October 30, 2017
Although we still have a couple more of days to scour every part of Korea that we can, Joy and I woke up to the realization that our South Korean journey is drawing to a close. It feels like the days quickly passed by and it is already our ninth day. If only we can buy more time and just stay in this place that has deeply plucked the proverbial strings of our hearts. For the lack of other words, we woke up in a city not our own. But more than anxiety, we woke up with anticipation in our hearts.
After Seoul, Busan is the second largest city in South Korea. This busy metropolis in the south is also the heart of the country’s industrial belt. Its proximity to the sea made the city South Korea’s major seaport. Beyond the industry and the busy seaport, Busan is a dynamic city that possesses its own charm. To most non-Koreans, Busan rings a bell because it is the penultimate destination of the apocalyptic zombie film, The Train to Busan.
Because Joy and I have an open itinerary, we researched for things to do in Busan only when we got there. Many destinations popped out from our simple research. The next thing we have to do is research on how to get there. Although Busan has its own subway system, it is not as well connected as Seoul’s; hence, we have to rely on the other modes of transportation, particularly the bus. For our first day, Joy and I decided to go to Haedong Yonggungsa, another Buddhist temple. It seems that we are on our way to fulfilling our prophecy of visiting at least one temple in each city we visit.
Before going to Haedong Yonggungsa, Joy and I went out to explore the areas near our hotel. Haeundae Beach is one of the most renowned beaches in South Korea. Amongst the Koreans, it is a popular summer destination, and one of the best places to catch the sunrise. Unfortunately, due to exhaustion, we woke up late and missed the sunrise. Nevertheless, we have one more day to catch it. It didn’t take long to find the beach; it was just a couple of meters away from our hotel.
In spite of the early morning breeze, the sun was brilliantly shining. A vast track of sandy beach was before us. Because it was autumn season, there weren’t that many people out to dip on the cold waters. We were one of the very few who went out for a morning walk, which is a good thing because the beach wasn’t crowded. The only thing crowding the beach are the seagulls. Just like us, they were basking in the early sun. There were so many that it was fun just chasing them around like kids.
From the beach, we walked towards the Haeundae subway station (Line 2) as the bus stop is located near the station. On the way to the station, we passed by numerous bars. This is to be expected I guess because of its proximity to the beach. Imagine the nightly parties that happen when the sun sets on the west. The party place reeked of the same Boracay or Puerto Galera vibe. Too bad I am not much into partying; adulting did hit me hard.
At the bus stop, we waited bus number 181. For those who are coming from the other parts of Busan, please exit the Haeundae subway station through exit 7. Thankfully, the subway system and buses in Busan also use T-Money so travelers don’t have to worry. After waiting for a couple of minutes, we were able to ride the correct bus. The journey to the temple took about 30 minutes.
As expected, upon alighting, we have to walk for a couple of minutes towards the temple. Going to a temple entails a lot of walking, so yeah, store a lot of patience and energy. What sets apart Haedong Yonggungsa from the other temples? Simple – it is one of the very few that are located near the shoreline; most temples are located in, or at least, near the mountains. The pictures we have seen of the temple are captivating. These are our main considerations in choosing Yonggungsa over Beomeosa, another major temple located in Busan. Moreover, it is nearer to our hotel.
As we were drawing closer to the temple, we were greeted by a street aligned with numerous booths selling food, snacks and souvenirs. The sellers enthusiastically greeted us but we were already full. Past the sellers, we entered a walkway decorated with the 12 Zodiac statues. It led us to the main entrance of the temple. From the road, we went down the stairs leading to the temple. Unlike the other temples we have been to, admission to Haedong Yonggungsa is free. It opens at 5 AM because many visitors want to catch the dramatic sunrise.
A great Buddhist teacher known as Naong begun building the temple in 1376. Originally known as Bomun Temple (Bomunsa), it was destroyed during the Japanese Invasions of Korea (1592-98). Reconstruction begun in 1930s and the main sanctuary was built in 1970. It was renamed to Haedong Yonggungsa in 1974. Koreans traditionally flock to the temple during the New Year to make a wish while waiting for the first sunrise. During the fourth month of the lunar calendar, the temple is propped up with paper lanterns to celebrate Buddha’s birthday.
When we got to the temple, it was already slowly coming alive with activities. Some visitors, which I surmised were mostly Vietnamese, were also making their way to the temple. Thankfully, it wasn’t as crowded as Bulguksa. The view of the temple is a refreshing one, perhaps because it is located near the sea. It was built on rocks and the waves lapping on the rocks are making a symphony of sounds that I have long missed.
The main hall dominated the area but it was the Gold Statue of Bodhidharma that immediately caught our attention. It was like a baby Buddha but upon research, I have learned that Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who was credited for transmitting Chan Buddhism to China. There is also a small cave at the heart of the complex. Visitors can go down, drink the water, light incense and pray. At the bridge connecting the temple to the main entrance is a wishing well where visitors can throw coins and make wishes. The area is small so it was no hustle walking around.
When Joy and I had our fill of the temple and its environs, we proceeded back to the main road to return to the main city center. Some may think that our endless walking was exasperating but no, it wasn’t. This is because of the pleasant weather which makes it very ideal to walk. Besides, it is a healthy habit. In our first week in South Korea, my phone registered me walking for about 120 kilometers. But not once did it ever bother me!
After Haedong Yonggungsa, our next destination is Gamcheon Village. But first, lunch!
Here are more pictures taken at Haedong Yonggungsa. Enjoy!