My First Temple – Bulguksa Temple

Written by on April 18, 2014 in Travel

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Korea’s most famed temple: Bulguksa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!! The very first temple I ever visited in Korea way back in the fall of 2003 was Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. Korea today is very different than Korea from even a year ago, so you can imagine just how much change has gone on over the course of ten years. Not much was known about Korea. This was before Facebook, Twitter, and the regular supply of most western foods. Back then there were only a couple English channels on TV, and Costco only existed in North America. So suffice is to say, I didn’t know all that much about Korean temples, or even about the famed Bulguksa Temple at that point in time. So when my roommate asked me if I wanted to go to Gyeongju on Saturday and see the beautiful Bulguksa Temple, I first said what’s that? Then when I found out it was perhaps Korea’s most famous temple, I jumped at the opportunity. Before I had a car, I would take buses to better known temples throughout the Korean peninsula. Now that I have a car, I can go to lesser known temples; but back then, I had to rely on the Korean transportation system, which is one of the best in the world, to get me to these beautiful Buddhist temples throughout Korea. So making our way to the Nopo-dong Bus Terminal in northern Busan from our centrally located apartment, the three of us headed out. Somehow, our strange co-worker had invited himself to go to Gyeongju with us. It wasn’t much of a problem, because we would have Bulguksa Temple to distract us. The hour-long bus ride from Busan to Gyeongju went rather smoothly for three newly landed teachers. In a bit of confusion, we were able to find the bus that ran its way up to the temple from the bus terminal. It was the first time I really got a good look at Korea outside of Busan.

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Dabotap Pagoda: Just one of the sites we were looking forward to at Bulguksa Temple.

When we finally arrived at the large temple parking lot, we made our way up to the temple with a lot of anticipation, or so I thought. I knew I was really excited, as the ticket booth finally came into view; so I thought my companions were, as well. And I was right, at least in part. My friend, who I am still friends with to this day, was the first to pay the entrance fee. He was followed a close second by me. Then the two of us just stared at the third member of our party. We asked, “Aren’t you coming with us to see the temple?” “No, the admission fee is too much.” The two of us just looked at each other and then at him. This guy had spent over two hours traveling. He had paid who knows how much in bus fare; and suddenly, the 3,000 won entrance fee (at least in 2003) was too much? “But you came all this way. Don’t you want to see it?” I asked. “Nah…I’ll just wait for you guys out here.” And he just wandered off towards the parking lot without looking back. Even looking back on it ten years later, I still can’t believe someone would travel that distance and pay all that money in bus fare just to wander around the Bulguksa Temple parking lot. What didn’t come as a surprise is that the same guy was fired six months later from our hagwon for being a bit strange.

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What was missed at Bulguksa Temple.

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About the Author

Dale Quarrington

Dale Quarrington has lived in the Busan and Gyeongsangnam-do Province area ever since arriving in Korea in 2003. He’s visited all of the Korean provinces, exploring both the known and unknown temples and hermitages around the Korean peninsula. While he’s not traveling, he enjoys reading books and learning about Korean history.