Travel Destinations

Korea, Yeosu Heungguksa Temple

Written by Carl Hedinger

Yeosu Heungguksa Temple

Summer is tough for those of us who don’t care for the excess heat. Beach getaways always help, with cool water nearby in case the sun starts to cook. So then, who would want to to visit something inland during such a hot and uncomfortable time? That thought creeps into mind as the car ignition shuts off and we exit the air-conditioned oasis. During a muggy mid-August day, a light work schedule allows an opportunity to take the afternoon and see more of our city. That’s what brings us to Yeosu Heungguksa Temple.

Walking into Heungguksa Temple in Yeosu, South Korea (흥국사)

Buses do come out to this quiet temple but having a car makes the trip as simple as “let’s go there.” No searching for bus numbers or mispronouncing Heungguksa to taxi drivers and hanging on while someone else is in control. It may be boring but running the show always wins.

Grown-over doorway at Yeosu Heungguksa Temple in South Korea

Heungguksa’s claim to fame stems from its past, as a temple built to pray for Korea’s well being. Noble enough, but the temple helped this country in more ways than spiritual ones. 300 monks-turned-warriors received training here during the Japanese invasion of the 16th century.

Buddha Statue Lineup at Yeosu Heungguksa Temple, South Korea

Chivalry aside, the site has gained more recent regognition as the starting point for one of Yeosu’s most gorgeous hikes, up Yeongchwi-san. At least that’s in April when the azaleas come out. This is August. We pass the trailhead sign and think about how ridiculous a hike would be on this day. Sweat has already formed around my forehead and in pockets around my shirt. Thankfully I chose a dark-enough one to mask such things.

Visitor entering a Prayer Hall at Yeosu Heungguksa Temple, South Korea

The heat will force a short visit but Heungguksa is not a huge temple. Nothing should be missed. Though the humidity is difficult to cope with, these grounds are impressive. They look to have not been touched up for some time. No spectacular restorations or paintjobs so commonly seen in Korea. Rusted door handles.

This feels like a real temple.

Yeosu Heungguksa Temple Dogs, South Korea

Passing by beautiful springs and statues, the sweat has done enough damage. A grown-over doorway appears and captures our concentration for a moment. Perfect. Not pristine. Just letting nature take its course here.

Door at Yeosu Heungguksa Temple, South Korea

After a walk around and a look at almost everything, a couple of short-trimmed sheepdogs spot us and fitting the “animal lover” bill, my wife calls the adorable creatures over. Leave it to man’s best friend to keep visitors around for a while. My aversions to strange dogs still not completely overcome. I still say nice things to the little guys. They seem bored enough to not leave us alone, wagging tails in excitement. Maybe the monks ignore them, due to busy workload. Tough life.

Yeosu Heungguksa Temple Dog, South Korea

The dogs’ interest shifts elsewhere shortly after we part ways and the walk out is another reminder that the heat is not going away soon. August might be the end of summer but it still feels like dog days. A line of buddha statues are the final stop before heading back to the front gate. Walking along the dirt path, Heungguksa seems just as empty on the way out as when we first arrived. Everyone must be at the beach today. Too hot to be outside and away from water. The car starts back up and that welcome sound of air-conditioning refreshes our minds and bodies.

Dog days indeed.

Outside a Prayer Hall at Yeosu Heungguksa Temple, South Korea

Directions to Heungguksa Temple (via Korea Tourism)

From Yeosu’s Intercity Bus Terminal (여수시의버스터미날), Bus 52 will get you to Heungguksa Temple in about an hour. Buses run about every 40 minutes and the Temple is the final stop on the route.

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Korea, Yeosu Heungguksa Temple (흥국사)

About the author

Carl Hedinger

I’m a writer and recovering American expat who shares my family’s travels through life. Follow our adventures here and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

24 Comments

  • The humidity in Korea is pretty unreal. It’s one of the things I’ve had the hardest time getting used to. it gets hot in Texas, but the area I live in doesn’t get *that* humid.

    Those dogs are super cute though! I am a big fan of Christina’s photography and this post just reaffirms that.

