Winters in Korea can be brutal. As someone who grew up near Chicago, snow and cold temperatures are nothing new to me. However, winters in Korea just seem extra difficult, extra long, and extra depressing.
However, luckily Korea is also home to a variety of winter festivals and events to attend. One of my favorite festivals in Korea is the ice fishing festival that happens every year. In fact, this festival is so popular that there are actually multiple festivals with the same theme held in various parts of the country.
I recently visited two different festivals: Pyeongchang Trout Festival and the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival. I’ll tell you which of these you shouldn’t miss, and which one you should skip! So be sure to read on!
Pyeongchang is most well-known for being the host of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. This city can be easily reached by a short 2.5 hour bus ride from Seoul.
The Pyeongchang Trout Festival 2020 (평창송어축제) was held December 12, 2019 – February 2, 2020. Participants can enjoy a variety of different events, with the main attraction being the ice fishing. Those lucky enough to catch the 송어 (mountain trout) can have them prepared on site. Enjoy the fish sliced up and raw, or cooked on-site.
I headed the the festival on a Saturday morning. A bus from Nambu Bus Terminal in Seoul cost approximately 14,000 KRW, and took about two and a half hours. As a resident of Seoul for over a decade, I was able to navigate the local buses without a problem. However, if you’re new to Korea, or visiting for a short time, I would recommend booking the trip through one of the English-speaking tour groups.
We then had to purchase a ticket to enter the fishing area (15,000 KRW), as well as a fishing pole (starting at 3,000 KRW). After that, we were able to join the thousands of other people competing for the prized fish.
As a group of three, we spent about four hours on the ice, trying our best to catch fish. We even bought more expensive lures, as we heard they are more likely to attract the fish. We also headed to the special “foreigners only section” as there were fewer people in the area (though it should be noted that the majority of ‘foreigners’ in the section were actually Koreans pretending to be non-Koreans – lol).
After a few hours, and seeing very few fish being caught, we decided it was time to call it a day. We left the festival empty-handed, as well as disappointed. Although the lake was occasionally stocked with fish, it just seemed that there wasn’t nearly enough fish for each spectator to leave with one.
The festival actually limits the fish to 2 per participant. Unfortunately, it seemed like this wasn’t really necessary, as very few people seemed to actually leave with that limit. I heard many other people complaining that their hours of trying to catch fish were all also fruitless.
In general, I’d have to say to skip the Pyeongchang Trout Festival. While the concept is fun, there were just too many upset people who spent their money with nothing to show for it.
(To find out more about Klook, check out my experiences here)
Hwacheon is a bit further from Seoul than Pyeongchang. It is also a bit harder to reach. However, I have been to this festival multiple times, and have always had a great time. Due to the location, I have always booked the trip though a tour group.
I visited the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival most recently in 2019. While the ice was more crowded, the space was also much bigger. Furthermore, people were actually catching fish! Within a short time, I was able to catch my limit of two fish, and then set out to get them prepared.
I chose to have my fish prepared two ways: raw and baked. Both were delicious, and went great with a cold beer (even on a cold day like this!). You can also buy various vegetables and condiments to go along with the fish.
The highlight of the festival, for me, was the bare handed fishing. If you’re brave enough, it’s something you must try! You’ll need to pay a fee (15000 KRW). You’ll then change into supplied shorts and shirt. After a bit of warming up, you’ll jump into an ice cold pool, and try to catch the fish with your bare hands!
This is a ton of fun, but it is so cold! Be prepared to lose feeling in your extremities for a bit! You can then take this fish to be prepared to eat, as well!
If you want to see my complete experience at the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival, watch my vlog from the event!
Besides this, there is a variety of fun activities for children and adults alike. I found this festival to offer a lot more than the Pyeongchang Festival, and have been multiple times in the past few years, and will likely go again!