No matter where you live in the world, New Year’s Eve is kind of a big deal. It’s a chance for us to celebrate (or forget) what’s happened over the past 12 months and look forward to what the next year has in store. It’s the one day in the world where most people are happy and hopeful – the slate is clean and anything’s possible. South Korea is no exception, but in Ulsan, they do it a bit differently.
New Year in South Korea
In Korea, the attitude to International New Year is a little more subdued as most Koreans tend to place more importance on Seollal (January 1st on the Lunar Calendar). Luckily for us foreigners, Sinjeong (January 1st on the Western Calendar) is still widely celebrated and there are a number of excellent events to attend no matter where you live in Korea. The most popular of these events is the Ganjeolgot Sunrise Festival in Ulsan. The Ganjeolgot Cape is famous for being the most easterly point in Korea and therefore the first place to see the sun on the morning of January 1st. With celebrations starting during the day on the 31st of December, ramping up in the early evening and concluding just after Sunrise on the 1st of January, the festival is a huge night out – don’t worry, it’s a public holiday on the 1st of January – but is essentially a rite of passage for any foreigner living on the South East Coast.
Where is the Ganjeolgot Sunrise Festival?
Set within the incredible Ganjeolgot Park, the Sunrise Festival is expertly set out with dedicated stages for entertainment, food tents, pop-up restaurants, seating/rest area,s and of course more than enough room on the cliffside edge to watch the first sunrise of the year. The main entertainment begins after 5 pm once people finish work and make their way down.
The easiest way to get to Ganjeolgot Park from anywhere in Ulsan is via taxi. Buses are infrequent and slow. A taxi will set you back roughly 40,000KRW each way- this may seem expensive but is relatively cost effective if you share a taxi with a couple of friends.
How to Enjoy the Ganjeolgot Sunrise Festival
Like most Korean festivals, the Sunrise Festival is insanely crowded, but there’s something for everyone. It’s always fascinated me that K-Pop and Hip Hop dancing isn’t just for young people in Korea – you’ll be guaranteed to see large groups of Ajummas (Korean Grandmas) dancing away like they’re in a club. They have killer moves and love to have fun, you’ll no doubt make a few Grandma friends during your time at the festival.
Food-wise, you’ll notice that the most popular dish at the festival will be Tteokguk (a broth style soup with thinly sliced pieces of rice cake) which is what Koreans traditionally eat during New Year. If you wash this down with some Makgeolli (a low alcoholic rice/wheat drink) you’ll really impress the locals.
At the stroke of midnight, there’s the traditional celebration complete with an impressive fireworks display over the water. Once the fireworks display finishes, things may become a little more difficult – you still have 7 hours to keep awake until the sun rises. Here are some tips:
- Keep warm. As the festival is in the middle of Winter, temperatures often fall to around -10 during the evening. It’s essential to rug up and stay warm throughout the night.
- Eat little and often. Food stalls are open all night and well into the morning. Don’t even consider your classic ‘3 meals a day’ here – you’ll need to eat every hour or so if you want to stay up right through until sunrise.
- Alcohol in moderation. This one goes without saying
- Keep active. If you feel yourself crashing, keep moving. Keep talking. Make new friends. Dance. Eat more food. Do whatever you can to keep active
Sunrise at the Cape is at about 7.30am. Head down to the rocks at 7 am in order to get a front-row view of the sunrise. You’ll notice the tension will noticeably build as you head towards 7.30am. It will be crowded and there will be people pushing for space – this annoys me at most crowded festivals but the best thing you can do is to just let it go and enjoy the moment. Watching the sun come up is a satisfying feeling, not only because it’s the first day of the year but because you’ve survived the Ganjeolgot Sunrise Festival and are officially a “seasoned foreigner”- make sure you tell the locals to gain ultimate respect. But before you go bragging, you may want to go home and get some sleep.
About the Author
Josh Adams is a freelance writer who spent several years living and working in South Korea. He is now based in New Zealand.