The summer heat is finished and the beauty of fall is upon us. As blue skies open up and cool weather sets in, a peaceful time of year begins. Something that goes hand and hand with this autumn is Festival Season in Korea. Every weekend provinces throughout the country put on amazing festivals showcasing their local specialties. There is so much going on that it is nearly impossible to discover every great event. This is why when Korea Tourism Organizations (KTO) announced that they were recruiting members for ‘Global Group on Cultural and Tourism Festivals’ to attend some of the festivals being held throughout the season I jumped on the opportunity!
KTO put together over 15 trips allowing foreign participants to attend the festivals FREE OF CHARGE! What’s the catch? In return KTO asks participants to simply share their experience and fill out a simple survey. The trip I attended was so interesting that there is no way I would decide not to share my experience.
Great opportunities for foreigners to experience tourism and culture happen often in Korea. If you are interested in attending some make sure to Like! Our facebook page where we post links to opportunities.
The morning of October 4th I joined 20 foreigners from around the world and headed out of Seoul to spend the weekend attending two great festivals: Gimje Horizon Festival and Sancheong Medicinal Herb Festival.
Our first stop was Gimje. The trip was about three hours by bus from Seoul. Gimje is located in North Jeolla Province in the Southwestern part of Korea and known as the “great plains.” The mountainous country flattens in this landmass making the area an ideal place to cultivate crops, specifically rice.
Our tour included some area attractions as well as the festival. Visitors can easily make this a weekend trip, exploring the area. The natural flat landscape littered with Korea’s fall flower- the Cosmo, makes for ideal bike tours. There are also several notable temples. Our first stop was to Simpo Port and Manghaesa Temple Observatory, where we became acquainted with the history of the region. The area is famous for their seafood. Here clams, approximately 5 cm in size, which were once a prized meal for kings, are produced. Walking into any humble shop around Simpo Port will allow you to feast on this local delicacy.
After eating a delicious seafood lunch, at the tiny fishing port (Simpo Port), we took a short walk to Manghaesa Temple. This beautiful and historic Buddhist temple is famous for it’s placement. The small area has stunning beauty and is believed to be a place where Heaven meets Earth. In this area we also stopped at a pavilion that offers 360-degree views of the unobstructed plains.
Following the stop at the pavilion, we made our way to the festival grounds. Gimje Horizon Festival focuses on Korea’s agricultural history and offers guests a glimpse into the heritage that is being preserved by local agricultural communities. Supporting the theme, is an array of programs and events that make the festival fun for the entire family. If farming doesn’t interest you, surely the many interactive events will! Festivities include a dragon competition, kite flying, culinary experience, interactive rice harvesting experiences, a grand torch parade and so much more.
Gimje is the only place in Korea where visitors can observe a panoramic view of the area, encased with rice paddies that expand into the horizon without obstruction by mountains. The setting of the festival encompasses Gimje’s tourism office which includes an observation tower, allowing visitors to view the area as well as the festival.
Once in the tower I was able to quickly orient myself. I could see the hundreds of kites, which the festival is famous for, flying against the blue autumn sky. There were also two massive bamboo dragons which are the centerpiece of the event.
I looked down into the festival with some binoculars, which were available at the top of the observatory, and couldn’t wait to be among the events. Rice paddies allowing visitors to have interactive experiences, kite flying demonstrations and much more were in my view. I giggled as I watched the cute children wearing rice hats, running through fields with nets, catching grasshoppers.
After observing the festival from above, I headed to ground level and walked through the main gate. At the information tent a woman arranged for an English-speaking guide to help me better understand the festival. This service is free and available in several languages to all foreigners.
My guide was a sweet high school student who was able to easily show me around the festival and guide me to the exhibits that interested me. Our first stop was a dueling dragon competition. Two huge dragon costumes, worn by about 10 people, gracefully weaved around a stage. Foreigners and locals were invited to participate in wearing the dragon costume as well as competing in the competitions. Dancing, rock paper scissors, and tug-o-war were just a few of the competitions that were held to see if the red or blue dragon would reign over the festival.
