Spring festivals in Korea: the Jindo Sea Parting and Butterflies

Last weekend, I walked across a parted sea wearing thigh-high rubber boots, chewed on wiggling octopus tentacles, and saw a baby wild boar poop on a guy’s t-shirt?all within 24 hours. With Adventure Korea, a budget travel company catered to foreigners, I traveled to Jeollanam-do, Korea’s southwestern province, to attend two annual spring festivals.

On Saturday around 2 PM, we arrived on the island of Jindo for the Sea Parting Festival. This festival is based on a ancient legend involving tigers and an old woman named Grandma Bbyong.

Long ago, tigers were abundant on Jindo, and when they began invading the local village, people fled to the nearby island of Modo. Grandmother Bbyong got left behind, so she prayed to the Dragon King (a legendary spirit) everyday. One day, the Dragon King appeared in her dream and told her that he would connect the two islands with a rainbow bridge. Sure enough, when Grandma Bbyong arrived at the coast and began to pray, the bridge appeared. The sea road opened, and villagers from Modo walked across playing drums and gongs. Upon meeting the villagers, Grandma Bbyong confessed that seeing the sea road appear was her last wish, and shortly after, she passed away. Ever since, it has been a tradition to congregate on Jindo and celebrate Grandma Bbyong’s will to reunite with her clan across the sea.

More realistically, the sea parting is the result of extreme low tides caused by tidal harmonics. In a recent article on National Geographic, a geoscience professor named Kevan Moffett wrote that, “Just like drummers beating slightly out of sync, eventually the many different harmonics will actually happen to line up to create a big ‘beat’ all at once.”

Whether you choose to accept the rational, scientific explanation or hold onto the legend, the sea parting was an excellent excuse to splash around in ankle-deep water on a clear, sunny day.

The sea parted around 5:30 PM. Upon arrival, we had a few hours to kill, so we strolled around the festival and encountered this peculiar lady who urged us to eat sannakji, live octopus. She didn’t need to twist our arms; after a few minutes we were seated at a picnic table with a few bottles of soju and a plate of wriggling tentacles before us.


As we were eating the tentacles, an ajeosshi brought over a plate filled with raw octopus heads chopped into pieces. I refrained from touching that plate, since I once ate an octopus head at a work dinner (and almost vomited.) A few others curiously decided to taste it, and were greeted with gushes of ink and oddly-textured organs.

We spotted some more eccentric characters, as well as a few guys wearing long white beards and impersonating Moses.

We walked along the beach.

My friend Sean and I posed in our new sexy boots.

Soon enough, the sea had parted, and it was time to get our feet wet. Before crossing, we watched middle-aged men and women in costume beat drums and dance around the statue of Grandma Bbyong and a tiger.

Many people carried plastic bags, with hopes to scavenge some fresh seafood floating in the shallow water.

An hour later, a parade of flag bearers and drummers prompted us to turn around and return to Jindo. Throughout our short pilgrimage, I splashed through the water in a constant state of ecstasy, livened by the company of old and new friends, sunshine, and a constant buzz from the shots of soju I’d taken earlier.

Four buses filled with 160 group members returned to the city of Mokpo in the evening, and we all wandered about the city searching for a place to have dinner and drinks. Some friends and I devoured delicious Vietnamese-style shabu shabu (hot pot with rice paper rolls) while others sought to find local seafood, Korean food, Western food, or merely drink the night away at one of the bars downtown.

We slept in a motel on traditional Korean floor mats in groups of four, and the next morning, our guides brought breakfast to our rooms as we packed our bags and got ready for the Butterfly Festival, located in the nearby town of Hampyeong.

The festival was filled with an array of colorful flowers and, true to its name, some butterflies fluttered about and landed on our shirts.

At the start of the festival, we were given a container with a few small butterflies inside, and we released them all at the same moment. Standing in a field of bright yellow flowers and flurry of small white butterflies was a surreal sight to behold.

For the next couple hours, we strolled through the festival’s gardens and aquarium, and we participated in a variety of other activities.

An old man made us flutes from weeds that sounded like kazoos. We also roasted barley and peas in small fires on the ground, and some others tried making pottery and mud fishing.

Additionally, within a fenced-off area, we chased baby wild boars, rabbits and chickens in order to win bags of rice. Nobody seemed too enthusiastic about grabbing the chickens, but the bunnies and boars were quite popular. I gave up once I heard the boars squealing, and especially after one pooped on a guy as he was coddling and kissing it. It was certainly the most unique event at the festival.

Before departing the festival, we bought some lunch at international food stands, including Turkish kebabs, German sausages, and spicy Indian chicken.

As I journeyed back to Nonsan in the afternoon, I thought about when I could possibly wear my bright orange, thigh-high rain boots again. The club this weekend?

This trip is called “Jindo Sea Parting and Butterfly Festival.” Adventure Korea leads this trip once a year in April. It costs 91,000 won, including transportation (a chartered limousine bus), breakfast for Sunday, accommodation, Butterfly Festival entrance fee, and some event experience fees, like wild boar catching, mud fish catching and weed flute making, and English speaking guides.
Visit Adventure Korea’s homepage for more trip options.

*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.

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