Yeosu City Tour has Hyangiram Hermitage as one of its key tourist attractions. Alternatively, if you’re a solo traveller, take Bus 111 or Bus 113 across Yeosu Bus Terminal to Impo Bus Stop. If you’re driving, like we did, be sure to add the correct name of the location on your car’s GPS. Korean temples can be pretty confusing, with many similar sounding names across provinces, so double-check for Yeosu in the location category. I configured Naver Maps on my phone for backup. The time taken will vary with your mode of travel. Google Maps (above) gives an approximate estimate of the time from Yeosu Intercity Bus Terminal to Hyangiram Hermitage.
Hyangiram Hermitage is tucked in the farthest corner of Yeosu’s Dolsan-do Island. We were staying at Manseong-ri Beach (downtown Yeosu) and had to cover a fair bit of ground to reach the southern tip of Dolsan-do. This time, we took Doslan Bridge to island hop. Thereafter, the scenery is stellar and it’s hard to concentrate on direction boards or instructions mouthed by the GPS device. Traffic is scarce in these parts and it’s largely a pleasant drive — once you’re comfortable with the road. We missed an important turn, went way off track, and entered a derelict village road. I had to ask a local halmonee (grandma) for directions and she was happy to help. But, if you don’t speak broken Korean, you might want to pay careful attention to every single turn.
There are many scenic points scattered all along the route. Thankfully, many of them have spots to park your car and soak in those gorgeous views. The ride up to Hyangiram is uphill with many blind turns.
The bus stops a little earlier from the main entrance to the hermitage. The village roads are very narrow and it is quite a challenge to drive a big car here. We were lucky to find a parking lot as soon as we entered the village. Payment is done after you leave and most parking areas have an attendant. There’s a local convenience store (GS 25) here and it’s a good idea to stock up supplies — if you’re doing a self-drive trip and staying at a local pension house.
Hyangiram translates as small temple facing the sun. Hyangiram Hermitage (pronounced Hyang-ilam) is famous for its sunrises, although the main temple is higher up, this plaza offers a stunning view of the coast and possibly — the rising sun.
To the Ticket Booth
The lane that leads to the ticket booth is one of the steepest we’ve climbed so far. We were surprised to watch cars drive up this road.
There are 2 trails that one can take to reach the hermitage. The steeper (quicker) trail has an unending array of stairs. The other trail is a gradual ascent along a mud road.
I’m not a fan of stairs and I prefer a gradual rise while climbing. In June, when the heat and humidity is slowly rising, each step can get pretty heavy. It’s been a bad year for my fitness and I struggled more than I thought I would. Eonnis and emos were much faster. It’s not a difficult climb, it just gets too steep at certain sections.
Once the stairs are done with, it gets much better, and you begin to truly appreciate the greenery all around you. It’s one of the most peaceful temples that we have visited.
Three Wise Buddhas
It was nice to walk on even ground for a change. A secluded pathway cut through a dense forest of green trees. This place would look spectacular in autumn and spring. The buddhist interpretation of the ‘three wise monkeys’ took shape in three statues of buddha. Devotees had placed Korean coins, possibly for luck, in the crevices of the statues.
Is ignorance bliss and the true path to righteousness? We are living in a time when it’s hard to ignore the ‘evils’ around us. Then again, who defines what’s ‘evil’ and what’s not? Didn’t guilt originate from this? And wouldn’t it be a bigger ‘evil’ to look away from ‘evil’ when we could have stopped it? Should we stay quiet and live a peaceful life (for our own well being) — when we know that there’s so much wrong with the world today. Looking away from something doesn’t make it go away. It always exists whether we choose to look at it or not. Perhaps, in these secluded woods, being surrounded by nature, one can afford to ignore the ‘evils’ in the world and live with the consequence of doing so.
We entered this ornate doorway that opened into the next series of stairs. Starting early is always an advantage if you want to escape the crowd.
