Destination: Yongmunsa (Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi-do)
Not to be confused with the surrounding Yongmunsan Resort (용문산관광지), Yongmunsa offers a thousand-year-old tree just outside of a temple founded as the Silla dynasty was ending. It seems a bit disingenuous to put an amusement park right next to a Buddhist temple, but there it is.
Founded by Monk Taegyong or the last Silla dynasty King Kyongsun in 913 (no one seems to actually know), the temple received the wooden blocks for printing Buddhist sutras by Monk Chicheon in 1378. The temple was reconstructed and repaired multiple times in the early Joseon Dynasty, but was burned by the Japanese in 1907 because the temple served as a central place for the Korean resistance.
Once getting off the bus, walk past the myriad Korean restaurants and souvenir shops. Pay the 2,000 won admission fee, and head into the resort. Note that the temple is only part of the attraction here - in fact, you might have a hard time finding the way up unless you're looking closely at the signs.
Part of the Yongmunsan Resort is the Sustainable Agricultural Museum of Yangpyeong - um, interesting, but not the reason I came here.
One of the dragons guarding the front gate - appropriate considering 'Yong' (龍) means dragon. Even after getting here, you're still a few hundred meters from the temple - start hiking.
The suspension bridge is fun to hop on, as more than a few kids found out. Crossing it takes you another way to the temple - a somewhat more rugged dirt path on the side of the mountain. If you'd prefer to stay on the wide-and-paved path, keep on hiking uphill, and consider a souvenir or two while you're there:
A woodburner working by hand was just inside a small shed - lots of wonderful examples of his work as well.
Finally getting closer to the temple - presenting an 1,100 year old 은행나무 (eun-haeng-na-mu), or Ginkgo tree. Supposedly planted by Silla Prince Maeui, he spent his years as a monk after the Silla Dynasty was dissolved in 935 AD. Today, the tree is considered Natural Monument #30, and remains an enduring symbol of the area. At 41 meters tall and 14 meters around, you're likely to see the tree before the temple. A fence and alarm protect the tree - and for good reason. Legend holds that when a branch falls off or the tree dies, some calamity will happen to the country.
Presenting the main temple hall, or the 대운전 (dae-ung-jeon) - despite the noisy crowd, the reverent inside managed to ignore the noise.
The 불사리탑 (bul-sa-ri-tap), or the pagoda of Buddha's ashes.
Presenting Gwaneumbosal Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva of Mercy. It's considered a Tangible Cultural Treasure, and was originally made in the early Joseon Dynasty.
The outside of the 지장전 (ji-jang-jeon) - I love the colors here.
Several smaller statues featured balancing acts involving coins.
A wonderful dedication to the mountain spirit, or san-shin. There's no other information available at the temple, which is unfortunate.
The wooden fish drum, or 목탁 (mok-tak).
After hearing the alarm near the tree go off for the umpteenth time, I headed down to discover a set of 부도전 (bu-do-jeon):
The taller one is a stele, while the other ones are stupas.
Another sign promised to show another stele and stupa only a couple hundred meters away, so off I went. What the sign failed to mention was that those 200 meters were essentially straight up a line of staircases.
While the stele (not pictured) is little more than a tombstone-like stone full of Chinese, this stupa was dedicated to National Preceptor Jeongji. After this monk passed away in 1385, a large number of sarira (pearl-like objects believed to contain spiritual knowledge) were found after the cremation. This prompted King Taejo to give him a fancy, though posthumous, title.
After heading down, I couldn't help but stop by the amusement park. You've already paid the admission fee into the resort, but the rides cost a bit extra as usual. Most of the rides were empty or essentially empty - November isn't exactly a hopping time for the area.
I'm happy to have gone, but it's not a particularly tranquil temple. Neither quiet nor peaceful, it's still beautiful, but takes more than a bit of inner peace and concentration to block everything else out.
Ratings (out of 5 taeguks): How do I rate destinations?
Ease to arrive:
Worth the visit:
Directions to Yongmunsa: Take the Jungang line on the Seoul subway system to its eastern terminus, Yongmun station. You can get to this line from Yongsan station (line 1), Ichon station (line 4), Oksu station (line 3), or Wangsimni station (line 2 or 5). This can take some time to reach, so buy a drink and/or snack at the convenience store before getting on. Once at Yongmun station, take exit 2 to street level, then take a U-turn and turn right to walk away from the train station. Walk about 150 meters to the four-way intersection, then turn left and look for the Yongmun Bus Terminal. Transfer to the next bus headed for Yongmunsan - it's about 20 minutes away, and leaves about every half-hour. Even though you're way out of Seoul, your T-money card still works - always nice.
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