This past weekend, I was invited on a weekend trip to the Heongseong Hanwoo Beef Festival by Adventure Korea, with the impression that I would eat some delicious beef, hike a mountain, and drink a lot of soju. And that’s exactly what I did–in addition to catching a trout with my bare hands, eating it raw, winning a bag of rice in a limbo contest, and eating a plate of meat surrounded by a camera crew, demanding me to feed my friend Christine, smile and say “I love Heongseong Hanwoo!”
Oh Heongseong, you spontaneous town, you.
Hanwoo is the highest quality beef in Korea, hailing from the small city of Heongseong in Korea’s eastern Gangwon province. A festival is held each year to honor the beef in its place of origin. Seokjin, the trip leader and owner of Adventure Korea, organized our time at the festival so well, that our group of 20 people were able to participate in a number of activities. We began by plowing the field, trying out a couple other machines from the farm, and eating sweet potatoes, chestnuts and hard boiled eggs.
Next, we made our way towards the barehanded trout fishing contest, similar to the eel catching contest at the Bokbunja Festival last May. It took place in a shallow section of the stream, divided by green nets. I rolled up my jeans and slipped on a pair of hot pink shower shoes and waded into the frigid water. After a few minutes, I felt a sea of trout skimming past my ankles, and I managed to trap one against the mesh netting on the left-hand side. I was so proud of catching this bad boy with my gloved hands, even though it was cut into slices of sashimi moments later.
The fresh trout was delicious, especially dipped in gochujang, and accompanied by a shot of soju.
We soon rolled down our pants and tried riding the mechanical bull. We all received aluminum water bottles for participating, which was perfect, because I needed a new water bottle. Here’s Katrina, our Kiwi leader. Ride that thang, Katrina!
Afterwards, eight of us climbed onstage to participate in a foreigner-only dodeok peeling contest. Dodeok is a root that’s filled with nutrients and has more health benefits than ginseng. The winners won a huge package of dodeok, and the rest of us got to take our freshly peeled dodeok home after the contest. Does anyone have a great dodeok recipe they’d be willing to share?
Of course, I had to stay for the limbo contest. My friend Christine and I were the last ones standing, and we won bags of rice. Christine, a whopping eight inches taller than I, was given a few extra bags because she merely hit the bar on the last round and I toppled over. I was deeply impressed with Christine’s ability to get low.
Around lunchtime, A few of us were generously offered a plate of sizzling beef courtesy of the festival promoters. At this moment I, along with five other foreigners, was in the midst of stuffing my face with beef, while being smothered by the paparazzi. Hopefully we’ll be featured in a TV segment and/or pamphlets to promote the festival.
You didn’t believe me, did you?
I eyed these tender slabs of heaven as one of our group members used a pair of scissors to cut them into bite sized pieces. Immediately, I wrapped a piece in a lettuce leaf and devoured it like the starving omnivore that I am. If it wasn’t for the camera crew, I probably would have shoved multiple pieces into my mouth at once and toppled onto the ground in ecstasy.
After Christine and I embarrassingly held the bus up for an extra 30 minutes due to our lack of navigation skills, we drove to the Healing Garden Forest, (숲체원) and lingered on the desolate wooden boardwalks. Only 50 people are allowed to enter this forest at once, so it was a wonderful contrast to the crowds at the festival.
Soon enough, we embarked on a short ride to Pheonix Park, where we would be staying in luxurious four-person suits. (Just beware of the uncontrollable heat, and bring some cute underwear to sleep in.) Because of Seokjin’s stellar bargaining skills, we were able to enter the Pheonix Park water park for a mere 10,000 won each with a group discount.
[Side note: On Friday at work, between bites of bibimbap at lunch, I told my co-workers that I would be going to this specific water park. Coincidentally, my 36 year old co-worker, Sujin, told me that she would be at the same place with her husband and daughter. I laughed, and exclaimed, "What a coincidence!" inwardly praying that we would not cross paths, nude, in the public bathhouse division of the water park.]
Lo and behold! The Gods of the mokyoktang worked their magic and prevented Sujin and I from (literally) running into each other naked. Instead, about an hour after she claimed she left, I dipped in a hot pink-colored rose pool (so pretty) and saw an ajumma with a tramp stamp. I did not take photos for obvious reasons.
The night was filled with beer, soju, karaoke, bowling, and an array of interesting characters from the trip. This is the only photo from the noraebang where I don’t look completely trashed. I believe Seokjin barged into our room with a bag full of Cass shortly after these photos were taken.
In the morning, we awoke around 7:30, and nursed our hangovers will a full buffet breakfast, complete with Western and Korean cuisine. My stomach thanked me, but my head was still buzzing from the excessive alcohol and lack of sleep.
We embarked on a hike around 9:30, and four of us decided to take the steeper, more bad ass slope-side trail, while others opted for another winding trail through the forest or the gondola. Our group literally walked up alongside the chairlift, on the wide open slope covered with loose branches and snow blowers. As we reached the top of the first trail, we realized that it didn’t connect to the trails leading up to the gondola at the peak.
We trudged back down, and proceeded to hike up the next trail. In the end, we conquered it like champs. At the top, we greeted groups of Koreans waving and taking our photos. (See, we were still perceived as celebrities even after the festival.)
At the peak, there were a number of sheep, ducks, and benches to rest on. When I shot this photo, one of the ducks quacked and this little boy stepped back in sheer terror. Perfect timing.
On our way down, we saw a long line of women wearing high heels, toddlers, elderly folk, and others, waiting in line for the gondola to bring them to the peak.
“Gosh, lazy people,” Christine muttered, “Why don’t they just walk up.”
As a final touch to our weekend in the Gangwon-do countryside, we rented ATVs and rode through an hour-long circuit. I agreed to ride on the back of Christine’s, but I wasn’t aware of her driving inexperience.
“So, which one is the gas and which is the brake?” she asked, after jumping on the ATV.
“Christine, do you know how to drive? Have you ever driven a car?”
“No, I’ve never driven a car.”
I was a bit frightened when Christine almost crashed into three different trees, but she ended up rocking the ATV once she distinguished the gas from the brakes.
At the end of the weekend, I wasn’t so keen on returning to the non-celebrity world, where people don’t shower me with compliments, invite me onstage, and constantly give me presents and free food. Alas, I’ll have to wait until the next trip.
Have you ever been a celebrity for a weekend? Research some upcoming Korean festivals and you can. Or better yet, join Adventure Korea for the Gochujang Festival on November 3rd!
This trip is called “Autumn Foliage, Water Park, ATV and Beef Festival.” Adventure Korea leads this trip once a year in October, and it costs 91,000 won (approximately $85), including transportation (a chartered limousine bus), hotel, 1 meal (Sunday breakfast buffet), Beef festival experience fees and English speaking guides. The water park costs an additional 10,000 won and the ATV riding costs 25,000 won. For more trip options, visit Adventure Korea’s homepage.
*Note: This is a sponsored post, but the opinions are, of course, my own.
-Text and photography by Sarah Shaw @ www.mappingwords.com. All rights reserved.