Daesansa Temple – 대산사 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

The beautiful artwork dedicated to Yongwang at Daesansa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in south-western Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do, on the northern ridgeline of Mt. Cheonwangsan, sits Daesansa Temple. The temple is scenically located past the Daesan-ji lake and up a zigzagging mountain road that looks down on the valley below.

As you first enter the grassy temple courtyard, you’ll notice the monks’ dorms and the visitors’ centre bookending the main hall at Daesansa Temple: the Wontong-jeon Hall. Out in front of the Wontong-jeon Hall is a one tier pagoda that’s seen better days. Lining the tiers and base of the pagoda are figurines that have been left behind by devotees. Painted around the exterior walls to this newly constructed main hall are beautiful, large Palsang-do murals depicting the eight stages from the Buddha’s life. Up near the eaves of the roof are smaller Shimu-do, Ox-herding murals, that are just as intricate and masterful as the Palsang-do set.

Stepping inside the Wontong-jeon Hall, you’ll notice a unique set of main altar statues. The largest one in the middle is dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And the golden capped statue to the left is Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), while the one to the right is a statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Rounding out the artwork inside the Wontong-jeon Hall is an older mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal to the left of the main altar.

To the right rear of the main hall are a set of three shaman shrine halls. The first to the far left is the Sanshin-gak. The all-natural wooden exterior houses a mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Sanshin is joined in the painting by a dour looking tiger. To the right of the Sanshin-gak is the Chilseong/Dokseong-gak. Inside this shaman shrine hall, which has an all-natural wooden exterior, as well, are a pair of shaman murals. The first to the left is an older mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and to the right hangs a beautifully vibrant mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).

The final shaman shrine housed at Daesansa Temple is dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). The Yongwang-dang lies down a set of stone stairs. The white screened shrine houses one of the most amazing paintings dedicated to Yongwang that I’ve ever seen in Korea. This masterful painting is a new addition to the temple, and the former red wooden tablet that used to be housed inside the Yongwang-dang now rests out in front of it.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal, take Bus #1 and get off at the bus stop named “Nokmyeong 2 ri” after seven stops (or 17 minutes). And from this stop, then take the town bus named “Punggak Sunhwan” (풍락 순환 버스). And after six stops, or 19 minutes, get off at the “Oksan 2 ri” bus stop. From this stop, you’ll need to walk for about 30 minutes, or 2.1 km, to get to the temple. Follow the signs as you make the climb towards Daesansa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. The main highlights to this temple are the amazing shaman artwork at Daesansa Temple. While there, have an especially close look at all four major pieces of artwork. Also of note are the statues resting on the main altar inside the Wontong-jeon Hall and the one tier pagoda out in front of the main hall.

The view from Daesansa Temple.

The Wontong-jeon main hall at Daesansa Temple.

The one tier pagoda out in front of the Wontong-jeon Hall.

One of the beautiful Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals that adorns the exterior walls of the Wontong-jeon Hall.

As well as this intricate Palsang-do mural.

Inside the Wontong-jeon Hall during morning prayer.

The view towards the shaman shrine halls behind the main hall at Daesansa Temple.

The Sanshin-gak at Daesansa Temple.

The dour looking tiger and Sanshin together.

The Chilseong/Dokseong-gak at the temple.

The older mural dedicated to Chilseong.

And the vibrant Dokseong mural housed inside the Chilseong/Dokseong-gak.

The Yongwang shrine.

The amazing Yongwang mural housed inside the Yongwang-dang.

And one final look up at the Wontong-jeon main hall at Daesansa Temple.

Daejeoksa Temple – 대적사 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

Looking through the main gate at the Geukrak-jeon main hall at Daejeoksa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Daejeoksa Temple is located in northern Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do, nearly halfway towards the neighbouring city of Gyeongsan. Daejeoksa Temple was first constructed in 876 A.D. by the monk Bojo (804-880), and I’m guessing this isn’t to be confused with the more famous Bojo-guksa (1158-1210). But this temple was later abandoned only to be reconstructed by the monk Boyang during the early part of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). But even after reconstruction, the temple was reconstructed once more in 1689 by the monk Seonghae. And throughout the years, Daejeoksa Temple has gone through several renovations and repairs like in 1690, 1754, 1939, and more recently in the 1970s to the present.

