Colonial Korea: Baekyangsa Temple – 백양사 (Jangseong, Jeollanam-do)


A mountainside view of Baekyangsa Temple in Jangseong, Jeollanam-do in 1933.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Baekyangsa Temple, which is located in Naejangsan National Park, lies to the far north of the Jangseong, Jeollanam-do city limits. In fact, the temple grounds border the neighbouring province of Jeollabuk-do. Baekyangsa Temple is scenically situated on the southern slopes of Mt. Baekamsan.

Baekyangsa Temple, which means “White Sheep Temple,” in English (more on that later), was first founded in 632 A.D. during the Baekje Dynasty (18 B.C.E. – 660 A.D.) by Zen Master Yeohwan. At first, the temple was called Jeongtosa Temple. It was only later that it changed its name to Baekmasa Temple. Finally, the temple was named Baekyangsa Temple during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The name of the temple, Baekyangsa Temple, refers to a legend that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty. In this legend, sheep came down from the neighbouring mountains to listen to sermons preached at the temple. After listening to the temple sermons, the sheep would gain enlightenment and ascend to heaven.

During the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula, which lasted from 1910 to 1945, Baekyangsa Temple was recognized as a key temple in Korea. Currently, Baekyangsa Temple is the 18th headquarters for the Jogye-jong Order. Additionally, it plays an important role in educating monks in the Jeollanam-do and Jeollabuk-do provinces in Korea.


The Daeung-jeon main hall at Baekyangsa Temple in 1933.


The scenic pavilion at Baekyangsa Temple in 2014.


The beautifully framed Daeung-jeon main hall in 2014.


The main hall and Baekhak-bong Peak off in the distance.

Colonial Korea: Ssangbongsa Temple – 쌍봉사 (Hwasun, Jeollanam-do)


The amazing Daeung-jeon Hall from 1933 at Ssangbongsa Temple in Hwasun, Jeollanam-do before it was tragically destroyed by fire in 1983.

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Ssangbongsa Temple is located in southern Hwasun, Jeollanam-do. The name of the temple means “Twin Peaks Temple,” in English, and it gets this name from the twin peaks that frame Ssangbongsa Temple.

Ssangbongsa Temple was first established some time before 839 A.D. There isn’t a specific date attached to this temple, but the stupa for the monk Hyecheol-guksa at Taeansa Temple states that he spent a summer at Ssangbongsa Temple after returning from Tang China in the first year of King Shinmu (r. 839). So it appears as though Ssangbongsa Temple was already built some time before 839.

Throughout the years, Ssangbongsa Temple has be expanded and reconstructed; and then, in 1597, the temple was partially destroyed by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Of all the buildings, both the Geukrak-jeon Hall and the Daeung-jeon three story wooden pagoda survived. Throughout its long history, both of war and peace, the Daeung-jeon Hall remained unharmed. However, in 1983, the wooden pagoda was completely destroyed by fire when a devotee tripped and knocked over a candle during Buddha’s birthday. This national treasure was restored, as a  replica, in 1986.

In total, Ssangbongsa Temple houses one National Treasure and three additional Treasures. Of the group, it’s National Treasure #57, the stone stupa of Master Cheolgam during the Unified Silla Dynasty that stands out from the group with its sheer beauty.


The Ssangbongsa Temple grounds in 1933.


A closer look at Ssangbongsa Temple in 1933.


The amazing Daeung-jeon main hall in 1933.

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The uniquely designed Hoseong-jeon Hall.

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Now the oldest shrine hall at Ssangbongsa Temple: the Geukrak-jeon Hall in 1933.


The Ssangbongsa Temple grounds in 2014.


The Daeung-jeon main hall replica from 1986.


Another look at the Daeung-jeon three story wooden pagoda.


A look at the Hoseong-jeon Hall in 2014.


As well as the temple’s Geukrak-jeon Hall.

Colonial Korea: Hwaeomsa Temple – 화엄사 (Gurye, Jeollanam-do)

Hwaeomsa - 1933

Hwaeomsa Temple as it appeared in 1933.

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Hwaeomsa Temple was first established as a temple in 544 A.D. by the monk Yeongi (who may or may not have been an Indian missionary monk). The name of the temple means, in English, “Flower Garland Sutra Temple.” And it’s located just outside Gurye, Jeollanam-do in the picturesque Jirisan National Park.

After its foundation, and during the mid-600s, the famed monk Uisang-daesa (625-702) returned from Tang China after studying there for ten years. With him, he returned to the Korean peninsula with the Hwaeom sect of Buddhist teachings. It was through his efforts, as well as the state support of Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647), that Hwaeomsa Temple was not only rebuilt, but it was expanded, as well.

Then, in the late 800s, Hwaeomsa Temple was further expanded, once more, under the guidance of Master Doseon-guksa (826-898). It was at this point in the temple’s history that most of the stone monuments that still stand to this day, like the stone lantern and stone pagodas in the main temple courtyard, were built.

