Destination: Guinsa – Buddhist high-rises and an elevator inside a temple (Chungcheongbuk-do)

Chris in South Korea note: my lady and I went here in mid-November, one of the last weekends where fall was in the air. Things got busy as the holidays approached, and I’m just now getting around to blog posts that got pushed back! Hope you enjoy, and aren’t thrown by the seasonal shift.

You might call this ‘the Gangnam style of temples’. Located on the north side of Sobaeksan (Sobaek mountain), this temple squeezes dozens of buildings into a narrow valley. You’ll find a single path up the mountain as you approach the main building, with a few side paths quickly leading you back uphill. Yes, it’s all uphill – your calves may not like you much, but it’s worth it.

Rewind to 1945, where “Grand Patriarch” Sangwol-Wongak looked to revitalize Buddhism following decades of Japanese occupation and years of a World War. Despite the original temple being burned down during the Korean War, the reconstruction started in 1966 and continues even today.

Virtually every building is multi-story, and while few looked to be open, they were gorgeous. Guin-sa is a baby compared to most other temples – and most buildings sport cement.

Keep walking up the hill…

Guin-sa (Guin temple, or literally ‘Salvation Benevolence Temple’) is the headquarters of a small but growing Buddhist sect called Cheontae. They follow the precepts of Jijang Daesa, a Chinese monk and his view of the Lotus Sutra. Try these on for size:

  • All things are empty and without essential reality.
  • All things have a provisional reality.
  • All things are both absolutely unreal and provisionally real at once.

Sensory experiences, according to the sect, are expressions of Dharma (Buddhist law), so the key to enlightenment can be found within. If things look a little ostentatious or outlandish, that’s why.

Once you’re near the top, enter the main building, Deabeopdang Hall – and the first Buddhist building I’ve seen with an elevator:

The photo exhibition on the first floor – the area feels more like an extremely refined conference hall with a Buddhist tint. Once you’ve taken in the good-to-excellent photos, jump on the elevator and head up. Most of the temple is empty, including the main hall:

Complete with all the sound equipment you might expect at a conference hall, this room can hold literally thousands.

What, there’s more? Yep – head out a side exit and follow the stairs on the left.

This is more colorful in reality, but the overcast sky and rain prevented those from shining through.

The final, highest building – wait, what? That’s not Buddha…

As Buddhist temples go, it’s newer, more colorful, fairly remote, and entirely uphill. It’s completely photogenic in most any season of the year.

Ratings (out of 5 taeguks – How do I rate destinations?):

Ease to arrive:


Convenience facilities:

Worth the visit:

Name: Guinsa (구인사)
Address: Chungcheongbuk-do Danyang-gun Yeongchun-myeong Baekja-ri 132-1
Korean address: 충청북도 단양군 영춘면 백자리 132-1
Directions: Buses go straight to Guinsa from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (Gangbyeon station, line 2, exit 4) about once an hour. If you’re elsewhere in Korea, head to Danyang, where a bus leaves every hour to the temple.
Hours: Open 24 hours
Admission: free
Phone: 043-423-7100