You first approach Daejeoksa Temple to the left of the famed Cheongo Wine Tunnel. On the very road that leads up to the temple, there is an outlying stupa for the monk Pungam, which was erected in 1752.

To the left of this stupa, and up a sidewinding side street, is Daejeoksa Temple. Up a set of wide stone stairs, you’ll come to the temple entry gate with a pair of intimidating guardians on both of the entry doors. Stepping through the gate, you’ll enter into the temple courtyard with the monks’ dorms to your right and the historic Geukrak-jeon Hall straight ahead. This shrine hall, which also acts as the temple’s main hall, is Korean Treasure #836. The Geukrak-jeon Hall dates back to the repairs made at the temple in 1754.

Approaching the Geukrak-jeon Hall, you’ll first notice the foundation stones that the hall rests on. Some of these stones are carved with lotus blossoms, turtles, and crabs. As for the stairs that lead up to the shrine hall, they are similar to the ones at the Daeung-jeon Hall at Beomeosa Temple in Busan. These stairs are even older than the shrine hall itself; the stone stairs date back to 1676.

Stepping inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall, you’ll notice a triad of statues on the main altar. Sitting in the centre inside the smaller sized shrine hall rests Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). A painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) hangs to the right of the main altar. And all around the interior of the Geukrak-jeon Hall are paintings of Taoist Immortals (Shinseon), Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha), and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). A look up towards the ancient ceiling is worth a gander with its dragons and floral murals.

To the left of the Geukrak-jeon Hall is the temple’s Myeongbu-jeon Hall. The exterior to the hall’s walls are largely unpainted all except for the traditional dancheong colours. Stepping inside this hall, you’ll notice a green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal. And this statue is backed by a Jijang-bosal motif relief of the Bodhisattva of the Afterlife. Out in front of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall are three memorial tablets for deceased monks that once called Daejeoksa Temple their home.

The final shrine hall visitors can explore at Daejeoksa Temple is the Sanshin-gak shaman shrine hall to the rear of both the Geukrak-jeon Hall and the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. The Sanshin-gak Hall was built in the mid-1990s. The exterior to this hall is unadorned, and when you step inside, the Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) mural is rather non-descript. However, of interest inside this hall is the six-pack of soju to the bottom right of the mural, as well as the Pororo mat that you stand on while praying to the Mountain Spirit.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #7 and get off at the fifth stop, which is the “Songgeumri” bus stop. This bus ride should last about 25 minutes. From this bus stop, you’ll need to walk about ten minutes, or 700 metres to get to the temple. The temple lies to the left of the Cheongdo Wine Tunnel.

You can take a bus or simply take a taxi from the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal. The taxi ride should take 16 minutes and cost about 14,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. By far, the main highlight to Daejeoksa Temple is the Geukrak-jeon Hall. It’s a rather obvious choice when a temple has a Treasure associated with it; and for Daejeoksa Temple, it’s the main hall. With its beautiful masonry that makes up the foundational stones, as well as the beautiful paintings housed inside the main hall, you can take the better part of a day just exploring the Geukrak-jeon Hall.

The road that leads up to Daejeoksa Temple.

The stupa dedicated to Pungam from 1752.

The entrance and main gate at Daejeoksa Temple.

One of the guardians that adorns the main gate’s doors.

The historic Geukrak-jeon Hall at Daejeoksa Temple.

The beautiful stairs that lead up to the Geukrak-jeon Hall and date back to 1676.

One of the stone carvings at the base of the Geukrak-jeon Hall. This one is a turtle design.

As well as one of the highly unique dragon heads that’s placed near the entrance of the Geukrak-jeon Hall.

The triad of statues that rest on the main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall with a mural of Chilseong to the right.

A look up at the ceiling inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall.

One of the Biseon (Flying Angels) that’s painted on one of the interior walls to the historic main hall.

As well as this Bodhidharma-like motif of the Shinseon.

The Myeongbu-jeon Hall to the left of the Geukrak-jeon Hall.

Out in front of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

Inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

A beautiful blue sky to the rear of the Geukrak-jeon Hall.

The Sanshin-gak to the rear of the Geukrak-jeon Hall and Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

The Pororo mat that you step onto inside the Sanshin-gak.

And the Sanshin mural inside the Sanshin-gak. Notice the six-pack of soju to the bottom right.

