Korea is a country that loves a good festival. These range from the beauty of Jinhae’s Cherry Blossom Festival or the dazzling lights of Jinju’s Lantern Festival; to the charming cultural ones such as Gwangju’s Kimchi Festival or Jindo’s Moses Walk; to the downright weird such as Cheongsando’s ‘Slow Walking Festival’.
Oh, and the epicness that is the Mud Festival.
While the cold weather and work dramas have meant my touring of Korea has been limited so far, the sudden (and most welcome) warm change and finally having some money in my wallet has allowed me to get out of Busan and see a corner of Korea that doesn’t hold my girlfriend’s apartment. While I’ll admit to not having the hugest interest in cherry blossoms, I was looking forward to getting out and seeing something new.
We left my apartment at 9.30 and, after the fifty minute subway ride out to Nopo’s bus terminal, grabbed a late breakfast from Paris Baguette. We even splashed out on a cherry donut in honor of the day’s festivities. What better way to start a day at a cherry blossom festival than with something that might contain traces of cherry?
Our 11.20 bus to Jinhae never did show up, but when an 11.40 bus arrived we eagerly clambered aboard. While Kimberly wrestled with her luggage, the bus driver assured us that this was the bus to Jinhae. You can imagine our surprise then when the bus stopped and emptied out in the city of Masan – a good forty kilometers north of Jinhae!
A very stressed Kimberly put in a call to the rest of our companions, a large group of public school teachers who had rented vans for the drive down from Daejeon. Thankfully (?) they had run into atrocious traffic and we weren’t holding them up in any way, so we quickly flagged a cab and forked over the 15,000 won ($15) that would take us to Jinhae. The bus might have been a cheaper option, but given the traffic and the lines to get on board – we’d probably have been lucky to make it there in time for dinner.
The Cherry Blossom Festival
But arrive we did.
Thirty minutes of crawling through bumper to bumper traffic highlighted just how popular the cherry blossom festival is and it also gave us some great opportunities to snap photos of the cherry blossom trees lining the roadside. I was quick to swallow my skepticism about the event as I snapped off dozens of photographs of the beautiful trees, the drifting petals, and the hundreds of people gazing about them in wonderment. It’s often easy to overlook Korea’s natural beauty. It’s so artfully hidden behind generic apartment buildings, ugly tangles of power lines, and garbage rotting in the streets that it’s a rare thing to stop, take a deep breath, and realize that you’re in a truly stunning country.
After being dropped off we began to explore the many booths and food stalls choking the streets. Cherry blossoms might have been the main draw of the festival, but the people seemed more interested in the many products on display and the opportunity to eat street food, play carnival games, and soak in the atmosphere. I don’t think I’ve seen such a large number of foreigners outside of the Mud Festival before either. Hell, there were even fair haired children and German tourists on hand!
The Daejeon crew’s continued delays meant they didn’t get to the cherry blossom festival proper until around 4pm – by which time Kimberly and I had been robbed blind by an ajoshi reading palms, stuffed ourselves full of sugar and carbs, and posed stupidly for far too many photographs.
When the Daejeon crew arrived it was time to make our way down the crowded ‘sideshow alley’ stretch of the festival. We stopped for delicious vegetable and squid pancakes in one tent (and a few of the more adventurous travelers started in on the soju in earnest) and then took our chances at games ranging from the traditional shooting gallery to a strange game of chance that seemed to rely solely on the whims of fish. Tasteless but colorful candy was bought and stuffed radish toys were won. Good times were had.
With bellies full and the sun beginning to dip below the horizon, the braver amongst us decided to climb the 365 stairs up the mountain that overlooks Jinhae to take in the view from up top.
With the city lighting up beneath us and the cherry blossom trees standing out against the increasingly dark skies and scenery, there were plenty of breathtaking photo opportunities before we got to the top. The temptation to not climb another two dozen or so stairs to the top of the tower on the mountain was hard to resist, but any spaghetti legs were totally worth the view from up there.
By the time we weary few returned to the bottom of the mountain it was almost full dark and time for some real food. We piled into the vans and began the ninety minute (thanks to traffic) drive back to Masan where we’d be staying in the pimped out Ice Motel. I’ve stayed in my fair share of cheap love motels and this one took the cake. Twin PCs in every room, a Wii in one room, jacuzzis in every room, and a fucking stripper pole in the smoker’s room! A stripper pole!
After figuring out who would bunk with who and who would have the honor of sleeping on the floor, it was time to head out for food. The logistics of handling a trip for eighteen people had begun to weigh on our fearless leaders, Jon and Sarah, and so we opted for the simple option of McDonalds for dinner followed by a Family Mart run for booze and snacks.
Truth be told though, most of us weren’t really in a partying mood any more. If Kimberly and I were tired – I dread to think how the Daejeonites were feeling after their six hour drive and 7am starts. Still, good conversation was had over beers before heavy eyelids called an end to proceedings.
We all slept in the following morning and that meant we didn’t get a chance to see any more of Jinhae. I hopped a bus back to Busan and the Daejeon crew piled back into their vans praying the ride home wouldn’t take six hours. I’m pleased to say it was closer to four.
Whether you’re a would-be botanist, a photography nut, or just a sucker for crowds and junk food – the Cherry Blossom Festival is a fun day trip. The night in Masan definitely isn’t something you need to do if you just want to soak in the sights, but given how choked the roads to and from Jinhae had been – it might have counted in our favor to avoid the them for an extra twelve hours or so.
For more information you can check out the official site of the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival here or the Korean Tourism website. It’s not a must see, but it’s a fun day out and a great way to welcome spring.