Travel Well Traveled
'Not in a liquid form and TSA compliant'
The lantern festival takes place every year on Buddha's birthday. Jack, being quite the lazy devil, missed RSVPing for the first couple of parties, but he got his game together and made it to his final celebration in Seoul. The parade floats of intricately designed lanterns are at once entertaining, enthralling, and infuriating. They are in the furiate because they are hard to photograph with a crummy camera, they are the other two because if you're in town it's a sight you should not miss!
What to do
Once you arrive at the festival route, stake out a good spot where no one can crowd in front of you. If you have a tripod, set that up and guard that spot like you're on the border. A tripod is a real blessing trying to get these glowing, mobile pieces of art.
After the parade reaches your spot you better know what to do. (what do you do at any parade?). Prepare to be stunned not only by the size and beauty of the lanterns, but the fact that they can move and, in some cases, BREATHE FIRE! Are you excited now?
Getting Around Town
First thing, figure out how to get from your HQ to the festival and back. Take Seoul's wonderfully complex metro rail line, but bring enough cash on hand to pay for a taxi back in case you stay out past its closing.
Good rule of thumb with the taxis is that even trips well outside of downtown should only be running you max $30 US. If they try and negotiate for more, don't buy into it.
Pre-Lantern Warm Up
If you get to the spot early enough, but still after dusk so you can see the light, you can find the giant lantern creations being prepared for their route. This is a great time to snap pics of them when the light is alright and they are not moving!
Look, but don't touch and think of some interesting angles to grab them.
Besides the small cost for the subway, the parade is totally free of course! Even a taxi back home is going to be dirt cheap compared to western prices. There is some street food to buy, but you should probably just grab a hot coffee and go eat fried chicken with your friends at one of the ubiquitous chicken and beer places in Seoul after it's all wrapped up.
Camera Set Up
For a laymen, with a rather bad camera, I still managed to get some alright shots of the lanterns, but I am disappointed with them in hindsight. If your camera takes well in low-light settings and you have a nice, collapsible tripod you're all set. For other laymen, experiment with your settings (don't just use the night time setting, try the HD, the vivid, sports, airplane mode, etc.)
Light Up Your Night Life
At the parade will be plenty of families and plenty of beautiful foreigners with their cameras and beautiful young professional Koreans with their cameras. Many will be very approachable and ready to go out drinking after.
Approach with a smile, ask for advice on where all the cool kids go to hang out. You will probably be invited. So have at it.
Not much for this one. He was in one of his home cities and surrounded by friends with a better sense of direction. If he could do it differently he would have preferred a nicer camera and to have arrived earlier to get more pictures of the stationary lanterns. But, like a stupid person who does a ton of glut exercises, it all turned out alright in the end.
The Seal Club
The Lantern Festival alone is not worth the cost of getting to Seoul, but, assuming you're already in town, you should absolutely go. It's free, pretty, and fun. If you're already in town, a must see!
Travel Tip# 33: It's probably not a good idea to fly long distances hungover. Painful ear pressure may occur.
Travel Well Traveled 수필
Making Friends in Foreign Lands
For some people, the idea of zipping about, meeting new people, and being immersed in a radically different culture is thrilling. For others, it is nerve wracking and one of the primary reasons they dislike traveling, don't travel at all, or spend much of their trip feeling rather isolated. Some of us are a bit extroverted and some of us are a bit introverted (and at least one of us is Ultraman), but even if you are one of the folks who likes to keep things on the inside, that doesn't mean you can't occasionally take part in this ancient ritual. It'll probably mostly be fun. Trust me.
Still not convinced? Well, you might get to see something amazing, meet your soul mate, discover a lost civilization or make out hardcore with someone cute. Now are you more motivated?
Okay, there are two types of potential friends you will come across and they have their own spectrum of seriousness.
First, let's talk about the locals. Especially in the less touristy places, the locals will likely be a mixture of a little intimidated by you strange foreign devils and others will be so excited to see you they might give you the paparazzo treatment. Take both reactions with a good nature and empathy. You're probably in a country much more homogeneous than your own, but people are the same all over (usually quite friendly, helpful, and kind).
