Going cultural in Busan – Haedong Yonggungsa Temple and Gamcheon Cultural Village

Like every traveler I learnt and discover about its ingrained culture in every country that I set foot upon. Korea is no different. While Seoul the ever popular tourist destination gets the limelight with its grand palaces and iconic shopping districts, Busan the 2nd largest city in Korea has its own charms and notable landmarks.

Since it was a media familiarisation trip, we had to cover some touristy destinations but it was easy to see why they are an attraction.

First is the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple right at the cliffs of  beach. Half of its charm and mystic lies in its location, a serene and scholarly temple perched on top of jutting rocks facing the merciless strong waves.

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Built 6 centuries ago (1376 to be exact) by a Buddhist teacher Naong (I wonder how does Buddhist teachers raise resources to build temples?), the current temple now may not be reflective of how it was originally. I’m no history expert, and that’s just my guess.

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Apparently there was reconstruction done in 1970 and there were additions of structures then. Seeing how some of these structures looked rather new, I guess that could have been it.
Pathway that leads up to the temple was guarded by the animals from the 12 zodiacs. A pagoda greeted us at the entrance and another structure to watch out for is one of the Goddess Buddha as pictured below.

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The Chinese prays for anything and everything; but praying for safety on the roads seems legit. 🙂

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For those who like to linger, the rest area under the shades makes for a nice shelter. A hybrid of chrysanthemum and rose was in bloom and its bright flowers bought colours to the whole area. 

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Once you’re pass the pagoda the entrance is just on your left. Descend the stairs and one of the first thing that greets you is a smiling black bellied and nosed Buddha statue.

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Rub his belly or nose if you are attempting for a son. If you are not already aware with the Chinese belief, back in the olden days (perhaps even now?) a male baby is always a priority to the family as he would be the heir to carry the family’s name.

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Another was for academic achievement. At this point I thought wryly to myself; “Where’s the God of Common Sense?”. I know a lot of people who desperate need that.

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Walk on and you will be passing through a tunnel.

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Right after this tunnel I got my first glimpse of the majestic temple resting on the cliffs looking out to the beautiful East Sea of Korea/Sea of Japan (depending on who you are talking to, this name of this sea is very debatable).

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Stone lanterns “guides” your way down the 108 stairs, the number 108 symbolizing the 108 agonies/sufferings of Buddhism. It also means 108 of butt and thighs exercise when you make your way up eventually on your return route. 🙂

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At the end of the descent is a choice to continue on to cross the bridge to the temple or to pay a visit to the golden statue of Buddha that sits on a breathtaking natural landscape of rocks.
There is no one to stop you from climbing down the rocks to the sea. The water was inviting and the atmosphere was one of a quiet, contemplative world a Buddhist temple  characteristically brings.

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Say a prayer if you wish. Today I pray for Malaysia.  :'(
By the way, does anyone knows what Buddha is this? Some research results says it’s Yaksayore-bull (The Buddha of Medicine).

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We finally made our way across the bridge into the temple after hundreds of shots. While crossing, you can make a wish at the wishing “well” by throwing coins into bowl on top of the tortoise or the one held by the stature.
If I’m there today I would have wished for a fair and clean election. :'(

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But that morning nothing political was on my mind. We crossed the bridge like some excited tourists, explored the grounds and added more memories into our minds and CF/SD cards.

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However these ugly ropes and beams really made photography difficult. My guide told me that they were celebrating a festival just weeks before and these were for the lanterns and decorations but has yet to be taken down. Pretty much like the ugly election flags and posters marring our sidewalks, roads and buildings currently.

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Right now by just looking at this picture gave me a little solace and peace. Perhaps I should consider a meditation retreat soon. Either that or I’ll start looking at migration options.

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I’m kidding of course. I’ll never leave Malaysia. Not just as yet. There is hope and there is still a fighting chance.

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More stairs. I can’t say I was complaining. Stairs are good for the bums and legs. 🙂

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We went up for a closer observation of the Goddess of Mercy statue (Anyone who knows better, correct me if I’m wrong as I’m not sure of the actual names of these gods).

