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Watch this video of fighting bulls at the Cheongdo Bullfighting festival
Every March, the sleepy little village town of Cheongdo awakens to host the annual Cheongdo (저ㅗㅇ도) Bull Fighting Festival.
I took the train from Daegu into town. Disembarking the train was an arrival into disappointment. There wasn’t much to see there, except a statue of a bull and a very quiet and desolate town. Hardly anything to blow your skirt up. Had it not been for the festival, the town wouldn’t get much visitors.
Getting to the Cheongdo festival arena
I didn’t know how to get to the festival nor did many other expats, who arrived with me. But festival navigation in Korea is obvious– you just follow the crowd. Immediately, I shuffled to the local bus station and boarded the bus with a throng of expats and local Koreans to head out to the big arena. It was a good 20 minute ride out into nowhere, until over the hill’s crest, we saw the arena.
Leaving the bus, we were greeted by food stalls selling all the typical Korean fair snacks– roasted nuts, bundegi, corn, dried squid, etc… We bought our tickets and went inside and it was crowded. Booth selling more Korean snacks, household goods, souvenirs that you should get when you’re in Cheongdo, food areas and an outdoor performance venue for street comedy acts.
Inside the closed top arena was a miniature stadium of fans cheering and rooting, as two bulls locked horns in the center of the ring. No, this is not like a Spanish bullfight with a matador and lots of arena blood sport. This was bull vs. bull.
The village history of bullfighting
A 100 year tradition, bullfighting in countries such as Korea and Japan used to be a village sport. In Korean bullfights, two bulls enter the ring and lock horns and butt against each other until one yields or gets intimidated and runs away. Sound exciting? For the outsider this might emit a bit of a yawn, but there’s more to this sport than meets the eye.
The bulls and their trainers develop a close bond of trust. The bulls get picked at 2 years old from cattle going to the slaughterhouse and raised and trained from thereon. Each bull’s name is proudly burned into its side as a visible tattoo. Some trainers sleep next to their bulls when going to competitions, while some do jogging workouts with them.
Raising one of these bulls is not cheap– the bulls get fed a special vegetarian diet with occasional seafood and ginseng drinks and they are treated with as much care as a heavyweight champion boxer. Once in the ring, the trainer will accompany the bull, shouting bullfighting expressions as if shouting to a boxer to ” jab!”
According to a 2009 NY Times article, there are 500 trainers and over 1,500 contending bulls. Cheongdo is the training center for over half of these bulls.
Can you watch an entire day of bullfighting in Cheongdo?
To be honest, it’s really only interesting during the first hour of novelty. My interest died after. It’s a slow action to watch. I went outside to see the bull pens and after that, it was time to leave. Nonetheless, it’s still a fun excursion and a chance to see a traditional Korean village sport. It was a slow day but still enjoyable!
Cheongdo bullfighting festival information
Festival Admission Fee:
Advance Ticket Purchase: Adult 4,000 won / Youth 3,000 won
On-site Purchase: Adult 5,000 won / Youth 4,000 won
※ Free Adimission – Child (ages under 7), Born in Ox year (2009, 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961, 1949) and disabled visitors
Getting to Cheongdo from Daegu
You can take the train from Dongdaegu or Daegu Station to Cheongdo. It is a 30 minute ride.