One of my all time favourite experiences from living and travelling around Korea has to be a temple stay. A temple stay in Korea gives you an incredible opportunity to stay overnight at a Korean Buddhist temple and spend some time living as a monk. Not only that, you can learn more about the inner workings of Korean Buddhism, ask the monks questions, take part in sacred rituals, and witness things tourists never normally get to see. If you want to learn more about Korean or Buddhist culture, I’d have to say that a temple stay in Korea is probably one of the best opportunities to do this.
There are dozens of temples throughout Korea where you can join a temple stay and you can turn up for one day in Seoul, or even a long weekend out in a temple in Korea’s stunning national parks.
Personally, I’d recommend making time for a weekend at a temple in one of the national parks. You can experience so much more and be part of various ceremonies that aren’t normally available to people outside of the temple.
If you want to know more about how to do a temple stay in Korea and why you should join this excellent program, then please read on. For my own personal experience, skip to the part about my temple stay experience in Korea.
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What Is A Temple Stay In Korea?
A temple stay is an excellent program set up by the Culture Corps of Korean Buddhism with the aim to promote Korean Buddhism to the world. This wonderful scheme lets you experience a temple stay in Korea, certainly a unique experience you won’t find in other countries.
In the words of the Templestay Program:
“Templestay is a unique cultural program which lets you experience the life of Buddhist practitioners at traditional temples which preserve the 1700 year old history of Korean Buddhism.”From the Korean Buddhist Templestay Program.
A temple stay in Korea will give you an unmissable chance to experience the life of Korean Buddhist monks. Furthermore, you’ll be able to take part in ceremonies not open to the public, talk with Buddhist monks, and even stay overnight in the temple.
I’ve joined a temple stay several times now and for me the best part is the chance to learn more about Buddhist philosophy. I’ve written more about my experience towards the end of this article. Even if you have no interest in the religion, you shouldn’t miss the chance to stay in the beautiful temple surroundings.
I love temple stays so much that I recommended it as one of my top 10 day trips out of Seoul. If you’re coming to Korea during the summer, then this is a cool way to spend the weekend in a beautiful natural surrounding. Find out more about summer in Korea with my list of summer activities to enjoy in Korea.
What Types Of Temple Stay Can I Do?
There are several different options to for a temple stay experience in Korea that fits all kind of schedules. Whether you have one week in Korea, or a lot longer, then there’s something for you.
1: One Day Temple Stay
The one day temple stay option is best for those with a limited time in Korea. Lasting a few hours, you can experience a temple tour, learn about mediation, and join in a traditional tea ceremony. Perfect for those on a tight schedule or who want a quick introduction to Korean Buddhism.
2: Experience Oriented Temple Stay
This is definitely the best option for a temple stay in Korea, and will allow you the best variety of experiences. Usually running during the weekends, this temple stay allows you to stay overnight at the temple and join in activities not open to regular visitors.
You can be part of some of the most interesting Korean Buddhist ceremonies during this temple stay. These include morning chanting, 108 prostrations, joining in Buddhist meals, and meditation. Furthermore, you can enjoy cultural activities, including lotus lantern walks and prayer bead making.
3: Rest Oriented Temple Stay
For those who want to experience the tranquility and peace that comes from a temple stay in Korea, then this is for you! The temple will offer you a place to escape the busy modern world and learn to recharge through meditation and Buddhist ceremonies. In addition, you can reduce your stress, recharge, and unwind.
How To Book A Temple Stay In Korea
There are two main ways you can book a temple stay in Korea and both are really easy to do in English. You won’t need to know any Korean to book these, don’t worry.
Firstly, you can book a temple from the Temple Stay website. This website is very helpful and will show you where you can do various temple stay experiences across Korea. It’s all in English and provides lots of essential information.
You can book a temple stay before you arrive in Korea. Pre-planning travel to a country like Korea is really helpful as there are lots of things to consider when you travel. If you’re not sure what you might need to pre-plan, check out my guide to what to know about Korea before you arrive.
Alternatively, you can visit the Temple Stay Information Centre in Insadong, Seoul. You will find this near to Jogyesa Temple, which is an excellent Buddhist Temple that is definitely worth visiting while you’re in Seoul, even if you don’t end up doing a temple stay in Korea.
Do I Need To Know Korean For A Temple Stay In Korea?
No, you don’t need to speak any Korean. The temple stay program is designed to welcome foreigners and therefore there are guides who can speak English, as well as translate anything the monks might say.
During the temple stay experiences I have been on, there are often people from around the world, with a variety of different backgrounds and native languages. However, if you’re worried about being able to speak Korean, it’s definitely worth learning a few essential phrases before you travel.
Typical Programs At A Temple Stay In Korea
There are many different activities you can take part in during a temple stay in Korea. Most temples will offer these wonderful experiences. In addition, some temples offer more, including walks, treks, traditional crafts, and even music performances.
Ever explored a Buddhist temple and wondered what all the interesting statues, patterns, and symbols meant? Now you can find out with an English guided tour around the temple. The temple staff will kindly explain the history, culture, and meaning behind all you see at the temple. Great for increasing your knowledge about Korean Buddhism.
