Excited at the prospect of celebrating spring in South Korea, I flew to Busan with much hope of finding the perfect cherry blossom tree to photograph.
Pink, delicate, and with a hint of magic that seem to escape the ordinary eyes. The sight of cherry blossoms would not disappoint even the grumpiest of people. It has been cited that the early cherry strain first originated in the Himalayas, and was distributed to a few destinations in the Northern Hemisphere including South Korea, Japan, Canada, America, and some European countries.
In South Korea, the King Cherry strain is native to Jeju Island, the starting point of the country’s spring season before moving upwards north. Though it is popularly called sakura in the Japanese language, the official scientific name is Prunus. The Koreans called it beot kkot, which translates to cherry flowers.
Day one: Suseong Lake and E-World Amusement Park in Daegu
Our cherry blossom tour of the North Gyeongsang province started in Daegu, the third largest city in South Korea. The original idea was to get on a cable car up to Mount Palgongsan, where the cherry blossom sights are supposed to be really beautiful, but unfortunately the weather was not too kind and we missed it. I was a tad disappointed but as our tour bus proceeded to Suseong Lake, the sight of blooming flowers around the lake brought some joy to my heart.
My travel comrades and I just couldn’t wait to get out and see the cherry blossoms up close. We quickly got busy with our cameras before I finally remembered to take a moment to enjoy the soft petals flying over my face. With nothing much to say but thank you to the universe for such beauty, I quietly took in the delightful view whilst sipping my delicious mug of hot chocolate at a café across the street.
That evening, it started to drizzle a little bit, which put a damper on our visit to E-World Amusement Park in Daegu. But rain aside, I found the place quite charming and totally romantic. Here, there were plenty of young Korean couples armed with tripods taking sweet photos of themselves against blooming flowers and lovey-dovey backdrops strategically placed all over the park.
But even if romantic love skips you, there is still plenty of stuff to keep you entertained here. There are rides, performance and exhibition halls, flower gardens, as well as the 83 Tower where visitors can enjoy 360-degree views of Daegu city from the 77th floor. I especially enjoyed the 3D art gallery where we took fun snapshots with the cloned versions of some of the most famous classical artworks including Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and The Last Supper.
Day two: Mungyeongsaejae KBS Drama Studio in Munyeong, Hahoe Folk Village and Woryeonggyo Bridge in Andong
The next day we made a detour to the district of Mungyeong to visit the Mungyeongsaejae KBS Drama Studio. Originally a coal mine area, it was turned into a film set thanks to its wonderful mountainous surroundings.
The almost 70,000-square-metre area has more than a hundred buildings that include palaces, traditional houses, pavilions, and various other buildings, making it one of the biggest historical filming locations in the world. Among the many popular Korean dramas and films that were shot here include Dawn of the Empire, Age of Warriors, and Romantic Assassin.
After that we finally arrived in Andong, a city that is popular for its cultural sights. The most popular attraction here is Hahoe Folk Village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that Queen Elizabeth visited in 1999. What used to be a traditional village during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897) is now a quaint village with traditional houses surrounded by ancient pine trees and towering mountains.
That night, we took a lovely stroll along the scenic Woryeonggyo Bridge that was built to commemorate a local legend about a widow who crafted a pair of traditional hemp shoes out of her hair to honour her late husband. It is the longest wooden bridge in South Korea, spanning 387 metres over Nakdong River where the banks were lined with cherry trees which make for a very romantic setting.
Day three: Bomun Lake and Shilla Millennium Park in Gyeongju
Our next destination was Gyeongju, a relaxing holiday town famous for its gorgeous cherry blossoms that seem to pop out all over the place. The best place to stay here is at the Bomun Lake Resort Area, where there are plenty of accommodation and food options, as well as family-friendly attractions such as the California Beach water park, the Bomun Outdoor Performance Hall with regularly scheduled concerts, a K-Pop Museum, and the Shilla Millennium Park.
Themed after the Shilla Period (57BC – 935AD), the park offers daily traditional performances, replicas of royal palaces, and a foot spa with natural hot spring water. For a small fee, we also got to try on the Korean traditional costume hanbok and had a joyful time taking photos with cherry flowers as the backdrop.
At night, some of the trees around Bomun Lake were illuminated by multi-colour lighting, a sight that was truly a delight to the eyes. Even at 10pm, people were still out and about to enjoy the cool spring weather. Some relaxing at one of the many coffee shops, while the others were armed with selfie sticks trying to get that perfect shot.
There were a lot of couples strolling hand in hand, while some, like yours truly, just sat by the lake with a hot drink, fully soaking in the charm of the cherry blossoms and the entertaining light show that was projected on the Bomun Lake Bridge across the tranquil waters.
Day four: Cherry Blossom Marathon in Gyeongju
Another great attraction of the city is the annual Cherry Blossom Marathon that takes place right in the middle of the blooming season. The route goes through some of the best cherry trees spots in the city, along the lake, and downtown Gyeongju.
There are a few categories – full or half marathon, 10km, and 5km. Though I am not a runner, it sure looked fun to run under the sea of falling petals. Some of the participants were even spotted taking breaks for selfies, but who could blame them when the sights were truly gorgeous?
The last stop: Mount Geumjeong in Busan
My time in Gyeongju, though short, was a lot of fun. But then it was time to head back to Busan for the final leg of the trip. The call of Busan’s seaside lure excited me but I was also a little bit sad to let go of the pink petals.
When we arrived, almost all the popular cherry blossom spots in Busan like Oncheon Stream, Haeundae Dalmaji Road, and Mount Hwangnyeong Ring Road had already changed colours. But I was in for a last surprise as we made our way to visit Mount Geumjeong.
As we rode the cable car up the mountain, there were still some cherry blossoms sprouting bright amongst the sea of trees. Different shades of pink encircled by fresh greens almost made it look like autumn, and at one point I even spotted pristine white blossoms! According to our tour guide, you can only see this kind of flower the higher you are up the mountains.
Mount Geumjeong is popular with hikers and those looking for some tranquillity. Amazing views of Busan city can be seen from the top, just remember to pack plenty of water and some snacks for a little picnic up there.
Identifying cherry blossoms
So, how do you tell if it’s cherry blossom or a different flower? It’s easy enough, once you get to know its characteristics. The individual petals would be in the shape of a teardrop with a cleft at the top, and the way the flowers sprout from the branches is also different.
Cherry blossoms have longer stem and tend to grow in clusters as opposed to a sparse sprouting, like in the case of plum blossoms or peach blossoms. A typical flower would have five petals, with colours ranging from different shades of pink to bright white if the tree is high up in the mountains.
Beauty in impermanence
In the end, I did not manage to find the one perfect cherry tree. On the contrary, I found a lot of them, and each was perfect in its own way. Prior to my trip I’ve always wondered what it is about cherry blossoms that make people flock to South Korea or Japan come spring time. It was not until I was there with the flowers that I finally understood why: the simplicity in beauty and the non-eternal aspect of it.
The coveted cherry blossoms grace us with their presence only a few days each year, until only traces of fleeting petals on the ground remain – a good reminder that while nothing lasts forever, the present is here and it is essential to fully immerse yourself in the moment. Though I had to bid farewell to the flowers, I will always remember the feeling they gave me. Till next time, beautiful nature!
Image: travel360.com/Irvin Hanni
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