Gwangyang Maehwa Festival: A Visitor’s Guide
The Gwangyang Maehwa Festival is one of the most beautiful spring festivals in South Korea. The Maehwa trees bloom about a month before the cherry blossoms start blooming, making the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival one of the first spring festivals in the country!
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Visiting the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival
What’s a Maehwa?
Maehwa (매화) is the name of a kind of blossom tree in Korea. The tree also grows a type of plum, which is called maesil (매실). The juice from these maesil plums is widely used in traditional medicine all over East Asia. Maehwa also symbolized nobility and patience in traditional Korean culture. Since the maehwa trees bloom around a month before the cherry blossoms do, they also signal the beginning of the spring season in South Korea.
Plum Blossoms vs. Cherry Blossoms
The maehwa blossoms look very similar to the cherry blossom, but you can quickly tell them apart from cherry blossom by their petals. Taking a closer look at the petals, you will notice that cherry blossoms have a small slit at the end, while plum blossoms don’t.
Apparently, the maehwa blossoms first started growing in Gwangyang around 50 years ago. A woman named Hong Ssang Ri (홍쌍리) started a Green Plum Farm (청매실농원) in the exact area that’s today called Maehwa Village (매화마을) along the Seomjin River (섬진강). Today, the whole area covers nearly 200,000 square meters and is home to more than 10,000 maehwa trees.
Ms. Hong gained the nickname “Mother of the Plum Blossoms” for her efforts and establishing the local maehwa industry, which generates nearly $4 million every year. The area produces over 30 different kinds of plum items, including maesil alcohol, juices, and maesil ice cream, which you can buy during the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival.
Quick Guide to the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival
If you do not want to organize your own trip to the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival, you can join a tour taking you directly to the festival grounds. You can also take a double tour down and also see Gurye’s sansuyu festival with this tour. There’s also this tour which also stops in Hwagae and Ssanggyesa.
Unless you have a car, a tour is probably going to be your best bet. It’s a very rural area and you might end up spending more money on taxis than anything else.
- Korean Name: 광양매화축제
- Address: 전라남도 광양시 다압면 섬진강매화로 1563-1
- English Address: 1563-1, Seomjingangmaehwa-ro, Gwangyang-si, Jeollanam-do
- Cost: Free!
- Open: All day — the park is not in an enclosed area, so it’s open pretty much open 24/7
How to get to Gwangyang Maehwa Festival
From Seoul to Gwangyang
If you don’t have a car and also don’t want to join a tour, you can DIY your trip to Gwangyang. There are a few different ways to reach Gwangyang from Seoul.
You can take a bus from either the Dong Seoul Terminal or the Express Bus Terminal (Center City on Kobus). This journey will take around 4 1/2 hours depending on traffic.
You could also take the train from Yongsan Station. This takes 4 1/2 hours on the Mugunghwa train or 2 1/2 hours by KTX.
Once you are in Gwangywang you can get to the festival like this:
Take a Taxi
Taking a taxi is easy and fast, but also an expensive journey at around 30,000 KRW. If you are a group of people, or you don’t have much time to spare, it might be worth the trip.
Take a Local Bus from Gwangyang Bus Terminal
A cheaper option would be to take a local bus.
Take bus #35 to the Seomjin (섬진) stop. You can get out right in front of the parking lot of the festival. It’s hard to miss.
Another option is bus #15, but it has a lot more stops and could take almost twice as long as bus #35.
Take a Local Bus from Gwangyang Station
If you arrive by train, you can take the same bus (#35 or #15) from the No-in-bok-ji-gwan bus stop in front of the station.
When to visit the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival
The festival generally takes place from early March to the end of the month or even the beginning of April. It always depends on the weather that year and when the first blossoms start to bloom. I visited in the second week of March, which seemed to have been the ideal time.
Since we stayed overnight in the area, we got to visit the festival on two days at two different times. On the first day, we got to the festival in the late afternoon around 3 PM. It was quite packed with people during that time and the most beautiful parts of the maehwa village (in terms of photo taking) were already in the shadow. This is why we decided to return again the next day early in the morning at 7 AM to see if the lighting was better then. Turns out, that this was a very good decision.
Coming in the early morning, we also got to park right in front of the entrance gate, as opposed to 1.5 kilometers away on the large visitors’ parking lot where we had to park the day before.
That’s why I recommend visiting the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival early in the morning when the sunlight hits just right and the crowds of people aren’t there yet.
Things to see near Gwangyang
Hadong-gun Green Tea Area
When I visited the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival, I combined the trip with a visit to Hadong. This area around Mt. Jiri is one of the four main green tea areas of South Korea. The other tea producing areas in South Korea are Boseong, Jeju Island and Jeonnam.
In fact, Hadong is the birthplace of tea growing in South Korea. The whole area is decked in green tea fields, big and small tea producers, and local teahouses owned dating back many generations.
Hadong is only about a 50-minute drive from the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival area. For more information on what to do in Hadong, check out my Hadong travel guide.
Another top travel destination not too far from Gwangyang is Suncheon. It takes about 40 minutes from the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival area to Suncheon Wetlands. This part of Korea is famous for its beautiful coastal wetlands, freshwater streams, tideland, vast fields of picturesque reeds, and unmatched wildlife.
For more information on what to do in Suncheon, check out my Suncheon travel guide.
Cheoneunsa Jirisan Mountain Temple
If you are into temples, there’s a really pretty one sitting on the foot of Mt. Jirisan around 1 hour north of the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival area. This temple is believed to have been built in the year 828 AD by a monk from India.
Cheoneunsa is one of the three great Buddhist temples of Jirisan Mountain. It also houses National Treasure No. 924, a Buddhist painting called Amita Hubul Taenghwa.
Address: 209, Nogodan-ro, Gwangui-myeon, Gurye-gun, Jeollanam-do
Where to stay in Gwangyang
To get the most out of the festival, I recommend staying in Gwangyang overnight. Here are some great places to stay in Gwangyang:
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