Snippets From My Templestay Experience in Seoul

10.3.20

When I started planning for my itinerary, I realized that Seolal will fall during my 20-day travel duration in Korea.



But first...
What Is Seolal?

I was honestly clueless about this till I had to encounter it for my recent Korea trip.

Seolal is Korea's New Year, a celebration of the first day of the Korean calendar. Unlike our New Year here in the Philippines, Korean celebration lasts for THREE days! Koreans head home to their families thus heavy traffic is expected, and going out of town for us tourists is discouraged. Also, most businesses are closed during the duration of the Seolal.

Dates also change every year, and for 2020 it was January 25 (or my 4th day in the city). I decided to look for either a tour, an activity, or anything that will keep me within Seoul but still have something to do even with closure of establishments. Sayang din the 3-4 days if I have no plans. I realized that it's about time that I book for a templestay.



What Is A Temple Stay? 

A templestay is a cultural experience offered in South Korea for guests to understand more of Korean Buddhism. Activities often consists of meditations, tea time, conversations with monks and other guests, chanting, crafting, and Buddhist meals (vegetarian).

Why A Temple Stay?

Aside from having something to do during Seolal, I've always wanted to experience a templestay. I find it unique and out of the box, but something that I can easily avail through my travel booking apps.

Some will say that going on a templestay is also a nice break from the city, since you'll be staying in a quiet area with slow-paced activities lined up for everyone minus the pressures. And lastly, I also look-forward to learning more about Korea's spirituality.



Where and When?

Most Temple Stays are open everyday! There are different temples offering this program that you can check on travel booking sites like Trazy.com  I picked a temple that is still within Seoul for the convenience, and is located on a mountain for a nice view!

You can book a half-day templestay, an overnight (what I did), and you can also opt for just a "rest" type of templestay where you don't have to participate in any of the group activities.

My Temple Stay Experience

There are more options on this site, but I decided to book for a templestay that is available on Trazy.com for the convenience. They also have reviews so I can assess if I should go for it or not.

I chose Geumsunsa Temple, a 600 years old temple located in Mt. Bukhansan.

It's also great that I was able to book for a weekend schedule because it has more activities.



DAY 1

2:30pm - Arrival and Registration

Geumsunsa Temple is a train and bus ride away from my guesthouse. You can go down Gyeongbokgung Station, and take a bus, then hike, but since I was running late and can't seem to figure out the right bus, I decided to take a taxi. Which turned out to be a good idea. The cab went uphill until kung saan pwede ang vehicle, which saved me from a lot of uphill walks.

I also thanked the heavens that I decided to just bring my small backpack instead of carrying a luggage with me for an overnight. Although I skipped a lot of hills heading for the temple, it was still a long way up and I cannot imagine carrying a luggage with me!


The trail to the temple was easy to navigate coz there are signages everywhere. You'll also encounter people on their way up or down, so it's also less intimidating.



Finally found the temple! I like the vibe of it right away, so beautiful and quiet. Plus points that THREE dogs welcomed me as I headed in!




2:45pm - Check-in and Rest

I was one of the early birds, and was surprised that the staff told me I will get a solo room in this white building (2nd door from the stairs). I asked if they aren't full for the day, turns out they are fully booked so the big group will be the one to stay in the common room.

We were given an hour to just settle and rest in our rooms, as the guests arrived one by one.





This is my assigned room! I like that it is super spacious and clean. We have futons for beddings, a closet where we can hang our coats, and the door leads to the toilet and bath.



They also provided us with a uniform which consists of a gray vest and matching garterized pants (they fit me well, whew!). They also provided a clean pillowcase, but take note that there are no towels provided! Buti nalang I have a clean scarf which I used muna to dry off after bathing.

Bottles of shampoo, body wash, and toothpaste are available in the restroom.


Decided to leave my charger, thinking I'll be staying in a big room with roommates. But with this solo room, there are electrical outlets which I could have used. But the two 10,000 mAh power banks that I brought with me were enough nadin naman for the overnight.


Wearing my uniform! Take note: wear decent clothes at the temple. Short skirts and sleeveless are not allowed even during summer.


