Lotus Lantern Festival, Korea

To celebrate Buddha’s birthday, most temples in Korea have some sort of celebration.  At Jogyesa Temple in Seoul, this takes the form of a weekend festival full of entertainment.  Due to some extenuating circumstances, my friend and I were not able to get to the temple on Saturday, when the majority of the events were planned, but we did make it on Sunday, to check out the arts and craft booths, and watch a lantern parade.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen, and I’m so glad we decided to go.

The trip to the temple was surprisingly easy.  It was located just outside a subway stop on my subway line, which made for a stress free journey.  (I tend to stress a bit, because I get lost all. the. time.)

We arrived and were greeted with a street festival.  The entire street was lined with booths.  There were arts and craft booths, social awareness booths, food tents, everything you could want from a street fair.


We skipped the food tents in search of more substance from a nearby restaurant.  Luckily the Insadong area has so many great places to eat, it was pretty easy to find something.  We took the first small side street/alley off the main shopping street and came to a super cute restaurant that not only had seafood pajeon, but seafood chapjae as well.  De.lic.ious. Plus the restaurant was beautiful, and they sat us near an open window/wall deal.



You know it’s a good meal in Korea when you don’t even eat the side dishes…



(excuse the partially eaten pajeon… we couldn’t wait for pictures)

After eating we headed back to the shopping street.  I had only been to Insadong once, back when I lived in Korea a few years ago.  I was excited to see that my favorite place is still thriving.



It is an entire shopping mall of independent, artsy crafty, shops.  It’s like a real life etsy.  And it’s wonderful.  We didn’t have too much time to look around, because it was almost time for the main attraction- the lantern parade.

Now, as I said before, I didn’t really have much context for what a lantern parade would entail.  (I feel like I say that a lot on this blog…)  I knew what lotus lanterns are, and figured it would be a parade of them.  No so.



These lanterns were giant, lit, intricately painted, paper sculptures.  It was phenomenal.  But the artwork was seriously amazing.




It was like watching the Rose parade, but paper instead of flowers.  Or the Macy’s parade, but on the ground instead of floating.



In addition to the large lanterns, there were many groups of dancers, musicians, and children in the parade.



There were also many different types of smaller, hand held lanterns.  My favorite were the moons.



I also loved that their hanboks (traditional Korean clothing) resembled lotus flowers.  So pretty, and in my favorite colors as well.  If given a choice, I would have joined with the moons.

After the parade, we went up to the temple to see the lotus lanterns displayed there.



One thing I loved here were the smaller lanterns that were popular characters in Korea. My favorite, was Neo, one of my favorite Kakao Talk characters.



In addition to all that was the actual lanterns at the temple.  Which were stunning.



Seriously though, this tree was everything to me.



And then we saw the jolliest Buddha I’ve ever seen.  So cute.




They had a lot of performers performing in front of the temple, but my camera battery died as we were leaving the temple.  So you’ll just have to imagine that part.  🙂  All in all, a great afternoon, and definitely something you should make the time to go see if you happen to find yourself near Seoul on Buddha’s birthday! 😉



Hyeonchungsa Shrine, Korea

Last weekend, I wanted to go on a day trip.  On a budget.  And what does that mean?  That means take the subway to the last stop, and see what’s there.  I did this last time I lived in Korea as well, but the subway line has been extended considerably since then.  To give you an idea of how far- here’s a handy map!

Asan Map

So, still riding the Seoul subway, it’s pretty far!  What a deal to be able to travel that far for less than $2.  Korea has figured out this whole public transportation thing.

Now, because it was a day trip, I planned on getting up early, and biking to the train station, and then spending the whole day exploring Asan.  However.  Because it was the weekend, I ended up sleeping in and then deciding just to walk to the station.  This ended up being to my benefit, because I met a friend along the way, and ended up having an exploring buddy.  Always nice.

The train ride to Asan took about an hour.  The best part of it was the fact that we had seats on the train the entire way.  Not standing for the entire hour?  The day was already a win, and we hadn’t even gotten there.

Now, in true me fashion, my planning for this trip was… lacking.  I briefly went on TripAdvisor, and looked at the major sites, and decided what I really wanted to go see was Hyeonchungsa.  It is a shrine in the north part of Asan, and from the pictures and comments, a beautiful place to relax.  So, that made up my mind, and i didn’t really see exactly where it was located.  Turns out, the shrine is about 6 or 7 Km from the nearest subway station.  But it was a beautiful day, so we decided to have a nice walk.  The first part of the walk was not too exciting.  Mostly through the city, it was pretty much like most other Korean small cities.  Though we did notice an abundance of bowling alleys, and that all of the sports fields and equipment were spectacularly well kept.


