Buddha’s Birthday Review

I love this time of year. I am not Buddhist but I do feel a great sense of calm when I am at temples, but sadly depending on the time you go, calm might not be achieved. However, this year I had a really great experience and even a personal tour of Junggwangsa.

Here are a few of my observations from this year and I hope that you can find them useful:

Got There Early

Here is a little secret that I picked up a few years ago: go the day before! If you go a few days earlier, there will be zero crowds and the lanterns are usually up and lit as well. I have used this many times for places in and around Ulsan, like Tongdosa, because they get quite busy and parking along with standing is a nightmare.

This year was great! I went with my wife to Jungwangsa on Saturday and there were very few people. I even met the director of the Temple/school and he took me around and showed me the entire building. It was a great experience.


OK, I am going to say this once and once only BRING A TRIPOD! I know that they are heavy and bulky but if you want to get any usable shots from the evening, just bring it. For those more advanced but think that carrying a tripod will ruin their “street image” This is one of those times where you might have to hang up the hipster fashions and tough it out because unless you have the steadiest hand in the world and are shooting at iso 3200+ you will find it difficult.

Be Respectful

I always found a smile and a bow to be a great way to get that “you’re okay” nod from monks and volunteers. Just remember that this is not an amusement park and people are there to pray and give their respects. Thus, they make not appreciate having their photos taken. Also, there may be places that you are not allowed and you must respect that.  This sometimes goes for the main hall and Buddha figure. I have never been asked to delete any images and that smile and nod with a following “chay-song-ham-ni-da” will smooth over any problems. Being aware of your surroundings will reduce your chances of finding yourself in the position to have to apologize.

While on my tour I was allowed into some of the places that usually photographers are not allowed to go or many may find disrespectful to shoot while people are trying to pray. It was my friendly smile that earned me tour of the temple and it was amazing.

Here are a few of the Temples that I got to this past long weekend.

1) Junggwansa

Located near the Sinbok Rotary in Ulsan, this temple is one of the largest in the city and has a great display of lotus lanterns. I have been going there for years due to it’s close proximity to my house and the displays. To get there, head past mugeo-dong, through Sinkbok rotary towards the Taehwa River. At night it will be hard not to miss.

2) Baekyongsa

This is one of the newer temples (to me) that I have found to be an interesting place. Placed on a hill overlooking Ulsan, the views from here at night were pretty cool.  This temple has many buildings and were beautifully decorated for the event.

Some other places that I have visited in the past have been:


Located near haeundae, this is one of the most beautiful temples in the area. With its long tunnel of lanterns and golden Buddha, this is a photographers heaven… or Buddhist version of. The path to the temple and the stairs can get kind of congested during this busy time but just relax and enjoy the view. Also take some time to grab a coffee on the way out. Not too many awesome temples have a decent coffee shop next door.


Located near Nopodong in Busan, this is one of the more predominant temples in Busan and one that I want to try and get out to this year.  Dale has a really great write up about the temple and all the heritages. This is definitely a place to head out and explore.


Located close to Ulsan, I try and make it out there every now again. I am constantly enamored by the landscape and timeless feeling of this temple. If you get down to the Ulsan area, this is a place that you must take some time to head out and visit.

This is a short list, I know, but the truth of the matter is that you can pretty much throw a stone and find a good location to shoot. What you want to do is make your shots noticeable. Don’t take the same shots over and over, try for something new each time.



  1. Stu Lillard Reply

    Great patterns and colors for such a birthday party! I was there half a century ago when only hand-held lanterns were available and long lines of visitors.

    • Jason Teale Reply

      Thank you Stu! I always love this time of year. While down near Ulsan you don’t see as many of the hand-held lanterns these days, there is still that sense of celebration. Thank you for the great comment, I really appreciate it.

  2. Kirsten Muolic Reply

    Thanks Jason! Found your blog via Ulsan Online and I’m so glad I did! I am a photography-amateur and have recently moved to Ulsan this year. I’m definitely looking for some places to capture more Korean culture so this was very helpful. Can’t wait to check out temples this year for Buddha’s birthday!

    • Jason Teale Reply

      Thanks Kirsten, also we have a photography club as well that will be going out around then. If you do a search for “Ulsan Photo Club” you will find us.

  3. Pingback:Samgwangsa Temple in Busan | The Sajin

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