Jeolla Discovery: Buddha’s Birthday at Geumsansa

After Dark at Geumsansa

Words and shots by Anjee DiSanto


When the Buddha’s birthday holiday rolls around each year, the majority of interested people experience it through large festivals or daytime treks to temples. Many temples, however, have their own colorful, culture-rich ceremonies on the precise night of Buddha’s birthday. Geumsansa, just outside of Gimje on the back slope of Mt. Moak, is an excellent choice to witness this.

Geumsansa, built in 599, is one of the best temples in North Jeolla province to view temple artifacts and architecture or to gain hands-on experiences through temple stay weekends. For the celebration of Buddha’s birth, the walking road leading up the slope from the park entrance is adorned with brightly colored paper and cloth lanterns. Further on, as you enter the temple ground itself, an expansive central area packed full with a grid of low-hanging paper lanterns greets you. At dusk and further into the evening, when the lanterns begin to glow, it becomes a striking sight. Climbing to the top level of the temple complex gives a particularly stunning view overtop the blanket of lanterns.

As is the case in most temples, the lanterns here carry tied-on messages of hope and thanks written by previous visitors. For a small fee, you can also write a message and ascend a ladder to assemble your contribution. Amidst the lanterns, the prayers of monks in the main hall are also a highlight, as are the crowds of worshippers and children toting candles.

Geumsansa is typically accessible using bus 79 from Jeonju’s downtown or via Gimje. Round-trip taxis from Jeonju can be chartered affordably for small groups since the events take place at night. If going for a lengthy visit, it’s a good idea to bring snacks; while the road leading up to the park entrance has numerous tasty food options, the temple itself is up a long slope in the forest, with not much around.