South Korea Travel Destinations

Korea, Suncheon Jogye San Philosopher’s Hike

Korea, Suncheon Philosopher's Hike
Written by Duke Stewart

Korea, Suncheon Jogye San Philosopher’s Hike

I’m always afraid of forgetting memories and never want to forget this one at Suncheon Jogye San. They all share a common place with the snow that comes and goes with each winter. Like the snows that brighten up an otherwise dreary existence, memories are an always-welcome refresher during boring or unhappy times. When homesick or wishing I could go home to be with sick family, memories help. Winter always brings a mixture of feelings, both happy and sad. The cold usually forces me indoors, with fewer chances to walk around.

Bamboo Lined Pathway behind Songgwangsa, Suncheon

Being close to Mt. Jiri National Park means that Northbound winter drives away from this too-warm-for-snow peninsula will bring views of snow-capped mountains as far as my eyes can reach. Seeing those bright whites over the dreary dead grass and dormant trees awakens my inner child and takes me back to Christmases spent at my Grandfather’s house in rural West Virginia.

Frozen Water Wheel, Suncheon Hike

Korea is similar in so many ways to the Mountain State – with resource extraction and development threatening the beauty that many visitors are accustomed to seeing in both places. Above all, there are the mountains and the kinds of people one can find on them. Of course, they are a mix of friendly and not so but the former always outweighs the latter in my mind.

Snow and Sun at Suncheon's Seonamsa

Driving to a mountain near Jiri in December leads us to reconnect with Korea’s physical and personal beauty, after winter begins its cruel work of forcing all the beautiful flowers and colors away. Starting at Suncheon’s glorious Seonam Temple, the snow resumes from an early morning break. There’s almost a festival atmosphere here, with a flurry of activity accompanying the falling snow. Monks walk around and try to keep up their daily business, as our party and others pass through this temple for prayer or a place to get started hiking.

Through a Window Hole at Songgwangsa, Suncheon

While watching the mixture of snow and sun, our party runs into a kind old gentleman who was, of course, curious about our names and nationalities and all those things that come with first meetings here. Having two sons, the man explains that he’s been served a “dung medal” in life and wanted the benefits that come with having daughters. I don’t understand why he wants to tell us that, but my guess is that he needs to tell someone.

Monk bows after ringing the ceremonial bell at Seonamsa Temple in Suncheon, South Korea

After seeing him and sampling some tea near the temple, we begin walking what’s become known as Korea’s Philosopher’s Walk that cuts through Mt. Jogye. Highlights along the way include stops at an evergreen forest full of corpuscular rays (Thanks Emily!) cutting through, and no snow cover thanks to the canopy layer. This contrast of green with the adjacent white trails makes a welcome contrast to the recent weeks and the hangover found after fall leaves you expecting more color.

Food Mid-Hike on Jogye San in Suncheon, South Korea

The best part of the day comes at the trail’s unofficial midway point, and the meal that everyone is waiting for there. One of Korea’s finest – bori bap – along with some rice wine inside a warm tent help us all recharge. A wood stove fights against the outside elements, keeping us toasty while roasting sweet potatoes that visitors seem to enjoy. Loading up on rice and the assorted vegetables that come with this fabulous meal, round two with the cold begins.

Monk Walking at Songgwangsa, Suncheon

The icy conditions start to win and move towards checkmate as we reach the trail’s end at Songgwang Temple. Not merely just the end of our journey, this monastery is packed with beautiful buildings and the careful planning found at Zen complexes. The snow has mostly dissipated by now, but the cold still keeps its grip on the day. The sun edges closer to the horizon and the day reaches its finale, we reflect on the wonderful walk and things along the way.

Green at Seonamsa, Suncheon

These memories wouldn’t have been possible without the person who first wrote about the Philosopher’s Walk, and for the people who decided to join us for this adventure. This walk around Suncheon Jogye San is well known among locals but for me, it felt like a true discovery. This cold memory is thankfully stored forever, in a warm safe place deep inside my heart and mind.

If you really liked reading this, take a look at the subscription box at the top of your screen. I love connecting with people via email and give away something for free every week! 

Want to see more of Korea? Click here.

Pin and Share!

Korea, Suncheon Jogye San Philosopher's Hike

About the author

Duke Stewart

As a recovering Expat, I write about Life through Travel and want you there with me through captivating stories followed by guides on how to do the same. My work has been featured in various magazines throughout Korea and in online publications including the awesome Hipmunk.com. I am also a nerd and love to point out a situation's similarities to any of my favorite movies, books, or tv shows. You've been warned:) Follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily updates.

22 Comments

  • My husband and I walked from Songgwangsa to Seonamsa on Children’s Day, 1997. Great memory!

    (Corpuscular is a word, but I believe the rays in question were crepuscular.)

