Gangneung's Cherry Blossoms
I had a friend in Donghae who said the nice thing about living in Korea is marking the seasons by the flowers in bloom. Early April kicks off the flowering season, which debuts with Korea’s most impressive specimen: the cherry blossom.
Every year Gangneung hosts the Gyeongpo Cherry Blossom Festival, and almost every year, the blossoms at Gyeongpo come either too late or too early for the celebrations. Cherry blossoms are fragile; many people have tried to pick off a souvenir branch only to watch it wilt before the end of the day. To compliment things, the festival’s location, Gyeongpo Lake, is not the most reliable place to see blossoms because of its prominent rainfall and high winds during the turbulent month of April.
This year was different.
On the Saturday of the festival, the weather was sunny with a slight breeze. The crowds were insane. When I rode my bicycle the festival grounds, I had to get off and walk.
While I’m grateful for the business that the cherry blossom and coffee festivals brings to Gyeongpo, the thing I love about the neighborhood is how quiet it normally is. We’ll see how it looks during the Olympics.
There isn’t much in terms of food or merchandise available at the festival grounds. Most of it resembles what you’d find at the Dano Festival in the summer. The obvious draw, of course, is the blossoms, though I’d advise drivers to park a fair walking distance from the grounds and make their way to the festivities on foot. The blossoms spread all the way around the edge of the lake, so if you park somewhere along the beach, you’ll enjoy a nice walk to the fair and back.
If you arrive in Gangneung when the blossoms haven’t yet flourished at Gyeongpo, you can find plenty more in other parts of town. I’ve marked them (loosely) on the map below. Don’t forget your camera!
I’ve arranged the routes here so that a drive through Gangneung could take you through most of them. A bike would easily take you to most of these, with the exception of C and D, which are hilly. If you’re up for it, you can walk most of it in a couple hours. Gyeongpo is a longer trek, but more than worth it when the weather cooperates.
Here’s a breakdown of the routes:
A. Sorol-Ro in Taekji
Sorol-Ro isn’t the only street in Taekji with blossoms, but it’s a prominent one and easy to find. To really appreciate the blossoms in Taekji, it’s best to park somewhere and meander the side streets on foot for a while.
B. Gyeongpo-Ro between Ojukheon and Gyeongpo Lake
Take Gyeongpo-Ro out of Taekji headed north toward Gyeongpo Lake. This road zigzags, and it’s meant to be taken slowly. Bicycling on the street or the sidewalk can be difficult, so a walk would be the better option.
C. Surigol-Gil behind the Sports Complex
This is a long road, and my photos from here don’t do it justice. Surigol-Gil might not be as well-known as some of the other streets, which makes traffic a little clearer, but it’s a difficult route if you’re planning to ride a bicycle. There is one big hill that sits in the middle of Gangneung, and, unfortunately, this street is on it.
D. Yulgok-Ro between the Moroo Library and HomePlus
(I don’t have a picture of this street in bloom! This is another one of Gyeongpo-Ro from last year.)
This road, which moves from the Sports Complex area toward downtown, acts as a bit of a bridge between neighborhoods, but it also has a nice line of cherry blossom trees along the way if you need a little more pink and white on your tour.
E. Jebang-Gil by the Namdaecheon Stream
Downtown Gangneung is mostly concrete slabs and fast food joints, so there’s not much to see in terms of natural beauty. Pass through downtown toward the river, however, and you’ll find another nice road with cherry trees. There’s a bit of an uneven pedestrian trail on the side of the road. Sadly, the bike path beside the stream is a little too far from the car road to view the blossoms up close.
F. Gyeongpo Lake
This doesn’t need much of an introduction at this point, does it?
G. Heo Nanseolheon / Heo Gyun Birth Home
It might not be immediately obvious, but off the south side of the lake is the birth home of Heo Nanseolheon and Heo Gyun. When all the blossoms are out, it looks like the trees are covered in snow.
I’ve mentioned Heo Nanseolheon and her brother before, but since that post I’ve learned that most people in Gangneung are skeptical as to whether this was their proper birth home, or something that was constructed later to draw tourists. I have to agree with the suspicion; a wooden 16th-century house is hardly durable. We are, however, certain that the two of them were from Gangneung, and their home might have been somewhere in the area.
There’s a popular song by the Korean band Busker Busker called Cherry Blossom Ending (벚꽃 엔딩), which is set during this time of year. Although the music video is upbeat, I’ve always thought that the melody and lyrics had a kind of sad, nostalgic tone to them. People play this song a lot around this time of year.
The wonder of the cherry blossom lies in how ephemeral it is. Fragile, changeable, and painfully beautiful, they act as a reminder of life’s mutability. Don’t blink—you might miss it.