A local friend is a boon to you for a number of reasons. One, they are from a different culture and background and can radically open up your eyes. Two, they can be invaluable when it comes to finding the 'real' or hidden places in the local you are currently in. Natives will tell you about the stores with non-inflated prices, the food they actually eat, and the best place to go dancing/take photos/watch the sunset. Now, don't think of them as a tool, they do this out of the same kindness and eagerness to share that you would show them if they were visiting you in your home country.
The native friend may seem 'simple' to you because their English is halted and they act impressed when you share stuff about yourself. It would be a profound mistake to think of them as simple or actually that impressed by your grubby self. One, remember they are speaking your language and if you attempted to speak their own you'd resemble a head injury victim. Two, they are being polite to you because you are a visitor and a guest. Be sure to show them the same courtesies!
Local friends will think it's neat they got to talk to a person from a different culture and, you never know, maybe some day they can come visit you at home! Of course, there is another well of potential social contact to be made and that would be those disheveled, bleary eyed, strange-accent-having other people in your hostel.
A fellow traveler is an altogether different kind of animal. These blokes and Frauleins will probably have some similar experiences to your own, but will have their own travel stories and advice to shower you with. Just swapping tales with them can waste an entire night at the local pub. You can then give each other advice on your current location, sharing secret spots you've found or the best way to get to a certain attraction.
Another great benefit from making a travel friend is simply to have someone along with you. If you are by yourself, this is a very necessary bit of social interaction that will not only vastly improve your safety, but also your enjoyment of many places. Now, I like solitude as much as the next only child, but I also greatly cherish all the brief and permanent traveling friends I made. We have shared experiences, memories, and every time I see a photo of us drinking beer together I think 'hey, I should harass them online'.
A travel buddy can help you decipher that strange map or can take your photo near all those neat places you're seeing. And you can do likewise for them. If you are a couple, or a group, making that group bigger will make things even easier for you. Many tours require a minimum number of bookers and if you're all on the same page, you can often finagle extra, neat stuff into the tour.
In either case, your new friendly acquaintance may transform into an actual friend or they might just be another person you spent an interesting afternoon or few days with. And that's okay. When you travel enough, people fit in and out of your life very quickly, but that doesn't mean they didn't have an actual impact. Some old friends you will have to maintain contact with over the internet, but if you finally get to see them again, years later, the reunion is a flood of old memories, embarrassing stories, and marveling at how your lives have changed since then.
Friendship is all about shared experiences and traveling has a way of accelerating what would normally take months into just a few days. That person you just met in the hostel yesterday might today be going white-water rafting with you, then out for drinks, then running from a rainstorm. That native that shyly said hello this morning might be having you over for a delicious, traditional meal with their family this evening. Forging these sorts of connections will enhance your own journey, both in a literal and metaphorical way.
Travel Tip #120: Most trips don't require drug-enhancement. Trust your local drug dealer, don't roll the dice on that shady local that appears out of the shadows.
There isn't much to say that the issue hasn't already touched on. The Lantern Festival is an awesome spectacle, free to see, beautiful to photograph, and fun to marvel at. What's not to like? The only things you might want to consider is that it may be cold (Seoul is a bitter mistress that way), crowded (prepare to get bumped a lot), and you will likely need to find an alternate way back to your HQ when you're done having fun. If you live in Seoul or are visiting at this time, it is absolutely necessary to go see, though! Just be sure to bring a good camera, maybe a tripod, and warm clothes!
Also, be sure to check out the video, because these lanterns can MOVE!
Nearby Seoul Sights
Although the lantern floats are getting all our love, Jack would be remiss if he didn't mention that the nearby Seoul architecture is also quite cool at night. Check out a few pictures of that.
Lantern Festival Movie
Just Lan-turn the Corner And Enjoy
Wow, who knows what kind of cool stuff is going on in your hometown and you don't even know about it? Jack was in Seoul for two years before he finally saddled up and visited the festival and boy was he glad he didn't miss it!
If there's anything to take away from this is that we all need to get out there and explore not just those far-flung places we read about on the intertubes, but also the places right around the corner.