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The Goddess of Mercy is known for her compassion and loving nature, two traits that I wished more people would have. Myself included.

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From that vantage point, we are now at the opposite view of the rocky “patio” earlier. The view of nature, raw and unadulterated, has always captivated me more than any city view, no matter how lighted up or funkily designed the buildings are, could ever do.

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Back at the temple area I took some time admiring the craftmanship and art around and on the buildings. It bought back memories of my recent trip to Kathmandu and I reflected on the cultural sites I have visited in Nepal then.
It was awe inspiring to see such intricate and delicate craftwork and I will always respect the people whose hands craved and painted all these themselves.

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My guide insisted that I pour water over this statue and til today I’m not sure of the reason. If it was for purity (the act of washing/pouring water) of corruption then I should have poured a few more rounds for my country.

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Here are some “reading materials” that I managed to snap on my way out. Yes, after ascending 108 stairs.

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I’m thankful for these as many places we visited in Korea does not have printed, tourist-friendly brochures in English. Our guide was helpful but language was still a barrier.

I have not spoken about these earlier but since we are heading out of the temple now I’ll show you some pictures of the road leading to the temple. This lone lane are flocked with street vendors which was also a lively sight to see.

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And of course, as you can probably have guessed, I was more interested in the food sold than anything else.

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I would eat these delicacies anytime – boiled snails and silkworms but it was nearing lunchtime by then.

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The fermented green and roots would take me some time to understand. I need a Korean friend who speaks GOOD English to explain each and every one of these!

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I want to know what goes into each and every one of them, how long were they marinated/fermented for, how are they consumed and with what and how they looked like fresh before marination. So many questions but no one to answer them!

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Health “experts” cautioned against consuming too much fermented items due to the potential risks of infections. The Koreans has eaten these for ages and their health is none for the worse.

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Odeng – it’s everywhere. And it’s good!

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Next I saw some kind of herbs or dried flowers/roots which I’m guessing is for medicinal purposes.

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If I were to live in Korea and eat one type of seaweed per day, I wonder how long would it take for me to try them all?

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And of course the obligatory stalls selling souvenirs.

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temple

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is open from 04:00 am – 19:00 pm everyday of the year.

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Admission: Free to all.
Directions: Hop on Line 2 to Haeundae Station and take exit 7. Get on bus 181 and alight at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. Very straightforward! 🙂
For more historical information you may refer to this site: http://www.yongkungsa.or.kr/en/

If you drive there’s parking available but this is chargable. Cars: 2,000 won. Buses: 5,000 won. 

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One other cultural but more on the modern arty side of culture is the Gamcheon Cultural Village.

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Here we were mesmerized by the colourful toy-like houses hazardously perched on the hillside. At times it looked like a toy village, good for visiting and taking pictures but I found out soon enough that these are actually livable homes with families inside!

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Colours, vibrant colours are everywhere. From the roads to the walls and buildings. It is almost unreal.
The shops are like the “cottages” you read in fairy tales; small, pretty and quirky. The roads are tiled and some parts in colour.

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These “fish” shaped arrows shows you the way to explore the area. Just follow it and you will be bought to some of the key sights/sections worth checking out here.

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I’m not sure what was the obsession on the fishes (perhaps it’s because Busan is a port?) but fishes seems to be pretty iconic in this cultural village!

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The walkways are neat and clean. The ” entrance ” into the Gamcheon Cultural Village is also within one of the turnings here.

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Like I said, just follow the fishes aka arrows.

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There is a sort of treasure hunt game that is a style of exploring this place. You will be asked to go to certain buildings in the village and you can get a stamp at each marked destination. When you have collected the stamps, you will get a prize/postcard at the community centre at the exit of the village”.
Actually there’s isn’t a proper entrance or exit per se but we were just following our guide that day so we were like blind mice following our Piped Pier! In fact, looking back I felt that the village was a bit confusing.

But if you’re not a rush, just follow along, walk up and down A LOT of stairs, stop to take photos and appreciate the view. Those into arts and culture would love this place.

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So many stairs. It was my workout of the day!

