Destination: Jeondeungsa – where naked women hold up temples (Ganghwa-do, Incheon)

Did I get your attention? Good – that’s one of the stories you wouldn’t ordinarily associate with a Buddhist temple. In this case, it’s true. We’ll get to that in short order, but let’s see what’s along the way.

Start with a hike including a steep hill and some big steps. Just past the ticket booth is a gate to Samnangseong fortress – er, the legendary Samnangseong.  What you’re seeing dates to the 17th century and is called Jeongjok Sanseong. It used to hold a storehouse of Joseon Dynasty records; the wall and gate was reconstructed in 1976.

While there’s plenty of room inside, there doesn’t look to be a lot to see, save the fortress walls. Ganghwa-do has plenty of hiking trails, some of which go through this area. You’ll walk through one trail on your way to the temple, and you’ll see this along the way.

A monument to General Yang Heon-su – you might recall Ganghwa-do had its share of battles with the French in 1866.

A yunjangdae (윤장대) – a rotating sutra column. Push this cylinder one full rotation, and it’s equivalent to reading the entire text of a sutra. At least, that’s the intention – the poles tend to prevent you from getting too close.

The daejoru (대조루) – a tower-style building at the temple’s entrance. The poet Yi Saek mentioned the building in one of his Joseon dynasty poems, giving some of the only evidence of the late-Goryeo Dynasty building date.

Originally built in the Gogoryeo dynasty (381 A.D., to be exact) and called Jinjongsa, the temple was renamed Jeondeungsa in 1299 when Queen Jeonhwa donated a jade lantern, and rebuilt in 1621 with an interesting story.

Treasure #178 – the main building of the temple, and the source of the aforementioned interesting story.  The story goes that during the building’s construction, the head carpenter fell in love with a beauty at the local bar. She apparently took advantage of him, absconding with most or all of his money. This made him sick, but he soon got his revenge. At each of the four corners, one of these statues holds up the heavy roof:

It is, of course, just a story, but it’s unique in Korea. Explore the rest of the building carefully to appreciate the fancy woodwork – supposedly no nails were used.

OK, with that out of the way, we now return to our regularly scheduled temple.

Some exquisite carving here.

It helps when it rains, although it was surprising to see only one flower in the row of plants.

Treasure #179 – The Yaksajeon (약사전), or the Medicine Buddha.

Another unusual addition – treasure #393. Originally from 1097, this Chinese-made iron bell was made for a Sung-dynasty temple in Henan. The Japanese supposedly wanted to melt it down to make some more arms, but they apparently never got around to it. It hangs in the temple, protected and probably no longer struck.

As part of a day or weekend trip to Ganghwa-do, consider this one of the primary destinations in the area. It’s a bit remote, so plan ahead to ensure you have enough time.

Name: Jeondeungsa  (전등사)
Address: Incheon-si Ganghwa-gun Gilsang-myeon Onsu-ri 635
Korean address: 인천광역시 강화군 길상면 온수리 635
Directions: Start from Sinchon station (line 2, exit 4) or Hapcheon station (line 2 or 6, exit 5 or 10). There are two buses that’ll work: red bus 3000 to the Ganghwa bus terminal, then green bus 4 to the temple.

Alternatively, get on red bus 3100 from either subway station, then get off at Onsu-ri (온수리). Transfer to green bus 1 or 2, and jump off after a quick ride at 전등사후문. I’ll note that there are few marked bus stops around – the driver may simply let you off on the side of the road depending on traffic. If the green buses are taking forever, you can walk the last 1.5 kilometers or so that the bus would’ve driven you. Double back, take the right fork, turn right at the parking lot, and then walk right up.

Hours: 8am-6pm
Admission: 2,500 won
Phone: 032-937-0125
Website: or