Staying At a Buddhist Temple In Korea

Stepping Into Another World

When I first walked up the steep incline from the bus station to the entrance of Guinsa Temple, I felt a little like I was stepping into another world. A quieter, more tranquil one. Nestled between the mountains, Guinsa Temple’s beauty is both unexpected and awe-inspiring. I knew immediately my weekend at the temple would be unforgettable.

Aerial view of Guinsa Temple in South Korea

This is one of the many reasons why I love living in South Korea. While I live and work in Seoul, the nation’s capital, it’s easy for me to hop on a bus or train on the weekends and explore different parts of the country. Buddhist temples in South Korea offer temple stays, a unique experience where you can spend the night at a temple and live like a monk. If you choose to move to South Korea, this is an absolute bucket list item. I’m already planning my next temple stay!


Roofline of a Buddhist temple in Korea

Food For Thought

The first thing I did upon arrival was change into the clothes the temple provided for me, a simple set of pants and a vest that I wore over my own shirt. Next, I went over to the cafeteria for lunch before the experience officially began. Guinsa has a public cafeteria, where they loaded me up with delicious vegetarian food. Rice, soup, green beans, tofu, cantaloupe, and, of course, kimchi were just a few of the things I ate while there.


A traditional Buddhist meal at a temple in Korea

Next, I went over to the meeting hall to make mala beads with the rest of the temple stay participants (about 15 people from all over the world). Afterwards, we went to have afternoon tea with a monk. This by far was one of the most rewarding aspects of the entire experience for me. Guinsa Temple actually has more female monks than male monks, and we got the chance to speak with a female one. Although she spoke Korean and I only know English, our guide for the temple stay was a wonderful interpreter, so I never felt like I was missing out!


Buddhist beads that were made by a visitor on a temple stay in Korea

Witnessing The Ceremony

After a tour of the entire temple grounds, we attended an early evening ceremony. It was fascinating to participate in a religious tradition so different from the one I was raised in. I thought I might feel uncomfortable or out of place, but I never did. While I have no plans to convert to Buddhism any time soon, having this experience at all has challenged and expanded my worldview for the better.


Finally, after dinner in the monks’ private dining hall, I went back to my room for bedtime. I shared the room with strangers, three women from around the world. I’d like to say we all went to bed early, but that’s not what happened. We spent hours, in typical sleepover fashion, oversharing everything on our minds: Travel, dreams, politics, inside jokes created just a few hours earlier.


This Is Why I Did This!

One of my favorite parts of living abroad is all the opportunities I’ve had to meet people with different experiences and nationalities from my own. These are the types of memories I know I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, whether it’s connecting with a 72-year-old Buddhist monk or laughing until midnight with a fellow American who grew up on the other side of the country from me. 


People taking a walk inside the grounds at a Buddhist temple in Kora
A view of the Guinsa Temples nestled in the mountains in Korea

Life-long Memories

Eventually, we went to sleep but not for long. My alarm went off at 3 a.m. I rolled out of my bed—a sleeping pad on the floor—and made the trek back up to the main temple. Huddled in the cold, we waited outside for the 3:30 a.m. ceremony to start. This time, it involved meandering the grounds with the monks before making our way back to the temple, where the ceremony continued. The mountains in the middle of the night are quiet, reverent things. I won’t forget the chill in the air, the sound of the monks singing, or the feeling that I was a part of something special any time soon.


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Diana Richtman is a writer and ESL teacher living in Seoul, South Korea. Originally from Savannah, Georgia in the United States, Diana holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia in English & Women’s Studies. After receiving her TEFL certification, Diana moved to South Korea where she works at one of Creverse’s April Institutes. When Diana isn’t working, she loves exploring Korea, drinking warm cups of tea, and scaring away her friends with her karaoke performances.