Dating back over 1,200 years, the Yeon Deung Hoe Festival lights up the night with a parade of lanterns and festivities to kick off celebrations of Buddha’s birthday. Anyone is welcome to join the parade and local groups march together either as a large mass or around gigantic, glowing flotillas. Naturally this festival is quite popular and people come from around Korea to watch it, but we just so lucked out that our trip coincided with the parade. Lucky us!
Festivities start in the afternoon at the Dongguk University Stadium, where various songs and dances lead up to a ceremonial bathing of a baby Buddha. We didn’t go as the stadium is a little removed from the start of the parade and we didn’t want the extra walk with Fin in tow, so I can’t attest to that part of the festival. We did, however, go to Dongdaemun History and Culture Park station and not Dongdaemun station like we planned on, but this ended up being a good thing.
The History and Culture Park by itself is a very interesting place to walk around, with fascinating architecture housing centers for design, architecture, textiles, and almost any aspect of design that one can think of. The smooth, flowing buildings and inventive walkways made exploring the campus interesting and the site is made even more so during the festival.
First off, the park hosted food trucks. As an American from the Northwest, I assumed that food trucks were a thing I knew a lot about. South Korea food trucks blow US food trucks out of the water. Most South Korean food trucks open up, have lights and sounds, and offer a lot more experience-wise over a board that flips up and a menu.
Beyond the food trucks, the road on the East side of the park acts as the staging ground for the parade, so we were able to see all the floats, meets people in costumes with lanterns, and enjoy a truly festive atmosphere.
After meandering around the floats and gazing at food, it was time to eat. We walked North to the fashion district around Dongdaemun Gate (also called Heunginjimun Gate), ate some food at a greasy little joint that was awesome, and found our spot for the parade. Getting food cost us a front-row seat, but the parade is so large and impressive that front row seats are not necessary.
*Note: If you are going to watch to parade and find a spot from the Culture Park, head up the West side of the Street. You cannot turn the corner by the gate on the East side of the street.
The parade itself was awesome in the truest sense of the word. Literally stretching for miles with thousands of participants, the floats are interspersed among the marchers and gradually increase in fancy as the parade goes on. We had to leave a early to get Fin to bed, but by the time we left, well, see for yourself.