Tag Archives: festival

Frozen at the Sancheoneo Ice Festival

For those who enjoy the cold and freezing their bums off, why not check out the Hwacheon Sancheoneo (Mountain Trout) Ice Festival in the Gangwon-Do province of South Korea. While I wasn’t a fan of the sub-zero temperatures and my initial hours of bad luck, I did enjoy some success and loved the overall atmosphere of the festival. What’s more, there are numerous activities to do beyond the ice fishing these include snow sledding, ice sledding, ice football, curling, and polar plunges to name a few. If you’re interested in checking the festival out yourself, the 2017 Sancheoneo (Mountain Trout) Ice Festival is quickly approaching and will be held from Saturday, January 7th to Sunday, January 29th.


During my trip to the festival, I remember standing and shivering, unable to move my extremities. I had never experienced cold like it before. All the while, I was trying to figure out what made me decide to spend my weekend in the region of Korea that is known as the first area to freeze over in the winter. I’m much more of a palm tree and beach kind of guy. I’ve never been a big enthusiast of the cold or even winter for that matter. It was something I was pushing off for a couple weeks, but since I was living in Korea, I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to check out the country’s biggest winter festival.


After three hours of waiting for a bite, my anger and frustration grew as I watched all the giddy looking Koreans around me catching fish after fish as if it was the easiest thing in the world. In contrast, I wasn’t experiencing any success at all, even after receiving a few helpful pointers from some of the friendly fishermen (who were almost definitely laughing at me internally). While I was considering giving up, I was approached by an older lady who suggested I head to the “Foreigners Section” to give it a go.

I was highly doubtful that being along another part of the river would make any difference. Nonetheless, I took her advice and found the “Foreigners Section.” This area was less crowded and further away from the hustle and bustle of the main festival area. I still remained doubtful, but within two minutes of being there I finally caught my first trout of the day. I finally caught a freaking fish! Within thirty minutes I had another another six fish!


I was a bit dumbfounded as to why it was so much easier to catch the trout in the “Foreigners Section.” Regardless, I was too relieved to question it for too long. One amazing aspect of the festival is that after all the hard work, fishermen can take their catches to a nearby grill and have the fish grilled and prepared on the spot. I ended up sharing my catch with a local family as we tried our best to converse with one another through my broken Korean and their limited English.


Overall, it was a truly unique and enjoyable experience, and not to mention, the trout was the freshest fish I had ever had. If you happen to find yourself in Korea during the month January, I definitely recommend making your to the festival. For more information please visit the Sancheoneo Festival Website.


The Jinju Namgang Lantern Festival

The arrival of autumn in South Korea brings a plethora of joyful festivals to the ‘Land of the Morning Calm.’ From the Andong Mask Dance Festival to the Busan World Fireworks Festival, there is something unique for just about everyone. One festival that is definitely worth adding to your Korean itinerary during this time of year is the Jinju Namgang Lantern Festival.


Home to more than 50,000 lanterns, the Jinju Namgang Lantern Festival is held each October over a two week period along the Namgang River in the southern city of Jinju. During this time, the city is transformed into an illuminated playground housing lanterns of every shape, size, and color. From modern day superhero shaped lanterns to more traditional representations of Korea’s historic past, the festival is a unique mix of old and new.


While it appears like a modern day event to most outsiders, the festival is steeped in history and originated during the Japanese invasion of Korea. It all began as a military strategy when Korean soldiers placed many lanterns on the Namgang River to prevent Japanese troops from wading across it. Their tactic proved to be successful and It has since become an annual tradition and one of the largest lantern festivals in Korea.


The highlights of the festival include wishing on lanterns, traditional lantern making, and a fireworks display over the river. It’s amazing how lanterns can be used in so many different ways.


The Jinju Lantern Festival is the perfect place to spend an evening. From watching the colorful lanterns float down the river to wandering through the enchanted forest of lanterns that fill the city’s old fortress walls, it’s a beautiful experience. The festival’s surroundings create a peaceful atmosphere for all those who attend.


Easily accessible by bus from both Busan and Daegu, the festival is certainly worth traveling to if you’re in the area. This year’s festivities will take place from October 1st to the 11th. For more information check out the Jinju Namgang Yudeung Festival Website.

Lost in Translation at the Andong Mask Dance Festival

If you’re looking for a unique Korean experience, there’s no better place to start than the Andong Mask Dance Festival. Andong is home to the largest number of cultural artifacts in Korea which help paint a vivid picture of the peninsula’s storied past. Famous for its traditional folk village and annual Mask Dance Festival, Andong is an interesting place to explore Korea’s rich history.


Masks have long played an integral part in Korean cultural, with natives believing they ward off evil spirits. Once a year, Andong preserves this tradition by celebrating the historic masks through exhibition and folk dance. Visitors to the festival can enjoy various traditional mask dances, folk performances, and hands-on experiences, including conventional mask making and mask dance learning.


Our visit to the festival began with an early morning bus ride to the festive grounds where various cultural activities could be experienced. We started off with mask making and chose traditional designs to decorate our twenty-first century cardboard cutouts. We felt almost childlike as we shaped our masks with floam (brightly-colored, sticky foam balls). While it was a bit too crafty for my taste, I have to admit it was enjoyable.


