July 20, 2024

By Lee Hae-rin

The Year of the Dragon begins this year on February 10.

South Korea has 1,261 places with dragon, yong in Korean, in their names. Here are some of the best dragon-themed travel destinations recommended by the Korea Tourism Organisation and the Seoul Tourism Organisation.

A sunrise view at Haedong Yonggung Temple in Busan. Photo: courtesy of Korea Tourism Organisation

1. Make a wish at Busan’s Yonggung Temple

The Haedong Yonggung Temple is arguably the most beautiful temple in Korea. The temple’s name translates to “Dragon Palace Temple”, referring to the royal residence where the Dragon King, Yongwang in Korean, lives under the sea.

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According to the temple’s foundational legend, the sea king appeared to monk Naong in a dream and told him to build a seaside temple at the edge of Mount Bongrae, where he should pray to alleviate hardship and bring people happiness when the nation was suffering from drought. Thus, the temple was established by the monk in 1376.

At the entrance of the temple stand statues of the 12 zodiac animals, believed to protect the land from evil spirits and offer blessings to humanity.

Today, the temple is a popular place to visit at sunrise. Its motto says: “At least one of your wishes will be answered here through your heartfelt prayers.”

The temple opens to visitors at 4.30am and closes at 7pm. Admission is free.

A statue of a dragon ascending to heaven stands along the path of Mirumaru-gil in Goheung, South Jeolla province. Photo: courtesy of Korea Tourism Organisation

2. Dragon’s stairway to heaven in Goheung

Mirumaru-gil in Goheung, South Jeolla province, is a path along a picturesque coastal cliff, where a dragon is believed to have soared to heaven.

The name of the road is a combination of the old Korean terms miru and maru, which mean dragon and sky.

Local legend says two dragons were fighting each other in a race to heaven and to obtain a magic pearl with supernatural powers that grants all wishes.

A seaside path along the rocky cliff in Mirumaru-gil, where local legends say a dragon soared to heaven. Photo: courtesy of Korea Tourism Organisation

One day, a village archer named Ryu Shi-in had a dream of a grey-haired wise man telling him to prevent misfortune to the village by shooting one of the dragons with an arrow and ending their fight.

His arrow hit one dragon. The other dragon, while on his way to heaven, stepped along the cliff and left a five-metre-long footprint, still visible today in colours that are different from the rest of the rock layers.

The path offers picturesque, panoramic views of the ocean.

At the end of the path is the Goheung Space Launch Observatory and Korea Aerospace Research Institute, which has an exhibition on the history of Korea’s space development.

A panoramic view from Mount Yongma in eastern Seoul. Photo: courtesy of Seoul Tourism Organisation

3. Panoramic sunrise view at Mount Yongma

The peak of Mount Yongma in eastern Seoul offers one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the capital.

With an elevation of 348 metres (1,140 feet), it features a night hiking course that beginners can enjoy and an observatory famous for its breathtaking sunrises as well as great night views of landmarks such as Lotte World Tower, Mount Nam and bridges over the Han River.
An octagonal pavilion at eastern Seoul’s Mount Yongma. Photo: courtesy of Seoul Tourism Organisation

According to local legend, an ordinary couple living on the mountain had a baby that had extraordinary powers to climb over rooftops.

However, the villagers feared the baby’s uncommon powers and killed the infant.

On the night of the baby’s death, a winged dragon horse, or Yongma, was waiting for its owner, the baby. The baby never came and the dragon horse flew away from the mountaintop after emitting a long howl to mourn the baby’s death.

Near the summit of the mountain is Yongma Falls Park, home to three artificial waterfalls built on a rocky cliff, that operates from May to August.

A sunrise view from Yongyang Peak in Seoul. Photo: courtesy of Seoul Tourism Organisation

4. Urban night view from Yongyang Peak

Yongyangbong Jejeong Park near the southern shore of the Han River in Seoul has become the city’s newest hotspot for sunset and nighttime views since opening in April 2021.

The park was named after a temporary palace nearby, where King Jeongjo, the 22nd ruler of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), used to rest on his way to visit his father’s grave.

A night view from Yongyangbong Jejeong Park. Photo: courtesy of Seoul Tourism Organisation

The king himself named the palace after the scenery, which he thought resembled a dragon soaring to the sky with its head held up high.

The picturesque view of the mountains that the king saw is now gone, but the venue presents an unhampered view of the city that never sleeps, filled with skyscrapers.

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