We haven’t had a really good adventure in South Korea for a while. Between Ryan’s deployment, busy season for my photography, and being in the thick of newly homeschooling the boys, adventure seemed to come second. That post-holiday glow continued though, and since it’s the quiet season for my business, it was the perfect time for a spontaneous adventure. This time, we spent one day at the Pyeongchang Trout Festival – one of the most highly-anticipated winter festivals in all of South Korea – and it was so perfectly Korean that I can barely stop laughing to write this post.
Pyeongchang Trout Festival 2023
This yearly winter event in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is a highlight of the winter season but, sadly, didn’t happen since 2019 due to Covid. This year though, it seems to have resumed in earnest, and the crowds are flocking to Pyeongchang for some winter fun. Located 700 meters above sea level, Pyeongchang is famed for hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics, and it has been a destination on my South Korean bucket list for a while, but it seemed kind of elusive.
Pyeongchang is only about two and a half hours from Camp Humphreys but, with traffic due to low visibility and terrible AQI, it took us about three and a half hours to get there. For most, that’s a long drive for a day trip, and it was long for us, too. But yes, it was worth it! The Pyeongchang Trout Festival features a lot of programs ranging from ice and lure fishing to sledding, snow rafting, ice skating, folk programs, and more. And yes, catch a fish, and you can have it prepared for you right then and there!
What to Know About the Pyeongchang Ice Fishing Festival
One thing we’ve learned about South Korea is that there are a lot of festivals in a lot of locations for the same sort of thing. There are actually quite a few ice fishing festivals in South Korea each winter, but this Pyeongchang ice fishing festival is arguably the most famous of all. Located in the Gangwon province, it’s surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges, helps you escape some of the yellow dust we experience each winter in Korea, and is the ideal spot for winter family fun.
Because it’s further than some of the other festivals from the US military bases, we noticed a lot fewer foreigners there. Our friends, the Whitten family, joined us, and we only saw one other American family during our time there. Honestly though, I always encourage others to do stuff like this though because it’s so much more real and authentic, and the experiences is so much richer for it. Mieke and I did ice-fishing whilst the boys did ice rafting and, though we weren’t successful, we donated our rods and reels to an incoming family and someone gifted us a trout! We had it grilled onsite for W4,000 and paid extra for kimchi, perilla leaves, garlic, and sesame oil, and it was delicious! We also got the kids plenty of sweets, including candied strawberries, marshmallow pops, and cotton candy, then we warmed up with some spicy ramyeon.
Bare-Hand Fishing at the Pyeongchang Ice Festival
Okay, let’s be real. One of the biggest draws to the festival for me was that I wanted to try the bare-hand fishing. When we arrived, after getting our lay of the land, we purchased tickets. We paid for ice fishing without a tent (those need to be reserved online in advance), the boys got tickets for ice rafting where they were spun around on a tube whilst being pulled across by a snow cat, and then I got a ticket for bare-hand trout fishing. I actually bought the wrong ticket, but we quickly managed to secure a ticket right before it was go time.
What is bare-hand fishing, you ask? Basically, they stock a frigid pool – to the tune of about 40ish degrees – full of trout, then the crazies buy tickets, wear a little uniform, and jump in to catch a trout with their bare hands. Ashley and I are both insane, obviously, so we decided to try our hand at it…literally. After heading into a warm, heated locker room, we quickly changed into the provided shorts and t-shirts, as well as water shoes, all of which were Korean sizes, mind you. Then, they hype up the sizeable crowd and basically just yell, “jump in!” Then, all bets are off. Ashley and I were the first to catch a trout, which she kept, then I caught a second one. You get to keep the trout you catch and, if you so choose, eat it at their little dining tent. They grilled our first trout from earlier, and I gave the Whittens my second trout later because one fed us easily.
Tips for Visiting the Pyeongchang Trout Festival
Price: Admission fees vary by the activity in which you participate. For example, I paid W20,000 to ice fish with Mieke, and she was free. The boys paid W8,000 each to go ice rafting. I paid W20,000 to do the hand fishing. You can find the full price/activity breakdown on the Pyeongchang Trout Festival site. I recommend bringing Won because our Visa was not accepted. I didn’t try the Amex.
Address: For Naver – 강원도 평창군 진부면 경강로 3562; For Waze – 3562, Gyeonggang-ro, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do
Parking: Parking is free. There is a small onsite parking lot, but it was full by the time we got there. We followed the masses for street parking, and we were just in front of the entrance to the lot. The earlier you go, the better luck you’ll have with parking, whether in the lot or on the street.
Hours: It’s open from 09:00 through 17:00 daily. The festival runs from the last week of December through the month of January, or 12/30/22 through 1/29/23.
Tips & Tricks: It gets crowded by about 11 AM, so I recommend being there earlier than later. You will need your Hi-Pass for tolls, or enough Won to pay. It was W10,800 in tolls each way. I also recommend bundling up. Because of the elevation and location, it’s chilly! While the fires are nice and toasty, the outside spaces are cold. You will also need masks for all indoor spaces. You can bring your own food and drink, but there are plenty of little popup eateries, too.