chilseong-gak.

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Inside, and hanging on the main altar, is this older painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

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The view from the Chilseong-gak, out, and over, the main hall.

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 One last look at Bukdaeam Hermitage.