Cherry blossoms are beautiful. Pale pink and in full bloom for just one week each year, they’re elusive and ephemeral. And fickle too.
It’s hard to plan a trip around the cherry blossoms because they’re so damn difficult to predict. They bloom when the weather gets warmer, and in Seoul, that typically happens around mid- to late-April. Exact dates are hard to pin down though. I read a commenter on TripAdvisor describe how she was about to make her third attempt in three years, having mistimed the cherry blossoms by a few days the previous two. (Not sure if her third time was the charm.)
Anticipating an earlier Spring because of global warming, I booked our trip for the last week of March. As we got closer to our departure date though, it became clear to me that we were two weeks too early. True enough, there were little more than red bulbs on the trees when we were there. But luckily for us, there was also Jinhae.
About a four-and-a-half hour bus ride south of Seoul, Jinhae is a sleepy naval town that’s home to the biggest cherry blossom festival in South Korea. It’s warmer there so their festival starts earlier, around the first week of April. This year, it was from April 1-10. We weren’t flying back to Manila until the 31st of March, so we thought what better way to spend our last full day in South Korea, than to be surrounded by a sea of pink and white in Jinhae?
Just days away from the actual festival, I was praying they’d be spectacular. They were.
9 hours in a bus in one day may sound a little extreme, but it’s worth it. As soon as we stepped off that bus, I knew that we made the right decision. Jinhae is awesome. Pink EVERYWHERE! Scroll down to the bottom of this post for directions on how to get to Jinhae from Seoul.
Every year in Jinahe, an estimated 340,000 cherry trees burst into an ocean of pale pink blossoms. It’s said to have one of the biggest concentrations of cherry blossom trees in the world.
These cherry blossom trees attract an estimated 1 million tourists to Jinhae every year. The festival is officially known as Gunhangjae (군항제), or Naval Port Festival.
It seemed like there were cherry blossom trees on either side of every street. We were here on March 30th and I’d say that the trees were about 80% in full bloom at that time.
Two of the best places to view the cherry blossoms are Yeojwacheon stream (여좌천) and Gyeonghwa train station (경화역 벚꽃길). Gyeonghwa station was too far from where we were so we decided to go to Yeojwacheon stream.
Notice how Ren’s outfit matches the cherry blossoms? That wasn’t coincidental. 😉
Yeojwacheon stream is home to Romance Bridge, a short bridge made famous by the Korean TV drama “Romance”. This was the exact location where the most iconic scene from that series was filmed.
Love is in the air in Jinhae
Gorgeous right? The fact that you can see this just once a year makes the experience even more rewarding. It felt like a privilege.
In a few days’ time, all these trees will be in full bloom.
We were still two days away but there was a good crowd here already. I can’t imagine how crazy this place must get during the actual festival. Hotels get fully booked and traffic becomes a nightmare.
A series of heart archways on either side of the stream
A parade of parasols, in case it rains. You can go down and walk alongside the stream as well.
Rope lights in the shape of bicycles. These must have been stunning at night, especially with all the lights illuminating the cherry blossom trees.
Is it even possible to take a bad shot of a cherry blossom? I could have spent an entire day here just shooting these things.
We were still a couple of days away from the actual festival but many street food carts were already set up. Here’s a cart selling tokkebi hot dogs — corn dogs coated in deep-fried crinkle-cut potatoes.
Tornado potato. Think of it as a cross between french fries and potato chips.
Daring eaters can try beongdegi, a snack of stewed silkworm larvae. These are becoming increasingly hard to find in Seoul but they were ubiquitous here. Somewhat off-putting to look at, they’re actually pretty good — soft, nutty, and juicy.
I loved these. Called gyeranppang which means “egg bread”, they reminded me of Filipino bibingka made even richer by the egg. Absolutely delicious.
This kinky-looking ice cream cone is known as Jipangyi cane ice cream. It’s made with corn and filled with soft serve gelato ice cream.
Jinhae selfie, to commemorate a special day. Even on the bus, I was still praying for cherry blossoms. What we saw exceeded our expectations. So grateful to have experienced this!
As described at the bottom of this post, you can’t buy return bus tickets to Seoul until you arrive at the station in Jinhae. If they’re sold out, then you’re screwed. With today being a Sunday and our flight back to Manila the next day, we couldn’t afford to take that risk so we decided to go back via the neighboring city of Changwon instead. These Changwon (and Masan) buses have different operators from the Jinhae bus and they allow you to buy your bus tickets in advance at the station in Seoul. More detailed information at the bottom of this post.
With return bus tickets already in my pocket, we spent as much time as we could in Jinhae before taking a taxi to Changwon to catch our 3 PM bus back to Seoul. It’s about 30 minutes and a 15,000 KRW taxi ride away.
My Korean sister-in-law was the one who suggested that we go back to Seoul via Changwon. What an awesome suggestion that turned out to be.
Still giddy from all the cherry blossoms in Jinhae, we weren’t expecting to see any in Changwon, but we did. A whole shitload of them. On either side of the main road to the bus station was a row of cherry blossom trees, all in full bloom. They were even more spectacular than the ones in Jinhae!
We must have driven along this main road for a good 10 mins and there was no end in sight to the cherry blossoms.
The taxi dropped us off here. The bus station is on the left.
We thought that the trees in Jinhae were already stunning but these were something else. It’s really amazing to see them in full bloom like this. They become a soft pale pink, almost white.
