Guryongsa Temple in Chiaksan National Park is the number one (No.1) sight among the best sights in Wonju, Gangwon(do) Province, South Korea.
The temple was first established over 500 years ago by a famous Buddhist monk Uisang.
What makes it so famous? First and foremost, it is within the scenic spot of Chiaksan Mountain wherein both the temple site and nature blend-in and in total harmony.
Getting there takes only around two hours from Seoul and an hour from Wonju City (more on this below).
Now, as I am excited about trying to paint a picture of the place, you might also be feeling interested in finding out more. Let me work with some words, and if they don’t, just look at my photos. Hopefully, they can explain more.
The entrance to the temple area is actually less than a kilometer. You need to walk a bit amid giant pine trees and nature.
After obtaining your ticket from the ticketing booth (2,500 Won for an adult), you will be seeing the fresh stream flowing freely on your right-hand side.
A few meters further, you will be crossing a small bridge with sculptures of the dragons’ heads.
As you cross the bridge, you will slowly start to ascend then you will be greeted by two boards: guide map (on your right) and another board with a painting map and a historical description of Guryongsa area.
This is the first entrance gate to the temple area. The Chinese characters say:......
You will not miss recognizing the sculpted dragons on the gate’s two pillars that support its extended roof. I found this gate very welcoming… although the temple area itself is still about half a kilometer from it.
But the walk from this gate to the temple is effortless and a good start if you have decided to climb any hiking course in Chiaksan National Park.
Right after examining that gate, you will see right away a flat area where you will find stone (granite stone) sculpture in various designs in vertical positions.
No, they are not old stone lamps or lanterns. They are containers of the Buddhist monks' “sari” or holy remains (a small stone that remains from the dead bodies of monks considered sacred).
Then, over 30 meters ahead, you will begin to have a glimpse of the temple area. Since the temples are located some meters higher than the road you tread, you may ascend a bit more following the concrete path leading towards the temple’s entrance.
If you want to approach the temple area from lower ground, proceed or go straight to the spacious parking area, which is just right below the temple area.
They actually look scary to me (not so heavenly!).
In this parking area, you will find a temple cafe and the main gate of the temple where the Four Heavenly (scary-looking) Kings guard the temple 24/7 with their respective weapons and instruments.
On the left-hand side of the main gate, you will not miss seeing Buddha’s standing stone sculpture and the turtle on its right side. The turtle seems to indicate that the name of the temple partly (or half of it) derives from the Hanja character ‘gu’ for the turtle.
Passing through the Kings, you have to climb the steps, which requires the guest with full capacity to climb up. (That is why the other concrete road was built for those who have difficulties in climbing these steps, or those who are using wheelchairs or scratches).
Assuming that you will get to the temple area without any problem, let me describe briefly the structures and buildings below...
According to the records about Guryongsa Temple, it used to have 99 rooms in total when it was first established. Now, there are only a few that are being maintained and being used.
What happened to the other structures (or rooms)? Most temples are made of wood, and so they wear out or gets decayed. Second, some were consumed by fires, while the others got destroyed by people or during the attacks (and wars).
I think this is the only entrance to the temple ground, which directly leads you to the main hall. In this building, if you will examine, you’ll see the description which says that the foundation stones are old.
I think it means that the foundation stones are originals while the wood pillars (they may be old) are not due to decay (caused by changing temperatures, moisture, and such natural elements)
You will see this Bell Pavilion on your right-hand side when entering the area. From this vantage point, you have a beautiful view of the mountains and the forested stream area.
This stone pagoda is a recent addition to the temple area. But I am convinced that its design is based on the original stone pagodas sculpted during that period. A beautiful photo of the temple area is captured with this stone pagoda at the center!
Daeungjeon Hall (Main Hall)
Although there are lanterns still hanging over after the celebrations of Buddha’s birthday a month after I took this photo, Daeungjeon Hall looks great!
The white colors seem to be in harmony with the surrounding elements. (The varied colors of lanterns during the birthday celebration seem too strong for me--personally!).
The No. 1 Sight in Wonju
Just like most religious places in various parts of the world during the medieval period, the Korean Buddhists temples also kept records on their affairs.
For this reason, better historical backgrounds through the records confirm most of the events that occurred in the area as well as the items (structures, religious tools, etc.).
Although only a few have survived from the weather conditions, time, and unfortunate events, one can still observe and enjoy some items extant inside the temple area.
In short, due to the location, historical background, significance, and above all, the beauty of the temple that harmonizes with its surrounding, are the factors why it is considered the number 1 scenery among the 8 Wonju sceneries.
When the temple founder Uisang, a Buddhist monk of the Silla Dynasty, started to build Guryongsa Temple, an interesting legend was told.
Nine dragons occuppied the pond of the temple site when Uisang tried to fill it up for the foundation of his temple. In their anger, the nine dragons brought down rain to the whole mountain (Chiaksan Mountain).
The pond was filled up with, but the monk drew out his ‘staff’ and stuck it into the pond, causing it to dry out. This prompted the nine dragons to flee and never return.
The temple’s name, Guryongsa, derived from that legend which refers to the nine dragons (‘gu’ for nine, ‘ryong’ for the dragon, and ‘sa’ for temple). And that legend lives on.
When Uisang founded the temple in 668 during the reign of King Munmu of Silla Kingdom, Guryongsa Temple has immediately established its status as the best temple at that time.
