Work hard, play hard?… Maybe that is the Korean motto, because it seems when Korea throws a winter festival, it goes all out!
This January, I visited the Hwacheon Mountain Trout Festival. Initially, I thought the festival was purely about the spectacle of fishing for sancheoneo (or wild trout) through a hole in the ice like an eskimo or even fishing by bare hand. But when I got there, what I got was a surprising peek into how Koreans enjoy good old-fashioned winter fun.
I took the weekend bus from Seoul. Swishing past the Korean landscape for three hours at a mere 13,000 Won wasn’t a bad way to go. Hwacheon county is in the Gangwon province, which is north of Seoul, running parallel to the Korean Demilitarization Zone. Being up north, Hwacheon gets winter’s first freeze; and thus, the river chills over with a thick layer of glass frost.
When I arrived at the festival, I wasn’t ready for its giiiiiiinormity. Hwacheon River was frozen acres and acres over and settled on it, was a winter carnival, stretching farther than the eye could see. Activity-wise, it seemed there was something for everyone: Snowmobile rides, ice sledding and sleighing, mini ice hockey, ice race car driving, ziplining, skating, eolgomiseong (tunnels, slides), snow sculptures (which I couldn’t find), etc… and yes, trout fishing.
Tickets were sold under a big tent and you had to pay admission for entry into each roped off event. I got there a little late, so I didn’t buy any tickets into the events, but even being a spectator was fun.
Here’s how the sleigh ride is done if you’re by yourself. (a bit humorous)
Korean variety acts
So far I’ve noticed many types of outdoor variety acts at the festivals I’ve been to. Performers dress up and perform a comedy like skit, then sing to the crowd. The singing is usually pretty good. Watch the short video below if you’re interested.
Catching as much trout as you can.
The festival is really known for its sancheoneo (aka wild trout) fishing, where participants catch as much fish as they can. If you want to fish, festival vendors sell small plastic fly swatter-like things, which are fishing rods with a string attached to a hook. Buy an entrance pass into the festival area and find a dugout hole in the ice to fish in. Some people set up mats to kneel on, while patiently watching for trout. Others bring fold out stools and chairs to sit on while yet other decide to have a family picnic on the ice.
Short video (2min) showing the festival
Believe me, though the fishing area was large, the holes were many and equipment and tactics appear as simple as dropping your line in a hole in the ice, not everyone was lucky to score a fish.
Then again, the thrill of the day was just being there and enjoying the wonderful spectacle of a winter carnival on ice!
Read a Joongang daily article about the festival here.
Getting to Hwacheon:
Below directions from the official festival website www.narafestival.com
From Hwacheon Bus Terminal, the festival venue is 10 minutes walk.
Chuncheon-bound express buses can be caught at the following bus terminals:
Seoul-Dongseoul/Sangbong Terminal, Busan, Daegu, Gimpo Airport, Incheon Airport, Incheon, Anyang, Jeonju, Cheonan, Weonju
At Chuncheon, transfer must be to Hwacheon Bus.
Take express bus for Hwacheon at Dongseoul Terminal.
15 buses daily, travel time: 2 hours 40 minutes(06:20~7:25P), Fare: 12,600 won
Take express bus for Hwacheon at Sangbong Terminal
13 buses daily, travel time: 2 hours 30 minutes(06:00~18:20), Fare: 10,100 won
From Chuncheon Bus Terminal
Take express bus bound for Hwacheon at Chuncheon Terminal.
Bus hours: 06:50 am ~ 21:20 pm / every 30 minutes , Travel time: 50minutes, Fare: 4,000 won
Take express bus to Chuncheon
Bus hours: 8:30A -7P , Travel time: 4 hrs , Fare: 17200won 25500won 28000won
Then at terminal, transfer to bus to Hwacheon (there are 2 bus terminals, not more than 7 minutes apart). Bus to Hwacheon is at the main terminal next to Emart.
There’s a Korail train to Chuncheon. Get off at Chuncheon station and go to the bus stop outside across the street of the train station to catch a Hwacheon-bound bus that leaves the Chuncheon Bus Terminal every 30 minutes.