After enjoying this demonstration, we continued into the festival to observe the Grand Dragons. The 2 story dragon statues are stunning and a spectacle like no other. It is in this area that many people fly kites. Just behind the dragons is an agricultural lake with duck boats and paddle boats for visitors to use. Although the experience looked relaxing, I opted not to participate and continued to the Traditional Village where I observed Korean crafts, folk games and then participated in a traditional wedding.
Korean weddings are grand events, often lasting several days and involving entire villages. Locals in costumes reenacted the festivities. Musicians wore traditional costumes and banged drums as they danced in a circle. I was given the opportunity to try on a traditional wedding costume. This was great fun! My guide helped me understand the experience and assured me she would make sure I looked beautiful. Volunteers surrounded me in a replica Hanok field home and placed the outfit on me. After I was dressed in wedding hanbok they put my hair in a bun and placed a braided wig on top as well as a traditional hat and large decorative shaft that pierced through the bun. Because I went on the trip alone, I did not have a groom, so I was introduced to another visitor who I would marry. They ushered me around the hanok home and took pictures in front of alters set up for the wedding and then in front of a tiny box that in ancient times carried the bride into the weddding. My guide explained the entire process and snapped pictures with my camera throughout the event. What fun!
Once back in my street clothes, we continued to what I found the most interesting area of the festival, the Rice Field Village. It housed many interactive experiences. Visitors were allowed to go into the rice fields and harvest their own crop with traditional tools through the supervision of rice farmers. Once the rice was gathered, Korean iron pots were set up on campfires allowing participants to cook and eat rice in traditional fashion. In addition to these activities children were given nets and allowed to run among the rice field and catch locust, or play in a straw-plant land that consisted of archery, sling shots, a petting zoo, a straw- trampoline, slide and rodeo. The straw from the rice plant was also used to create traditional crafts. Participants could gather straw and create ropes and make straw bags.
No festival would be fun without food! A large food court offered both Korean and foreign food for purchase. The area is not only famous for seafood and rice but also beef. Jipyeongseon Hanu or Horizon Korean Beef is the meat of choice in Gimje. At the festival you can visit a butcher stand and purchase meat. It was then barbequed it in a typical Korean fashion and accompanied by side dishes from participating restaurants.
Our group tried a local dish called Gimje Yukhoe Bibimbap which is Bibimbap topped with steak tartare. If you are adventurous enough to eat tartare, I highly recommend sampling the dish. It was delicious!
After dinner our day did not end. The sun set and as the sky darkened my favorite part of the festival began! How could things get even more exciting, right? The Kyeokgolje Torch Parade!! Participants were given tiki torches and after a fun rally session we lit our torches and marched among hundreds of other participants throughout the festival grounds.
The parade ended along the lake. A stage was set up with three plasma globes (the spheres that have pink lights that follow your finger when you touch it) and government figures stood in front of them. They each briefly spoke about the festival. While our lanterns glistened in the cool night sky, each man pressed his finger to the sphere. Music began playing and a massive blue light-up dragon flew through the sky, followed by a beautiful fire works display. The dragon continued to dart through the sky during the entire fireworks display! I had never seen anything like it!
After the fireworks display, we extinguished our lanterns and headed to our hotel for the night. We would arise early the following morning for ANOTHER festival located about two hours from Gimje; the Sancheung Medicine Herb Festival.
Make sure to tune into my next blog post where I will tell you all about it!
Date: October 1-5th 2014
Take an express train to Gimje Station.
Take the festival shuttle bus from the Station to the festival venue.
(Shuttle bus schedule: 07:30-22:30)
Take an express bus to Gimje Bus Terminal.
Take the festival shuttle bus from the Terminal to the festival venue.
(Shuttle bus schedule: 08:00-22:00)
For more information: www.festival.gimje.go.kr