South Korea: Bongeunsa, a Korean Temple- Gangnam Style.

What?
A traditional Buddhist temple in the heart of Seoul's flashy Gangnam district.

Why visit?
It may be a piece of cake to get a nose job or buy a Prada bag in Seoul, but finding some traditional Korean culture is not always easy.

Seoul's Royal Palaces attract a steady stream of selfie-stick wielding tourist throngs, but Bongeunsa Temple is a quiet nirvana smack in the middle of the capital's flashy district. Oppa Gangnam Style!

Where?
In Gangnam-Gu, opposite the COEX Mall. Map.


EXCUSE THE PUN, but Seoul can be rather soulless. 

Undoubtedly it's a successful attempt at 21st century urban living, but Paris (or Rome, or Amsterdam) it ain't. There are a few places where you can see traditional Korean architecture, but they tend to be chockablock with domestic and foreign tourists (we're talking about you, Bukchon Hanuk Village!)

Bongeunsa is different. On a recent visit Minor Sights was relieved not having to dodge any selfie-sticks, finding instead a peaceful haven in the midst of ├╝ber-trendy Gangnam.
Here we are, smack-bang in the middle of Gangnam. 
The 20th century has not been kind to Seoul. The city was practically flattened during the Korean War, so it's not surprising that little traditional architecture (which was largely made of wood, so it burned really well) remains.

Bongeunsa saw its share of misfortune as well, and much of what you see today was reborn in the late 20th century.

But Bongeunda's benefactors didn't set out to recreate some old buildings- being good Buddhists, they aimed for the full rebirth of its spirit as well.
A community of monks is trying its best to keep 1200 years of temple traditions alive. And if you want to dip your toes in the monastic water, you can opt for a two day temple stay- sleep with the monks (in a strictly celibate way of course) and share some bowls of Korean veggie food with them. The temple stay includes a 4.30 AM chanting session- hey, nobody said monastic life was easy! 

Of course, if a full 48 hrs is too much time out of your super-busy schedule, you can opt for the super-fast two hour temple immersion sessions, before you rush on tend to more worldly matters, like finding the next great Korean barbecue. 

Even without a formal visit, the temple is a delight to wander around. Several buildings host shrines and you can go in an meditate, or just gaze at your socks (shoes stay outside).  
A few old boards with traditional calligraphy miraculously survived the various fires, and there are peaceful gardens and an immense 23m tall Maitreya (the future Buddha) statue. 


Small bell...
Big bell!


















And if you're staying in the nearby Intercontinental, you may have the pleasure of being woken up by the early morning bell-banging sessions. 


Getting there: 
Couldn't be easier. The Metro stops at nearby Samseong Station on subway line number 2 (exit number 6).

Useful links:
Interested in a Temple Stay? Here's the info you need on the Temple's website


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