Destination: Woljeongsa and a Buddhist festival (Gangwon-do)
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Destination: Woljeongsa and a Buddhist festival (Gangwon-do)

Buddhist temple + surprise Buddhist festival + autumn leaves = gorgeous.


Located in Odaesan, Woljeongsa (월정사, ‘moon-vitality-temple’) was the host of a Buddhist festival I had no idea was happening until I arrived at the local bus terminal. One of three Buddhist temples among the five grand peaks, Woljeongsa is the first temple I’ve seen that has a Facebook page. At present it’s not much more than a quote from Wikipedia regarding its origins, but it’s an interesting touch.


Don’t forget to bow to all the 사천왕 (sa-cheon-wang), or the four heavenly kings found guarding many temple entrances.

Like most Buddhist temples, there’s plenty of history to read about that’s not displayed within. First established by Monk Jajang in 643 A.D., the man just wanted to see a Manjusri Bodhisattva. He chanted for seven days before having a vision of the Buddha giving him a poem – four lines in Sanskrit. The problem was that he couldn’t understand the poem. The next day, a mysterious monk came by, telling him the meaning of the poem and to go to Odaesan. Apparently, he didn’t believe the monk, because he decided to chant for seven more days. At that point, a dragon told him that the monk was a Manjusri, and that he needed to build a temple. The thatched hut he built after reaching Odaesan is what began the temple grounds today.


Virūpākṣa, or one of the four heavenly kings, visible through the aforementioned wooden gate.


Two of the others – these guys are everywhere!


Some of the temple food on display, as part of the festival. While some was wrapped in plastic to protect it from the elements, the 가을튀각 (ga-eul-twi-gak, or flaky fried kelp) was open.


Being the only foreigner around means having a hard time following the ceremonies, but the monk seemed to be welcoming the crowd and explaining the significance of the event… Which was about all I could understand.


An excellent quartet with piano accompaniment. A couple of their numbers sounded more patriotic, but I never found a program with the group name or their repertoire.


One of a couple hanbok-clad choirs. Since this is the center of the temple, it’s easy to hear the performances as you walk around… so that’s exactly what I did.


A gorgeously intricate stone lantern.


For many, the 15-meter, octagonal nine-storied pagoda serves as a highlight to admire. Its history dates back to Korea’s Goryeo Dynasty (perhaps constructed in the 10th century), and although the base has changed, this remains National Treasure #48. Inside is supposed to be 37 relics of the Sakyamuni Buddha – it goes without saying that you take their presence on faith.


The leaves, they are changing… The entire Odaesan area was gorgeous this weekend.


Just another fun and interesting picture on the side of a shrine – a tiger smoking a long pipe with the assistance of a rabbit… Wait, what?!


These newer buildings are meant for those coming to do a templestay – definitely a good reason to check this area out, although the program has become relatively standardized across the country. For more information about Woljeongsa’s templestay program, check out (Korean only) or the English page on


Another one of the entrances – 용금루 (yong-geum-ru).

As Buddhist temples go, this is as peaceful and serene as any. The unexpected festival brought out the crowds, of course, but get away from them and it’s quiet again. It makes for an excellent day trip, or a great start to exploring more of the Odaesan area.

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(Grab a drink or snack near the bus stop, or before you cross the stone bridge near Woljeongsa’s entrance).
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