The Kimchi-ite: Seoul’s Spectacular Lotus Lantern Festival

Every year, Buddha’s Birthday is marked in Korea by a sea of draped lanterns. The holiday itself is not until May 17 this year, but that has not stopped the festivities from starting early. Most streets surrounding Buddhist temples have a colorful array of lanterns strung from their lampposts. The temples themselves often feature an entire canopy created by a rainbow of lanterns. And as part of the festivities, a parade featured tens of thousands of lanterns in the shape of a lotus flower, an important symbol in Buddhism.

Seoul’s weather is now finally reaching that perfect equilibrium of sunshine and cool breezes, and the best place to see some of the city’s lanterns is at an outdoor exhibition on Cheonggye Stream.
The lanterns turn the already beautiful Cheonggye Stream into an absolutely dreamlike landscape. Skyscrapers dressed in flashing lights tower above as you walk along a tree-lined bubbling stream underneath a rainbow of paper lanterns. Couples and families walk around with nothing but smiles on their faces. There are no gimmicks here, no entrance fees and no celebrity appearances, just wonderful paper lanterns.

The wealth of colors of the paper lanterns play beautifully well off of the stream.

In the middle of the stream lie elaborate lanterns made of traditional Korean hanji paper that depict various aspects of Korean life, history and culture – including dragons, pagodas, wildlife, Buddhist ceremonies and traditional dances.

Located right in the heart of the city, Cheonggye Stream is one of the best places to visit in Seoul, with or without lanterns.

The lanterns depict various aspects of Korean and Buddhist culture.

Buddhism is an important aspect of Korea culture and is widely practiced throughout the peninsula.

Cheonggye Stream is an incredible place to just relax and hang out, with or without a festival.

Cheonggye Stream is one of the best places to visit in Seoul. Formerly a highway overpass, it was reconstructed into a stream in 2005 and has been wildly popular with locals and visitors ever since. It’s a truly unique place, similar in concept to the highline in New York, that cities across the world should take note of – a peaceful oasis in one of the world’s busiest cities that is also just around the corner from a 600-year-old palace, a neighborhood of traditional hanoks, the best book stores in Korea, an impressive arts center as well as the president’s residence.

Smaller lanterns depicting wildlife are scattered around the stream and represent more traditional lanterns.

While the Lotus Lantern Festival is definitely not to be missed, there is also another lantern festival on Cheonggye Stream of equal beauty, the Seoul Lantern Festival, which will be held in November this year.

To delve further into Korean culture, dig into the Kimchi-ite archives by clicking here.

The Kimchi-ite: The Almost Forgotten Traditional Homes Of Korea

South Korea rapidly became a modern country. Within the past half-century it has gone from a country mostly of fields to seas of high rises. Over the years, many of these construction projects have caused the demolition of entire neighborhoods of traditional Korean houses, called hanok. Beautiful houses with tile roofs, wood framing and intricate brickwork were discarded to make way for dense apartment complexes. Fortunately, there has been a movement to preserve the hanok that remain.

You can sometimes see hanok straddled right next to apartment buildings or convenience stores scattered around the country. There are a few so-called “Hanok Villages,” places designed for visitors to take in plenty of traditional Korea, sometimes complete with costumed re-enactors.

My favorite is the Bukchon Hanok Village in Samcheong-dong, located in central Seoul, very close to a lot of other great sights such as Gyeongbok Palace and Cheonggye Stream. Bukchon is actually just a residential neighborhood, not originally intended to be a tourist destination. All of the hanok function as actual family homes, so it definitely doesn’t have a tourist trap vibe that some of other Hanok villages have. It’s great to just wander around the hilly neighborhood, looking at the beautiful houses with some great views of the surrounding city.

The best way to get to Bukchon is via subway. Take line 3 to Anguk Station and get out at exit 3. There is a multi-lingual tourist information desk not far from the exit with maps and brochures. Take a map and wander around. Afterwards, head over to the main street of Samcheong-dong offers plenty of trinket shops, cafes, restaurants and art galleries and is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Be sure to check out more on Korean culture from the other Kimchi-ite posts here!

[Photo credits: Jonathan Kramer]