The Boryeong mud festival is probably the most well-known and popular Korean festival, at least for expats and foreign tourists. Originally started as a means to promote the therapeutic properties of mud and mud cosmetics, the festival has grown to such popularity that it is frequently featured on various things-to-do/places-to-get-f’d up-before-you-die-bucket-list type websites. In recent years the mud fest has become known as sort of as spring break-like destination with lots of booze, scantily clad foreigners looking to have a good time, and of course, mud.
When we expressed interest to our Korean friends in attending the festival we were met withscrunched faces and sideways glances. “Why would you want to go to that? Too many people.” Among our expat friends, where rumors and hearsay often preside over actual experience, the common response received was, “Can’t you a get a skin rash? Didn’t a girl go blind from getting the mud in her eye a few years ago.”
Naturally these concerns were expressed only AFTER we went through the painstaking effort of finding and booking a room, which in itself was a major feat. We started to second guess our decision. As a hater of large crowds and drunken foreigners, was the added risk of losing an eye to a skin rash worth checking off this item on our mental bucket list?
Of course we went — we were too curious not to at least see what all the hype was about and we didn’t want to have any regrets. After all, what if this was our one shot to attend the festival? There was a small window of opportunity to back out of it all when we realized we waited too late to purchase tickets online. When we found out that tickets could be bought at the gate (though were oftentimes sold out) we decided to get up early, drive about three hours to Boryeong, and get our tickets when the festival opened at 9:30am.
Upon arrival we easily found free parking and after slathering on sunscreen and encasing our phones in their protective waterproof pouches we set off in search of tickets. Anticipating long ticket lines we were surprised to find the festival area somewhat empty. I guess nobody wanted to get wasted that early?
We briefly walked around, surveyed the area, and decided to get in line to have our faces painted with colored mud. The lines, while relatively short, moved painstakingly slow. A lot of people (girls) chose to have their faces painted like cats or dogs, whereas a lot of men — typically foreigners — wanted to have their full body slathered in mud. Some were painted like cheetahs, others with the Confederate flag…um yeah.
When it was finally our turn, Sly asked the lady for a white face with blue stripes. Somehow he ended up with a rusty red mud head. I had Sly ask the lady to paint me like a tiger with my entire face in orange-y red, black stripes, and little cat ears.
Instead the lady painted whatever she wanted to paint: some strange version of colored stripes, a matted head of gray, and a Rudolph nose as icing on the cake.
Notice all the paparazzi (mostly all dressed in very similar attire) taking photographs. If you are a foreigner and you come to this festival you can pretty much guarantee that your photo will be taken a million times and posted who knows where. Another reason not to get too drunk or wear too skimpy an outfit.
Obviously this professional mud man didn’t have the same painter as we did.
Our next stop was the “Mud Zone” — a roped off area that could only be entered by those who purchased wristbands. There were all kinds of mud games to partake in — mud soccer, mud wrestling, chasing each other in mud, mud prison, mud jousting, mud chasing, and of course mud slides.
We stood in line for the mud prison but just as we were about to enter, one of the staff members informed us that they would be closing for lunch. And of course, it being Korea, everyone had to take their 1-1/2 hour lunch break at the exact same time, thereby shutting down the festival.
Sly thought this mud lady statue looked like me. Thanks, Sly.
We found a little booth offering spray on tattoos and decided, why the heck not. For a couple bucks each Sly had a snake-wrapped sword tattooed on his arm while I chose to have a kitty tattooed behind my ear.
Once we were finished taking a billion photos we walked back to our car to get some snacks for lunch, stopping at a very cute artist booth selling souvenirs. So far the concept of souvenirs has been pretty lacking in Asia. Outside of airports it has been hard to find postcards or other logo-emblazoned items. Souvenir shopping here seems to mean going to a fancy store and buying a fancy thing. On the other hand, there is a very big craft market/hand made scene in Korea, though they are usually limited to certain artsy areas and festivals and fairs.
Back at the car, while eating our snacks, we watched as car after car tried to navigate this ditch in the parking lot. For a while it was entertaining…that is until this fan became stuck. The van kept spinning and spinning its wheels like a fly trapped in fly paper. One by one people walked up to the van to try and offer their assistance. Nothing really worked until Sly started pushing. Then everyone else pushed. Then, after a lot more smoke and a strong smell of burnt rubber, the car was free.
As you can probably tell from this photo, Sly was pretty much the only one doing the work. Begs the question, “how many Koreans does it take to push a van out of a ditch?” Answer: 1 to drive the van, 1 to squat under the van, 5 to touch the van, 2 to monitor the situation, and 1 Korean-American to do the actual pushing. BAM. Seriously though, watching this was frustrating. I was tempted to walk over, tell everyone to move, and start pushing the van myself.
