Way back, on a humid weekend in late July, I travelled with some of my old mates from Gwangju-si to the Boryeong Mud Festival. The 14th Boryeong Mud Festival was held at Daecheon Beach in Boryeong city in Chungcheongnam-do, a province on the Western coast of Korea.
Map of the provinces of South Korea. It's really quite a small country, about the same size as Portugal or Hungary according to Wikipedia.
This is probably the most popular summer festival in Korea and it seems to be virtually compulsory for all foreigners to attend at least once during their stay. It's popular with domestic tourists too and is one of the only places where I have ever seen large numbers of Korean women/girls wearing bikinis or with their shoulders shown at all in fact (in Korea women/girls wear ridiculously short shorts, so short sometimes that you can see their pockets sticking out from under the leg of their shorts but it is culturally taboo for women to show their shoulders or any cleavage - just too sexy I guess!)
Korean female shoulders - OMG!!!!
The basic premise of the festival is mud. Lots of glorious, grey, sticky mud. You wrestle in it, paint yourself with it, make soap out of it and generally have a good time getting filthy. Also, I think it's supposed to improve the condition of your skin but I don't think most visitors really cared about that aspect of it! The area where the festival is held is famous for its abundance of mud and there is a fair sized local industry built up around the cosmetic benefits of it. In fact, according to Wikipedia the festival was "originally conceived as a marketing vehicle for Boryeong mud cosmetics". Funnily enough though, Daecheon beach, where the festival actually takes place is a sand beach and doesn't have any of its own mud. The local authorities have to truck in tons of the grey stuff from the nearby Boryeong mud flats to use in the 'Mud Experience Land' on Daecheon's seafront.
Boryeong Mud Festival is all about getting dirty! It's good for your health after all!
The festival was held over two weekends in July. We attended the second weekend on 23 July and we went with Adventure Korea, a tour group that specialises in arranging trips for foreigners in Korea. On a quick side note, I've been on a couple of Adventure Korea's trips now and they're always well organised and fun so if you're a fellow waygook in Korea looking for something to do at the weekend check them out here.
At the time of the festival I was midway through my 2 weeks of summer camp and Rowan was getting ready to head back to England for his 2 weeks of "bonus" vacation. If you're unfortunate enough to know us or read this blog regularly (I'm sorry!) then you might remember that he got those extra 2 weeks for renewing his contract at the same school. I was, of course, not feeling at all embittered about losing my bonus vacation due to being forced to change schools because of the funding cuts. Oh no, not me. The trip to the mudfest was on the first weekend that I was to be without Rowan so it was a way to ease the pain of separation - oh the agony!
As is often the case with any Adventure Korea trip, we had to meet up really early in the morning at the Express Bus Terminal station in Seoul which is a pain for us folks who live out in the 'burbs. Rowan and I decided to spend out last night together in a fancy love motel in Seoul to lessen the pain of the early morning for me and to make it easier for him to get to the airport. The motel was cool, it had the best shower ever, a huge flatscreen TV and a jacuzzi, though sadly we couldn't figure out how to get the jacuzzi to work.
Jacuzzi (that didn't work) .
After a super comfortable night in our pricey love motel, we said our goodbyes and I made my way to the Express Bus Terminal subway station. I didn't know it at the time, but that subway station is huge and has loads of exits so despite arriving with a few minutes to spare I still ended up jogging around the labyrinthine station trying to find the right exit - not a good start! I met my friends on the bus who were all bleary eyed from an evilly early start leaving Gwangju-si at some unearthly hour to get to Seoul in time. Finally we were off. It took a couple of hours or so to get to Boryeong. To make things more "fun" Adventure Korea took us to the mud flats for our first stop before we even got to Daecheon Beach for the festival. The "fun" thing that we were all ordered to do was a mud marathon and there were no excuses for non-participation! I remember standing there wailing that I hadn't signed up for this and couldn't I just watch - no chance!
Everybody did the marathon in the end whether they wanted to or not! This is the course stretching out into the distance. Note it's not a real "marathon" distance though, only 5km!
Numbered and ready for the mud!
The motley Gwangju-si crew with their racing numbers on.
We had to wear socks due to sharp stones and shells in the mud but someone still managed to slice their foot open.
Me and Jen heading up the runners - the group of runners lagging behind at the back though, not the entire race of course!
It was really hard work jogging through the cloying mud but it was fun.It looks overcast here but it was actually hot and humid - just another typical Korean summer day.
There were various inflatable obstacles that we had to navigate during the marathon course. I got over this one no probs.
And this one too.
