Last week Wednesday (18 July) was what we South Africans call Mandela Day. This day is Nelson Mandela’s birthday (he turned 94 last week!) I won’t go into the MANY reasons why we South African’s are so proud of the father to our nation but check out this cool site for more information. Through some luck I got the day off work on Wednesday and decided to spend Mandela Day with a fellow South African and at the same time, help out a friend. Shardale’s mum, Hilda had come to Korea for a short visit and since Shardale could not get much leave, I offered to use my day off to take her sightseeing.
We met in Cheonan which is the bustling city in which I work. As soon as I met her at the subway station, we hit the ground running. We got on a bus and were transported from one end of Cheonan to the other. The closer we got to the temple, the less city life there was; trees lined the roads and mountains were visible in the distance. It was almost like I was in a different province!
Hilda and I chatted away during the twenty minute bus ride paying no attention the bus announcements. Luckily, the bus driver told us where to get off and we disembarked excitedly. This also happened to be the one day of the week it was NOT pouring rain. Lady luck was certainly on our side.
The bus drops you off a short walk away from Cheonhoji pond. From here we could hear monks chanting on the speakers. The serenity of this place and its sleepy surroundings made me like this place. Unlike the crowds in the city center, this is a breath of fresh air (literally.)
Gakwonsa Temple (각원사) has undergone so much recent reconstruction that it almost seems like a new temple. Gakwonsa Temple is located at the foot of Mt. Taejosa in Chungcheongnam-do. As you first approach the temple, you’ll first have to climb the 203 stairs to see what the temple is famous for. It’s a long sweaty walk, so be prepared. As you climb, relaxing music plays in the background which helps to create a peaceful atmosphere.
Once you arrive at the top of the extensive flight of stairs, you’ll see a towering statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Having been completed on May 9, 1977, it was enshrined for the reunification of North and South Korea (I guess it hasn’t been very successful then).
It really was impressive… It measures 15 m (49 feet) tall, 30 m (98 feet) in circumference, 175 cm (5.7 feet) long ears, 30 cm (1 foot) long fingernails, and weighs 60 tons. Its almond eyes and lightly draped clothes are delicately draped over the figure as it benevolently looks out on the city and valley below.
There were rows of pretty paper lanterns at the temple.
These were small tiles you could buy to write things on. There were thousands all over the temple grounds.
There were many colorful, traditional style buildings and the main shrine to Buddha was very beautiful.
There was gorgeous floral lattice work and Nathwi (Monster Mask) wood carvings on the doors. Some of the detailed architecture inside the shrine:
Most of the temple compound is a maze of dorms and study halls for both lay people and monks. There’s a large parking lot that can store up to 100 cars at a time. Everything at the temple is done on a grand scale, including the bell pavilion that is a bit obstructed by the parking lot that stands between the main hall and the bell pavilion (its the 2nd largest temple in Korea).
We ended our visit to the temple at the small souvenir shop at the base of the mountain. A tip for hikers: You can hike up Taejo Mountain, as there are hiking trails which start from the temple and continue to the summit. It is a fairly small mountain, so the hike is not that difficult. Apparently it takes about an hour or so to reach the top, depending on your pace.
After a very short wait at the bus stop, we were back on our way to downtown Cheonan where I took Hilda to H & M to quell her shopping desires. To end of our day we had an early dinner at Dono Marco. Thanks to the very useful Cheonan Where To Eat site, run by Jackie Bolen from Just Wandering, I was able to find a very interesting little Italian restaurant near the Cheonan Bus Terminal.
It’s a strange little restaurant that looks more like a doctor’s office than an intimate Italian place. But the menu looked good and I ordered the cream sauce salmon broccoli while Hilda ordered the tomato seafood linguine.
We received this odd looking ‘salad’ as a complimentary precursor to our meal which was followed up by some garlic bread and honey. Neither was anything special but was fine to start the meals with.
Our pastas were delicious; mine had large chunks of fresh salmon in a garlic cream sauce that I could have drunk. Hilda said that her pasta was divine with the just the right hint of basil for flavor.
They didn’t have any containers for us to take our food home but the chef did some elaborate wrapping with sandwich bags and we were all good to go. It was a lovely inexpensive meal. I highly recommend Dono Marco to anyone visiting Cheonan.
A lovely day out with a fellow South African, enjoying Korea but celebrating Mandela Day!
To get to Gagwon Temple:
From Cheonan station, get the 24 Bus. You should catch it on the opposite side of the street as the station. From the bus terminal, take bus 24 from across from the Yawoori bus terminal/Shinsegae on the Dunkin Donuts side. Ride it to the end and walk up the hill. The bus #24 only comes twice an hour so you might have to wait a bit.
How to get to Dono Marco:
This little Italian gem is across the street from the bus terminal. Go to the Dunkin Donuts and head down the side street away from the Express Bus Terminal 3 or 4 blocks. It’s on your right side with a big sign, past Star Bags. You can call them on 041 553 4554.