A few weeks ago, I decided to visit Seonunsa Temple for another temple stay. I wanted to try another Buddhist temple stay, and I was intrigued by Seonunsa Temple in particular. The temple is deep within Seonunsan Provincial Park, in the Jeolla-Do province, which is located in the deep southern part of South Korea. In particular, the temple is renowned for its 500-year old red camellia trees that bloom in early spring. Being a sucker for beautiful nature, and beautiful flowers in particular, I had to visit Seonunsa at some point before I left Korea.
Like all other major Buddhist temples in Korea, Seonunsa Temple offers their own Temple Stay Program. They offer a weekend experience program the second and fourth weekends of the month, so I went the second weekend in April, figuring that it would be maximum bloom season for the camellias.
I took the train and then a bus to Seonunsa Temple and arrived on site around lunch time. I took the available hours before check-in to do some hiking in the area. There are numerous trails in the park, and I selected one that wasn’t very long, but ended up at a nice viewpoint. Most of the trail was surprisingly easy, with the exception of a very short, very steep incline up some stairs to reach the top. The weather wasn’t that great, so it was a bit hazy, but at least it wasn’t raining.
After my hike, I toured around Seonunsa Temple grounds on my own. I saw the camellias, but I think I missed peak blooming season. Like every other flower this spring, it bloomed early. But there were still enough beautiful, red camellia flowers in huge trees to get a hint of what it likely looked like at peak bloom (plus I’ve seen pictures, which is why I wanted to visit Seonunsa Temple in the first place).
The temple stay program for Seonunsa Temple is very similar to the program at Haeinsa Temple. I checked in mid Saturday afternoon and was given my own room for the night (only because there weren’t any other female single travelers). I thought I would be about the only one on site, since Seonunsa Temple is not as popular as Haeinsa Temple, but there was a group of high school students from the USA participating in the same program as I was.
After orientation and dinner, we had the evening drum ceremony and the evening service in the temple. After that, we retired to a ceremonial hall for the 108 bows. I don’t know if I was just fitter than I was at the Haeinsa Temple, or if it was just mentally easier, because there was a countdown with the presentation, but it was much easier this time around. After the 108 bows, we all made a Buddhist prayer necklace as a souvenir.
The morning dawned very early at 0400 with the morning ceremony and breakfast. Originally, the morning program included a hike to the Dosolam Hermitage, but since it was raining pretty heavily, I decided to cut my trip short and head back to Seoul early. It is amazing how long your day can be when it starts at 0400, but I made it back to Seoul in time for an early afternoon showing of Captain America: Winter Soldier (my backup plan). So everything worked out for the best. If I had known the weather would be crap on Sunday, I would have done the Dosolam Hermitage hike, but the one I did was enjoyable enough, so it wasn’t a total loss.
Getting to Seonunsa Temple is fairly easy. I chose to take a KTX train from Yongsan Station in Seoul to Jeong-eup Station. From there, I walked a few blocks to the Jeong-eup Bus Station to catch the bus to Seonunsa. There is a direct bus from Jeong-eup to Seonunsa about four times a day, and takes 50 minutes. However, the bus only comes every two hours, so depending on when you arrive, it might actually be quicker to take a bus to Gochang and transfer to another bus to Seonunsa. It is the same coming back, because there were earlier buses connecting through Gochang that got me back to Jeong-eup quicker than waiting for a direct bus from Seonunsa to Jeong-eup.
I’m also thinking about staying at this Temple while in Korea this April. Do you remember how long it took you to get to this temple? Was it fairly easy to figure out how to get their using public transit? I just want to make sure this is a realistic trip before I sign up for anything.
Sorry for not writing back sooner. There are a variety of ways to get to Seonunsa Temple. I preferred taking the KTX train to Jeong-eup and then a bus from the train station. Realistically speaking, I would budget at least three to four hours one way, depending on the times of the train and buses. You can take a bus directly from Seoul to Jeong-eup, but it will be longer than taking the KTX train to Jeong-eup first.
Our camellias bloom in February! (western Washington state)