This time last year, shortly after we had arrived in Korea, I found out about the infamous Jinju Lantern Festival. It sounded awesome. Lots of pretty lanterns, all lit up, and people can make their own and set them adrift on the river!? Sign me up!
But as we had just missed it, I was resigned to waiting out the year to catch it the next time around. And of course, I very nearly missed it again! Thank goodness my students and I were brainstorming all the things I should fit in before I leave 🙂
The festival did not disappoint. We headed up there just for an afternoon (it’s about a 1.5 hour bus ride from Busan – scroll to bottom for more details on getting there) and had checked our expectations ahead of time. Since our history here has been to feel let down after making the trek to some town, sight, or festival, we did not plan to be blown away.
And I think it is for this reason, in large part, that we had such a nice time. Which isn’t to say the festival itself wasn’t also great. It was! It was such a pleasant surprise. It was organized, fun, charming, and enjoyable.
Potentially adding to all of this pleasure was the fact that it was a lot like a festival as we (westerners, Canadians) might expect when we hear the word ‘festival’. There were booths selling goods and crafts and food, some fair games like balloon darts and the ring toss, there were people making lanterns (alas, the lines were a bit long), and there were A LOT of lanterns everywhere.
Everyone seemed in good spirits – even the vendors! It was seriously charming. If you want a good festival experience in Korea, this is the one I recommend. Go in the afternoon to check out the stalls and maybe make your own lantern (we didn’t, sadly), make a wish upon it, and stay into the evening to see everything all lit up. You won’t regret it.
We mostly wandered around sampling the food, drinking the beer, enjoying slurpees(!!) and hanging out. It was a good time. But we like that kinda thing. Also, the river and surrounding area is really nice. Even though it got quite busy towards the evening, it felt small-town and peaceful.
The real beauty happens at night when the entire place is lit up, but my camera is horrible and does not do night pics (something I hope to remedy sooner rather than later).
An entire section of the river was filled with giant lanterns of all shapes, sizes, and (yes!) cultural representations. There was a whole Disney section with an Ariel, a Pinocchio, Beauty and the Beast, and more. There were tons of Korean warriors and dragons and tigers. There was a Statue of Liberty and an entire Canadian section with six Mounties on one, a huge maple leaf as another, two giant bear lanterns that were playing a little one-on-one, and even a Niagara Falls! That was an exciting discovery, just as we were leaving, no less 🙂
There were also several loooooong lantern walkways – one with the ‘official’ lanterns that I think people made wishes on, and one with all the crazy, unique, personal lanterns that people made.
Check them out, but definitely go if you’re in Korea in October. The festival usually runs through the beginning of October for about 10 days and the whole atmosphere was an upbeat one – festive, if you will!
*To get to Jinju from Busan you need to grab a bus from the Seobu Terminal (Sasang where the green and brown line meet). The buses leave every few minutes for the festival, cost is ￦7,700 and the ride is under 1.5 hours. There were lines and a bit of a wait both ways because of the festival, so give yourself some buffer time. But things moved pretty quickly.