Destination: Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival (2010)

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Considered to be one of Korea’s best winter festivals, the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival (화천산천어축제) offers more than enough to see and do. Whether your interests are in fishing for the sancheoneo, a type of mountain trout, or enjoying the frozen-over river, you’ll need a full day to see it all.

Lest my dear readers think every trip goes smoothly, this is one that did not. Thanks to congestion and a couple accidents along the way, our bus didn’t arrive until 5pm. By the time we found the river (within walking distance of the bus terminal), the sun was heading down and the people off the ice.

Considered to be one of Korea’s best winter festivals, the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival (화천산천어축제) offers more than enough to see and do. Whether your interests are in fishing for the sancheoneo, a type of mountain trout, or enjoying the frozen-over river, you’ll need a full day to see it all.

Lest my dear readers think every trip goes smoothly, this is one that did not. Thanks to congestion and a couple accidents along the way, our bus didn’t arrive until 5pm. By the time we found the river (within walking distance of the bus terminal), the sun was heading down and the people off the ice.

One nice consequence of being fashionably late.

One not-so-nice consequence of arriving late. In case you can’t read Korean, the sign essentially means ‘sold out’ or ‘no more rooms available’. We’ll catch a bus to nearby Chuncheon for the night – for now, it’s time to see the lights of the ice festival:

Welcome to the World Winter City Plaza – 3,000 won gets you through the gate and earns you a 3,000 won gift certificate. Foreigners get the same discount as the old, the disabled, and ‘man of national merit’ – read into that how you will.

Name that character – made of carved ice, this is 15 meters wide and perhaps 4 meters tall.

An intriguing water wheel – note the icicles at an angle to gravity.

Venus looks cold.

An indoor section didn’t offer any warmth, but the light show was worth seeing all the same.

The ceiling of light pointed a beeline from the bus terminal to the river – we’ll see that tomorrow.

Through the magic of blogging, it’s the next day! After getting some excellent pizza near the bus terminal and bundling up, we walked down to the river:

While the crowd of thousands looks overwhelming, people quickly began to choose what their interests were.

Best caption wins a cookie. The already-carved ice holes served as an opportunity to try and catch the sancheoneo. The river was supposedly stocked, and the number of people allowed to fish is limited – at up to 12,000 won per person I wonder how many fish you’d have to catch to be worth it. Not pictured are places to grill the fish you caught; other meats were available from a freezer unit if you weren’t fishing.

It goes without saying that all your fishing supplies can be conveniently purchased just a few short meters from the ice.

For those not interested in fishing, sledding and walking across the ice is lots of fun across a large portion of the frozen river. Renting a 나무썰매 (wooden sled) cost 5,000 won; sitting cross-legged or Indian style ensured better balance. Use the sticks (nails poke out the bottom) to propel yourself across the ice, and use body language to assist with turning. Not pictured are some larger family-type sleds designed to hold two to four people comfortably.

One highlight: taking an ATV for a spin across a circular track. 10,000 won and a signed release form got you 20 minutes racing around the ice. While spin-outs were common, crashes were pretty rare; the tires on the front protected the ATV’s from too much damage. Not pictured nearby were go-karts on a separate track.

Ice soccer, anyone? It actually looked more like foot hockey; whatever you want to call it, the games were interesting to watch. Because you had to rent the equipment, games tended to be more organized than simply having passers-by play.

One of the free season-related events available for all ages – sledding down the hill between the river and the road.

The much longer tube sledding option propelled some almost the whole way across the river.

Another highlight was bare-hand fishing – stock some shallow ponds with the sancheoneo and let the humans try to catch them. Two pools (the one above was smaller for the kids) were filled with cold water to try and even the odds.

They’re swimming now – but suppertime is coming soon… At the sound of the gong, the couple dozen kids jumped in:

People were told to stuff any caught fish down their shirts to hang onto them – not pictured are a few people who thought beating their fish on the ice would soften them up a bit.

Bare-hand fishing fee: 12,000 won
Look on the kids face: priceless.

Before long, it was the adults turn – about three dozen gathered around the rim of a somewhat larger pond.

A few guys thought putting the fish in your mouth as you walked victoriously to the stairs would make them look manly… Um, no…

In case you’ve ever wanted to see irrigation tubes work their magic underneath a bridge, here’s your chance.

A curious game of shaking an oversized soju bottle hooked up to some kind of counter. Yes, they’re on the ice.



The entire town gets into the festival – each of the murals encompass an entire wall of each house.

Our last stop is a trip to the Asia Ice Lights Square – an indoor freezer featuring a number of ice sculptures:

A miniature of the World Peace Bell – at 9,999 gwan, the real thing will have one more piece added when the two Koreas are unified.

Betman’s car – apparently the flying superhero turned into a gambler in his old age.

Disneyland’s Castle, lit up in brilliant rainbow style.

Slide down Disneyland’s Castle back to the ground, but grab a mat from the bottom of the slide first!

Although it takes a full day and most of a night to see it all, it’s a trip worth taking. Bundle up, and be ready for some slippery surfaces – the ice seemed less slick than some of the walkways. You still have time to catch this event – it doesn’t end until January 31st.

Ratings (out of 5 taeguks):
Ease to arrive:

Foreigner-friendly:

Convenience facilities:

Worth the visit:

Directions to Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival: Take an express bus to Hwacheon from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (Gangbyeon station, line 2) among other bus terminals around the country. You may find it easier to get a bus to the Chuncheon Bus Terminal, although there are extra buses running to the area thanks to the festival. Getting in is free, but expect to pay for almost anything worth doing or seeing.

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe – 2010

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