I’ve wanted to experience a temple stay program for a very long time. So, last year, I was very excited when my Korean friend gifted us a couples’ stay at a temple of our choice. We chose Woljeongsa Temple (월정사 전나무숲) in Gangwon Province. Woljeongsa Temple lies in Odaesan National Park (오대산국립공원) — a popular fall viewing mountain in Korea. I underestimated the number of tourists who would be visiting in October and I was unable to get a reservation until November. Fall would have already passed in the mountains, but it would still be a good weekend break. Basil booked tickets to Jinbo Bus Terminal (Gyeongsangbuk-do) instead of Jinbu Bus Terminal (Gangwon). It’s quite easy to get confused with similar sounding names.
I had a bad cold on the day of our travel and when we passed Andong, I casually remarked how we should visit it later. After changing our bus (from Seoul) to a smaller green bus, we finally reached Jinbo Bus Terminal. I knew something wasn’t right though. The man at the ticket counter was shocked and explained (in Korean) with a map where we really were. We were in a province I had never heard about. I had to call the monk at the temple and cancel our reservation. Fortunately, we met a Korean man who spoke English and he helped us board the bus to Andong Bus Terminal. We changed our tickets for the next day and found a cheap motel to stay in.
The Performance Street
We found a quirky area near our motel and had lunch there. There were performances and the street was filled with young couples and teenagers. Andong Taesamyo (an ancient Confucian Shrine) was about 500 m from this place. I wasn’t feeling too well and we thought of exploring another place I had just read about.
Since we hadn’t planned on visiting Andong, it wasn’t easy to make a plan. There’s a lot to see, but everything seemed to be spread out. It was getting dark and we chose to visit Woryeonggyo Bridge. Local buses accept T-Money cards and it’s easy to get around with the help of Naver Map (local GPS).
Woryeonggyo Bridge (월영교)
Woryeonggyo Bridge is the longest wooden footbridge in the country. It covers a length of 387m and is 3.6m wide. It is also known as the ‘Moonlight Bridge’ because it’s a good spot to enjoy the reflection of the moonlight on the Nakdong River.
We had lost daylight and it wasn’t easy capturing the evening visuals on our phones. The view of the river and mountain looked stunning and had a soothing effect on us. We could see the pops of colour on the other side of the bridge.
The architecture of the bridge is inspired by a local legend. The pavilion, at the centre of the bridge, offers panoramic views of the scenery around.
The sun was almost down and the birds flew back to their nests. The last boat cut across the tranquil waters of the river. It was a calming sight to witness.
I had forgotten how sick I was feeling. The trees were bright red on the other side of the bridge. I wished we had come a bit earlier, to truly enjoy the autumnal hues of the trees in daylight.
There are multiple walking trails along the river. I didn’t have the energy to walk and explore them. Basil coaxed me to try the closest one. It looked beautiful with the lights.
There’s a wire mesh on which couples had locked their lovelocks to symbolise undying love. According to the local legend, a grieving wife made ‘Mituri’ (Korean Shoes) from her hair to honour her late husband. That’s probably the reason for the lovelocks.
Stone Ice Storage
A narrow stairway lead right up to some interesting sights. We spotted a stone ice storage (Seokbinggo) structure. These ingenious stone structures were ancient refrigerators.
Seonseonghyeon Guest House
This guest house was built during the rule of Joseon Dynasty and was renovated in 1712. The guest house was relocated to its present site when the Andong Dam was built in 1976.
People had suddenly disappeared and we were all alone on the deserted pathway. The lighting, fall colours, and bridge created an ethereal setting. It was getting cold and we decided to cross the bridge to get to the other side.
Salted Mackerel or Gan godeungeo (간 고등어)
We retraced our path to the point we had started from. It was quite dark now and the local restaurants were teeming with groups of happy families and friends. We were lucky to get a place to sit after a large group left the restaurant.
Salted mackerel turned out to be a local speciality here. I love fish and was happy to find something I’d like to eat. The warmth of the wooden floor and hot food made me feel a little better. It was quite late and we didn’t expect to get a bus. Fortunately, we found a cab and called it a night once we reached the motel.
Ginkgo Lined Streets of Andong
We checked out early and walked to a convenience store to pick up breakfast (instant pumpkin porridge). I wasn’t feeling too great. I felt feverish and my cold decided to stay on. On the bright side, it was a warm and sunny day. The rays of the sun lit up the yellow leaves of the Ginkgo Trees.
We love exploring quaint streets and taking in mundane sights. So, I trudged along and tried to keep up with Basil.
Haedongsa Temple (해동사)
We waked for a bit and found Haedongsa Temple. It was practically deserted on a Sunday morning. There were very few people inside the main prayer hall.
Nine Story Pagoda (Sipseon Daebotab)
The relics of Sakyamuni Buddha (from Sri Lanka) are preserved inside the 33m high pagoda. It is believed: the preachings of buddha will continue (symbolically) through the pagoda even if the buddha has left the physical world. The faint crescent of the moon in the background proved to be a beautiful backdrop to the towering pagoda.
We took a cab to Icheon-dong — a rock-carved standing statue of Buddha. The statue is 12.38 m high, but is hidden behind the trees.
We found a stone stairway leading to Jebiwan Temple. Like most Korean Temples, visitors could write messages on a black tile and offer it. I’ve found it hard writing messages on the spur of the moment. So, Basil had to do the writing this time.
The leaves on the trees were all yellow and the lanterns formed a colourful canopy to walk beneath.
The main prayer area was quite interesting. There were many miniature stone buddhas inside a wooden shelf. Few visitors had lit candles and offered prayers. The setting was calming and we stayed for a bit.
The paintings on Korean temples are so vibrant and full of colour.
Back to Andong City Terminal
By the time we chose to leave, the place was empty, and there wasn’t a soul in sight. Most visitors had their own car. With no cab in sight, we opted to take a bus to Andong Station. The bus dropped us at a busy local market.
Mandu – guk (만두국)
We were lucky to find a restaurant serving hot mandu-guk (dumpling soup). It’s the perfect soup for a bad cold. The trip to Seoul took us a couple of hours from Andong Station and we hit the weekend traffic — once we approached the city. But, we were happy to have explored and discovered the hidden gems of Andong in such a short time.