If you find yourself in Gangnam, shopping at the Coex with your girlfriend, there is a place nearby to correct your zen if her shopping addictions get out of hand. Neatly tucked away across the street lies Bongeunsa Temple. The temple is not a must see or something I encourage tourists to visit if they have limited time in Seoul. But, if you find yourself shopping at the Coex or fish gazing at their lovely aquarium, you should take some time to visit this small, lovely temple. By the way, I don’t think the temple is a must see; there are plenty of other Seoulites who disagree.
Why is Bongeunsa Temple so Popular?
Bongeunsa Temple’s mass appeal comes from the contrast it provides to the skyscrapers of Gangnam. Photographers absolutely love taking shots of Bongeunsa’s giant Buddha statue set against the backdrop of a modern skyline. 30 Years prior, rice patties and farmers surrounded the temple. The temple stands as a testament to the incredible growth experienced by Koreans within one generation. It also epitomizes tradition and the struggle for Buddhism to remain relevant in Korea. Did I mention the temple boasts a ridiculously large statue of Buddha? I’ve only seen comparable statues in Nara, Naksan Beach, and Seorak Mountain.
Directions to Bongeunsa Temple
To arrive at Bogeunsa Temple, take line 2 to the Samseong Exit. Depart exit 6 and walk straight along the Coex building for six to eight minutes. Turn left at the first major road and walk a little further. You will see a temple and a big statue on your right. There is a Cafe Gurinaru close to the temple. This is good to know if you freeze your ass off exploring the temple during the winter. Nothing beats the feel of an overpriced cup of sugary java to warm your frost-nipped hands.
When to Visit and Hours of Operation
The temple opens at 3:00 AM and closes at 10:00 PM. It’s open 365 days a year. To avoid the crowds, visit during weekday mornings. Tourists pack the place to the brim during the weekends.
For the love of God, visit the temple during the spring or summer. Nothing ruins a great picture like tree branches without leaves. Trust me, my pictures of this temple were so ugly during the winter that I thought my camera was broken. Bongeunsa looks like the Temple of Doom during the winter but somehow impersonates the Garden of Eden during the spring. Speaking of creation, monks play percussion instruments at 4:10 AM and 6:40 PM daily to awaken the four heavenly beings of the earth, sky, water, and underground. Cool- right?
A Little History
Bongeunsa Temple spans an expansive period of time. Its origins date back to the 8th century. The highlights of its history include managing 80 other temples in Seoul during the Japanese Occupation of Korea and also being the head temple for Seon (Zen) Buddhism during the harsh oppression of Buddhism by the Confucian-favoring Joseon Dynasty. Bongeunusa Temple certainly contributed to and acted as a lifeline for the preservation of Buddhism in Korea. Currently, the temple is only second in the Jogye order to Jogyesa Temple near downtown Seoul.
English Volunteers are available for tours. If you visit on Thursday from 2pm to 4pm, monks and volunteers offer an English program that costs only W10,000 and includes lotus-lantern making, dado (tea ceremony), a temple tour and Seon (Zen) meditation. I’ve seen the tour in action (because they stood in front of a building I was photographing for 15 minutes) and it appeared to be worth the time and money. There is also a temple stay program. Links are below the photography.
All shots are high resolution. They look better if you click them to see them in their full size!