After working up an appetite we walked across the street to an area filled with street food and booze vendors. Surprisingly there weren’t as many food options, but there were a lot of booze options — rainbow ices, fruit flavored makgeolli, cocktails served in Capri-sun style plastic pouches, and my personal favorite: liquor laden Hawaiian style shaved ice.
It was still too early for us to really start drinking (though that didn’t stop everyone else) so we settled on a few sticks of spicy bbq chicken, takoyaki, and a simple cup of plain makgeolli which came with a kimchi pancake on the side.
At about 1 o’clock all the tour buses, day trippers, and late starters had arrived and a beach rave was in full effect. Plastic air-filled balls bounced form person to person, mist sprayed out onto the eager crowd, and hundreds of heads bopped in unison to whatever rave-y K-pop (K-rave?) band played on the main stage. The energy of the crowd was youthful and electric and reminded me of many a Spring Break from long ago spent on the beaches of Texas. Add just the right amount of soju and you can see how this could become an amazing, love fest-y way to spend an afternoon
Sly took a dip in the ocean to clean off the rusty matted mud on his head and flaking mud on his face. I decided to keep my mud costume on for at least a little while longer.
By this time the crowds were really starting to pick up so we thought it would be best to find our pension, check in, then move our car closer to the hotel. We specifically chose a place that wasn’t too far from all the festivities so after about a 15 minute walk we found our little room.
Pensions are smaller, family-run hotels with very modest accommodations and not many amenities. They are a couple steps up from hosteling or renting a bedroll and sharing a room with a bunch of other people (I think we have both moved past that stage in our lives). Our room was small but well-equipped with a mini kitchen, a television, AC, combo bathroom/shower (in Asia many times the bathroom IS the shower, with a spray nozzle hanging on the wall beside the toilet), and a small balcony that looked out onto the nearby park.
Generally speaking, pensions are very affordable — most rarely run over $50 a night — but because it was high season, the rates were three times as much — and we were lucky to even find this room — with a real bed — at this rate! Surrounding the lower level of the building were a bunch of tented outdoor picnic tables where one could grill up their own food. We saw a lot of groups of younger people staying here, most of them packed into a tiny room and picnicking on the tables outdoors. It kind felt like staying in a dorm, with us as the much older RAs.Once in the cool comfort of our room, and semi-clean after washing off some of our mud, we began to lose motivation to return to the festival. Sly was pretty much over it as this point, and while I was feeling similarly reluctant I also didn’t want to waste an opportunity (or the wristbands we woke up early to purchase).
We decided to give it one last try — we agreed to get muddy, ride a slide, and be done with it.
And what do you know, we had a lot of fun
We got muddy. Really muddy. And while I was getting splashed with a huge bucket of cold mud slop I started laughing.
We had mud in our hair, ears, eyelashes, and for me, teeth.
Once we committed to getting really muddy, everything changed. It was as if we had experienced some kind of initiation process and now belonged to a cult of fellow muddy people. The muddier you were, the better, more fun it all was. Instead of watching from the outside annoyed with the longs lines, crowds, and thinking how ridiculous everyone looked, we embraced the mud. We were now part of the community of muddy people whose sole focus in life was to get muddy and have fun.
The number one thing we wanted to do was slide down the big tandem mud slide that had a line that wrapped around the base at least twice. Strangely we didn’t even mind this. Watching people slap mud on each other, drunken strangers hug, people nearly break a neck when slipping on muddy concrete (that was actually a bit scary), and other muddy people try — and fail miserably — to climb the slippery slide was hugely entertaining.
What wasn’t entertaining was the stupid plastic muddy ball that kept getting bounced around. And by bounced I mean someone would spike it into the air, knowingly or unknowingly at someone’s turned head. That head usually belonging to me. However I did have a moment of sweet poetic justice when a drunken ball spiker spiked the ball in the air, only to have it come right back downand bean him in his own head.
Another event that kept us thoroughly entertained while waiting in line was an unexpected show put on by Korea’s version of the Blue Angels: The Black Eagles. This kind of show rarely translates well into photos, but it was a definite highlight of the festival.
When it was finally our turn to climb the gigantic mud slide I prayed that all my laughing at the people that slipped and slid their way up prior to me wouldn’t result in bad karma. We had no trouble at all climbing up. Once we reached the apex we were doused with more water and as we slid down — up and over several humps — even more mud was slopped onto us.
We laughed and screamed the entire way down.
After cleaning up in the ocean we returned to our home base where we washed and scrubbed the mud out of every little crevice at least three times. I couldn’t get the mud off of me! When I finally did I had the most amazing silky soft smooth skin ever! I have never been a big spa person but now I’m a huge believer in mud baths! Even better, my skin stayed that way for nearly a week after my ‘treatment.’
