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Thursday, February 2, 2012

An Icy Adventure at the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival

South's Korea's northernmost province Gangwon-do is home to the city of Hwacheon and one of winter's most exciting events: The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival, or Mountain Trout Festival.
I traveled with a our group to reach Hwacheon. Arriving, we saw that the festival "grounds" weren't really on ground at all, rather the festival takes place on a long stretch of the Hwacheoncheon, "cheon" meaning "stream." Exiting the bus, we could see hundreds of people already engaging in the festivities. The most popular activities are traditional ice fishing and barehanded ice fishing. 

Ice fishers, hard at work
My friends and I decided to give ice fishing a try, and after receiving our poles we then sought out a fishing hole in the special foreigners' fishing area and settled in for some good, chilly fun. We let the line out until it touched the bottom and alternated pulling the fishing line at slow or quick speeds, as instructed. We spent more than a few minutes peering into the fishing hole to make sure that there were fish, and indeed there were. We just weren't catching any. Across the way, in the Koreans' fishing area, we could see what successful fishing looked like, as Koreans young and old (and serious!) caught their lunch.

My model for fishing success!
I worked hard, checking for fish, but my line still came up empty  :(

Following our failed attempt at ice-fishing, two of us decided to join the bare-handed fishing competition for foreigners. We suited up in some orange festival shirts and shorts before walking barefoot to the basin. At -15°C, we were feeling frozen before we even jumped in the water! 

Ooooh, it's chilly!

We were given just five minutes in the water, and believe me, you wouldn't want to stay any longer! We could catch a limit of three fish each. For my first minute, I was cold and miserable, but a little boy on the sidelines looked at me and whispered, "Fighting," a Korean expression meaning, "You can do it." I smiled and then, along with his family, they cheered for me, "Fighting!" After that, I managed to trap my three trout, making sure to show my cheerleaders each one.

How to Catch a Trout Barehanded
1) Grab the fish, 2) Wrestle it out of the water,
3) Stuff it it your shirt, and 4) Pose! You've done it!

I caught my trout just in time, and after a hot dip in the tub and a towel-off, we took my catch to the barbecues for the next step: Eating! Nothing washes down victory quite like buttered trout, soju, and beer!

Tasty trout, sun, and soju: A perfect festival day

Refreshed, warmed, and re-energized we dedicated the rest of our day to festival fun. You could choose from a myriad of activities, including ice sledding, go-karts, ATV rides, bumper cars, ice soccer, trampolines, and a snow maze. We opted for sledding and and ATV ride, and both were wild fun!

Fun on ice with an ATV

Tired but happy, my friends are I made one last dash through the snow maze before heading back to our hotel, our heads swimming with our day's icy adventures.

The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival takes places annually for the month of January. Activities range from 3,000 to 15,000 won and include coupons for use at the festival. Hwacheon is accessible by bus from Seoul and Changwon, and the festival is open from 9 AM until 6 PM. Refreshments are available on site, as are fishing outfits and equipment. Its well worth the trip, and it is one of my favourite festivals to date.


  1. Great pics and great post! You have a thing for these icey cold events. Brave woman. I got cold just reading about it. What's the deal with sticking the fish down your top though? Is it so it stops flopping about and you can quickly catch the next one? Strangie!

  2. Haha, thanks Alex! Yeah, I've really gotten into these winter festivals, and the cold water's becoming addicting. The icy tub at the jimjilbangs just isn't enough for me any more ;)

    The idea about putting the fish in your top is so that your hands are free. Making a pouch with the front of your shirt or sticking the fish in your pockets or on the ice just won't do it since they can escape! I won't lie, it felt WEIRD. Worth it, though.

  3. Hi, may I know how did u go thr? U went to this festival from Seoul? By what mode of transportation?

    1. I actually went with a tour group (there are many that leave from Seoul: Adventure Korea, Seoul Hiking Group, WINK)but you can follow these directions, taken from this blog:

      Getting to the festival is fairly easy. Buses leave every 30 minutes from the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal in Seoul (Sangbong Station, Line 2), and take 3 hours to arrive in Hwacheon.

      You can also take a bus or train to Chuncheon and catch a bus to Hwacheon from the Chuncheon Bus Terminal, which takes around 45 minutes.

      The festival itself is a 10-15 minute walk from the Hwacheon Bus Terminal. There is an English map with directions next to the information booth inside the station.

      Warning: Bus tickets from Hwacheon do not guarantee a seat on a particular bus. The last bus to Seoul departs at 8:10pm, and the last bus out of the city, to Chuncheon, leaves at 9pm. When I was leaving on a Saturday night, the buses were quite full and there was a long line. I would recommend arriving at the bus station no later than 7:30pm if you are planning on catching the 8:10pm bus. If you are forced to take the 9pm bus to Chuncheon, get off the bus at Chuncheon Station and take the subway back into Seoul, a long, but inexpensive ride.

      If you miss the 9pm bus to Chuncheon, you will likely have to find lodging in Hwacheon.

    2. Okay, thanks for your reply. Gave me a great info

    3. No problem! The festival starts in January 2013 and ends January 27th, 2013. You should go! It's really fun.

  4. Hai Jessica,
    I like read your post... you seem like you really had a lot of fun there :)
    Btw, do you know any hostel/hotel/motel around Hwacheon Ice Festival? consider the distant of the festival location from seoul, i think it would be better if i find any hostel nearby.. :)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hi miss_nidy!

      I did a quick search and didn't have much luck. I checked Lonely Planet, Goodstay (accommodation recommended by the government of Korea), and the Korea Tourism Organization but I had no luck. For future searches, I'd recommend any of those sites.

      May I suggest calling the tourist hotline? Just dial your area code (02 for Seoul) and then 1300. If they can't help you to find accommodation, then they can direct you to someone who can.

      My other suggestions would be to go to the festival and ask at the tourist site there for info. This is riskier, obviously. Or you can go with a tour group like I did. I'd recommend Adventure Korea or Seoul Hiking Group, both found on facebook.

      If you go solo, you're probably looking at motel accommodation for 30,000 won - 50,000 won per night. I don't think there are many hostels out there.

      Hope that helps - good luck!

  5. Wow, I knew nothing about hwacheon and your post and great response is really helpful. I'm sure gonna do some of your recommendation soon!
    Thank you so much.. :)

  6. This is Awesome! I’m so excited for that Ice Festival.
    I’ve never been there, but I’m so putting that on my calendar now!
    I suggest that you also try the Mud Festival in Boryeong City.
    It's a whole lot of fun to be there!

  7. Hi, readers in there!!
    I am Theresa Hong in Hwacheon County and a staff of 2016 festival.
    We are preparing so many programs for tourists.
    If you are a foreigner and have a passport,
    you don't need to make reservation for ice fishing and others.
    You just come and enjoy it.
    But don't forget to bring your fishing tools.
    See you soon there!!^o*

    1. Hey! I wish to go there so much but I'll only arrive on 10th Feb, is there any other ice fishing activities going on in Korea? Also, I do not have any fishing tools, do they provide renting on that?