Getting Filthy/Gorgeous at the Boryeong Mud Festival 2013

Boryeong Mud Festival title picture

The Boryeong Mud Festival is held in South Korea every year for roughly the last two weeks of July. It’s supposed to be one of the biggest festivals South Korea offers, and in particular it is very popular with foreigners. Based on my experience, I say both of those statements are absolutely true. The mud festival is held on Daecheon Beach which is about a two and a half hour train ride (or drive if you are bold enough to drive in South Korea-I’m not) south of Seoul. It is extremely convenient to reach, because there are numerous trains leaving daily from Yongsan Station for Daecheon. During the festival, there is a bus from the train station to the beach approximately every 10 minutes, and it is roughly a 20 minute bus ride to the beach and festival site. The centerpiece of the festival is the Mud Play Zone at Mud Plaza. Surrounding the plaza are a variety of different experience booths, and all of this is set right next to a very large, popular sandy beach. The mud play zone is actually divided into two areas: the paid zone and the family zone. Both of them charge admission to enter. However the family zone is for families with kids the age of 13 and younger, and the paid zone is for those over the age of 13. The play times are divided into two blocks of time: the morning session of of 9:30-13:20 and the afternoon session from 14:10-18:00. I bought an all day, adult ticket and that cost me only 10,000 won (less than $10 USD). It’s a lot of fun, but just be prepared for crowds, long lines, and most of all, to get EXTREMELY muddy if you so desire (trust me, you do).

Boryeong Mud Festival morning session

Boryeong Mud Festival morning session 2

me clean before all the dirty fun began

me clean before all the dirty fun began

If you would rather play with fewer people, I highly recommend the morning session. The pictures above are from the morning, and as you can see in my later pictures, there aren’t QUITE as many people in the morning as there are in the afternoon.

Boryeong Mud Festival huge slide

The mud play zone consists of large, inflatable, bouncy mud slides, a small mud pit, a large mud pit, a mud prison to trap clean people inside and throw mud at them, and a few pair-oriented mud obstacle courses. All of this is set up in the adult equivalent of a bouncy castle. The family zone has roughly the same setup, only it is scaled down for children. This is definitely a time it is easier or better to go with a pair or a group of people, just because it probably does enhance the fun to play with someone else, plus the fact that some of the fun is targeted toward pairs. I went by myself, but it was still a lot of fun.

Boryeong Mud Festival crazy mud pit

Let the muddy games begin at the afternoon session

Boryeong Mud Festival me muddy

You can get as muddy as you want, and as you can tell from the above photos, I got pretty freaking muddy. I was covered in mud from head to toe. It’s like playing in one big mud puddle. The afternoon session was a bit crazier than the morning session. It was so much more crowded, to the point where the groups of people were pushing their way in past security. The lines were longer, and the people definitely were drunker. While food, drink or alcohol aren’t allowed in the play zone, there was plenty of booze to be had in the surrounding stores beforehand (plus whatever individuals brought with them), and the groups of young people definitely were partaking (often in very large bottles of booze).

Boryeong Mud Festival muddy festival goers

Boryeong Mud Festival crowd dancing

Boryeong Mud Festival crowd dancing spray

While the Boryeong Mud Festival is geared toward all ages, at times, it definitely felt like Spring Break: Daecheon Beach. Like I mentioned, this is a very popular festival with groups of twentysomethings. They are there to strip down (to tiny swimsuits, not naked-this is Korea after all), booze up, get muddy and dance on the beach. The only thing missing were the MTV cameras, though there was plenty of local press on hand capturing all the insanity. However, if that part is just not your thing, there is still plenty of fun to be had at the festival. In addition to the mud play zone, there were some experience booths like I’ve seen in other culture festivals. You can play with colored mud (in a much more controlled setting than the mud play zone). You can buy beauty products made from local Boryeong mud (in fact this festival’s origins trace to trying to promote the health and beauty benefits of the local mud and its products). You can make your own mud soap, get your face painted and just enjoy some relaxing time on the (very crowded) beach.

Boryeong Mud Festival Dacheon Beach crowd

Boryeong Mud Festival Dacheon Beach crowded

As you can see, groups of friends and families set up pup tents on the beach (for day use) to relax and frolic along the beach. The sandy beach extends for a distance in either direction. You can venture into the water, and the water temperature was pleasantly cool on the hot, sunny day I went, and it was a great place to rinse off all the mud. You can’t swim out a long distance from the shore, because the waves can be pretty powerful, and it is blocked off for jet skiers and patrolled by lifeguards. Still, it was fun to ride in the waves and relax on the beach, taking everything in around you.

