February 2015. “Hi I’m River, so nice to meet you!” he said, clamping a hand down on my shoulder. It was early morning in Seoul and I was incredibly hungover after a beer-fuelled night of noraebang (Korean Karaoke) had led to full-on alcohol carnage at Club FF. I was a virtual zombie in the car as River sped off for the fifty-three kilometer journey from the South Korean capital. Located in the sleepy province of Yangpyeong, the walking trail up to the temple complex begins here in the forest valley of Yongmunsan Mountain.
February 2015. River was a friend of a friend who I’d gotten in touch with several months before my trip to Korea. “Any buddy of Anthony is a buddy of mine!” he said and was quick to suggest a day trip out to Yongmunsa Temple. Comprising of three large Buddhist structures, this is the compound’s gorgeous centerpiece hall located in the main courtyard with its army of gingko trees. One of these trees is said to be a thousand years old and the largest in Korea.
February 2015. All of Yongmunsa Temple’s buildings are peppered with beautiful sculpted details, from blossoming flowers and bald-headed baby Buddhas to glaring hawks and fearsome, sneering dragons. Even in my blurry-eyed, head-pounding state it was impossible not to be caught up in its beauty. “Pretty good huh?” laughed River.
February 2015. As luck would have it there was a service taking place within Yongmunsa Temple’s main hall, so I hauled myself up the uneven stone steps, deposited my shoes at the main door and went inside to observe. It was a magical experience, even if I felt a bit like an intruder. Backing myself into a discreet corner, I listened to the chanting of the monks and watched the locals as they prayed before an elaborate altar of golden Buddhas, overflowing fruit bowls and vases of fresh flowers.
February 2015. I’ll always be grateful to River for taking me to Yongmunsa Temple and showing me around. Heaven knows what he really thought of the horribly hungover Englishman who slept most of the car journey there and had to jump out on the way back to throw up by the side of the road. I took great inspiration from our brief conversations on work, love, marriage, intercultural exchanges and his amazing story of life as a cancer survivor. Yongmunsa Temple is open daily from 08:00-16:00. Admission is 2000 won (£1.30/€1.50/$1.90).
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