Our path to the shrine took us to a lovely bridge over the river.


The river here, like most rivers in Korea, had walking and biking paths along both sides.  But unlike in my city, this river was actually quite picturesque.


Running along the river, there was a pedestrian street that was really beautiful.  I can only imagine how gorgeous it would be in the fall.


After walking along this pedestrian street for awhile we came to a building with some really cool artwork on it.


Even better news (for me) was that in front of this building there was a street busking festival.  So we stayed for a bit, and watched the band.


Now, we didn’t stay long… because the late start, plus the hour train ride, plus the 5 km walk, meant it was already almost 4pm. Add to that, the fact that we were still at least a kilometer or two away from shrine, and that most temples close around 5pm, we had to get moving.  We finally arrived to the intersection outside the shrine and I was a bit dismayed to see the unending line of cars waiting at the light to leave the shrine, and NO cars going to it.  Fearing it was closed we walked up the long entrance way, and were happy to see that the gate was still open!


In we went, and almost immediately, it was so unbelievably peaceful.  We walked around the grounds for awhile, and I was actually happy that we had gotten there late.  Most people had already left, so it was not crowded at all, but there were still some people around, so we felt like it was ok to still be there.

wpid-20150426_173721.jpgThere was a large pond, surrounded by different colored trees and flowers, making it really beautiful.  The pond was also filled with Koi fish, some of which were MASSIVE.  One interesting thing that I had not seen before, was the machine with fish food for sale.  50cents bought you a small cup of fish food pellets.  When you tossed them into the water, the fish freaked.




By the time we got to the furthest part of the grounds, there was an announcement over the intercom that we didn’t understand.  Because everyone else started turning around, we assumed it was a temple closing announcement.  Unfortunately, we hadn’t yet seen the actual shrine.  So we quickly located a temple grounds map, and ran over to the main shrine.  (We didn’t run.  Too hot, too much walking… but we walked quickly)

When we got to the shrine, it was up a big hill, and the gate looked closed, and no one else was around, so we just took some pictures and headed home.


On the way back to the subway station, we decided to take the bus, which was a much better idea than walking.  And we should have done that on the way there.  But all in all, it was a great way to spend the afternoon.  Really beautiful.  The air was clean and it was great to get out into nature a little bit.

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!





Bongeunsa Temple, South Korea

A few weeks ago, the weekend of the World Cup Final, to be exact, I was feeling a bit nervous.  And by a bit nervous, I mean that I was nearly beside myself thinking about my favorite team (Germany) playing for the championship.  To help myself survive the weekend I decided to go to one of the most peaceful places I have been to in this country.

Bongeunsa Temple is one of my favorite places in Seoul. It is right in the middle of Gangnam (yes, like the song) which is one of the wealthiest and busiest districts in the city. But, unlike its surroundings, Bongeunsa is a peaceful and reflective oasis.

I’m not a particularly religious person.  And I would love to say that I went to the temple to meditate and clear my mind, but that’s not actually true.  I have not mastered the art of meditation.  I can sit with a clear mind for about 3 seconds, and then the thoughts start racing.  So my trip was just to enjoy walking around the temple complex, and relishing in the calmness that surrounds.

Bongeunsa has a giant statue of Maitreya Buddha.  It is 23 meters tall, and the tallest such statues in Korea.  It’s really tall.  The space in front can be used by anyone that wishes, but they do also have dance performances here and other events.


Surrounding the statue, in various nooks and crannies in the rocks and vegetation, you can find mini shrines set up by people.  Either small Buddha statues or stacks of wishing stones.


The stacked stones can have many meanings.  From what I gather, they can be used for wishing something for yourself or for another person.  Three stacked stones can represent either a seated Buddha, or the Buddhist triad.  Some people also believe that they simply represent balance.  (Disclaimer: As I said above, I’m not religious, so this might be completely and utterly wrong.)


The temple complex itself is large and has many buildings.  One of my favorite things to see is when a monk is ringing the giant bell by swinging a giant log into it.  It is such a loud low sound, and rings for such a long time… it’s very calming.  There is also a drum that is just as large as the bell.



Inside the temple itself.  Sometimes its very quite, other times the chanting fills the room, and the entire complex.


One last shot from the temple.  As I said, it’s located in the middle of Seoul.  It is directly across the stree from COEX (the building with the curved roof,) which is a giant convention center and shopping mall.  It has a huge movie theater, an aquarium, tons of shops, and the entire convention center as well.