Here’s what to expect hiking between two mountain temples, Seonamsa and Songgwangsa, on Jogyesan, near Suncheon. Spoiler alert: Like most of my hiking in Korea, I was a bit unprepared…
One of the more underrated things to do in Suncheon is to visit one of its two main mountain temples, Seonamsa or Songwangsa, and go hiking up Jogyesan (Mt. Jogye) between them. Many people who visit only really go to Suncheon Bay and, sometimes, the Film Set. In fact, before I lived in the city, I’d only been to the bay!
However, it’s a really beautiful day hike, and the temples are both worth visiting even if you’ve seen about a million similar examples of Korean architecture like I have in the last 2 1/2 years.
Since there actually isn’t that much English information on the hike, I made sure to pay attention to the details when I went over my Christmas weekend, so I could share them with you guys. Below is a breakdown of what to expect, our itinerary, and some practical information if you want to visit yourself.
Hiking Between Two Mountain Temples in Jogyesan
I should note that I started at Seonamsa and ended at Songwangsa. It’s perfectly possible to do the reverse trek, and, in fact, I feel like Songwangsa-Seonamsa path is actually more popular. We passed by quite a number of hikers going the opposite direction, including one of my students!
The First Stop: Seonamsa Temple
The most popular image you’ll see of Seonamsa is of its entrance about 1km from the bus stop. If you see any tourist information for it, this is always the accompanying image. The bridge is called Seungeongyo (Seungseon Bridge), and the entrance pavilion is called Gangseonru.
Seonamsa itself was first built around 526 as a Buddhist temple for the Taego Order, and one of its most prominent features are these beautiful trees planted all around. No one knows how old they are exactly, but oral tradition dates them back to at least 600 years ago. Compared to Songwangsa, Seonamsa is the more traditional and quieter of the two.
- Korean Name: 선암사
- Address: 전라남도 순천시 승주읍 선암사길 450 (승주읍)
- English Address: 450, Seonamsa-gil, Seungju-eup, Suncheon-si, Jeollanam-do
- Cost: 2,000 KRW
- Open: Sunrise – Sunset
The Lunch Stop: Boribap + Pajeon
About midway through your hike, you’ll finally come across a cluster of little buildings/huts, and this is where you can stop for food! They’re known for their boribap (보리밥), which is a great option for vegetarians. It’s basically an assortment of veggies, some sauce, lettuce wraps, and steamed rice. Place the rice and veggies into your lettuce wrap and then add some sauce, and voila! When it’s served, it looks like this:
Side note: That soup is one of my favorite soups. I honestly have no clue what its name is, but it’s delicious and makes me miss having school lunches.
I like boribap, but one of my favorite dishes is pajeon (파전), and to me, it’s much more satisfying to dive into pajeon during a hike than boribap. Pajeon basically means “scallion pancake,” so you might also find things like kimchijeon (김치전) or seafood jeon (해물전), but a lot of people use pajeon to generally mean “jeon.” It’s basically a batter of flour, eggs, and vegetables or other ingredients mixed and then cooked in a pan. When you eat it, you can dip into a soy sauce mixture.
If you like alcohol, then definitely get some makgeolli (막걸리) for lunch as well! It’s a slightly sweet, milky looking drink made from rice.
- Boribap – 보리밥 – 6,000 KRW
- Pajeon – 파전 – 6,000 KRW
- A Mini Chilsung Cider (sprite like soda) – 칠성사이다 – 1,000 KRW
The Final Stop: Songgwangsa Temple
The final stop is Sogwangsa! You’ll notice the architecture and designs are a bit more elaborate than Seonamsa, whether it’s the scenes painting on the walls or the designs of the ceilings. It’s a really beautiful way to end your hike.
The temple is over a thousand years old and part of the Sambosachal (삼보사찰) or “Three Jewel Temples” with Haeinsa in Gayasan and Tongdosa near Yangsan. While Haeinsa represents the Buddhist teachings and Tongdosa represents Buddha, Songwangsa represents the Buddist community or disciples. As you might guess, Songwangsa is best known for how many famous monks it’s produced over the years.
- Korean Name: 송광사
- Address: 전라남도 순천시 송광면 송광사안길 100 (송광면)
- English Address: 100 Songgwangsaan-gil, Songgwang-myeon, Suncheon-si, Jeollanam-do
- Cost: If you’re coming from the hike, it’s free but otherwise 3,000 KRW
- Open: 6:00 am – 7:00 pm in the summer, 7:00 am – 6:00 pm in the winter
Since I’m writing this so quickly after I’ve actually done the hike, and all the details are fresh in my mind, I can give you an exact breakdown of my itinerary for the day! Keep in mind I’m horribly out of shape, and we took our sweet time taking photos and eating lunch. If you’re an avid hiker, I’m sure you could finish this hike a lot faster than us!
I met my friend, Stacie, at the train station. Her train got in around 9:20 am. It was enough time for us to grab something from the Dunkin Donuts and caught a local bus to Seonamsa.
