Sunday, 2 August 2009

Touring South Korea: The Muan White Lotus Festival

It’s still summer and everyone wants to go out of the city. So, if you already enjoyed playing with mud at Boryeong, or have tried white water rafting and bungee jumping, you might want to travel down south to the county of Mu-an in Jeolla-namdo (South Jeolla Province), where they are having the Muan White lotus Festival on August 6 to 9, 2009, the time when lotus flowers are in full bloom.

The bus ride from Seoul to Muan will take you about five hours, but it will be worth the trip. Just make sure you have a good book along, or your iPod loaded with your favorite songs. Or better yet, have your best friend as a seatmate.

The festival is held on a huge pond covering 330,000 square meters, purportedly the largest lotus pond in Asia, where white, pink, light green and orange lotus flowers thrive. Built at the center of the pond, a two-storey, lotus-shaped glass dome showcases rare varieties of the lotus flower from all over the world.

A trail of wooden planks built on the pond allows the visitors to meander around. And although you’ll be walking under the sun and feel a little sweaty, the endless rows and rows of the white lotus plants (it’s more than 300 thousand square meters, remember?) will take your mind off the hot weather. Having a fan and bottled water along will help.

The festival offers a lot of things other than the ones that educate you about the varieties of the lotus flowers. Like a typical Korean festival, there are activities where visitors can participate like preparing lotus soup and making lotus-wrapped rice or designing ornaments using the lotus seed. There will be musical and dance performances on the stage built on the pond, and if you are a foreigner (especially if you’re one who stands out among the crowd), the festival organizers may want you to participate in the mixing of the ceremonial bibimbap amidst TV cameras and photographers. Don’t they always love a photo of a foreigner enjoying a Korean festival?

And since it’s a huge pond, visitors can ride on ‘duck’ boats that could seat four people and row around the pond, which is quite fun, even if you are not able to steer the boat back to the starting point. There are arrows along the route which point you in the direction of where you are supposed to end up. To most visitors, this ride is the most enjoyable part of the festival. Although they don’t say how deep exactly the pond is, nobody worries about capsizing. You will be required to wear a life vest if you want to take this ride.

The organizers also promote the many therapeutic uses of the lotus flower, but although the most interesting part of the festival is the display of the rare varieties and colors of the lotus flower.
(TV cameras here just love zooming in on foreigners)

    (Sticky rice wrapped in steamed lotus leaf)

So, in case your interest in lotus flowers drags you to Muan, just don’t forget to bring your camera, bottled water, a fan, a cap, lots of sunscreen and of course, your rowing abilities. An overnight stay in the county is usually suggested since the trip back to Seoul takes more than half your day. There is an information center at the festival which assists tourists.

Transportation info provided by the Korea National Tourism Organization:
By train: From Seoul Station, take a train headed for Mokpo → Get off at Illo Station
→ Take Bus no. 800 to Muan in front of Illo Station
By bus: Gangnam Express Bus Terminal (Subway Line 3, Exit No.1) → Take a bus to Muan (08:30AM - 16:20 PM, twice a day / Time Travel: 4hrs.) → Get off at Muan Bus Terminal

For more information: 
Korea Tourist Information hotline: +82-1330

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