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If you only go to one temple in Busan, make it Haedong Yonggung Temple. In contrast to the majority of Korea’s temples, which are nestled in the mountains, Haedong Yonggungsa is situated on the coast, overlooking the Sea of Japan, or the East Sea, as it is called in Korea.
Also referred to as “The Water Temple” for the breathtaking coastal views it offers, Haedong Yonggungsa dates back to 1376, when it was constructed by the great Buddhist teacher known as Naong. The three story pagoda is flanked by four lions that represent joy, anger, sadness, and happiness. Visitors should take the walkway of 108 stairs, which is lined by stone lanterns.
One of the “Three Jewel Temples of Korea,” 1,500-year-old Tongdo Temple is a tribute to Buddha himself. Strangely there is not a single statue or image of the sage in the complex. Instead, Tongdosa boasts a collection of relics, including Buddha’s skull and robe (or so it is believed). Legend also says that an eternal flame was supposed to have been kept for over 1,300 years at this site.
The temple is one of the largest in Korea, and requires a couple hours to see in its entirety. Located just a few kilometers north of Busan’s Nopo Bus Terminal, it is an easy half day trip from the city.
108 Tongdosa-ro, Habuk-myeon, Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do, South Korea, +82-55-382-7182
Perched on Gaumjeong Mountain, Beomeo Temple boasts some 1,300 years of history. Although the complex was originally constructed in 678 CE during the reign of King Munmu of the Silla Kingdom, it was destroyed in 5192 during Japanese invasion. The temple that stands today was completed in 1713, and is still just as beautiful, particularly in spring, when the wisteria are in full bloom.
Daeungjeon, the main temple hall, which was built in 1614, is considered to be one of the finest examples of Joseon-era architecture, while the royal palace wings and three story pagoda also warrant a visit. For an unforgettable experience, opt to participate in a temple stay, an overnight program that gives visitors a unique look into monastic life.
While many of Korea’s temples are situated in the mountains, Seokbulsa is actually a part of the mountain. Planted on the side of Geumjeong Mountain, the walls of temple complex are made of mountainous rock that boast intricate carvings of Buddhist iconography.
Two small caverns house humble shrines where offerings are made. The caves are damp and dim, and the darkness that fills them is interrupted only by the flickering of candles and rays of sunlight that creep in through the entrance. The journey to Seokbul Temple requires some steep climbs, but the powerful experience and magnificent views are well worth the trek.
San 2 Mandeok 1(il)-dong, Buk-gu, Busan, South Korea, +82-51-332-1690
Positioned on the hillside of Baekyang Mountain, Samgwangsa is one of Busan’s newer temples, having been established in 1986. It is always open and locals come here for prayer at all times of the day.
While there’s plenty to do and see at the temple all year round, the best time to visit Samgwangsa is during Buddha’s Birthday, when the entire temple is beautifully illuminated with colorful lanterns. It does get crowded, so consider going in the early morning or late night to witness the temple in all its glory.