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.