Not surprisingly, and like so much of the rest of the Korean peninsula, Hwaeomsa Temple was completely destroyed by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Just thirty years later, Hwaeomsa Temple was rebuilt.

Today, Hwaeomsa Temple is one of the largest temples throughout Korea. Not only that, but it’s also one of the most venerated, as well. In total, Hwaeomsa Temple houses four National Treasures like the Three-story Stone Pagoda, which is National Treasure #35, as well as the Gakhwang-jeon Hall, which is National Treasure #67. In addition to these National Treasures, Hwaeomsa Temple also houses an additional eight Treasures.

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The Iljumun Gate from 1933 at Hwaeomsa Temple.

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Some of the intricate artistry adorning the Iljumun Gate.

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The smaller sized Daeung-jeon main hall in 1933.

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The East Pagoda out in front of the Daeung-jeon Hall in 1916.

Hwaeomsa7 - 1916 West pagoda

As well as the West Pagoda in 1916 in the main temple courtyard.

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Some of the beautiful woodwork adorning the Daeung-jeon main hall.

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A look inside the main hall in 1933.

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A look up at the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon in 1933.

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A look around the main hall.

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To the left of the main hall are the Wontong-jeon Hall and Nahan-jeon in 1933.

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The Gakhwang-jeon in 1933 with the massive, and historic, stone lantern out in front of it. The stone lantern also just so happens to be National Treasure #12.

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Outside the Gakhwang-jeon.

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A look inside the spacious Gakhwang-jeon.

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A look across the main altar inside the Gakhwang-jeon.

Hwaeomsa - 1916 lion pagoda

The Four Lion Three-story Stone Pagoda in 1916.

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A closer look at the lion base of the pagoda.

Hwaeomsa2 - 1916 lion pagoda

An up close and personal with just one of the ferocious lions.

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The stone statue at the centre of the lion pagoda is believed to be Yeongi’s mother.

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Doors carved into the body of the pagoda.

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A stupa found at Hwaeomsa Temple in 1933.

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A large biseok found at Hwaeomsa Temple in 1933.


The same exact biseok from 2005.


The Iljumun Gate in 2013.


Daeung-jeon main hall in 2013.


The massive Gakhwang-jeon in 2013 with the West Pagoda out in front of it.


A look inside the Gakhwang-jeon hall in 2005.


The Four Lion Three-story Stone Pagoda in 2013.


And a closer look at the pagoda in 2013.

Colonial Korea: Songgwangsa Temple – 송광사 (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)


Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do in 1933

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Songgwangsa Temple is one of the three Korean jewel temples alongside Tongdosa Temple and Haeinsa Temple. Unlike the other two temples, Songgwangsa Temple represents the “seung,” or monk aspect of the three jewels.

Songgwangsa Temple is located in scenic Suncheon, Jeollanam-do. The name of the temple means “Spreading Pine Temple,” in English, and Songgwangsa Temple was established in the 1190s. Much like Bulguksa Temple a few hundred years earlier, Songgwangsa Temple was created on the former grounds of a temple; in this case, it was Gilsangsa Temple. Gilsangsa Temple was first built in 867 A.D. Gilsangsa Temple was built by the Seon master, Hyerin. In total, some thirty to forty monks lived at the temple at this time.

From the mid to late 12th century, Gilsangsa Temple remained abandoned as a functioning temple. It wasn’t until 1190, and over the course of a nine year period, that the famed monk Jinul, or Bojo-guksa (1158-1210), rebuilt the temple. Not only did he rebuild Gilsangsa Temple, but he also renamed it Songgwangsa Temple. It was not long after his renaming of the temple that Songgwangsa Temple became important as a centre for Korean Buddhism.

Like so many other temples throughout Korea’s turbulent past, Songgwangsa Temple also suffered. During the Imjin War (1592-98), as well as the more recent Korean War (1950-53), Songgwangsa Temple suffered varying degrees of damage.

But with this devastation and destruction goes periods of growth and expansion like during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The temple was then largely rebuilt in the 17th century after the Imjin War. And even more recently, Songgwangsa Temple was renovated in 1988. It was during this time that fourteen of the temple buildings were refurbished. And even as recently as 2013, Songgwangsa Temple’s Cheonwangmun Gate received a complete renovation.

Throughout its storied past, Songgwangsa Temple has produced some sixteen national preceptors. Also, in 1969, the temple was reorganized as a monastic centre for all sects of Mahayana Buddhism, which Korean Buddhism is a part of. In total, Songgwangsa Temple houses four National Treasures and twenty-one additional Treasures.

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The Iljumun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple in 1933.

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The Jogyemun Gate in 1933.


The stupa field at Songgwangsa Temple.


The front entrance of the temple in 1933.


People swimming in the stream that flows down from Mt. Jogyesan.

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The Cheonwangmun Gate.

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A closer look at the intricate artwork that adorns the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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The temple’s bell pavilion in 1933.

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The Daeungbo-jeon main hall at Songgwangsa Temple.

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Another look at the main hall from 1933.

