Located on Sangwangsan mountain near Dangjin and Seosan, Gaesimsa temple was an awesome weekday morning diversion for the boys and I, along with a friend. Getting to the temple involved taking some country roads to a trailhead parking lot, then heading up a 1 km trail to the temple, but it was so worth it! The trail leading to the temple is surrounded by dense forest and little mountain streams, and is such a peaceful setting for a short hike. Like many Buddhist temples, a gate marks the entrance to the trailhead. On either side of the road leading up to the gate are pop-up restaurants, coffee stalls, and local product booths selling produce and dried seafood snacks.
Gaesimsa temple was founded in the Baekje era, sometime in the 600-800 AD range, but it was completely destroyed in a forest fire. It was rebuilt in 1484, with a distinctive architectural elements in the roof supports. The detailed paint decoration on the gate and temple buildings reflected that it was a little newer than other temples we have visited in the area. Just the underside of the gate pictured at right is super impressive! Right after we arrived, a mom pulled up in the parking lot with these three boys. They dug around in the dirt and played in the streams with Landon, before disappearing up the trail. I don’t think the temple was their final destination.
The trail to the temple continues up the mountain, but we stopped to admire this beautiful flowering tree at the base of the temple. From there, a series of steep steps led up to the main temple buildings. Although I do love to bring my stroller anywhere I can, this was NOT a stroller friendly location. There were many stairs involved in reaching the temple! Baby carrier for the win!
The first building we saw was an open pavilion with a big ceremonial drum and fish inside. I loved the bright teal decoration colors as well as the detailed paintings along the interior and exterior walls. Compared to other temples in the region, this one is more elaborately decorated. It was fairly deserted except for a few monks walking around, and some others eating lunch.
Visiting Buddhist temples with active kids is highly recommended! Usually, there is some sort of hike up a mountain to reach the temple, and then from there, many buildings to peek inside and gardens and grounds to explore. Landon loves rambling around the complex, finding all of the Buddha statues and outbuildings. Even though it isn’t as kid-oriented as say, a playground or children’s museum, I feel strongly that kids should be given opportunities to learn about other cultures and religions. Landon loves to play in the dirt with sticks regardless of whether it is at a zoo or an amazing Buddhist temple!
Because of the shape of the hillside, the main temple complex was spread out horizontally over the hill instead of vertically, as I have seen in other Korean Buddhist temples. We had a great time exploring different paths to reach other buildings on the property, including this abandoned building being taken over by ivy. Korea is truly a beautiful place!
On the other side of some living quarters was an interesting hall with some scary guys guarding the doors. Inside were some very Korean looking statues of kings flanking a seated golden Buddha. I guess that people come to pray here because they believe that praying to the ten kings and Buddha will result in answered prayers.
From that worship hall, there was a trail up the mountain. We were not sure if there were any other buildings up there, but we hiked up anyway to check it out. We found a tiny building with a painting of an old man in it, with a tiger. I’m sure there’s some sort of story to it, but it seemed like a special shrine to a specific person.
With the setting and the temple itself, I would highly recommend visiting Gaesimsa temple when traveling through the Seosan area. Because it is relatively small, it takes only an hour or two to visit, and the views are well worth it!