Google Image Search has made it easy to travel the world in the comfort of your own home safely behind a keyboard. It’s also increased my list of desired travel destinations drastically. Having traveled to Sasang (an area of Busan where the intercity bus terminal is located) a few times I decided to check out the list of available buses. There was, of course, Seoul (I believe that’s 8 hours on a bus – I’d much rather take the 5 hour “slow train” that I can catch near my apartment in Hwamyeong), Gimhae (I hear they have outlets there – once I get paid you better believe I’ll be blogging about that, baby), Daegu, Masan, Changwon, and Jinhae (where next weekend we’ll be checking out the Cherry Blossom Festival!), Knowing that Changwon, Masan, and Jinhae are a trio of cities west of Busan, I decided to check out some of the Temples on the list, and after looking up Ssanggyesa Temple I knew it was one I would have to see.
I organized a trip for a few of us girls (several of whom worked late Friday night and slept in Saturday morning…sad!), so K and I made the trek on our own. There are several ways to get to the Temple from Busan. The website says that you can only get from Sasang to Ssanggyesa direct at 1 PM or 4 PM. That is simply not the case. We took the 10 AM bus from Sasang (Busan) heading to Hadong, but it appears we could have stayed on the bus and continued along to Ssanggyesa just fine. I had found some blogs talking about the wild green tea fields of Hadong, and I wanted to check them out and go to the Cultural Museum.
Upon arrival in Hadong, after a 2 hour trip, we were surprised to see a small, dark bus terminal with just 1 ticket booth. Our bus from Hadong to Ssanggyesa wouldn’t leave for over an hour, so I figured we could go try to find this Cultural Museum in what really just seemed like a one-horse town. I was really worried the trip would be a bust and we would have wasted our entire Saturday, but K was positive that things would either turn up or we’d have a story of survival in rural Korea.
After sussing out the village a bit we had our concerns, but with one turn we ended up on a street lined with fruit and vegetable vendors, and with another turn – a fish market! I’m always amazed looking at live eels wriggling around in tanks (and plastic basins, in this case), and we also saw individually wrapped octopus. I’m not a huge seafood fan, but it was a pretty interesting sight to behold.
Hearing English is unusual, especially in rural areas of Korea, so when a group of girls beckoned us over to their fried banana stand we had a chat. Turns out they were from Manila (shout out to Rey!) and wanted to know where we were from (keep in mind that other than the Filipina ladies we were the only foreigners within what I would assume to be a very large radius so we stuck out). We decided to grab a couple photos, a banana, and figured we’d ask about the cultural museum. We were told to grab a taxi (at an alleged cost of approximately KRW 15,000), but it wouldn’t have been enough time to get back to the bus.
With quite a while still to spare we wandered along the one major road. This is what we saw. Please understand my concern for the remainder of the afternoon:
This concern was completely unfounded. Once we hopped aboard the bus to Sanggyesa (a bus that stopped numerous times along the way to allow hikers to get to various paths, and which ended up going to the Hadong Market as well as the Cultural Museum and Green Tea spots for which we had been looking!), a street lined with cherry blossoms came into view and my anxiety was released completely. Halfway through the 50 minute bus ride, sparse and wild green tea came into view, followed by more developed fields – the kind I was so hoping to see!
The lush, green, sprawling landscapes were exactly what we had been missing living in the city. We finally got the overwhelming feeling of: “Wow – I’m living in Korea now”. Since K and I came to Korea around the same time (almost to the date in late February) we got to experience this awesome feeling and the amazing sensation that we’re on a wild adventure that a lot of other people will never even consider experiencing.
After a long stop in traffic we were told that it was the last stop – everybody out. We were on the side of the road quite unsure of where to go next. As luck would have it, there was a Ranger station in the opposite direction of the Temple (we’re smart…) but the Rangers spoke English and told us it would be a 10 minute walk across the bridge and up to the Temple. From where we were standing it just seemed like a random collection of assorted convenience stores, a restaurant, and a bus stop. We crossed the bridge and headed up the winding ramp of a roadway leading to a finer selection of restaurants, but still no Temple in sight. Tucked away beyond the restaurants and beside a small brook, the ticket area to the Temple was found. Tickets were KRW 2,200 each – a bargain for what we were about to see.
K’s awesome selfie skills (no selfie stick required) captured our excitement – after 2 long bus trips, and some questionable Korean-speaking skills by yours truly, we made it!!
The walk up to the entrance to the temple was short but fairly steep. It was a bit muggy out and considering I had popped on a maxi-dress under my sweater (for modesty purposes – we were, after all, visiting a Temple) I had a bit of a sweat going on. Even though the walk up is a short one I would definitely suggest wearing running shoes as some of the stairs can be quite steep to get up and down and there’s not much in the way of hand rails anywhere.
For those who haven’t researched the Temple, Wikipedia says:
The temple was founded in 722 by two disciples of Uisang named Sambeop and Daebi. It is said that they were guided to the location by a Jiri-sanshin in the form of a tiger, after being instructed by him in dreams to look for a site where arrowroot flowers blossomed through the snow. They had travelled China for study, and returned with the skull of and a portrait of “Yukcho” (Hui-neng, the Sixth Patriarch of Seon [Zen] Buddhism) which they respectively buried under the Main Hall and enshrined in it (the skull was later dug up and enshrined in a stone pagoda, which is still there).
In the 9th century the temple was renamed “Ssanggyesa” (Twin-Streams Monastery) by Jingam (Meditaition-Master Jin-gam-seonsa, 774-850). He is also credited with creation of Beompae (Korean-style Buddhist music & dance) after having studied Chinese Buddhist music in Tang Dynasty China. He composed “Eosan” [Fish Mountain] with paleumryul [eight tones and rhythms] while watching fish swim in the nearby Seomjin-gang River, and therefore the spacious lecture-pavilion still dedicated to Beompae performance and education at the front of Ssanggye-sa is named Palyeong-ru. A stele dedicated to Jingam-seonsa and written by Choi Chi-won still stands in the temple; it is designated Republic of Korea National Treasure 47.
Most of the rest of the temple dates to the 17th century or thereafter, because all its buildings were burned to the ground by Japanese invaders during the Seven Year War.”
I found the musical aspect particularly interesting, and in my photos you’ll see some of the statues of Gods holding instruments. The Temple grounds were enormous – you can actually walk an 8.8 KM hike to the peak, but sadly we didn’t have enough time.
It was tough to take a bad photo at this Temple, so get ready for a ton of them – these are only a selected “few”.
As you can see, there were many different areas to check out. My favourite, however, was Buddha Hall where various Koreans went to pay respects and to pray. I was ecstatic to finally see the golden statues I had researched online, and even happier so see the Buddha carved in stone. What a day.
After buying a souvenir (some power beads – yes, I do remember the early 2000’s- these ones even had a little dangle of the snake and the rabbit – K’s and my birth years) we headed back down the hill to the bus stop. The bus was scheduled to leave at 4:10 – it didn’t even arrive until at least 4:35, so don’t take the website at face value since only one of our buses actually left on time yesterday. We returned to Sasang at 8:30 and actually managed to go home, shower, change, and head back out for a friend’s going away party. No adventures today, just a trip to the park and some sweet dreams about an incredible Temple experience yesterday.