One of my favourite places in Busan is the stunning Beomeosa Temple. Sitting on the edge of the sacred Geumjeongsan Mountain, it’s one of the most important temples in this part of the country and is also the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Exploring Beomeosa’s impressive halls and courtyards before tackling the holy mountain itself was a definite highlight of my visit to Busan.
Busan: Visiting Beomeosa Temple and Hiking Geumjeongsan Mountain
History of Beomeosa Temple
Beomeosa Temple was originally established in 678 on the eastern side of Mount Geumjeongsan near present-day city of Busan. Mount Geumjeongsan means “the mountain with a golden well” – legend has it that a golden fish descended on colourful clouds from heavens and swam in the well at the top of the mountain giving it magical properties. Thus, the name of Beomeosa actually translates as the “Temple of the Heavenly Fish”.
Beomeosa Temple was largely destroyed during the wars with the Japanese in the late 16th century but was restored in 1613. The present site dates back to that time but some structures can be traced back as far back as the 9th century! Today, Beomeosa Temple is one of 25 major temples in Korea and has over 200 branch temples around the country.
Exploring Beomeosa Temple
I would advise getting to Beomeosa as early as possible as it’s a popular pilgrimage site and tourist attraction. It’s particularly busy on weekends and school holidays so bare that in mind when planning your visit. The bus drops you below the temple and you have to negotiate a few sets of stairs. Don’t rush though as there is plenty to see on the way to the main complex.
One of the first structures you’ll see is the Jogyemun Gate, with four stone pillars at its base. This is Beomeosa’s Iljumun, or “One Pillar Gate” – a common feature of Korean temples, so called because when viewed from the side it appears to be supported by a single pillar. The illusion essentially represents the first step on the true path to enlightenment on which the world is built. The gate dates back to 1614 and is an impressive introduction to the temple complex.
Next up is the Cheongwangmum Gate, or the “Gate of the Four Heavenly Kings”. Usually this is the second gate leading into the temple complex and enshrines the guardians that protect Buddha, his teachings and wards off evil spirits. Only the pure of heart were said to be allowed to enter the inner grounds of the temple and these guys were there to deny access to the Land of Buddha!
Interestingly the Four Heavenly Kings guard the north, south, east and west and each hold different symbols in their hands. The guy holding the lute is Jigook Cheonwang and protects the East while the sword-bearing King is Jonjang Cheonwang is responsible for guarding the South. I first encountered this type of gate during my visit to Guinsa Temple in Danyang so it was interesting to see another Cheongwangmun Gate!
Beomeosa inner courtyard
After passing through another two gates, I found myself in the inner courtyard. From here it’s easy to see most of the temple structures while also observe monks going about their daily business. Beomeosa is a Chongrim – a Comprehensive Training Monastery – so is a great place to observe and even experience Buddhist culture, through the popular templestay programme. Facing the main staircase, you will see the Daeungjeon Hall directly in front. The temple’s main hall was built in 1614 and renovated over the years but remains a stunning example of Joseon Dynasty period architecture. It is dedicated as a Korean National Treasure.
To the right is another National Treasure – the Three Story Stone Pagoda that dates back to the 9th century. To the left is a Seokdeung stone lantern, also dating back to the original temple that was destroyed by the Japanese.
There are a number of other buildings to explore around the courtyard and it’s definitely worth spending a bit of time taking in Beomeosa’s splendour and beautiful setting.
Hiking Geumjeongsan Mountain
Once you retrace your steps to the entrance to the whole complex, you should see signs pointing to the start of a short 1.6km hiking trail to the North Gate. If in doubt, head towards the toilets and keep going past to find more maps and the start of the hike. The path skirts around the edges of the Beomeosa complex and over huge rocks. It’s easy going and there are signs pointing the way throughout you can’t really get lost.
As with all hikes in Korea don’t be surprised to find locals striking up conversations or offering you food. The hiking scene in Korea is huge and locals are genuinely interested in tourists as well as keen for an opportunity to practice their English. I was joined on my hike by a Korean guy who has worked for Samsung for most of his life and we had a great conversation about his country, whether I am married and how much I earn (these are really normal questions in Korea just like “what do you do” would be in the West).
