Guinsa: Korea’s Most Unique Temple

We’ve been to dozens, if not hundreds, of Buddhist temples across this peninsula, and we’ve finally found the most unique temple in all of South Korea! There are beautiful temples with varied architecture in different corners of this country, but Guinsa stands head and shoulders above the rest for many reasons. Tucked back in the Sobaek Mountains, this sleepy temple comes to life the further you investigate. Guinsa might not be the most accessible, but it is undoubtedly the most jaw dropping, unique temple  we’ve yet to discover.


Guinsa: Korea's most unique temple


The first thing you’ll notice about Guin Temple is its height. Where most temple buildings are one or two stories tall, Guinsa has a building with six towering floors. From top to bottom, the valley that houses Guinsa stuns visitors with its scale as well as its redefining architectural elements. What we once thought we understood about temple design was completely upended the moment we started walking the hill at the entrance. Within minutes of reaching the first structure, we knew that we’d not allowed enough time to fully explore and appreciate this masterpiece of design.


“You’ve Seen One Temple, You’ve Seen Them All”

g

One of the most common phrases heard by foreigners in Korea is the complaint about how all temples look the same. While hearing “You’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen ’em all” might be frustrating, there’s a bit of truth in the statement. While I might forever be smitten by beautiful paintings and symbolic architectural elements, there are many commonalities that make most temples in South Korea look, at the bare minimum, similar. It has been without surprise and often to our chagrin that we rarely find willing travel companions that are excited to see new temples. However, there’s one temple that defied our every expectation and redefined our basic notion of temples in this country with spectacular individuality. Guinsa is the most beautiful temple, hands down, that we’ve found in South Korea. While this masterpiece of Buddhist construction is also currently the most astounding and gorgeous we’ve found worldwide, we’re willing to hold off on calling it the most beautiful in the world in hopes that we can find another temple someday that tops Guinsa’s majesty.

The first thing worth mentioning about Guinsa is its location. Instead of having all of the buildings be built on one or two levels like most temples in Korea, Guinsa is on a perpetual incline climbing a narrow gully between two ridges. Long after you hike the 15-20 minute introductory incline, the main gate welcomes visitors. From the ornately painted first gate to the golden Main Hall at the top of the incline, the desire to continue onward never fades. Even after reaching the top, seeing it all in reverse becomes an exciting prospect as wonderful as the initial walk through. Each step of this “hike” promises new and spectacular views of a truly unique temple design. Many temples boast large courtyards and open spaces intending to contemplate the reality of our perception, but Guinsa merely forces the contemplation of your reasoning for continuing onward. The hills and paths are steep, but so is the reward.

Guinsa: Korea's most unique temple


Don’t Leave Without

While Guinsa’s beauty is reason enough for the journey, no trip to this remote temple would be complete without a visit to one or two of the restaurants. The community of restaurants located around the parking lot  are the perfect place to reflect on your experience while replenishing the calories burned. Like most restaurants that serve temple-goers, Jeon and Dongdongju are the most common items on the menu. We ate some delicious green onion pancakes (Pajeon) and washed it down with some delicious local rice wine (Dongdongju, the more traditional version of Makgeolli) that is famously made in the Sobaek Mountains. Beware, however, the affects of alcohol and when you choose to consume it. Drinking before entering this unique temple will absolutely make the aforementioned hill seem somewhat impossible (or at least increase  complaints). Conversely, drinking after your hike is a great way to unwind after the trek and reflect on Guinsa’s beauty, but driving becomes a serious concern (did we mention this is a very remote location?).

Guinsa: Korea's most unique temple


In the Area

Located near Guin Temple are many other sights and activities to round out a full weekend in this beautiful area. Here are our top recommendations for people staying in the area for more than the day:

  • Danyang – This small town is ever bustling and full of energy. Surrounded by rivers and natural beauty, Danyang is the perfect place to stay while exploring Guinsa and the surrounding area. While lacking in the night-life department, all other modern conveniences can be found in this mountain town.
  • Fishing – According to many reports and information found online, the western slope of Sobaeksan National Park is teeming with fish-filled rivers. We saw many fishermen and fisherwomen on the river, and deeply regret not packing our fishing gear.
  • Fortresses and Caves – Ondal Fortress is a mere few kilometers from Guinsa and has a 450 million year old cave (Ondal Cave) on the property. The fortress and cave are beautiful and worth an afternoon exploring at the least, but there are several other caves in the area if you want to see even more.

Guinsa: Korea's most unique temple


Directions

Like many remote areas, Guinsa is most easily reached by personal car. It is quite easy, however, to take a bus to Danyang, then transfer to a local bus bound for this amazing temple.

Bus

From the Korean Tourism website:
From Dong Seoul Bus Terminal, take an intercity bus to Guinsa Temple.
Bus Schedule: 06:59-18:00, 1 hour intervals

-OR-

From Danyang Bus Terminal, take an intercity bus to Guinsa Temple.
Bus Schedule: 09:20-20:20 (1 hour intervals), 20:50

Train

It is possible to reach Danyang by train as well, but this would require several transfers and we don’t recommend using the rail system for people unfamiliar with Korea’s transportation system.


More Photos

Guinsa: Korea's most unique temple

Guinsa: Korea's most unique temple

Guinsa: Korea's most unique temple

Guinsa: Korea's most unique temple

Guinsa: Korea's most unique temple


So, what do you think? Do all Korean temples look the same or are you as big of a temple buff as we are?