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A closer look at the amazing artistry on the main hall.

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A look inside the Daeungbo-jeon at the main altar.

Songgwangsa11 - main hall

A look around the main hall.

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The Guksa-jeon from 1933, which also just so happens to be National Treasure #56.

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A closer look at the shrine hall’s artistry.

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The shrine hall dates back to 1369 and houses 16 paintings of the 16 national preceptors.

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The Eungjin-jeon Hall at Songgwangsa Temple as it appeared in 1933.

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And a look inside the Eungjin-jeon Hall.


The Jogyemun Gate in 2007.


A look at the front entry at Songgwangsa Temple in 2007.


The stream that flows down to Songgwangsa Temple from Mt. Jogyesan in 2007.


The Daeungbo-jeon main hall in 2013.


And a look inside the main hall in 2013.

Colonial Korea: Muwisa Temple – 무위사 (Gangjin, Jeollanam-do)

Muwisa6Part of Treasure #1315 is a painting centred by Amita-bul from 1476. This black and white picture was taken in 1933.

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Muwisa Temple is located in the beautiful Wolchulsan National park on the south side near the city of Gangjin, Jeollanam-do. The temple is first believed to have been built back in 617 A.D. by the famed monk, Wonhyo-daesa. At this time, the temple was known as Gwaneumsa Temple after the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Gwanseeum-bosal. Later, in the 10th century, it was expanded by the equally famous monk, Doseon-guksa. It was at this time that the temple came to be known as Muwigapsa Temple.

In total, the temple houses two National Treasures and four additional Treasures. The first of the national treasures, National Treasure #13, is the main hall at Muwisa Temple: the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall. This hall dates back to 1430. The other national treasure is National Treasure #313, which is a mural of Amita-bul that backs the triad of statues on the main altar inside the Geukrakbo-jeon. The mural is believed to date back to 1476.


The exterior of the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall in 1933. The hall is National Treasure #13.


Some eaves from the main hall at Muwisa Temple.


And some more from the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall.


And a final picture that captures some more of the intricate woodwork on the main hall at Muwisa Temple.


A look inside the Geukrakbo-jeon at the historic painting of Amita-bul. This picture was also taken in 1933.


Another historic painting of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas inside the Geukrakbo-jeon from 1933.


The main altar inside the Geukrakbo-jeon. The mural backing the main altar is National Treasure #313.


The main altar inside the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall.


The ceiling inside the main hall above the main altar at Muwisa Temple.


The Geukrakbo-jeon as it appeared in 2014.


The main altar inside the Geukrakbo-jeon with National Treasure #313 backing the triad of altar statues.


The decorative ceiling above the main altar.


The Gwanseeum-bosal mural on the back side of the main altar.


One of the historic murals that adorns the interior of the Geukrakbo-jeon.


As well as another.

Heungguksa Temple – 흥국사 (Yeosu, Jeollanam-do)


Some beautiful flowers enjoying a bit of springtime rain at Heungguksa Temple in Yeosu, Jeollanam-do.

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Heugguksa Temple, which lies just north of the Yeosu city centre, is situated on the eastern slopes of Mt. Yeongchwisan (Vulture Peak Mountain). The name of the temple, Heungguksa Temple, means “Temple of Flourishing Kingdom Temple,” in English. Heungguksa Temple was first built in 1196 by the famed monk Jinul. The temple was built in this location to fulfill a former monk’s prophecy. The prophecy stated that if a temple was built on the grounds that Heungguksa Temple now occupies, the nation would flourish. The temple was completely destroyed by the Mongol invasion during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). After some of the temple buildings were rebuilt after this invasion, they were destroyed once more during the Imjin War in 1592 and 1597. Heungguksa Temple was rebuilt once more in 1642 by the monk Gyeteuk.

You first approach the temple grounds past the stately Iljumun Gate. The first sign that you’re approaching the temple grounds is a grouping of twelve stupas that also include the earthly remains of Jinul, as well as other prominent monks from eastern Jeollanam-do. A little further along, and just before you pass through the Cheonwangmun Gate, is a turtle-based stele that dates back to 1703. The history of the temple’s reconstruction is written on the body of the biseok.

Inside the Cheonwangmun Gate are four descriptive statues of the Four Heavenly Kings that stand on an elevated enclosure. To the left of this gate is the temple’s museum which houses an 18th century Gwaebul painting of Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha). The museum is joined by a weathered bell pavilion that houses an equally old looking collection of Buddhist percussion instruments.

Straight ahead of the Cheonwangmun Gate, and just before you enter the temple courtyard, you’ll be greeted by the Beopwangmun Gate. Originally constructed in 1624, the interior of this gate is rather spacious.

Having stepped inside the main temple courtyard, and straight ahead, lays the Daeung-jeon main hall at Heungguksa Temple. The main hall dates back to 1624. Out in front of the main hall is some beautiful masonry, which includes a turtle based stone lantern (which now looks more like a demon than a turtle), as well as some decorative reliefs on the stairs that lead up to the main hall. Surrounding the exterior walls to this hall are pastoral paintings. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined by Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) and Jaehwagara-bul (The Past Buddha). These statues date back to 1628-1644. The masterful main altar painting that backs these statues dates back to 1693. In the back left corner is a historic all-white image of Gwanseeum-bosal.

