Visiting Haedong Yonggungsa temple is one of the highlights of a trip to Busan, so I suggest including this even in the one-day itinerary, if you can.
Getting to the temple may take over an hour, if you aren’t staying in Haeundae area (in which case it would maybe be half an hour). You have an option to get to Haeundae metro station (line 2) and then take a bus 100 from there. There are other options too, depending where you are staying, so consult Naver. From the bus stop, you will have to walk about 15 minutes – just follow the road without changing the route.
Our experience of getting there from Seomyen wasn’t smooth at all. Through Naver’s suggestion we took a bus and were supposed to change to bus 100, however these buses run every about 20 minutes and the first one that came was so full, the bus simply didn’t stop for us. We managed to get on the next bus. But this way we lost a lot of time. By the way, when we reached Haeundae area, the bus wasn’t so crowded anymore, so taking it from this area after metro seems to be the best option.
Note: to get to the temple from the entrance, you will have to climb down 108 stairs and then back up to leave. For people with mobility issues this can be complicated.
Haedong Yonggungsa means Korean Palace Dragon. The 14th century temple originally located here was constructed by master Naong and was called Bomun temple. According to the legend during a time of draught, when people were losing faith in Buddhism, a Sea Goddess appeared in his dream and promised to make people happier, if he built a temple in this area. The temple was then destroyed during Japanese invasions and rebuilt in 1930s-70s.
The temple claims to be “the most beautiful temple in Korea” – you will see the sign while entering. Whether you agree or not, this definitely is a gorgeous place due to its proximity to the sea and resulting lovely views. Besides, the temple’s motto is that at least one of your wishes will be answered here.
The temple opens at 5 AM, so you can even watch sunrise here, if you are an early riser. Otherwise, everyone suggest to come here as early as possible. As a result of the delay, we ended up at the temple at almost 10am, when tour groups were already crowding the area, but by 11am it was impassable. So do plan to get here before 9 AM or much earlier, if you can.
From the parking lot you have two options for entering the temple grounds – one is to go through the alley with tons of food vendors and souvenirs, another is to your right through the small temple building and the woods. The second route is slightly longer, but if you want quieter entrance to the temple, then you can choose that.
Before going down stairs, you will see a row of zodiac animal statues. Then you will find a small pagoda, followed by 108 stairs. On the way down you will find the Buddha of Granting a Son. The idea is that people rub his belly to ask for a son. I do hope this doesn’t reinforce the old practice of preferring sons to daughters 🙁
Once you go down a part of the stairs, you will find a walkway to your left, which you can follow first. The path is lined with a number of golden leaves, where people write their wishes.
On the way you will find 5 Buddhas of Academic success. Then you will come to the golden Jijan Bosal Statue. From this area, you will get those famous views of the temple, which you see in so many photos and postcards.
After visiting this side, go back to the stairs and further down and cross the stone bridge to get to the main areas of the temple. From the bridge you will see a small pond, where people toss coins with the hope to have their wishes come true. In the pond area you will find small statues, including that of a turtle.
There is a small shrine in the cave, if you would like to climb downstairs. Otherwise, head to the Daeungjeon Main Hall (which was reconstructed only in 1970s). Next to the main hall you will find smaller shrines – one of them has a reclining Buddha statue.
Around this area you will also find the huge golden statue of the Laughing Buddha, which was the statue I loved the most here. I believe this Buddha is actually called Happy Buddha (Podae Hwasang).
After the main are, you will take the stairs up to the white statue of the Haesu Gwaneum Daebul – Sea Great Goddess Buddha (Goddess of Mercy), which faces the sea. From here you can enjoy the views down to the temple areas and the sea. The goddess is surrounded by a number of mini figurines.
Overall, despite the crowding we enjoyed our visit. It certainly is a gorgeous place. I have heard many people say that they were disappointed in their visit because it was so loud there and they didn’t have the calm atmosphere, but that’s what you should expect at any touristy site, unless you arrive by sunrise really. Besides, if you do wish to get a calm atmosphere, just find an empty corner and tune out other people.