Gwaneumsa Temple

Words and shots by Mary Rager-Summers

It seems no matter how much research you do or how many travel books you buy and (maybe) read, some of the greatest sites found when traveling are simply stumbled upon. If you follow those brown “tourist attraction” signs instead of some guide book, you can find places like Gwaneumsa Temple.

Gwaneumsa Temple is located off Highway 1131 on the northeast side of Mount Halla. The original temple is believed to have been built during the Tamna Dynasty (476 BC – AD 1005) but was destroyed during Joseon Dynasty rule in the early 1700s along with many other Buddhist temples on Jeju. The structures you can see today were rebuilt in 1912. Gwaneumsa Temple was also an important structure during the April 3rd riots that occurred on Jeju in 1948.

Despite its destructive history, Gwaneumsa Temple today is one of the most awe-inspiringly beautiful and peaceful locations on the island. As soon as you reach the parking lot you see a giant Buddha welcoming you to this history-rich temple. After passing through the Bulimun Gate, a two-minute walk along a Buddha- and lantern-lined stone pathway leads you to the temple and seminary buildings. Here, take a break at the small reflection pond. After poking your head in the temple to catch a glimpse of serenity, you can walk around the temple grounds and admire the Sanshinak Pavilion where another large Buddha sits surrounded by an amphitheatre of his peers. If you’re up to it, you can even walk along the pathway up the hill to discover older temple buildings and enjoy natural scenery enveloping the complex.

The beauty and tranquility that Gwaneumsa Temple and the surrounding landscape offers are one-of-a-kind and well worth the exploration it may take to get there.

Getting There  Follow Highway 1131 to the northeast side of Mount Halla. Follow the tourist attraction signs for Gwaneumsa Temple.