6 reasons to visit Korea this fall

6 reasons to visit Korea this fall

World Fireworks Festival. Busan International Film Festival. Maskdance. And lots and lots of food
Fireworks are usually set off to celebrate other events. But fireworks celebrating fireworks? So meta.

For most of the world, accustomed to celebrating things like really good music or ground-breaking films, Korea's packed calendar of obscure festivals -- commemorating everything from ginseng to the prehistoric standing stones known as dolmen -- may seem a bit excessive.

Trying to make dolmen interesting with a festival is like attempting to put makeup on a corpse: inappropriate and ineffective, and usually the domain of the most desperate.

It can be difficult to decide which ones are worthy of our time, and sometimes the buzz of the banal keeps us distracted. A quick portal search yields 2,364 festivals for the year 2012.

But listed below are four that are set to score, handpicked by a committee that exists to attract visitors to Korea, and two more, because autumn in Korea is too pretty to spend tucked away in a hotel.

1. Busan World Fireworks Festival

Forget Big Bang. These bangs are bigger. Busan is already a pretty happening port city, and not one that you really need an excuse to visit. Still, you might as well go during the Busan World Fireworks Festival to see the sky above the Gwangan Bridge illuminated with myriad asterisks.

This year the actual fireworks are preceded by concerts from Big Bang, Se7en and PSY, B-boy performances, classical music and traditional Korean music -- a little ear candy before the sound of popping firecrackers takes over.

But this one isn't really about the K-Pop. The festival, which attracts over 1 million guests a year, is called a "world" festival for a reason: these huge and extravagant explosions in the sky aren't your backyard Roman candles, but, at least according to the official website, a "cutting-edge multimedia fireworks show."

The pyrotechnics are also somewhat unique in that they are not fired from land to sea, but from sea towards land. Naturally, in a very controlled environment.

The Busan World Fireworks Festival is from October 26 to 27 in Busan.

You can visit www.bff.or.kr for more information.

More on CNN: Pocket guide to Busan

2. Busan International Film Festival

There's not much more you can ask for in a festival: movies at the beach, celebrity sightings and another excuse to visit Busan. The Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), turning 17 this year, is yet another festival that illuminates the city of Busan in October -- more specifically, the coastal area known for its beach, Haeundae.

Last year the festival drew an audience of more than 10,000 guests, screening 307 films from 70 countries.

If BIFF is already well-known in the Asian film industry as an important event, in Korea this non-competitive screening is the king of film festivals.

"All of the important people in Korean film gather at Busan for BIFF," says Park Hye-mi, an associate programmer at the DMZ Documentary Festival and an annual BIFF attendee.

"Try to get in with a group of filmmakers as they drink on the beach," advises another industry insider.

"They will have tickets to the next morning's screening, and if you get them drunk enough, they'll be too hungover to attend, anyway. And that's how you get free movie tickets."

The Busan International Film Festival runs from October 4 to 13. Go to www.biff.kr for more information.

3. Jejudo Olle Walking Festival

And if walking seems like a silly foundation for a festival, think back on all those summer music festivals, which seemed mostly about waiting in line for an overpriced, watery beer. Better walking than waiting.If the Busan Fireworks Festival was more like a rave, crowded and flashy, the Jejudo Olle Walking Festival is comparable to a tea party or picnic.

Of course it's not just about walking, but stopping, too. There are charming little stalls along the trail for hikers to feast on local cuisine or watch performances.

Due to a need to protect the fragile environment, there's a limit of 10,000 participants, and hopefuls must apply by October 4 on the website.

Participants must also bring their own bowl or spoon, or go hungry. According to the website, "there are no disposable products available at the Jeju Olle Walking Festival."

The Jejudo Olle Walking Festival is from October 31 to November 3, supposedly peak season on the island.

More on CNN: How to visit Jeju Island on a dime

 

4. The Hallyu Dream Festival

Gyeongju itself, of course, is always worth a visit. But if it isn't clear already, the Hallyu Dream festival is for the Hallyu groupies. When we think Gyeongju, the location of the Hallyu Dream Festival, we think of the glorious reign of the Silla Dynasty, beautiful hanok, exquisite palace gardens and the tombs of ancient kings and queens.

The Hallyu Dream Festival is a bit less historically inclined. While it does include a "Historical Silla Moonlight Tour," and opportunities to experience Silla culture, the real attraction is K-Pop.

Opening on the first day with a family concert, with a lineup that includes old-timers like Bobby Kim, Maya and Yoon Sinae, and closing on the third day with a dream concert featuring idol groups like Afterschool, 4minute, Sistar and Kara, the anticipated event is the K-Pop Cover Dance Contest finale on the second day.

So maybe not all of these girls will end up to be the Russian 2NE1. But they'll have fun in the process, which is the important thing. Hopefully.

The contest has been running online for a while now, as contestants from 70 countries around the world (Russia is in the lead with the most number of participants, at 332) upload videos of themselves shaking it to the tunes of their favorite idol bands.

The finalists, picked from a pool of about 2,000 teams, are invited to perform at the Hallyu Dream Festival and compete for the ultimate prize … a plaque. The real prize, of course, is that they get to meet their favorite pop stars and perhaps even share the stage with them.

One of this year's finalists, a team of seven girls from Russia, ranging in age from 17 to 21, who call themselves "DAS-Project," don't even really speak Korean.

"We didn't even know how to dance," they said in an interview with the Visit Korea Committee. But they'd admired K-Pop groups for a long time, and said that "K-Pop changed the lives of all of us."

The Hallyu Dream Festival is from September 21 to 23 in Gyeongju-si, North Gyeongsang Province.

You can visit www.hallyudreamfestival.or.kr for more information.

More on CNN: Interview: PSY on 'Gangnam Style,' posers and that hysterical little boy

 

5. Andong International Maskdance Festival

Maybe not as "sexy" as a rendition of Girls' Generation, but the masked face, which somehow manages to make smiling look scary, does compel one to look. People wear masks for many reasons and in many contexts.

Andong's International Maskdance Festival celebrates traditional Korean masks, or tal -- brightly-painted wood and exaggerated facial features -- and the dances that come with them.

Depending the character associated with the mask, the dances can be comical, menacing, satirical and dramatic, and occasionally parts of shamanistic rituals.

This international festival will also feature performances (masked, of course) from Thailand, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Israel and India.

And there is no town better suited to hosting such festivities than Andong, home of Hahoe Village, a traditional village with houses dating back to the Joseon Dynasty.

The Andong International Maskdance Festival takes place from September 28 to October 7. www.maskdance.com

6. Korean Food Tourism Festival

Two foodies at Korean Food Tourism Festival 2011 sacrifice style for hygiene. Food tours and foodie travel are gaining in popularity these days, so why not a festival structured like a huge buffet of traditional Korean food samples?

And there's no better place to host it than the city of Jeonju, the holy city of good Korean cuisine and home of Jeonju Bibimbap.

Guests can linger at the festival and try their hand at making (and eating) various types of rice cakes and strange, fusion-sounding cookies.

But if they find that doesn't satiate them the city of Jeonju is a city of food, and has, moreover, attractions like the Jeonju Hanok Village, a Red Ginseng Spa, and the Seonsindong Makegeolli Village, where you pay for makgeolli and receive a complimentary feast of anju.

The Korean Food Tourism Festival runs from October 18 to 22 in Jeonju-si, North Jeolla Province.

Visit koreafoodfestival.or.kr for more information.

More on CNN: World's best food festivals

Violet Kim is a freelance writer for CNN Travel.

Find her online @pomography.

Read more about Violet Kim
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