My daughter is spending the year in Yonje-Gu area of Busan, South Korea. She is teaching English to Korean school children at a private school. I had the pleasure of heading over there for several weeks to help her settle in and get herself setup. This also meant a quick visit to Fukuoka Japan so that she could get her work visa.
It was a great time with her, but didn't leave me much time to go out and explore the country itself, so I just visited local sites and learned where things were to show her when she got back from teaching at her school. As I was able to stay with her in her apartment, I have no recommendations for places to stay. Expedia or Travelocity would be sites I'd check for accommodations.
For those who have never been to Busan, it is a modern Asian city, large 'forests' of 30 to 40 story apartment buildings in the valleys between mountains coming down to the sea. Busan is the largest port in Korea, so there is a lot of shipping and manufacturing that takes place there. It is Korea's second largest city, second only to Seoul in the north.
Getting Around Busan
Getting around Busan is made relatively easy by a fairly extensive subway system that will get you to most locations. We took the subway to Beomeosa (Orange line, stop #133) and to Haeundae Beach (Green line, stop #203).
The cost wasn't too bad, it was about 1200 won ( approximately $1.10) round trip for the two of us from Yeonsan station to Beomeosa station and back. The kiosk where you purchase your tickets has instructions in English, complete with voice prompts which made it fairly easy to use.
Beware though, the ticket kiosks only take 1000 won bills. I tried to put in a 10,000 won bill but the machine kept rejecting the bill. There was nothing (at least in English) which informed me of this little detail.
However, there are transit folks on site which know some English, so I was able to figure it out with a smattering of English and some hand gestures. There are bill changers, but you have to look for them, not all the ticket kiosks have bill changers nearby.
The trains themselves were very easy to use. All stops are announced in both Korean and English - both at the station as well as on the subway trains - and the signs for each stop are in both Korean and English. This made getting around pretty easy. And each stop has a number, which added to the ease. The signage at street level had both the color of the line, the stop name and the number in English as well as Korean.
Buses, on the other hand are a mixed bag. Some have stops both announced in Korean and English, as well as displays noting the upcoming stop in both Korean and English. And some buses just have displays Korean and no announcements. Your mileage will vary depending on how much you are willing to explore and get lost!
Also, as a side note, most if not all street name signs are blue, and in both Korean and English (see first picture above). So finding what street you are on is fairly easy if you have map to help you not get lost. It is easy, with all the side alleys which also have street names, to get lost. You need to have a map, which you can buy at the airport when you arrive.
Beomeosa Zen Buddhist Temple
Even though I was just there in Busan to visit my daughter, I able to get some photographs of the Beomeosa Zen Buddhist Temple in Busan, which is a huge Buddhist temple in the hills to the north of Busan. I made two visits there, the first after getting off the subway we (I was with my daughter) walked 4 kilometers up the mountain side in 90+ degree heat with 90+ percent humidity. Twice a bus passed us by, and by the time we made it to the actual temple complex I was completely soaked. And very tired, no doubt from the lack of hydration.
But we went in anyways and was there as the monks were finishing evening prayers. The temple itself is very colorful, the three gates as you move up the mountain side to get to the inner temple precincts are very brightly painted.
This was a stark difference from the Buddhist temples in Japan which were not brightly painted and were in more natural earthen colors of the exposed wood and stone. However, the Japanese temples had more carved wood features than did there Korean counterparts, which had plan wood faces brightly painted with scrolling flowers and other such bright decorations.
The first gate, called the one pillar gate because from the side it looks like there is only one pillar instead of four, is your first hint of the colorful beauty that is in store. The blues, greens, reds, pinks and teal were simply stunning and provided lots of visual interest.
The second gate had four guardians, two on each side, protectors of the temple precincts, and they shared the same bright and colorful scheme as the gates themselves.
Once you pass through the third gate, you are climbing up the stairs until you are under the prayer rooms used by the monks for prayers. The stairway continues up into the plaza that is the temple precinct. The large prayer room opens out onto the temple precinct and faces the main temple sanctuary. There are a lot of smaller temples or 'sanctuaries', not unlike the small chapels one finds in a large Roman Catholic cathedral.
And directly across the courtyard from the large prayer room is the primary temple to Buddha. It is a beautiful sanctuary with a golden Buddha of the present, as well as Buddha of the past and Buddha of the future and monks and others in prayer and mediation.
There were a number of little shrines along the primary temple precincts, and every now and then I was able to take some photographs of gates and gardens. I tried to be respectful and not take pictures of the various shrines, and only captured the one above using my 70-200mm lens from a distance so not to disrupt nor distract from the spiritual practices of the practitioners.
Remember, Beomeosa Temple is a place of worship, and regardless of your religious or non-relgious affiliation, you should be respectful of the place and those who come there to worship.
At Beomeosa, the majority of those who visit are Buddhist adherents, and as such, taking photographs needs to be discreet so as not to interrupt those who come for prayers.
I did the majority of my photographing between groups of visitors. I was very tuned to those who were visiting and worked hard not to be disruptive to them.
Beomeosa Temple is located at the top of a winding road that comes up the side of a mountain, and as such, the area is beautiful as it is in the mountains. Unfortunately, I was not able to take any scenic or landscape photographs as the weather was not very cooperative on either visit.
However, there is enough interest in the temple buildings themselves to make anyone happy. I spent a lot of memory space taken up by images of close-ups of the gates with all the bright and vibrant colors as well as photographs of various objects.
I was able to go around the gates and take photographs from various angles always hopeful to find an angle that would result in a pleasant photograph.
If the weather is cooperative, you may be able to take some photographs of the valley with the homes lit during sunset or sunrise, which would give one a nice photograph.
One can also take images of the valley from the temple gates, using the gates as frames. I tried a few of these, but again, the weather wasn't all that cooperative as there was a thick haze in the valley and poor light from the overcast skies.
I was able to take a few shots of people in worship, and the best locations to take these are from underneath the large prayer room before you ascend to the temple courtyard. This is where I took the photograph of the monk in the main sanctuary. Standing on either side of the 15 foot wide entrance stairway will keep you out of the way of most people entering and leaving the courtyard area.
I felt that once I was in the courtyard in front of the various shrines that my options for photography shrunk dramatically as I was observed by those in the courtyard. Your mileage may vary.
Again, it was more my comfort level and realizing that most of those present were there to pray and offer devotions and were not tourist.
Next post I will talk about my short excursion to Fukuoka, Japan.
How to get to Beomeosa Temple
Depending on where you start, you will have to get to a transfer station for the Orange line. Take the orange line and get off station #133, Beomeosa. Head towards exit #5 to get to street level. Once you are on street level, head north to the corner and take a left onto Cheongnyongjejeon-Ro and walk up the hill to next major intersection, at Geumgang-Ro 754Beon-gil. This intersection is a 'T' by the way, so Geumgang-Ro 754Beon-gil feeds into Cheongnyongjejeon-Ro. Across the street to your left you will see a covered bus stop for the #70 bus. This is the ONLY bus that goes to Beomeosa Temple. At the temple you will return on the #70 bus as well, and it will take you directly to the covered bus stop where you were picked up.