Said to have been established in the year 1396 when Naong Hyegeun—a royal consultant to the Goryeo Dynasty—dreamt that a sea god promised peace and prosperity in exchange for the construction of Haedong Yonggungsa. Built on a precipice with a mountain at its back and the sun and sea at its front, this temple is one of the few seaside temples in Korea.
As you enter the temple grounds, you’ll walk past a dozen or so vendors dishing up delectable street foods (meats, breads, and hotteok in season and ice cream year-round), selling Buddhist bric-a-brac and, of course, a few cafes. Towering statues of the Korean Zodiac face stunning cherry trees. Huge steles and statues of Buddhist importance, such as the dharma wheel, dot the path down to the Traffic Safety Prayer Pagoda. Whether you circumambulate the pagoda or pass it by, the main gate will be immediately to your left.
The winding stairs that lead down to the temple are lined with one of the area’s largest collections of stone lanterns. You can make a stop at any of a number of specific Buddha statues that promise good grades, more sons and a variety of other benefits with a belly rub and donation. (Just read the translations carefully so you don’t mistakenly donate for the wrong blessing.)
At the bottom of 108 stairs, you can veer left to look over the ocean, buy a drink or snack, and get a great view of the temple, or you can continue straight to walk over the stone bridge to the temple itself. Stop and toss a few coins over the right side of the bridge—there are a number of statues in the water holding bowls to catch a few extra donations to the temple.
Enter any of the open temple buildings to worship or explore. No shoes allowed!
Climb a set of stairs past the dragon emerging from the bushes for an even more spectacular view of the sea and the temple grounds, as well as to find the healing Buddha statue.
The temple gets very crowded on New Year’s Day, when families visit to pray for good fortune. This temple celebrates the Buddha’s birthday in April with lanterns, and the cherry trees blossom from late March to early April.
Know Before You Go
There are 108 stairs leading down to Haedong Yonggungsa - and what goes down must come up. Though there's no train stop within easy walking distance of the temple, taxis wait outside, near the parking lot, to make visiting easier if you're taking public transportation.