I’d been meaning to get to Tongdosa for a while. In Ulsan, close to Busan and not that far from lovely Daegu, it’s one of South Korea’s three “jewel temples.” Tongdosa represents the Buddha himself, and contains many important relics. I’ve been to Haeinsa a few times, and that temple represents the Buddha’s teachings. I still haven’t made it to Songgwangsa in the southwest, representing the Buddhist community. While the long-ish walk up Gaya Mountain to Haeinsa is memorable, the approach to Tongdosa is much flatter. One thing that struck me about this temple compared to others is that many of the buildings haven’t been re-painted. The sharp pops of color on refinished buildings are eye pleasing, but I think I actually prefer the more weather-beaten look. Supposedly one of Buddha’s begging bowls and a piece of his cloak reside in this stone vessel. One of any temple’s traditional four guardians. Not sure why he has a gayageum. Drab and colorless for some people, but I think I prefer it. Another common site as you approach larger Korean temples — monuments to and graves of former monks and benefactors. Somebody’s prayer for their family’s health. The gentle slope up to the temple is called “Pine Grove Trail,” running alongside a river. Tongdosa was well worth the (highly belated) trip. Instead of Haeinsa’s incredible library, Tongdosa is more conventional in having lots and lots of various relics from famous monks and even the Buddha himself. With Buddha’s birthday coming up this spring I might even make a trip back.
Directions: bus routes from Busan are easy to find online, but coming from Daegu-Daejeon-Seoul it’s much easier to take the KTX to Ulsan (Tongodosa) Station. Then take the 13 bus out to Shinpyeong Station (about 20 minutes) and you can walk to the temple’s bottom entrance. Alternatively (since it was freezing) I took a cab from Shinpyeong Station to Ulsan KTX Station for 15,000 won on the way back.