▲ The view from Sanbang-gulsa, a grotto that is also a Buddhist temple, is stunning, with Sagye-ri harbor in the foreground and the islands off shore in the distance. Photo courtesy Jeju Provincial Govt.
Listen closely: hear the droning chant of Buddhist sutras, the soft soughing of the Jeju wind in the trees, the slow, mournful dripping of tears onto stone. Or at least, Jeju legend says they are tears.
Sanbang-gulsa is a large, 5 meter high arching grotto located high on the side of Sanbangsan, the dome-shaped mountain in southwestern Jeju. Seems that every place in Jeju has a mystical legend attached to it, and Sanbang-gulsa is no exception. As this legend goes, Sanbandeok, the beautiful daughter of Sanbangsan, well in love with a local mortal lad, Goseong. But an official in the hapless youth’s village had his eye on the goddess, and so banished the boy and took his property.
Devastated with grief, the goddess returned to her mountainside cave where she turned to stone and continues to this day to mourn for her lost love.
Sanbandeok shares her grotto, however, with a life-sized statue of Buddha and many visitors. The hillside grotto is one of the most popular tour stops in Jeju, but still worth a visit.
A steep stairway carved into the side of the massive, 345 meter high Sanbangsan winds slowly upward, and the views get better with every step. There are plenty of opportunities to stop and catch one’s breath, and take pictures. The Dragon Head Coast is directly below, and the small brother islands of Marado and Gapado lie on the shimmering sea just off the coast, nicely framed by pine boughs.
Parched visitors are welcome to take a sip from the spring of clear, cool water at the mouth of the cave, and to make a small donation to the Buddha.
▲ Many Buddhists make the pilgrimage up Sanbangsan to Sanbang-gulsa (grotto) to light candles for Buddha, or to leave smaller statues. Photos by Brian Miller
The grotto also provided shelter for the Buddhist monk Hye-Il (964-1053) who inhabited the once-lonely hermitage during the Goryeo Dynasty (918~1392). It is still an important Buddhist shrine, with many lovely Buddhist statues near the visitors’ center at the base of the mountain.
In 1995 UNESCO recognized the significance of Sanbang-gulsa and added it to the World Natural Heritage Sites list. Yet another natural wonder on an island with so many.
There is a small admission fee to climb the path above the souvenir shops. Adults are 2,500 won, with a 50 percent reduction for foreigners possessing Alien Registration Cards.
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