I just happened to encounter the Seoul Lantern Festival at Cheongyecheon stream.
Cheongyecheon has an interesting history. The short version is that it was once a natural stream flowing through Seoul which was a tributary of the great Han river. It once divided Seoul into northern and southern parts (this was before Seoul’s expansion).
Cheongyecheon was an important source of water for Seoul’s less affluent residents – and poor people built houses along it. After the June 25th War (a.k.a. the Korean War) many refugees also settled along the stream, leading to an even higher density of poor people, and the stream filled with trash. It was considered a shameful eyesore by Seoul’s affluent people, and was covered with concrete over the course of 20 years. In the 1970s, a motorway was built over the stream.
However, the motorway wasn’t very pretty either. Eventually, the government decided to eliminate the motorway (which actually improved traffic in Seoul), and to restore Cheongyecheon to bring back both Seoul’s history and to create a green ecological area in the heart of the city.
However, since the original source of Cheongyecheon had dried up, lots and lots of water has to be pumped into the stream every day. Furthermore, some environmentalists say that it does little to restore ecology. Having walked along the stream, I can believe them.
Nonetheless, it is a recreational area in the heart of Seoul, and probably makes the area more appealing and liveable.
I happened on the Lantern Festival totally by accident. The streets were amazingly crowded. I couldn’t figure out how to get down to the stream level – all of the entrances were blocked, and no doubt it was highly regulated to ensure that the stream area did not become so crowded to become hazardous (plus everyone had to move in one direction).
Not being able to go down to stream level, of course, meant I saw everything from street level (higher than stream level).
It was definitely the biggest crowd I had ever been in in South Korea. In fact, it’s probably the most crowded place I ever went in all of Asia. It seemed like half the people in Seoul wanted to see the lanterns – and Seoul has a lot of people.
There were street vendors who took advantage of the crowd.
One street vendor offered an entire bag of Jeju oranges for 1,000 won (about 1 US dollar). That is an excellent deal, and I needed a snack, so I got a bag.
Some lanterns changed color.
Eventually, I got tired of pushing my way through the crowds, so I escaped to a side street, which suddenly seemed extremely airy and spacious.
At the time, I wasn’t that impressed by the festival. Maybe it’s because I had to deal with the crowds. These photos actually look a lot cooler than I remember it looking like in real life. Maybe the lantern floats better in photos than in real life.