Over the past two weeks, Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon stream has been illuminated by hundreds of paper lanterns every evening. I love a good paper lantern (there’s just something romantic about them, wouldn’t you agree?) so I was pretty excited when I heard about this event. By lanterns, I don’t mean the typical tealight lantern, I mean huge, ‘larger than life’ lanterns depicting an array of images and scenes.
Having started in 2009, the festival takes place every year in Seoul, with the theme changing each time.
This year’s theme was ” Lightened Hangang River where history flows” – the Han river is the main river which flows through the length of Korea and the festival focused on traditional Korean life by the riverside. Actually, the main theme was only a small aspect of the lanterns on display (there was a huge lantern of Mount Rushmore so… you tell me if you feel that fits within the theme!).
There were lanterns depicting almost every scene imaginable – from Korean history, to modern Korean pop culture, to famous sites around the World. Lanterns from neighboring countries were also on display at the festival bringing in quirky and different styles. I really enjoyed looking at the Japanese lanterns which were altogether unusual and eccentric, as you would probably expect from Japan.
The festival was free to enter, but if you wanted to get a little more “hands on” you could buy a small traditional lantern to personalise, and set into the water for a couple of thousand won.
The atmosphere surrounding the festival was wonderful; Street vendors selling everything from drinks and snacks, to illuminated head gear set up shop and lined the streets for the occasion, and it had a similar feel to attending say, a 4th July celebration in the US, or bonfire night in the UK. Even on week nights, the stream is packed with locals and tourists alike.
The lantern festival reminded me of one thing that I truly love about Korea, and Seoul in particular – that is, that this type of event is not uncommon. There always seems to be some sort of festival or event taking place so you are never short of fun (and more importantly, free!) things to do.