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Return to Mt. Geumjeongsan

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On our first visit to the top of Mt. Geumjeongsan, we had ascended in a cable car and hiked from the South to East Gate. It was an all-day excursion, but we were only able to see a fraction of the gigantic mountain fortress which extends across the summit, and so vowed to return. Our second trip would start at the Northern Gate, bring us to Godangbong Peak and end with a well-deserved feast in the village of Sanseong.

Geumjeongsan-Hike

A trail found on the side of Beomeosa Temple leads through a bizarre rock field in the forest, before turning uphill. We climbed for nearly an hour until arriving at the fortress’ North Gate. Our legs were already rubbery and the day of hiking hadn’t yet begun! Before setting off, we took a break at the ancient gate, which is topped by a gazebo and had recently been renovated.

From the North Gate, the walk to Godangbong Peak took about 90 minutes. Halfway there, we took a detour to the Geumsem “Golden Well”, a rock formation in the shape of a bowl which collects rain water. This is where the golden fish who gave Beomeosa Temple its name descended from heaven. We had to use a set of knotted ropes to get up and over the rock. On the way down the other side, my foot slipped and I came crashing down. Luckily, I escaped with just a skinned elbow and bruised ego, but have made a mental note to remove “Mountain Climbing” from my list of future activities.

Natural Climber
Looking good, 3.54 seconds before slipping

At 801.5 meters above sea level, Godangbong Peak is the highest point on the mountain, and the views over Busan were stunning, even though the day was somewhat hazy. From here, you can see the walls of the fortress and gain a good sense of its immense size.

After returning to the North Gate, we continued on to the Fourth Watchtower, passing Wonhyobong Peak along the way, which is a hill most notable for its amazing view of the curving fortress wall. The path connecting the North to the East Gate is extremely popular — there were a ton of other hikers, and this was on a Tuesday; it must be awful on summer weekends. But at the Fourth Watchtower, we took a detour to the south and the crowds disappeared. The path to Jangdae led us softly downhill through some beautiful forest areas. Jangdae is found roughly in the middle of the fortress and served as its command post. Today, it’s a secluded and comfortable place to take a rest, which is exactly what we did.

From Jangdae, we found the road which brought us to Sanseong Village, famous for its cuisine. Black goat, duck bulgogi and a rice liquor are the local specialties. We grabbed a bottle of the liquor, ordered a heaping portion of duck bulgogi and sat down outside at a great restaurant overlooking the river valley, to eat our richly deserved meal. We had combined this hike with our visit to Beomeosa, making this an unforgettable, but very, very long day.

Location of the North Gate | Godangbong Peak | Jangdae

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June 8, 2012 at 5:52 am Comments (2)

Beomeosa Temple

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Established in the year 678, Beomeosa is probably the most important Buddhist temple in Busan. And with its location in the foothills of Mt. Geumjeongsan, it’s certainly among the most beautiful. Entering the complex is like stepping into another world, one more sacred and peaceful.

Beomeosa-Temple-Busan

A famous monk by the name of Uisang founded Beomeosa during the Silla Dynasty, and in its apex during the Goryeo period (918–1392) the temple was home to over a thousand brothers. The name Beomeosa means something like “Nirvana Fish Temple”; a legend states that near this spot, a golden fish had descended from heaven on a five-colored cloud.

Throughout its history, Beomeosa has been famed for its fighting monks, who helped fend off Japanese invaders in the 1500s. Fleeing in defeat, the Japanese managed to destroy the temple, but Beomeosa was eventually rebuilt and would become a center for monkish resistance during the 35-year Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945). The fighting monks practiced a secret martial arts style based on Zen called Seonmudo; the LA Times profiled a Beomeosan monk who’s ruffled a few feathers by trying to popularize the style outside of the temple walls.

Our visit to Beomeosa started with a quick tour through the temple museum. With old portraits, scrolls and ancient printing blocks, the Seongdo Museum has an interesting collection of relics, but we were eager to get into the temple itself, and only spent a few minutes looking around.

Korean-Buddism-Fresco

Beomeosa has a rich history, but is a living place of worship — a fact underlined as much by the pristine state of its buildings, as by the number of people filling its prayer halls. Everything was freshly painted or undergoing renovation, and we were astounded to be in a 1300-year-old temple which, from a few angles, might have been built a few months ago.

My favorite hall was San Ryoung Gak (the Hall of the Mountain Spirit) dedicated to the god who protects Mt. Geumjeongsan. It looks older and is set higher on the hill than the other halls, and is distinguished by the fact that it has nothing to do with Buddhism, but is a nod to local pagan beliefs. Inside, there’s a painting of the god alongside a tiger.

The various halls and structures, such as a three-story pagoda, stone lantern and bell tower, are impressive. But the best of Beomeosa is its gorgeous mountain scenery and the views over the valley below. It’s no surprise that the temple has won fame as a center for foreign students. A huge section of Beomeosa is dedicated to “Temple Stays”, which allow tourists and the curious to experience what life at a Buddhist temple is all about.

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June 7, 2012 at 7:04 am Comment (1)
Return to Mt. Geumjeongsan On our first visit to the top of Mt. Geumjeongsan, we had ascended in a cable car and hiked from the South to East Gate. It was an all-day excursion, but we were only able to see a fraction of the gigantic mountain fortress which extends across the summit, and so vowed to return. Our second trip would start at the Northern Gate, bring us to Godangbong Peak and end with a well-deserved feast in the village of Sanseong.
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