The Best Fireworks Festival in the Sky Over Busan, South Korea

Fire in the Sky Over Busan

A single firework penetrates the sky from one of the barges anchored in the ocean off Gwangali Beach in Busan. It’s 7 pm, an overcast sky, an unwelcome canvass to the fireworks display. More than a million and a half people have crowded the 1.4km long stretch of beautiful sandy beach, which begins its countdown. Fire in the Sky Over Busan is a post about our experience at the fireworks festival in Busan, South Korea, a great day trip from Camp Walker.

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20151024_200246 The Best Fireworks Festival in the Sky Over Busan, South Korea

Fireworks in Busan, South Korea

Gwangandaegyo Bridge

Three more warning shots are fired into the air every fifteen minutes. Find your seat, everybody, make your neighbor happy, and be prepared to be entertained. The sky has cleared and is getting dark fast. At 8 pm, the curtains are slowly peeled back to reveal Gwangandaegyo Bridge’s magnificent state-of-the-art illuminations against a jet-black sky. The air was filled with anticipation of the annual fireworks festival in Busan.

The bridge, the longest bridge over the ocean in Korea, spans a little over 7.4km from Namcheon-dong (Suyeong-gu, Busan) to Centum City (Haeundae) and has served as the dramatic backdrop to the Busan Fireworks Festival for the last ten years. Held around the same time every year, this year’s theme centers around Love, which is represented by red hearts bursting across the sky along with the big bursts of fire that crackle, fizzle, explode, and BOOM in pink, orange, blue, green and silver across the night sky.

Gwangali Beach

Every inch of the beach was covered with blankets or plastic mats sold by buskers on the beach for 5,000 won each. We bought ours from a Korean dollar store earlier in the day. By 2 p.m., 6 hours before the show, we had a great spot set up on the beach.
Gwangali was divided into seven sections, and for the first time in its 11-year history, Busan sold tickets right on the beach. For 100,000 won, you had access to prime real estate, one chair, and a table. Each additional chair costs 70,000Won. The other six sections were open to the general public, first-come, first-serve.
The festival includes dancers, singers, games, and attractions, but the main event is the fireworks. I can’t even tell you what the performers were like because we sat guarding our turf all day, and for good reason.
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Surveying the Beach

Our original plan was to arrive early and crash one of the restaurants overlooking the beach. Great plan. Besides, many restaurants were closed to private watch parties for the fireworks festival. We were kicked out at 4 p.m. A seat at one of these restaurants costs between 70,000- 140,000 Won and doesn’t include food or drink.

We surveyed the beach from Sharkey’s and found the perfect spot. It was in the back corner near the wall and a roped-off area. It had an element of “separation” and a convenient exit. But as we turned the corner, we discovered it had already been taken. So we did the next best thing, plopping our mat beside them.

We kept each other company until a Korean family laid their mat uncomfortably close to ours. It overlapped ours, and when “Mama” sat down, she sat on the corner of “our” mat. The four of us just exchanged curious glances and continued sharing travel stories. It turns out that Christa and her husband, Doug, travel just as much as we do and have as many crazy travel stories to tell.

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Get There Early

The fireworks festival in Busan attracts a lot of people. So get there before 4 pm,. You can get a great seat just about anywhere.

By 6 p.m., you are filling in where you can fit it. And that presented problems with such a large crowd. They kicked up the sand and walked across your clean mat with sand-filled shoes. They tried to occupy the space we’d been nursing for hours. Many showed up moments from the show’s beginning and sat on our mats. We had to evict people from our space, and some had to be physically ejected by pulling the mat from under them. Others took up residence in the areas roped off behind us, and when security showed up and told them to move. They didn’t budge. A Mexican standoff ensued, and eventually, the squatters outlasted the paid security guards.

As additional individuals arrived at the beach, Mama and her family demonstrated their kindness by sharing food with us. In the evening, we enjoyed grapes, persimmons, kimbap, and songpyeon. Songpyeon is a sweet rice cake that I first tasted during Chuseok, which is the Korean version of Thanksgiving. We washed down the food with soju.

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Old Korean Men Make Me Laugh

So much soju that my husband had to decline that, too, finally. Just before the fireworks began, one of my new Korean family moved Mama to the side. He motioned for me to join his family’s circle. He pointed to Steven and waved his hand. I guess he wasn’t invited. My husband whipped out his phone and pecked 2-0 on the calculator app. He then shoved it into his face and pointed to me. Twenty years old man, you’ll have to come with more than a few rice cakes. He just waved his hand again and nudged my shoulder. ┬áHe didn’t speak a word of English, not a word.

An old man’s fight broke out around us. You know, the ones where no one throws a punch, the wife “holds” them back, and then they return to their soju. But that all stopped when the fireworks began. The crowd turned their attention to the sky above Gwangandaegyo Bridge.

Final Words on the Busan Fireworks Festival

It was all crescendo, so it took a moment for everyone to realize it was finally over. And I regret anything, it’s that I didn’t notice there weren’t as many speakers in the section we sat in, so. After seeing other videos, I didn’t realize that the fireworks were in sync with the music because we couldn’t hear it either. Otherwise, it was a great event, and I look forward to it again next year. We sat on the beach for another 30 minutes until the crowd thinned out. Then, we made our way to the Metro. Notwithstanding the crowds, I can honestly say the Fireworks Festival in Busan was the best display I’d ever seen.

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