Cheongpyeongsa Temple is located in a long valley south of Mt. Obongsan (777.9 m) in northern Chuncheon, Gangwon-do. The temple was first constructed in 973 A.D. by the monk Seunghyeon, and it was called Baegamseonwon Temple. The temple was rebuilt in 1068 by the civil official Yi Ui. Later, and in 1089, Yi Ui’s son, Yi Ja-hyeong (1061-1225) would retire as a government official and live at the temple for the next 37 years of his life. During this time, he built several hermitages, pavilions, and ponds.
In the mid-16th century, the temple was expanded by the monk Bou, and it was at this time that the temple was renamed to Cheongpyeongsa Temple. It was also at this time that the Hoejeonmun Gate was built. Also built was the Geukrak-jeon Hall and the Yosachae (monks’ dorms) in 1550.
During the Korean War (1950-1953), the majority of temple structures, including the Geukrak-jeon Hall, were completely destroyed. After this destruction, and some two decades later, Cheongpyeongsa Temple was rebuilt during the 1970s and 1980s. More specifically, the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall and the Samseong-gak Hall were rebuilt in 1977. And the Daeung-jeon Hall was rebuilt in 1988, which makes almost all of the temple shrine halls at Cheongpyeongsa Temple modern in construction.
In total, Cheongpyeongsa Temple is home to one Korean Treasure, which is the Hoejeonmun Gate of Cheongpyeongsa Temple. The Hoejeonmun Gate of Cheongpyeongsa Temple is Korean Treasure #164. Also, Cheongpyeongsa Temple is home to the Goryeoseonwon Buddhist Garden of Cheongpyeongsa Temple, which is a Scenic Site.
Admission to the temple is 2,000 won for adults, 1,200 won for teenagers, and 800 won for children.
There’s a rather interesting tale associated with Cheongpyeongsa Temple. In this tale, there is a Tang princess who was loved by a young man. This princess was known as Princess Pyeongyang, who was the daughter of Emperor Taejong [Taizong] of Tang (r. 626-649 A.D.). Emperor Taejong [Taizong] had the man killed; however, the lovesick man was reborn as a snake who constantly clung to the princess. And every effort that was made to separate the snake from the princess failed. Eventually, the princess left the palace, where she wandered and eventually arrived at the valley where Cheongpyeongsa Temple would be built. After spending a night at Gongju-gul (Princess Cave), she cleansed her body in a Gongju-tang (Princess bath). Afterwards, she dressed in a Gasa, which is a traditional monk’s clothing. Thanks to her virtue, the lovesick snake finally broke free from the princess and entered Nirvana.
Afterwards, the princess told her father, the emperor, and asked him to build a temple there. Eventually a pagoda was erected and the local people would call it the Gongju-tap (Princess Pagoda). And the place where the lovesick snake entered Nirvana was called Hoejeonmun.
From the temple parking lot to the actual main temple courtyard, you’ll walk about 2 km, which will take about 20 minutes to walk, but it’s a such a beautiful walk up the Cheongpyeongsa Valley. There is a slight incline as you make your way up the remaining 1.1 km, but there are waterfalls and cascading water joining you the entire way. It’s really something special and stunning. Along the way, you’ll find a statue dedicated to Princess Pyeongyang and the snake in a clearing alongside the flowing stream. Along the way, you’ll also find the very beautiful Gusong-pokpo Waterfall. Interestingly, the waterfall is named after the nine pine trees that once surrounded the waterfall. You can enter the gorge where the ten metre high waterfall flows. And at the top of the waterfall, you can find the Gusong-dae (Nine Pine Platform) to enjoy the waterfall from.
Continuing your way towards the main temple courtyard at Cheongpyeongsa Temple, you’ll come to the old temple site which is home to two important sites. The first to the left is the purported stupa for Yi Ja-hyeong. On either side of the pathway that leads up to the enclosure, you’ll find a pair of lions. Beyond this, and to the left, is an ornate stupa dedicated to Yi Ja-yeong. In front of the stupa is a stone lantern. As for the stupa, it has swirling dragons adorning the base of the structure, the Four Heavenly Kings around its body, and a faux-tile stone roof structure that adorns the top of the stupa. However, there is some dispute as to who this stupa actually belongs to. Based upon the style of the stupa, it appears to have first been made in the 18th century, which is a full 600 years after Yi Ja-yeong’s death. It’s believed by some that this stupa is actually home to another monk. That Yi Ja-yeong’s cremated remains are enshrined near a rock to the north of Cheongpyeongsa Temple. Either way, the stupa is stunning.
