Did you know that Korea has several colorful and beautiful lantern festivals? In November there is one in Seoul’s Cheonggye Stream and in October there is a bigger one in Jinju’s Nam River, which is in the southern half of South Korea.
Here are some tips for what to do at the Jinju Namgang Lantern Festival (진주남강유등축제).
1. Know which bus terminal you get off at. One is called the Express Bus Terminal (고속버스터미널) which is south of the river and the other one is Intercity Bus Terminal (시외버스터미널) which is north of the river. When there is no traffic, it’s a 4 hour bus ride from Seoul, but when there is holiday traffic, you’ll be stuck on the bus for 6 hours.
KTX is double the price of a bus, but it would be a better choice if you’re traveling during busy hours (KTX ~50,000 KRW vs bus ~20,000 KRW).
Also remember that you may have to walk to the bus terminal from your hotel if there is horrible traffic near the river.
2. Use Naver Maps to navigate yourself and the taxi driver. When my friends and I tried giving an address, the taxi driver said he had no idea, and asked us to show a map instead.
3. Get a motel/hotel near the river. It’s better to walk when there are crazy traffic jams. The place we stayed was a love motel called Ice Cream Hotel. Six girls stayed in this room for about 30,000 KRW each for one night. It was a 20 minute walk from the river.
Don’t be scared of the word “love motel” because many people use it even though they’re not a couple, and it usually looks pretty new and clean.
4. Eat dinner at one of the tents along the river. Bring cash. Our Korean Pancake was 10,000 KRW and the makgeolli bottles were 3,000 KRW each.
In the aisle of tents, there are also many snacks, desserts, souvenirs, and some game booths where you can win prizes.
5. Designate a meeting place with your friends in case you get lost in the crowd. There will be a lot of people at night on the weekends. Prepare to be pushed and stepped on. Don’t use the red lantern tunnel as a meeting place because it is quite long, and there are at least two tunnels.
6. You can see the fireworks anywhere near the river. No need to save spots.
7. Take photos with the lanterns after 10pm when it is less crowded. It’s too crowded during dinner time. The lanterns look pretty during the day as well.
There is a 1,000 KRW fee for crossing the floating bridge. This bridge is quite wobbly, so it’s not the best place to take pictures.
You can write your wish on your own lantern and let it float on the river.
8. Munch on some cute dinosaur shaped manjuu (Pastry filled with sweet potato paste or red bean paste). 3,000 KRW per bag.
9. Enjoy the day-time view and get some Jinju eel for lunch. Try to find a restaurant with customers. Remember that eel (장어) is expensive (at least 17,000 KRW per person).
민물장어 (freshwater eel) is the one that is the same as the Japanese Unagi, and 바다장어 (sea-water eel) would be the Japanese Anago. I think Anago feels a little bit more dry compared to Unagi, but I enjoy both. They’re delicious when they’re flavored with a thick sauce.
The view during the sunset is my favorite.
If not, there is always another year.