With thousands of temples across the peninsula, you’d be forgiven if they all started to look similar. While they’re all unique, you’d need to have a pretty educated background and finely tuned eye to tell them apart.
Enter Yonggungsa, AKA Haedong Yonggungsa, AKA 해동 용궁사. Legend holds that the Great Goddess Buddha of mercy in the sea lives a solitary live, and can appear on the back of a dragon. Instead of housing a temple in a remote mountain area, it naturally fits better next to the water. Established in 1376 by Naong, who saw a sea god in his dream that said a temple built at the edge of Bongrae mountain would ease the drought the country had been facing. Like most temples, it’s been destroyed and rebuilt, most recently rebuilt by Ungang in the 1930’s. The monks here have a sense of imagination and color, though. From the official website, “Amidst his 100-day pray session he witnessed the Great Goddess Buddha in white robe on the back of a dragon emanating five-color beam and after the dream he renamed the temple Haedong Yonggung temple.”
What you see when you visit — the main sanctuary, among other beautiful objects — was reconstructed in 1970. Symbolism surrounds you, and makes you climb the 108 stairs to reach a higher point. Near the entrance (and pictured above) are the Chinese zodiac animals. Pick the one based on the year of your birth and strike a pose if you like, or just find the angle that allows you to get them all in one shot.
Just one of the many sights around.
Go on — you know you want to rub his belly too. Pregnant women hoping for a boy would rub his belly for luck.
As mentioned, the seaside nature of the temple makes this an unusually serene place. Expect the typical breeze, which may make it chillier than expected in the winter months and a pleasant surprise in the summer months.
Remember those 108 steps? The lanterns guide the way, but they don’t (huff) make the climb (puff) any (huff) easier…
Just in case you’ve forgotten how colorful Korean temples can be…
Gwanseeum-bosal, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
A pleasant surprise — an underground grotto, and a quiet place to pray. It’s rather dark inside, and the further in you go the more reliant you’ll be on the candlelight.
It’s beautiful, a bit remote, and well worth the visit the next time you’re in the Busan area. The seaside alone makes it worth visiting, and the stories surrounding the temple are fairly accessible as well.
Name: Haedong Yonggungsa (해동 용궁사)
Address: 86 Yonggung-gil, Gijang-eup, Gijang-gun, Busan
Korean address: 부산광역시 기장군 기장읍 용궁길 86
Directions: Take line 2 of the Busan subway system to the Haeundae station. Yes, the same station as the famous Haeundae beach. Take exit 7 to street level, walk 5 meters to the bus stop and get on bus 181. Ride it for about 25 minutes — getting off at the right place is the trickiest part. The bus stop is called 용궁사 국립수산 과학원 — it translates to ‘Yonggung National Fisheries Research’, but just listen for ‘Yonggungsa’.
Admission: free (expect a nominal fee for parking)