Korea’s many winter festivals are fishy and fun

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Korea’s many winter festivals are fishy and fun

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Dongjangkun Festival in Pocheon, Gyeonggi, displaying 50 ice pillars that are 10 meters (32 feet) tall across the festival venues. [JoongAng Ilbo]


Jumping into icy water and catching fish with your bare hands. Sliding over the snow in a sleigh. Taking a photo in front of a humongous ice sculpture.

These are some of the regular scenes at winter festivals. Although temperatures can feel well below minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit) because of the wind chill, these festivals are seeing no drop in visitors. The JoongAng Ilbo compiled a list of hot tips for winter festivals at the height of a freezing-cold winter.

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Bare-handed fishing

“Fish” has emerged as the new “it” item in winter festivals, beating out “snow” and “ice.” Fish like trout and smelt that live in cold water have long inspired Koreans and today numerous festivals revolve around catching these fish.

The most well-known is the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival (www.narafestival.com) in Hwacheon, Gangwon. It was sancheoneo, which means trout in Korean, that transformed the town of 20,000 residents into an international tourist destination. During the 20-day festival, an estimated 1.5 million people visit. The festival, in its 11th year, kicked off on Jan. 5 and concludes tomorrow.

Programs include ice-fishing, bare-hand fishing and lure fishing, which uses an object that resembles and moves like fish prey. Admission to the festival is 12,000 won ($11.34). Organizers will give a 5,000 won coupon to all visitors toward the purchase of well-known Hwacheon specialties sold at the festival.

The Hwacheon festival may be the biggest, but others are being held across the country.

Pyeongchang, Gangwon, which was the first region in Korea that used aquaculture to raise trout, is also holding the Pyeongchang Trout Festival (http://festival700.or.kr). It has released more than 100,000 trout in Ohdaecheon Stream, which is covered by ice 70 centimeters (27.56 inches) thick, so people can catch them during the festival.

It runs until Feb. 3, and costs 13,000 won for ice-fishing and 15,000 won for bare-hand fishing.

The Cheongpyeong Ice Flowers Trout Festival (http://cpfestival.net) is another trout-themed event. It will be held at Cheongpyeong township of Gapyeong county, and this year the organizers have added a circus troupe from Changzhou, China, that will perform four times a day. Trout-catching costs 12,000 won, while the performance costs 7,000 won. The festival continues through Feb. 17.

For those who are in Seoul and cannot travel far, Paju is another option. Although smaller in scale, the Paju Trout Festival (http://cafe.naver.com/jeamoo) also offers a shot at catching trout until Feb. 11. Other festivals for catching trout include the Hongcheon River Festival (http://hongwinter.kr) in Hongcheon, Gangwon, and the Ganghwa Island Trout and Smelt Festival (http://insanry.tnaru.com) in Ganghwa Island, Incheon.

Among smelt-themed festivals, perhaps the most well-known is the Inje Smelt Festival (http://injefestival.co.kr) in Inje, Gangwon, which wraps up tomorrow. Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi, is the site of the Clean Water Yangpyeong Smelt Festival (http://winterfestival.kr), which runs until Feb. 7. Online reservations are a must for this festival.

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Clockwise from top left: A mother pulling a sleigh for her child, both all bundled up; children riding scooters at the Jarasum Singsing Winter Festival in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi; fish caught at the Inje Smelt Festival Inje, Gangwon; a father and his kid enjoying a slide at the Dongjangkun Festival. [JoongAng Ilbo]


Enjoy art and some action

Kart Rider, Lion King, Pikachu and the Angry Birds: All of these animation characters are reborn as ice sculptures at the Snow Festival on Mount Taebaek (http://festival.taebaek.go.kr) in Taebaek, Gangwon.

It opened yesterday and is celebrating its 20th year. Until Feb. 3, a wide spectrum of programs will be held at the parks and resorts in and around Mount Taebaek. Among the most notable is the dogsled program. A group of six Siberian huskies will pull a sled for 300 meters. The cost is 10,000 won.

Pyeongchang, Gangwon, simply must be on the list as it is considered the “home of snow” in Korea and a place where skiers and other fans of winter sports flock to every year. The Daegwallyeong Snow Festival (http://snowfestival.net) opened a week ago and will go on until Feb. 5. A 70-meter (230-foot) snowman, which has become an icon of the 21-year-old festival, stands at the main venue along with about 100 other pieces of snow art.

One of the highlights is the folk game of boar hunting passed down for generations in Chahangni, which is so deep in the mountains that some call it “the first village on earth.” A group of strong young men would form a group and hunt for a boar. Another highlight is the shirtless marathon on Jan. 20 where people run for 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) wearing no top.

Yeongwol County, Gangwon, is getting in on the action this year for the first time with its Yeongwol Donggang Winter Festival (http://ywtour.go.kr). It will be held at venues in and around the Donggang River until Feb. 3 and its programs include snow biking and snow UFO, which will likely be as appealing to children as the rides at theme parks, in addition to trout fishing.

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Winter festivals are also being held across the Gyeonggi area, about an hour’s drive from Seoul. Pocheon is holding the Dongjangkun Festival (http:///dongjangkun.co.kr) through tomorrow. Various ice sculptures and a maze and slide will attract children and those who are young at heart. Ice pillars set up across the festival venues light up in different colors at night. The word Dongjangkun in Korean is a term used to refer to extremely cold weather. Admission is free.

Jarasum Singsing Winter Festival (http://singsingfestival.com), held in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi, is in only its fourth year and attracts about 1 million people.

The festival closes tomorrow and activities include mini golf on the snow, bowling and riding scooters. People can also fish for trout in an area that’s nine times larger than a football field.

By Lee Seok-hee [hkim@joongang.co.kr]

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