One of my first real experiences with cherry blossoms in Korea was going to the Hwagae Cherry Blossom Festival during my first spring. I’ve been and seen photos from quite a few festivals now, and it still has to be one of my favorite places! Here’s how to visit.
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You know how exciting the first snow of winter is?
There’s this breathless magic that suddenly appears. All of a sudden, the bristling winds are instantly forgotten as we’re transported back to childhood winters filled with ice skating, sledding down the best neighborhood hills, and staying outside until our noses are runny and the tips of our ears bright red.
Well, cherry blossom season is to spring what the first snow is to winter. It’s so brief if you blink you’ll definitely miss it.
For about a week, towns are suddenly alive with activity. Food vendors bring out their hot dogs, potato chip swirls, and ddeokkbokki. Students linger outside in their free time. Kindergarten teachers plan afternoon recess underneath the blossoms instead of huddling inside.
Often associated with East Asian culture, specifically Japan, cherry blossoms are spring’s way of letting us know that winter is finally over, and we can start to look forward a spring filled with sun, blue skies, and lighter layers.
They’re obviously not quite as common as they are in East Asia, so if you find yourself in an East Asian country during the early spring, you have to get yourself to explore the ephemeral magic while it lasts. And where’s the best place to see them in Korea? Answer:
The Hwagae Cherry Blossom Festival
Down in Gyeongssangnam-do, Hwagae is filled with 4 kilometers or roughly 2.5 miles of cherry blossom trees. Truly in the Korean countryside, you will find little in the way of modern buildings to ruin your view.
My friend, Lynsey, invited me to go one weekend during my first spring, and I almost didn’t go. She told me to meet her at the grocery store at 7 a.m. where her Korean friend was picking us up, and I was dreading waking up so early on a Saturday.
I don’t think I was quite prepared for how stunning Korea is during cherry blossom season. I hadn’t grown up with it, so it wasn’t even on my mind. As we arrived into Hwagae around eight a.m. with about a hundred other people and their cars, I can honestly say my breath was taken away. Like, that’s such a cheesy phrase, but I don’t have any other way to explain what it was like seeing a huge river surrounded by these pink trees!
I’ve since returned to Hwagae this last spring twice, once during the week and once on the weekend. It’s crazy how quickly all the petals can just fall away!
When I went on Tuesday, we stopped by the market first and then walked around a bit. The road leads to Ssanggyesa, at one end, but it was always too crowded to figure out parking. It was probably the peak day for the blossoms as they were in full bloom and were starting to rain down. When I went back that Sunday morning, they were gone. The trees were completely bare!
How to Visit Hwagae
Terms to Know:
- 벚꽃 (Bbeot Ggot) – Cherry Blossom
- 화개면 (Hwagae-myeon) – Hwagae township
- 하동군 (Hadong-gun) – Hadong County
- 화개장터 벚꽃축제 (Hwagae Jangteo Beott Ggot Chook Jae) – Hwagae Market Cherry Blossom Festival
- 십리벚꽃길 (Shimri Bbeot Ggot Gil) – 10ri Cherry Blossom Road
- 리 (ri) – a traditional unit of measurement
- 섬진강 (Seomjin Kang) – Seomjin River
- 하동 화개장터 (Hadong Hwagae Jangteo) – Hadong Hwagae Market
- 쌍계사 (Ssanggyesa) – Ssanggye Temple
- Korean Name: 화개장터 벚꽃축제
- Address: 경상남도 하동군 화개면 맥전길
- English Address: Maekjeon-gil, Hadong-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do
- Cost: Free!
- Open: All day
How to Get to the Hwagae
- Option 1: You can drive and park along the road.
- Option 2: Take a bus to Hadong Bus Terminal (하동 버스터미널).
- You can get a direct bus to the terminal from Seoul Nambu Bus Terminal (서울남부버스터미널).
- If you’re coming from an area outside of Seoul, you might have a few transfers. The bigger terminals that go into Hwagae are Busan (부산), Jinju (진주), and Gurye (구례).
- Once there, cross the bridge. Walk about 100m and you’ll see Hwagae Market. You can’t miss the two and a half miles of pure pink.
- Option 3: If you want you can take a tour with Trazy. Check prices + dates here*.
Where are your favorite places to see these gorgeous cherry blossoms?