Hyangiram Hermitage is located in Dadohaehaesang National Park — the largest national park in Korea. This national park spans over 2,321.2㎢ on land as well as water and spreads across seven coastal areas in the West and South Sea.
We knew we were approaching the hermitage when we saw these gold leaves hanging from a tree. The trail gets narrow from this point and the local websites weren’t kidding when they wrote about claustrophobia.
The challenge of this hike, for people like me, is to pass through a narrow crevice between ginormous rocks. It can be a bit claustrophobic and if you’re nervous — remember it will be over before you know it. Count till 10.
The crevice opens into another hidden tunnel of stairs — that finally takes you to the Hyangiram Temple Complex. It’s not hard to see why, back in the day, Hyangiram Hermitage was a base for Buddhist monks who helped Korea’s naval hero, Admiral Yi Sun-sin, fight the Japanese invasion.
The temple complex has multiple prayer halls nestled on different sections of the rocky mountain. Once again, there wasn’t much information to read, and we wandered about — trying to take in the moment.
This gigantic bell faces the stunning coast and there’s a small viewing area just behind it. These views are hard to capture on camera. It’s all sea and sky.
Pure water, from a mineral spring, tricked down a crevice and collected in a pool around this golden statue. I followed the others and used the wooden spoon to pour water on the statue.
The turtle is the symbol of Hyangiram. Now, I couldn’t find much information about this, other than a wikitravel link that draws a connection between the hexagonal pattern on the rocks with a turtle’s shell.
Interesting visuals pop out of corners and vantage points.
We followed the stairs that lead to another smaller prayer hall. A monk chanted her morning prayers and the wind carried it along the coast. The peace and calm is difficult to describe. It’s a feeling that engulfs you and makes you forget everything that gets you down.
The last section of hidden stairs opens into the highest point of the temple complex. It’s a secret chamber that leads from one world to another.
There’s another prayer hall here and many statues around it. Monks were chanting their prayers and local travellers were busy clicking selfies with view.
We bought a gold leaf to tie around the long line of glittering leaves. It’s a tradition that we try to follow at most buddhist temples.
This point offers a stellar view of the sea and sky. On a overcast day, it’s hard to spot the horizon that’s reduced to the dark curvature in the distance.
We took the other trail to go down. This trail is a lot easier and wasn’t as steep as trail 1. Some local tourists had driven their cars right up to the main entrance on this trail.
Hiking in Dadohaehaesang National Park.
We stumbled upon a hiking trail that would lead to the peak of this mountain. We climbed for a bit and abandoned the idea because the trail was deserted and broke off in parts. It was a wise decision because it started raining soon after.
There are many local bnbs around the village and it might be nice to spend a couple of days exploring the hiking trails.
Seafood is the local delicacy of Yeosu. Many food stalls sold kimchi and other fermented preparations.
I prefer cooked meat and fish. We were lucky to spot a local eatery that served grilled fish. The owner was a friendly ajusshi who set our table outdoors and then quickly transferred everything inside — when it started to rain. There were many interesting kimchis that I didn’t dare try. Basil was more adventurous and had to pay the price a couple of hours later.
We were excited to visit Dadohaehaesang National Park. The drive was beautiful and only if we could have stopped wherever possible.
There were signs pointing to different beaches all along the way. We were more relaxed on our way back and we decided to follow the arrow to Bangjukpo Beach.
We were amazed by the beauty of this beach. In June, there were hardly any people on the beach and the only other family was a group of Chinese tourists.
The Drive Back
Dolsan-do is a sleepy island with terraced fields and cascading mountains. We drove past some of the most scenic spots in Korea and pictures couldn’t capture the beauty of those desolate country roads.
Jukbangnyeom is a traditional style of fishing that is believed to have originated almost 500 years ago. We didn’t expect to see these fishing scenes in Yeosu and were pleasantly surprised. A line of cafes and pension houses offered a splendid view of the sea and beach. It was a perfect way to end the adventures of the day.