Gwanmunsa Temple, Seoul


This week’s Walk and Talk is really special for me. The walk starts out at the Korean Educational Development Institute (KEDI) and meanders through the associated neighborhood. It gives me a chance to walk through a normal residential area, so you can see what living in Korea is like. However, the true gem of this week’s episode is Gwanmunsa Temple.

Now why do I say that? Well to be perfectly honest, I’ve seen the sign for Gwanmunsa a few times when making my way to the radio station. However, I’ve never made the trip there. So, why not explore it together for the first time.

Walking up into another residential area, I finally came upon the temple. I was not prepared for it either. Gwanmunsa Temple was constructed in 1997 and part of the Chentae Order, rather than the prominent Jogye Order. The building stands 7 stories high, and that’s where the temple resides. The remaining floors are filled with lecture halls and offices. This temple is part of the Templestay program, meaning you could stay here overnight.

Inside Wat Pho


This week’s Get QiRanger Out there takes us to Wat Pho in central Bangkok. It’s located adjacent to the Grand Palace, so hitting this place up is really easy and can be done in conjunction with it.

There are two things Wat Po is known for: the massive reclining Buddha and the medical school where they teach the definitive Thai Massage.

The Reclining Buddha is the largest in Thailand. This golden reclining Buddha measures a staggering 15m in height and mind blowing 43m in length. Visitors are able to slowly saunter around the figure, stopping periodically to pray at altars or to take pictures. Because this is one of the key attractions in Bangkok, expect large crowds. Hopes of getting that “perfect shot” may be slim, but patient shutter bugs will be able to find that key moment to snap away. Behind the Buddha are 108 bowls where visitors can drop in 108 coins while mediating on the 108 auspicious characteristics of the Buddha. Another feature of the Buddha at Wat Po are its massive feet.

The reclining Buddha’s feet are 3m high and 4.5m long, inlaid with mother of pearl. It’s quite the spectacle to see. The detail on them is amazing and I found myself staring at them for minutes. The feet are subdivided into 108 sections indicating the 108 auspicious characteristics of the Buddha. It’s these mice panels I found so interesting.

The temple grounds are also quite nice. What I really found unique were the chedi or stupas. At other Thai temples they’re gold or the traditional stucco. Here, they’re inlaid with pastel tiles, giving them a different look.

At the rear of the temple complex is the Thai Massage area. Prices are a bit higher than elsewhere in Bangkok (420TB for 1 hour vs 300TB for one hour elsewhere). Despite this, expect a long wait during peak times. On our visit, Jo opted to get a Thai Massage and had to wait 30 minutes for her turn. Some people were waiting up to an hour for a foot massage. Personally, I’m not willing to do that, but those that do say the experience is worth it.

Admission for foreigners is 100TB, or about $3US. Overall, I think it’s a good investment. Seeing the Buddha is truly special and something I’d recommend and go back again to see.

Baru Gongyang (발우공양) – The Monk’s Meal

While at the Buddhist expo, Jo and I were invited to participate in the Baru gongyang (발우공양). It’s the traditional meal served for monks and one of the most unique experiences I’ve had. In this video, I let our nun lead the way expelling what we’re doing.

What’s really cool about the way the meal is served is how compact everything is and the rituals performed. Everything has it’s purpose and nothing goes to waste.

Exploring Angkor Wat



The name Angkor Wat is synonymous with travel, adventure, and Cambodia. However, a common misconception is that it’s just one site. In reality, Angkor Wat serves the most iconic part of a larger, 400 square kilometer (154.4 sqmi) archeological park. The hallowed grounds are considered one of the most important in Southeast Asia and chronicle the Hindu and Buddhist beliefs of the Khmer Empire between the 9th and 15th centuries.

In this first installment of Out and About, I take you on a four-day journey through Angkor Wat Archeological Park. The episode begins at sundown on our arrival day and trip to the park to obtain admission tickets and a breathtaking sunset inside one of the temples. We then return to Angkor Wat the following morning to explore the famous UNSECO site World Heritage site and Little Circuit. Day two focuses on completing the previous day’s task as well as seeing other temples on the Big Circuit, culminating with a return visit to Angkor Wat as the sun fades into oblivion.