But I got bounced out of the last obstacle by our friend Leif, who jumped on the inflatable wall as I was climbing over it. I landed face first in the mud and even managed to get mud on my teeth! You can see the offending red and yellow obstacle in the back ground here.
Everyone got a medal for taking part in the mud race.
On the reverse side of the medal there is an inscription that reads "For better your life" - love Korean English!
After the marathon we changed into old army clothes. Then we were split into groups and played some silly team games including football (soccer), mud wrestling and chicken fighting.
Jen and Amy in the mud wrestling ring. They were brutal fighters! The girls' bouts were much more vicious than the boys ones!
Jen taking a girl down in the wrestling ring!
More wrestling, this time with a girl from each time being lifted up onto some guys' shoulders for the fight.
My team (on the right) preparing for the chicken fight. A chicken fight is hop on one leg and try to knock your opponents over without putting your foot down or falling yourself.
(Photo care of Adventure Korea website)
After all the team games were finished, we washed off the worst of the mud using a hose at the back of a big water truck, grabbed a beer and jumped back on the bus to the Mud Festival. Once we arrived we were assigned our guest house for the one night that we would be staying in Boryeong. They were big Korean style rooms with no beds, just blankets for sleeping on the floor. As we were a big group we had a whole big room to ourselves which was cool. Then it was our "free time" to go enjoy the festival. We had a look at the festival and then headed down to the beach to drink, swim and play in the sand.
Muddy faced mascots of the Boryeong Mud Festival.
There was a fenced off Mud Experience area on the sea front that you had to pay to enter. It had a few mud slides but we didn't bother cos we were too tight to pay!
The paying area also had a mud prison - not to sure what went on there but it sounded scary! (care of Adventure Korea website)
People in the Mud Experience area crawling through what looks like some kind of inflatable udder tunnel.
There was an area where you could go and paint yourself, for free, with the health giving mud. I chickened out as I didn't want to risk trashing my camera - boring of me I know.
Identify the body part from the mud print.
The Gwangju-si mob fully muddied up and armed with a rubber ring.
And again, closer.
There was also coloured mud available for the more artistically minded.
We left the mud sliding to the more sporting type and entertained ourselves drinking deadly cocktails in a bag on the beach.
And burying Stephanie.
And playing with the rubber ring. Man, I love playing with rubber rings in the sea, a joy I only discovered here in Korea!
As usual Leif got all artistic and made a cool sand sculpture to hold his drink.
As you can imagine, people got totalled a bit early so by the time we went looking for dinner some people were a bit worse for wear! Some people went off to have seafood barbeque. I went with the non seafood crowd to a Korean restaurant and had my first taste of budae jjigae (literally "army base stew"), a thick soup made with spam, veggies and hot dog sausages that's actually really tasty.
Buddae jjigae or "army stew" originated during the Korean War when food was scarce. Hungry Korean citizens would use the surplus US army foods such as spam and hot dog sausages and boil them up in a spicy broth with kimchi and red pepper paste.
We had a few drinks by the beach that night and watched people letting off their handheld fireworks, a popular way to dice with death/disfigurement here. We ended up having a fairly early night as everyone was so knackered from the early start. It was raining the next morning so we had a bit of a late start. We trekked across town for ages trying to foind the local Lotteria, Korea's answer to McDonalds. I had my usual - the mighty European Frico Cheese Burger - it was awesome! Then the rain soon stopped and once the sun came out it turned into a real scorcher of a day. We spent our last day in Boryeong browsing the little stalls at the festival, making mud soap and enjoying the sunshine.
Pottery made out of mud.
Mud soap stall.
David making his own soap.
The moulds we made our mud soaps in. We had to choose a design and a scent for our soap.
Stephanie with her soap - she chose the same design as me!
And of course we had a samul nori performance too on the last day! Every Korean festival has to have one.
They even let the muddy foreigners have a bash!
This guy got really into it!
And the crowd of Korean amateur photographers loved him!
Many people decided to carry on getting muddy but we decided to try to stay clean on the second day. Would have got some funny looks on the subway covered in green mud!
Sadly, all good things have to come to an end. We got taken by bus back to Seoul in the afternoon and I said goodbye to my friends and went home to an empty apartment - boo hoo for me! It was strange. I had to cook for myself. After week 2 of summer camp was over, I had a week of deskwarming to do which meant seeing nobody all day for days on end. But I grew to quite enjoy the hermit lifestyle. That's not to say I wasn't happy when Rowan finally came back, armed with goodies from home. We didn't have much time to enjoy them though as we were going away on vacation the same day he got back. Next stop - Japan!