After what seemed like an indefinitely long winter, spring has finally decided to make an appearance on the Korean peninsula. And with spring came the flowers; the whole country blooms, quite literally. Lavender pink azaleas, bright yellow forsythias, vanilla magnolias, baby pink cherry blossoms are what you’ll see the most all over the country. Regions famous for flowers open spring festivals with flowers as their main theme: rapeseed flowers (Jeju), cherry blossoms (Jinhae), plum blossoms (Gwangyang) and cornelian cherry blossoms (Gurye), among many.
To be frank, I think flower festivals are just good excuses to get out of the city to enjoy spring in its full bounty. Beautiful weather, beautiful flowers, and, of course, delicious food; all make for a great spring excursion.
Popular places tend to be bombarded with tourists (national and international), while less known places tend not to be… nope, I’m joking. There are tons of people EVERYWHERE, no matter where you go. However, some places are just a little bit less known, like the west coast.
Taean (태안) Peninsula on the west coast is one of those places. Although it is known as an ideal place for a day trip from Seoul to view the sunset from the beach, Anmyeondo (안면도) island is probably the most famous in that area for its big shrimp festival in the fall. Besides gorging on grilled shrimp, my favorite memories of Taean are from the 90s, when I backpacked around that region just because it was the direction the bus I had randomly picked that morning happened to be heading (but that’s another story), so I thought it was high time I paid a visit to that region.
What especially caught my attention was that Taean was holding a tulip festival. A TULIP festival. I had heard that tulips were being cultivated in Korea for export but this is more of a recent development. Tulips were like roses when I was growing up; a flower you see in bouquets and shops, more than actually planted. My curiosity was piqued but it was only this year that I had a chance to go.
Let’s be frank, this year’s spring was/is weird. Weather was having severe mood swings. We had snow in April. Flowers got extremely confused. Some flower festivals were pushed back, but due to what I expect were organization issues, some stayed on schedule, with the flowers not yet in full bloom. Some festivals simply extended the festivities, which is what the organizers for the Taean Tulip Flower Festival decided to do.
The festival, unlike some other flower festivals I’ve been to, was within separate festival grounds. Tulips don’t grow in the wild; they aren’t blossoms of fruit trees, so an area is deliberately cleared to plant them, much like an outdoor botanical garden park. It wasn’t as if I really expected to be in open wild nature with tulips all around me, but for some odd reason, the logic of this didn’t occur to me until after I encountered the festival venue;
First of all, I’d like to mention that I went in the early stage of the festival. Not all of the tulips were in bloom. They should be in their finest form about now; my photos probably won’t do them justice. Anyhow, tulips I went to see, tulips I saw:
In addition to the tulips, there were greenhouses displaying other flowers such as lilies and pumpkin/zucchini/squash blossoms; a field of rapeseed blossoms; various children-friendly activities including a small feeding zoo; faux railroad tracks and dock; and a display of traditional folk farming and living tools.
Honestly, the whole area was like a huge photo-op. When the flowers are fully in bloom, the array of the bright colors as a backdrop for portraits would be amazing. Macro-photographers would probably delight in exploring the many different types of tulips through their lens.
The downside? As I’ve mentioned before, since the festival is within an exhibition park, there is an entrance fee. Since some flower festivals are just out in the open with no entrance fee whatsoever, the entrance fee can be daunting. Especially since you purposely have to drive out to the festival grounds (in a personal vehicle or on public transportation) where there isn’t much to see within near walking distance; you’re going there to see the festival, period. The entrance fee can get up pretty high for a family. In my opinion, it’s not a venue where you can spend the whole day, even after taking photos with the flowers and looking at all the extra exhibitions and joining in the activities, you’ll find yourself heading out to experience Taean’s other sights.
I don’t have a problem with them charging an entrance fee: after all, you need funds to run things. You just have to figure out if it would be worth for you. I think the price is justifiable for people who want to take tons of photos: amateur and pro photographers, couples on a date, family with babies and kids, young girls who want to take “online profile” photos decked out in full makeup, flowy dresses and high heels.
Another downside? Maybe it was just that day (but I have a hunch it was not), but the wind was incredible. It’s what we call “sea wind”, only it wasn’t on the seaside but in the middle of fields. Impossible to call it a “sea breeze”, because it wasn’t one; it was full on whip-through-your-hair wind. Sandy earthy wind. I wanted glasses; not sunglasses, because then you can’t properly see the colors, but something in front of my eyes to protect them. Taean’s wind can give that of Jeju a run for its money.
Also, the people. SO MANY PEOPLE. There is going to be as much people watching as flower watching; you’ll get a ton of strangers in your photos unless you’re taking close-ups. However, this isn’t unique to Taean; you’ll get this at every single festival here in Korea, especially during the spring and fall when the weather is the nicest. But when a Korean says there are SO MANY PEOPLE (in caps no less), you just know there will be SO MANY PEOPLE. If you have a need for personal space, flower festivals are not for you.
A trip to Taean isn’t complete without seeing the sea. No swimming in this weather, but there is something soothing about a leisurely stroll on the beach, watching the waves roll in and out while the sun goes down. Any beach will do, but we headed to Mallipo (만리포) on the far west side of the peninsula:
Of course, you have to taste the local cuisine. Because it was a day trip and we didn’t come back to Seoul too late, there was only time to catch a quick lunch. Our choice was clam kalguksu (바지락 칼국수, “Manila clam” knife noodles). I was in a haste to eat and didn’t bother taking another, clearer picture. The shells were from my portion alone. Had it been dinner, we would’ve probably gone for the local delicacy: crabs, crayfish, or squid, which are in season right now.
A visit to a traditional market is also entertaining, where you can see the freshest of fish and see real raw chik (칡, Korean arrowroot) being sliced on the spot to make juice.
So, would I go again? Perhaps if I’m in the region, but my answer is bordering on the negative, especially if in Taean for only a day. There are other attractions in Taean to see: many beaches, temples, salt farms, markets, and historical sites. I do think the festival is worth visiting at least once, if you’re okay with the entrance fee. I prefer flower festivals out in the wild, when the flowers create the atmosphere for a region’s spring festival without being the isolated guest of honor.
I do have to admit I might have enjoyed the festival more if all the tulips had been in bloom and there was less wind. People who went on a later date might have a different opinion from mine.
Besides, that’s about the festival. Taean itself is an awesome place to visit; the tide rolls in very slowly so you can enjoy long walks on the beach, the seafood (especially the shellfish) is excellent, the pine tree forests heal you from city stress, and you can stock up on the region’s famous garlic, salt, clams, sweet potatoes, and red peppers. I’m thinking of another trip to visit the salt farms and stuff myself on crab.
Taean Tulip Flower Festival
- 2013/4/25 ~ 2013/5/12 (has been extended from original date)
- 9:00 ~ 18:00 (Last ticket sales 17:00)
- Adult: 9,000 won / Group (20 or more): 7.000 won / Youth Group: 6,000 won
- Taean-gun, Nam-myeon, Sinon-ri, Mageompo-gil 200
Taean also holds a Lily Festival in the summer. This year’s Taean Lily Flower Festival is scheduled to be held 2013/6/22 ~ 2013/7/5.