It seems like local events have a way of sneaking up on me around here. I try my best, but I have a way of hearing about them right before, or worse, just after they happen. As my New Year’s resolution is to get a head of things for a change, here’s a list of my top 10 local events to look forward to during the next year:
1. Daeboreum (대보름) Full Moon Bonfire Festival: Slated this year for Thursday Feb. 17th, Daeboreum celebrates the first full moon after Solnal (설날), or the Lunar New Year. If it’s anything like years past, the city government will set up a huge bonfire in the parking lot by the river, across from the Express (시위) Bus Terminal. Around 5:30 or 6:00 pm they’ll light up the bonfire, and while it burns people play “gangang sulae” (강강수래) folk games and sing songs. It’s a fun evening out so bring your camera or just come and join in the games.
2. Cherry Blossom (벚꽃) Season: The start of April heralds the beginning of cherry blossom season in Gyeongju when all the cherry trees around town erupt into blossoms. Unlike Jinhae, Gyeongju doesn’t have an official festival, though it does host the annual Cherry Blossom Marathon, which this year is scheduled for Saturday April 9th, 2011. I’ve already posted on the best places to enjoy the cherry blossoms, like at Banwolseong Fortress and Kim Yu Shin’s tomb. If you visit Gyeongju to see the cherries for yourself, I suggest renting a bike or scooter for a day; just be careful not to get stuck in any traffic jams.
3. Gyeongju Liquor and Ddeok Festival (경주술과떡잔치): If the cherry blossoms aren’t enough to bring in the tourists, Gyeongju celebrates the start of Spring with its annual Liquor and Ddeok (Korean rice cake) Festival in Hwanseong Park. There are the typical concerts, fireworks, parades, and cultural events. But what really draws in the crowds are the free samples of local wines and liquors. Not to mention, last year, I caught a troupe of cross-dressing clowns doing “trote” covers down among the restaurant tents. You can check out photos from last year’s festival here. They haven’t released the official dates yet for 2011 but in the past the Soju and Ddeok Festival’s been held on the 3rd week of April, so I imagine it’ll be the same again this year.
4. Buddha’s Birthday (석가탄신일) : Buddha’s Birthday, or Seokga Tanshinil, is my absolute favorite holiday in Korea, so much so that I’ve already posted on it twice. This year it falls on Tuesday, May 10th and there are some pretty cool events that happen around Gyeongju in honor of Buddha’s Birthday. Golgulsa Temple stages a Seonmudo (선무도) martial arts demonstration in the afternoon while the famed Bulguksa Temple (불국사) hosts concerts during the day and a lantern parade after sundown. Perhaps most importantly, this is the one day out of the year they actually allow visitors inside Seokkuram Buddha Grotto (석굴암). Get there early though as the traffic going up Mt. Tohamsan can be a mess.
5. Summer Concerts and Fireworks at Bomun Resort: To be honest, I don’t generally have many nice things to say about Bomun Resort. If you’ve come to Gyeongju to enjoy expensive hotels, overpriced restaurants, ATV courses, shooting ranges, roller coasters and swan boats, then Bomun’s your place. To be fair though, there are a few things that do make Bomun worth visiting, one of these being the free weekend concerts and fireworks over the summer. The concerts showcase a variety of traditional Korean music and dance forms, like “salpuri” and “pansori”, and even include a few contemporary “fusion” pieces. The concerts run Thursday through Sunday nights, from 7:30 to 8:30 pm from the start of May until the end of October. The Bomun outdoor theater is located between the Commodore Hotel and the Art Sonje Museum by the cruise docks.
6. The Pohang Fireworks Festival (포항국제불빛축제): In my five years in Gyeongju, I’ve never actually made it to the Pohang Fireworks Festival. But from everything I’ve heard, it sounds awesome (Hey, I’m a sucker for pretty lights). The Fireworks Festival is going on its 8th year and features several nights of fireworks displays at Bukbu Beach and Hyeongsan River Sports Park in Pohang, along with parades and other such fanfare. What makes the Fireworks Festival so special is that each year three guest countries are invited to compete against the home team for putting on the best fireworks show (this last year featured Canada, Poland and Japan). They all try to outdo each other with synchronized displays of pyrotechnics, which results in some pretty amazing performances. They haven’t released any information yet about this year’s coming festival, but it the past it’s been held on the 4th weekend of July, which this year would be around the 23rd. I’ll post the exact dates when I hear more.
7. Andong Mask Dance Festival (안동국제 페스티벌): Being a 2 hour trip form Gyeongju, Andong is not exactly local. Still, the Andong Mask Dance Festival is one of the coolest festivals in Korea (We’ve been about 4 times, if that tells you anything). Of course, it helps knowing what events are actually worth going to. The dance performances on the main stage are usually (though not always) entertaining. However, my personal highlights are the Shaman Stage (where I once saw a Korean Shaman dance on knife blades) and the traditional Korean Fire Show at Hahoe Folk Village on the first and last Saturday night of the festival (which includes flaming boulders being tossed from the top of a cliff). There’s also the impressive Chajoen Nori, or Juggeraunt Game, played by 500 people on the last Sunday of the festival. Baring cancelation due to swine flu or hoof and month disease, this year’s Mask Dance Festival is scheduled for Sept. 30th through Oct. 9th Check out the festival website for more info.
8. Shilla Cultural Festival (신라문화제): I’ll admit up front that this one is a maybe. Some places I’ve read say that it’s held yearly in mid October while other sites list it as a biannual event. In fact the Shilla Cultural Festival completely slipped by me this last year with all the other things going on, like the Hallyu Dream Festival and the Busan Biennale. The festival typically hosts a slew of traditional cultural events like dance and musical performances along with poetry and calligraphy competitions. They’ve added a bit more flare lately with “Hwarang” ssireum (traditional wrestling), archery and swordsmanship competitions. Again, they’ve not yet released the dates for this year’s festival, but last year it was held Friday Oct 8th through Sunday 10th. I’ll post the exact dates here as soon as I find out.
9. Shilla Moonlight Walk: If you enjoy outdoor sports or want to join in some fun with the locals, mark you calendars for the Shilla Moonlight Walk this coming October. Thousands of people gather in Hwanseongdong Park by the light of the full moon and walk a 33k course out to and around Bomun Lake and then back through town. The real keeners can opt for the 66 km route which continues past Bulguksa Temple, up Mt. Tohamsan to Seokkuram grotto and back. I’ve never been though I hear it’s a great time, especially if you’ve brought a bottle of soju or two along to keep you warm and share with fellow travelers. The participation fee is 12,000 won in advance and 15,000 the night of. The Shilla Moonlight Walk is held on the next full moon after Chuseok, which this year would put it on Wednesday Oct. 12th.
10. Homigot New Years Sunrise Festival (호미곶민족해맞이축전): I’ve actually just recently posted on the Homigot New Years Sunrise Festival, but I’ll give you a brief recap. One of the more unique ways Koreans ring in the New Year is by gathering at the beaches or mountain peaks to greet the first sunrise of the New Year. And one of the most popular spots in the country to do this is at Homigot Sunrise Plaza east of Pohang. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people gather to celebrate the rising sun on January 1st. To keep folks going through the cold, winter night they usually schedule a full night of fireworks, concerts and performances along with free servings of tteokguk (떡국), or rice cake soup. Of course this year’s New Year’s Festival is from the evening of Sat. Dec. 31st to the morning of January 1st. Be sure to dress warmly and bring blankets.
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