Cham-Seon (Seon Meditation)
Seon meditation focuses on clearing your mind of thoughts, allowing you to learn mindfulness and concentration. This is one of the main practices of Korean Buddhists. By practising Seon meditation you will be able to learn your true nature and discover inner peace.
Da-Seon (Tea Ceremony)
The Korean Buddhist tea ceremony is a form of meditation in itself. Firstly, practice mental discipline and concentration through the processes involved in creating the perfect cup of tea. Secondly, harness all your senses whilst you prepare and drink the tea in quiet contemplation.
Balwoogongyang (Monastic Meal)
Balwoogongyang is the traditional method of eating a meal at Buddhist temples. Containing a mixture of rice, vegetables, and side dishes, certainly this healthy meal will help you appreciate the simplicity and honesty of food.
Eat together in silence, waste nothing, and give thanks for all of the hard work involved in your humble meal. Even the act of eating will teach you a thing or two about humility and tranquility. Meat is not offered within the temple, following Buddhist traditions.
Yebool (Buddhist Chanting)
Yebool is the opening chant to start the day and offers the chance for self-reflection and purification for the day ahead. During a temple stay in Korea you’ll be able to join the monks inside the temple, somewhere most tourists will only see from the outside. Yebool chanting starts early, so make sure you get an early night the night before.
Korean Traditional Culture Experience
This includes a range of cultural experiences offered by each individual temple. For example, you might make lotus flower lanterns or wood block prints, prepare temple food, or even see musical performances.
Special Rules For A Temple Stay In Korea
It’s good to be respectful and follow the rules of any place you visit. Taking part in a temple stay in Korea is no exception, and the temples will ask you to follow a few basic rules.
Try to dress conservatively when you join a temple stay, therefore, dark colours and long sleeves are best. That is to say, try to avoid bright and over the top clothing, heavy makeup, or strong perfume. If in doubt, cover up and keep it simple. Furthermore, you should keep your feet covered in the temple.
What Not To Do
Remember, this is a sacred place for the monks and nuns, therefore, try to avoid loud noises, smoking, or drinking alcohol in the temple grounds. There are many sacred religious objects and locations in the temple grounds, certainly avoid damaging or disrespecting them. In addition, sitting or writing on any sculptures is strongly prohibited.
In The Buddha’s Hall
When entering the Buddha’s Hall (the main temple), make sure to enter using the doors on the left and right. This is because the main door is reserved for the monks and nuns. If you enter the hall, first, do a half-bow with palms together toward the Buddha and then greet the statue with three prostrations. Temple staff will teach you how to do this.
Which Temples Can I Stay In?
There are many different temples across Korea that you can stay in. They are usually located in national parks or similar beautiful surroundings. You can find temples in every major region of Korea, including on Jeju Island.
Click for a full list of the available temple stay locations in Korea.
How Much Is A Temple Stay In Korea?
Prices for a temple stay in Korea vary depending on the type of temple stay you wish to join. Here is an idea of the range of prices you can expect to pay:
One day temple stay – 10,000 – 50,000 won
Overnight temple stay – 50,000 – 80,000 won per night
Visiting Buddhist temples in Korea is generally free. Feel free to leave a donation if you enjoyed your time there and want to support the temple for future generations to enjoy.
Do I Have To Be Religious?
No, you don’t have to be religious to take part in a temple stay. People of any faith can participate in a temple stay and you can certainly learn a lot and broaden your mind by joining in this experience.
Furthermore, the Buddhist monks and staff understand people have different views on the world and, in my personal experience, welcome discussion and alternative views.
Do I Have To Follow The Schedule?
No, you are free to choose whether or not you want to join the various programs. If you feel uncomfortable joining in any part, or you don’t think you can wake up before the sun rises, then you can choose to miss that activity.
The monks and staff at the temple stay were very accommodating in my temple stay experiences. You won’t feel uncomfortable during this wonderful experience.
However, I would recommend trying to take part in everything if you can. When are you likely to be able to experience something like a temple stay again? Take note that meals are served during certain hours and won’t be available outside of those hours.
My Temple Stay Experience In Korea
I’ve done a temple stay in Korea several times and absolutely loved it. I’ve always gone for the weekend experience as there’s something special about staying overnight in the temple and getting up in the early hours to join in the morning worshipping and chanting ceremonies.
My most recent temple stay experience was at Beopjusa Temple in the incredibly beautiful Sognisan National Park in central Korea. I arrived in the early afternoon and went through a VR welcome tour of the temple. Yes, even Buddhist temples have embraced new technologies in Korea! It was fun being able to see the temple from above through drone footage.
After that, I got changed into the required clothing – a very simple outfit of loose trousers and top that you can wear over your normal clothes. It was still cold at that time of year, so I was happy for extra layers. There was a welcome ceremony that explained what we could expect, the rules we had to follow, and a chance to ask some questions. I was with about 20 other people from Korea and around the world who all joined this temple stay program.
