World ? Asia ? South Korea

South Korea: A Historic Path

Since Buddhism was first introduced on the peninsula over 1,600 years ago, hundreds of thousands of temples have been built. Although the rise of Neo-Confucianism during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) threatened to drive the religion out, Buddhism survived. There are now over 11,000 temples (many of them small) located throughout South Korea. Many of them are hidden retreats perched on the slopes of mountains, overlooking craggy cliffs, or simply sitting pretty next to running streams. This tour will allow you to get a good overview of some of the very best.

Day 1: Arrive in Seoul

Arrive at Incheon Airport and take the limousine bus into the city. Take the afternoon or evening to get acclimated to the city by enjoying a simple meal or a cup of tea at a traditional tea shop in Insadong.

Day 2: A Bit of Peace in the City

Enjoy a tour of the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung, and Biwon (Secret Garden). Have a lunch of traditional temple cuisine at Sanchon. Stroll around the Insadong area and visit a temple in the city, such as Jogyesa or Bongeunsa.

Day 3: Arrive at a Mountain Temple

Take a bus to Donghae and have lunch at one of the many restaurants there. Overnight at Samhwasa as part of the temple stay, which includes a tea ceremony, tour of the temple, traditional vegetarian fare, and other programs, such as Zen meditation or a refreshing walk in the predawn hours.

Day 4: Spend the Day in Nature

Take a bus into Seoraksan and explore the natural beauty of the area. Visit Sinheungsa, one of the oldest Zen meditation temples in the world, and Naksansa to see how a temple recovers after a fire. Overnight in Seoraksan, and enjoy a sauna or a soak at a public bath.

Day 5: The Historic Center

Catch a bus to Gyeongju and explore Bulguksa and the Seokguram Grotto, one of Asia's nicest Buddhist shrines. Overnight in Gyeongju.

Day 6: Explore Korea's Buddhist Heritage

If you want to explore some hidden Buddhist treasures nestled in mountain ranges and valleys, take a bus or taxi to Namsan. Be sure to pack a lunch and bring plenty to drink because you'll spend at least 4 to 5 hours hiking the trails. You'll be rewarded with over 100 temples or temple ruins, dozens of stone pagodas, and plenty of stone Buddha statues, all scattered amid the mountains. Take a bus or train to Busan and overnight there.

Day 7: Busan

Wake up early to catch the sunrise at Yonggungsa, with its rocky cliffs overlooking the sea. Then head over to ancient Beomeosa and enjoy its lovely surroundings, especially if the wisteria are in bloom. Enjoy a dinner of seafood in Haeundae or in Gwangalli Beach.

Day 8: Haeinsa

Catch a bus to Korea's most celebrated temple, Haeinsa in Gayasan to see the Tripitaka Koreana, Buddhist scripture carved in thousands of wooden blocks. Do a temple stay there if you wish, or overnight in Jirisan.

Day 9: One of South Korea's Holiest Mountains, Jirisan

Take in the early morning fog and low clouds encircling the mountains. Visit one of Jirisan's many temples, including Hwaeomsa and Songgwangsa, one of the three Buddhist "jewels" in South Korea. If you have a chance, stop by the Boseong Tea Plantation for some picturesque landscapes and some green tea to cleanse your mind and body.

Day 10: Seaside Views of Bori-am

Buses run infrequently here, so plan accordingly. Head to Namhae and hike up to Bori-am, one of South Korea's three major holy sites. Overnight in Namhae or in nearby Tongyeong.

Day 11: Transit Day

Take a bus back to Seoul and enjoy the afternoon exploring the markets before heading to the airport.

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