Monday, January 21, 2013

Exploring Korea: Hwacheon Ice Festival

It's freaking cold and, in Seoul, the only thing to do outside when it's cold is go to an ice skating rink (of which there are many) or complain about how cold it is as you rush from indoor area to indoor area. We, my friends, are forced to look outward. Out of our lovely city cocoon to the great wilderness that is the rest of the country. To those who have only lived in Seoul their entire time in Korea and rarely ventured outside the city limits (that time you went to Gyeonggi-do doesn't count! It's the suburbs!) traveling around this wonderful, wild country can be rather daunting. Their hotel and pension websites don't have an English option! There's little to no English tourist information about less populated areas! 95% of the cars aren't taxis! Not everything has a taxi or bus to take you there and stuff isn't within walking distance! It's enough to make a person panic! To be sure, this is one of the top ten situations where Korean-speaking friends come in the MOST handy. Anyway, I'm getting away from the real topic here... The point is I wanted to get the crap out of Seoul and do something fun, and that led us to...

The Hwacheon Ice Festival

Smells Fishy!
Hwacheon is a district in the county of Gangwon to the northeast of Seoul. It has a lot of very beautiful rivers and gets damn cold in the winter, causing almost all of the rivers to freeze over. 

For reference
Every year they hold an ice festival that has every kind of ice activity you could imagine and some you would have never thought of (seriously... there was one are where people were kneeling on saucer sleds and pulling themselves along using two 7" dowels...). The more notable activities are ice fishing for Sancheonneo (Mountain Trout), barehand fishing, ice soccer, ice sledding, ice skating and many, many, many, more. Pretty much any verb you could imagine doing on ice it was there.

Ice... Ineffective Aerial Attempt? WHY THE HELL NOT?!
Myself, Mr. Y, and 10 of our good friends left Seoul Saturday afternoon for our pension rental. The pension was roughly a 15 minute drive from the Chuncheon ITX Rail Station and was about halfway between Chuncheon and Hwacheon. Our Pension owner was nice enough to pick us up from the station and then drive us to the festival the next morning. In order to get to Hwacheon from Seoul you can either take a direct bus from the NamSeoul Bus Terminal or take the ITX to Chuncheon and then take a 30 minute bus from there to Hwacheon. I recommend the latter because the ITX Chuncheon line is MUCH nicer than a bus. 

Just look at how wholesome and comfortable these handsome people appear!
Incase I haven't made it clear before: staying in Pensions when outside Seoul is the BEST method of accommodation. Even though you have to sleep on floor mats (unless you're the lucky couple who gets the one double-size bed) it's worth it to not have to deal with going in and out of hotel rooms, not having noise restrictions, and having 24hr access to a kitchen you can stock with all the junk food and booze your heart desires.

And you can play beerpong while wearing animal onesies without fear of public humiliation!
At least... until your friend posts a picture of said activity on their very public blog.
The next morning we made our way to the festival. It was mind-blowing just how many people were there and how many activities we could choose from, but it was nearing lunch time so we went right for the ice fishing. I think the best part of this festival was that there was a separate reception and fishing area for foreigners. This way they could keep an eye on you and see if you were completely oblivious as to how to catch, unhook, and kill your fish rather than looking pitiful for an hour or so until a Korean decided to be neighborly and help you figure shit out. Koreans were also allowed into the foreigner area if they were with a foreigner. 

The fishing was... cruel but effective. Rather than using bait thousands of people dangle four-hooked fishing lines into the water and snag the fish as they ignorantly swim by. Fish are stupid. You'd then need to bash it's brains in before it was able to flap its way into one of the other fishing holes. You're only allowed to catch three fish per person and we easily met our quota after about an hour of fishing. 

There was also a separate area for foreigners to turn in their fish for cooking. You could have them grilled or fried (for fried you were allowed to choose between dokkbokki sauce or soy sauce) and the price was 3,000W per fish (~$3). The fish don't taste really unique, but the 100% fresh quality of the meat was amazing!

Eating fish has never been more rewarding until you've bashed its brains in with a hunk of ice using your own two hands.

After lunch some people were ready to go home and others wanted to try out some of the ice activities. I busted my ass on the ice before going home for Christmas so I was more than a little apprehensive to play on the ice, but was more than willing to be goalie for a game of Ice Soccer (think Air Hockey, but with your feet and a lot more physical sacrifice).

I'd recommend possibly getting to the festival in the morning, right after breakfast at a "we're not 20-somethings with little responsibility" time (aka before 10am). By the time we had fished, eaten, and played one game of Ice Soccer, the Winter Sun was beginning to set. Don't forget to take advantage of the 5,000W-off coupons you get when buying your tickets. You can use more than one at a time and buy items like makgeolli, honey, snacks, and various other Korean traditional products.

If you're looking for an awesome time outside of Seoul that's not terribly expensive (pension, transportation, food, and festival total was probably close to 150,000W, and that's a bit of an overestimation) I thoroughly recommend you check this festival out!


  1. I'm sure you've had enjoyed your stay in Korea and all the festivities there. Maybe we could follow each other on Bloglovin and/or GFC?

    Please leave me a comment on my blog and I will follow you!

  2. Hi Margaret. Do you know what pension you stayed at, and are you able to book accommodations online?

    1. Hey. Sadly I did the cop-out so many expats do: I had a Korean friend find it. As a result I have absolutely no information about it. It was nice, the guy picked us up from the train station and took us to the festival, but I have no contact info. So sorry! Find a Korean, bribe them with gifts, and ask them to do it for you.