Just as Europe is filled with castles and churches, Asia is filled with temples. Sometimes big cities like Seoul will have more than one. They vary a lot in size and extravagance, but usually have one thing in common – they are on a hill. The Gakwonsa Temple (각원사) in Cheonan, South Korea is no exception. The temple was enshrined in 1977 to pray for the reunification of North and South Korea. When I lived in SK, I was able to visit the temple with a few friends.
From Shinsegae Mall in the city center take the 24 bus towards Hoseodae. Get off at the last stop and follow the street up the hill. You can walk up the steps or continue up the street to the parking lot. These stairs nearly killed me, but taking the street the long way still goes up a hill. Either way, you’ve got yourself a work out. (But you get to walk down hill on the way back!)
Once you reach the top of the stairs you’ll be rewarded with one of the largest Buddha statues in Korea. He is almost 50 feet tall and made of bronze. This Buddha is sitting in a double lotus position with his hands facing outward a symbol of protection. His ears are long because he’s listening to the world.
Even though we visited in July, the fog was rolling through the trees. That, along with the serene silence at the site really made for a meditative moment while visiting the temple. Gakwonsa is a complex made up of several buildings. In addition to the Buddha statue at the top of the hill there are temple buildings with traditional elements.
The roofs are black slate tiles, accompanied by intricately carved and brightly painted wooden beams. Inside the main temple building were three golden Buddha statues. The doors of the temples are open and you can go inside, but be respectful if there is a service going on. I took pictures from the outside with my zoom lens because there was actually a funeral going on when we visited.
Smaller temple building
If you’re the hiking type there is a popular trail that extends further up the mountain behind the temple. Gakwansa is open year round in all types of weather. My coworkers took some really lovely photos of the temple with the mountains swathed in fall colors and the temple buildings covered in snow.
Have you visited any temples in Asia? Let me know about it in the comments!