We were given a guided tour of the temple grounds and told more about the traditions and meanings behind the various paintings, statues, and buildings. It was really interesting to learn about the rich history of this temple and how Korean Buddhism has evolved in Korea.
In the evening, we ate dinner with the monks (yummy vegan home-cooked food), took a night time walk with lanterns through the temple after dark, then got an early night. The accommodation at the temple was very basic, but that’s part of life in a Korean Buddhist temple. It’s also perfectly comfortable and I had no complaints. I went to sleep straight away because there was an early start planned for the next day.
Our schedule started at 4 a.m. with a music performance by the monks, as shown in the picture above. You very rarely get to see them perform this ceremony, so it was a real treat. After that was another exclusive – the morning yebool, or chanting ceremony. Foreigners might not understand what is being said, but you can still join in and go through the bowing motions, learning about the importance of the ceremony and seeing the dedication and spirituality in the monks.
Breakfast was served around 6 a.m. and then it was time for an early morning sunrise hike to a nearby peak (only 30 minutes away) to watch the sun rise. It was a beautiful scene, watching the sun crawl over the horizon and light up the mountain peaks and forests in the national park. Fortunately, we were allowed a short nap after this before the next main activity, which was one of the toughest!
One of the most common activities on the temple stay in Korea is the 108 prostrations. This is also one of the hardest! There are 108 ideals that Korean Buddhists are thankful for. In order to show their appreciation, they will bow 108 times. Participants at a temple stay experience get to do this whilst also threading 108 beads to make a prayer bead bracelet. This is actually really hard, but then also a good test of devotion, I guess. It was tough, yes, but also worth it. I’d recommend giving it a try. If you’re not comfortable doing it, you can grab a mat and watch from the side instead.
By this time we were all hungry and went for lunch with the monks again. More delicious vegan food and my body was feeling really good by this point with all the food, sleep, and no technological distractions. The final activity of the program was also one of the best – a tea ceremony and question and answer session with one of the monks.
I found this was the most interesting part of the temple stay and I learned a lot from the monk. I feel sorry in a way as I asked a lot of difficult questions, but he answered them honestly and, sometimes, with shocking answers. Overall, I had a fascinating, relaxing, insightful time during my temple stay experience and I would highly recommend it to others.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to doing a temple stay in Korea. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment.
Temple Stay In Korea FAQs
Finally, here’s a few FAQs about the temple stay program in Korea, in case the above information didn’t cover enough for you.
What types of temple stays are there in Seoul?
There are several different types of temple stay experience in Seoul, including one day and overnight experiences. During an overnight temple stay, you can spend the night at the temple and take part in ceremonies that tourists would not normally be able to witness. You’ll have the chance to eat with Korean Buddhist monks during a balwoogongyang (monastic meal) and join in the yebool (morning chanting).
What do you do at a temple stay in Korea?
There are various activities at a temple stay in Korea and each temple provides it’s own program. Typical programs include a combination of a temple tour, meditation (cham-seon), tea ceremony and interview with a monk (da-seon), monastic meals with the monks (balwoogongyang), Buddhist chanting ceremonies (yebool), and various other cultural experiences.
Where can I book a temple stay in Korea?
The Korean Temple Stay website or at the Temple Stay Information Centre in Insadong, Seoul. Booking a temple stay in Korea is easy and you can do it before you arrive with their website. You don’t need to speak Korean to book at most temples and it is sometimes possible to pay for the temple stay experience when you arrive.
Do I have to be religious to do a temple stay in Korea?
No. You don’t have to be a Buddhist or of any particular religion to join a temple stay experience in Korea. You will learn lots about Korean Buddhism, but previous knowledge or devotion to Buddhism isn’t required at all. You won’t be pushed to become a Buddhist, either. Whether you follow Buddhism or not, please be respectful for the religious beliefs of others and the temple itself.
Do I need to speak Korean to do a temple stay in Korea?
No. You shouldn’t need to speak Korean to do a temple stay in Korea, The temple stay website is in English and there are usually English speaking staff at the temple to help tourists who join the program.
What is the best Buddhist temple in Seoul?
There are several great Buddhist temples in Seoul. Three of the best for tourists and those interested in seeing more about Korean Buddhism include Jogyesa Temple in Insadong, Bongeunsa Temple in Gangnam, and Geumsunsa Temple in Bukhansan National Park, Seoul.
Can I take pictures during a temple stay in Korea?
Yes. You can take pictures during a temple stay experience, but it’s probably best to be respectful and ask before you do. There will be certain areas where you can’t take pictures, such as inside the temple during worship hours. In my experience, there were lots of opportunities to take pictures and lots of places for unique and interesting snaps.
Can I use my phone during a temple stay experience?
You can use your phone during certain times, but it is advised that you don’t. The purpose of a temple stay experience is to get away from your normal routine and focus more on the simpler, more spiritual aspects of life. This is the perfect chance to disconnect with technology and reconnect with nature and gain some inner peace. If you want to use your phone to take pictures, it’s best to ask before you do.
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