Published: July 19th 2008July 19th 2008
A travel book I read on the plane told about a Canadian soldier who had experienced Korea during the Korean War as nothing but lots of mud. What he did not have in mind, of course, is the Boryeong Mud Festival.
The Boryeong Mud Festival has become justly famous for its somewhat wilder side, especially with the American GI's there on the last weekend. This year there is also an all night RAVE. There are lots of good pictures on the web of Americans looking silly, but they mostly seem to be having lots of fun haming it up for the Korea photographers. They are great pictures. But I feel that the pictures which are shown on the web are somewhat unrepresentative. For example, there are a lot of Koreans doing the mud thing during the week. I was one of only about six foreign tourists there on a Tuesday. There was no one else besides me in the foreign eating area (where they serve great hamburgers for $5, quite a treat after kimchi, kimchi, kimchi!) .
There is a lot more to Boryeong than Americans and other Western tourists going a bit wild. I have nothing against having a little "clean" fun in the mud, and I enjoyed trying it myself. But the actual mud site is rwelatively small. In fact, it takes up only a small space altogether. The beach itself is what attracts most people and I found swimming in the ocean (Yellow Sea?) to wash off the mud more exciting than the mud experience itself.
What I feel needs to be emphasized much more is the other aspects of the festival.
For example, I attended a really good singing and orchestra concert. It was a bit slow in getting started, with warm up acts that were not so fabulous (although quite sincere and heartwarming), but the actual orchestra was superb. I can easily see having paid $50 a seat in Boston to hear the Boston Pops Orchestra play the same set. The tenor solo was magnificent. I have never heard "O Sole Mio" sung so well (or was it a bit of homesickness!). A woman played a kind of traditional flute that I have seen in National Geographic films. But she did it jazz improv. Best of all was the energetic and slightly off beat conductor, who did a funky funk dance while directing funky music. It was entirely appropriate and the Korean crowd loved it. (It would have been nice if more of the wonderful program had been translated into English. Also, I was shocked to see many Koreans use the program to sit on, albeit to stay clear of the mud.)
A second example of the aspects of Boryeong that are not emphasized is the free tourist bus to the cultural sites around Boryeong. I expected lots of Westerners, but all of the other tourists on board were Koreans. The guide spoke Korean but did know "Vancouver" and "Calgary" are in Canada. Everyone was very kind to me as we descended the coal mine and as we walked the Silla era Seongjang (spelling?) Buddhist Temple area, which is on a nice plateau. I enjoyed the temple ruins and the tomb of the Buddhist monk who established the temple complex. We also visited a mushroom farm in the "Cool Winds Resort" (also called "Cold Breeze Beach" in one brochure!). The guide to the coal mine recited a long Korean epic poem and although I did not understand a word, I felt the emotion.
A Mr. A. K. Kang was among the helpful staff at the Boryeong Bus Station. He helped me find a cheaper room at the end of the beach (rather than right at the center of things), which was good because it meant I could have some peace and quiet when I needed it, too. He also took me out for a drinking feast with his buddies. No one else spoke any English, and Mr. Kang was not always willing to translate, but the guys are not that different from my drinking buddies back in Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
I just discovered this site and would love to chat with others travelling in Korea or Indonesia. An Indonesian woman put up great pictures of Boryeong that show its other site. If you search for Boryeong rather than for Boryeong Mud Fesrtival you will find lots of other information about the general area.
The easiest way to get there is by train and not by bus to Hongeong, as I was told in Seoul. The train is luxurious and quick. The bus is slow and a bit run down. But it was all good fun.
I also want to thank Shirley, who lived in Tennessee for a number of years during high school. She was so very helpful in little ways (like finding the bus stop for the free tour).
Have fun in Boryeong, but remember it is not all "just mud"!