CONTRIBUTED BY KELLY GARCIA
I really do not like cold weather. I’m also not a big fan of fish and have no desire to go out and catch them. So you can imagine my excitement when my husband proposed a trip to the Hwacheon Seochano Mountain Trout Ice Fishing Festival last year.
Ice fishing? Oh, yay. I cannot. Wait.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm, my husband’s proposition had a few things going for it. One, being a fishing-centric excursion, he volunteered to take the lead in the planning. Two, my college buddy and his wife (who my kids adore) would be joining us. And three, we would be staying the night in a train.
Now THAT sounded cool.
When the day arrived, we loaded the van with lots of cold weather clothing, a cooler and fishing rods. The trip takes about 2.5 hours with minimal traffic. But unless you leave first thing in the morning, there will be traffic.
We drove straight to our pension. The TRAIN pension. Here it is:
So it’s not a functioning train anymore, but still pretty cool! We got a western style room which had a kitchen/dining area, separate bedroom with 2 small beds, and bathroom. (The western style rooms were all booked for our trip this year, so we’ll be sleeping on the floor with air mattresses!)
The website is in Korean so we’ve had a friend book the room for us. The prices are the same for Korean style floor sleeping and western style with beds. If it’s full, call and check again. Last year a room opened up for us at the last minute.
For up to five people 150.000 won.
Up to three people 120.000.
Up to ten room is 250.000.
Here’s our kitchen/living room. Not so big, but hey, it’s in a train! It’s really clean and comfortable. It had a stove, fridge and kitchen supplies and a deck outside with a grill. We bought some eggs and cooked up the fish we caught at the festival for breakfast! That door goes to the small bedroom.
This is the view from the deck of our room. The festival is over there by that second bridge with the skinny white tower. We drove there, but I suppose you could walk if you are gung-ho, using that floating bridge there. I’d say it would take at least 30 min though.
Immediately after checking into the hotel we drove to the festival for our first day of fishing. The festival is right on the iced over river. There are no ice fishing huts or anything like that (as I had envisioned), just lots and lots of holes in the ice for you to dip your line in.
If you are Korean, it is pretty crowded:
They divide the fishing areas up for the Korean anglers and the foreign anglers. That’s the Korean side above. I’m not quite sure why they do it, but it seems to me one of the two groups has the better deal.
And that would be the foreigner side!
There were WAY fewer people there, which means a lot more available fish. To get to the foreigner area drive all the way to the far side of the festival. There is parking there and you’ll go down some steps to the bank of the river where there will be tents set up with all kinds of instructions in English on how to get started. There are loads of workers there who speak English as well. While we were lucky enough to have a Korean speaker with us, I have to say it was very foreigner friendly.
(This is where it was last year, 2012. Don’t know if it’s the same setup this year or not. A Facebook reader says it’s near the “Snow Fun Park” area of the festival. Here’s a map. It’s hard to see on my computer but may be you can print it out. )
Go down to the river to this tent and you will get your pass for the festival and your fly-swatter like fishing rod. (Turns out we didn’t need ours.) You are allowed to catch three fish per person. So, for our family of four for two days 24 fish.
These are fishing rods.
Okay, now time for the fishing. We caught fish. We ALL caught fish. Even my then two year old daughter! Did we reach our 24 fish limit? No, but we could have if we’d wanted to. They were jumping onto our hooks!
My son caught fish.
My daughter caught fish.
My friends caught fish.
Even I caught fish! It was SO MUCH FUN! My kids loved it, and surprisingly, I did too!
**Note** The fish were jumping on our hooks that day, but I’ve read a couple reports of much less fish catching luck. I don’t know if it’s ’cause we were in the foreigner section or they’d just stocked the river, or we are just damn fine fisherpeople. 😉
If you have no idea how to fish or how to get one off your hook, there are workers like the guy in green below to help you!
This is a BIG help if you have kids. It felt comforting knowing there were extra people watching out for them, especially with those big icy holes everywhere!
Once you get your fish put them in this bag:
And you know what happens next…
There are grills set up all along the side of the river. Bring your fish to the grill station and they will cook it up for you. (Or, if you go the other side of the river, they will sashimi it for you at the sashimi tent.)
