A part of Geumjeongsan and Seokbulsa! 🗿

hiking, Travel

There are numerous routes to take however we started our journey at exit 1 of Oncheonjang Station so I will be giving directions to follow should you ever wish to complete this the same way. Here goes…

A short walk from Oncheonjang, guided by Kakao Maps, leads you to Geumgang Park. Take the path furthest to the right, follow it around until you reach the cable car base (look for the ropeway signs). Pass the office and turn slightly left on to a pathway with a small incline that stretches out in between the parkland.

On and on along this path you go until you reach the trail; you know you have reached the trail when you get to a clearing on your right surrounded by the bushes of the park with a few steps across from you. Up you go, walk a little further along the level ground and then the real hike starts, for 80% of the hike up to the cable car platform are super steep stairs. Climb up, up, up. Even when your thighs are screaming out for you to stop, keep on going! You know you’re halfway up once you reach a small temple stowed away between a few rocks.

Continue on up the stairs… once you’re about 3/4’s of the way to the top you will see an extremely large rock which makes for an excellent viewpoint. I’ve climbed this peak twice now and both times, my mates and I have perched on this slab, chugging water, eating snacks and enjoying the view that stretches in front of our eyes, from the reaches of Nopo all the way to Dongnae, encompassing landmarks such as the Asiad baseball stadium and Busan Children’s Park.

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Atop the large rock

Onwards and upwards you go; the stairs start to level out once you reach a whole bunch of oversized rocks through which you climb, come out the other side and take an immediate left. From there you will find yourself on a muddy surface, still there are some steps but they aren’t as steep as the ones further down the mountain. Follow them through and you’ll find yourself at the cable car platform; a relatively flat area where there are shops, restaurants and restrooms.

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The view of the city from the cable car platform

The path to Seokbulsa also lies here; look for the signpost pointing the way to the South Gate (남 문) for these will be your best guide for quite some time! The path to Seokbulsa can become rather confusing, but you will know once you reach the South Gate, for it is a large decorative archway with a set of double wooden doors. The trail towards the South Gate is on a decline; a muddy route where the gate itself stands at the bottom but then has a sharp turn downwards to the left.

Start to look for different signs at this point; either Seokbulsa (석불사) or Seokbul Temple. Bear in mind that the signs always lead you in the right direction however they tend to give you varying estimations of the distance left to travel. We set off from the South Gate with information from a signpost that the temple lay 3.1 kilometres away; the next pointer told us we were 3.3. Drove us all a little mad but made us laugh nonetheless!

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The confusing signposts: the top sign is Seokbulsa in Hangul and the third is the same destination – you can see the difference in distance remaining!

The majority of the route to the temple is super easy; a mixture of muddy and rocky paths lead you mainly downhill through Nammun village where again there are numerous restaurants and a restroom. Given the time of year we went, in the midst of winter, the trees were extremely bare and looked parched of life, however, it still made for pretty surroundings and I can only imagine how lush the trek would be in spring and summer time.

The last stretch of the journey to Seokbulsa is rather difficult; a winding, steep incline that the signpost will say is 500 metres but feels like a million. I recently learned that many Korean Buddhist temples employ the use of a winding path that crosses a stream leading up to the main gate of the compound. I’m not sure as to the reasoning behind this despite my research however I did not notice a stream climbing up to Seokbulsa but I may have missed it given the burn of my quads occupying all my focus.

The compound itself is extremely unique and superbly pretty; it lies nestled atop a ridge on the mountainside with nature rolling out beneath it. Another characteristic of Korean temples, indeed older ones, is to be situated atop a mountain; the seclusion and therefore impeccable quietness only adds to the peaceful, serene quality Buddhist worship evokes. However, Seokbulsa was only founded in 1930; the particular location was chosen by the founding monk due to the sandstone surfaces that were made of use for purposes I will explain below.

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The majority of Seokbulsa’s compound

Within the compound are numerous buildings and structures showcasing traditional Korean architectural style and displaying a multi-coloured paint job said to ward off bad spirits thus protecting the place of worship. A stone pagoda stands outside the main hall; this is extremely important for it represents the Buddha and the teachings but also houses a symbol of significance, a relic of the Buddha, an important sutra or other religious artefacts.

For me, the most impressive aspect of Seokbulsa, the reason why the sandstone surfaces are so important and pretty much the reason that implored me to venture there in the first place, are the statues carved there. Towards the end of the compound, you will find stairs on the left that lead you up to a platform surrounded by engraved rock. It comes as no surprise to me now to learn Seokbulsa literally translates to “Stone Buddha Temple”; the walls are covered in sculptures, handcrafted by the monk who founded the temple and some of the carvings stretch high across the rock face, standing at about 10 metres tall. You can’t help but feel like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft standing there observing such a magnificent sight!

Indeed, I now consider Seokbulsa to be my favourite temple out of all those I have visited in Korea. “Stone Buddha Temple” is a real hidden gem; so tranquil, so undisturbed, so noiseless, calling Busan home yet seemingly existing so far from the hustle and bustle of the city and crowds of people milling about below. Furthermore, unlike Haedong Yonggungsa, a seaside temple that is a short bus ride away from Haeundae station, Seokbulsa is not teeming with both local and foreign tourists.