My favorite part from this stay is the view I get every time I open the sliding door of my room. The temple compound is so charming and peaceful.


3:30 - Orientation, Temple Manners (House Rules), and Temple Tour

Finally, the group gathered to meet at the center of the compound, in front of the staff's office where we registered earlier. My group consists of Dutch high school students and their 2 teachers, plus ME! In short, I was the odd one in the group, but it's fine.

Aside from walking through different parts of the temple, we also learned the basic teachings of Buddhism.

Take Note: Prepare for lots of hikes! Wear comfortable shoes, although they will also lend you a standard pair of temple shoes.








4:30pm - Free Time

You can rest in your room, hike back to the places we toured in earlier, or check out the temple book cafe, etc. I decided to just rest in my room after all the walks, before heading just outside to chill with the cute temple dogs!



5pm - Early Dinner

Just one of my templestay highlights: The food! Everything's vegan, and served buffet style. Went back several times to refill my plate! Super sarap, and they appreciate it when we went back for more!

Make sure to wash everything that you used after eating.



6-7:30pm - Evening Yebul, 108 Prostrations, Meditation

In the evening, after dinner, we experienced bell tolling, bowing 108 times while reading chants on positive life outlook, etc. Everything is fast-paced. Hindi ko namalayan how tired I was till we went back to our rooms.

A takeaway for me from this experience is that you don't have to be the best or you don't have to think too much about things, and just go with the flow. Overthinking is one of the main reasons why people don't get things done.



8pm - Crafts (Buddhist Prayer Beads)

After a bit of rest, we gathered again in the common room to make a prayer beads bracelet. It was an easy activity, but also a nice way to interact with the group, and create something that I can take home from the temple (perfect souvenir).



10pm - Lights Off / Sleep

After the crafting, we can do whatever we want as long as lights in the whole temple compound will be closed by 10pm. I decided to just hangout in my room, get water in the common room, and then clean-up before bed. Call time the next day is at 5am so I opted to sleep early.


DAY 2

4am - Wakeup / Wash up

Ang aga ng alarm ko from the rest! Was peeping from my glass door to see if anyone's coming out, by 4:30am I saw the head monk walking around the compound with a small gong.

5am - Morning Yebul (Buddhist Chanting Ceremony)

We did the same 108 bowing, and by the end of the ceremony, we bowed in front of the monks of the temple to greet them a Happy New Year!

6:30am - Breakfast

I was excited to eat coz I know everything they will serve is vegetarian! Might even book for a different templestay on my next trips just for the food, haha!



7:30am - Meditation in the Forest (Hike!)

I was excited for this activity coz although I hiking is my weakness, I have NEVER not enjoyed the view at the end of each trail I've been to. But unlike here in the Philippines na may guide sa harapan and sa tail of the hikers, our guide for here was the monk, and everyone else are the guests.

I changed my temple shoes into my sneakers, tried my best to follow the lead of the Korean guests who are so used to hikes, and the group of tall Dutch high schoolers, but in the end, everyone went by me SO FAST that mid-trail I found myself left alone in the middle of the mountain! Nakakaloka!

Catching my breath, I decided to just turn around and go back in the hopes of figuring out my way to the temple. Medyo disappointed ako sa sarili ko tbh, but when I was in my room na uli sobrang nafeel ko yung hingal ko so maybe it is best for me to just chiiiiill.



9am - Tea Time with Monk

Also not required, but I am glad that I signed up for this. Was again with the group of students who asked a lot of good questions about the monk life.

I wasn't able to prepare my questions, sadly, my introversion got the best of me so I just listened the whole time. I realized that these things only happen once in a lifetime so if I can go back here again I'll make sure to be more assertive!



But still, I was able to enjoy the tea and learned a little more about Korean monks by being a passive audience.



Head monk gave us this coloring book after the tea time. :)



10am - Free Time

An hour left before checkout as I saw more people coming in the temple for the Seolal, I decided to take out my camera and document a bit of the temple compound.

Then, I went back to my room to pack my things, remove my beddings, fold my uniform, and surrendered them in front of the staff office. 


11am - Early Checkout

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Anagon