7 Things About Korea: Festivals

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More-so than anything else, Korea is a country obsessed with festivals. You'll find them for most anything - ranging from religious inspired festivals such as Seoul's Lantern Festival (for Buddha's Birthday) to debaucherous borderline orgies such as Boryeong's (in)famous Mud Festival.


While it's true that a lot of the Korean social experience seems to revolve around consuming vast quantities of alcohol and making out with your peers, there's also a lot of opportunities to get out and interact with people without the influence of alcohol. A year round calendar of festivals means that, if you're game, you'll rarely have a weekend where you won't have the option to get out of town and soak up a little bit of the local culture.


The best time of your for the festival 'circuit' is most definitely the spring and summer months. Starting with the Cherry Blossom Festival in Jinhae and working all the way through to July's Mud Festival and October's Kimchi Festival in Gwangju, there's all manner of weird and wonderful experiences to be had. I won't go through a blow by blow, and I've written on a few of these festivals in the past, but here are just a few of the highlights of the Korean festival calendar.


Jinhae's Cherry Blossom Festival marks the start of warmer weather in South Korea

In late April and early May, the sleepy town of Hampyeong is transformed by the Butterfly Festival - a mix of floral displays, carnival attractions, and giant insect statues like the above.

Boryeong's Mud Festival is the highlight of the Korean festival calendar for most. A week long orgy of drinking, mud wrestling, and good times on a sunny Korean beach


January's festival highlight is the Ice Festival in Hwacheon. Fancy a game of ice soccer, some trout fishing in the frozen rivers, and the epic challenge of plunging into icy water to try and catch a fish with your bare hands? It's all on tap in this very Korean way of celebrating the bitterly cold winter months.


March sees the Cheongdo Bull Fighting Festival grabbing the attention of locals and foreigners alike. And before you rush off to cry animal cruelty, there's none of the dart throwing and taunting of its Latin inspiration. It's bull on bull action, and it's mostly of the head-butting variety. Cruel? A little. But it's not quite as bad as I first imagined.


April and May mark the real starting point of festival season. There's the aforementioned Cherry Blossom Festival, there is the Green Tea Festival in the gorgeous Boseong Tea Fields, Jindo's Sea Parting Festival (in which a land bridge temporarily revealed by annual tidal movement allows thousands to walk between two islands usually separated by the ocean), and the Firefly Festival in Muju.


Of the above I've managed to do the Jindo Sea Parting Festival once and I would definitely recommend it. It's wet and it smells and damned if it isn't crowded, but it's one of the less commercial festivals and there's a fascinating story behind the whole affair. Plus there's something surreal about standing on a slightly raised patch of land and being surrounded on both sides by the Yellow Sea.


Seoul and Jinju both have their own Lantern Festivals which offer some spectacular night-time displays, and Gwangju's Kimchi Festival gives tourists and locals the chance to make their own kimchi to take home to the family.


Not so interested in Korean culture? There's two very epic music festivals in Korea that offer up something a little different that street food and crowds of jostling ajoshi and ajummas. In May, Seoul's World DJ Festival brings some of the biggest names in the world of dance, house, and trance music to the banks of the Han River for two nights of thumping beats, scantily clad foreigners and locals grinding up on one another, and sleepless nights. I've not had the pleasure of making it myself, but every one of my friends who has gone have had a fantastic time and highly recommended it.


Dance not your thing? Incheon and Busan both have international rock festivals offering up both local and foreign acts. In a country where Wonder Girls and Big Bang dominate the air waves, it's a welcome chance to hear some authentic Korean punk rock or screamcore. You've not really seen Korea until you've seen that, I assure you. Busan's event even takes place on the beach, so you can hit the waves in between sets to wash off the sweat.


That said, Korea's most famous rock festival takes place in the Jisan Valley in July. 2011's edition is headlined by Incubus and the Arctic Monkeys, so you can expect to see heavy hitters each and every year.


As you can see, Koreans love their festivals. While I've listed the choicest of choice up above, there's plenty of others: the Slow Walking Festival being the strangest I've encountered. So get out, check Facebook and tourist websites regularly, and soak up some of the local flavor!

Got a burning question that you can't fit into one comment? Need to contact me for a travel tip? Feeling generous and want to donate $1,000,000 to my travel fund? Want me to visit your town and tell the world about it?


For all of the above reasons and many more, here are my contact details.

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