After marvelling at the wonders of Seokbulsa, you can make your way down using the same winding pathway and there on out follow the signs for Mandeok (만덕). The descent itself, as always, is shorter than the ascent and we found ourselves at Mandeok station almost exactly five hours after we began our adventure. Sure, that sounds like a hell of a long time but it was worth every second!

Cherry blossoms in South Korea!

Film, Travel

Pretty pink petals, dark tree bark, a festival to celebrate their arrival… cherry blossoms are a big deal in Asia. Here in Korea, they symbolise purity and they are made all the more special due to their short time in full bloom, forcing humans to stop their busy lives and just appreciate nature at its finest. But they haven’t always been viewed so sweetly; they are also integral to a desperately sad part of Korean history, the Japanese occupation which spanned thirty or so years before the surrender of Japan at the end of WWII. Korea, Japan and more recently, China, all stake a claim to the origin of the cherry blossom tree however this post will not delve in to that debate. It will primarily focus on my experiences with the blossoms in Korea; something I thoroughly looked forward to and enjoyed.

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Blossoms at my girls school!

The Jinhae Gunghanje festival (진해궁한제) is an annual event held in the small district of Jinhae, located in Changwon city, at the beginning of April. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to this festival every year with the desire to view the abundant cherry blossoms, snap an Insta worthy photo and to revel in the official start of spring. This year, the festival was held from 1st April – 10th April so I headed to Jinhae to become a cherry blossom viewer on the first day of the festival. Living in Busan, Changwon lies just to the west and therefore getting to Jinhae was super easy; a 1 hour coach trip, costing only 5,100\ from Sasang station. I caught an early coach with friends on the 1st April with my camera at the ready… Our first Jinhae stop: Yeojwacheon Romance Bridge (여좌천 로망스 다리).
I’m not 100% sure which bridge is the actual Yeojwacheon Romance Bridge as there are numerous bridges in a row that cross over the Yeojwacheon stream however I am certain this place is absolutely stunning! The cherry blossom trees line either side of the stream, their branches hanging low and swaying in a gentle breeze over a shallow body of water. I walked the length of the stream before venturing down to stroll along the cobbled bank. Despite the mass of people surrounding me, I felt at peace amongst the blossoms and the water; I could have stayed there for hours just appreciating the scenery around me.

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Loveleh Yeojwacheon!

Our next stop in Jinhae was Gyeonghwa (경화역 봊쏯길); a now closed railway station labelled Cherry Blossom Road due to the abundance of trees planted there. The Korean government have left an old Korail train in situ on the tracks to make photos appear more authentic as back when the station was still in operation, carriages used to whoosh past the trees, enabling petals to fall elegantly and allowing visitors to snap beautiful photographs. The old train itself reminded me of the one used by Seok-woo, his daughter and Seong-Kyeong at the end of Train to Busan when they make one last, desperate attempt to flee an onslaught of zombies and I was tempted to pose just like our hero against the rails before he transforms in to the undead however I ditched the idea due to the crowds of people at Gyeonghwa. The queue to take a photo by the train consisted of roughly 50 people alone! People were milling here, there and everywhere over the tracks and around the food stalls that had been erected especially for the festival! Gyeonghwa was pretty but too busy for me.

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Just a handful of the people queuing to take a picture in front of the Korail carriage!

The following week at work, I showed my co-workers some of the snaps I had taken in Jinhae and the first question the majority of them asked me was: “was it very busy?”, to which I answered: “yes!” to a chorus of: “ahhh!”. One co-worker was then kind enough to suggest a more unique, less touristy cherry blossom viewing experience; a hike up Hwanglyeongsan (황령사) to witness awesome views before a descent down Busan’s very own Cherry Blossom Walkway. Ever since being in Korea, I had been keen to start exploring the numerous mountains dotted around the city so I jumped at the chance to get my first hike under my belt and made arrangements with a friend to accomplish Hwanglyeongsan the following Saturday.
The climb itself is pretty easy; the toughest part is the steep stretch on the residential streets before reaching the actual trails. All in all it took roughly two hours to reach the summit and that is including one brief toilet break and numerous extended photo op stops. The view at the top is quite simply exquisite; an expansive sight stretching from east to west, covering numerous Busan neighbourhoods, the sea in the distance, whilst also including various sky scrapers and bridges such as the Diamond Bridge/Gwangandaegyo (관간대교). My friend and I spent some time trying to decipher the different areas to no avail before just sitting and appreciating what lay before our eyes.

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The epic view from the top of Hwanglyeongsan!

To reach the Cherry Blossom Walkway, we had to descend Hwanglyeongsan in the opposite direction of our ascent; it was a 15 minute amble through some shrubbery and across some boulders with another spectacular view. The walkway itself is just an ordinary road that serves as a path for people and vehicles alike however during the first two weeks of April, much like Yeojwacheon stream, the road plays host to a bounty of cherry blossom trees lined up on either side, pink petals and almost black branches framing the concrete beautifully. Yet what made this unique compared to Yeojwacheon was the absence of other people. Sure, a few cars passed by, stopping now and then to snap a photo or two but there were no crowds, no buzz, no craziness; it was just me, my friend and Mother Nature doing her thing. We stayed on the walkway for well over an hour, venturing back and forth before finally watching the sun set through the branches whilst we made our way down the winding path.

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Sunset n blossoms!

Have you had the opportunity to view cherry blossoms in Asia? Share your experience down below in the comments! 🙂