A two-hour trip north-east from Seoul, brought us to Hwacheon County, in South Korea’s coldest province, Gangwon. This location is also close to the Korean De-Militarized Zone, the 4km wide stretch that encases the line separating North from South Korea. I will touch more on this later.
During the month of January, the Hwacheon Sanchoeneo (Mountain Trout) Ice Festival takes place, and is noted as one of the top 4 winter festivals in the world, alongside the Canadian Winter Carnival, the Japanese Sapporo Snow Festival, and the Chinese Harbin Ice Lantern Festival. This festival has also been touted as one of the 7 Wonders of Winter.
This festival which is held primarily on the Hwacheoncheon stream, frozen 40cm thick, brings over 1 million tourists each year, with tons of activities for anyone of any age. Hwacheon is known for its pristine environment, and because of this, the trout is highly prized and trout fishing is the most popular event of the festival.
We were able to try the ice fishing, and after a few failed attempts of the hook getting caught on ice and breaking the line, I finally figured out the technique. To keep our minds off the cold, we sang “What Does The Fox Say” while laughing at how ridiculous we must have sounded. Only one of us caught anything, and that was our friend from Taiwan.
Aside from the warmer option of lure fishing and ice fishing, those tough enough to brace the cold jumped into a pool of ice water to catch the fish by hand. I personally felt myself tremble just watching those brave individuals jump in the ice-cold water in shorts and t-shirts to catch some fresh trout! But what an adrenaline rush it must also been!
Fishing aside, there are tons of other activities we were able to also enjoy: there was a huge ice slide that you could slide down on a tube, there is ice biking, zip-lining, sledding, skating, ice hockey, ice soccer, ice towers/castles, and the list continues. There are concerts, lots of food and special trout dishes, and amazing ice exhibitions where professional sculptors from around the world create incredible art work.
One particular ice museum we saw was the Ice Illumination Plaza. Inside a large warehouse, an entire world of ice buildings existed. Ice replicas of thrones, palaces, and other ancient architecture were found throughout the museum. I had goosebumps when I saw the amazing workmanship inside, not just from the cold!
That day, I was a giddy child. So much to see and do, but not enough time for it all! I like winter, but this took the winter experience to a whole other level!