17th Annual Boryeong Mud Festival 보령머드축제
Yesterday, Alex and I woke up at 6 AM (!!!), so that we could get on a 7:20 bus from Seoul to Daecheon, a city two hours southwest of Seoul. What is there to do in Daecheon? The answer, when given at any other time of the year, is not much. The small seaside town is normally very quiet and not really a tourist destination (for Koreans, let alone foreigners). But, for two weeks in July, the small town transforms into a tourist hotspot, with over two million people (as of 2007) visiting for the annual Boryeong Mud Festival. The mud festival was created in 1998 in order to promote cosmetics (how typically Korean!) made from Boryeong mud (which is supposedly very high in minerals that are good for the skin). Because of all the advertising (we’ve seen ads for the festival on the subways for the past month) and dedicated tour buses, many foreigners make the trek to Daecheon.
Halfway through our bus ride, we stopped at a service/rest area- my first in Korea. The bathrooms were large and clean, and there were many stalls selling all kinds of Korean snacks (including grilled squid!). Once we arrived at Daecheon beach, we staked out a place on the beach (we had to pay for beach chairs and umbrellas), before getting dirty. I paid 4,000 won for an ingenious resealable plastic pouch for my phone. The “mud square”, where all the mud and action was, must have been a parking lot, converted for the event. We first were “locked up” in the “mud jail,” where staff members hurled buckets of mud at us. (No one is allowed to walk away remotely mud-free.) The lines were already quite long for the “mud challenges” – obstacle course and giant slide. I kept on slipping and falling in the obstacle course (as well as getting stuck in a “tunnel” that we had to worm our way through!). We then climbed up a ladder (while a staff member sprayed us down with a hose) and then slid down a giant slide into a pool of mud. The staff made sure to dump buckets of mud on us afterwards, for good measure!
I paid 2,000 won to use the cold shower to sort of clean myself off, before sitting down for some fried chicken and beer on the beach. Because of a typhoon (no idea where it was), the tides were quite strong and people weren’t allowed very far into the water (no swimming). It would have been more fun if we could have gone into the water. A temporary dance floor was set up on one side of the “mud square”, complete with a DJ blasting techno music and a “cannon” blasting cold mist. There were even synchronized dancers in skimpy skirts!
We could see many hotels along the beach with mud-related names. I heard that the hotels fill up quickly for the Mud Festival. But we wondered, what happens to the hotels the rest of the year? Who comes to Daecheon? I’m sure people still come for the beach, but it seemed to us like the entire town was set up for just two weeks in a year…
After two showers, I am still finding mud in random places… I can’t seem to get it out of my ears! Alex has a weird splotchy tan on his forehead (the mud was, surprisingly, not a good natural sunblock). And, after one washing, our muddy clothes are still a light shade of brown. I’m glad we had the chance to experience the mud festival! It was definitely an once-in-a-lifetime experience. But, I’m not sure there’s enough going on to entice us into going again. That is, unless I notice the effects of the Boryeong mud on my skin.