Jukrimsa Temple – 죽림사 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The view from the main hall at Jukrimsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

During the spring, I made a day trip to the city of Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do and Jukrimsa Temple was the last of the three temples I had set out for myself. While smaller in size than the other two, it certainly had highlights of its own.

You first approach Jukrimsa Temple up one of the stranger roads with spray paint scrawled all over abandoned buildings pointing you in the right direction. When you first arrive in the temple parking lot, you’ll have to make your way past the temple’s kitchen. Once you pass by this building, which kind of screens the temple courtyard, you’ll finally be able to see the main hall. The exterior walls to this diminutive main hall are painted with some fading, but beautiful, Palsang-do murals. Above these, and above the entrances, are murals dedicated to both Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).

As you enter the main hall, you’ll be greeted by some of the smaller statues in a main hall in all of Korea. Seated in the centre is a tiny statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by two even smaller sized statues of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul). On the far left wall is a highly original mural of the Ten Kings of the Underworld. I can honestly say, I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s joined to the right by a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And to the far right is a masterful, yet smaller in size, guardian mural.

Out in front of the main hall is a two metre tall, five tier, stone pagoda. Between the main hall and the temple’s kitchen is a stone shrine dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). The nuns’ quarters are the row of buildings to the far left in the temple courtyard.

Between the main hall and the nuns’ quarters, there’s a set of stone stairs that leads to an upper courtyard that houses two more temple halls. The first, and much longer, temple hall is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Out in front of this building were some beautiful wild daisies. The exterior walls to this hall are painted with Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for inside, and sitting in the middle of the set of three, is a rather long Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural. To the right hangs a painting of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and to the right is one of the more unique seated murals dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). He’s without both his angry beard and eyebrows. He actually looks quite pleasant.

To the left of the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall is the Sanshin-gak. Inside this smaller sized hall hangs a masterful portrait of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Rather uniquely, and as you make your way back to the parking lot, there are some wild poppies growing there if you missed them the first time around. I say uniquely, because as far as I know, they are illegal to grow in Korea. Either way, the bright orange poppies are something to keep an eye out for, especially in the late spring and early summer months.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Cheongdo train station, you’ll need to take a taxi  to Jukrimsa Temple. The taxi ride will last 7.5 k.m., and it’ll cost you 15,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. There are some beautiful views of northern Cheongdo from Jukrimsa Temple. In addition to the view and the rare poppies that greet you in the temple parking lot, the unique Ten Kings mural inside the main hall and the Yongwang painting inside the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall are something to keep in mind when visiting this little traveled temple.

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 The smaller sized main hall at Jukrimsa Temple.

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 The view from the temple courtyard.

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Just one of the Palsang-do murals.

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 A look inside the main hall at the main altar with the smaller sized statues.

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 The highly unique Ten Kings of the Underworld mural.

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 The guardian mural inside the main hall.

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 The stone Yongwang shrine.

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 A look up at the Samseong-gak.

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 The rather large and long Chilseong mural.

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 The rather pleasant-looking Yongwang.

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 The Sanshin-gak at Jukrimsa Temple.

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 The masterful Sanshin mural.

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 The daisies out in front of the Samseong-gak.

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 One last look from the temple courtyard.

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And the very rare orange poppies waiting for me in the temple parking lot.

Jeokcheonsa Temple – 적천사 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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 The view of the main hall and temple courtyard at Jeokcheonsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

You first approach the very rural Jeokcheonsa Temple up a long winding road. In fact, you go for so long, you might think that there’s no end to the road. When you do finally emerge on the other end, a yapping dog from one of the neighbouring houses will greet you at Jeokcheonsa Temple. It’s only then that you’ll know that you’ve finally arrive at the temple.

As for temple structures, the first thing to greet you is a weather-worn Cheonwangmun Gate. Because the temple is rather smallish in size, it’s surprising that they have such a beautiful gate dedicated to the Four Heavenly Kings. As you step inside the Cheonwangmun Gate, you’ll be greeted by four smiling kings. And underneath their feet, if you look down, you’ll notice that they’re trampling demonic demons.

Having passed through this gate, and greeting you on the other side, is a beautifully large Boje-ru pavilion. You’ll need to slouch down a bit so that you don’t bump your head when passing through this pavilion. Climbing the set of stairs that leads up to Jeokcheonsa Temple’s main courtyard, you’ll be greeted by a collection of halls and buildings.

