Exploring South Korea: Wawoojeong Temple

by Senior Airman Kristin High
51st Fighter Wing PAO

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea-  -- Author's Note: This is the first in a series of articles about recreational travel, dining and other cultural opportunities throughout South Korea. Each article will highlight a specific destination, attraction, event or restaurant within the authorized travelling distance for U.S. forces in S. Korea. The aim of this series is to encourage everyone to safely and enthusiastically explore their surroundings, develop an appreciation for the history, culture, and customs of their host nation, as well as showcase the diverse activities available to service members, and their families, near and far. Each article will conclude with an approximation of the money and time required for each location, as well as directions (if transportation is not provided) and amount of physical activity required. Many opportunities to travel in groups are available through the base's Information, Tickets and Travel office as well as Outdoor Recreation.

 It struck me a few days ago that I've been in South Korea for almost six months, but it doesn't really feel like it's been that long. I guess the saying is true, "time flies when you're having fun."

 Before I arrived here, I was already interested in the culture and what I would be able to take from it. However, that's not always the consensus and I've run into a lot of people who really don't know what to do or don't think there's much excitement outside the gates. Hopefully, I can inspire someone to get out and travel by sharing my own personal experiences.

 When I first reached country, I wanted to grasp anything I could, but I had no idea how to get to it. I couldn't read signs in Hangul, the Korean alphabet, and I had no idea how the subway or bus systems worked. I chose the easiest way to begin exploring, the ITT office.

 One of my first destinations was the Waujeongsa Buddhist Temple, more commonly known as Wawoojeong Temple. The temple is the youngest in South Korea, established in the 1970s when a Buddhist monk named Haewolbopsa moved from North Korea to pray for reunification of the nations.

 It is home of the world's largest Wabul, reclining Buddha, at 10 feet high and 32 feet long. The Buddha was carved from a giant Chinese Juniper Tree imported from Indonesia. There are more than 3,000 Buddhist statues throughout the grounds, including Buldu, Buddha heads, located near the entrance.

 My favorite part about the temple was hearing the sounds of monks praying over the speakers throughout the area. I'm not Buddhist, but being there with the statues, in the mountains and hearing the prayers, made it a very tranquil experience. I walked the grounds by myself, listening to the prayers and birds chirping. Almost everyone in passing was silent as they walked which made for a peaceful environment.

 The temple is also known as the Pagoda of Unification. The pagodas, tiered towers, are comprised of stones brought by visitors from holy sites around the world.

 There are details in everything you see when you walk around including the brightly colored koi fish in the pond, the lit candles underneath bronze Buddha statues, the vibrant paper lanterns with hundreds of thousands of prayers under them and the variety of murals painted throughout the temple walls.

 The temple is also the site where the 12-ton "Reunification Bell" rang during the opening of the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games is kept.

 For one of my first trips on the peninsula, it was definitely worth taking. The breathtaking views and serenity gave me welcome insight to the Korean culture. You never know what you may find traveling the peninsula, but this gem is definitely worth looking into.

 Location: Waujeongsa Buddhist Temple (Wawoojeong or 와우정사)

Directions: It's located near Yongin, approximately two hours west of Osan AB. The temple is not in walking distance to public transportation so the best way to visit is to coordinate through the ITT office.

 Cost: The ITT offers the trip to the temple, travel, lunch and the Korean Folk Village in one package for $40. They are located in building 924 and can be contacted at 784-4254 or commercial, 0505-784-4254.

 Time: A full day trip is about nine hours, but there is plenty of time on the bus and areas to sit if you want to rest for a while. Departure and return is conveniently located at the ITT office on base. The ITT office offers this trip all year, so plan for the weather.

 Documentation required: None.

 Food: You can always bring snacks, but there are plenty of gift shops and lunch is provided.

 Who it's for: Anyone in the family. The temple grounds have some areas with steps or slopes, but can be avoided if necessary. The Korean Folk village is flat.

 Activity required: Simply walking. Most of the trip is at your own pace except for initial introductions to the locations. It's best to wear sneakers or hiking shoes and comfortable clothing.

 What to travel with: You can travel light because you'll be close to home, and there are plenty of places to get food. Make sure to take your status of forces agreement and military ID card as well as a functioning cell phone. You can bring a camera to both locations and there are no photo restrictions.

 Things to remember: Be respectful of taking pictures of people outside of your group. Being courteous and asking permission is important to maintaining a good bond with our host nation. Do not stray from the group unless you go with someone or have them in close sight and bring a friend with you to enjoy the sites. Good luck on your next adventure in South Korea!

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