To the right of the main hall is the temple’s Myeongbu-jeon. Inside this hall sits the Ten Kings of the Underworld, as well as green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) front and centre. These statues date back to the 17th century and are backed by elaborate paintings of the worlds that the Ten Kings rule over in the afterlife.

To the rear of the main hall is the Buljo-jeon, which houses some ancient artifacts from the temple. Unfortunately, this hall is locked at all times. To the rear of this hall, and slightly up an embankment, are a pair of halls. Passing under a low lying entry gate, the first of the two halls is the Palsang-jeon. This hall houses eight replica paintings from the Buddha’s Life (Palsang-do murals). To the left of the Palsang-jeon is the Nahan-jeon. Newly rebuilt, the hall houses replicas of original paintings of the Nahan.

The final pair of halls that visitors can enjoy at Heungguksa Temple lie to the rear of the temple grounds. The first is the Wontong-jeon, which houses a multi-arm and headed statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. Purportedly, the hall was first constructed in 1633, but judging from the architecture, it’s probably closer to the 19th century because of the brackets holding up the hall. Just below the Wontong-jeon is an artificial cave that houses a dragon-spout well, as well as two stone reliefs dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal and Yongwang (The Dragon King).

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Yeosu Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to board Bus #52 to get to Heungguksa Temple. The bus leaves every 40 minutes from the terminal, and the ride should take about an hour from the terminal to the temple.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. Heungguksa Temple has a wide variety of shrine halls that visitors can enjoy while exploring the temple grounds. Beautifully situated under Mt. Yeongchwisan on large grounds, the stone masonry in and around the main hall is something to enjoy at the temple. The ancient buildings, as well as the artwork that adorns the halls both inside and out, are something to take your time with, too. There’s a little of something for everyone at Heungguksa Temple.


The Iljumun Gate that welcomes you at Heungguksa Temple.


The pathway that leads you towards the temple courtyard.


Part of the set of twelve prominent stupas at the temple.


The large commemorative stele at the entry of Heungguksa Temple.


A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate.


Just one of the Four Heavenly Kings housed inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.


The hollow Beopwangmun Gate.


A look through the gate towards the main hall at Heungguksa Temple.


A better look at the Daeung-jeon.


The turtle-based stone lantern out in front of the main hall.


A closer look at the turtle-based stone lantern. Looks a little more like a goblin these days.


A look inside the Daeung-jeon at the main altar and the 17th century statues.


The uniquely supported dharma drum at Heungguksa Temple.


A collection of dongja (attendants) that line the museum walls.


The unpainted Myeongbu-jeon at the temple.


A look inside at the 17th century statues of Jijang-bosal and the Ten Kings of the Underworld.


A look past the Buljo-jeon towards the upper courtyard.


The diminutive gate that welcomes you to the upper courtyard and the Palsang-jeon.


The main altar inside the Palsang-jeon.


And the main altar inside the Nahan-jeon.


The secluded Wontong-jeon at Heungguksa Temple.


The Yongwang-dang at the temple.


With a look inside the shaman shrine hall.


Enjoying the rain and the view.

Hyangiram Hermitage – 향일암 (Yeosu, Jeollanam-do)


Hyangiram Hermitage in Yeosu, Jeollanam-do on a rainy day.

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Located in the very southern tip of Yeosu, Jeollanam-do, and perched in and around the crags and crevices of Mt. Geumosan, is Hyangiram Hermitage. The hermitage was first founded in 644 A.D. by the famed monk Wonhyo-daesa. It was here that Wonhyo-daesa had a vision of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Originally, the temple was known as Wontongam Hermitage, until the High Priest Yun Pil changed the name of the hermitage to Geumoam Hermitage in 950 A.D. while studying there. In 1592, the entire hermitage was burnt to the ground by the Japanese during the Imjin War. In 1715, the hermitage was rebuilt by the monk Inmuk-daesa. It was also at this time that the hermitage was renamed with its present name of Hyangiram Hermitage, which means “Looking Out at the Sun Hermitage,” in English. On December 20th, 2009, the main hall at the hermitage, as well as the bell tower, was completely destroyed by fire. Fortunately, the rest of the hermitage was spared from this fire, and both the main hall and the bell tower have been rebuilt in recent years. Hyangiram Hermitage, alongside three other hermitages like neighbouring Boriam Hermitage in Namhae, Gyeongsangnam-do, are four holy sites for the worship of Gwanseeum-bosal.

You first approach the hermitage grounds past a large collection of stores and restaurants. About half way up the mountain, you’ll come to the hermitage’s admission booth. After paying your 2,000 won entry fee, you can either head left towards the stately Iljumun Gate and large turtle-based stele, or you can head right up the road that monks use for their vehicles at the hermitage. I would suggest the much more beautiful, and scenic, left pathway.

