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On Walkabout At: Baekdam Temple, South Korea

All across Korea is a variety of Buddhist temples that are popular by both locals and foreign tourists to visit. Most temples are easy to get to and readily accessible to the public. However some temples are located in extremely remote areas that makes visiting them difficult which can also make them some of the best temples to visit because of being located in extremely scenic areas and having a minimal amount of visitors. Of of the finest examples of one of these remote temples is Baekdam-sa located in Gangwon-do’s, scenic Soraksan National Park:

The temple is located in the Inner Sorak area of the park which is mostly wild, natural, and untouched by man. For anyone looking for unspoiled wilderness in Korea this is the place. The small village of Yongdae-ri is the access point for the temple. From Yongdae-ri a short bus ride takes visitors to the temple located seven kilometers up a twisting and winding road that traverses the Baekdam Valley:

A better option is to avoid the bus and hike up the valley instead which is what I did. The walk to the temple is only seven kilometers which takes about an hour to complete and I was rewarded with incredible views I could better appreciate compared to being crunched into a bus with dozens of oversized visor wearing local women known as “ajummas”.

The road to the temple follows a beautiful flowing river that twists and turns through the valley:

The water was crystal clear and I made sure to take a drink from it to see if it has any mineral content like other waters that flow through Soraksan National Park. The water had no mineral taste to it and just had a cool, fresh water taste to it:

All around me I was surrounded by rugged, steep hillsides that slowly increased in altitude the further up the valley and closer to Mt. Sorak I went:

Most of the hills were just steep and thickly forested, but occasionally one of the granite rock formations that Soraksan National Park is famous for would make an appearance:

The views most of the way though was just steep rolling hills and the gently flowing river below:

Eventually the valley opens up a bit and the river widens significantly. I can only imagine what a spectacular sight this river must be during the monsoon season when the river reaches its maximum flow:

Eventually the road reaches a pedestrian bridge that takes visitors into the Baekdam-sa Temple:

Immediately across the bridge visitors are welcomed by Buddhist deities located in a small gate:

Once into the compound the temple is actually in appearance very similar to other temples in Korea. It has long wooden and colorful buildings:

It has a big bronze bell and drum:

As well as plenty of Buddhas for visitors to take photographs of:

However, what makes this temple different is the interesting history this temple has seen over the years. This temple was founded in 647 during the Shilla Dynasty by a well respected monk at the time by the name of Jajang who named the temple Hangye-sa. The temple wasn’t always located at its present location because the monks over the years had to move the temple multiple times due to fire.

It has been at its present location for about a thousand years and was called Baekdam-sa when monk had a vision to climb Mt. Sorak and count the number of pools between the mountain and the temple. If he did this, it would protect the temple from fire. The monk climbed Mt. Sorak, walked back to the temple, and counted 100 pools along the way. After his walk it was decided the temple would be called Baekdam-sa meaning the 100 pools temple.

The name of the temple may have protected the temple from being destroyed by fires for about 500 years but it couldn’t save it from war.  The current structures at Baekdam Temple today only date from 1957 because the temple was completely destroyed during the Korean War due to its close proximity to the border between North and South Korea.

The isolated location of Baekdam-sa has caused the temple over the centuries to be highly sought after for Buddhist monks seeking enlightenment.   One of the most famous residents of the temple was Buddhist scholar Manhae Han Yong-un who was an independence activist during the Japanese colonial period of the Korean peninsula.

Manhae Han Yong-un

Han Yong-un was famous for his works of poetry that he wrote during the years he spent at Baekdam-sa.  His most famous work published in 1926 was Nimui Chimmuk which advocated for the importance of equality and freedom, which led to a passive resistance movement against the Japanese colonization of the peninsula.

Han Yang-un may be the temples most famous resident, but without a doubt the most infamous resident of the temple was former Korean President Chun Doo-hwan.  Chun rose to power in a military coup in 1980 and is known as the “Butcher of Gwangju” for his role in authorizing the killing of Korean civilians in the city.   Chun is also known for being notoriously corrupt with his embezzling of millions of dollars from the nation’s coffers.

After leaving office, in November 1988 Chun and his wife voluntarily went into exile at Baekdam-sa for two years.  During his time at Baekdam-sa Chun lived in seclusion so visitors could not see him.  He did have daily chores he was responsible for completing such as sweeping floors in the various buildings every morning.

Currently Baekdam-sa no longer has any famous or infamous residents but it is still a great place to visit for those spending multiple days in the area.  The temple is truly a hidden gem in the crown of Korea’s national park system, Soraksan National Park.

Visitor information for the park can be found below:

Local Transportation 1. Bus
? At Inje Terminal,take a bus to Wontong or Jinburyeong and get off at Yongdae-ri. (40 minute interval, Runs 20 times a day)
? From Yongdae-ri, walk for about 15 minutes. and at the bus stop, take a shuttle bus(Fare: 1,000 won) for 3.5 km.
? Get off the town bus and walk 3km following milestones to the ticket box of Baedamsa Temple.
* Take Local Bus (7 a.m.~ 6 p.m., 15~20-minute interval, 20-minute ride) at Baekdamsa Temple Ticket Box.
2. Taxi
Taxi takes 20 minutes from Wontong to Yongdae-ri. Follow sequences above.

Inquiries: Mt.Seoraksan National Park Administration Office (Baekdam Branch)
Tel. +82-33-462-2554 (Korean) / Travel Phone +82-33-1330 (Eng, Kor, Jpn, Chn)
Admission: Mt.Seoraksan National Park Administration Office, Baekdam Branch(Fee for Cutural Monument Included)
– Adult (Age 19 or over) : 3,200 won
– Teenager (Age 13 to 18) : 1,200 won
– Children (12 or under) : 600 won
(Group of 30 or more people: 3,000 / 1,000 / 500 won respetively.)

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