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Geumjeongsanseong Fortress – North Gate
We reached the North Gate which used to form a part of a huge fortress on the mountain of Geumjeongsan. The present fortress was built in 1703 to help defend against invasions following numerous conflicts with Japan and Manchuria (now China). It remains the largest mountain fortress in Korea and is over 17 km long! The North Gate is the smallest of four gateways to the fortress.
It’s possible to continue hiking in different directions from the North Gate. A popular route is walking along the fortress wall towards Oncheonjang where a cable car takes visitors up and down the mountain. Oncheongjang station is then easily accessible for onward travel.
Hiking to Godangbong Peak
I decided to take a short 0.9 km route up to Godangbong Peak – at 801.5 m, Geumjeongsan Mountain’s highest point. Starting at the North Gate, I followed the trail markers while navigating stairs (loads of them) until I reached the top. The granite cliffs offer spectacular 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains, forests and city of Busan in the distance. There is also plenty of space at the top to find a perfect vantage point and I enjoyed clambering over huge boulders to explore the area. There was also no shortage of people wanting to take photos of me (and with me) so I managed to get some good shots at the top! I am always impressed at how technologically savvy Korean ajummas (older women) are. I had to tear myself away from the impressive rock formations to head back down towards Beomeosa.
Just a few metres below Godangbong Peak is a tiny shrine. Legend has it that around 450 years ago a woman turned to Buddhism following a falure of her marriage. She dedicated her life to the management of Beomeosa Temple, collecting alms and preaching Buddhism to the people. Shortly before she died, she left a will to the chief Buddhist monk that said “When I die, please cremate my body and build a shrine for the Gomoyeongsin goddess under Godangbong Peak and hold ritual for her. I will become a guardian spirit to help and protect Beomeosa Temple”. The monk fulfilled her wish by building the shrine and Beomeosa prospered over the centuries. To this day people pray at the shrine hoping for blessings and there are official rituals taking place annually.
Beomeosa Temple – Practical Info
Getting There: Getting to Beomeosa Temple is pretty simple. Take the Line 1 metro train in the direction of Nopo and get off at Beomeosa, the penultimate stop. Take exit number 5 or 7 and walk along the road between the two exits until you reach a bus station. Catch bus 90 (1200, 20 mins, every 15 mins) direct to Beomeosa Temple or grab a taxi (around 5000) to the station entrance.
Opening Times: year-round
Facilities: There are restrooms and a car park available. For Temple Stay information, check out the temple stay website
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Top Tips for Hiking around Beomeosa Temple
#1 You may need to choose whether you prefer to hike with fewer people or see the temple without the tourists. Start early and either head to Oncheongjang station and use the cable car or hike up and towards Godangbang and Beomeosa if hiking is your priority. Otherwise get to Beomeosa early and explore the complex before hitting the trails
#2 I didn’t come across any restaurants around Beomeosa but it’s possible that food stalls spring up later in the day. Stock up on snacks and water before you explore the area. It’s also a good idea to bring extra to share with other hikers – this is normal and a great way to engage with the locals.
#3 There are multiple trails on Geumjeongsan Mountain. I found a useful route if you wanted to download co-ordinates and a route to your phone.
#4 Take time out to find the Geumsaem Spring (The Golden Well on a Rock) after which the mountain takes its name. It’s not far from Godangbong Peak. The legend of the well is pretty cool:
‘On the summit of Geumjeongsan Mountain, there is a rock which is as tall as three people standing one on top of the other, and at the top of the rock, there is a fountain. The fountain is always full of water of a golden hue, and never runs dry even during periods of drought. A certain legend says that a golden fish once rode on five-colored clouds and descended to this fountain from the Brahma heaven to play there. Thus the mountain on which the fountain was located was name Geumjeong (Gold Spring) Mountain, and the temple on the mountain was name Beomeo (Nirvana Fish).’
#5 Photos of the surrounding area from Godangbong Peak are spectacular. Don’t miss it.
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What: Beomeosa Temple is one of the most important temples in Korea and the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Geumjeongsan Mountain, on which it stands, is part of the Busan National Geopark of Korea and has many hiking trails as well as remains of an old mountain fortress.
Where: Busan, South Korea is the country’s second most-populous city.
Accommodation: I stayed at The New Day hostel in Haeundae which offers comfortable dorms, free breakfast and a great location just minutes from one of Korea’s most popular beaches and nightlife spots.
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