I wonder how many paintings, songs, and poems were inspired by the fleeting beauty of these cherry blossoms.
Like I said, it’s impossible to take a bad picture of cherry blossoms, especially when they’re in full bloom like this. I felt like I was in some fairy tale.
Doubly elated after seeing these Changwon chery blossoms, here’s Ren jumping for joy thanking God for giving us this unforgettable day. So awesome. 😀
Like I said, 9 hours in bus in one day may sound like a lot, but it’s absolutely worth it, especially if you’ve never seen cherry blossoms before. The sight will take your breath away, and there’s no better place to see them in South Korea than here in Jinhae. If you do decide to go next season, remember that the two best places to see them are Yeojwacheon stream (여좌천) and Gyeonghwa train station (경화역 벚꽃길). We didn’t have time to check out Gyeonghwa station but it’s said to be incredibly beautiful as well, with cherry blossoms filling out either side of the train tracks. If you have time, then I suggest making a trip there as well.
I’ve read that spending money on experiences instead of things will make you happier. These cherry blossoms are a perfect example of that. The thrill you get from buying a new car will only last a few months, but the memory from an experience like this will last you a lifetime.
How to Get to Jinhae from Seoul
There are two ways to get to Jinhae from Seoul — by KTX train or by bus. By KTX is faster, getting you into Jinhae in around 3 hrs and 40 mins. However, it’s also significantly more expensive than the bus and there are no direct trains from Seoul to Jinhae. You’ll need to transfer to the Mugungwha train at Masan station to reach Jinhae. On top of that, the trains don’t run as frequently, making a day trip less feasible. For these reasons, I suggest going by bus instead.
Only one bus goes directly to Jinhae from Seoul. It’s called the Intercity Bus and it leaves Seoul from the Nambu Bus Terminal (by subway, get off at Nambu Bus Terminal station – line 3 – exit 5). The fare each way is 26,100 KRW and it’ll get you into Jinhae in around 4 hrs 30 mins. If you’re doing a day trip, then I suggest taking the very first bus which leaves at 7 AM. These buses are nice — spotlessly clean with wide seats so the time flies by pretty quickly. There’s no bathroom onboard, but the driver will make one stop midway for a quick bathroom and snack break.
Trips to Jinhae are popular around this time so I suggest buying your bus tickets from the Nambu Bus Terminal as early as you can. I tried to buy our tickets 4 days in advance, but even then the 7 AM bus was already sold out. We had to go the next day instead.
One problem with this Intercity Bus is that you can’t buy your return tickets in advance. You’ll have to buy them soon as you arrive in Jinhae, which can be risky if you plan on doing a day trip. If you want to have guaranteed return tickets, then I suggest going back to Seoul via the neighboring cities of Changwon or Masan instead, which is what we did. More on that below.
Cost: 52,200 KRW round-trip
Total Travel Time: Around 9 hrs
A popular route to the festival, Masan City is about 15 km away from Jinhae. Unlike the Jinhae direct bus, the Masan bus leaves from The Express Bus Terminal in Seoul (by subway, get off at Express Bus Terminal station – line 3, 7, or 9 – exit 1 or 2)*. The fare each way is 20,600 KRW for the “General” buses, and 30,500 KRW for the “Excellent” buses. Both buses will get you into Masan in just under 4 hrs.
From Masan, you’ll have to take a local bus or a taxi to Jinhae. Unless you can understand Korean, I suggest going by taxi since finding the right bus stop may be difficult for foreigners. About 30 mins away, the taxi fare from Masan to Jinhae should run you around 15,000 KRW.
I suggest purchasing your tickets from the Express Bus Terminal as early as you can. Unlike the Intercity Bus, you can buy your return tickets in Seoul. I suggest leaving around 7 AM for Masan, then heading back to Seoul around 3 PM. This should get you back into the city before 8 PM.
Please be advised that Korail runs a special train from Masan to Jinhae during the actual cherry blossom festival. This year, the festival was from 1-10 April. If you plan on going to Jinhae during the actual festival, then this is better than taking a taxi from Masan for two reasons. One, traffic during the actual festival is atrocious. Two, this special train will go through Gyeonghwa station which is one of the best places to view the cherry blossoms. Called “Cherry Blossom Road”, you’ll be flanked on either side of the rails with cherry blossom trees in full bloom. Be sure to check the Visit Korea website for updates on the festival and this special train.
Cost: At least 71,200 KRW round-trip for bus tickets and taxi fare
Total Travel Time: Around 9-10 hrs
*Please be advised that the actual Express Bus Terminal is not in the same building as the Express Bus Terminal subway station. You’ll need to exit the station and cross over to the adjacent building. It’s pretty easy but you can ask information if you’re unsure on where to go.
This is very similar to the Masan route. Changwon is the capital city of Gyeongsangnam-do and about 16 km from Jinhae. It also leaves from the Express Bus Terminal in Seoul and you can buy your return tickets in advance. The fare each way is a little more expensive at 20,800 KRW for the “General” buses, and 30,900 KRW for the “Excellent” buses. Travel time for both buses is just under 4 hrs.
Like Masan, you’ll need to take a taxi from Changwon to Jinhae. It’s about 30 mins each way and the fare should run you around 15,000 KRW.
Cost: At least 71,600 KRW round-trip for bus tickets and taxi fare
Total Travel Time: Around 9-10 hrs
For travel tips to Seoul, check out our First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Seoul, South Korea
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