We spent our afternoon exploring the Hahoe folk village, a beautiful place to wander as it is nestled in a lush valley between the Taebaek mountains. From here, various traditional dwellings can be explored. It’s easy to see why this quaint little village was recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


After wandering around the village, the late afternoon was spent watching various traditional mask dances. The performances were an interesting sight to witness. The choreography mostly involved various men strutting and prancing around the stage. I personally found it quite comical, yet a bit baffling when a man dressed as a woman squatted mid-stage and “peed” and then one of the other characters proceeded to scoop it up and smell it. It was definitely lost in translation as the story was told in Korean which is a language I’m still not very familiar with.


The festivities concluded with with a traditional fireworks display along the river, one of the most unique displays I have ever seen. It was more of a fireshow than a fireworks display as flaming bushes were thrown off the cliff’s edge into the river below and lit charcoals were strung across the river creating a rainstorm of sparkling embers.

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For those interested in checking out this year’s festivities, the Andong Mask Dance Festival will take place in late September, Friday 25th to Sunday, October 4th. If you’re in Korea during this time of the year, a jaunt to the festival is well worth the journey. For more information please visit the official Mask Dance Festival Website.

All Aglow at Seoul’s Lotus Lantern Festival

Every year, one of Asia’s biggest celebrations takes place in the months of April and May. This major celebration is known as Buddha’s birthday. Buddhism plays a dominant role in many Asian countries including Korea, where every spring the country turns aglow in honor of the birth of Buddha. This also happens to be one of my favorite festivals.


There are few places in the world that can match Korea’s love for Buddhism and bright lanterns. Nearly fifteen percent of the Korean population practices Buddhism which makes up the largest spiritual group in the Land of the Morning Calm. The celebration is one of the biggest of its kind in the world and they call it the Lotus Lantern Festival.


Depending on the time of year, Buddha’s birthday can fall any time between the beginning of April to the end of May. At this time, the Korean peninsula magically transforms as it prepares for the celebration. From city streets to mountaintop temples, lanterns begin to appear just about everywhere. The displays are charming and intriguing and the capital city of Seoul pulls out all the stops to make sure it’s a celebration Buddha would surely approve of. For two weeks, the city becomes a mecca of everything Buddhist. The city’s streets, parks, and temples become even more special during this time of year as hundreds upon hundreds of lanterns are hung throughout the city.


According to Buddhist beliefs, lanterns symbolize wisdom and light in the world. The hope is to bring more prosperity and peace to the world. It is an important ritual in Buddhism that honors the founder of the spiritual teachings. The lantern lighting in Korea began more than a thousand years ago and still continues to this day. The festival attracts people from all over Korea and the world. There are an array of festive programs scheduled throughout this two week period, everything from a luminous parade to traditional lantern making.


The festival begins with the Lighting Ceremony on the first day in Gwanghwamun Square where various large sized lanterns are lit. The next major event is the Buddhist Cheer Rally which take takes place at Dongguk University. This event is an exciting celebration that is full of songs and rhythmic beats. Later that day, the main thoroughfare of Seoul is shut down to make way for the festival’s oldest and largest event, the Lotus Lantern Parade.


The parade is considered by many to be the highlight of the celebration as tens of thousands of lanterns are carried by various Buddhist congregations. It is truly a magical thing to witness as all the lanterns are being paraded down the streets of Seoul. You can expect to see brightly lit lanterns in the shape of dragons, pagodas, white elephants, lotus flowers, and more. All this lasts for nearly three hours and concludes with a festive celebration on the streets which I found to be inspirational and a lot of fun.


The following day, various traditional and cultural events take place along the main street in front of Jogyesa Temple. Here visitors can learn more about Buddhism by participating in an endless amount of cultural experiences. With more than one-hundred booths set up by Buddhist Monks and Nuns; there is something for everyone, whether it be traditional lantern making or learning proper meditation techniques. My friend and I really enjoyed crafting traditional lanterns of our own.


Seoul’s Lotus Lantern Festival is a unique cultural experience and one of the most beautiful festivals I have witnessed yet. I highly recommend visiting Seoul during this magical time, you’ll surely enjoy taking in all the whimsical sights and sounds that the celebration has to offer. For those interested in checking out the festival, this year’s festivities will take place from May 15th to the 17th. The festival’s program can be found at Korea’s Official Tourism Website.

Wander Pi Wednesdays: Shanghai’s Chinese New Year

Every Wednesday, I’ll be sharing one of my favorite photos from my travels.

Tomorrow is the start of the Lunar New Year which is one of the biggest celebrations in Asia and nowhere is it celebrated on a grander scale than in China, where it’s better known as the Spring Festival. The Spring Festival is the most important traditional holiday in the People’s Republic of China. People from all over the country travel hundreds of miles to reunite with their loved ones and feast upon traditional dishes. Cities across the country are transformed into festive playgrounds. This photo was taken in Shanghai during last year’s celebration (The Year of the Horse) where every year, the Yu Garden is transformed into an even brighter and more colorful landscape as it’s filled with hundreds of lanterns.

Happy Chinese New Year! Gong Xi Fa Cai!