Sunday, 19 February 2012

Beomeosa Temple, Busan

So last weekend I went to Busan for some sightseeing, and decided to take a look at Beomeosa Temple (범어사). I didn't know where it was, but checked my subway map and saw Beomeosa Station at the northern end of line 1. Coming out of the subway, I followed a trail of Sunday hikers up past a local bus station, through some scrubby allotments, and onto a trail at the base of the mountain. After walking for a while through the woods, it didn't look likely that the temple was anywhere nearby. Coming to a signpost with no mention of the temple on it, I was even more doubtful and decided to turn back. I almost decided to just skip the temple altogether, but I'd come a long way on the metro and it would be a shame to waste that time, so I sat down in a coffee shop and tried to find where I was on a map.

I eventually figured out I should just follow Beomeosa Road (범어사로) up the hill. There's no sidewalk, so you just have to walk along the edge of the road. Happily, as soon as I started on this road I knew I was on the right track. As well as leading to Beomeosa, there are many smaller temples and historical monuments dotted around, and the whole area is really interesting to explore. Lining the street are dozens of little tent stalls and vans selling coffee and Korean herb teas, so although it's a long walk there are plenty of opportunities to take a break for refreshments. Halfway along I sat down at a plastic picnic table with a sweet iced plum tea and took a moment to enjoy the bright winter sunshine.

Finally arriving at the temple, I was already super happy that I hadn't ended up skipping this place. The temple itself is huge, perhaps the largest I've visited in Korea. The buildings are spread out and you could spend some time wandering around. There were quite a few other tourists around, as well as people who had come to worship. While many Buddhist temples in Korea are very similar in design, with their distinct colorful paintwork, Beomeosa contains some rather unusual sculptures and architectural elements.

I would really love to visit this area again but take more time to explore, and perhaps hike some of the mountain peaks. You could easily spend a full day or even a whole weekend here, if you enjoy walking. The temple is set at the edge of Geumjeong Mountain (금정산), and is far from the only attraction in the area. There are popular hiking trails following the old fortress wall (금정산성), rural villages such as Sanseong (산성마을), and many other unexpected things to see. If you have trouble walking or you don't have much time, it's possible to catch a bus or taxi from the subway station to the entrance of the temple; but to really take in the atmosphere I definitely recommend taking a few hours to explore the area by foot.