Now, I do not really love eating fish. However, maybe it was the experience of eating it straight from the river, the tasty seasoning, or the euphoria of being on an adventure in Korea with my family and friends, but this fish was DELICIOUS!
Still, if fish ain’t your thing, there are loads of other things to do besides fish at the festival.
And whatever this is.
You can also lure fish and catch fish with your bare hands if that floats your boat. According to the website you have to reserve a spot for those things online, but I can’t figure out how to specify the time or activity.
There are tents alongside the river where you can warm up, eat food, buy stuff (when you buy tickets for the different activities, they give you vouchers which you can then “spend” at a tent full of local food products. We “bought” local honey.) You can even rent strollers at one of the tents!
Yummy non-fish pancakes!
When the sun goes down, if you head into town, you can see beautiful fish themed lights or enjoy the ice skating rink. We ate at a local bibimbap place and picked up some groceries for breakfast, so we could get an early fishing start the next day.
The next day was full of more fishing and playing.
All in all, the trip was fantastic, one of the best things we’ve done in Korea so far. I’d put it on your Korea bucket list for sure!
- If you can, take leave! Everything is always less crowded on the weekday and if you want to stay in the train hotel it will be booked on the weekend!
- Don’t want to spend the night? It’s daytrip-able! Leave before 8am to beat traffic. Or, if you’re in Seoul, take the daily shuttle bus!
- If you want to fish in the international fishing area with your Korean spouse, it should be no problem. At least it wasn’t with our friends! 🙂
- Bring sunscreen.
- We found the little pull sled to be pretty useful for getting our 2 year old around. If you have one, might be worth bringing. (If there’s snow!) There is also stroller rental!
- If you are not handy with the fish cleaning but want to take it home, have it sashimed there and bring it home in a cooler. Sashimi tent is on the city side of the river.
- Remember to redeem the vouchers you get from your sledding, 4-wheeling, etc at the local products tent! Do it before the festival closes!
- Bring those little hot packs if you plan on being on your feet for awhile. Or a folding chair.
- I didn’t see it myself, but the ice sculpture exhibit in town near the ice skating was highly recommended!
- If you miss this festival, there are a few more ice fishing festivals in Korea. Will update you on those ASAP!
Hwacheon Trout Ice Fishing Festival
Event Dates in 2017: Jan 7th through 29th, 2017; Open from 8:30 am – 6pm
Fee for Fishing: 10,000 won for foreigners in foreigner fishing area, 8,000 in regular area. Free for kids under 6 yo. (12,000 for Koreans) Fee for cooking fish 2.000 won/fish. Activities cost between 5,000(smaller activities)-10,000 won(ATVs) (but you get vouchers for them to spend around the festival)
Address to Hwacheon: Hwacheon-eup, Hwacheon-gun, Gangwon-do 강원 화천군 화천읍
Address to the foreigner fishing area: Gangwon-do, Hwacheon-gun, Hwacheon-eup, Jung-Ri 186-5
If you leave early it should take about 2.5 hours.
As you approach Hwacheon you will pass the Hwacheon Folklore Museum on your left (the train hotel is right behind it if you want to take a peek). Continue on and you will come to a roundabout. Take the first right off the roundabout and you’ll cross a small bridge. Take left after the bridge. Continue down the road past the building (not tower) with the big fish on top. Pass a big cement church and then you’ll come to a 4 way intersection. Cross through and take first left after the intersection into a parking area. Park (it’s free) and go down the stairs by the “Seochano Restaurant” and it will lead you to the foreigner section where you buy your tickets.
For detailed driving directions/map from all parts of Korea, see the festival website: http://www.narafestival.com/07_global/?f_code=01_03&lang=eng
If you don’t drive, there is a 10.000 won shuttle bus that leaves Seoul at 8am, arrives in Hwacheon at 11am, heading back to Seoul at 5pm. For shuttle info see this page: http://gogangwon.com/eng/sancheoneo.htm
Festival Information Resources:
For a good overview: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_2_1.jsp?cid=685135
For festival website: http://www.narafestival.com/07_global/?f_code=02_01&lang=eng
For the train hotel: www.hctrainpension.com (Korean Only!), Phone: (033) 441-8876
This site has B&Bs in Hwacheon and nearby Chuncheon: https://www.bnbhero.com/rooms/in/%ED%99%94%EC%B2%9C