So on the tail end of my Seoul 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.
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.
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…
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.
Hours: 24 hrs, but main hall is open from 4am – 9pm
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
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
- 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