And to the right of this stupa enclosure, and across the trail, is the Goryeoseonwon Buddhist Garden of Cheongpyeongsa Temple. This garden was first constructed in 1089 by Yi Ja-hyeon after he left his position as a government official. The garden is mentioned in a poem by Kim Si-seup (1435-1493). At this time, it was given the name of Yeong-ji Pond, which means reflecting pond in English. The reason for this name is that Buyong-bong can be seen in the reflection of the pond.
Beyond both the pond and the stupa compound, and up the trail for another couple hundred metres, is the main temple courtyard. The first structure to greet you is the Hoejeonmun Gate. This rarely seen entry gate dates back to the mid-16th century. As for its symbolic meaning, it’s meant to awaken humankind to their previous life and the eternal cycle of life known as Samsara. So the second entry gate, which is replacing the more traditional Cheonwangmun Gate, is meant to awaken people to the transmigration of the soul in the eternal cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. The structure has a wide passageway and is without paintings or statues inside it.
Having passed through the Hoejeonmun Gate, you’ll next pass under the two-story Gangseon-ru Pavilion. On either side of the entry pavilion, you’ll find long sheltered corridors similar to the ones found at Bulguksa Temple. While the first story of the Gangseo-ru Pavilion acts as an low-ceilinged entryway to the main temple courtyard, the second story of the structure acts as a place for people to relax.
Emerging on the other side of the Gangseo-ru Pavilion, you’ll find three shrine halls in the compact temple courtyard. Straight ahead is the Daeung-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to the Daeung-jeon Hall are largely unadorned all but for the traditional dancheong colours and a pair of Bicheon (Flying Heavenly Deities) up near the eaves of the structure. Stepping inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find a triad of statues underneath a vibrant, red canopy. The central image is that of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who is joined on either side by Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). To the right of the main altar is a Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural). And on either side of the main altar are a pair of paintings with dozens of images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
To the right of the Daeung-jeon Hall is the Nahan-jeon Hall. Like the Daeung-jeon Hall, the Nahan-jeon Hall is simply adorned with dancheong colours. Rather uniquely, there is no main altar image of Seokgamoni-bul, or any other Buddha or Bodhisattva for that matter. Instead, what you find are sixteen beautiful renderings of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha).
To the left of the Daeung-jeon Hall, on the other hand, is the Gwaneum-jeon Hall. Like the two other temple shrine halls in the lower courtyard, the Gwaneum-jeon Hall is simply adorned. Stepping inside the Gwaneum-jeon Hall, you’ll find a solitary image of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) on the main altar. The fiery mandorla that surrounds the body of Gwanseeum-bosal is filled with tiny images of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. And this statue and mandorla are backed by a beautiful image of Gwanseeum-bosal, as well.
And to the rear of these three temple shrine halls, and up a pathway between the Gwaneum-jeon Hall and the Daeung-jeon Hall, are two additional temple shrine halls in the upper courtyard. The first of the two, and to the left, is the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall are adorned with a set of Shimu-do (Ox-Herding Murals), as well as a simplistic mural dedicated to an all-white Gwanseeum-bosal. Stepping inside the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall, you’ll find a main altar centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), who is joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). To the left of the main altar is a slender painting dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And to the right of the main altar is a red Shinjung Taenghwa with one of the angrier images of Yongwang (The Dragon King) captured inside this altar mural.
To the right of the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall, and slightly elevated, is the Samseong-gak Hall. The exterior walls to this shaman shrine hall are adorned with a pair of white cranes and a golden-eyed tiger. Stepping inside the Samseong-gak Hall, you’ll find a set of three murals dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Star) in the centre and joined by a painting dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) to the right and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) to the left.
How To Get There
From the Chuncheon train station, you’ll need to go out exit #1 and walk to get to the Chuncheon transit/transfer centre. From here, take the town bus (maeul) called “Buksan 2 – 북산 2.” After 29 stops, you’ll need to get off at the “Cheongpyeongsa jong jeom” stop. From where the bus drops you off, you’ll need to walk 20 minutes, or 1.5 km, to get to Cheongpyeongsa Temple.
You can do that or simply take a taxi from the Chuncheon Intercity Bus Terminal to get to Cheongpyeongsa Temple. It’ll take 40 minutes, or 29.1 km, and it’ll cost you 24,000 won (one way).
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
Cheongpyeongsa Temple is one of the most beautifully situated temples in all of Korea with its long hike up to the temple grounds and the meandering stream, cascading water, and a large waterfall along the way. When you finally do arrive at the temple grounds, you’ll be welcomed by the unique, and historic, Hoejeonmun Gate of Cheongpyeongsa Temple. Unfortunately, the rest of the temple shrine halls are newly built, but they are beautiful in their own way. Overall, Cheongpyeongsa Temple is beautifully maintained. A definite must-see temple in Gangwon-do!