It’s fascinating to watch how the town changes, as if overnight, during the lead-up to the festival. There’s an excited hum in the air, posters are hung on every street, colourful lanterns are placed along the wooden walkway overlooking the river, stages, market stalls, and seating areas are erected around the town, and the town overall feels larger, bustling, and exciting! The festival usually lasts for just one weekend, so there’s little time to rest if you want to get the full experience.
Geochang’s Hanmadang festival (nicknamed the Apple festival) is, in short, a ‘stuff your face until closing time while simultaneously attempting to leave the food stalls long enough to experience the rest of the available entertainment, and take care of your basic needs (other than hunger – or did I say gluttony?) as a responsible adult’ kind of weekend.
If you were able to drag yourself away from all of the food pictures, let’s continue with the festival! The highlight of Geochang’s Apple festival is the half-marathon and the parade which passes through the main streets of the town. In the parade, people of all ages, even students in their uniforms, take part. First, the festival is officially opened by important chairmen and business partners before celebrations can begin. A shower of colourful confetti signals the start of the parade.
A statue of an apple precedes the procession, followed by a huge drum, musicians, dancers, and other performers. The sights and sounds are wonderful! Eventually, the parade ends and the performers disappear, leaving behind the crowd-filled, confetti-strewn street.
Everyone then makes their way to the Sports Park – the most important part of the festival (for me, at least). If you are looking for enough performances, activities, and food to truly sink your teeth into. the Sports Park is where its at! The Sports Park is also where the half-marathon is held. Day and night market stalls are filled with international and Korean food. Kebabs, corn dogs, takoyaki, spiralled potato chips, ice cream, candy floss – it’s a foodie’s dream! For one weekend a year, I can enjoy food usually unavailable in Geochang. The most interesting thing I tried was rolled ice cream (Yes, you heard correctly – rolled). The lady mixed crushed Oreo pieces with vanilla ice cream by ‘chopping’ the ingredients together. Then, she flattened the blended ice cream onto the metal surface, cut the ice cream into strips, before gently peeling the ice cream from the surface into a rolled shape. It tasted delicious too!
But while the night market is primarily for food, the day market is mostly for arts and crafts activities such as fan making, caricature portraits, as well as tea ceremonies. There’s also a separate area for children’s activities along with an animal playpen. It’s nice to walk around during the day when it’s a little quieter and seeing the various activities taking place. For any arts and crafts activities, be sure to head into the Sports Park stadium itself!
A big stage has performances throughout the entire day at the Sports Park which are broadcast on TV. Performers include traditional and modern singers, dancers, and musicians.
On the opening and closing night, fireworks are lit at the Sports Park and on a stage by the river. Along the river is also a night light show, with strobe lights piercing the sky and drawing in visitors leaving the Sports Park. After the madness at the Sports Park, it’s nice to unwind by the river, listening to singers and musicians while watching the light show.