To your immediate left is the temple’s understated bell pavilion. It has a beautifully polished bronze bell that’s joined by an equally attractive fish gong and cloud gong. And to your immediate right are a row of monks’ quarters, the temple’s kitchen, and the visitors’ centre. Neighbouring the temple’s bell pavilion is the rather long Myeongbu-jeon. All but unadorned, the exterior walls only have the standard dancheong colours painted on their walls. Inside the Myeongbu-jeon are the typical statues of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

Slightly to the right, and straight ahead, is the main hall at Jeokcheonsa Temple. The exterior walls are painted with some of the more original paintings you’ll see at a Korean temple. There are the atypically painted Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals on the right to rear side of the hall.

As for the left, you can find the Bodhidharma and an all-white Gwanseeum-bosal painting. Unfortunately, the doors to this hall were locked when I visited, and I think it’s pretty standard judging from the signs on the wall. However, if you’re lucky enough to get in, a triad of statues on the main altar will greet you. The golden statues are centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And he’s joined on either side by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise).

To the left and right of the main hall are two smaller sized shrine halls. The one to the left is dedicated to the Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha). Inside this hall are all-white stone statues dedicated to the Nahan. And they are joined in the centre by Seokgamoni-bul. The exterior walls to this hall are painted with some beautiful pastoral paintings. As to the right, and joined by some more monks’ dorms, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. As you first enter this hall, you’ll be greeted by a strange, but older-looking, mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). This strange painting is fronted by a statue of the shaman deity. Just to the right of Sanshin hangs an equally old painting of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). And rather atypically, the oldest-looking painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) hangs on the far right wall. Usually, Chilseong hangs in the centre, and he’s joined on either side by Sanshin to the left and Dokseong to the right, but I guess the head-monk at Jeokcheonsa Temple had something else in mind.

HOW TO GET THERE: Unfortunately, there’s no public transportation that goes directly to Jeokcheonsa Temple; instead, you’ll need to take a taxi from the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal. The ride should take you about 20 minutes, and it’ll set you back about 8,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. If all the halls to this temple were open, perhaps it would slightly be rated a bit higher. But because the main hall and Myeongbu-jeon were off-limits when I visited, the rating goes down a bit. However, even with all that in mind, the beautiful Cheonwangmun Gate, the large Boje-ru pavilion, and the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall that houses the older-looking murals kind of counter-balances this deficiency.

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A look up at the Cheonwangmun Gate at Jeokcheonsa Temple.

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Just one of the smiling Heavenly Kings inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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And one of the demons being trampled under foot.

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A look towards the Boje-ru pavilion from the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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A better look at the rather overstated Boje-ru pavilion.

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The spacious bell pavilion at Jeokcheonsa Temple.

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The polished bell at the temple.

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The rather long Myeongbu-jeon at Jeokcheonsa Temple.

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A look at the triad of shrine halls at the temple with the main hall front and centre.

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An all-white Gwanseeum-bosal that’s painted on the main hall.

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She’s joined by the Bodhidharma.

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And the collection of atypical-looking Shimu-do murals.

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The Nahan-jeon to the left of the main hall.

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With some pretty amazing murals adorning its exterior walls.

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A look inside the Nahan-jeon at the all-white stone sculptures of the Nahan.

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And to the right of the main hall is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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A look inside at the older-looking mural of Dokseong.

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 Who is joined to the right by this equally older-looking Chilseong mural.

Daeunam Hermitage – 대운암 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The spectacular view of the city of Cheongdo from Daeunam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Whenever I’m short of inspiration, or the list of temple’s is getting a bit dry, I always check out a few Korean blogs to get some inspiration. With all that in mind, I found Daeunam Hermitage in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do on one of these blogs; and the hermitage didn’t disappoint, either.

You first approach Daeunam Hermitage up a long and winding mountainside road that runs about four kilometres in length. This drive allows for some pretty remarkable views of rural Cheongdo down below.

At the entrance of the temple, you’ll climb a steep road that’s lined with tall red pines. When you finally crest the mountain, you’ll be welcomed by the monks’ dorms that lay straight ahead. Slightly to the right, and placed precariously on the mountain’s face, is the Dokseong-gak. Inside this hall is a colour, solitary painting dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).

Slightly to the left of these two buildings, and still in the same area, is another hall. This hall is the visitors’ centre, which has an amazing view of the valley down below. If you’re lucky enough, a monk will invite you in for a cup of tea.

