The winds in Yeosu warranted a weather alert, yesterday. These winds and the plummeting temperature mean that winter is now upon us. As we huddle for warmth in our apartments on the southern coast of South Korea, we look back on this country’s most stunning season: Fall.
A few weeks ago and before the changing season erased all color from the tree tops, we took a weekend trip to the city of Gurye. This city is located at the foot of Jirisan National Park and, as you can see from the photos, was a perfect location for witnessing Korea’s yearly transformation. We had hiked in Jirisan before from chance to see the eastern side, so this was a chance to see the other side of the park.
While in Gurye, we visited a Buddhist temple and a Buddhist hermitage located at the foothills of this beautiful park.
This temple in Gurye has an extensive complex of buildings that gently climb the mountains to the rear as you venture further into the grounds. Many of the structures lack paint and show another side to the beauty of Korean temples. With exposed wood, these regularly ornate walls take on another, equally beautiful, life. With some temples buildings showing exposed wood and others painted colorfully, this temple mirrored the changing seasons with its varying colors.
We wandered the grounds for a fair amount of time, watching monks take their tea and enjoying the fall colors. At the base of Jirisan National Park and easily accessible from Gurye on Highway 18, Hwaeommsa is a truly beautiful temple that perfectly complemented the autumn colors with its own varying color schemes.
Next, we ventured to the south of Gurye to mount Osan where we found Saseongam Hermitage. In the Korean language, “-sa” denotes a temple (Hwaeomsa) whereas “-am” indicates being a hermitage (Saseongam). Temples, historically, were locations designated for the study and practice of Buddhism. Hermitages, on the other hand, served as an escape into nature for monks who desired secluded practice of their faith. Today, temples and hermitages are similar in more ways than they are different; their often spectacular locations being the only real difference to be found in hermitages. Both often offer many of the same events and possible overnight temple experiences for people wanting a better understanding of this faith.
This one was quite high on the mountain side, the path to Saseongam is passable in two ways: hiking or by taxi. At the base of the mountain is a parking lot that is busy with taxi cabs ferrying people up and down the restricted road that was under construction. The drive up was winding and taken at an uncomfortable pace by our driver, but we soon had paid and were standing in awe of this mountainside hermitage.
Buildings are stuffed onto every available ledge and flat spot the monks who had come before were able to carve out. What results from this improbable location is a stunning sight that reminded me of Yeonjuam on Gwanaksan in Seoul. Both being located on balance defying cliff faces, these hermitages are spectacularly serene despite their balanced predicaments.
With fall heavily littering itself upon Gurye, these hermitages and temples came to life in a way that only happens once a year. South Korea is a beautiful country that shines in most seasons. That being said: there’s something spectacular about Korean mountain temples once the leaves put on their final performance.
Farewell, fall. We look forward to chasing you again in 2015.
20 thoughts on “Farewell, Fall – Gurye’s Temples”
I have been meaning to travel to Jirisan, and wish I had already done so from looking at your breathtaking photos. I love how the one building is hugging the rocks, quite stunning.
I enjoyed the write-up on this, as you really made me want to go back to fall. The pics brought me back as well. I’m hoping for some leaf time here again but it seems so far away. Too much winter and the other silly seasons getting in the way.
I feel the same way about fall ending, even though I’m back home in North Carolina. Actually, I think NC and Korea rival each other in terms of the beauty of the season. So I feel your pain, man. Good thinking to take one last trip to breathe it all in! Seems like you made a good choice.
I wonder what it’s like to stay a night in there. And the view up there from the temple must be fantastic during any season. Thanks for sharing this!
This was really nicely written! I was able to picture what you were talking about without even looking at your beautiful pictures! You also taught me something new: temples vs. hermitages! Coming from New England, I assumed it wouldn’t even compare, but I was really impressed by my first fall in Korea. I hope that I am here for another Fall!
Thank you and we hope you see another fall as well! This country really comes to life in autumn so you really can’t go wrong. Seoul is amazing during this time, too, but the mountains call to us.
I love how the buildings almost seem a part of the rock-face, as if they are a part of nature. Very beautiful, I’d love to explore here!
Korea has some pretty amazing hermitages for sure!
I love how it seems like almost every national park or hiking mountain in South Korea has a Buddhist temple or hermitage tucked away in it somewhere…always makes for a lovely reward when you happen upon them! Beautiful photos- they do make me long for warmer weather- exploring is a lot more fun when you aren’t battling winds and low temperatures…(and I am from the Adirondack region! I guess it all feels different with fluffy snow and snow shoes…)
Korea has thousands of temples tucked away in the mountains around the country. I’ve heard the number is somewhere around 20,000!? Pretty incredible.
Beautiful photos and the temple looks amazing. I think good photos of something is what motivates me to want to check the places out. I probably also would have paid someone to drive me to the top than walk it 😀 The leaf colors are amazing and I particularly like the leaf photo.
The hiking trail isn’t marked bet well so the only other option was to hike up the super steep road that the taxis were speeding down. Didn’t seem like the best/safest option so we just opted for the cab. We hiked down afterwards, but the trail was overgrown so we eventually just hopped over to the road again.
When I saw that hermitage, Gwanaksan was the first thing that came to mind! I’m super sad about fall being over too, but it is so pretty when it snows here in the winter. Here’s to more adventures to come!
Korea is definitely gorgeous in the snow. We live on a peninsula on the southern tip of the country which hardly ever gets any, however. Hoping it snows nearby so we can make a weekend trip to go see it soon!
I’m so sad I missed these fall colours. I went to Sokcho, but never ended up actually hiking. Gorgeous photography!
Hiking in the fall in Korea is definitely some of the most crowded you will see the trails. It can be a bit frustrating, but the colors are so worth it! Hopefully you get the chance to see them next year!
your boots is nice
Stunning photos! You’ve caught the last glimpses of autumn so well 🙂 I’m so sad that it’s winter now, autumn is the best time of the year in Korea!
The temple looks amazing too, definitely somewhere I’d love to visit!
My experience of Jiri-san was a school hiking trip where while I was sick as a dog and it was completely unimpressive… Didn’t see anything cool LOL. Wish we’d gone to that temple instead 🙂
I really miss autumn! It’s sooo cold now – I loved the changing colors. People warned that I would fall in love with autumn here, now I know why!