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Sunday, 16 February 2014

Namo Palbeon Daebosal, Part XIII: Baengnyeonsa, Gangjin, Southern Jeolla

Baengnyeonsa (Hanja: 白蓮寺) is a Buddhist temple located in 145 Baengnyeonsa Drive/Baengnyeonsa-gil, Mandeok-ri 246-beonji, Doam-myeon, Gangjin county, Southern Jeolla Province. Built based upon the Cheontae Doctrine, Baengnyeonsa played an important role in promoting the restoration of Buddhism. Located east of Mount Mandeok (만덕산), Baengnyeonsa is famous for its camellia forest skirting the road to the temple. One of the two most beautiful camellia colonies in Korea, including camellias on Odong Island in Yeosu, this colony of camellias was designated as natural treasure No. 151. The camellias come into full bloom around the end of March. 

Its name means "White Lotus" temple, and its physical form dates to the late Goryeo dynasty. Some records date the idea of a White Lotus temple to the 9th century A.D. It was rebuilt in 1965, and was designated a Local Tangible Cultural Property in 1986. Silhak scholar, Dasan Jeong Yak-yong (Baptismal Name: John) lived nearby during his exile in the early-19th century, and some have suggested that Baengnyeonsa influenced his writings on Korean Buddhism. The temple was also known as Mandeoksa, taking its name after Mount Mandeok, which rises behind the temple and Dasan Chodang.

Buses leave in the direction of Baengnyeonsa from Gangjin Bus Terminal regularly. However, bus drivers frequently drop passengers off at the Baekryeonsa road sign, in which case you would walk roughly 1.5 km to the temple. At the temple entrance is a small Korean restaurant, and in the temple proper is a small tea house. 

If facing the temple, there is a trail to the right which goes to Gitdae Peak, the highest point of Mount Mandeok. To the left, at the end of the temple's structures, is a path that goes past the camellia forest and which leads, after a ten minute hike, to Dasan Chodang. Half-way between the temple and Dasan Chodang is a sign pointing to Gitdae Peak, although this trail is significantly more difficult than that which starts from the temple, as the former first makes its way up a steep, neighboring peak. There are sporadic maps that point out other neighboring sites and temples. Gangjin Bay, seen from Baengnyeonsa, and the road that leads from the temple to Dasan Chodang are also famed for their scenic beauty.