Directly behind the visitors’ centre, and up a steep and uneven set of stairs, is the temple’s main hall. The exterior walls to this hall are adorned with green-tinged Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for the interior, a solitary statue of Gwanseeum-bosal that dates back about three hundred years sits on the main altar. Under a beautiful canopy with a manja (swastika) symbol front and centre, Gwanseeum-bosal is backed by a beautiful black mural of herself. To the right of the main altar is a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And to the right is a collection of artwork. The first is a mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Next to this is a golden guardian relief. The final mural is dedicated to the founding monk at Daeunam Hermitage.

To the left of the main hall, and still on the same upper courtyard, is a miniature main hall. Yep, you heard me right, a Barbie house for Buddhism. Inside are three diminutive Buddhist statues, as well. Not sure of its meaning, but it definitely surprised me. As you walk in this direction, you’ll notice another hall with an intense yellow tiger painted on it. Figuring this to be the Sanshin-gak, I was surprised when I wasn’t able to open it. It seems to be in the process of being converted into another type of temple hall. However, you can get some more great views of Cheongdo in the valley below.

So if the old Sanshin-gak is being converted, where is the new one, you might be asking. Squeezed between the main hall and a row of monks’ dorms is a stone staircase that leads up towards the peak of the mountain. Crowning the hermitage grounds is a plainly appearing Sanshin-gak that looks to have just been completed. Perhaps the most spectacular views can be seen from this shrine hall. In fact, the painting of Sanshin has a birds-eye-view of the beautiful landscape because the front of the hall simply has a window instead of a wall. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, is an amazing male and female painting of Sanshin. This pair is quite rare in a Sanshin Taenghwa mural. So enjoy both the painting and the view when visiting the Sanshin-gak.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take a taxi to the mountainside hermitage. It’s 16 km, and 30 minutes, so it’ll cost you 15,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. I wasn’t sure what to expect when visiting Daeunam Hermitage, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The amazing views are second to only a handful of hermitages in Korea. Add into the mix the very rare Sanshin mural, as well as the historic statue of Gwanseeum-bosal, and you have more than enough reason to visit rural Cheongdo.

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The final part of the road that leads up to Daeunam Hermitage.

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A headstone just outside the hermitage entrance.

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The hermitage as it first greets you.

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The cliff-side Dokseong-gak.

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The colourful painting of Dokseong inside the shaman shrine hall.

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 A look up at the main hall at the hermitage.

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The first in the set of Shimu-do murals.

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 A look inside the main hall at the historic Gwanseeum-bosal statue on the main altar.

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The Chilseong mural to the left of the main altar.

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The golden guardian relief inside the main hall.

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The amazing view just behind the main hall out onto the rural countryside.

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The spectacular view that both Sanshin and visitors get to enjoy from the Sanshin-gak.

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The Sanshin pairing that takes up residence inside the Sanshin-gak.

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The cave just to the rear of the Sanshin-gak. Enter at your own risk!

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As you make your way back to the entrance, and to the left of the main hall, is this smaller sized hall.

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The former Sanshin-gak.

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 Once again, another amazing view from Daeunam Hermitage. This time, from the former Sanshin-gak.

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.

The Story Of…Unmunsa Temple

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The amazing main hall at the beautiful Unmunsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone,

I think one of the scariest movies I ever saw while growing up was The Birds, the 1963 film by Alfred Hitchcock. Ever since that day, I’ve had this phobia of any close encounter with our winged friends.

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 The original poster for The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock.

With all that being said as a bit of a precursor, I visited Unmunsa Temple, in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do, this early fall season. The weather was still a nice 20 degrees during the daytime; and yet, the fall colours were out in full swing on the trees.

After visiting the neighbouring Naewonam Hermitage and Bukdaeam Hermitage, I found myself strolling up a path filled with these beautiful fall colours all around me. Because it was a weekday, and it was earlier in the day, I found myself enjoying the fall weather and colours at Unmunsa Temple all to myself.

Taking my time and snapping over a hundred pictures in total, I explored all that Unmunsa Temple had to offer. I especially enjoyed the massive main hall, the Mansye-ru pavilion with a painting of the Buddha with children, the Biro-jeon hall, as well as the other dozen halls that the temple has to offer a visitor.

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Where things took a turn for the worse.

