SEOUL

Part V

(November 2017) 

Trekking on the mountains around Seoul   

Mangwolsa Buddhist temple

An 18th-Century  pungsu-jiri  Map of Seoul. The large cluster of prominent peaks directly to the north of Seoul's downtown is

An 18th-Century  pungsu-jiri  Map of Seoul. The large cluster of prominent peaks directly to the north of Seoul's downtown is "Bukhan-san".

Dobong-san (Dao-Peak Mountain) forms most of the northern half of the Bukhan-san National Park, and it is one of the capital region's most loving place for hikers, rock-climbers and photographers, as well as for the pilgrims.

This is where Mangwolsa Buddist Temple (monastery)is.

The term "Bukhan-san" indicates the large cluster of prominent peaks directly to the north of Seoul's downtown. There is no single mountain with that name.

The Granite-peak-studded Bukhan-san declared a National Park in 1983, and it is one of the two big national parks of Seoul and one of the 12 most sacred mountains in South Korea.

Dobong-san

Dobong-san

Mangwolsa Trekking.

Mangwolsa Trekking.

Mang-wol-sa Monastery

Mang-wol-sa Monastery

Mang-wol-sa (Watching Moon Temple) is the most important monastery of Dobong-san, and one of the most spectacularly-sited temples in Korea.

This temple was built by the Buddhist monk Hae-ho under the Silla-dynasty Queen Seondeok’s order in 639.  Situated high up on the slope of the rocky mountain, people prayed here for the royal family and the nation’s prosperity while gazing at the full moon, particularly the first full moon of the year.  The full moon means fulfillment, and is also a symbol of the Buddha’s complete enlightenment.

Literature note:  Chapter 7 (The hopeless years), Volume I, of Iltang’s (Kim Tae Shin) memoir “The Lost Mother” takes place in  Mangwolsa Temple.

Mang-wol-sa Temple.

Mang-wol-sa Temple.

Mang-wol-sa Temple.

Mang-wol-sa Temple.

The trail to Mangwolsa Temple (Monastery) is about 5-6 Km (go and back) and is considered moderate according to international trekking standards. The average slop is 28%.

Start your trail from Mangwolsa Station (Subway  Line 1): leave the station from exit 3 and take Mangwol-ro road upwards and then turn right to Mangwol-ro 28 beon-gil Road.  Follow it till you find a road fork just before you pass underneath the motorway.  Here you should take the left road and go directly to the park entrance, where there is an information center.  I decided to take the right road because it passes through three temples. Anyway, the two roads meet again some 500m further. 

A map of Bukhan-san National Park (top left).  The

A map of Bukhan-san National Park (top left).  The "brown hut" Tourist Information Center (bottom left).  The trail indicator in front of the "brown hut" showing you the Mangwolsa Temple to the left (top right).  Along the trail you meet several distance indicators (bottom right).

A road indicator just in front Deokcheonsa Temple.

A road indicator just in front Deokcheonsa Temple.

The first temple we meet on your right is the Deokcheonsa Temple.  Walk 200m further up and you find Daewonsa Temple on your left.  The third monastery you meet is Ssang-yongsa Temple, which has a big marble-white statue of Buddha. 

Just outside this Temple the two roads I mentioned earlier, when I had to decide whether to go through the official Park entrance or follow the road with the three Temples, meet.

At this meeting point, facing the Ssang-yongsa Temple entrance, on your right you see a brown hut, which is a Tourist Information Center.  They provide you with a map of the park, which I did not find useful at all. 

Here the road splits: take the road on the left, the one that passes in front of the hut. 

Daewonsa Temple (top) and Ssang-yongsa Temple (bottom).

Daewonsa Temple (top) and Ssang-yongsa Temple (bottom).

Along the first part of the track there are informative labels (in Korean only, but with self-explanatory pictures) informing you about fauna and flora of the mountain.  Here I learned that there are six types of oak trees.  Half the way up, the track becomes very steep, but nature is magnificent.  

When you eventually arrive at the temple, you are certainly tired, but the view is formidable. 

I sat in front of the main temple and soak the sun for an hour with a cup of extra sweet coffee in my hand, which I got just at the entrance of the temple. 

You are not more than 15-17 km away from city center, but you are on a spectacular mountain with temples among the granite rocks, just at the right place to rethink about rearranging priorities in your life!

Mangwolsa Temple.

Mangwolsa Temple.

Now you are on the right path, no way to get lost from here onwards. 

