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This is post three of twelve on our autumn trip to South Korea. Check out the other posts in this series here:

After a good night’s rest, Mrs. Selfish and I woke up at the Park Hyatt Seoul refreshed and ready to take on the day. The thing I enjoy the most about visiting different countries is probably the food a strong sense of place.

Now I know what you’re thinking. How can a city have a strong sense of place? I’m not sure how to explain it, but there are just some cities that do. New York, Tokyo, Paris, San Francisco… these are all cities with unique characteristics – so much so that if you were blindfolded and dumped in the middle of downtown you could instantly tell where you were.

Seoul has a bit of that. From the thousands of coffee shops that dot the landscape, to the overly sculpted beautiful Seoulites roaming the streets, to the bizzarro integration of ancient and beautiful temples amidst modern skyscrapers.

The beautiful Bongeunsa Temple fits that perfectly, an ancient(ish) temple nestled in the middle of Gangnam.

The Bongeunsa Temple

Located in the heart of Gangnam, the Bongeunsa Temple is literally across the street from the Coex Mall (and was even visible from our hotel room).

Started in 793, the temple changed hands between Buddhists and anti-Buddhists factions several times, and was destroyed on more than one occasion. The current incarnation is a practicing Buddhist temple, which was quite active the day we arrived.

I have no idea what they were chanting in there, but to the untrained English ear it sounded like they were saying “Temple Time” repeatedly. I kid you not.

The temple is a great example of Korean architecture, which shares many similarities with Chinese architecture (and to a possibly greater extent, Okinawan architecture).

What makes the temple very surreal, however, is its location. There was something amazing about seeing the old-style buildings with skyscrapers in the background. Very other-worldly.

The Jongmyo Royal Shrine

From there, Mrs. Selfish and I headed to the Jongmyo Royal Shrine, located right next to the Changdeokgung World Heritage Palace. We visited Changdeokgung back during our Selfish Year trip, so skipped it this time around. Now I wish we had done both the first time around.

Jongmyo is a Confucian shrine, and used to house the remains of kings and queens. At one point the main part of the shrine was thought to be the longest building in Asia, but the whole complex was burned to the ground when the Japanese invaded in the 16th century.

The current version was rebuilt in 1601 and has survived to this day. Entrance is only 1,000 KRW per person (~$1 USD), which is dirt cheap when you consider how much most other countries charge for similar attractions.

That being said, while the temple is large, there really isn’t that much going on compared to some of Seoul’s other sites. We weren’t able to go into any of the shrine’s halls and spent most of our time wandering the grounds (which were still quite beautiful).

Join us tomorrow, when I’ll go over some of the tastier things we ate in Seoul.

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