But it wasn’t until I got to the Cheonbul-jeon that things took an interesting turn for the worse. I was all by myself snapping a few pictures inside the hall, when I heard a scratching sound at the door. It creeped me out a bit, but I took a couple more pictures. Finally, a bird appeared out of nowhere and buzzed close by my head. Ducking, I thought, “God help me.” Then the bird buzzed by me again, and again, and then again. The fourth time was the charm. I immediately made for the door. It was only then that I realized that I had left the door slightly ajar, and a much bigger bird was waiting for its partner on the other side of the door.

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Somewhere up there is where the bird was plotting against me.

In a near panic, or thinking I looked a little bit out of sorts after my perceived encounter with death, a nun at the temple greeted me with a bow as she made her way to the Cheonbul-jeon hall. Perfect. I hadn’t seen anyone the entire time of my tour of the temple; and just when I needed no one to be around, I was greeted with an “안녕하세요” (Annyeong hasyeyo). I returned this greeting with an “안녕하세요” of my own. The nun, whether it was because I was speaking Korean (which I hoped), or I looked scared out of my wits (which I think), she gave a little laugh and smile.

Either way, I found a tiny corner of my own at Unmunsa Temple, out of sight from everyone else, to both collect myself and to calm my rapidly beating heart.

All I can say is that you should keep your eyes peeled the next time you visit a temple, or the temple might just get you!

For more on Unmunsa Temple.

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The beautiful view as I exited out of the Cheonbul-jeon a bit out of sorts.

Daebisa Temple – 대비사 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The sunlit Seokgamoni-bul looking out over the stupa cemetery.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Having visited all the other major temples in the Mt. Gajisan area, which include Unmunsa Temple, Seoknamsa Temple, and Seokgolsa Temple, I decided it was finally about time that I visited the fourth and final major temple in the area: Daebisa Temple.

The exact meaning of the temple’s name, Daebisa Temple (대비사), is a bit of a mystery. It’s believed that its origins stem from a story related to a Silla Dynasty queen. Supposedly, the temple is named after this queen that stayed at the temple for an extended amount of time. Originally, it was located in Bagok-ri. It was moved to its current location sometime during the Goryeo Dynasty. Daebisa Temple was built by the monk Sinseung. He arrived in the Mt. Unmunsan area in 557. And in 560, during the 21st year of King Jinheung’s reign, he started to construct the temple. It was later expanded by the famous monk, Wongwang, who was the monk that taught the Five Rules to the Hwarang (Flower Boys) during the Silla Dynasty in 600.

You first approach Daebisa Temple down a long and winding asphalt/dirt road for about five kilometers. Nearing the end of the road, you’ll come across the beautiful Daebisa Lake. It’s a nice little reward at the end of a long hike.

Finally, you’ll come to the outskirts of the smaller sized Daebisa Temple. While it’s not anywhere close in size to either Unmunsa Temple or Seoknamsa Temple, it’s a little bigger than Seokgolsa Temple. The outskirts of the temple are surrounded by a traditional dirt and tile fence. Climbing up the first set of uneven stairs, you’ll arrive at the first set of temple buildings. To the right is the kitchen, and to the left is the monks’ dorm.

Continuing to the left, the expansive courtyard becomes visible. It houses a rather small main hall. Writing on the hall dates it back to 1685 when it was repaired. As a result of this history, the main hall is National Treasure 834. The exterior of the main hall is largely unadorned all but for a handful of fading paintings on the eaves of the main hall. Inside the main hall, and sitting on the altar, is a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To his right is Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and to his left is Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). On the far left wall is a nice looking guardian painting.

Behind the main hall, and to the right, is the Samseong-gak shrine hall. You’ll travel up a rugged looking set of stairs to get to the Samseong-gak shrine hall. The hall is newer looking. On the left exterior wall is a beautiful mural of white cranes. And to the right is a uniquely painted tiger with a broad nose. Inside of the Samseong-gak shrine hall is the most popular triad of shaman deities. In the centre, as they most commonly appear, is Chilseong (The Seven Stars). To this paintings right is Dokseong (The Recluse) and to the left is a gorgeously painted San shin (The Mountain Spirit) mural. In fact, all three murals are expertly rendered paintings. If you continue up the trail to the left of this hall, you’ll end up at the top of Mt. Gajisan.

