Icheon Baeksa Sansuyu Festival

Icheon Baeksma Sansuyu Festival-7

Spring is my second favorite time of the year in Korea, after autumn. The wide variety of flowers are blooming all over the country in a wide variety of colors and shapes. Spring typically starts in April, but this year, spring started about three weeks early due to an unseasonably warm winter that lead to an unseasonably early and warm spring.

Icheon Baeksma Sansuyu Festival-2

Among the first flowers that tend to bloom are the cherry blossoms and the sansuyu flowers. So in that spirit, I headed down south to the city of Icheon (an approximately one hour bus ride south of Seoul) for the Baeksa Sansuyu Festival. This festival is one of the first of the spring season.

Icheon Baeksma Sansuyu Festival-4

But since spring flower festivals are entirely weather and flower dependent, there is a potential for disappointment. For me, the two biggest disappointments are rain and missing the blooming season. Both of those were present for this festival. The sky was gray and gloomy with increasing sprinkles of rain while I was at the festival. Having never seen sansuyu flowers before, I couldn’t know for sure, but it really seemed that the festival was a week early. Sure the yellow flowers were blooming, but I don’t think they had hit full bloom when I visited.

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Icheon Baeksma Sansuyu Festival-5

There were also a few cherry trees at the festival site for a nice color contrast.

Icheon Baeksma Sansuyu Festival-1

The festival was the standard setup for a Korean festival. There were cultural performances, a wide variety of food vendors, and a wide variety of local crafts for sale.

Icheon Baeksma Sansuyu Festival-6

After the festival, I walked around Icheon for a bit, and enjoyed the cherry blossoms at the park before heading home to Seoul.

Icheon Baeksma Sansuyu Festival-8

Hwagae Cherry Blossoms and Buril Falls

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My favorite part of Korean spring is the blooming of the cherry blossoms. I adore the gorgeous pink and white blooms that fill the cities and countryside for such a brief time. While the cherry blossoms are a delicate beauty, they are also a very ephemeral beauty.  Cherry blossom season only lasts about seven to ten days, so it’s nearly impossible to see all the places where cherry blossoms bloom in one spring season.

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Hwage Cherry Blossoms and Buril Falls-6

Last year, I confined most of my cherry blossom hunting to around Seoul, but this year I pushed farther afield.  I decided to make a trek down to Hwagae. I went the week after their official cherry blossom festival, hoping to avoid the hordes of crowds I read about. Of course the danger of going the week after the festival, is that I missed peak blossoms, but there were still enough to enjoy plenty of color. I also took the advantage to combine a few sightseeing places into one trip. I was able to see the Hwagae cherry blossoms, the Ssanggyesa Temple and Buril Falls in Jirisan National Park in one long day trip.

Hwage Cherry Blossoms and Buril Falls-2

Hwagae is fairly easy to reach by bus from the Seoul Nambu Bus Terminal. There are numerous buses per day, and it takes about three and a half hours (traffic depending) to reach Hwagae.  I wished I had taken the first bus out of Seoul, which would have given me an extra hour and a half in Hwagae, but I was able to see everything I wanted to see (albeit not at the most relaxed pace).

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Hwagae is a tremendous opportunity to see a bulk of the cherry blossoms. There is an approximately four kilometer stretch of road from the town of Hwagae to Ssanggyesa Temple, and most of the road is lined with gorgeous cherry blossom trees on both sides. It is a very easy walk on flat road by a river (just pay attention to the traffic, though it was often so backed up that I was moving faster than some of the cars), and it is a great opportunity to get your cherry blossom fix. The opportunity for beautiful nature viewing and nature photography are abundant.

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The end of this road is Ssanggyesa Temple (follow the signs), which is a small Buddhist temple complex originating in the year 723, but was rebuilt in 1632. I didn’t spend an extraordinary time at the temple, because I was pressed for time, but it was pretty nonetheless.

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Hwage Cherry Blossoms and Buril Falls-14

The last sightseeing part of my day was Buril Falls, which is on the edge of Jirisan National Park. The hike from Ssanggyesa Temple to Buril Falls is only about 2.4 kilometers. The hike is considered an “easy” hike, and I suppose it is by Korean standards. Most of the hike to the falls is uphill, sometimes over the uneven terrain I am so used to, but the most strenuous part of the journey is the first 500  meters from Ssanggyesa Temple and the 100 meters up very steep stairs on the return trip from Buril Falls (your knees will probably feel both the uphill and the downhill of that climb). Then the uphill levels out a bit and becomes easier and it took an hour and twenty minutes to reach the falls, and an hour to return, less if you are a faster walker. The trail ends at Buril Falls, which is considered one of the 10 scenic beauties of Jirisan National Park.

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Hwage Cherry Blossoms and Buril Falls-11

Retracing my steps was fairly quick, and soon enough, I was back to the temple and cherry blossom road to hike back to Hwagae. It was only a one hour walk back to town, and the sun was approaching sunset, giving the cherry blossom trees a beautiful, soft, pink glow.

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I was hoping to take the direct bus back to Seoul, but that wasn’t happening. There were large groups of people waiting at the bus stop and all the buses back to Seoul were sold out for the night. But all was not lost. I caught a local bus to the town of Gurye (about 20 kilometers away) and then took a taxi to the Gurye-gu KTX station to catch a train back to Seoul. Of course all seats on the train were sold out, as it often happens on the Sunday evening trains back to Seoul. Thankfully for me, you don’t need a reserved seat to ride the train. You just need to be willing to stand for the few hours to get back into Seoul.

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Hwage Cherry Blossoms and Buril Falls-7

I highly recommend Hwagae as a lovely day trip from Seoul. Even though the crowds will be thick that time of year, it is definitely worth your while to go during cherry blossom season. There are few places you can see so many cherry blossoms in one area, and there are so many other sites to visit at the same time.




Seoul Cherry Blossoms 2013


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.


Cherry Blossoms Yongsan 2013



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


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.