Temples throughout Korea can be similar in fact they can be very difficult to tell apart. You may even be able to say in South Korea if you have seen one temple you have seen them all. Temples are usually located high on a mountain or in cities but Haedong Yonggunsa, the number one sightseeing spot in Busan is different starting from the location being built on the seaside of the East Sea.
why is Haedong Yonggunsa so special, why was it built on the sea. It all started from a dream. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, was first founded in 1376 by the Venerable monk Naong . One day in a dream, the Divine Sea god of the East Sea revealed itself to Naong. He was told to construct a temple at the top of Mount Bongrae and the nation would become larger and more stable. So after checking around the nation for a place to build a temple, he found the land where the temple now rests. In the process, he named the temple Bomunsa Temple. However, in 1592, during the Imjin War with Japan, the temple was burned to the ground. It wasn’t until the 1930’s, over 300 years after its destruction, that the Venerable monk Ungang, from Tongdosa Temple, rebuilt the temple. He renamed it Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, which means Korean Dragon Palace Temple in English.
The temple because of its location along the rocky coastal shoreline attracts many people and after talking to a few locals they mentioned that each time they venture out here there seems to be more and more people. The temple though is not the easiest place to get to having to take a train and then transferring onto a bus taking about 90 minutes to get there from the centre of Busan.
Rocky coastline with temple
Once you emerge from the stalls selling their wares you encounter the twelve Chinese zodiac generals standing upright being the year of the monkey we couldn’t resist to take a photo.
Rei with the monkey zodiac
Through the temple grounds you come across different statues or pagodas that represent different aspects of Buddhism , the seven tiered stoned pagoda, a wishing well which you attempt to toss coins onto a turtle stationed below for good luck unfortunately Rei missed.
Seven tier pagoda
It’s through the gate, which sports two golden dragons on either pillar, and down the flight of stairs that you’ll draw closer to the main temple grounds. Waiting for you along the way with a tarnished nosed and a scuffed belly is a Podae-hwasang statue that grants women who rub its belly or nose a future son.
Dozens of stone lanterns lead the way as you make your descent down the 108 stairs that are symbolic of the 108 delusions of the mind in Buddhism. From the rocky outcrop the temple and the East Sea are now in full view as you sit on the rocks in a reflective state only to be interrupted by other tourists distinctly pushing for their place on the rocks. Haedung Yonggungsa would be a blissful place if it weren’t for the sheer volume of people who turned up to visit the temple but we are not complaining as if the Korean culture is the same as Japanese when they visit temples and shrines at the start of the new year as we visited on one of the first days of 2016.
Dragon in front of Honggungsa temple
The main hall is filled with beautiful paintings including the Palsang-do murals and a painting to the Divine Sea god of the East Sea revealing itself to the monk Naong. Outside to the left of the main hall is a large, jovial, golden statue of the Podae-hwasang. Also in the main courtyard are two large, round, golden pigs that grant good fortune. There are a flight of stairs that lead underground which houses a statue of Yaksayore-bul, as well as water that purportedly cures ill health.
Honggungsa temple and gold Buddha
How to get to Honggungsa temple
From the Haeundae subway stop (line 2, stop #203), exit from exit #7, then change to bus #181 that will bring you all the way to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. Just make sure you get off at the temple’s stop.
You can take a bus or you can simply take a taxi from the Jangsan subway stop (line 2, stop #201). The price should be about 10,000 won.