To the far left of the main hall is another set of temple buildings. These are the monks’ dorms, and they are understandably off-limits to the general public. However, if you veer left down the trail before hitting these dorms, you’ll end up at the neighbouring stream. Over the uniquely adorned bridge, unique because each corner is adorned with an ornamental stupa, you’ll arrive at a courtyard that houses numerous stupas. In total, there are eleven stupas that contain the earthly remains of famous monks. This alone points to Daebisa’s rich history as a temple. Backing the set of stupas is a newly sculpted statue of Seokgamoni-bul. And in the morning, if you arrive at the right time, you’ll see the sun glistening over the shoulder of this statue.

Admission to the temple is free.

HOW TO GET THERE: Daebisa Temple is one of the most difficult temples you’ll ever try to find in Korea. To say that it’s off the beaten track is to put it mildly. You first have to catch a train from Busan Train Station to Cheongdo in Gyeongsangbuk-do. From the Cheongdo Train Station, you’ll to make your way over to the Cheongdo bus station, which is conveniently located in front of the train station. At the bus station, you’ll have to catch the “Unmunsa Way”  or “운문사 행.” You’ll then have to ride this bus for about an hour, and it costs around 3,500 Won. You’ll have to get off at Donggok in Geumcheon. Finally, you can either take the local city bus to get to Daebisa Temple or you can take a taxi. After all this time, I would suggest a taxi from the Donggok stop. As I said, not easy, but not impossible.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Daebisa Temple is rather remotely situated. However, with a little effort, it’s well worth the time it takes to find it. The old main hall is simple, yet, beautiful. And the gorgeous Samseong-gak murals are something to behold, as well. Finally, the row upon row of stupas at Daebisa Temple is a bit of a rarity at temples, so take the time to explore this hidden courtyard at the temple.

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A look across Daebi Lake.
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 The first two buildings to greet you at the temple: the temple kitchen and monks’ dorm.
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The historical, and compact, main hall at Daebisa Temple.
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 A better look at the natural looking main hall.
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All but for these fading floral patterns up in the eaves, the main hall is unadorned.
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The uneven stone stairs that lead up to the newer looking Samseong-gak shrine hall.
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And a tiny jade Buddha figure sits at the base of a red pine on the Samseong-gak landing.
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 The trail that is left of the shrine hall that leads up, and onwards, towards the peaks of Mt. Gajisan. DSC_0957
The uniquely painted tiger on the right side of the Samseong-gak shrine hall.
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A look across the front of the Samseong-gak shrine hall.
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 A look at the beautiful San shin (Mountain Spirit) painting.
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And a look at the elaborate Chilseong (Seven Stars) painting.
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 A sure sign that spring is finally here.
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A look across the trail that leads to the stupa cemetery with a view of Mt. Gajisan in the background.
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The view from the stupa decorated bridge.
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 A look at just one of the stupas with the ever-present Seokgamoni-bul in the background.
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A better look at the beautifully designed and sculpted Seokganomi-bul.
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And one last look at the prominent stupa field.

Updated: Unmunsa Temple – 운문사 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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Unmunsa Temple from the neighbouring mountainside.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Unmunsa Temple, which means “Cloud Gate Temple,” in English, is situated on Tiger Mountain along the Yeongnam Alps. The temple dates back to 560 A.D. where a Silla monk named Woneung built a hermitage and eventually gained enlightenment after three years of meditation. Originally, the temple was called Taejakgapsa (“Great Magpie Hillside Temple”). But in 937, King Taejo, the founder of the Goryeo Dynasty, renamed the temple Unmunsa Temple. The temple has undergone numerous renovations, especially during the Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1910). And in 1958 an academy for monks was established. More recently, the temple has become a college for nuns. In total, there can be an average of 200 to 260 nuns at any given time at the temple.

You move towards the temple grounds under a beautiful canopy of twisted red pines. The five hundred metre long trail runs alongside the meandering Unmun-cheon River. Rather uniquely, you approach the temple from the rear with the main hall being the first thing you see as you approach. However, you’ll have to go the long way around to the left of the four foot high stone fence. It’s under the Beomjong-ru Pavilion, which also acts as the temple’s bell pavilion, that you’ll finally enter the temple grounds.

The gift shop is to the right, while a collection of Biseok stone memorials are to the left. The large Mansye-ru Pavilion lies straight ahead past the 500 year old weeping red pine. The Mansye-ru Pavilion houses a painting of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) with children surrounding him on all sides. This pavilion also acts as a barrier between the halls in the upper and lower courtyard. To the right lies the upper courtyard, while to the left lays the lower courtyard.

