South Korea, like many other Asian countries, is well-known for its beautiful temples. In South Korea, temples are not only just beautiful buildings you can visit but are also a popular site for overnight stays and lodging!
Though South Korea is a predominantly atheist country, Buddhism remains one of the most majored religions still practiced. Thus, you can find a Buddhist temple in every major city, and more exist scattered around smaller cities and towns.
So, why should you visit a Buddhist temple? Because it’s BEAUTIFUL and FROZEN IN TIME. First, Buddhist temples have some of the most elaborate displays of art on and inside them. You can spend hours just admiring all the details at any one temple alone. Also, have you ever thought, “I wonder how this place looked in a thousand years ago…”
Well, the cool thing standing in temples hundreds, sometimes thousands of years old feels is that it feels like jumping back in time and seeing what Korean looked like in the ancient past. Like just imagine being able to stand in the same place King Sejong stood …
Anyway, so now let’s check out some four of the most popular temples in South Korea.
So, you’re in Seoul for the first time and you want to do something modern (like shopping) and something traditional! Well, you’re in luck! The Bongeunsa Temple is one of the most accessible temples for tourists, is located directly across from Starfield COEX Mall. Visually, it is most known for its 75-foot (23-meter) stone statue of the Maitreya (Future) Buddha, one of the largest stone statues in the country.
Bongeunsa was initially named Gyeongseongsa and first built in 794. It was refurbished in 1498 and renamed “Bongeunsa” meaning the “act of honoring the king” (referencing the beloved King Seongjeong). Another interesting fact is that during the Japanese occupation of Korea, Bongeunsa’s head monk Cheong-ho saved over 700 people from drowning in the Han river. Pretty awesome~
You can get here directly at the Bongeunsa stop on Seoul Metropolitan Subway Line 2.
This temple is located in Insadong, a famous traditional culture street. Jogyesa is the main temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism (Buddhist sect which combines and integrates the Korean Seon (Zen) and Textual Schools of Buddhism).
Across from this temple is the Templestay Information Center where you can get information on most Buddhist temples and programs they run for visitors. In the same building on the fifth floor is Balwoo Gongyang, a 1-Michelin Star Korean temple food restaurant that offers a seasonal menu for lunch and dinner service.
You can get here from the Jonggak stop on Seoul Metropolitan Subway Line 1.
Haedong Yonggungsa (Busan)
This is one of the most unique temples in Korea since it is along the shoreline. Traditionally, Buddhist temples are located nestled deep inland or high in the mountains. Therefore, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is a scarce find!
Haedong Yonggungsa was first built in 1376 by the great Buddhist teacher Naong and was named Bomunsa. This temple is known for its four stone lions symbolizing joy, anger, sadness, and happiness and the Haesu Gwaneum Daebul (Sea Water Great Goddess Buddha) statue.
Climb the 108 stairs to the top of the sanctuary and check out this great temple! Or take a break on stair #96 and catch Haedong Yonggungsa’s breath-taking ocean view ~~~
The motto of the temple is: “At least one of your wishes will be answered here through your heartful prayers.” Every person whose wish was granted after praying here left a mini buddha figurine, and there are many of those figurines throughout the temple grounds. So, make a wish here, and it may come true!
Also, did I mention admission is FREE (but parking is 3,000-7,000 won…)
To get here, first, get off at the Haeundae Station stop on Busan Subway Line 2. Second, walk straight from exit 7 of the subway stop until you see the bus stop. Third, take bus 181 to the Haedong Yonggungsa stop and get off the bus. Lastly, follow the signs to the temple.
Bulguksa Temple is not only the representative relic of Gyeongju, but it is was designated as a World Cultural Asset by UNESCO in 1995 according to VisitKorea.com. Bulguksa is also a symbol of resilience.
After being built in 528 as Beopryusa Temple, rebuilt in 774, burned down during the Imjin War in 1592-1598, and renovated 40 times, it was finally reconstructed as the temple we can see today. So, you can see how a temple with such a long history would be a cultural treasure!
In fact, because of the ancient architecture and the numerous national treasures present in the area, the city of Gyeongju is popularly known as the “museum without walls.”
From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, make your way to the main road and the bus stop that’s just out in front of it. From there, take bus 10 or 11 directly to the Bulguksa stop.
When visiting a temple in Korea, certain rules need to be followed. Some of these rules are not followed precisely by visitors, but, in general, people try to pay more respect and follow the traditional customs in Korean temples.
- Dress neat, clean, and conservatively
- Avoid bright colored clothes, eccentric clothes, heavy makeup, strong perfume, and excessive accessories
- Do not wear revealing clothing, such as sleeveless tops, miniskirts, and short shorts.
- Bare feet are not allowed in the temple, but you should remove your shoes at the door.
- Being loud, drinking alcohol, and smoking inside the temple are prohibited.
- Sitting or writing graffiti on pagodas, stupas, stone lanterns or any other sculptures are forbidden.
- Bow with your palms together in front of your chest when greeting someone.
- Enter and exit a Buddha’s Hall using the right or left doors. The middle door is for monks and nuns only.
In summary, when visiting a Korean temple, enjoy your time there, but be a little extra cautious of how you dress and act in a sacred place.
See you NEXT TIME~ and HAPPY NEW YEARS!!!
새해 복 많이 받으세요!!!