CONTRIBUTED BY QUENTIN RICHARDSON
Not too long ago, there was a Sunday that was amazingly clear and slightly warm following a foggy and chilly Saturday. I was already exhausted from a previous trip and did not have any plans for sightseeing until I saw how wonderful it was outside. I immediately headed for Seoul by bus. The original plan was to go exploring some areas around Garak Market that caught my interest along metro line number 8.
While on the bus, I was conducting the usual internet searches and saw an image of the Buddha statue that stood inside Bongeunsa temple. Since the temple is only a few stops from the Nambu Bus Terminal, I decided to head there first. The directions I read said that the temple is across the street from the COEX mall, so it was pretty easy to know which stop to use (Samseong).
Unfortunately, as of early March 2014, the COEX mall is in the early phases of its major renovation project. So taking the “shortcut” through the mall actually took much longer versus walking along the street. The temple is located near the north entrance of COEX and the Seven Luck Casino main entrance. There are traffic signs above the streets if you feel like you are getting lost that direct you to the temple.
You will know once you are in front of the temple’s main gate. A park on the edge of a steep hill and modern high-rises surround the site. To the immediate left of the front gate is a souvenir and convenience center, immediately to the other side of the gate is the information desk. Here you can pick up brochures in just about any language and if you have questions about etiquette, the staff will gladly answer them for you.
There will be many locals and visitors of all kinds placing offerings and praying, so please mind your manners and give them their space. If you decide to take someone’s picture, shoot from a distance. The atmosphere there is very peaceful and quiet, and the locals there are very curious and friendly (they will approach you).
Amazingly enough there are many foreign guests that come and pay their respects or are there just to enjoy the scenery. Generally speaking, there are different types of people located throughout the site: young, old, traditional or modern. So if you think you will stick out like a sore thumb here… well, not so much.
When you first walk in, there will be a ramp leading to the first area with outdoor statues and plenty of locals passing by, stopping, then bowing to show respect. At the top of the ramp is the first prayer enclosure above a set of steps leading to a second enclosure with hundreds of lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Underneath here, a set of incense and candles are burned around a central altar. Behind the altar is yet another enclosure with hundreds of lit candles and more areas in which the locals pray.
To the left, right, and rear of this final house of prayer are other prayer enclosures as well as the statue of Buddha. Parts of the grounds around the temple site have gone through, or, are currently being renovated to resemble its original appearance. The outside areas are covered in compacted dirt, so be careful on rainy days. If you have a stroller, there are ramps you can use to navigate the park.
The large statue stands tall in the second highest part of the area. A large, smooth marble slab rests in front of the statue. Here is where locals remove their shoes and kneel on the mats to pray. PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB anyone or anything in this area. You are free to walk around the edges of the area to take “professional photographs” of the statue. As a sign of respect, please do not pose or take funny pictures with inappropriate gestures in this area.
There is more to this 1,200 year old temple than I thought. There are programs called “temple stays” and “temple life” in which you can experience and learn concepts of Buddhism, even if you are a non-believer. They are not trying to convert visitors, but instead, offer learning experiences. Their website and brochure has the information about the two programs (some are overnight).
This site is located between Samseong and Cheongdam metro stations in Gangnam-gu, Seoul. By city bus, use Blue Route #351 or Green Routes #3411 and 3412 to the ASEM Tower stop. Again, this site is located along the north entrance on the COEX Mall and Intercontinental Hotel (Seven Luck Casino). The route I took that seemed faster came out from exit #6 from Samseong station. Next, I walked straight up Yeondong-daero (route 47) following the signs for the temple. I turned left at Bonguensa-ro and kept straight until I saw the entrance across the street.
Address: 73, Samseong-Dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, 135-090, Korea