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There is a map at the information centre/community centre at the END/exit of the village (which is pretty stupid) that you can buy for reference but since we were already done with the tour I didn’t buy any.
The stupid thing is this wasn’t informed at the beginning and we didn’t know about it.

Anyhow, here are some of the quirky attractions of Gamcheon Cultural Village.

Firstly, remember to follow the fishes/arrows.

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The alleys are pretty narrow, as you can see, but it does add character to the place.

House Project – a photo gallery dedicated to exhibit the photographs that were taken here and also printing services.

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Walking in, we got an idea of how small a house within this village is.

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And that’s it. A square of a room and another room with photographs on the wall.

The Dark House. Quite a concept – energy, light, illumination… Ermmm ok, let’s just say I didn’t quite get it.

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But good for one camwhoring photo.

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At Home.

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It was basically this room with these green things. Sorry, too abstract for me. I was facing the mirror so I decided to take a photo of myself.

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At this stage I gave up trying to make sense of all the rooms. This one was some art room I think.

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This one is cute. 🙂

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Further exploration turned up some whimsical designs that was quite cool.

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A new found friend – Ker Ying. She looked so cheeky here!

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A mug as a ..actually I do not know what was the purpose of that mug-looking structure. Maybe it’s an attic? But heck, it’s cute right? 🙂

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On one of the walls along the maze of alleyways in this village was these boards of “art”. I can’t fathom what were they supposed to represent. As you can see, I do not possess much of a creative intuition.

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And we walked on somemore; passed houses (I was tempted to ring the bell), greeted some cats along the way, said hi to one or two Korean aunties, stumbled upon an old Korean grocery store, and in general just following the FISHES (arrows).

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Anyeonghaseyo aunty! 🙂

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Some were actually private properties.

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Another of the key attraction here is the elevated “platform” that allows a panoramic view of the whole village and its surrounding areas.

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The platform is spacious and perfect for the view. And photography of course.

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Looks like some Lego village yes? 🙂

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See that “board” over there?

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It’s a “picture” of trees and clouds, just like some children’s drawing!

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Further in the distance you can glimpse the sea and hills.

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Just on our right was this really cool giant trampoline. Well, not really a trampoline but it was a bouncy platform that allows the kids to have their fun.

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On our way to the exit I saw this rather interesting optical illusion.

You see, if you don’t “match” it correctly it looks like this.

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But if you snap your photo at the right angle, then it would look like this.

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Ok I don’t think I really got it but you get what I mean right? 🙂

And finally we are nearing the exit! This is the community centre with a fake receptionist and a fake jacuzzi with a fake old men. How quaint.

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Hi uncle! I hope you’re RICH. 🙂

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One last picture. Did you notice the PAINTED background/mural? If the photographer takes the picture from a certain angle, it would look like part of the real village.

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So yes,  Gamcheon Cultural Village is a very nice artsy and creative venue. A lovely relaxing place (if you discount the stairs) and fabulous for photography.

Here are some information that I gathered from the internet.

Gamcheon Culture Village was formed by Korean War refugees back in 1950. The village’s location on the hillside long made it a temporary place of abode for the poorest of the poor, who aspired to move on to better accommodation as soon as possible. But the village is now an attractive feature of the old city with its terraced houses on the hill, and maze-like narrow alleyways. To preserve this local cultural treasure and historic resources, local residents, artists, members of the academia and local government came together and started a project to develop it into a sustainable cultural village.
Finally, the poor hillside village was transformed into a beautiful village of culture and became a new tourist attraction for both Korean and overseas visitors, with its own distinctive culture and unique views.

Admission: Free for all.
Directions: Metro to Toseong-dong station (Line 1), Exit6.
Bus no. 2 or 2.2 OR Taxi – 3000-4000 Korean won.

** This is a media trip with the Air Asia X team and Busan Tourism Board. We were in Busan for the Air Asia X inaugural KL- Busan flight launch and had the good fortune to explore Seoul and Busan for 5D4N.
If you have any question for me about Busan, do drop me a comment here! 🙂

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** Pic credit to Aliff Zulkifli.

Category : Travel