Holding 81,258 woodblock scriptures, making it one of the largest Buddhist libraries of its kind, this Unesco World Heritage–listed temple should be on every visitor’s not-to-be-missed list. As well as being one of Korea’s most significant temples, Haein-sa is also one of the most beautiful: part of its magic lies in the natural setting of mixed deciduous and coniferous forest surrounded by high mountain peaks and rushing streams. At prayer times (3.30am, 10am and 6.30pm) the place can feel otherworldly.
Known as the Tripitaka Koreana, the blocks are housed in four buildings at the temple’s upper reaches, complete with simple but effective ventilation to prevent deterioration. Although the buildings are normally locked and you can only approach to a certain distance, the blocks are visible through slatted windows, though you may have to do a fair amount of peering to allow your eyes to adjust to the light.
The main hall, Daejeokkwangjeon (대적광전; 大寂光殿) – the Great Hall of Tranquil Light – was burnt down in the Japanese invasion of 1592 and again (accidentally) in 1817, though miraculously the Tripitaka survived. It escaped a third time, during the Korean War, when a South Korean pilot working for the Allied forces refused to allow them to bomb it. The hall is an astonishing sight, with its fabulously carved and decorated ceiling and fabulous trinity of Buddhas.
The Daebirojeon (대비로전; 大毘盧殿), or Vairocana Hall, is notable for containing the two oldest wooden images in Korea, both of the Vairocana Buddha. Don't overlook having a ladle of pure crystal-clear spring water from the Eosujeong (King's Spring) – a well that was mainly used in the past by kings but can now be supped from by all and sundry.
The name Haein-sa literally means the 'Stamp of the Sea Temple'.