Temple Stay at Samhwasa

This weekend I had the privilege of attending a temple stay at Samhwasa Temple in Donghae. Temples seem to be a fixed point in every Korean excursion, whether its in the middle of a city, a mountain, or next to a palace. Each temple tends to share a similar architecture, but has its own stories and history.

This particular temple is called “Samhwasa” meaning “three peace temple.” It was built in 642 and called Heungnyeondae, but was later renamed Samgongam in 864 after being reconstructed. Temple destruction and reconstruction is an unfortunate theme in Korea due to the Japanese invasion and the Korea war which together destroyed most of Korea’s beautiful temples, palaces, monuments, and other important landmarks. This temple was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times due both to natural and man-made destruction. Finally, it received its current name when King Taejo prayed at the temple to unite the three kingdoms into what became Goryeo.

The temple stay included dinner, an evening prayer, traditional tea with the monks, morning prayer (at 4am! we skipped it…), another morning prayer at 10am, breakfast, and a sweet potato snack when we left. My impression of monks has always been that they’re very serious and quiet. But these guys were a riot! They told me I was “cute” and that I had nice bone structure, and then asked me if I had a boyfriend, what was my type, do I like rich men, etc. Tea was a hoot!

We started our day with a short hike starting from the temple. Although the full hike was way too long to do in a day, we got a glimpse of some beautiful mountain scapes and water. We even stumbled on a little nook in the rocks and of course had to stop for a photo shoot.

Tea with a monk.


Crazy purple berries!

As usual, the temple was characterized by colourful, ornate structures, stone statues, and steep staircases. The inside of the main temple had a metal buddha statue that has stood the test of time for over 800 years. There was another temple to the side that was built for the shamanistic beliefs of traditional Korean culture. The temple keeper explained that it is typical of buddhist temples to include a space for traditional shamanism in order to promote peace and harmony between the different beliefs.

Keeping warm with a woodstove!

On the main gate.

Buddha statue in the main temple.

Lanterns on the ceiling of the main temple.

Inside the shaman temple.

Outside the shaman temple.

Food and accommodation at a temple stay is simple and wholesome. Buddhism calls for abstinence from consuming meat and alcohol. The vegetarian meals were filling and delicious, and were a nice change for me. I was vegetarian for a long time before coming to Korea, but have learned to be more flexible since being here as its nearly impossible to be vegetarian and maintain a social life here!

Doors to my accommodation.

Down the hall.

My sleeping mat with a cozy blanket, on top of heated flooring.

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