The path at the beginning is easy and goes along a small creek with wooden little bridges, but it becomes steeper as you walk along. Take your time: it may seem easy, but it is not. 

I visited the place on a Saturday morning and the path was full of senior hikers.  They are usually into groups and they stop here and there to drink and eat.  You just have to say “hello” and you are offered drinks and fruit and chocolates. 

The track goes through huge granite formations and old oak trees. 

Inside the Mangwolsa Temple.

Inside the Mangwolsa Temple.

Yeonjuam/Yeonjudae Hermitage

At 629 meters in height, Gwanaksan Mountain is the symbol and pride of Gwanak-gu district in Seoul. Most of the cultural heritages of the district originate from Gwanaksan Mountain. Since it was designated as a city natural park in 1968, it has continued to serve as a favorite place for relaxation and excursion for Seoul citizens. The various rocky peaks and the deep valleys give the mountain a rugged feel. The mountain's size and close proximity to Seoul make it easy for Seoul residents to visit in a single day.

Gwanaksan Mountain granitic rocks

Gwanaksan Mountain granitic rocks

In the spring, cherry blossoms are in full bloom near the entrance to the mountain, and a Rhododendron Festival is held when the rhododendrons are in full bloom. At the mountain's summit are Wongaksa Temple and Yeonjuam Hermitage, which were built by Taejo Yi Seong-gye (the founder of the Joseon Dynasty) to ward off misfortune when he decided to move the capital to Seoul. There are also other temples and hermitages, and a ground radar observation post. Yeonjudae Hermitage, located atop a cliff, is where all the hiking trails of Mount Gwanaksan meet.

Yeonjuam/Yeonjudae Hermitage trekking.

Yeonjuam/Yeonjudae Hermitage trekking.

Yeonjuam Hermitage is located on the south side of Yeonjubong Peak of Gwanaksan Mountain. This temple is very well known to frequent visitors of Gwanaksan. Together with Yeonjudae, which is located on the top of a rugged cliff at 629m above sea level, it is a famous place of Gwanaksan.

Yeonjuam Hermitage courtyard

Yeonjuam Hermitage courtyard

According to the document Yeonjuam jungeongi (Record of the Construction of Yeonjuam), Buddhist Monk Uisang built Gwanaksa Temple in 677.  Gwanaksa was moved to its present location when Prince Yangnyeong and Prince Hyoryeong stayed here after they gave up their throne to their younger brother Prince Chungnyeong in the 11th year of King Taejong’s reign of Joseon (in the early 1400’s). Gwanaksa was then renamed as Yeonjuam. The three-story stone pagoda in front of the Daeungjeon Hall of the hermitage is of that time.

The truth is that this early-Joseon era complex was completely wiped out and buried by a landslide.  Eventually, it was relocated higher up the slopes, on safer grounds. Much of the temple, in its current configuration, was built in the 1970’s and onwards.

Among the peaks of Gwanaksan Mountain, there is a rugged cliff resembling the shape of bamboo shoots.

A mountain hermitage, called Yeonjudae, is situated on the top of the cliff. Originally, it was called Uisangdae as it was built by the Buddhist Monk Uisang during the 17th year of King Munmu’s reign (677), but was changed to Yeonjudae (meaning “Missing the King") as retainers of Goryeo Dynasty came here after the collapse of the dynasty and opposed the founding of the Joseon Dynasty and missed their old prosperity.

Yeonjudae hermitage.

Yeonjudae hermitage.

The easiest way to reach the beggining of the trail, leading to the monastery, is to take the Metro Line 4 and get off at Gwacheon Station. 

Get out from Exit 7 and when you get out continue directly towards the mountain for about half a kilometer.  At the end of the road turn left and walk for another 300m till you see a bridge which you cross.  After the bridge, at the gate of a Temple, turn left and soon you will see the signs directing you to your destination.

At the beginning of the trail there are some tacky restaurants and shops.

The Distance to Yeonjuam is about 2,7 km and then another 1 km (or a bit less) if you want to continue to Yeonjudae.

The moment you see the entrance of this temple, just opposite a bridge, on your way from the train station, you know you are on good track (top right).  Peculiarities near the entrance of the trail (left & bottom right).

The moment you see the entrance of this temple, just opposite a bridge, on your way from the train station, you know you are on good track (top right).  Peculiarities near the entrance of the trail (left & bottom right).

The first half of the trail is easy and well paved.  The whole trail is not difficult, as there are wooden stairs and bridges built at many points, but there are some places where it gets difficult, as the rocks may be slippery and rough.  As usually, the last part of the trail is the most difficult, and the last stairs leading to the entrance of the monastery (hermitage) are very steep and massive.

