Seoul Off The Beaten Path Tips by mke1963
Seoul Off The Beaten Path: 205 reviews and 374 photos
The Jogyesa temple sits in a non-descript part of Seoul, not far from the northern royal palaces, hemmed in by the surrounding buildings. It is very much at the centre of Korean Buddhism. However, it is not a tourist attraction for trolling around in shorts and vests: it is a spiritual centre that deserves respect and dignity, especially when visiting it as a tourist. Originally called Gakhwangsa, and then Taegosa during the occupation, and was finally renamed Jogyesa in 1954 when it was felt that Korean Buddhism had been fully restored and replenished.
The temple opens its doors at 4am and stays open until 10pm, and it is generally busy right the way through the day with people worshipping. The main hall and the annex can be packed out, and it may be best to observe quietly from near a doorway rather than obtrusively push you way around the halls.
The temple is not old, having only been constructed in 1910, but it is particularly significant for the role its monks played in actively resisting changes being forced upon the Korean people by the Japanese occupiers between 1910 and 1945, and then in restoring Korean Buddhist traditions that had been removed by the Japanese.
Today, Jogyesa is the spiritual centre of Seon Buddhism (known as Chan in China and Zen in Japan), and is named after the mountain in China where the Sixth Patriarch lived in the 7th Century BCE.
The Daeungjeon or main Buddha hall was built in 1938 (and is currently undergoing major structural renovation) has a simple but extremely elegant construction, with particularly beautiful wooden panels depicting the life of Buddha around the exterior: most of these can be seen even during the renovation work although the light is poor. Inside, the hall can be difficult to explore because of the large numbers of worshippers. The statue of Sakyamuni is believed to date from early on in the Joseon Dynasty. Behind it is a painting of the Vulture Peak Assembly, and this can be difficult to appreciate from the doorway!
Other Contact: Metro: Line 3, Anguk (Exit #6)
Phone: 02-732 5292
To the west of the Daeungjeon is the Paradise Hall, where Amitabha is accompanied by Avalokitesvara and Ksitigarbha, symbolizing the Western Paradise (Amitabha is the Buddha of the West). Along part of the walls are statues of the arhats and the judges of hell.
Just outside the Daeungjeon is a seven-storey stone stupa, constructed in 1930 and recently moved as part of the renovation programme (which will provide considerably more space for the temple complex). The stupa contains small remains of Sakyamuni, generously donated by Sri Lanka.
The Bell Pavilion contains a bell, unsurprisingly, but also a gong, a drum and a wooden fish, so holding all of the main implements with which to create the sounds of Buddhism! The bell calls those who live in hell, the gong the birds, the fish water creatures, and the drum calls beasts and man!
By the east door of Daeungjeon is a rather sad looking Chinese lacebark pine: these trees do not seem to do well in Seoul for some reason, but in front of the temple is a huge scholar tree that is definitely thriving.
As this is a truly living and breathing temple, there are many religious activities, and if you contact the temple authorities, they will advise you on upcoming events of note. They are particularly friendly to visitors and will show you around with obvious pleasure.
45 Gyeongji-Dong, Chongro-Gu
Other Contact: Metro: Line 3, Anguk (Exit #6)
Phone: 02-732 5292
Deep in the bowels of the CoEx Mall is the COEx aquarium, a good indoor attraction when the weather is bad. Or when the weather is glorious, if you love fish and crustaceans.
This is a substantial aquarium, with 40,000 fish and marine animals from more than 600 species, swimming around in 2,500 tonnes of water. There is a set pathway through the aquarium, but of course some areas get very crowded. An automatic walkway takes the visitor through a vast ocean tank.
Usefully, and unlike many aquariums, where you have to keep trogging along until the end, the CoEx has several rest stops with educational facilities, snacks, drinks and souvenir shops. This helps to break what can be a long journey. The educational side of this aquariu is taken very seriously - as are most museum and other tourist facilities in Korea.
There are excellent specific exhibit areas on Mangroves, South American freshwater fish, the Amazon and on the deep oceans.Subway Line 2 Samsung (Trade Centre), exits 5 and 6.
Open from 10am until 8pm daily. W14,500 adults, W12,000 students, W9,500 kids below middle school.
Phone: 02 6002 6200
Seoul has plenty of big attractions for the visitor, including the royal palaces, Namsan, Suwon, the DMZ, Insadong and the big markets, but it also has a serious surplus of sites and activities which would be star attractions in many cities as big as Seoul, yet get little attention here in the tourist literature. After one week, we just ran out of time with a whole long list of places we wanted to see and wanted to do.