In addition to the all day long mud play, the festival also hosts a number of concerts and other cultural experiences. The afternoon I was there, there as an air show performed by the Black Eagles, a South Korean Air Force unit. There are also different concerts and parties on different nights, and even though I didn’t stay since I had to catch my evening train back to Seoul, there were also fireworks on opening night.

Everything you want for the festival is all within a very small walking area. There are showers for a fee, though I warn you these are open bay showers crowded with many, many people and not private shower stalls. If you don’t mind showering, toweling off and dressing pressed up against a group of strangers, dive right in. At least the showers are segregated by gender. ┬áThere is a place to store your bags during the day for a small fee. I highly recommend you store almost everything, but carry around your wallet and phone in a waterproof case. The bathrooms on site are what you would expect from such a widely attended festival (i.e. a bit scary as the day progresses). Food and beverages are available on site, and if you choose to stay overnight, there are many hotels in Daecheon Beach. Though I recommend you book well in advance and not assume you’ll be able to walk up the day of and get a room, particularly for a beachside hotel.

This is a very enjoyable festival, and I definitely want to go back next year. I’m just thankful that the weather held out the day I was there, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at the ominous clouds gathering at the festival site in the picture below.

Boryeong Mud Festival afternoon clouds gathering

Seoul Grand Park Rose Festival 2013

Rose Festival Seoul Grand Park sign

The month of June produces many different rose festivals across Korea. The one I visited this past weekend is hosted at Seoul Grand Park Rose Garden. It’s only a 2o minute subway ride on Line 4 from central Seoul, and about a 10 minute walk from the subway stop.

Since the month of June is winding down, peak rose blossoming had already hit, and the roses were slowly dying. However, there were still plenty of beautiful roses to be enjoyed in their bright, delicate, fragrant beauty.

Rose Festival flower tunnels

Rose Festival tunnel flower closeup

Rose Festival rows of red roses

I was at the garden right when it opened, so there was plenty of peace and quiet to enjoy the utter beauty of all the roses. Plus a soft rain had fallen earlier in the morning, so all the roses were sprinkled with delicate water droplets. All of the roses were very fragrant, but it was interesting to notice all the different fragrances. Many of them were the traditional rose scent, but I was very fascinated by the roses that had a sweet, lemon scent to it, because I had never encountered roses like that. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of flower closeups. I kept imagining turning these pictures into beautiful, closeup flower paintings. Let’s see how well they turn out when I finally get my art supplies into these projects.

Rose Festival pink and orange rose closeup

Rose Festival bunches of red roses

Rose Festival orange and pink rose closeup

Rose Festival perfect red rose

Rose Festival fluffy pink and orange rose closeup

Rose Festival bunches of pretty pink roses

Rose Festival closeup of perfect pink rose

Rose Festival bunches of orange roses

Rose Festival bunches of light pink roses

Rose Festival bunches of bright pink roses

Rose Festival bright orange roses

Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival 2013 Cultural Experiences

me at Lotus Lantern Festival

 

Sunday was the third day of the Lotus Lantern Festival, and that day is all about cultural experiences. The street in front of Jogyesa Temple is turned into a street fair dedicated to all things Buddhism. Over 100 different booths are set up enabling participants to learn many different things.

Lotus Lantern Festival crowd

 

Examples: different forms of Buddhism in different countries.

Lotus Lantern Festival Cambodian Buddhism

 

Lotus Lantern Festival Thai Buddhism

 

Try different tasty Buddhist foods, like Mongolian cookies and rice dishes:

Lotus Lantern Festival Mongolian Buddhism

 

There are also many opportunities to try a wide variety of crafts. There are more crafts than one can do in one day. Participants can make paper lotus flowers. They can craft a bracelet of Buddhist prayer beads. You can make Korean paper or lotus shaped candles. You can decorate masks or make clay objects.

Lotus Lantern Festival candle making

But my absolutely favorite activity at this festival was making a full size paper lotus lantern. The festival as an area marked off for foreigners to make lotus lanterns.

Lotus Lantern Festival lantern making

 

The activity is completely free and you are given all the materials you need to make a lotus lantern in a variety of colors. Some people made unicolor lanterns that resembled a real life lotus flower. And other lanterns were a rainbow of bright colors. Making a lantern is rather time consuming, but pleasantly contemplative.

Lotus Lantern Festival lantern instructions

It’s actually a bit more involved than you might think having to twist and glue every sheet of paper onto the lantern.

Lotus Lantern Festival lantern in progress

 

But it’s all worth it at the end when you have your very own colorful lotus lantern to take home with you.

Lotus Lantern Festival lantern complete

 

Overall the Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival is one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to. The setting in Jogyesa Temple, decked out with thousands of colorful lotus lanterns is beautiful. The parade is quite a sight to behold. And the cultural experiences day is an enjoyable learning experience.

Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival Parade 2013 part 1

Parade marchers (6)

Saturday, May 11th 2013 was the annual Lotus Lantern Festival Parade held in conjunction with the Lotus Lantern Festival. The festival is to honor Buddha’s Birthday and this year the main festival was held May 10-12. The weekend is packed with a variety of religious and cultural experiences that are a lot of fun and informative. The highlight of the festival is the parade held on Saturday night. This parade is one of the best and the longest I have seen. The parade starts at Dongdaemun, the old east gate of Seoul and current home to a large market. It continues west down Jongno Street to the final destination of Jogyesa Temple, the center of the Lotus Lantern Festival. The parade lasts about two hours and consists of a wide variety of lighted lantern floats and marching groups carrying many different types of lanterns.

Parade marchers (4)

I decided to view the parade closer to the ending point about a 10 minute walk from Jogyesa Temple. When you’re short like I am, it is highly critical to get a good vantage spot to view a parade. The city actually sets up a couple rows of seats for people to sit in and watch the parade along parts of the parade route. I initially assumed that they were reserved for tour groups who paid for them, only to discover (a bit too late) that anyone can sit in them. Even when I get higher up, it seems to happen that someone much taller than me stands right in front of me, so I spend the entire parade jockeying my camera for a good position.

Parade marchers (5)

It was interesting to contrast the traditional beauty, meaning and celebration of the parade with the neon signs for modern businesses like Starbucks Coffee and Dunkin Donuts right in the background. Seoul is a very modern city with pockets of traditionalism tucked within it.

Parade marchers (3)

Parade marchers (2)

Tourists even have the opportunity to participate in the Lotus Lantern Parade through a special program that consists of lantern making, dinner, walking the actual parade, and the after parade festivities. The catch is that you have to register for it in advance. I didn’t do it this time, but next year I want to experience the Lotus Lantern Parade as fully as I can.

Parade marchers

Seoul Cherry Blossoms 2013

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Springtime in Korea means many things. It means longer days, bright sunshine, an end to bitterly cold winters. And my favorite thing- the blossoming of Korean flowers. All throughout the countryside different flowers start to bloom beginning in March and continuing throughout spring. Among my favorite flowers are the numerous cherry blossoms that are spread throughout the city. This year I went to two different areas of Seoul to partake in the amazing beauty of the cherry blossom trees- Yongsan and Yeouido. What I love about Yongsan is the view of the urban landscape surrounding the area of the city broken up by bright, beautiful cherry trees lining the roadways.Image

I think this photos sums up the contradictions that is South Korea at the moment. It is a very beautiful country, with a rich history, fabulous temples and palaces and ancient ruins, gorgeous nature, mountain views and colorful trees and flowers. But it is also undeniable that just to the north lies their sister Korea, separated by the Demilitarized Zone since 1953 and technically still in a state of war, though there is an armistice in place (now whether or not North Korea REALLY abides by that now remains to be seen). The greater metropolitan area of Seoul is well within the range of North Korean long range artillery, and security is often in the back of your mind (particularly nowadays with North Korean rhetoric at a particular fever pitch). This picture juxtaposes the delicate, ephemeral beauty that is the Korean cherry blossoms against the cold, hard concertina wire designed to protect both military and civilian alike and provide security.

It’s hard not to delight in the innocent wonder of the massive amounts of cherry tree blossoms. I wanted to capture all the images to create paintings from them later.

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Cherry Blossoms Yongsan 2013

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What I like about Yongsan is that it is comparatively empty. It’s easier to get up close and personal with the cherry trees in relative peace, quiet and solitude. For a different experience, I recommend attending the Yeouio Cherry Blossom Festival. Yeouido Island is another excellent location for cherry tree-lined streets in Seoul, just south of the Han River. In fact, part of the Hangang park runs along the northern area of Yeouido Island, and is an excellent area to enjoy a picnic, walk, run or bike along the Han River, and enjoy the gorgeous views of Seoul. Every year the Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival is held-this year from 12-21 April 2013. The bulk of the festival is held around the road surrounding the National Assembly on Yeouido Island. It is easily reached by taking the Seoul subway, Line 9 to National Assembly stop. During the festival, the road is blocked off from traffic, which makes it easier for the thousands of visitors to enjoy the cherry trees, take pictures, enjoy musical performances and just relax with the sunny beauty of a Seoul springtime. This is a beautiful area, though it is definitely not for those who don’t particularly like crowds, since the festival is full of them.

me at Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival 2013

ImageCherry Blossoms Yeouido sunny trees 2013

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You have to take advantage of the cherry blossom season, because it certainly isn’t long. Cherry trees blossoms last about 7-10 days and then they are gone. Already, the cherry trees are shedding, spreading their delicate petals in the wind like pink-white snowflakes along the sidewalks. Soon all the branches will be bare, and you must another year for spring.

