Happy Buddah’s Birthday! This is my favorite Korean holiday – probably because the weather starts fully recovering from a long winter and it falls around Children’s Day, which was always extra fun when you work at a school (more vacation!). It is also one of the most colorful Korean holidays as the lanterns start appearing along the streets and liven up the landscape with their bright, cheerful neon colors.
In honor of this year’s Buddah’s Birthday, I’m digging through the archives, first with a trip to Hwagyesa Temple. This temple was tucked in the foothills of Mt. Samgaksan in northwest Seoul in my old hood of Suyu. It took me probably almost a year of living there to realize if you walked straight towards the mountain, after 15 minutes through the neighborhoods, a beautiful sanctuary surrounded by nature emerged to offer refuge from the crazy city below. It eventually became my happy place.
The temple doesn’t get as much love as others in Seoul, but the lack of crowds is the main draw. Hwagyesa was built in 1522 AD during the Joseon Dynasty, but destroyed in a fire in 1618. What stands today was rebuilt in 1866. It’s now popular place with expats and mostly non-Asian foreigners since it has the International Zen Center nearby, which offers classes and temples stays in English to learn about Korean Buddhism. On Sundays you can also eat a lovely vegetarian lunch with the monks!
This last one is not of Hwagyesa, but I love walking through the old neighborhoods of Suyu to get there.
For more info and directions to Hwagyesa, click here.