April showers bring May festivalsThere are literally hundreds of festivals in Korea, covering everything from the Moses miracle to the joys of mud. While some of these festivals may be, well, less than world-class, the onset of the warm May weather brings out some of the best festivals of the year.
Mount Jiri Herb Festival
In the shadow of Mount Jiri ― where an estimated 1,000 kinds of herbs and plants grow wild ― is Sancheong, an area known for its high-quality herbs, especially those used for medical treatments. This is where Korea’s celebrated doctor of traditional medicine, Heo Jun, used to forage for herbs.
The third Mount Jiri Herb Festival will be held from tomorrow to May 11 around Sancheong Stadium in South Gyeongsang province.
The festival provides various hands-on experiences. For example, at the Hyeminseo pavilion, named after the first modern hospital in Korea, visitors can have a traditional Oriental medical diagnosis. Participants can also get medicinal teas and foods from nurses dressed in traditional garb. Visitors can pick and prepare their own medicinal plants and herbs. If that’s too much work, the herbs are available in the medicine marketplace.
Several other events are being held in the Sancheong area. During the royal azalea festival at nearby Mount Hwangmae, the movie “The Legend of Ginkgo” will be screened on Sunday and Monday. There will be a half-marathon on Sunday, an international sculpture symposium in Sancheong, a singing contest on Tuesday and a kite-flying contest on Wednesday.
In addition to these events, there are several tourist attractions in the area including the Mount Hwangmae movie theme park, the birthplace of the Buddhist monk Seongcheol, a cotton farm, the Daewonsa Valley and, of course, the magnificent Mount Jiri.
Getting there: Express buses leave from the Nambu Bus Terminal in southern Seoul. The trip to Sancheong takes about 3 1/2 hours. A one-way ticket costs 15,800 won ($13).
Information: www.sancheong.ne.kr or call (055) 970-6000
The West has Romeo and Juliet. Korea has Seong Chunhyang and Lee Mongnyong. The story of their love, despite numerous hardships, has been passed down for centuries and is celebrated each year at a festival in Namwon, South Jeolla province.
The 73d Chunhyang Festival, under the theme “Love, Love, My Love,” is easily one of the oldest traditional festivals in Korea, and this year will run from Sunday to May 8 around Namwon City.
Chunhyang is the story of a woman in Joseon dynasty times, born to a gisaeng (Korean geisha). Chunhyang falls in love with Mongnyong, a young man from an elite family. After Mongnyong moves to Seoul to take the national exam, the newly appointed governor aims to make Chunhyang his, but she refuses him. When Mongnyong returns to Namwon as a secret royal investigator, they confirm their love for each other.
The festival begins with a ceremony at Chunhyang’s grave and a classical music contest that is open to all students in Korea. The most popular events during the fest are the Chunhyang beauty queen contest and a street parade featuring the story of Chunhyang’s life.
In addition, there’s a traditional ssireum wrestling match, a swinging competition, a traditional wedding ceremony and an archery contest. There’s also a wooden lacquer tableware exhibition and a ceramics exhibition. If that’s not enough, there’s a royal azalea blossom festival in Mount Bonghwa.
Most of these events are being held around Gwanghallu-won (Historical Site No. 303), the Garden of Love. This is one of the most splendid gardens in Korea, which has a Gwanghallu pavilion symbolizing the palace on the moon, the bridge of the Milky Way and a pond of tears. Some of the events are at the Yocheon special stage, the house of Wolmae and the Chunhyang Arts Theater.
Getting there: By train, the one-way trip to Namwon takes 3 1/2 hours from Seoul and costs 25,400 won. By express bus, the ride takes longer but costs just 12,900 won.
Admission: The festival is free. Admission to the Gwanghallu-won Garden is 1,300 won for adults and 700 won for students.
Information: www.chunhyang.org or call (063) 620-6544
Hampyeong Butterfly Festival
What happens when 500 species of water plants and 14 million insects co-exist in one locale? If that place is Hampyeong, in South Jeolla province, roughly 130,000 people will overrun your natural habitat during a nine-day spring festival.
The fifth-annual fest begins tomorrow and runs through May 11. It’s centered around the Butterfly Exhibition Hall, which features live butterflies and a collection of rare insects that includes specimens from North Korea.
Pet lovers can visit a display where they can play with dogs and rabbits, feed pigs, watch hedgehogs and take photos with a crown parrot or a Manchurian black bear.
In addition, visitors can learn straw weaving, make butterfly ceramics, wash their hair with sweet myrtle and chase livestock.
Most of the events are near the Hampyeong Government Building, and there’s a free shuttle bus service to quickly get from one activity to the next. Programs run until 9 p.m. Some events require tickets.
The opening ceremony on Saturday is the festival’s highlight, when thousands of butterflies will be set free. There will be a Butterfly Fashion Fair on Monday ― Children’s Day ― with the fashion model Kim Dong-su participating. The clothes featured at the show will be colored with natural dyes. Butterflies, of course, is the theme.
Getting there: Express buses leave Seoul for Hampyeong every 4 hours; trains run 12 times a day. A one-way rail ticket costs 16,700 won. Motorists can take the Seohaean Expressway or the Honam Expressway.
Admission: 1,000 won for the Butterfly Exhibition Hall.
Information: www.inabi.or.kr or call (061) 320-3224
by Gloria Cha, Min Byung-hee