Our final day inside the park began well before sunrise. Staking out ground beside one of two reflecting pools in front of Angkor Wat, we waited patiently for the sun to rise. Getting there early was key, as hundreds of people try to out do one another for that perfect shot. From there, we traveled to the extreme reaches of the park for some of the lessor known sights, that were in many ways just as beautiful, if not more so than Angkor Wat.

How they make Thailand Temples Golden



Have you been to Thailand? If so, there’s a good chance you’ve visited one of their temples. Each one is intricately decorated with golden highlights. What you might not realize is that the golden highlights are in fact, gold. Real gold. How do they get these gold highlights on the walls and into the murals? They do it by hand. In today’s video, I wanted to show you a deleted scene from an upcoming video about Thai Temples. Here we see a temple employee carefully press golden foil into the design. It was pretty cool and special to be able to catch the entire thing.

Younjuam: Seoul’s Mountain Temple

Recently, Jo and I ventured out from our home on a beautiful Sunday morning to tackle a close-by temple, one that stands unique among others in Korea: Younjuam. Rather than resting in a city center or on a mountain, Younjuam’s claim to fame is its unique location near the summit of Gwanaksan. In Korea, it is very rare to have a religious center so close to the peak of a mountain, making this excursion truly special.

There are two routes to the temple: 1) start from Seoul University and take the long way; or 2) ride Line 4 to Gwacheon Station and stretch your legs once outside exit 7. This is the route we took. The Korean Tourism Information Line also recommends this way, since the total distance to the temple is just under 5km from the station and 3.6 from the trail head. Those hiking should bring a liter of water to stay properly hydrated. The trail is rocky and well traveled. Two watering stations and several restrooms are present on the way up to the temple, so there is no need to carry a lot of gear. Total hiking time will take a fit person under an hour, while those in moderate shape can easily make the climb in 90-100 minutes.

Hikers ascend Gwanaksan. Photo by Johanne Miller.

The temple itself dates back to 677, right in the Goryeo Dynasty. It was first given the name Gwanaksa, or Gwanak Mountain Temple, but the facilities were later renamed under the Joseon era as Younjuam. The temple’s primary role was to allow monks to study Buddhist scriptures in the seclusion offered by the mountains. During the Joseon Dynasty, the temple erected a one story stone pagoda. It is said that this monument was erected by Grand Prince Hyoryeong, brother to King Sejong. Hyoryeong retreated to the temple and became a monk after his brother ascended the throne.

Younjuam Temple. Photo by Johanne Miller.

Peace and Beauty at Younjuam. Photo by Johanne Miller.

There is such a thing as a free lunch! Photo by Johanne Miller.

If one times the hike right, you will arrive at the temple just in time for the free lunch. On our trek there, they served up a wonderful ramyun dish. But coming all this way to see the temple isn’t enough. Saunter on and up the staircase another 500m and you’ll find yourself at Younjudae, the peak. From here one can not only see Gwacheon, but also Seoul and the amazing Han river that winds through it.

The famous cliffs of Younjuam overlooking Seoul. Photo by Johanne Miller

This trek is one of our favorites in Korea and now on my list for visitors who travel to Seoul. The temple is amazing and the views are well worth the climb. Couple that with some of the best tasting ice cream snacks along the way and the great feeling of accomplishment one gains from reaching the summit, and you’ve got the makings of an awesome day out for all ages.


If you’ve traveled in Korea or elsewhere, what religious site has moved you the most?

As always, Jo accompanies me on these excursions and takes so many wonderful pictures. This trip was no exception. All the above photographs were taken by her. Please enjoy the complete set below.

Swastikas

Some of my favorite places to travel in Korea are the temples. Usually, they have sign like this out in front:

Within the first few hours, I’ll get a comment or two like the following:

Why is there a Nazi symbol on the temple?

Are there Nazis in Korea?

The answer is, “Of course not.” The swastika is an ancient symbol dating back thousands of years. According to some, the first historical use of the swastika surfaced in India. Today, it is still used in the Indian religions Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. There are two forms of the swastika. The left facing swastika (seen above) and the right facing (seen below):

As you can see, the images are mirror images of one another. While they are both swastikas, the meanings are completely different. The left-facing swastika is usually associated with Buddhist temples around Asia. While the latter was adopted by Hitler for the Nazi Party. Since that adoption, all swastikas to most westerners have become associated with hate rather than peace.

