If you take only one thing from this article, let it be this: just buy the ridiculous, thigh-high rubber socks. Stylish they are not, but at the Jindo Mysterious Sea Parting Festival, they are by far the accessory of choice. You might look foolish, but you’ll be in good company.
Each spring (the exact date of the festival literally changes with the tides), Jindo, Korea’s third largest island, is inundated with visitors eager to traverse the ocean floor. For 90 brief minutes the Yellow Sea magically recedes, giving way to a wide, curving path linking Jindo to neighboring Modo Island.
If you’re imagining a staff-toting Charleton Heston dividing the angry, swirling waters of the Red Sea, think again. The seasonal parting is a quiet affair caused by tide-related sea level variations. However, the Korean folk tale is much more exciting!
According to the beloved legend, the whole thing started with a few pesky tigers. As Jindo villagers fled the island to escape the hungry predators, old Grandma Bbong was accidentally left behind. She prayed fervently to the Sea God (though some translations claim it was the Dragon King) to reunite her with her family. The benevolent deity heard her cries for help and beckoned her to the shore. Suddenly a rainbow bridge appeared, guiding her to the safety to Modo. Sadly, the story ends with poor Grandma Bbong dying of exhaustion in her family’s arms.
Now, to honor Grandma Bbong’s faith and sad fate locals stage shamanic rituals, dances and other traditional performances to the delight of onlookers. The traditional band even processes across the sea road to pay homage to a statue of Grandma Bbong’s waiting family on the shores of Modo Island.
Despite its sad heritage, today’s festival is more about food, fun and foraging than escaping ferocious beasts. The 2.9 kilometer, 40-meter wide sea path is of course the biggest draw, but visitors often spend more time enjoying local delicacies (including fresh whale meat) than strolling along the sea floor (in those delightful rubber socks).
Travelers can also bring a bucket and race to gather up the thoroughly confused abalone, clams, crabs and octopi stranded on the path, and even have them cooked to order in one of the many tent restaurants.
Numerous tour companies offer reasonable sea parting festival package deals, allowing visitors to get the full Jindo experience. These tours often include stops at several historical and cultural spots – including a very popular and photo worthy Jindo dog performance – and are a great opportunity to learn more about this beautiful corner of Korea.
Getting to Jindo Island
Buses to Jindo Terminal from Seoul Express bus terminal leave four times a day (at the time of publication) and generally take 5.5 hours. From Jindo Bus Terminal, visitors must transfer to local Gogun-myeon and jump off at Hoedong. Shuttle buses are also available throughout the festivities.
Although Jindo has many traditional Korean guesthouses, they fill up quickly and generally offer very limited English services. Nearby Mokpo is often the best option for booking a hotel, minbak or hostel, though you will likely need to book early.