Once touted by CNN as one of the "Seven Wonders of Winter,” the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival is scheduled to run through Jan. 28 on Hwacheon Stream in the mountainous town of the same name 120 kilometers northeast of Seoul.
As many as one million people will swarm to the town, which has a population of 27,000, to drop a line through a hole in the ice and catch "sancheoneo" -- a species of trout known to live only in high-quality fresh water.
Dressed in T-shirts and shorts, visitors jump into the icy water to catch fish with their bare hands as the region is hit by a cold wave, with the mercury to plummet to a low of 10 C below zero.
The scenery of visitors fishing for sancheoneo at the fishing grounds of the festival brings a peculiar feeling to winter every January.
The Hwacheon municipality in South Korea's northeast province of Gangwon and its residents have come up with the idea of starting the festival in a bid to revitalize the local economy that is most vulnerable to North Korea's missile and nuclear provocations.
Two of the festival's success factors are freezing weather in the Hwacheon region, where rivers freeze earliest in the country, and the attraction of the region's well-preserved nature that the sancheoneo inhabit.
Held for the first time in 2003, the festival is now the 15th of its kind in January before the government called it one of the most promising festivals in 2006 and retained the title of South Korea's most representative festival for the fourth consecutive year in January this year.
The South Korean festival has drawn more than one million tourists, including foreign visitors, for 11 years in a row, joining the list of the world's four most famous festivals alongside Japan's Sapporo Snow Festival, China's Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival and Canada's Quebec Winter Carnival.
A total of 102,000 people from abroad, the highest ever, visited the 2017 festival in January. Many foreign news outlets moved out stories reporting the specular phenomenon of tourists swarming onto the ice to try their hand at catching fish.
January's sancheoneo festival comes to a close 12 days before the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held for Feb. 9-25 in the nearby towns of PyeongChang, Gangneung and Jeongseon all located in Gangwon Province.
According to organizers, the festival will have duty-free shops for foreign visitors on the spot where they could purchase South Korean-made cosmetics, processed foods, souvenirs and farm produce.
As part of efforts to help foreigners enjoy the festival better and get more information about it, the organizers plan to operate websites in English, Chinese, French, German, Spanish and Thai.
The organizers have set up a facility for broiling sancheoneo that foreigners catch at the fishing grounds so that they could have a taste of the fish without joining a long line.
In a bid to help foreign visitors access the festival location, the municipality will run a transportation service between Seoul and Hwacheon for them only, which starts from Seoul's popular university district of Hongdae and leaves for Hwacheon via Myeongdong shopping area, one of the top tourist spots in the South Korean capital.
For foreign people who travel independently, the organizers have taken measures to make information desks and interpretation services available.
In addition to ice fishing and bare-hand fishing, the festival offers a wide range of activities and attractions.
In front of the festival entrance is a facility to promote Santa Claus Village, an amusement park in Rovaniemi in the Lapland region of Finland, and a Santa Claus post office, the first of its kind in South Korea. Hopefully, they will more than exude an air of Christmas spirit in January.
Festivalgoers can also view a 100-meter-long ice castle and snow sculptures, and take part in 60 kinds of sports programs including sleigh riding, bobsleigh, sledding and ice soccer.
Ahead of the festival, the municipality will have an event on Dec. 23 along a street at the heart of the town to light 27,000 lamps made by its residents in the shape of sancheoneo, with the number identical to the town's population.
The town will also open a plaza of ice sculptures, which experts from China's Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival have manufactured for the past month.
The organizers have made a pitch for the festival at international travel fairs worldwide following their deals with travel agencies in the Southeast Asian countries to promote the winter festival.
Choi Moon-soon, head of Hwacheon County, said, "The Sacncheoneo Festival could not only move visitors but also give them lots of fun."
"We will make our utmost efforts to prepare for the event so as to provide foreign people as well as Koreans with a Korean winter experience that will be never forgotten." (Yonhap)