The aforementioned trail will zig-and-zag its way up the mountain, until you arrive at the outskirts of the hermitage grounds. Just outside the temple grounds, once again, you can either head right towards the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall or head left towards the main hall. Again, I would recommend heading left and making your way through a narrow opening in the rocks and up a flight of stairs sculpted from the mountain’s rock face.

It’s only after appearing on the other side of these naturally occurring obstacles that you get a great view of the South Sea from the hermitage’s main courtyard. You also get to see some islands that dot the horizon, as well as a neighbouring harbour.

Behind you stands the newly rebuilt Daeung-jeon main hall at Hyangiram Hermitage. Lining the exterior walls are a set of Palsang-do murals, as well as a collection of phoenixes and zodiac animals that line the eaves of the hall. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll be greeted by a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal.

To the right of the main hall, and up a set of stone stairs, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Again, and from this elevated vantage point, you get an amazing view of the South Sea. Inside the main hall are a pair of haunting murals dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). As for the exterior walls, there are a pair of tigers, one of which has its ferocious mouth wide open.

To the left of the main hall, and past the newly rebuilt bell pavilion, are a set of stairs that lead you to the rear of the Daeung-jeon. It’s through an opening in the mountain’s face, and up a set of stairs situated in a crevice on the mountain, that you’ll finally come to the Gwaneeum-jeon. Sitting all alone on the main altar, and backed by a simplistic black mural, is a rather small seated statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. To the left of this hall stands a three metre tall stone statue dedicated to the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Yet another great view of the seaside landscape awaits you from the heights of the Gwaneeum-jeon. It’s also from this vantage point, and if you look down towards the greenery that lies at your feet past the arm rail, you’ll notice a rock outcropping with the name of Wonhyo-daesa written on it. It’s from here that Wonhyo-daesa also enjoyed the amazing view way back in the 7th century.

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Hyangiram Hermitage from Yeosu and back, it will probably take you the better part of the day to do. From the Yeosu Bus Terminal, you’ll need to cross the road and take either Bus #111 or Bus #113 to get to the Impo bus stop (임포 향일암). The bus ride should take about an hour and a half to do. From the bus stop, go 100 metres up the road with the ocean to your left. At the GS 25 convenience store, turn right and start the ascent up the mountain. Eventually, you’ll come to the entry gate where you have to pay. After that, just follow the signs the rest of the way towards Hyangiram Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. For the view alone, this hermitage rates as high as it does. But when you add into the mix the narrow crevices and cracks that link all the halls together, as well as the beautiful artwork all around Hyangiram Hermitage, and you know why this remote hermitage is a must see for any temple adventure seeker.


The stairs that lead up to Hyangiram Hermitage.


A large stele along the way.


A closer look at the Iljumun Gate as the rain continues to fall.


One of the crevices you’ll have to pass through on your way up to the hermitage courtyard.


A flight of stairs and you’ll finally see all that Hyangiram Hermitage has to offer.


The foggy view of the South Sea with an obscured island off in the distance.


A foggy harbour down below.


A look up towards the Daeung-jeon and Mt. Geumosan.


A look inside the Daeung-jeon at the main altar.


One of the Palsang-do murals that adorns the main hall.


As well as some amazing eaves’ work on the Daeung-jeon.


Both the bell pavilion and Daeung-jeon roof close together.


A cave entryway at the hermitage.


The flight of stairs that lead through another large crevice and up towards the Gwaneeum-jeon.


A look at the Gwaneeum-jeon through the rain.


The front facade of the Gwaneeum-jeon.


The meditative stone that Wonhyo-daesa prayed upon, as well as a foggy South Sea off in the distance.


A look inside the Gwaneeum-jeon at the main altar inside.


To the left of the Gwaneeum-jeon is this statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.


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


The obscured view from the rolling fog from the Samseong-gak towards the Daeung-jeon.


A decorative, and ferociously posed, tiger on one of the exterior walls of the Samseong-gak.


The view from the Samseong-gak.


The Sanshin mural inside the Samseong-gak.


And a look out onto the rain from the shaman shrine hall.

Baekyangsa Temple – 백양사 (Jangseong, Jeollanam-do)


 The beautiful scenery at Baekyangsa Temple in Jangseong, Jeollanam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Baekyangsa Temple is located in Naejangsan National Park in the northern most part of Jeollanam-do. It was first founded in 632 A.D. during the Baekje Dynasty. When it was first established, it was called Jeongtosa Temple. It was then changed to Baengmasa Temple. Finally, during the Goryeo Dynasty, the name of the temple changed to its present name: Baekyangsa Temple. The name of the temple, in English, means White Sheep Temple. This name refers to a legend from the Goryeo Dynasty where white sheep would come down from the mountains to listen to sermons. After listening, they gained enlightenment and were able to ascend to heaven. During Japanese occupation, the temple played a key role on the Korean peninsula. And currently, it’s the 18th regional headquarters for the Jogye Order. It has an important role in educating monks in the Jeolla area.

