South Korea Sojourns IX: Bonguensa Temple
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Author's Note: This is the ninth in a series of articles about recreational travel opportunities for service members stationed in South Korea. Each article will highlight a specific South Korean destination, attraction or event within the authorized travelling distance for U.S. forces in country. 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, while stationed in the Republic of Korea. Concluding each article will be an approximation of how much money and time are required for each destination, attraction or event, as well as directions 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.
Planted across the street from the COEX shopping mall and directly between sky scrapers and other tall buildings in downtown Seoul, Bonguensa Temple isn't a vaunted tourist destination or broad attraction for visitors in Seoul, but its history and adjacent setting to all the downtown conveniences and splendor of Seoul make it a marked point of interest for people to stop by if want to learn more about the history and tradition of Korean Buddhism.
In the Gangnam area of Seoul and a five-minute walk from the line 2 Samseong metro station, it takes approximately 80 minutes to get to the temple and only costs W2,000 to get to the area Bonguensa is in.
The temple's history can be traced to the year 794, when the Bonguen Temple was erected at the slope of Sudo mountain in Samsung-dong. For centuries the temple was in an isolated location, far away from the throes of cosmopolitan civilization. The city of Seoul's subsequent growth and expansion has since left the temple as an oddity: a traditional Korean Buddhist temple flanked by modern architecture and across the street from a gargantuan shopping mall.
Bonguensa persevered during the repression of Buddhism under the Joseon dynasty, where Confucianism was the state-endorsed religion. During it's history the temple has undergone several reconstructions and weathered the waxing and waning of Buddhism as a popular religion in Korea. Under the Japanese occupation of the 20th century, Bonguensa became the headquarters of Buddhist temples around Seoul.
Even though Christianity is now the predominant religion in Korea, Bonguensa is a large complex and popular stop for Buddhists and people interested in the particulars of Korean Buddhism. The temple grounds have dozens of buildings, many Buddhist scriptures and one of the largest Buddha statues I've ever seen.
There's also English tour guides available, for a small fee, for anyone that's interested in learning more about the temple. Additionally the temple offers two programs: Templestay and Templelife. Templelife includes a tour, lotus flower making session, and tea ceremony for W20,000. Templelife is a far more comprehensive program into life at the temple, involves an overnight stay and costs W70,000 per person.
I didn't go on either of the tours, but the people I saw on them seemed to be having a good time. The temple has a number of things to look at and learn about, but won't take up too much of your time. I'd recommend it as a supplementary destination if you're headed into that are of downtown Seoul and interested in the particulars of Korean Buddhism. There are plenty of great places around to eat and visit as well.
Location/event: Bonguensa Temple
Directions: Samseong Station leads directly to the temple. From Songtan Station it's approximately 80 minutes and involves two transfers.
Total Cost: W4,000 for round-trip transportation and that's it. Food is available nearby.
Time: Very little, but it's a nice experience, and is located in downtown Seoul.
Documentation required: None
Who it's for: Anyone interested in learning more about Korean Buddhism. It's purely an educational or religious destination, so probably a dry topic for most kids, but there are programs available to teach visitors.
When it's open: Everyday.
Activity required: Just walking.
What to travel with: As light as possible, it's close to Osan Air Base and in downtown Seoul.