Heading to the right, you’ll first encounter the rather large Eungjin-jeon. Just past the Eungjin-jeon is the Daeungbo-jeon, which acts as the main hall at the temple. It’s beautifully adorned with exterior paintings of the Palsang-do murals which commemorate the eight scenes from the Buddha’s life. The newly built main hall is grand and cavernous all at the same time. Resting upon the main altar are seven seated and standing statues dedicated to various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, which include Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy), Seokgamoni-bul, and Nosana-bul (The Perfect Buddha).

With the Mansye-ru Pavilion to your left, and passing by a beautiful stone eight spoke Buddhist wheel, lies the Biro-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to this ancient hall have some of the most beautiful Palsang-do murals in all of Korea for both craftsmanship and age. As for the interior, and sitting all alone on the main altar, is a beautiful Birojana-bul statue. While in this hall, have a look up towards the rafters and the intricate woodwork and paintings.

To the side of the Biro-jeon Hall is the Obaek-jeon hall that houses the 500 disciples of the Buddha joined by a golden Seokgamoni-bul statue on the main altar. The exterior walls have some of the more simplistic renderings of the Shimu-do murals; however, they are masterful in their artistry.

Past the Biro-jeon and the two ancient pagodas that stand out in front of it, are a handful of some more smaller sized shrine halls. The first is the Jakap-jeon, which houses a statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul that either dates back to Late Unified Silla or early Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). He’s joined by four equally old stone Cheonwang reliefs. To the right of this hall is another diminutive hall; this time, it’s the Gwaneum-jeon. A rather squat-looking Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) sits all alone on the main altar. The interior walls to this hall are adorned with beautiful white-incarnations of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

The other two halls in this area are the Myeongbu-jeon and the Chilseong-gak. The Chilseong-gak is dedicated to the shaman deity Chilseong (The Seven Stars). The main altar mural is beautifully executed for all its intricacies. Rather uniquely, it has each of the seven stars in their own individual murals, as well as rather plain paintings dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) to the far sides. As for the Myeongbu-jeon, it houses a large green-haired statue dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlief) on the main altar. And he’s joined by equally large-sized wooden statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

The rest of Unmunsa Temple is off-limits to visitors, as the temple is a fully functioning Buddhist training school for nuns.

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

For the Story of Unmunsa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE:  You can get to Unmunsa Temple from the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal. You can take a bus from this terminal towards Unmunsa Temple. This bus runs eight times a day. The first bus leaves at 7:40 in the morning, while the last leaves at 19:30.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10. Unmunsa Temple is filled with gorgeous buildings and surrounded on all sides by picturesque mountains. From the massive main hall to the beautiful Gwaneum-jeon, Biro-jeon, and Obaek-jeon, there’s a little of everything for everyone at this amazing nunnery. Take your time and spend the day, because with a handful of hermitages spread throughout the neighbouring mountainside, especially in the fall months, the temple setting can make for some pretty beautiful, and lasting, memories.

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As you approach Unmunsa Temple.
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The weeping red pine with the Mansye-ru Pavilion to the left.
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A look inside the Mansye-Pavilion with the Buddha inside.
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A look over the Eungjin-jeon at the neighbouring mountains.
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A look inside the Eunjin-jeon at the main altar.
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A look towards the Daeungbo-jeon, main hall, at Unmunsa Temple.
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The seven statues that make up the main altar inside the massive Daeungbo-jeon.
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A look towards the Biro-jeon Hall past the eight spoke Buddhist wheel.
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Just one of the amazing Palsang-do murals at the Biro-jeon.
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An up-close with Birojana-bul inside the Biro-jeon.
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A look towards the Obaek-jeon and past the Biro-jeon.
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Inside the Obaek-jeon Hall with hundreds of Nahan accompanying the Buddha.
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The diminutive Jakap-jeon Hall.
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The ancient stone statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul.
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Just one of the highly descriptive, yet ancient, Heavenly Kings.
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The main altar inside the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.
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A look across the main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon.
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One of the Ten Kings of the Underworld that takes up residence on an exterior wall on the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
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Inside the Chilseong-gak with the intricate Chilseong mural to the left.
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The biseok memorial shrines at Unmunsa Temple.