It is hard to complain about KNTO and the city tourism people, but many of these smaller sites deserve more publicity and more encouragement for visitors to get off the beaten track to explore more.
The following is a sample list of places that before we arrived we had never even heard of, but by the time we left were places that we wished we had had time to visit:
Mongchontoseong Ruins (and Museum?) – Mongchontoseong Metro Line 8
Pungnaptoseong Ruins – Cheonho Metro Lines 5 and 8
Seoul Olympic Museum – Mongchontoseong Metro Line 8
Cruise on the Hangang river – where….how…times?
Amsadong prehistoric settlement – Amsa Metro Line 8
Children’s Grand Park – Children’s Grand Park Metro Line Line 7
Bongwonsa (Temple) – Sinchon Metro Line 2
KL63 Tower and aquarium – Yeodinaru Metro Line 5
Korean Traditional Performing Arts Centre – Nambu Bus Terminal Metro Line 3
Seoul Arts Center – Nambu Bus Terminal Metro Line 3
Seoulleung/Seongjeungneung/Jeongneung Royal Shrines (all in Samreung Park) – Seolleung Metro Line 2
The Baekje Tombs (near Sokchon Primary School, Sockchon-dong) – Seeokchon Metro Line 8
Seoul Railway Museum – Seoul Station Metro
Tibet Museum – Anguk Metro Line 3
Tapgol Park – Jongno 3-ga Metro Lines 1 and 3
Bosingak – Jonggak Metro Line 1
Korea Museum of Design
Korea House (folk art and traditional music) – Chungmuro Metro Lines 3 and 4
A few of these sites are covered in the Lonely Planet guide book, but most are barely addressed anywhere in any English language guide book, which is a real pity.
Just a few steps away from the Jogyesa Temple entrance is a small museum on the history of postal communications in Korea. Just one room, in a small elegant building, the history of the Korean post office and its royal predecessors is explained in simple term. Plenty of old documents, uniforms and sets of the very first stamps used make this a good educational stop on the way to the temple.
The building has been nicely preserved - this was the first post office in Korea - and it is surrounded by a small garden which will form part of the extended Jogyesa Temple when renovations are finished. Some of Korea's interesting stamps have been recreated on tiles laid into the brick paving.
There is also a small memorial statue to one of Korea's independence martyrs from he Japanese occupation period.
This temple is in a modern building, with the temple upstairs. it's a working, neighbourhood temple. You can see the open balcony of the front of the temple on the top floor).
It is a friendly place who will welcome you warmly, but this is a place for going for peace, quiet and meditation rather than sightseeing.
The bookstore on the ground floor has a number of good books on Buddhism in English, including the Works of Buddha with all the important sutras and texts for Korean Buddhism.
The IMA sits inside a not unattractive 1930s building right at the heart of the action, overlooking the wide Sejongno boulevard sweeping up to Gyeongbokgung - the old imperial palace - and opposite the landmark Kyobo building.
Little of the IMA building's interior decoration remains, but instead there is a minimalist appearance befitting a museum focused on the stylish North East Asian woodblock prints spread over three floors.
Even the little gift shop on the ground floor has nice natural wood and leather gifts that make a nice contemporary souvenir of a contemporary city.
The gallery has constantly changing exhibitions - this week was a superb exhibition on Korean, Japanese and Chinese woodblock prints ("Red Blossom"; on until 24th April 2005)
Close to the Deoksugung palace is a little detour which is worth taking to see a bit of unseen Seoul. This is not a trip down memory lane per se, because all the buildings are modern but they provide a little exploration of some of Seoul's modern architecture with a little history thrown in as well.
Just north of Deoksugung you come to a small plaza by the Koreana Hotel. By the corner is a little plaque explaining the historical events of the locality.
A road to the left here takes you round the back of the Koreana, past the site of an earlier palace (on the left where the Anglican cathedral now stands). The cathedral itself is filry modern but is attractive, in a Florentine style. A particularly interesting building is just beyond the cathedral, opposite the British Cultural Centre. It's a very modern building belonging to a religious foundation, but most notable is that it has incorporated a Korean entranceway and lobby in an unusual manner. A lot of credit is due to the architect, whoever she or he may be!
Further round, there are a number of huge single trees striking upwards between the tall buildings all around. Notice, on the right the use of trees in a dim and unloved car parking area by the side of one building.
On the left is a memorial to a group of Korean martyrs who threw bombs at some Japanese military officers back in the 1930s.
At the end of the road...maybe just 150m....you come out by the Dongwha Department Store.
The area to the west of here, down dark alleys looks interesting but I didn't have time to explore more!
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