A Slice of Zen
A Korean temple stay offers some quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of urban travel
One of the most unique experiences for travellers in South Korea is experiencing a temple stay. Not only does it offer insight to better understanding the country’s history and cultural traditions, it is also a unique chance to experience a Korean Buddhist monastic life. If you’re ready to simplify your holiday and go back to basics, even if it’s just for a few days, read on for a guide to making the most of your temple stay.
Dress modestly to arrive at the temple (avoid revealing too much skin), and bear in mind that there is no need to prepare a set of clothes for your stay, although you may want to prepare extra layers to keep warm. Visitors will usually be given a modest cotton robe, which you are expected to wear throughout your stay. For footwear, bring comfortable socks and slip-on shoes that you can easily remove before entering temple interiors.
Take what you need
At mealtimes, the food served is often vegetarian, healthy and delicious. Take only what you can and will eat, and finish your food in silence. It is a good way to practice non-wastage. You are often also expected to clean your bowl and utensils after the meal.
Keep an open mind
Do not arrive expecting five-star accommodation. You are likely to be housed in a basic shared room with floor mats and blankets to lay out on the floor, with access to a communal bathroom. While temple stay programs differ, they usually include some form of guided meditation, prostrations, tea ceremonies (dahdo) and community work like farming and simple cleaning. Temple life also requires that you sleep and wake early. All of these may seem foreign and even a little challenging (especially for night owls), but keep an open mind and fully immerse yourself in the program — you may just surprise yourself.
Men and women are usually accommodated in different parts of the premise and physical contact is discouraged. Clean up after yourself, be it after meals or making your bed. Speak softly and respectfully (in fact you are encouraged to keep conversations to a minimum), avoid eating and drinking outside designated areas, do not bring your own food (especially meat and alcohol), and do not take photos inside temple interiors without permission.
Inspired? There are over 1,000 temple stay programs in Korea, although not all are open to international visitors. Visit http://eng.templestay.com for full details. Well-received options include Jogyesa Temple in Seoul and Beomeosa Temple in Busan.