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By tram or hiking up to Busan’s At Taejongdae Cliffs, the southern most point of Korea’s coastal and second largest city, Busan, located on Yeongdo (영도구) island, nestles up to a natural park and opens to the serenity of the open sea. There the observatory and lighthouse on the edge of the dense, evergreen forest combines the modernity of Korea’s active shipping routes and growing tourism market with the classic tales of Korea’s unified kingdoms around the peak of the peninsula’s past.
The cliffs are named after King Taejong Muyeol (태종 무열왕), who many scholars credit with leading a unification between Korea’s Three Kingdoms (삼국시대)–Baekje 백제, Silla 신라, Goryeo 고구려–in the 7th century. He is said to have practiced archery there, which is the inspiration behind the coastal monument of an arrow pointing to towards the sea.
Visiting Taejongdae is one of the must-dos in Busan 부산 if you have a long weekend there. Its highest peak is a comfortable 200 meters above the sea and is surrounded by more than 200 types of trees in a dense forest. Below the lighthouse, Korean history at the cliffs turns to myth. At the rock there, named Sinseon, it is said this was where gods and goddesses came to rest. It is also here where the story of Mangbuseok takes place. In this legend, a woman waits for her husband, who was taken to Japan by invading forces. From the observatory on clear days, one can see Japan’s Tsushima Island. The cliffs are also the home of the superstitious ritual of praying for rain. On the lunar calendar, if it rains on the 10th day of May, it is called Taejong Rain.
Taejongdae also proves Busan and its surrounding coast is more than just beaches, even though Taejongdae has a rocky beach for tanning, eating, or very strong swimmers. One can hike up to the free observatory–a relatively intense exercise along the road or trails–or take the tram for less than $2 (1,500 won 원). Along the way, on the rocks, are the food tents. And this is where it is more of a photo-op and serene getaway from the neon lights and heavy traffic of Korea’s cities. This is one of the many places for experiencing Busan’s incredible seafood cuisine.
From the tents and seaside plastic dining tables and chairs, there is live octopus (산낙지) and oysters (초개). For someone who lived in the city for four years, there is no doubt that when I think of a reunion with Busan, I think of an afternoon with Taejongdae, fresh seafood, soju 소주 and makgeolli 막걸리, and finding peace and contemplation on the Taejongdae Cliffs.