Monday, December 27, 2010

Celebrating the Sunrise

The traditional American celebration of each new year isn't too distant from your average Friday night frat party. People get drunk, dance, and try to find someone to make out with at midnight. Of course, this night tends to find people dressed better, drinking actual champagne instead of High Life (the champagne of beers!), and making haphazard "resolutions" attempting to correct all of the bad decisions that probably led them to the party in the first place. What it all really amounts to is just a more expensive hangover.

Of course, lots of Koreans celebrate in the same way. People in every culture like to find any excuse to get drunk and make out with the company secretary.

Many Koreans, however, like to plan their boozing around the rising of the first sun of the new year, at one of Korea's numerous Sunrise Festivals. These are usually organized in cities near the ocean with a strategic advantage for watching the sunrise. The most popular destinations, not surprisingly, are on the east coast, where they think the sun rises first.

Homigot [호미곶], Pohang
The easternmost point on mainland Korea.

I had thought about making the trek out to the Homigot Sunrise Festival, nearby Pohang, until my co-teacher told me that I would spend 3-4 hours in traffic just getting out there (it's usually a 30 minute drive). In the end, it was a moot point. The Homigot Sunrise Festival for 2010 is CANCELED due to the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

The cancelation may actually be a good thing, if you wanted to get a photo of the new year sun rising through the Hand of Harmony. No more crowds.

Seongsan Ilchulbong Sunrise Peak [성산일출봉], Jeju
A UNESCO Heritage Site on "the Hawaii of Korea"

God I love Jeju. I'm always looking for an excuse to go back. But flights are always booked solid months in advance of any sort of Korean holiday. I haven't even checked. Plus I don't like crowds.

Ulleung Island [울릉도]
The ACTUAL easternmost point in the country.

I couldn't find any info about sunrise festivals on this island, because it's tiny and mostly considered only as a stopover point to gaze at Dokdo or eat some squid. But Naesujeon Sunrise Observatory offers spectacular views of, predictably, the sunrise, from a platform high above the surrounding landscape. Even if all 10,000 island residents were there, it would probably still be the least crowded sunrise festival in Korea.

The highest point on the mainland.

Height matters, especially when it comes to catching the first rays of sunlight on New Year's Day. At 1,915 meters, Jirisan is actually the first place in South Korea to glimpse our golden ball of heat. Mountaingoers will tackle the trail around 2am to reach the peak for a sunrise champagne/soju toast. 

You'll find me on the trail. 

Happy 2012!


  1. Anonymous3:00 PM

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  2. Jennie1:25 PM

    I have many questions about Pohang as I'm contemplating applying for a teaching job there. I can't see a "contact me" option on your blog, do you have an email address? Thanks!

  3. of course! jonnyontheroad at


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