To be clear, doing Haeinsa justice requires an all-day visit. Even when starting nearby the appropriate bus terminal in Daegu, Haeinsa demands a 1 1/2 hour bus ride (from Daegu) that makes several stops before you eventually pass through its front gate. Even then, arrival requires a ticket (3,000 won, paid to a ticketing person that boarded our bus and exchanged money for tickets) and for the bus to come to a complete stop. The parking lot, while sufficiently sized, is also deceptive – one would easily assume that Haeinsa was uphill from where the walking began. If you wish to hike the Gayasan National Park, the uphill train awaits; Haeinsa, however, rests over a kilometer from the bus, starting with a downhill journey.
Not pictured ahead are the commercial establishments that crowd around the entrances – everything from hotels to restaurants to street vendors selling steamed corn can be found along the path you’re almost certain to take. I still find it somewhat ironic that the path to a Buddhist temple, if not the Buddhist lifestyle, is surrounded by the trappings of the world we may be aiming to leave behind.
The rewards for the hours of traveling (and eventually the hours of travel home) were two-fold – the fall colors being the first and most obvious, along with the comparatively normal scenes throughout the temple. Go anytime of the year for the temple, but the fall colors added a wondrous spectrum from red to green, with a few purples occasionally thrown in for good measure.
As mentioned, the temple is over a kilometer from the bus terminal, but you’ll pass the Haeinsa museum (해인사 성보 박물관) in a fraction of that. Head in for plenty of exhibits from and about the temple, or just a place to warm up briefly.
A painting of the assembly at Mt. Grdhrakuta, or Vulture Peak, created in 1729. It’s called 영산회상도 in Korean – a painting of the “Hall of Great Hero [sic]” according to the accompanying sign.
Elephant incense burners, anyone? The age isn’t mentioned, but it’s still wonderful to take in.
A more abstract, futuristic look on the museum’s upper floor – titled “Mechanical Avalokitesvara” by Wang Zi Won, the gears seem to question what it means to be human.
Worth about 20 minutes, the museum can’t fairly be considered more than a side stop on the way up – the real treasures await.
It alternated between drizzle and a moderate drenching that made me want for an umbrella of my own. If there’s one positive, it’s that the colors seemed to pop more than usual:
Some of the best fall colors I’ve seen this year.
Reaching the temple itself is almost anticlimatic – pass through the il-ju-mun (One Pillar Gate) and continue towards the dozens of buildings. The temple, first founded in 802, takes its name from ‘Haein Samadhi’, a reflection on a calm sea. UNESCO bestowed entrance to the World Heritage List for the Janggyeong Panjeon (the building that preserves the 80,000+ wooden blocks of the Tripitaka Koreana) in 1995. The wooden blocks themselves followed in 2007.
A shrine to 국사대신 (Guk-sa-dae-shin) – the god protecting Haeinsa from any misfortune while enlightening all living things. It’s rather refreshing to have a sign out front explaining these basics in English, rather than having to guess or attempt a rigorous course of Buddhist beliefs…
The black-and-white treatment smoothed over an otherwise unremarkable gray sky, while bringing the contrast between light and dark to the forefront of attention.
A square labyrinth lets people walk around the path to eventually reach the center, or just to walk it and enjoy some time to reflect.
One of the more easily photographed treasures – a three-story pagoda of Vairocana named Birotap, which enshrines statues of the Buddha.
Keep walking up the stairs to eventually reach one of the largest treasures kept in a Buddhist temple – the 52,389,400 characters engraved on 81,340 wooden blocks of the Tripitaka Koreana, stored within the Janggyeong Panjeon:
This parting shot was literally the only shot available that hadn’t have a minder constantly scanning the crowd – as if a non-flash picture could damage the wooden blocks. In any case, these were carved in the 13th century and are extremely well-preserved. They’ve escaped the destruction that has consumed virtually every other palace and temple across the country over the past several hundred years, thanks in part to the design of the building. It’s specifically designed to keep optimum ventilation, temperature, and humidity levels – even after hundreds of years, it’s done better than modern technology. In 1970, the blocks developed mildew after being moved to a newly built storage facility, and were promptly returned here for their long-term preservation.
Since the picture I would’ve tried to take was already taken for me, hanging in public as a backdrop for anyone to snap, why not take it?
A look at the colors and patterns found at most any Buddhist temple in the country.
A reminder that when life hands you rainstorms, it also gives you droplets that hang off tree branches.
As mentioned, Haeinsa is not an easy or quick trip – in fact, taking public transportation all but ensures it will be your one destination of the day. Combine it with an ambitious hike around Gayasan National Park if the weather cooperates, or take in some of the local food options for a more relaxed itinerary.
Ratings (out of 5 taeguks - How do I rate destinations?):
Ease to arrive:
Worth the visit:
Name: Haeinsa (해인사)
Address: Gyeongsangnam-do Hapcheon-gun Gaya-myeon Chi-in-ri 10
Korean address: 경상남도 합천군 가야면 치인리 10
Directions: This one will take some time. Start from Dongdaegu or Daegu train station, and make your way to Seongdangmot subway station (line 1 towards Daegok, exit 3) and head to the Seobu City Bus Terminal. Buses for Haeinsa leave every 40 minutes, make several stops along the way and take about 1 1/2 hours to arrive. Once off the bus, walk downhill for a few hundred meters and turn left down the well-worn path. Keep following the signs for Haeinsa and you’ll pass the museum after a few hundred meters.
Hours: 8:30am-5pm (during the summer, until 6pm). The museum has the same hours, and closes the ticket office 1/2 hour before closing.
Admission: 3,000 won (the museum is 2,000 won and is separate from entrance to the temple)
Website: http://www.haeinsa.or.kr (for the English site, head to the oddly named http://www.80000.or.kr/eng/main/)