04.04.2015 56 °F
Jinhae, South Korea hosts the largest annual Cherry Blossom festival in Korea. The festival lasts for ten days, and during that time, up to two million people visit the city. We decided to go and add two more people to the mix.
Jinhae is home to the only US naval base in South Korea. For similar reasons, throughout the Japanese occupation it was home to the Imperial Navy. It was during that time that numerous Cherry trees were planted across the city. It is estimated that there are roughly 340,000 trees lining the city streets and the surrounding mountains.
Our Saturday started super early. We purchased bus tickets in advance, ‘cause seats were sellin’ out fast. Luckily, we planned ahead. We heard, later on, that people were turned away with no seats. We had to travel to Masan, then catch another bus into Jinhae. The trip should have taken four and a half hours, but with the heavy festival traffic it took over five… We entered Jinhae and immediately saw the festivities goin’ on. We wanted to hop off the bus and start doing our own thing. Alas, we had to wait through the grid-locked traffic, until our arrival at the Jinhae bus station.
We knew, with the forecasted rain, that we had limited time to see as much as possible. We made the right call to immediately visit the hilltop Jaehwangsan Park. At the center of the park sits the nine-story Jinhae Tower. Since that is the best view of the city and the sea, we wanted to make it there before the clouds rolled in. There are exactly 365 steps leading up to the base of the tower.
The stairs allow people time to reflect on the past year, take selfies, or pose with the decorations set-up along the way.
For those not in the mood for stairs, there is also a monorail leading to the top of the park.
Once you make it to the tower there are nine more flights of stairs to ascend. Or, you can wait in another long line for the elevator. After the 365 steps up to the tower, we opted for the time-saving, additional short climb to the top. What a beautiful view! It’s hard to beat a city view that includes the sea, mountains, and Cherry blossoms at their peak.
Heading back down there is a not-so-politically-correct monorail instruction marked on the walkway.
Again, trying to maximize our viewing splendor, before the ensuing rainstorm, we hastily made our way toward the Gyeonghwa Station. It’s one of the most photographed locations during the short-lived Cherry blossoms.
After a brief, yet informative, conversation with a nice older lady, we realized that, logistically, it made more sense to first see the nearby Yeojwacheon Stream. Then, head to the famous train station. So, we made a u-turn and went to the stream. Again, that was the right call.
The Yeojwacheon Stream is lined with Cherry trees and boardwalks on both sides, with little footbridges crossing every hundred meters, or so. Vendors lined the boardwalks selling all different types of food and art.
These areas were very crowded and full of tourtists, so we went down to the stream. There were still plenty of festival goers, but we didn’t have to fight our way through the hordes of people.
Everywhere you looked there were couples taking selfies. We took our share…
There were different decorations along the length of the stream. Our favorite was the umbrella display. *The photograph can be found above, as it's the entry's main photo.
…Now, on to the famous Gyeonghwa Station. From our previous conversation, with the nice older Korean gal, we knew what bus would take us to the station. We arrived at the bus stop to see that the #307 bus was due to arrive in eight minutes. We waited ten, then twenty, then thirty minutes for the traffic to creep by… No bus. That’s when “the bottom fell out”. It started raining "cats and dogs"! Alexis used our sole umbrella, while I tested my cheap, new, 'Extreme Team' rain jacket. (Epic fail, by the way.) We opted to scratch the station and head back to the festival center. There, we found shelter at a food vendor and enjoyed some delicious barbecue.
During full bloom, every small gust of wind makes the petals rain down and swirl in the streets like dancing snowflakes. Or, during heavy rain, falling raindrops make the petals fall rapidly and cover everything in sight!
The clouds darkened the sky and it continued to rain. We decided we’d seen enough, and made our way to the bus station. There was a humongous amount of people that had done the same. Like us, they were all trying to get home. We waited in line at the ticket counter for thirty minutes just to get our tickets. Directly after, we spent five minutes just locating the end of the line. We were shell shocked. We’d never seen such an epic line in our lives. It snaked this way, and that way, around two large parking lots. It was amazing. The video below captures the scene. We ended up standing in this line for two and a half hours, in the rain! I said to Alexis, “We may get old and suffer from dementia, but we ain’t forgettin’ this!”
We finally got on the bus around 9:30pm. We made the hour long trip to Busan to try and make our way home. No dice. The only bus heading to Gwangju had only one seat available. After being rained on for hours, I told Alexis to take it. I would be on the first bus in the morning, six hours behind her. She refused.
Onward, we went in search of a place to shed our wet clothes and get warm. We found a string of motels near the bus terminal. They all shared similar décor including hearts, roses, and neon lights. We got the last vacancy at one of these establishments. It was a really easy transaction, no paperwork, just cash for key. We were also given a welcome package. What a fancy joint… The elevator doors opened to a wall-sized photo of a naked woman. Okay. Then, we open the door to our room and there’s another photo of a couple being intimate!... We’ve checked into a sex motel!
Don’t panic, Jason, we’ll sleep and leave. Don’t touch anything, especially not the ergonomic “love” seat!.. At this point, I was completely soaked. I shed my clothes, took out all our cash, and spread it across the desk to dry. We inspected the contents of the welcome package, and found that it contained condoms. This place just keeps getting better. Alexis was having difficulties accessing the wifi, so she went in search of some assistance. While she was gone I played with the different lighting in our room. I turned off the main light and illuminated the room with the ambient blue and green lighting. I thought it would be funny when Alexis returned. What I didn’t know was that the cleaning lady was coming in to show her how to work the internet. They entered the room, while I hid in the bathroom. Money was spread out all over, lit up with the green lighting. It was hilarious! We’re pretty sure that the woman, who spoke no English, thought Alexis was a “lady of the night.”
We slept great, our clothes dried, and we made it home with a bundle of memories. The only thing I’d do differently, next time, would be take a snorkel and floaties!
*Disclaimer - It turns out that most motels in Korea are exactly the same.