    • Hi Helena! Thanks for stopping by! Also, thanks for the correction there! I’ll make a note of it:)

      Cheers and I hope you get to go back and enjoy this hike!

  • Do you happen to have a map of the trails? Is the place serving bori bap located on the trail that actually goes to the summit or the one that goes around the mountain?

    • Hi Curtis, thanks so much for commenting. I’m currently traveling so apologies for the delay. You’ve touched upon a wonderful point that I should make a how-to on this hike.

      The Bori Bap place is located about halfway through the hike and doesn’t have any particular markings, though I remember that we didn’t really have to search for it. It was kinda there along the way.

      Here’s a guide provided by Korea Tourism in the meantime.

      http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=815441

      There are two hikes listed between Songgwangsa and Seonamsa. I’m not sure which one we did but the longer one seems more likely. Also, we did this in the snow so it was much longer than the 3 hours listed.

      I really appreciate you commenting on this post and hope you enjoy the hike. Hope you can stop back by and give me an update on how it went. Will be totally beautiful in the Spring and Fall if you make it during those times.

      Take Care.

  • I absolutely love the pictures in this post! Seeing the temple and nature covered in a blanket of snow really brings the story to life! Wonderful descriptions, too. I learned a new term (corpuscular rays, thanks for that!) and am feeling fuzzy with nostalgia for winter hikes I’ve been on myself. A treat, as always.

    • Thank you so much Nathan! The corpuscalars were out in full force that day and thanks to Emily, we were saying it all day long. Come back to Korea and check out Suncheon!

  • In general I am a huge fan of winter hikes…but I have to say that the landscape of frozen mud and dead grass this (almost) past winter in my South Korean town left me feeling rather uninspired! Your writing about your experience on the Philosopher’s Walk was full of poignant moments that I really appreciated…I think that this day hike will have to go on my list of things to do in Korea…perhaps I should save it for a day next winter when I need to battle the winter blues (those fresh roasted sweet potatoes sound like a ‘must eat’!) Nice piece of writing!

    • Thank you so much, Lara! I too feel a bit bummed and lacking for creativity when staring at brown mountains all the time. This hike really helped me get out of the rut. I hope you get a chance to visit, even if it’s nice. Suncheon is wonderful!

  • I’m afraid of forgetting too! But unfortunately I’m not as good as you are about recording memories, haha.
    The pictures from this post were breathtaking!! Evan is soo sensitive to the cold that I can’t imagine he’d be up for a winter hike!! But it looks like it’s worth it. We still haven’t made it to Jiri Natl Park, but we should be going soon! 🙂

    • I was in Jiri this past weekend and was shocked to see snow still on the ground! Though it was mushy and hopefully going to be gone relatively soon. Still a bit chilly up there right now!

      Thanks so much for your kind words. I hope you enjoyed reading:)

  • I’m ALWAYS afraid of forgetting. It’s one of the main reasons I started my blog, it’s why I am a frantic journal keeper. Who knows if all of these notes will make any sense to me years from now, but I do my best to remember those moments that mean something to me.

    • I appreciate you focusing on that part of this story. My memory is already starting to go, it seems, so I’ve gotta write all this stuff down or forget it! It’s good to see there’s another person like me in that regard. Btw, did you get to see Suncheon while you were in Jeonnam?

  • What a great post. We, too have had spectacular experiences with Koreans showing “jeon” and they almost always come when we find ourselves in a rut, or missing home. This sounds like a great experience in Suncheon, and we’ll have to get the details from you about this hike. We are always game to experience new temples, hermitages, and meditative walks.

    A quick question, though: The hermitage you’re talking about (Seonam), is it a part of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism? We’ve been to Jogyesa Temple many times in Seoul and know that it is the headquarters for the Jogye Order. Since Seonam is on Jogyesan, we were curious if there was a historical connection between the mountain, the hermitage, and the Buddhist Order.

  • Love the word corpuscular. I thought it was a term for corpuscular muscle. Love the fact that I had to look up that word. That means I’m learning.

    I will have to visit this city. After the usual tourist places I’ve been to here, the off the beaten path is a definite must travel before I leave. Thanks for the great post.

    • Thanks Charisse! I’m happy you learned something while reading:) That’s what makes it so fun, I think. I hope you get a chance to visit Suncheon. There’s so much to see and do here!

  • Wow. The image of the frozen waterwheel is especially haunting. I am always fascinated when one part of the world can remind of of another so far away. When I got to Athens I had to laugh because the foothills looked a lot like the Boise foothills. Granted, Boise isn’t sitting on the Mediterranean, but still…

    • Thanks Jeri. I’m always wondering about how places like this might be similar to others. Korea always reminds me of West Virginia. I guess the connection through mountains will never go away since I’ve spent so much time in both places.