Once cleaned we changed into dry clothes and headed back out to the ‘town.’ Instead of turning right towards the festival, we instead turned left onto a street lined with seafood restaurants and shops. This part of the ‘boardwalk’ was a lot quieter, with a bridge that arched over the ocean and provided lovely views from above.
Nearby the bridge was a second stage where we watched a punk rock band play their hearts out. They were actually really good, and the crowd — including two older ladies, clapping furiously — was really into it. We stayed and watched even as it began to rain
Soon enough the light sprinkle turned into a downpour. We ran up the street and found shelter in one of the many seafood restaurants lining the boardwalk. We chose this restaurant in particular because it looked unpretentious with a lot of Koreans eating inside. That, and it had a nice little covered spot outside to people watch while we ate.
We ordered the cheapest set menu (approx $30) for two which consisted of every kind of mollusk imaginable, a few sides, and a tin plate of fatty bacon. We also ordered a bottle of makgeolli which confused the waiter as typically seafood is only paired with soju.
The seafood was as fresh as I’ve ever had. Briny and succulent and all the better cooked over a hot charcoal grill. Probably one of my favorite meals eaten so far since moving to Korea. The only thing missing was we really wished we could have shared the experience (and food) with our fellow foodie food friends and family.
Stuffed to the brim we walked around post dinner hoping to somehow walk off the fullness.
At night, Boryeong felt completely different then the frenetic daytime mud festivities. Everything was aglow, crowds of people walked along searching for a good spot to eat while shrewd restaurant owners called out to get them to come inside.
Colorful fountains danced in the twilight.
And pin-pricked shells glittered with fairy lights.
Near the mud zone and behind some of the more prominent hotels were even more seafood restaurants, as well as some shops selling inflatables and most mysterious, a band dressed in cowboy (?) attire singing what sounded like Korean folk music.
The beach rave had been replaced with a concert of K-pop artists. We stood on the hill overlooking the main stage and watched a few boy bands dance like crazy while the audience cheered them on.
We walked to the nearest convenience store, bypassed the beer carts and aisles stocked with alcoholic beverages and picked up a couple waters.
Then we found a nice spot away from the crowds where we laid our towels out on the cool, damp, sand. We could still hear the music from here, but we could also hear the crashing surf and the sound of our own voices. This part of the beach suited us just fine.
We waited while singer after singer and band aftter band performed on stage, the premier band being AOA, which oddly enough was the only girl K-pop band I’ve heard of (once again from watching Unpretty Rapstar). I vaguely recalled something about a fireworks show but we were unsure about the details. At this point it seemed like the bands would keep playing forever. Sly was unconvinced about the fireworks and suggested we go back to our hotel to relax.
As the last of the cheers died from AOA’s final song, the stage went black. Silence followed.
And then, across the water erupted one of the most magnificent fireworks shows — aka “Fireworks Fantasy — we have ever watched, perfectly synced to music. Everyone oohed and ahhed and watched in wonder as tiny explosions of colored light reflected off the calm ocean waters.
We were so glad we waited around, but also glad that, despite everyone elses’ misgivings, we came to Boryeong, glad we got muddy, and glad we experienced our first mud festival. The fireworks show was the icing on the cake and the perfect way to end our time at the Boryeong Mud Festival.
DETAILS // Boryeong Mud Festival (보령머드축제)
BORYEONG MUD FESTIVAL // DESCRIPTION: Occurring sometime in late July, the Boryeong Mud Fesitval is probably the most well-known bucket list type festival especially for expats in Korea. There is definitely a spring break type atmosphere — lots of drunk people, mostly foreigners, and many just barely out of college. But there were also a lot of families with kids playing on the beach. The festival takes place over the course of 10 days (2 weekends) on Daecheon Beach in Boryeong. The therapeutic mud is trucked in for the event and is said to be good for your skin though in recent years there’s been all sorts of news about skin rashes and whatnot. (For the record, we got really muddy and did not get a skin rash, In fact it was quite the opposite — our skin felt so soft.) There are many events throughout the week including beach concerts and fireworks. Festival activities include beach raves/concerts, mud zone slides, body and face painting, and general beach activities. // COST: Approx $10 to enter the Mud Zone (where all the slides are), otherwise free. All-inclusive tours are also available. //FACILITIES: Bathrooms, (cold) showers, and free parking available. // VERDICT: Like most anything in life, the amount of fun you have at this festival will be determined by how open you are to having fun. Because of all the hype this festival gets, I think a lot of people are disappointed when they finally go and see that it’s actually not that big. Take us for example — we definitely felt older than the average age of festival goers, and we weren’t wasted off sugary mixed drinks sliding around in mud making BFFS with strangers. But once we decided to “embrace the mud,” hang out with the “kids,” and slide down a few slides, we had a really great time.
