on…Geumsansa (금산사)

Posted: 17/10/2011 in Architecture, History, Travel
Tags: , , , ,

금 = Gold 산 = Mountain 사 = Temple                 … I love it when Korean is this easy!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I went to Geumsansa today after a gruelling 2 hour hike up Moaksan and back down on the Geumsansa side. It was gruelling because I don’t think you are supposed to do it in that short amount of time. Actually, walking time may have been even less than that because I took in the view for a while at the top. I read somewhere that if you are athletic you can do it in one hour; I did it in 51 minutes so I must be an athlete. That makes me sound pretty vain but I am genuinely competitive when it comes to hiking times. On a quiet morning with fewer people I believe it could be scaled in 45 minutes without stopping for a break, but you would miss all the fun if you just race to the top.

You can take a 970 city bus from opposite Starbucks in Gaeksa directly to Moaksan Car Park. If you don’t get buses much, the bus stop has all the numbers on and the electronic screen displays the ETA.  There are two distinct sides to Mt Moak, the Moaksan side and the Geumsansa side. It’s quicker and easier from the Moak side but there are many people on the paths who may drive you nuts after a while. As Moak is so close to Jeonju city there are more casual day trippers than serious hikers, I even saw a guy in a suit half way up the peak. I tried to get up as quickly as possible in the hope of escaping from the crowds, easy signage and limited trails make it quite simple to get up. The crowds continue all the way to the top.  The peak affords great views of Jeonju and all the surrounding mountains, even though it was hazy I could have stayed up there all day looking at the view. I guess I am a view collector though, view collecting is a great hobby because it’s virtually free and if you keep your mind reasonably clear from pointless information like phone numbers, story lines to boring tv shows and lyrics to poorly crafted pop songs, you should have plenty of memory to store views. The peak of Moaksan itself is a bit of an anticlimax because it’s basically a military looking antennae place. However, there are a few smaller peaks spiralling out from the real one, so you could still find a place for a picnic of makgeolri and beondegi.

I mooched round the peak, then laughed at the woefully inadequate safety measures of the steeple jacks who were  repairing a tv mast. After this I began the descent down the other side of the ridge to Geumsansa. The contrast between the two sides could not have been sharper. The crowds of multicolored hikers jostling for surefooting was soon replaced by genuine tranquility. I don’t know why there were so few people on the other side, after all, it’s downhill and only about 4.5 km from the peak. I’m guessing most people come in cars so they go back the same way they came up. Anyway, I wasn’t complaining, I was happy to have the rubber matted descent stairs to myself for most of the way down. I only came across about 5 people before I got to the temple. There was a woman looking intently at a tree, a couple having a picnic, a man and his son, then a buddhist monk who clasped his hands and greeted me in English as we passed one another. After a small cable car building the path widens out into a concrete lane suitable for vehicles. It’s impossible to get lost because you follow the course of the small stream which meanders down to the foot of the temple and beyond. The water in the stream was pleasant company for me on a fairly mundane trail. Without the company of birds, chipmunks and trees I was happy to have the constant noise of the water as it raced down the hill to find the temple.

As I neared the temple there were more and more people milling about. The end of the path fans out into parkland and some institutional buddhist places. I arrived at the side gate of the temple and an old man gesticulated to me to get some food. There was lots of activity and beyond the old women washing pots and cooking were an army of coaches and an actual army. There must have been hundreds of military personnel. Something was going on at the temple and there were thousands of paper lanterns crisscrossing the large courtyard, there were also countless garden chairs and a growing number of people taking seats. I heard the chanting and wooden clicks typical of buddhist worship. Nothing sounds more alien to me than the strange chants, especially when you are so used to church bells and hymns. I circumnavigated the crowd of worshippers to have a look and take some pictures. I spent quite a long time looking round the temple. I have been before but this time was totally different. Autumn was moving in with a nice breeze, the same breeze was blowing all the lanterns and sounding the small bells which hang on the corners of some of the temple roof tops.

Geumsansa is an important temple by all accounts, it’s a head temple of the Jogye Order which goes way back. The order came about in the unified Shilla dynasty who were into their buddhism much more than the later Joseon dynsasty. If you’re making parallels, the Shilla were like the Anglo Saxons of Wessex who unified the English into one group. They also came about at a similar time, about 1,200 years ago. Geumsansa itself is definitely ancient, despite some of the recent restoration work. Some people believe it was founded in 600 AD when King Beop was on the scene. The scale and the buildings are very impressive. I think it’s the only 3 story pre modern structure in Korea and they also have the tallest indoor Buddha in the World, sorry, the biggest ‘standing’ buddha. I have seen the reclining Buddha in Bangkok and that was bigger than the Geumsansa Buddha. After seeing all the cultural assets and taking things in I realised something quite striking – I know almost nothing about Buddhism. I have read things about the Buddha and Zen but in terms of the everyday realities of Buddhism I have no clue. It seems mysterious and alien, but sometimes it seems shallow and commercial. I think I will write another post when I actually know something, for the moment I will hide my ignorance under the numerous photographs I took.

If anyone is interested in getting back from Geumsansa (something I wouldn’t recommend) you can take the 79 bus from the entrance to the car park, they leave sporadically but you’ll be back in Jeonju within 40 minutes.

For people who want to avoid Moak all together the 79 bus leaves from Jeonju station so it’s an easy trip if you come early from Seoul. If there are 3 or 4 people you could probably get the taxi, but that’s no fun is it?



  1. Ellie says:

    Wow!! Autumn has come already. It is beautiful. I have lived in Jeonju for 30 years but I have never been there before. I envy you~

    • miikegreen says:

      Well now you would be a tourist from Seoul so you have to go. I have been twice but this second time was special because so much was going on. I think you would like it there!

  2. Karin says:

    Those photographs are amazing, the colours are stunning. I have also now learned much more about Korean food and drink by googling your proposed picnic …

    • miikegreen says:

      I have about a thousand posts to write about food but my opinions and sensory experiences keep changing. I think the topic of food is too overwhelming to write about.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s