The walk up to the temple is one of the prettiest you’ll see at a temple. In fact, the temple is situated in one of the most scenic and beautiful locations in all of Korea: Naejangsan National Park. As you make your way towards the temple grounds, large red maples lead the way. You’ll pass by a dammed off area of a stream that flows down from the Naejangsan mountain peaks. During the winter, it freezes over with both the Ssanggyeru pavilion and the mountain range as a framing backdrop.

Around a bend in the path, and over a bridge, you’ll come to the Cheonwangmun Gate. Unusually, this gate doesn’t lead straight into the temple courtyard. Instead, you’ll enter from the side. The outside of the gate is adorned with a beautiful mural of the temple layout. As for the interior, there are some surreal looking Heavenly Kings. Finally, you pass by the two-story bell pavilion and the Uhwaru pavilion to gain entry to the temple courtyard. Immediately to your right is the temple’s main hall, the Daeung-jeon. The main hall was rebuilt in 1917 and the exterior walls have Nahan and Buddhist motif murals adorning it. Behind the main hall is a uniquely designed nine-tier stone pagoda. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by two slender standing statues of Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the right of the main altar hangs a descriptive painting of Dokseong (The Recluse). And rather uniquely, to the left, is a Nahan shrine dedicated to the Historical Disciples of the Buddha. Besides the seated statues of the Nahan, and just behind them, hang eight beautiful Palsang-do murals that describe the life of the Buddha.

In front of the main hall, and to the left, is a sectioned hall that is divided in two. The first shrine area is dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Interestingly, and a first for me, the image of the Buddha is joined to seven images of the Chilseong statues with a golden string. The next shrine area to the left, but still in the same building, is the Josa-jeon, which houses numerous murals of former monks that once lived at Baekyangsa Temple.

Next to this unique hall is the historic Geukrak-jeon. The hall dates back to 1574, when it was built by the monk Hwaneung. While the hall is compact, it is rich with detail like the butterfly door hinges. As for the interior, and immediately when you enter the hall, you’ll be greeted by the large sized statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Hanging on the right wall is the guardian mural, while in the back corner is a white-tigered mural of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). The only other hall on the temple grounds that you can visit is the rather long Myeongbu-jeon, which houses Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Underworld).

Admission is 2,500 won for adults.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Baekyangsa Temple, you can get there from the Gwangju Intercity Bus Terminal. Buses run from 6:35 in the morning until 19:50 at night. The buses leave at an interval of 60 to 80 minutes between buses, and the bus ride will last about an hour and twenty minutes.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Without a doubt, the highlight to this temple is the Naejangsan National Park backdrop, where Baekyangsa Temple is located. The towering craggy peaks frame the temple with flowing streams to the east of the temple grounds. Also, the combination of halls that act as more than one shrine, as well as the historic Geukrak-jeon hall make for a beautiful outing in any season.


 The trail that leads up to the temple.


 The damned off stream with the beautiful mountains in the background.


 The pavilion that overlooks the frozen pond.


 The Cheonwangmun Gate at Baekyangsa Temple.


 The mural of the temple on the Cheonwangmun Gate.


 Inside the gate is a blue faced Heavenly King.


 The bell pavilion and the Uhwaru pavilion you’ll have to pass by to get to the temple courtyard.


 The Daeung-jeon main hall.


 One of the more unique paintings that adorns the exterior walls to the main hall.


 The triad of statues that rest on the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon.


 The Nahan shrine to the left of the main altar.


 The nine-tier pagoda behind the main hall.


 The Chilseong-gak/Josa-jeon shrine hall.


 Inside the very unique Chilseong-gak.


 And a look at one of the walls with a dozen paintings of former monks inside the Josa-jeon.


 A look at the Geukrak-jeon.


 With beautiful butterfly door hinges.


 The large sized statue of Amita-bul inside the Geukrak-jeon.


 The Sanshin mural that takes up residence inside the Geukrak-jeon.


 With the Myeongbu-jeon to the left of the Geukrak-jeon.

Dogapsa Temple – 도갑사 (Yeongam, Jeollanam-do)


 A beautiful view of the temple grounds and halls at Dogapsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Dogapsa Temple, which is located on the western portion of Wolchulsan National Park, was first established in 881 A.D. by Doseon-guksa. However, more recent excavation dates it to the Baekje Period in Korean history which lasted from 18 B.C to 660 A.D. Under the watchful eye of monk Sumi, who was an adviser to the king, the temple continued to grow and prosper. And by 1597, there were over 780 monks and 12 neighbouring hermitages directly associated with the temple. However, most of Dogapsa Temple was destroyed during the Imjin War. After the war, Dogapsa Temple was rebuilt and continued to grow. But once more, in 1950, during the Korean War, several fires damaged a large portion of the temple. Then, between 1995 and 1999, there were four excavation digs which helped aid in understanding the original layout of the temple. As a result, and more recently, a large scale restoration project to rehabilitate Dogapsa Temple to its former glory is currently underway. Now, there are currently over ten halls and shrines to visit at Dogapsa Temple.