By far the most challenging aspect about Boryeong was finding lodging so I’ll try to provide as much info as possible. In general you will find three types of rooms: something similar to an American style hotel room, a family-run pension with some rooms that have beds and others where you sleep on the floor with a mat, and hostels or shared rooms (usually sleeping on the floor on a bed mat in a shared room). Regardless of your room choice, room rates triple during festival time and can be hard to find if you don’t know Korean. There are actually many lodging options available but you will be hard pressed to find any information in English or find someone that speaks English when you call to inquire. If you don’t speak Korean there are several things you can do:
+ 1. Book a tour from your city — there are so many tour companies that go to the Boryeong festival — just make sure you do your research because some are better than others. Also keep in mind that many of these tour groups will book a shared Korean style room — that means you and several of your buddies from the tour will be sleeping on a bedroll in a shared bedroom with a shared bath, Korean style. It’s sort of like a hostel, but if you’re alone and want to meet people or you have a large group of friends, this can be a good option
+ 2. Use an English-speaking concierge service like AskAjumma to help you with your booking. I haven’t used this but have heard good things about it.
+ 3. Narrow down your hotel options using this website (Korean only — I just clicked on photos) that pretty much lists all the pension options in the area, then present your top 3 picks to a Korean speaking friend and have them call for you. Then repay them by taking the out to lunch. (This is what we did.)
+ You can book hotels online via sites like booking.com etc, however, only a few hotels use hotel booking sites and they tend to book up quickly, as in months in advance. They are also the most expensive of the lodging options. AirBNB, which is great in Seoul and Jeju, showed no listings for Boryeong when we tried to book.
+ You probably want to stay as close to Daechon Beach (festival HQ) as possible so that you can walk to and from your hotel without having to park/repark (PS many hotels/hostels only offer street parking which is hard to find after noon.) This also alleviates the need to wash off, get in a car, etc while still muddy.
+ Some people make a day trip to Boryeong, though I think it would feel too rushed and I wouldn’t want to deal with washing and drying off before boarding a bus. Other people wait until they arrive in Boryeong before booking a hotel and either make friends and split a room or find someone offering a private room in their house for rent.
There are a few fast food options (I think there may have been a chicken place?) beside the festival entrance as well as some street food options. For the most part you can expect to eat grilled seafood as pretty much every single restaurant had more or less the same menu. If you’re staying at one of the nicer hotel, you may be able to find more American-style food, but otherwise, hope you like seafood.
+ Bring a waterproof camera or phone pouch. We bought ours off Amazon for about $10 or so and they have worked surprisingly well. (We have since used them snorkeling!). If you forget, don’t worry, you can easily purchase them at the festival.
+ If you want to get on the slides I highly recommend doing so before the staff takes their lunch break. After lunch is when a lot of the tour buses arrived so the lines to get on the slides were at least 45min-1hr long. Prior to lunch, there were hardly any lines at all. Being muddy with a ton of people *is* part of the fun of the festival — I recommend at least trying one of the mud zone activities.
+ Similarly if you want to have your face painted with mud, get in line early (and find a painter that knows what s/he is doing if you care about that sort of thing).
+ The mud zone is crazy slippery, especially since you are not allowed to wear shoes in zone. Some places have rubber mats, but most of the area does not. I saw a lot of people take pretty nasty falls. In the states this would be a lawyer’s dream, but in Korea… be careful.
+ Be prepared for festival paparazzi, especially if you look or are foreign. They even have a paparazzi stand built over the mud pits for photographers to snap photos. Some photographers are part of amateur photography clubs and will ask you if it’s ok take and post your photo online. Most will just take a photo regardless. And when one photographer starts taking a photo, you can bet a million more will follow.
+ You can buy tickets online though we didn’t find that to be necessary as a set amount are sold at the gate as well. Note, the tickets are for the mud zone only — otherwise you can still attend the mud festival for free. We arrived early enough to where this wasn’t a problem, and we saw people purchasing tickets until about noon (the witching hour.) If you are arriving via a tour, make sure your tickets are included as part of the cost of your tour package — many tours do NOT include the cost of the mud zone ticket.
+ If you are traveling from out of town using public transportation, buy your train tickets in advance
+ Generally speaking Koreans are pretty modest with their beach attire and I read that people stared at you in Boryeong if you wore a two piece. I saw many people wearing bikinis — both Korean and foreign — and it didn’t seem out of place at all. However, see above point about photographers taking photos of you with zoom lenses.
+ Don’t forget the sunscreen. It can be deceptive having mud on you on a cloudy day.