Top Temples in Korea

Buddhism is a central theme of Korean culture & has been for centuries. As the country has become more westernised buddhism has retracted somewhat, now only the second most popular religion behind christianity. Despite the religion’s retreat buddhism is still an integral part of Korean history & the amazing temple designs are a common sight in Korean architecture even outside temple complexes.

Anyone who has traveled in Asia may well suffer from temple-fatigue. Most temples you visit have such similarities that they blend into one. In Korea it’s a mountain backdrop, a babbling stream & ornate green & red roofes. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good temple!! A tranquil setting, beautiful architecture… but after seeing it umpteen times it can become tedious. Distinct features are few and far between in Korean buddhist temples but here are our top 5 temples in Korea. Even if temple-fatigue has kicked in, these may yet arouse your spiritual taste buds…

1. Tapsa

Situated at the foot of the impressive Maisan peaks, Tapsa is an enchanting temple with truly distinctive features. The complex lies in the shadow of the so-called ‘Horse Ear Peaks’ of Maisan National Park, southwest of Jinan, a rugged, small market town. The stone pagodas at Tapsa are remarkable. Hand-built by a retired scholar, 80 of these mystical towers remain, creating an aura of mystery around Tapsa. It is thought there were originally 108 pagodas (a significant number in buddhism), or perhaps as many as 120, each one piled with no assistance or adhesive. Quite a remarkable achievement & display of dedication. Prudently pacing through the stone structures, the incline leads to the main temple hall. With incense cloaking the surrounding air & the clank clank clanking of the buddhist prayer percussion, the atmosphere was invigorating.

2. Hyangiram

This coastal complex boasts breathtaking views looking south over the sea of the Korea Strait. Hyangiram is perched upon the southern tip of Dolsando, overlooking countless islands that dot the sea. The road leading the temple is steep, lined with restaurants serving local fish dishes & the regional delicacy Gotkimchi. A gigantic stone gate greets you at the foot of the temple’s stairway. Through a narrow staircase between the rocks is the main hall & a magnificent view. Surrounding the temple are small stone turtles, peering out from their posts, each with a 10₩ coin on their back. The view is simply stunning, gazing out, seemingly at the edge of the world.

Hyangiram Turtles

3. Bulguksa

This giant temple is Korea’s Angkor Wat. It’s defining feature is its sheer size & rich history, propelling it to the top end of Korea’s national treasures. The temple has stupendous stone steps leading up to it, surrounding the wooden pillars above. The main complex boasts two impressive pagodas & an antiquated temple hall with discolored patterns on its aged wooden frame. Outside the main temple are several smaller prayer halls, one of which is encompassed with tiny pagodas, precariously balancedaround the walls of the hall. Bulguksa does not offer a great atmosphere though. As its fame has spread it has become more of a tourist destination with floods of Koreans & foreigners arriving everyday. But, the architecture is highly impressive & the grounds Bulguksa are beautiful.


4. Seokbulsa

The so-called ‘Stone Temple’ has the unique central theme of,… surprisingly, STONE. Unlike other Korean temples there is a distinct lack of wood in this stone sanctuary. Tucked away in Geumjeongsan mountain’s dense forest in Busan, Seokbulsa is a hidden gem. Very few tourists make it here & its this ‘off the beaten track’ feel that adds so much to a visit here. The stone carvings are impressive in size & artistry, etched to perfection into the cliffs surrounding the main temple hall. Inside the temple, also made oddly of stone, are infinite rows of golden buddhas, bobbing in a sea of gold. Seokbulsa’s forecourt also offers impressive views of Busan city, a stretching sprawl of concrete right down to the East Sea. For more information read Seokbulsa Temple: Stone Buddha.

Seokbulsa Stone Guards

5. Beopjusa

The standout feature of Beopjusa is the giant golden buddha that dominates the temple complex. We were lucky enough to visit the temple on Buddha’s birthday, with lanterns strung from pillar to post but the scenery on any day is superb. A rather typical setting, it is situated on the slopes of Songnisan, Boeun, in the province of Chungcheongbuk-do, a 2 hour bus ride from Daejeon. The temple complex boasts several large temple halls, but all is overshadowed by the stupendous statue of gold. Standing at an impressive 33m in height the Golden Maitreya overlooks the ancient complex. It is a recent addition but one which may now define Beopjusa despite its previous rich history.

Beopjusa Buddha

*Worthy mention* Beomosa

Beomeosa doesn’t have any distinct features but it deserves a mention for being the best ‘standard’ Korean temple we visited. We also enjoyed a temple stay here which may have inflicted some bias in our views, but it is an incredible temple with a rich history & plenty to explore.

2 Responses to “Top Temples in Korea”
  1. We will def. spend 91 days in Korea at one point. Have to bookmark this post. We have to visit them all 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

    • Nicky says:

      You’re welcome… we had a blast traveling around to them all. Korea is definitely not short on temples to visit, have a blast! If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask 🙂

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