There are two water springs along the trail and several places where you can sit and rest.  There are toilets along the way and one just before the steep stairs leading to the monastery. 

There are some places where the trail gets difficult, as the rocks may be slippery and rough.

There are some places where the trail gets difficult, as the rocks may be slippery and rough.
The moment you see this you start to worry; maybe this trail is not for you! (top left).  A trail spot (top right). Toilets located half way to the hermitage (middle left).  A bridge over the creek that goes along the trail (middle right).  The massive stairs leading to the entrance of the hermitage (bottom left).  Sculptures on the trail (bottom right).

The moment you see this you start to worry; maybe this trail is not for you! (top left).  A trail spot (top right). Toilets located half way to the hermitage (middle left).  A bridge over the creek that goes along the trail (middle right).  The massive stairs leading to the entrance of the hermitage (bottom left).  Sculptures on the trail (bottom right).

There are four buildings around the courtyard of the hermitage and a medium-sized stone pagoda just in front of the main hall (the Temple).

On the left of the main hall, upon a terrace is the temple bell and further up the slope is the Sanshin shrine.  On the right of the main hall, there is a long yellow building that houses the temple office.

Just next to the massive and steep stairs leading to the courtyard there is another building, the Gwaneum-jeon, at the bottom floor of which, there is a dining hall.  Here they serve free meals to the visitors, at around 13:00 in the afternoon, when the service finishes at the main hall.

Yeonjuam Hermitage. The Gwaneum-jeon (Top left). The stone pagoda just in front of the main hall (top right). A new marble pagoda seen from the Gwaneum-jeon (bottom left).  The temple bell (bottom right).

Yeonjuam Hermitage. The Gwaneum-jeon (Top left). The stone pagoda just in front of the main hall (top right). A new marble pagoda seen from the Gwaneum-jeon (bottom left).  The temple bell (bottom right).

The Gwaneum-jeon and the restaurant at its first floor.

The Gwaneum-jeon and the restaurant at its first floor.

Just on the left of the two vending machines located at the courtyard (selling refreshments and coffee) there are some stairs and a trail that takes you just on the upper side of the bell.  At this point you have to turn left and take the long stairs which lead to the rocky path for the  Yeonjudae. 

Half the way to the Yeonjudae, you are at the top of a rock from where you have a great view of the mountain and Seoul far in the horizon.  The highlight is that from this rock you have a breathtaking view of the Yeonjudae. 

View of the Yeonjudae and the ground radar observation post.

View of the Yeonjudae and the ground radar observation post.

Take a picture, or better many pictures.  Everyone does the same.  This is the reason why all the pictures you happen to have seen of Yeonjudae are taken from this exact point.

All the way to this point you are followed by the monastery cats, which of course ask for some food and not for your affection only.

Most people stop here and do not continue to the Yeonjudae itself.  I did exactly the same, as the sky got gray and the first snow flakes started to fell.

Yeonjudae Hermitage, Me, the view and the cat.

Yeonjudae Hermitage, Me, the view and the cat.

Yeonjudae Hermitage, Me, the view and the cat.

Yeonjudae Hermitage, Me, the view and the cat.

EPILOGUE

We left from our hotel for the airport rather early, as we had read that Incheon International Airport is one of the best airports in the world and one has to see it.  The real consumer’s paradise, ...they told us!

We arrived there around 9.00 in the evening.  All shops were closed and the place was dark and gloomy.  After passing security/passport control the place was like the Earth after the apocalypses...the zombie land. 

There was only a small Starbucks open (nowhere to sit and drink your coffee) and a small restaurant serving only 3 different dishes.  Both of them closed at 10:00 p.m.!  Oh yes, there was a small duty-free shop, which had only the spirit section open… maybe they believe alcohol is what travelers need to be able to forget this airport!

 Did we miss something?  Did the taxi driver took the wrong turn and we ended at a “parallel universe”?

AND NOW?  WHERE NEXT?

AND NOW?  WHERE NEXT?

Bellow I publish some extra pictures from my trip in Seoul, which I did not use above.

You really feel secure in Seoul.  Police is there for you to help you!

You really feel secure in Seoul.  Police is there for you to help you!

Already planning our next adventure....

Already planning our next adventure....

The Seoul Central Train station.  Today, it is used as an Exhibition center.

The Seoul Central Train station.  Today, it is used as an Exhibition center.