Baegam Hot Springs Festival

August 29, 2010

It’s only been three weeks, and I’m already comfortable getting away for the weekends. Keep in mind I still haven’t attempted a long-distance trip to Seoul or Busan (or tried to find my way back), but I’m getting used to the bus system. Still, that doesn’t mean there’s never any confusion. I missed the local to Uljin this morning because I wasn’t paying close enough attention, and I may have overpaid by taking a premium air-conditioned coach from Uljin (울진) to Pyeonghae (평해) instead of looking for the local. We’ll see how I manage when I have to book a motel room.

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I learned of the Baegam Hot Springs Festival two weeks before, when I saw the poster advertised in front of the central bus terminal. Fate just has a way for me to stumble across these things. I am convinced I would know the location of a hot springs in the middle of Cleveland if I traveled there.

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Baegam was appealing to me for two reasons: the prospect of seeing a Korean festival and enjoying a sulfuric bath. The festival claimed to have a Dr. Fish bath (닥터피쉬) set up on site, but I didn’t see anything on Sunday. A shame. Your feet just never feel clean unless some fish predisposed to devouring dead flesh have their way with them. Sad, but true.

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Baegam is a pretty cozy town, tucked in a valley and not very spread out. The hot springs is easily the biggest building. But before I caught sight of it, the bus dropped me off practically in the middle of the dancing audience. I honestly don’t know what it is about dancing that makes slutty clothing socially acceptable; the same goes for the exploitation of little girls… they can’t like being dressed that way, can they?

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In addition to the main stage, the festival brought out a ₩1,000 market and a few street vendors. The “hello”s were flying out of the mouths of each and every child, as I was the only foreigner in attendance.

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Baegam Hot Springs

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The hot springs is a straight shot from the bus station; just walk out the door and stick to that direction for 300 meters. You should find it without incident. Lucky for me, the price was only ₩3,000 with the festival (normally ₩6,000). The attendant’s English was quite good.

All in all, I recommend Baegam, but I don’t think it’s worth a trip in and of itself. Compared to the commercial feel and crowds of Deokgu, Baegam is cozier, and less intimidating. Despite it’s size, It’s something I would expect as a neighborhood jimjilbang rather than a nationally-promoted treasure.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a sweet place to soak. But I didn’t smell the sulfur. The water was only about 42.5 degrees Celsius; Deokgu’s bath reaches 44. The setting is a bit more rustic, with stones stacked up and not a hint of a crowd. Last week, an English teacher from a nearby town asked me why I was so fond of using hot springs in the middle of a hot summer (very “Asian”, I guess). The answer is simple; a hot soak leaves your pores open, and hot weather helps keep that going once you get out of the water.

Getting there

Take the long-distance bus from the north or south to Pyeonghae. It’s about ₩3,700 from Uljin. From Pyeonghae, take a taxi if the wait for the bus is too long; otherwise, you can catch the local for ₩1,700.

Official website

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