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: A 1000-Year-Old Temple In The Middle Of Seoul

Exiting Sadang Station in Seoul, you can immediately tell it is one of the busiest stations in South Korea; throngs of people are everywhere, pushing and shoving their way in and out. Outside the station are dozens of alleys with neon lights going up four stories, advertising barbecue restaurants, bars and karaoke rooms. Lines crisscross the sidewalk for buses that will take people home to the suburbs. It’s near unimaginable that not far behind the station, up an unassuming hill, is a tranquil Buddhist temple.

This colorful door panel is one of many dragon pieces on the temple doors.
Gwaneum Temple (관음사) was established shortly before 900 A.D. by the Jongye Order in order to harness the power of the mountain’s feng shui. It sits halfway up a mountain, amongst trees, streams and hiking paths. The only reason I even knew it existed is because a friend of mine found it accidentally when he was lost. While the temple was established well over 1,000 years ago, most of the buildings on the site were built in the 1970s, with a few dating to the 1920s.

The interior of the temple where respects are paid and people meditate.

A new statue sits atop a pedestal as a place for self-relection.

These ornate, carved flowers add amazing colors to the temple doors.

The colors used in the art and architecture of Korean temples are always striking, and separates them from temples in other parts of Asia. Almost exclusively, four colors are used: teal, blue, orange and red. The main doors are guarded by large, carved, wooden dragons – a theme here that would continue throughout the grounds.

Dragons are a continuous theme throughout the temple grounds, as seen in this artwork on a temple wall.

Carved dragon heads protect the temple entrance.

A view from the top with Seoul Tower in the distance.

After spending an hour slowly exploring the temple grounds, I turned to walk back to the station when I was presented with this magnificent view of the city. There are certainly many places to check out the Seoul cityscape from above, but this one was unexpected and without the crowds that too commonly accompany Korean attractions, making this perspective one of my favorites.

Be sure to check out all the other Kimchi-ite posts here.

[Photos by Jonathan Kramer]

Dragon tourism. Yes, DRAGON tourism.

I’ve always had a strange desire to be in a Jurassic Park film. The last time I was at Universal Studios, I remember seeing the dinosaurs in an utter state of awe as I imagined how life would have been if these creatures still existed.

Dragons on the other hand, I’ve only read about in story books and would never have imagined that there are 2,500 of them walking freely on Indonesia’s Komodo Island. Yes my friends, there are humongous carnivorous lizards — some that are 10-feet long — walking at their own liberty, on our planet!

17,000 people visited Komodo National Park last year, a number not too high perhaps only because of the lack of tourist facilities on the island. (I imagine if you are visiting an island with dragons, the more tourist facilities around, the higher your likelihood of visiting, no?). As for me, my explorer spirit doesn’t include being dragon-fearless: I’d jump out of my skin and run for my life if I ever encountered one.

Also, according to National Wildlife Magazine, the thick saliva of the dragon is known to kill the animals it bites and some researchers are risking their lives to find out what is in the saliva that kills other animals, and not the beast itself. They think that perhaps it’s saliva has strong immunity properties or some natural antibodies in it’s blood that could be harnessed for human health.

The wonders of nature often leave me speechless.