The Gwangyang Maehwa Festival: Finding Plum Blossoms in Korea

Around the same time as the sansuyu trees begin to bloom so do the apricot plum blossoms in Korea! Here’s a guide to visiting the prettiest area to see all the maehwa trees in their full glory at the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival.

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The same week as I went to the Gurye Sansuyu Festival, I went to Gwangyang for the plum blossom festival. I also wound up going again with some Korean friends the next week because — why not?!

I had never even heard about Gwangyang’s festival until my friends added it to my post on where to see cherry blossoms in Korea. Then when I moved to Suncheon, someone mentioned it was kind of nearby, so I immediately added it to my mental bucket list for this spring.

It’s definitely way out in the countryside, and it was a trek to go via public transportation. All in all, it took my friend, Stacey, and I nearly two hours to get there from Suncheon and we wound up just taking a taxi! When my Korean friends drove, it was still a good 40 minutes away.

However, it’s completely worth it if you get the chance. Just think of acres and acres of white and pink blossoms in full bloom! It’s such a welcome sight after a long winter, and it’s such a lovely mini-hike up to the top.

I wrote out all the info you need to visit yourself! They’re almost gone for the year, but if you go this weekend you might still get a chance to see them.

2019 Update: Festival dates are March 8 – March 17

Visiting the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival

What’s a maehwa?

Maehwa (매화) is the name of the actual blossom in Korean. The plums that wind up growing on the trees are called maesil (매실).

Other names for maesil include:

  • Prunus mume
  • Chinese plum
  • Japanese apricot

Maesil juices are used in different East Asian traditional medicine, drinks, and sometimes food.

The blossoms themselves symbolize both nobility and patience in traditional Korean culture, and today their bloom signals the beginning of spring.

Apricot Plum Blossoms vs. Cherry Blossoms

Generally, most people lump all the pink blossoms in spring as cherry blossoms, but the simplest way to tell cherry blossoms from apricot plum blossoms is by the petals. Cherry blossoms will have a small slit at the end while plum blossoms won’t.

Why Gwangyang?

Okay, so I found some information after digging a bit and talking to one of my Korean students. About 50 years ago, a woman named Hong Ssang Ri (홍쌍리) started her Green Plum Farm (청매실농원) in an area that’s now called Maehwa Village (매화마을) along the Seomjin River (섬진강). The whole area is nearly 200,000 square meters with over 10,000 maehwa trees.

Hong is nicknamed “Mother of the Plum Blossoms” for all her work, and her farm generates nearly $4 million in revenue with over 30 different kinds of green plum items. We had maesil ice cream while we were there, and maesil alcohol is pretty popular as well. My friend also told me a lot of Koreans drink maesil tea for stomachaches.

maesil ice cream

Hong moved to the area after she was married, and her father-in-law had already had a small maehwa orchard growing. However, his main focus was on the chestnut trees as they were seen as more profitable at the time. She eventually got him to cut down the chestnut trees to plant more maehwa trees and carried on the farming herself. Since then she’s studied organic farming, developed a complete brand of green plum products, and founded one of the most popular spring blossom festivals in Korea.

Hong Ssang Ri is kind of a badass, so if you want a little more info on her background, check out this 2012 issue of Koreana.

pots holding all of the maesil

 Quick Guide to the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival

There are a few different tours you can take if you don’t want to DIY your own trip down. You can always take a double tour down and also see Gurye’s sansuyu festival with this tour*. There’s also this tour* which will take you to Hwagae and Ssanggyesa.

**I actually strongly recommend doing a tour unless you have your own car. It’s a really rural area, so you’ll wind up spending more money on taxis than anything else*

INFORMATION

  • Korean Name: 광양매화축제
  • Address: 전라남도 광양시 다압면 섬진강매화로 1563-1
  • English Address: 1563-1, Seomjingangmaehwa-ro, Gwangyang-si, Jeollanam-do
  • Cost: Free!
  • OpenAll day — like the Sanusyu Festival in Gurye, it’s not in an enclosed area, so it’s open pretty much all day.

HOW TO GET TO THE FESTIVAL

From Seoul to Gwangyang

You can do a few things to get to Gwangyang from Seoul.

If you take the bus, you can use either the Dong Seoul Terminal or the Express Bus Terminal (Center City on Kobus). It will take around 4 1/2 hours depending on traffic.

You could also take the train from Yongsan. It’ll be 4 1/2 hours on Mugunghwa or 2 1/2 hours by KTX.

From there you can do either three things:

Take a Taxi

We took a taxi to the area because we missed one of the buses and didn’t have a lot of time to spare! It’s flippin’ expensive, but maybe not too bad if you have four people with you to split it. On the way there it cost maybe 28,000 KRW.

We actually got a taxi on the way back, but it would only go to Gurye, and we didn’t feel like risking and getting out to find a new one. From the Maehwa Village to the Gurye train station it was about 42,000 KRW! It’s a beautiful ride, just long.

Take a Local Bus from Gwangyang Bus Terminal 

Take the Bus #15. A reader recently let me know Bus #35 was no longer running, and this one only came 3x a day if that. If you do manage to get it:

Take the bus to the Seomjin (섬진) stop. It’s right by the festival and in front of the parking lot where all the tour buses are, so you’ll know exactly where to get off.

Take the Bus #15, but it has a lot more stops, so could take almost twice as long as #35.

Take a Local Bus from Gwangyang Station

When I looked it up on KakaoMaps, it basically points you towards going to the Gwangyang Bus Terminal using Bus #2. You’ll get off at the bus terminal (시외머스터미널) and then walk over to the No-in-bok-ji-gwan bus stop and follow the same directions.

As long as the weather holds, the maehwa blossoms should stay in bloom even though it’s not a bit after the festival! If you can check them out, otherwise plan to see them about mid-late March next year!

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