Next year, I want to get farther afield to enjoy different cherry tree festivals, particularly the one held in Hwagae near Jirisan National Park. But if you live in Seoul and just want to see some cherry trees, it is very easy to do so without ever leaving the city.

Maryan-ri Sunrise Festival New Years 2013

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I always have been ambivalent about New Years celebrations as an adult. Part of me wants to go out and party, but that is something I don’t really like to do alone, and being at a raucous party alone on NYE makes me feel extra lonely. I have been lucky that since I graduated from university in 1998, 13 out of the last 15 New Years Eve have been spent overseas. You would think that I would have amazing experiences in foreign countries, and there have been some fun ones (which will be addressed in a future post), but for the most part, I’ve celebrated NYE alone and in my room drinking (it’s really not as sad and pathetic as it sounds). But I am always on the lookout for something new and different.

In the spirit of that, I searched all over the Internet to see what sort of NYE activities Seoul offers. Not surprisingly, there were a number of clubs and parties, but that just wasn’t what I wanted to do. During that search, I stumbled upon the concept of sunrise festivals. While the stroke of midnight is widely celebrated in Korea just like in the rest of the world, there is also a special emphasis on experiencing the first sunrise of the new year. Understandably, most of the sunrise festivals occur on Korea’s east coast and the island of Jeju-do, since that part of Korea is the first to see the sunrise. However, there is one festival at a place called Maryang-ri near the town of Seocheon. It’s located on the west coast about a three hour train ride south of Seoul. For 60 days surrounding December 22, the sun rises and sets in the same location, which has made this a popular spot for a sunrise festival.

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The festival begins right before sunset with a ceremonial drumming performance and enjoying the last sunset of the current year. This particular sunset was rife with beautiful cloud formations and intense colors. Once the sun set, there was an array of musical performances up until midnight, while several bonfires were lit around the port. The bonfires provided warmth and heat, and also a sense of community.

ImageAround the bonfires, family and friends congregate, keep warm and grill up a variety of foods, such as rice cakes, chestnuts and sweet potatoes. I don’t speak Korean, and I’m very introverted, so I didn’t make much attempt at conversation, but rather just observed the activities going on around me. However as a Western woman traveling alone, I was treated as somewhat of an odd duck (other experiences as a woman traveling solo will also be explored in a future post). There was much astonishment at the fact that I was a woman alone, and I heard the terms “brave” and “dragon” more than once. In a country where solitary activity is not very common, particularly among females, it made me stand out even more, but not in a bad way. I find the Korean people are very generous and love to share, particularly their food and beverages. So I got to experience a never ending supply of treats and sparklers that evening.

I usually love long, cold winter nights, but you get a different perspective when you are outside from sunset until midnight, and then midnight until sunrise. There was approximately six and a half hours from sunset to the stroke of midnight and that is plenty of time to enjoy the bonfires, listen to the music, take in the near full moon, all under a very cold winter’s night. Once midnight struck, there was the typical jubilation (though not the mass of kissing you see at some western NYE parties) and celebration with fireworks.

What was interesting was what to do with myself after midnight. Sunrise wasn’t until 7:44 am, so that is nearly eight hours of time to kill. Thankfully I brought some reading material to help pass the time. For future sunrise festivals, I will be sure to go to one with a hotel room nearby, so I can go to sleep and stay warm. As it was, there were still people like me who traveled via public transportation and elected to stay until sunrise, and also had no place to go. Movies were played on the large screen, bonfires were kept active, and the food vendors were still selling their wares. Thankfully there were also large space heaters in tents, but they were partially offset by the growing chilly breeze and ensuing snowfall. When the sun set, it was clear and cold, and I anticipated an equally cold and clear sunrise, but Mother Nature had other plans. It started snowing around 2 am, and at first it was just flurries. But as sunrise approached, the snow came down harder and harder, and with the blowing wind, it felt like it was pouring snow instead of rain.

Then the time came to shuffle from our tents and heaters to take in the majesty of a winter’s morn on this first sunrise of the new year. Amazingly enough, the snow stopped right as official sunrise hit. Since this was a sunrise festival, there was another countdown to sunrise culminating in a massive balloon release to celebrate the dawning of a new day in a new year. While the sunrise wasn’t nearly as colorful as the sunset, the growing light was welcome upon the new fallen snow and the calm sea.

ImageI will admit to being cold, wet and tired by the end of it, and I felt I rushed through the appreciation of the sunrise. But it still was a different sort of New Years celebration. I very much enjoy communing with nature, and this festival is a way for me to appreciate the beauty of this world and the beauty of a new year, without the pain of a massive hangover.