    • Thanks for the compliment. She loves good feedback like this. This summer was particularly miserable, though in Yeosu it’s not as bad as elsewhere in Korea. Luckily we’re surrounded by the sea on almost all sides. Hope you have fun at home:)

  • It seems that most of the temples in Korea do look pretty much the same (although my favorite is Yonggungsa in Busan because it’s right on the water!) so it seems refreshing to come to one that seems “real”. I’ve seen so many that are under construction and it kind of just ruins the image for me. I’ve been looking forward to going to temples in Southeast Asia like Angkor Wat that have let nature take its course. Gorgeous photos as always!

    • Thank you so much, Kirsten. Angkor Wat is amazing. We’ve got pictures of some of those temples and frankly, they don’t do justice to just how surreal it is walking around. I hope you get to go soon. It’s worth a visit.

  • So cute! I want to take that hike…in April. Not looking forward to the summer time. I still sleep with the fan directly on me and its 40 degrees at night. Ha. Beautiful pictures as usual!

  • Your photos are beautiful, as usual! Sometimes I really wish I had a car here in Korea, it would make exploring the tucked away places much easier!

    • Having a car is a bonus. We went a couple of years without one and got by just fine. I just think it’s harder to see as many places without a car. Some people have done it. Just takes more work/time, I suppose. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Bah! All the places that would be so much easier to visit by car. Often times complicated and hassling public transport get me down. But this does look like a nice one!

    • It’s okay. I totally understand where you come from. There was one weekend when we were out on Namhae walking around and I decided that those days were over. If it weren’t for my impatience, we’d probably be relying on Public Transport instead of having a car. Let an impulse take you to a car lot and maybe you’ll join the ranks of us car drivers.:)

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Fantastic photos, you really have a great eye. I also love lesser known temples, for the same reason, they feel more “real”, I guess. I had heard about the warrior monks so it was cool to learn that’s where they were trained.

    • Hi Evan and Rachel,

      I think there were many places for Warrior Monks and this just so happened to be the one in the Yeosu area. Since Yi Sun Shin was based here, that might be why they are well known. Not sure on that though.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment though. I hope my posts continue sparking discussions like these:)

  • Great post! I had never heard of Heungguksa before! Your photos and words describe the temple beautifully. I would love to visit. It would be interesting to know how to get there without a car or what the nearest public transport is so we could hail a cab to the temple. Thanks so much for sharing! My list of places to visit in Korea keeps growing…

    • Hi Elle,

      It’s not a very well-known temple and for good reason. One bus (52) does run out there and even a city tour bus does as well. If you’re ever in the area, I definitely recommend a stop by!

  • I’ve been trying to narrow down a list of temples that I’d like to visit, and you’ve convinced me to go here! I’m very interested in doing a temple stay. Do you know if that’s possible here?

    • I’ve heard of Temple Stays happening there but they seem to be quite randomized. I’d recommend checking the templestay Korea website if interested in this. Temple stays are awesome!

      Where do you live in Korea? Daegu?

  • Lovely post (once again). I LOVE Korean temples but an experience of visiting Bulguksa in Gyeongju on a hot sweltering August day left a bad picture in my mind. I know everything looks more alive and green in summer but I.CANT. LOL. You’re photos are great, I love the bright summer feel in them.

    • There was about a month when we really couldn’t do much, other than going to the beach. Thankfully we live on the coast so that wasn’t a hard prospect. Thank you for the kind comment. I really appreciate it.

      Also, thanks for giving me the idea back to go to G+. Really enjoying it there. Look forward to continuing the discussion!

  • It is difficult to not get deterred from day trips during the oppressive South Korean summers…but like you, the desire to go out and see all of the amazing things this country has to offer definitely trumps my standard comfort levels! I appreciate the bit of the history of the temple that you included- it really paints pictures in my head, imagining what sort of training the monks engaged in, surrounded by the beauty of the surrounding scenery- like scenes from a movie.

    • Thank you for commenting, Lara. The summers here are pretty rough and thankfully Yeosu isn’t as bad as the rest of the country. I hope you got to get out there and see some things as well, even when it was too hot!