Gakwonsa Temple

On Friday we decided to break out of our bubble and drive further than the distance from our apartment to the army base. Driving in South Korea so far has been exactly like I was warned told it would be. Let's just use the word "interesting" and leave it at that. But even though the public transportation system is excellent sometimes, especially with a toddler, having your own car and being on your own timetable is easier than figuring out buses, trains, and taxis. We plugged in our destination to Waze and headed out onto the open road feeling pretty confident we could manage a short 30 minute ride. Well that 30 minutes turned into about an hour with three unexpected trips through tolls and several u-turns but we finally reached Gakwonsa Temple.
This buddhist temple is tucked into the green hills outside Cheonan and was such a pretty escape. We pulled up to a nearly empty parking lot and took in our first look at the stunning temple grounds. Gakwonsa is an active temple which means it's not simply a tourist destination but the actual home of monks and a place of worship, and meditation for buddhist practitioners. It also means that it is open early to visitors (4am-6pm are the hours I could find online), which we appreciated because so far we've noticed that many places in South Korea tend to open later in the day and we prefer to get up and go so we can get back before nap time.
This temple was enshrined in 1977 to pray for the reunification of South and North Korea. We know little to none about Buddhism so we hesitantly approached the first structure, not wanting to disturb anyone or be disrespectful of their sacred space. Of course, with Tommy, quiet respect is not exactly a concept he understands and he's definitely not temple ready. Visitors are welcome to enter the temples as long as they remove their shoes. In the main temple you could see two large golden Buddhas that were stunning and would have been interesting to see closer up but we satisfied ourselves with peering in from a distance instead since there were people gathered to meditate, chant and pray, not just snoop around and snap photos.
We then climbed up another set of stairs and the trees opened up to reveal a large space centered around a huge bronze buddha. It used to be the largest in South Korea and, though it is now the third largest, it's still striking. Tommy pointed and exclaimed "big people!!" when he saw the statue before quickly running on to see the colorful paper lanterns strung up around the base.

All of the signs and descriptions at the temple were in hangul but with a little help from google translate, it is my understanding that the buddha's open palms displayed in this statue symbolize that all are are welcome here and his long ear lobes are meant to show that he is listening to to the world. 
Had it been less muggy and had there been less mosquitos we might have explored some of the wooded trails that lead higher into the hills. We decided instead to add this to our list of places to return to when family visits in the fall and the leaves are changing, or in the spring when the flowers are blossoming. I've also heard it's especially beautiful all done up for buddha's birthday sometime in May. While we probably need to read up on the history of buddhism to better understand all the symbolism and practices we noticed, I consider our first experience at a buddhist temple a peaceful morning away from the hustle and bustle. 

**Check out my youtube video from our morning at Gakwonsa temple here


  1. Thanks for sharing your adventure! The Temple and surrounding area are beautiful. Tommy has grown!! (So have you!) God's blessings on you all!!


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