For more information on swastikas, visit the wiki.


Busan Street Temple: Daegaksa

This past weekend, Jo and I ventured down south to the port city of Busan. We had traveled there the previous year to meet a friend of a friend, but this trip was different. This time we were going to take a little time for ourselves and explore the city (and meet up with a few friends). In fact, while I did have a few projects to work on for the weekend, once we got into town, I opted not to take my camera with me and just enjoy the sights.

It was such a joy traveling without the bag, mic, and weight that I usually canvass towns with; however, when we shopped around, Jo looked up and saw something really unique: a temple.

We, of course, have seen many temples over the years, but this one was a little different. Stuck in the middle of Nampo-Dong’s shopping district, the temple rose two or more stories above the road. Furthermore, the backside was covered in retail establishments. Seeing this, we knew it was something special and had to be explored. With that thought in mind, I quickly took out my iPhone and turned on the camera.

It took only a few minutes to get to the temple’s entrance, where we learned its name: Daegaksa (대각사). After being on the KTX and in our hotel room for most of the day, it was nice to be in such a wide open area. The temple was peaceful and surprisingly quiet. During our time there, we only saw one monk and one person praying. I think that’s what I like about these small urban temples the most, is that they aren’t crowded. You can really get a feel for how Buddhism is practiced in Korea.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, the video was shot on the iPhone. I’m quite impressed with how it came out. Sound isn’t too bad and the colors are good. Editing was simple enough in iMovie. My only complaint is with the music that goes with the travel theme.

What do you think?



Okcheonam Temple

I find Korean Buddhism incredible interesting. I believe there are two reasons for this. First, it is rooted in Chán Buddhism from China, which is the Zen branch and the one that I practiced martial arts under. The second, is how the religion thrived even under the Joseon Dynasty (which moved to a Confucian society).

Over the years in Korea, I have visited many temples in Seoul and other cities, but my friend Yann showed us something special on our first trip out to his neck of the woods. The temple’s name is Okcheonam (옥천암). It’s not the largest temple or the oldest, but it is home to something very special: a carved Buddha.

The Temple dates back to the 13th or 14th century during the Goryeo era. The granite carving is concave and painted in a lovely seashell white. Thus, many in the area call it simply “The White Buddha” or “Sea Water Avalokitesvara.” The carving is also decorated in gold and a sight to behold.

While not enough to specifically come out and see this for yourself, if you are in the Buam Dong area, it’s worth a stop to see this special temple.

Address: 8 Hongeun-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, Korea.




Weekend Away

Myogaksa Temple (Credit: Myogaksa.net)

During the Lotus Lantern Festival, Jo and I participated in a number of booths in front of Jogyesa Temple. Several of the booths were manned by the kind folks at Templestay Korea. During the day, Jo and I visited a dozen booths and received stamps at each one. This was important, since the first 100 people who completed the process would earn a free Templestay (W50,000 value).

When it was all said and done, Jo and I were the 6th and 7th to turn in our forms. When we looked over the details, we were really excited that Templestay gave us three temples to choose from and two months to complete our stay. We decided to do it this past weekend and happy that we did.

Of the three temples we had to choose from, we settled on Myogaksa, in Jongno. It’s one of the few Templestays that offers an overnight experience, so that made it much more worthwhile. Most that participated in our group were English teachers, but we also had a mother-daughter team from Singapore and an exchange student from Thailand. Six Koreans also participated.

The Nun leading the session (여여) had a great grasp of English, but was faced with the challenge of having to switch back and forth to Korean several times, as many of the Korean participants couldn’t speak any English. That aside, I can tell you that this was the real deal when it comes to Templestays… this wasn’t the easy tourist version. This was for those that really want insight into a Korean Buddhist’s life.

We did just about everything listed in the program, except walking in the mountain (canceled due to rain). I found prostrating and making the 108 beaded prayer lanyard especially rough on my old knee injury. When I got home, I couldn’t wait to take some medicine to help quell the pain. I’m sure spending an hour in half-lotus this morning didn’t help things either…

I will say, that getting up at 4am was a bit rough, especially after the excitement of listening to Korea’s win in the World Cup. I’m very thankful Jo and I had this opportunity.

If you have questions about our stay, please post them, I’d be happy to answer them based on my experience. now that I shared with you how I spent my weekend, how did you spend yours?