As the name implies, fireflies are the main attraction at South Korea’s annual Muju Firefly Festival. However, Muju’s beautiful mountains and pristine valleys give the glowing insects some stiff competition. Ask anyone coming from a smoggy, congested city; the shockingly fresh air and lush countryside take the cake – but the fireflies are lovely, too.
Each June, the Muju Firefly Festival celebrates these luminous bugs while highlighting pressing environmental issues. As these delicate insects are said to only thrive in clean, healthy environments, the people of Muju (located in northern Jeolla Province) have worked hard to maintain a clean and healthy community.
In the summer, visitors flock to see these tiny wonders in their natural habitat; in the winter, they hit the slopes.
Mountainous Muju is home to the longest and steepest ski runs in the country, and is a popular destination almost year-round. The city was recently named a National Treasure in order to help protect the firefly population (and, ostensibly, firefly-related tourism). Being selected by CNNGo as one of the 50 most beautiful places to visit in Korea didn’t hurt either.
For a relatively small festival, it’s impressive how much the nine day event has to offer. Visitors can enjoy Chinese and Korean dance troupes, a talent show, martial arts and taekwondo performances, weaving tutorials, a b-boy dance-off, river rafting, a fashion show and a variety of music and street theatre. If that doesn’t cut it, just head down to Namdaecheon stream and learn to catch trout with your bare hands. The festival is also full of stalls, booths and event spaces devoted to all things firefly – which apparently includes ginseng, traditional drums, pottery, artwork, Korean teas, local wines and a host of regional products.
One common misconception is that fireflies (or lightning bugs, depending on your local lingo) will be flitting about the city in droves, lighting up the sky – well, not exactly. Those craving an up close and personal experience with the electric wonders need to cough up 5,000 KRW for a 10 minute bus ride down the valley. Outside the city, the fireflies are much more vibrant and plentiful. For those who didn’t grow up frolicking in firefly-filled meadows, it’s well worth the modest expense.
For the less adventurous there is always Bandiland, a well-curated museum with an indoor firefly exhibit where a handful of the local celebrities buzz around in a darkened room. Bandiland, which translates simply to “firefly land,” is also home to one of the world’s most impressive insect collections. Entomology fans, this is the place for you.
Located between Daejeon and Jeonju, Muju is an easy destination from a number of Korea’s major cities. Although small, the town also offers a number of affordable accommodations. However, surprisingly there are no 24 hour jjimjilbangs (traditional Korean spas), so be sure to make solid sleeping arrangements before turning up.
If you have a few days to spare, stick around after the festival and enjoy a few of the local attractions. The area is rife with beautiful hiking trails, Buddhist temples and cultural heritage sites. You might even see a few rouge fireflies relaxing after their hectic work week.