There’s a bus stop right in front of the train station. You can take either Bus 1 or Bus 16, but there are two different Bus 16s, so make sure you grab the right one. When in doubt, ask the bus driver “Seonamsa.”
Though my app said 9:40 am, it was probably closer to 9:50 am. We caught Bus 1 since it was coming first. It’s nice because it says “서남사” right on the bus, so we knew it was the right one!
I’m not sure when exactly we got to Seonamsa, but it was faster than I thought. The actual temple grounds are about a 1km walk from the bus stop, but chances are, you’ll see a group of Koreans and can follow them if you’re not sure where to go.
We really took our time taking the famous bridge shot you’ll see for Seonamsa all over the place. You have to actually climb down to this rock area in the river to get the shot, but it’s worth it. We then meandered around the actual temple grounds for a while as well.
I’d say we started our actual hike around noon? Maybe a little earlier. When you get to Seonamsa, you’ll see a sign for Seonamsa pointing one way and Songgwangsa pointing another way. It’ll also have 6.5km underneath it, so you know that’s the correct direction. There isn’t a lot of signage, but there’s also a fairly clear path through Jogyesan, so don’t worry about getting lost.
Side note: There’s also this really beautiful forest area early on in the hike. We walked along the path through the forest for a bit and then went back to the normal one just in case it took us in the wrong direction.
I’m going to be generous and say we reached our lunch place around 1:30. It’s about 2.5km into the hike.
Also, there aren’t many bathrooms. I’d say the bathrooms here are probably the only ones you’ll have actually, so if you think you’ll have to go, go.
Once you’re done lunch cross over and follow the signs for Sogwangsa. It’ll seem like you’re going through someone’s property a bit, but you’re on the right path.
The rest of the hike took us until around 4:30 pm, and boy were we dead by the end. You do get over the steepest part of the trail before you get lunch, but there’s a bit of an uphill portion after. Going downhill isn’t exactly smooth sailing either since a lot of it is quite rocky. I scraped the side of my calf landing on an unsteady rock, and there were a few times we narrowly missed twisting our ankles!
That’s typical for most of my hikes in Korea though, and honestly, nothing is quite as hard as the sunrise hike in Bali was!
Around 4:30, we finally reached the back entrance to Songwangsa! Keep walking through the bamboo part and you’ll get to the main grounds. If you’re thirsty and didn’t bring enough (or any) water (*cough*), then feel free to drink as much from the little water area as you want. I think I gulped down at least 4 huge spoonfuls before I felt normal!
We walked around Songwangsa for maybe 45 minutes. It actually started to get really cold as the sun was going down, and our legs were pretty much jelly, so we didn’t wander as much as we could have.
In case you’re wondering the bus stop is near the parking lot, and it’s literally a stand. We were cold, so we went into the little makeshift convenience store across from it and got drinks to sit and wait. The times are listed, so we knew we had 20 minutes to kill and wait for the 63 Bus at 5:35. You can also take the 111 Bus. I took a photo of the times, so you can plan accordingly and not get stuck waiting:
- Bus 63: 8:55, 11:05, 3:05, 5:35 (goes to the bus terminal but not the train station)
- Bus 111: 7:00, 8:20, 9:10, 10:00, 10:50, 11:40, 12:30, 1:20, 2:10, 3:00, 3:50, 5:00, 5:55, 6:35, 7:20, 8:00, 8:25 (goes to both the train station and the bus terminal)
We got to the bus terminal around 6:45 pm, so it’s about an hour bus ride home. If you want to take the train, then you can either taxi from the bus terminal to the train station or take a bus. Just cross the street from where the 63 bus drops you off to the opposite bus stop, then get any of the buses that go to “순천역.” It’s only maybe 3 stops away, so most of the buses will go.
- Everything is within what’s known as Jogyesan Provincial Park (조계산도립공원)
- To get to Suncheon, you can either take a train or a bus:
- Buses to Seonamsa: 1 and 16
- Buses to Songgwangsa: 63 and 111
- The hike itself is about 6.5km long and the highest peak might be 884m. The path changes from being smooth to rocky, but you should be okay in regular sneakers.
- Bring water!
- I’d say the hike is nice in spring, winter, and autumn. I wouldn’t recommend hiking in general in the summer months, especially not somewhere as far down south as Suncheon. For reference in December, I wore regular socks, a Uniqlo Heattech tank, thin T-shirt, a fleece zip-up sweatshirt, and black Capri workout pants. I was totally fine and wound up taking off the tank and the sweatshirt for most of the hike.
For more hiking in Korea posts:
- Hike Seoraksan, One of Korea’s Tallest Mountains
- Jirisan’s Baemsagol Valley Course
- Hiking Wolchulsan to Cross One of Korea’s Must See Bridges
- Hiking Daedunsan
- Naejangsan National Park: Finding Fall Colors
And that’s about it! Let me know if you have any questions about the hike or more specific details. There really isn’t a lot of straightforward information in English about the trail!