You first approach Dogapsa Temple up a beautiful trail. Eventually, you’ll come to the large sized Iljumun Gate and the ticket booth. Just a little further up the path, and just left of a calm flowing ravine, is the historic Haltaemun Gate, which means Gate of Deliverance, in English. It was first constructed in 1493. Of note, it’s National Treasure #50 in Korea. As you step inside this gate, you’ll be greeted by two of the happiest guardians. Next to these two standing guardians, on opposite sides of the gate, are the elephant riding Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and the blue lion riding Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom).

After exiting this gate and making your way through the large pavilion, you’ll emerge on the other side in the spacious temple courtyard. In front of the large sized two-story main hall stands a five-story stone pagoda that dates back to the early Goryeo Dynasty. The exterior walls are adorned with some of the most beautiful, and large, Palsang-do murals in all of Korea. As for the interior, and sitting in the centre of the large main altar is Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). On the left wall is a wooden guardian relief while to the right is an unpainted Yeongsan Taenghwa. There are several other paintings throughout the main hall including Sanskrit lettering above the main altar triad.

To the right rear of the main hall is the Josa-jeon hall, which is dedicated to prominent former monks that resided at the temple. Just to the right of this hall is a stele dedicated to Sumi-wangsa. Have a look at the gargoyle-like face base of the stele.

To the left rear of the main hall are three more halls. The first of the three is the Cheonbul-jeon hall. Inside are a thousand bronze incarnations of the Buddha, as well as a large sized statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) centering a triad of statues on the main altar. To the left and right of the main altar hang a guardian mural and a Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural. Next to the Cheonbul-jeon is the Sanshin-gak. Hanging on the main altar is a wooden relief of the Mountain Spirit. He’s joined by wooden sculptures of elderly men. The final hall in this area is the Myeongbu-jeon hall. The exterior walls are adorned with depictions of the Underworld, as well as a set of murals depicting life from infancy to adulthood. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, there’s a green-haired rendering of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s surrounded by older looking seated statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

Along a trail that runs between the Sanshin-gak and the Myeongbu-jeon are a pair of smaller sized waterfalls. The two together are called Yongsu-pokpo. And there’s a small pavilion that you can sit in to enjoy the view as you relax.

Just beyond the falls, and over the stream that feeds these falls, are two sectioned off areas. The first is an area for stupas for prominent monks from Dogapsa Temple. Beside, and to the right, is stele dedicated to Doseon and Sumi, who rebuilt Dogapsa Temple. It was completed in 1653. Uniquely, there are rolled lotus images on the back of the turtle base. And to the left, and a little further up the trail, is the Mireuk-jeon, which houses a three metre tall stone statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won. And if you bring your car, it’ll cost you 2,000 won more at the Wolchulsan National Park entrance.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Yeongam, which is where Dogapsa Temple is located, you’ll first have to go to the city of Mokpo. From Mokpo, you can catch a bus that goes to Yeongam. From Yeongam, you can catch a bus or take a taxi. There are only two buses that go to Dogapsa Temple throughout the day: 09:30 and 16:10. For a taxi, the ride should cost you just a little over 10,000 won and take about 30 minutes depending on traffic.

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OVERALL RATING: 8/10. There are a few highlights to this temple. The first is the Haltaemun Gate that was first constructed in 1493. Beyond this, everything about the main hall is amazing and big including the altar statues and the Palsang-do murals. In addition to these two structures, there are several other structures to keep the temple adventurer busy. So enjoy and take your time while exploring the large sized temple grounds.


 The Iljumun Gate at Dogapsa Temple.


 The Haltaemun Gate that welcomes you to the temple.


 A Vajra Guardian inside the Haltaemun Gate.


 Bohyun-bosal riding his six-tusked elephant.


 The Boje-ru that you’ll pass under to enter the temple courtyard.


 The view of the temple courtyard and just some of the halls.


 The massive two-story main hall at Dogapsa Temple.


 Just one of the massive Palsang-do murals that adorn the exterior walls of the main hall.


 The equally massive main altar statues that is centred by Birojana-bul.


 The beautiful Sinjung Taenghwa relief inside the main hall.


 The Josa-jeon that houses paintings of prominent monks that formerly took up residence at the temple.


 The head of the stele dedicated to Sumi-wangsa.


 The three halls to the left rear of the main hall.


 First is the elaborately decorated Cheonbul-jeon.


 Another is the Myeongbu-jeon with its judgment murals.


 The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon with a green-haired Jijang-bosal.


 Finally, the larger sized Sanshin-gak.


 Inside is this colourful relief of the Mountain Spirit.


 Just past the Sanshin-gak is this tiny waterfall.


 Up this embankment is the temple’s stupa field, as well as a pavilion is housed in this area.


 The pavilion is dedicated to Doseon and Sumi.


 The entry to the Mireuk-jeon.