Guinsa: Korea's most unique temple

Signature

20 Comments

  1. Scott Herder October 11, 2016 at 9:10 am - Reply

    Whoa what a great looking temple. Great photos guys. It definitely looks like a winner!

    • Hedgers Abroad November 29, 2016 at 11:11 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Scott! Guinsa is beautiful and our jaws were on the ground all day.

  2. […] As soon as I saw the Hedgers' photos of this temple, I knew it would be a must-see upon returning to Korea. As someone who's seen a ton of temples spread out through Korea, this is definitely the most unique one I've yet to come across… Read More […]

    • Hedgers Abroad November 29, 2016 at 11:30 pm - Reply

      Thanks for sharing, Sam!

  3. Mark Scrooby November 22, 2016 at 10:57 am - Reply

    Definitely the best temple in Korea. I’ve been to quite a few since we came to South Korea and to my untrained eye they do tend to blur into one image with lots of green paint and flowers… This one really stood out and you guys have done a great job capturing its uniqueness in the photos.

    • Hedgers Abroad November 29, 2016 at 11:07 pm - Reply

      We had a great time with you guys at Guinsa! Thanks for the compliments, but it’s hard to mess up photos when you’re in such a beautiful place. Best green paint and flowers I’ve ever seen!

  4. Wendy Flor November 24, 2016 at 11:04 am - Reply

    Guilty here in terms of “you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen it all”. Your pictures and your description of the Guinsa Temple make it stand above the rest. Among the temples I’ve visited, another one stands out, too… the Haedong Yunggonsa Temple by the sea in Busan.

    • Hedgers Abroad November 29, 2016 at 10:57 pm - Reply

      Ah, we’ve been to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple as well! It’s really beautiful, but had hundreds of people the day we visited. Guinsa, however, was much more enjoyable, although missing the dramatic seashore. If you’re keen to see another of our top 5, look into Yeonjuam Hermitage next time you’re in Seoul. So many beautiful temples, so little time!

  5. Ana Park November 24, 2016 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    I visited this temple more than a decade ago ~ and I complained about the hike! I love visiting temples and historical places ~ each has a different story to tell.

    • Hedgers Abroad November 29, 2016 at 10:52 pm - Reply

      I wouldn’t call it a hike as much as a long uphill trudge on a road, but it’s certainly not easy! We were glad to be at the entrance gate until we saw that the hill continued inside! And you’re absolutely correct, each temple has its own story and keeps us forever going back for more.

  6. Travel with Karla November 25, 2016 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    Your pictures are amazing! I’ve only been to Jogyesa temple and the other temples along Bukhansan and Gwanaksan. I thought the Korean temples looks the same. I was wrong. Guinsa Temple looks like something worth the hike! Thank you for a very detailed story.

    • Hedgers Abroad November 29, 2016 at 10:44 pm - Reply

      Thank you, we’re glad you enjoyed! We’ve been to Jogyesa and the temples around Bukhansan/Gwanaksan, too! The hermitage near the top of Gwanaksan is in our top 5 temples, as I’m sure you can understand! South Korea is littered with temples, and some of them stand head and shoulders above the rest!

  7. Rocio Cadena November 27, 2016 at 9:37 pm - Reply

    WOW, what a stunning temple!! I definitely identify with the saying that if you’ve seen one Korean temple, you’ve seen them all. While I find them beautiful, they do start blending together because they are so similar. But Guinsa is on a whole other level!! It looks truly majestic. I might just have to trek out to see it for myself!

    • Hedgers Abroad November 29, 2016 at 10:27 pm - Reply

      You really should because it’s easily the most unique we’ve found. I know how many people have that sentiment, it just never made sense to us. Beneath the surface there are subtle differences, but we understand that it’s not an interesting prospect for everyone. Maybe this one will change your mind!

  8. BreakYourBoundaries (@mattcollamer) November 28, 2016 at 2:21 pm - Reply

    Damn, I also thought all the Korean temples look about he same, but Guinsa seems amazing! These photos are fantastic too…keep up the great work, and keep exploring!

    • Hedgers Abroad November 29, 2016 at 10:21 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much, Matt! A lot of people get bored with temples, but sometimes they’ll surprise you like Guinsa surprised us! We’ll keep exploring and you do the same!

  9. Alla November 28, 2016 at 3:07 pm - Reply

    Yup, this temple definitely trumps all the ones I’ve seen so far! It’s huge, beautiful and I’m sure photo ops are limitless.

    • Hedgers Abroad November 29, 2016 at 10:19 pm - Reply

      Limitless photos, indeed! We have a huge soft spot for temples and this one takes the cake!

  10. Star Lengas November 28, 2016 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    Temples/Palaces, it can get slightly underwhelming while traveling to see similar reproductions, but I think its a test of your imagination or lust for history to explore beyond what meets the eye. Visiting Guinsa is now high at the top of my list. Honestly, this is by far the most beautiful temple I’ve seen so far in Korea, although the sea backdrop at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is definitely a front runner. I’m so glad you mentioned that its possible to stay within the area, because I would want atleast two days to explore this temple, seems like a great getaway from the city.

    • Hedgers Abroad November 29, 2016 at 10:17 pm - Reply

      We’re glad to have inspired a visit to Guinsa! It really was lovely beyond words, and we firmly stand by our recommendation! We’ve also been to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Busan, but this one barely manages to top it. One definite bonus of Guinsa is that it isn’t nearly as crowded as the sea temple. I just wish we’d have taken the drone!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this:
Read previous post:
By Popular Request – Our Camera Gear!

Close