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[From the Scene] Early birds win at plum blossom festival

Long lines exhaust travelers eager to witness arrival of spring

March 11, 2024 - 14:50 By Lee Si-jin

The trails of Gwangyang Maehwa Village in Gwangyang, South Jeolla Province, are crowded with visitors on March 9. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)

GWANGYANG, South Jeolla Province -- If you are considering celebrating the arrival of spring at Gwangyang Plum Blossom Festival, one of South Korea’s most favored spring flower events, be ready to be at the festival site by 7 a.m.

The 10-day flower festival kicked off March 8 at Gwangyang, a county located some 330 kilometers south of Seoul.

Early birds will be able to enjoy the beautiful spring flowers to the fullest in a pleasant environment.

Visitors exploring different areas of Gwangyang Maehwa Village, the main festival site, were easy to spot even early in the morning.

Families and friends took out their cameras, capturing the spring moment and enjoying the white-colored plum blossoms at the less crowded time.

Kim Hyun-seok, an office worker from Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, had arrived at Gwangyang at 6:40 a.m. to avoid a possible traffic jam.

“This is my first time at Gwangyang Plum Blossom Festival. I've read many news articles that said many popular local festivals were criticized for the seemingly unending line of cars. That’s why I decided to give up time sleeping to arrive early,” Kim told The Korea Herald on Saturday.

“I think the sacrifice was well worth it. My family did not have to wait in a long line for the bus or photos. The children were able to stroll around freely without worrying about bumping into others,” the father of two boys said.

A visitor captures a spring moment with his smartphone camera at Gwangyang Maehwa Village in Gwangyang, South Jeolla Province. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)

Lee Dong-yeok, 59, who owns a manufacturing company in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, shared his tip of arriving a day early to enjoy the renowned flower festival at a relaxed pace.

“I arrived at Gwangyang Maehwa Village yesterday and camped near the town hall. A light walk to the festival site was all I needed. The flowers and warm breeze along the Seomjingang River heralded the start of spring,” he said.

Lee Dong-yeol poses for photos at Gwangyang Plum Blossom Festival at Maehwa Village on Saturday. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)

Lee, for whom this was his eighth visit to the annual festival, explained that it is easy to find flowers other than plum blossoms and that the view of Gwangyang is stunning.

“If anyone wishes to witness the vibrant colors of Gwangyang’s plum blossoms, he might want to come to the village after it rains. The village and its flowers look completely different after rain,” he said.

The city made plans to make up for last year’s mistakes -- dreadful traffic jams and the lack of parking spaces -- by restricting cars from entering Gwangyang Maehwa Village, the festival site, operating a large parking lot and multiple shuttle buses to transport visitors.

However, anyone who arrived after 10 a.m. -- three hours after the flower event’s opening at 8 a.m. -- would have had an experience that is vastly different from what is enjoyed by those who got there early.

The narrow, two-lane road to Dunchi parking lot -- where the shuttle bus stop is located -- was where a seemingly endless wait began.

“I was only one or two kilometers away from the parking lot so I did not worry too much about the time. But I never thought it would take 30 minutes to park," a visitor in his 50s from Busan, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Korea Herald.

The local police were on site to control traffic while security guards, officials and volunteers helped visitors find parking spots. Yet, the sheer number of visitors and cars made the situation difficult to manage.

There were not enough shuttle buses to transport so many visitors, who stood in a seemingly unending line for the shuttle.

Tourists wait in a seemingly endless line for the shuttle bus at Dunchi parking lot in Gwangyang, South Jeolla Province, on Saturday. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)
Visitors wait for shuttle buses at Gwangyang Maehwa Village on Saturday. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)

Long lines also formed near iconic photo spots like the pavilion and stone bridge.

“We waited some 20 minutes to take a photo to prove we'd made it to this year’s plum blossom festival and that our long wait at the parking lot was not in vain. We are not sure if we want to do this again,” a young couple in their 30s, who also wished to remain anonymous, said.

Getting out of Gwangyang Maehwa Village proved to be another problem.

The line for departing shuttle buses, which seemed at least three times longer than that for arriving buses, came as a shock to many people.

Arriving back at Dunchi parking lot, the visitors faced another long line of cars waiting to exit.

Meanwhile, just past noon, a long line of cars waiting to enter the parking lot stretched for more than three to four kilometers.

A long line of cars wait to enter Dunchi parking lot at Gwangyang on Saturday. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)

“I think I spent more than 1 1/2 hours in the car after arriving at Gwangyang City. Considering that it usually takes 20 to 30 minutes to get to Gwangyang Maehwa Village from downtown, this was a huge shock for me. I already feel a little exhausted even before viewing the plum blossoms,” a visitor surnamed Choi from Gwangju said soon after parking his car.