Dragon’s Head Rock: Yongduam and Yongyeon Pond, Jeju, South Korea
Dragon’s Head Rock: Yongduam and Yongyeon Pond
Story and photos by Dawn Parks
According to some, the 10m high and 30m long volcanic rock formation perched along the ocean side is said to resemble a dragon’s head – a fact which has garnered the formation’s fanciful name of Yongduam; literally, Dragon’s Head Rock. Some say it no longer looks like a dragon, as a portion of the rock fell off during a heavy storm long ago. Others say it no longer looks like it’s perched for flight, as a backdrop of hotels is now interfering with the former site of glittering basaltic rock that extended into a seemingly eternal sky.
The Story of Yongduam
They say much more than that, for enough is said about Yongduam to compile a legend – several legends, in fact. All the legends claim that the rock is really the hardened remnants of Yimugi, a dragon serpent who lived in the days of old.It is in the question of how Yimugi met his current fate that the legends differ. Some say that on one fateful day, Yimugi wished to ascend from the Dragon Palace to the heavens. Unfortunately, his large serpent body became entrapped as he began to rise above the waves. As time wore on, the entrapped body simply turned to stone. Others say that he did not get stuck, but, rather, was punished via fossilization when the god of Mt. Halla saw his daring escape.
Still others claim that there was no planned escape into the heavens. Instead, they insist Yimugi was the Dragon King’s messenger sent on a dangerous task to Mt. Halla to gather bulloch’o, an herb that would achieve immortality for the king. Others contend Yimugi’s mission was not to steal a plant of immortality, but rather a precious jewel. In both versions of this tale of thievery, the god of Mt. Halla, hearing rumors of the approaching onslaught to his treasures, shot an arrow into Yimugi’s heart as soon as he soared out of the underwater dragon world. Yimugi plunged back into the ocean, with only his head and a few body parts visible. Now, eons later, these body parts have hardened into rocks whose structure is so specific that scientists are fooled into believing that they are not the fossilized remnants of a mythical being, but contrarily the result of a volcanic eruption two million years ago.
One additional rumor exists in regards to Yongduam Rock. It is whispered – typically by tourists – that the legends are far more evocative than the landscape itself. Though the jutting volcanic rocks are picturesque day or night, they do fall shy of the romance necessary to inspire an out-of-the-way journey. Additional nearby attractions make the idea of a journey slightly more appealing, such as the occasional glimpse of women divers, the daytime sales stalls, and the nighttime beauty of the stone lit up in effervescent fluorescence, enveloped in the ebony backdrop of a night sky.
Plus, there’s Yongyeon, better known in English as Dragon’s Pool. Haven’t heard of Yongyeon, have you? Despite being easily accessible from Yongduam Rock, and situated at a mere 200 meters east of it, Yongyeon doesn’t appear as often in the tourist literature. Do not be fooled into believing it is less worthy of a visit. Though its legend is far simpler (stating merely that a dragon once bathed there), its landscape is just as appealing. Yongyeon consists of a clear stream where salt water and fresh water meet. The stream is surrounded by cliffs topped with evergreen trees. A planked bridge extends between the two sides, offering a view both into the ocean and towards the cliff’s ridges. On one edge of the bridge is a pavilion, perfect for leisurely summer picnics and moments of quiet self-reflection. Paths appear along the sides of the cliff, allowing for further explorations. At night, strategically placed lights shine upon the scenery. Maemyeong, a form of literature carved into stone, is visible on some of the rocks. The Yongyeon Reviving Festival is held there annually in May.
Though the combined activity level of Yongduam and Yongyeon aren’t enough to warrant a day trip from afar, they are certainly worth a visit when in the area.
How to get to Yongduam: From any direction, head towards the airport and follow the signs for Yongduam. By taxi, simply direct a driver to “Yongduam”.
How to get to Yongyeon: Head 200 meters east from Yongduam.
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