3 South Korean Temples to Visit on a Korea and Japan Cruise

Beomeosa Temple, near Busan, South Korea, is over 1,300 years old and houses important cultural relics of Korean history.
Beomeosa Temple, near Busan, South Korea, is over 1,300 years old and houses important cultural relics of Korean history.

Often situated in remote locations across South Korea, Buddhist temples represent a rich cultural heritage and significant portion of Korean history. Enjoy the natural beauty surrounding these temples, quietly reflect in their ancient pagodas, and view the rare relics within on your next Korea and Japan cruise.

Beomeosa Temple

Located in the shadow of Geumjeong Mountain (Geumjeongsan) near the major city of Busan, South Korea, Beomeosa Temple has stood for more than 1,300 years as a center for Korean Buddhism. Beomeosa, meaning "fish from heaven," derives its name from the golden fish that, according to legend, live and play in a golden well on top of Geumjeongsan. The temple has been rebuilt twice: once in 1592, after burning down during a Japanese invasion, and again in 1602 after an accidental fire. A renovation took place in 1713, and the temple's structures have remained intact since. Several of these structures have been designated as national treasures, including the main temple hall, Daeungjeon, and the three-story stone pagoda. The monks of Beomeosa have their own claim to fame as well, having defeated Japanese invaders during two separate invasions — one in the late 16th century and another in the early 1900s. The temple is much smaller now then in the past, once having housed more than 1,000 monks, but it is still one of the most well-known temples in all of South Korea.

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Haedong Yonggungsa offers visitors a sublime view of the sea. One of the most beautiful temples in Busan, South Korea, it was originally built in 1376 in honor of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. Given the bodhisattva's association with healing (and, similarly, the relationship between water, healing, and purification), the temple's seaside location makes spiritual, as well as aesthetic, sense. There are 108 steps, representing the 108 torments of the world, that stand between visitors and the temple — making arrival at this serene sanctuary the perfect reward to a physical challenge. Once you're there, make your way to the underground grotto where you can view the sanctuary of Avalokitesvara, or take a moment to enjoy the three-story pagoda flanked by four lions that represent happiness, joy, anger, and sadness.

Tongdosa Temple

The largest Korean temple, Tongdosa, is one of the three Jewel Temples of Korea and represents Buddha. There are no statues on the outside of Tongdosa's building structures; instead, relics are contained within the many pagodas on the temple grounds. Built in 646 CE during the reign of Queen Sun-Deok, the temple encompasses 35 buildings and pagodas as well as 14 small temples. Glowing for more than 1,300 years, its beopdeung (temple candle) has never gone out. Take time to stop by several of the pagodas, some of which house exquisite murals, and marvel at the relics of Buddha.

The temples in South Korea can offer you a sense of inner peace that you won't find anywhere else in the world. Take time to step back into South Korean history, rejuvenate, and come back new.