Vail Daily travel: Playing in Korean mud
Vail, CO Colorado
Editor’s note: Vail native Nicole Frey spent 16 months living in South Korea and now is traveling through Southeast Asia for a few months. We’re serializing her blog about living overseas Sundays in the Vail Daily for the next few months. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s a little beach town on the western coast of South Korea known for two things: being the most popular site in the world for great white shark attacks (which don’t actually happen in town) and the Boryeong Mud Festival.
Every year, tens of thousands of people – mostly foreigners, but a few Koreans, too – come to take a dip in the warm Yellow Sea, soak up some sun and drench themselves in the local mud, known for its therapeutic properties.
Take away the sun and add about four oil tankers of beer and soju, and you’re starting to come close to the weekend I had.
A gray sky melted into a gray ocean, and the gray ocean flowed onto a gray, mud-soaked beach. But the drizzly weather couldn’t keep us down. After a five-hour bus ride, my party of nine was all too eager to ditch the bags at the mimbok (Korean-style motel) and head to the beach.
We dove into the gallons of mud housed in plastic tubs along the beach. It’s a sand beach and the mud was transported from nearby mud flats. There were big paint brushes and mirrors, and we went nuts painting each other, slathering it in each others’ hair and making muddy hand prints in places that ought not be touched in public. With most of us half a dozen cocktails into it, we threw mud around and generally made a big mess of things, which didn’t really matter since the whole scene was one big muddy mess anyway.
All around people were reveling in the mud. Some sad, unattractive white men wailed for someone, anyone, to paint them with mud, while a pair of girls mud wrestled a few feet away from me. Finding the wrestling too exhausting, they settled on making out with each other as a way to entertain the gathering crowd.
At the highest part of the beach, huge inflatable water slides quickly became treacherous as they became coated with mud and sand, guaranteeing riders a dose of road rash should they risk a slide. Above-ground pools were filled with mud and more mud spewed from showers aimed into the pools. Slippery with mud, people writhed against each other in a rubber jail — though I’m still not exactly sure what the jail was for.
On the boardwalk, vendors hawked mud skin care products and cosmetics, along with t-shirts and other random souvenirs. There were lots of freebies too, like the colored mud tent, which let you paint yourself, and your friends, in red, yellow, purple, blue and green mud. When the tent ran out of water with which to mix the mud, the color-happy festival goers used beer and soda, instead. Since “paint your neighbor” was the name of the game, I was soon a sticky, beer-soaked cacophony of color.
As the drizzle turned to rain, the colors ran into each other, and soon all the people were gray, too, just like everything around us. While there was certainly a great deal of good, clean (read: muddy) fun, the prevalent vibe was drunkenness, and by about 6:30 p.m., we were putting the first of the girls to bed. Mimboks don’t have actual beds, just blankets and pillows, and everyone sleeps on the floor together. Ours was about the size of a standard bedroom and slept all nine of us very cozily.
The rest of us cleaned up the best we could in the bathroom with next to no water pressure and headed back into the rain. The beach-side auditorium was packed with people watching the Korean song and dance show. We braved the ever-intensifying downpour to watch an amazing fireworks display, but then traded the monsoon for a bit of quiet conversation and later, a raucous norae bang (private karaoke room), where we belted everything from Avril Levigne to Journey.
My posse of girls and I called it an early night around 2 a.m., but we seemed to be the only ones. We woke to find the landings of our four-story mimbok covered with shards of broken beer bottles and enough blood to demand a trip to the emergency room. The icing on the cake was a sizable pile of human excrement on the second floor landing. But compared to other mimboks, ours was relatively unscathed, I hear.
Despite the typhoon raging outside, we went in search of lunch (convenience store instant noodles, called ramyan). Eventually the rains died down, but the gale-force winds persisted. We persisted right along with them, making the most of our last few hours in Boryeong before returning to Busan exhausted but boasting glowing, mud-enriched skin.