Jeju's Seongsan Sunrise peak (seen in the the picture above) has been ranked the most beautiful place to visit in Korea by CNNGo and is the iconic image of the island of Jeju. It is an amazing place to spend a day, but around New Years, it becomes home to the Seongsan Sunrise Festival, and it is easy to spend a few days at this awesome landmark.
The Sunrise Festival is centered around watching the sunrise on the morning of January 1st. Thousands of participants hike up to the peak and gaze out to the ocean to watch the first sunrise of the year. It is a surreal experience to be with this mass of people and welcome in the New Year, while watching the sun blaze across the ocean.
The hike up to the peak is quite an experience itself. The path is lit up with lanterns that cast a glow on the trail. While not too demanding, the trail does have a lot of steep steps and takes about half an hour to climb.
Besides watching the sunrise, the Festival also includes a torchlight show, a campfire, and an impressive fireworks display on the night of the 31st. Along with these highlights, there is a traditional shamanic ritual performed called gut that involves a shaman performing songs and dances.
On January 1st, after watching the sunrise, the Festival really gets into gear with an outdoor concert. Along with the concert, there is a variety of performances, including a theatrical play, a jazz ensemble, b-boy breakdancing, aerobics, and multiple music bands. In addition, there might be several weddings taking place while the Festival is happening.
To go along with the festive atmosphere, a food market is set up to offer refreshments and traditional Korean products. The markets specializes in foods that are hot and spicy, which helps keep visitors and traveling English teachers warm during this frigid time of year. (Remember to dress very warmly, it can be especially windy at the peak!)
The Seongsan Sunrise Festival was the best New Years I have ever had. I have spent several New Years inside of bars and clubs, but this Festival offered something different that I will never forget. I highly recommend it to all English teachers in Korea!
I am curious to know what other New Years events you attended in Korea. Leave a comment and let me know what you did on that night!
Adam Montgomery is a 25-year old teacher at the Chungdahm Branch on Jeju. He has been teaching in Korea for over a year. When he is not teaching, he enjoys exploring the wonders of Jeju and Korea.