Mysterious Unjusa Temple of 1,000 Buddha and Pagodas

unjusa temple hwasun

View of Unjusa in the Spring on our first visit

The South Korean temple, Unjusa in Hwasun County is a bit of a mystery. No one is quite sure who the founder is but it is estimated to have been built sometime between 57 BC and 935 AD. Originally the temple had more than 1,000 Buddha statues and 1,000 pagodas but today only 91 stone statues and 21 pagodas of various sizes remain. They can be found around the temple grounds and in the surrounding fields and mountains.
child looking at buddha statue unjusa hwasun korea temple
small statue unjusa hwasun temple korea
pagoda in mountain at unjusa temple
Buddha statue under large stone hwasun unjusa south korea temple
multi cylindrical pagoda unjusa south korea hwasun
A few years ago when our son was only a few months old we took a trip to Unjusa. We hadn’t researched much before we went. We enjoyed our time but when we got home we found out that we had completely missed the giant statues of Buddha lying down. We knew we would need to return!
Painting on the temple roof
many little gold colored buddha
Temple door carvings and painting lotus

We have just returned to Unjusa and were pleasantly surprised! Since our last visit they have invested in creating beautiful trails and stairs to the main attractions in the mountains. The stone or wooden paths are steep in parts but are some of the best I have seen in my 11 years in Korea! When we visited before my husband and son had to wait at the bottom of the mountain as I climbed to get a good photo because the trail was rather slippery when wet. This is no longer a concern!

walkway at unjusa temple
Stairs going to the reclining buddha
This visit we were sure to get a pamphlet (in English!) and checked the maps so we knew where we were going. The paths are well labeled and there are signs at the major monuments in both Korean and English explaining the significance. We had missed the giant reclining Buddha statues the first visit because we had taken the trail up behind the temple rather than the trail to the left. It is clearly marked and was entirely our mistake.

We didn’t make the mistake again though! After you climb the stairs to the top of the hill there is no missing the reclining Buddha statues. Carved out of the stone in the ground, one is nearly 42 feet and the other around 34 feet. The carvings are rather crude but it is still impressive. I have never seen anything else like it in Korea.

Buddha lying down carving from rock
reclining buddha unjusa temple

The hikes around Unjusa are easy and not very crowded. It’s quite far from the city with few restaurants or other services around. It’s best to bring your own food! Some guided tour groups do make it out to the temple but with such a large area to explore it never felt busy. With so many treasures to search for it’s easy to discover something new each time you visit Unjusa which is why it’s one of our favorite temples in the region.

Cost

  • Adults 3,000 won / Teenagers 2,000 won / Children 1,000 won

Hours

  • Summer 08:00-18:00 / Winter 08:00-17:00

Transportation

  • From Gwangcheon Bus Terminal (USquare) in Gwangju take city bus number 318 or 218. The ride takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Confirm with the driver that the bus will stop at the temple (운주사). 

Hike to Geumseong-Sanseong Fortress in Damyang, Korea

geumseong fortress damyang

We love Damyang, South Korea! There are so many things to do in the area, the food in the region is fantastic and there is bamboo everywhere. Over the years we have visited a fair number of times but had somehow completely missed Geumseong-Sanseong Fortress (담양 금성산성) until Compass Korea included it in the list of 7 Must See Places Near Gwangju This Fall. We had been feeling pretty frustrated recently because each time we wanted to go to the fortress it would either rain or one of us would be really sick. Those delays were fortunate though because we couldn’t have asked for better weather than what we had this weekend!

How to Get There

Geumseongsanseong Fortress is about a 45 minute drive from Gwangju in Jeollanamdo, South Korea. Alternatively you can take a bus to the Damyang bus terminal and then catch a local bus to the Damyang Resort and Spa. If you are facing the resort there is a street to the right heading up to the trail start. Just past the trail start you can find parking on the right. Entrance to the fortress is free but there is a 2,000 won fee for parking.

Avoiding the Crowds

The leaves in this area of Korea are just starting to change colors at the beginning of November so the popular treks are getting a bit crowded with hikers on their way to see the fall leaves.  Visiting during the week rather than the weekend is the best way to avoid the crowds but if you must go on the weekend try to avoid lunch hour. 

The mountain was fairly quiet when we went despite it being a Sunday except when we got right to the gate. Suddenly we were surrounded by busloads of hikers in all their gear!

hikers mountain korea

Many tours time their trip so that hikers can all rest within the gates and have their lunch together before continuing on. Around 30 minutes later the fortress was nearly all ours as they went further down the trails!

Lunch Damyang fortress

All About the Hike

It takes about 30 to 40 minutes to hike to the gate but since we were making the climb with a 3 year old it took us around an hour. For about half of the way up, the path is an easy tree lined gravel road that is not terribly steep.

Before entering into the forest you’ll find a rest stop with a few tables, and snacks and drinks to buy. This seems to be a popular spot for men making the hike to stop for a couple of rounds of makkoli (a traditional Korean alcohol). We thought we were nearing the top at this point so we kept on going. In fact, it was about the half way mark.

Once you pass the rest station the pathway enters into the forest and becomes a bit more challenging. Roots become nature’s steps and near the top there is a bit of a climb up some rocks. It was a bit difficult for a 3 year old to make it up this part and we had to help him a lot in this area but he wasn’t the only kid making the climb. We saw about 10 other children during the day though most were around 8 years old or a bit older. We even saw a grandmother in her 80’s making the climb! So if they can all make it, you probably can too!

Preschooler mountain climb
view from geumseong fortress

There are two routes you can take. The both start out from the same place and go up into the fortress gate. If you want to take the short route, just head back down the same way you came up.

fortress gate damyang korea

The fortress wall though continues around the entire mountain and so you can do the complete loop if you wish. This route has some fantastic views but is quite challenging with steep drop-offs and rocky trails so we just did the short one.  Also hidden among the trails are some small temples and a hermitage to check out.

fortress gate korea
view from geumseong fortress

view from geumseong fortress