Seoknamsa Temple, Korea

A little bit ago, my friend and I traveled to Ulsan and Gyeongju.  We visited her family and explored the sights.  Gyeongju is famous for being a historic city in Korea, where so many famous historical sights are located, and there is an extensive ‘cultural village’ that takes you back in time.  More on that later, because as much as I enjoyed Gyeongju, I was really surprised by Ulsan.  Ulsan, to me, isn’t very famous. It is the epicenter of whale hunting in Korea, which I didn’t even know until I got there.  But we had a great weekend seeing some famous (and some not so famous) sights with her grandmother and uncle.  It was so much fun!

My favorite place was Seoknamsa Temple in Ulsan.  Unlike so many of the temples that I have been to in Korea, it was not completely restored and pristine.  It was old, and a lot of the time it looked old.  I like that in a place.

A bit of history and information about Seoknamsa?  Alrighty… Seoknamsa is located in the Gaji mountain range.  It was originally built in 824 but completely destroyed during the Japanese invasion in 1592.  It was rebuilt in 1674.  I found out after the fact, that the temple is now inhabited by nuns, rather than monks, and the temple complex houses the earthly remains of the founding monk, Doui.

The temple, like most temples, was located up the side of a mountain.  So before getting there, we spent a good bit of time enjoying the nature while following a mountain stream up to the temple.



We had to walk for a while, because when we finally got there, we were almost in the clouds.

wpid-20140817_153839.jpgAllllllmost.  The temple complex was beautiful, and so calm and peaceful.  I really enjoyed just walking around and taking way way too many photos.



This three tiered pagoda is from the Shilla period.  It is the centerpiece of the main temple complex, and quite beautiful.

wpid-20140817_153549.jpgTemple art is just so stunning to me.  This temple wasn’t restored to like new.  The paint was faded and chipping, but I think it’s just gorgeous.  Also, I love the dragon head in the corner of the buildings.



So much artwork to see! Panel paintings, as well as Buddhas just under the eaves.



This is the marker over the earthly remains of the founding monk.  From this spot you could see the whole temple complex and Gaji Mountain.



I always love the tiny Buddha statues collected around temples.  These were left with various offerings.

wpid-20140817_152917.jpgAnd finally a picture of a flower, because I can’t go a whole trip without taking a picture of a flower.  Physically impossible.  Especially if the flower is as vibrant as this one!





Monkey Park, Japan

I spent three days in Kyoto while I was in Japan.  On one of those days I headed out to the Arashiyama District, which is on the northwest corner of the city.  There are many temples and shrines in this area.  There is also a monkey park, and a bamboo grove.

Now, I took the long way out to Arashiyama, and did a lot of sightseeing on the way.  I also chose the hottest day of my entire trip.  It was just about 40 degrees, with 95% humidity.  (104F)  So after a pretty full morning of walking around, I was pretty exhausted.  And found myself by a beautiful river, that really made it seem we were leaving the city.





Now, the trick here was that if you turn right, you can go to the monkeys, and if you turn left- bamboo here you come.  I was about dead enough that I really considered just getting back on the bus.  Seriously.  I’m a winter kid.  This heat and humidity combination wasn’t fun AT ALL.  But I decided not to go back.  “You only have three days in Kyoto!”  I told myself.  “You definitely won’t be coming all the way out here tomorrow, so make the most of it!”  I convinced myself.

I decided to go to the monkey park, because I had already been to a bamboo forest in Korea, and bamboo’s really cool… but after the first 1,000 sticks of identical looking bamboo… it kind of loses it’s charm.  Also, because monkeys.

I got to the gate of the monkey park at 4:55.  I didn’t realize the park closed at 5:30.  Last entrance was 5pm, so I had just made it.  The ticket person took the money, gave me the ticket, and explained that it was about a 25 minute walk to the actual monkeys.


How can you sell me the ticket, and then tell me it’s a 25 minute hike up a mountain?  How am I supposed to get up and back down in 35 minutes?!  I gave it the old college try.  Because it was so close to closing, there were almost no people on the trail, which was actually really peaceful.  Were it not for the horrific weather, it would have been really pleasant.  I walked and walked, and got to the point where I was expecting to see monkeys just around the next bend in the trail or so.  And then in the distance, I saw a big sign with a map of the trail.


Please note the ‘present location’ dot is as far away as you can get from the monkeys on this giant sign.  Definitely not what you want to see when you’re seriously considering just turning around.  Because really… how much do you like monkeys?  And why didn’t you take the nice lady’s suggestion and buy a bottle of water before heading up?

Onward!  (It’s a good idea to put the baby monkey picture next to the ‘stick it out!’ uplifting quote.  We’ll skip through this next part.  Just- walk walk grumble grumble walk walk.

And then finally- monkeys!





These baby monkeys were having a lot of fun fighting with each other.  And responsible adult monkey (I assume mom) looked on with almost complete indifference, it seemed.


This one just chilled on the roof.  Watched everyone.  I read a book by Dean Koontz when I was quite young.  Perhaps too young to read such a book… but it involved genetically altered Rhesus monkeys attacking a town.  And I know one thing has nothing to do with the other, but this monkey just watching everything started to freak me out.



The little guy on the other hand was pretty funny.  He (she??) was leaning over the edge of the pond, trying to get a drink and accidentally fell in.  Let me tell you he was NOT happy.

So, I felt a little disappointed in the monkeys.  They were interesting, but after climbing all the way up there, I don’t know… maybe I just thought I liked monkeys more than I actually do, because yeah, turns out- not such a big fan.  Pretty awesome view of Kyoto though:



Final verdict:  probably worth going to, but go earlier.  Right before closing time was not ideal.  Perhaps don’t go on the hottest day of your life.  And for the love of God, bring water.