Seoul Sights: Jogyesa

Y’know what, August was such a hectic month that this blog’s first birthday has totally flown by without notice! Officially its first post was on Singapore’s National Day, 9th August 2010, but for some reason I kept thinking late October, probably because that’s about when TOTshop was first launched…

But preamble aside, The Occasional Traveller has certainly grown in its one year of existence, and I’m hoping it continues to improve while keeping personal, so there are lots of new changes coming your way. Expect a pretty big revamp of the website as I’m looking to move to a whole new domain, and more new products coming up in TOTshop! I’m excited already just talking about it!

In the meantime, we’ll hang around this familiar ol’ wordpress page and as I work on the last stretch of Seoul posts…

So on the tail end of my trip, my initial plan was to head out to Suwon to visit Hwaseong fortress. It’s about an hour outside Seoul and a UNESCO world cultural heritage site, and I thought it would be nice to get a change of scenery from Seoul.

Well then I caught the weather report the night before and it wasn’t looking too bright – I’d already experienced some rainy days and I didn’t want to get all that way to Suwon only for a washout! Also, I’d already seen Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung, and was having a bit of palace burnout.

Pretty lanterns and typical colourful Joseon dynasty roof decor, which while amazing and beautiful, starts to look the same after you've seen a lot of palaces...

So in the end, I decided to stay in Seoul and focus on an aspect of Seoul I hadn’t really seen yet – religion. The Majority of Koreans were Buddhist, though that changed with the Joseon dynasty which subscribed to Confucianism, and continues to evolve with the rise of Christianity and even Islam, with a cathedral in Myeongdong and a mosque in Itaewon respectively.

I headed down to Jogyesa, a Buddhist temple conveniently located in the middle of Seoul in the Jongno district near Insadong. It’s quite remarkable that this little oasis of zen sits amidst the busy metropolitan city that is Seoul!

There weren’t that many tourists milling around when I was there. I headed into the little tourist office to pick up a brochure or 2 and encountered a pretty friendly tour guide, who took some time out to show me around the place on a one-on-one tour.

Jogyesa temple unlike the other sights like Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung, is still a working temple, and lots of people were there praying as I was looking around. I often visit churches and other religious monuments on trips to admire the architecture, and while I recall seeing lots of churches, I realize I haven’t stepped into that many Buddhist temples so I’m not that familiar with Buddhism in general.

pix below!

There is a bell tower with a drum and other instruments in it. They are played in the morning and evening before the chanting.
3 large buddhas in the main hall - each represents a different type of buddha, and you can tell by looking at the positions of their hands. The hall was packed with people praying, even all the way around to the back behind the statues.
Love all these lanterns hanging from the ceiling inside the hall... They covered the entire ceiling!
beautiful carvings on the side of the temple

After that I headed to the Central Buddhism Museum which is right next door to the temple, and there I encountereda this wonderful Ajuma (little old lady), who spoke really good english and led a fascinating life as the wife of a diplomat, which took her all over the world! The museum was pretty deserted that afternoon so we had the place mostly to ourselves as she brought be around to look at the exhibits.

It might have been boring if I was walking around on my own – I probably would have gotten through it in 10 mins or so, but having a guide sure made it a lot more engaging, even if some of our more interesting conversations were not about the exhibits! Some things I did take away though – how to tell the difference between a Buddha and a Bodhisattva (had to look that up, still can’t spell it!), the meaning of symbols in Buddhism (circle for the sky, square for the earth, triangle for people) and how Buddhism came about in the first place.

Not too many pix because it was pretty dark in the museum…

The Central Buddhist Museum is right next to the temple
Some Buddhists believe that if you put all the sutras inside this and pushed it one revolution, that counted as chanting the whole thing once. Well if only it worked that way for studying!
Pretty flower tiles on the wall

What I didn’t get a chance to do that sounded like a great opportunity for immersion was to do a temple stay. I suspect that given that I don’t eat vegetables that would be a real challenge, but it might have been a really interesting way to really understand Buddhism and the whole culture better. Check out more on the temple stay at Hi Seoul.

Do check out the building opposite the main entrance across the road for more information! It’s a whole building dedicated to the Temple stay program.

Tourist Info:

Jogyesa Temple

Hours: 24 hrs, but main hall is open from 4am – 9pm

Admission: Free!

Check out their official website here

Central Budddhist Museum

Hours: 9am – 5pm (dec – feb), 6pm (mar – nov)

Closed on Monday

Admission: 2,000 won

Check out their official website here

Getting There:

Jogyesa temple can be accessed via Subway (Anguk station, Line 3, Exit 6 or Jonggak station, Line 1, Exit 2).

Around the area:

  • North: Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung are close to Anguk station, in the opposite direction from Jogyesa.
  • West: The Sejong Belt where King Sejong’s statue is –> links coming soon!
  • East:
    • Insadong is pretty near – I walked over for lunch after Jogyesa
    • After lunch I headed further East to Jongmyo park for the tour. It’s a tad further away, and you’ll walk through an industrial-like area and under some overpasses on your way there –> links coming soon!
  • South: You can walk to Cheongyecheong, the pretty river that runs through Seoul
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