Muwisa Temple – 무위사 (Gangjin, Jeollanam-do)


The amazing and historic interior of the Geukrakbo-jeon main hall at Muwisa Temple. 

Hello Again Everyone!!

Muwisa Temple is located on the south side of Wolchulsan National Park near the city of Gangjin. The temple is first believed to have been established in 617 by the famed monk, Wonhyo-daesa. It was known at that time as Gwaneumsa Temple. It was later expanded in the early 10th century by the equally famed monk, Doseon. It was at this point that the temple changed its name to Muwigapsa Temple.

You make your way up to the rather open temple by way of the Iljumun Gate. The next gate to greet you is the Cheonwangmun Gate, which houses some pretty intense Heavenly Kings. Uniquely, this gate is painted simple brown and white colours. Finally, you’ll pass through a pavilion to gain access to temple courtyard.

Straight ahead lies the Geukrakbo-jeon hall that dates back to 1430. It’s reminiscent of the main hall at Buseoksa Temple in Gyeongsangbuk-do. This hall is National Treasure #13. Inside this main hall, and sitting on the main altar, are three Buddha statues. Sitting in the centre is an earthen made statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). It’s believed that this statue dates back to the 15th century. It’s joined by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). These were not constructed at the same time as the central statue, as they are made of wood; however, they are similar in design. Behind the triad of statues, and on the reverse side of the central altar, is painted a famed white mural of Gwanseeum-bosal. This hall is packed with historic paintings. In fact, there used to be 29 historic murals inside this hall. Now, most of them reside inside the temple museum. There are, however, still two remaining murals up near the eaves of the hall. The first, and to the west, are a collection of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Nahan. Below this painting is a modern day painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). On the east side is, perhaps, the more famous triad dedicated to Amita-bul. This fading mural is National Treasure #313, and it was painted in 1476. This hall is one of a kind for its historic beauty both architecturally, but artistically, as well.

To the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon hall. Just as you step into the hall, you’ll be surprised by two eye popping guardians. Trust me! A little further into this hall, and you’ll be greeted by a green-haired Jijang-bosal and the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

To the left of the main hall are a collection of halls, a pagoda and a stele. The three-story stone pagoda is believed to date back to 946 and is rather plain in design. It’s joined by a stele dedicated to Supreme Master Seongak, who lived from 864 to 917. He was key in the re-establishment of Muwisa Temple, and the stele is well kept with its tortoise base and life of the monk written on its body-stone.

Behind these two structures, and to the left, is a rather ordinary Nahan-jeon hall. Its plain exterior is matched by is rather sparsely populated interior. Behind this hall, and slightly to the right, are two smaller sized halls. The first one to the right is a hall with a larger sized stone image of the Buddha of unknown origins or date. To the left of this hall is the Sanshin-gak. Inside is a rather plain style contemporary painting of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

The final hall to visit at Muwisa Temple is the Cheonbul-jeon hall that lies between the Nahan-jeon and the Sanshin-gak. Up a small trail and over a small bridge, you’ll find this newly constructed hall. Well populated with a thousand bronze coloured images of the Buddha, and fronted by a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul, is the beautiful interior to this hall.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Muwisa Temple, you’ll first need to get to the Gangjin Intercity Bus Terminal from wherever it is you live in Korea. From there, a bus leaves at 06:40, 08:35, 10:30, 15:00, 16:00, 17:20 to get to the temple.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. By far, the main highlight to this temple is the Geukrakbo-jeon main hall at Muwisa temple. The date of this hall, 1430, combined with the historic paintings that also date back to the 15th century are truly unsurpassed in Korea. Additionally, there are several other halls, gates, and a historic pagoda and stele to see at this beautifully situated temple in Jeollanam-do.


 A look through the Iljumun Gate at the Cheonwangmun Gate.


 A closer look at the plainly painted Cheonwangmun Gate.


 A look at the side-wards glancing Heavenly King.


 A look back at the Iljumun Gate as the sun rises in the early morning hours.


 The pavilion you pass through to get to the temple courtyard.


 The famed Geukrakbo-jeon main hall at Muwisa Temple.


 The beautiful statues that adorn the main altar. In the centre is the 15th century statue of Amita-bul.


 Behind the main altar is this famed painting of Gwanseeum-bosal.


 A collection of Buddhas inside the historic painting.


 The Amita-bul painting that dates back to 1476 and is a National Treasure.


 To the right of the main hall lies the Myeongbu-jeon.


 The frightening guardian that welcomes you to the Myeongbu-jeon.


 The altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon.


 To the left of the main hall is this collection of halls.


 The face of the stele that bears the history of the Supreme Master Seongak.


The rather plain interior of the Nahan-jeon.


 The contemporary Confucian-style painting of Sanshin.


 A large sized stone image of the Buddha.


 The Cheonbul-jeon hall that lies outside the main courtyard at Muwisa Temple.


 A look inside at the 1,000 Buddhas.


 And finally, it was time to head to the next temple.