I lived in Daegu, a large city conveniently located somewhat central in South Korea and a great transportation hub. I could travel around South Korea fairly easily and attend some of the country’s many annual festivals. :) Here’s a list of some personal standouts:
This was my first ever trip to a Korean festival! Unsurprisingly, it is a magnet for photographers and couples. We walked through the promenade of festival stands and lane of cherry blossom trees, visited the naval port, and went up the lighthouse for a spectacular view of the area. There were also tons of delicious Korean food stalls, photo exhibitions, and displays of wartime artifacts and ceramics and the like. Randomly, we stopped by a stand selling ocarinas of all things. We didn’t get the chance to visit the amusement park or board the naval ships because the line-ups were so long.
The biggest damper on this trip was trying to get a taxi to take us to Masan, where we had booked our train (KTX) tickets back home. Jinhae is small and there just weren’t enough taxis passing through, and we experienced a lot of language-barrier-fail in asking for someone to help call one for us. Having already missed our train, we gave up after a couple of hours and took our time having dinner. We considered looking for a cheap love motel to stay in for the night, but we all just really wanted to get out and go home. As luck would have it, we left the restaurant and one of my friends saw a cop who ended up being able to get us a taxi very quickly. @_@
Write a wish or two on a lantern and set it afloat on Namgang River~ My friends and I arrived in Jinju early to get a motel room and check out the area before more tourists arrived in the evening. There really isn’t all that much to do during the daytime, and the lanterns were already pre-made so all you had to do was write whatever you wanted on them. The entire area really came to life in the nighttime. There were large lantern floats on the river and along the promenade, a fortress commemorating the war in which the lantern tradition originated, as well as a long tunnel of beautifully lit lanterns. There was also a trail park that had adorable bug and animal-shaped lanterns.
The wish-making lantern tradition is one enriched in a lot of history, and I love the whole romance of it. There are other lantern festivals in Korea – one in which I got to set a balloon-lantern into the sky :D – but I think this one is the most decorated and widely known.
The perfect festival idea for the summertime! Haeundae Beach is probably the most well-known beach in South Korea, and it’s such a lively, bustling area. The main attractions are the sand sculptures, but there’s also a graffiti art competition, beach volleyball/soccer, sandboarding activities, concerts, fireworks, and a street parade. As if frolicking under the sun, on a beach, and in the ocean wasn’t enough! The Busan Aquarium is also in the area, which is gorgeous.
My friends and I stayed overnight in Busan at a place called sfunz. It was reasonably priced considering there was a festival happening, a lot of places were already fully booked, and it was located so close to Haeundae station. The city itself is Korea’s second largest after Seoul and definitely worth exploring outside of festival happenings.
I enjoyed this festival far more than I was initially expecting. We ran into a bit of transportation confusion, but things ended up working out pretty well. A huge part of what made this festival worth attending is making a stop at the traditional folk village of Hahoe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This place is breathtaking, and one of my favourite photographic places in South Korea. My friends and I took in all of the agricultural and architectural scenery, sampled the local ricecakes and soju, viewed a street ceremony, played in a traditional Korean playground, and tied our wishes onto Samsindang, the 600-year-old tree said to be inhabited by a goddess. There are minbaks (rural homestays) you can do in the village, but they’re popular and I think generally need to be booked in advance.
In Andong, we found much of your typical festival fanfare including mask stalls, loud music, fireworks, and a dance performance-turned-party. In terms of food, Andong is famous for its mackerel and jjimdak. So much deliciousness! We had mackerel, but were told jjimdak wasn’t being served anywhere near festival grounds and the closest place to find it would be at HomePlus (basically the Korean equivalent of Wal-Mart). Haha. My friends and I ended up having “Andong jjimdak” when we got back to Daegu. :P
This one is easily my favourite festival in South Korea, and a definite must-attend! I went in both 2011 and 2012 with a group of friends through Adventure Korea. They included transportation, accommodations, and most awesomely, pre-activities at nearby mudflats. We engaged in military training, various kinds of wrestling and games, and soccer — all in the mud!
The actual festival takes place all around and in Daecheon Beach, which is a fun place to go after you’ve covered yourself in mud. A lot of silly fun games and obstacle course on large inflatable things, mud slides, mud races, mud wrestling, a mud prison, a mud pool, mud massage places, mud mud mud everywhere. Muddiness aside, also worth noting is that Boryeong has some amazing grilled shellfish. Yummy~
Interestingly, this event actually originated with the idea of the mud having cosmetic properties. Korea is huge into beauty and cosmetics, if you didn’t already know. We got free mud soap one year. :D I don’t think it particularly did anything for me, but the mud does feel nice! One thing to think about though is all that mud getting everywhere – I wore sunglasses for some activities to protect my eyes, and I was cleaning out mud from my ears for a really long while.
And that’s it for my favourite five festivals! Another festival worth mentioning though that I never got the chance to attend is the Jeju Fire Festival. I’ve only heard amazing things about it, but timing just never worked out for me. :( Look into it and go (to all of the above festivals!) if you have the chance!