After its foundation over 500 years back, Guryongsa Temple remains to be called as the top temple of Youngseo region. Several famous Buddhist monks lived here, including Doseon, Hyujeong, and others.
Due to some reasons, however, the temple’s status declined in the middle of the Joseon Period.
During the 32nd year of King Sukjong’s reign, the temple was renovated. A historical record (Yeojidoseo Wonjumokjo) shows that there were ninety-nine (99) rooms inside the temple site of Guryongsa which is at Chiaksan Mountain.
The record also that there was a Yongyeon (literally means dragon’s pond) in front of the temple which was used for invoking rain during the dry season and stopping floods during the rainy season.
It also described that Guryongsa’s landscape used to include smaller temples (not anymore visible), such as Daeseung-am, Baekryeongdan, Wolbong-am, and even some scary stories of monks’ encounter with wild animals like a tiger.
Being an old and historic temple site, Guryongsa still holds some of its treasures, including structures and other items. The following are some of them…
After having explored, examined, and enjoyed the temple area, you can also explore the nature and some structures surrounding Guryongsa Temple.
Here are what you can find around…
If this is your first time to learn about Buddhism and thinking of visiting this place, there is no problem with that idea.
Buddhism religion is open to dialogue with other faiths. They don’t mind any other religious believer or non-religious to come over and see them.
The following sub-section describes who will be allowed to come and visit the temple area.
Anyone who is able...
BUT, there is one condition…
All visitors are expected to keep the temple etiquette. The most important of them all is SILENCE. Although you can talk, you are prohibited from talking loud with friends or any disturbing noise. It is a holy place!
Not all temples have this programme because only those who have qualifications are given permission.
Address: Wonju-si Gwangwon-do1029, Hakgok-ri, Socho-myeon
Contact Details: 1330 Travel Hotline: +82-2-1330
(Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
For more info: +82-33-732-4800, +82-33-731-0503
Fundamentally, all temples that offer such programme have similar activities. Such activities that can be accomplished mostly for one day include the following:
For further information on templestay programme, please use the contact details above.
Monks have simple needs, as you already know! They have the basic necessities available for their ascetic life.
However, for the sake of the guests and other visitors who are maybe only traveling or those who are regularly supporting the temple, additional facilities are built in Guryongsa.
The following includes both the usual temple facilities and additional ones...
Reaching Wonju City and finally to Guryongsa Temple is easy. All intercity bus terminals and express bus terminals have daily schedules for Wonju.
If you are seriously thinking of going there, here are the public transports and connections you can take...
Buses (+Bus or taxi)
Seoul Express Bus Terminal (Gyeongbu) to Wonju Express Bus Terminal
It takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach Wonju City. Fare: 7-11,000 Won
Then you can take a taxi for Guryongsa Temple (Chiaksan National Park) or a bus.
Dong Seoul Bus Terminal to Wonju City, then take either a taxi or bus (#41) to Guryongsa Temple (Guryong Parking Area/Terminal, Chiaksan National Park).
Train (+Bus or taxi)
Take a train at Chongnyangni Station (Seoul) to Wonju Station (around 16,000 Won), then take either a taxi or bus (#41) to Guryongsa (Guryong Parking Area/Terminal, Chiaksan National Park).
For a taxi to Guryongsa Temple (up to Guryong Parking Area), it costs over 40,000 Won for around 40 minutes travel time.
For a bus (#41), it costs around 2,000 Won to get there for an hour or more travel time.
There are no accommodations or hotels nearby Guryongsa Temple
The closest ones are the minbak (overnight house room rental), pension house, and other small accommodations located a few kilometers from the temple but within the Chiaksan National Park.
Hotels and such accommodations abound in Wonju City, which is less than an hour by bus or taxi.
See below the best hotels in Wonju City to find their locations, discounted rates, facilities, and other inviting offers.
Hotel Inter Burgo Wonju
Wonju Citi Hotel
Wonju Ed Hotel
Wonju Hotel K
Feel free to search more accommodation offers through the Search Box available above on the right-hand sidebar on top of this page.
If you came to just enjoy this area, then explore and stay an hour or so to experience the serenity or the area while thinking about its history.
If you came to follow a trail, then that’s a right call. You can relax and prepare for your day’s adventure in this area. The cafe has good benches and refreshing Cappuccino (my simple fav caffeine!) or any drink available!
The hiking trail from Guryongsa Temple that links to other hiking courses is one of the exciting ones. That’s why I picked this course! (See my article here).
After enjoying (the coffee, tea, nature, selfie, photography, etc.), you may return to the city by taking a bus (#41) or a taxi (or private/rented car). It takes less than an hour by bus from the parking area to the city proper.
Also, I listed down the other places which I will visit or explore for my next coming.
Yes, I love the area. I think I should stay longer next around to see more details and feel its story.
The temple is very accessible up to the parking area. Anyone who can walk, or cannot walk (but using a baby cart, wheelchair, etc.) can get there quite quickly because the road and pathway are paved and the ascent is not high or steep.
The temple area and everything that surround it is lovely--trees, mountains, stream, cascade, rocks, birds, squirrels, and nature.
It is also economical to come here. If you are coming from Seoul, you only spend less than 40 USD to reach the temple. Besides, it only takes two hours by bus from Seoul to Wonju City.
If you reached this far, I would thank you for reading this article. You’re awesome!
I hope you have memorable and amazing travels!