Well-worth the long hike getting there, Seokbulsa is always ranked near the top of “must see things” in Busan by Lonely Planet.
Don’t be misled by the name – Seokbulsa is not a temple made of stone, unceremoniously perched on the mountain ledge.
It is the mountain – embedded on the side of Geumjeongsan, cradled in the strong rock’s clutch. A massive Buddhist figure stands in front of a polished stone prayer platform. The three sides of the temple are mountain rock transposed into towering walls, 40 meters tall, adorned with intricate carvings of six Buddhist figures. Numerous religious designs are etched directly into the mountainside, staring down at you from tremendous heights. Two small caverns house modest shrines where prayers and offerings can be made. The cave walls are cool and damp, and the darkness is cut only by flickering candles and the sunlight pouring through the entrance.
To make the trip up to Seokbulsa a little less challenging, here are some tips for inexperienced hikers:
- Bring lots of water!
- Take the cable car up from the bottom of the mountain to save yourself about 45 minutes and conserve your energy for the more demanding terrain closer to the temple grounds.
- Ask for directions! Even if you think you may be on the right track, don’t hesitate to ask a local where the temple is. There aren’t many signs pointing the way, and if you’ve lived in South Korea for a while, you are probably aware of how reliable those things are, anyway.
- Keep in mind that this will be one of the coolest things you may see or do while in Busan, so ignore the pain in your legs, ignore the sweat dripping down your back and don’t think about your hike BACK to the beginning until after you’ve seen Seokbulsa with your own eyes.
- Start early! You may find other sights along the way that will distract you from your mission. Taking a breather sitting on large rocks in a beautiful streambed fed by a small cascade of water can be absolutely refreshing, though time consuming if you get caught up watching the local hikers doing their thing.
—Take the subway to Oncheonjang Station (#127 on Line No.1 – Orange) and grab a cab to Geumgang Park.
— Enter the park grounds and follow the signs to the cable car (you can buy your tickets at the window before boarding the car)
— After the cable car ride up the mountain, follow the signs to the South Gate of Geumjeongsanseong Fortress
— From the South Gate, walk away from the fortress down the path on the left (the one you didn’t take to get there). You’ll arrive in Namman Village, where there are restaurants and soccer/volleyball courts.
—Walk to the end of the village until you can’t walk straight anymore and turn right onto a narrow
dirt path. Follow this path until you reach another restaurant ahead of you and turn left on to a larger dirt path leading to a small wooded bridge traversing a small stream.
— You will end up on a major path, where you’ll likely see a number of other hikers. Follow this through the trees, down a large dirt staircase and down another set of stairs next to a stream. Continue down the stairs until you reach a large paved road. Turn right onto this road.
— The paved road will lead you all the way up to Seokbulsa. Be careful, it gets quite steep toward the end.
— On your return, you can go back the way you came or follow the paved road all the way down the mountain. The nearest subway stop, Mandeok Station on subway line #3, isn’t far from the bottom of the mountain after you hike down.