Posted by: Matt Kelley | 20 April 2009

The Hampyeong Butterfly Festival


Surrounded by mountains and a rugged coastline featuring nearly 2,000 islands, South Jeolla Province offers travelers a lot to see and do. Last spring a friend and I rented a car and visited several sights. One of the places we visited was the Hampyeong Butterfly Festival (함평나비대축제). With its 2009 fête getting underway later this week, now seems like a good time to take another look.

20090420_kidThe festival is popular with kids. This boy looks curious and cautious.

Hampyeong is a small city about 20 minutes west of Gwangju. Although small, Hampyeong has become a leader in environmentally friendly farming techniques.  Of course, insects play a vital role in agriculture, so it’s fitting that for the past 11 years, the city has hosted the insect expo, a huge event that’s among Korea’s favorite annual events.

20090420_buggyAs far as insects go, the aphid-eating ladybug is one of my favorites.

What is an “insect expo”, you ask?  Well, imagine a sprawling festival site featuring huge sculptures of dung beetles and ladybugs. Picture entire buildings in the shape of insect larvae and over 20 large exhibits celebrating the amazing insect. One hall featured some 20,000 bugs, including the Hercules beetle, the world’s largest and heaviest beetle and not something I’d want to see outside of its cage.

20090420_petunias1The Hampyeong Buttefly Festival grounds do their best to attract butterflies.

But of course, most of the projected 2 million visitors to Hampyeong this year are coming for what Koreans call nabi (나비), or butterflies, and festival organizers say they released over 150,000 of them just for their guests. Inside the International Butterfly Hall, you can view 38 species of butterfly, including both exotic varieties and those native to Korea.

20090420_attackSimultaneously beautiful and a little creepy.

To be honest, when I thought about a butterfly festival, I imagined walking through virtual clouds of multi-colored butterflies. And while there are certainly thousands, if not millions of butterflies on display, most of them are pinned to corkboards as part of an extensive collection of beautiful, if somewhat morbid butterfly massacre art.

20090420_bullA bull grazes alongside the flags of Greece, South Korea and China.

But if you’re like me, and your “insects I love” list isn’t particularly long, don’t fear. The Expo isn’t only about insects. There’s also a petting zoo and carnival rides for kids, scores of music performances, and last year there was a special exhibit on the art and culture of Chinese ethnic minorities.

20090420_accordionWho knew Korea had a troupe of dapper accordion players?

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, if you ask Koreans what the Jeolla region is famous for, they’ll say its delicious food.  The area boasts fertile land and forty percent of people here still depend on farming and fishing. Perhaps it’s this intimacy with nature that makes everything so tasty. I had heard that Hampyeong’s hanoo (한우) or native beef was excellent, so I tried some  yookhwae (육외) or raw beef served with spicy gochujang soybean paste (고추장), sweet onions and sesame seeds atop thin slices of South Jeolla’s famous pears. Absolutely delicious!

20090420_sculptureI think it’s a… butterfly!

If you visit Hampyeong for the butterfly festival, be sure to see some of the area’s other attractions.  In Hampyeong Bay you can enjoy a seawater steam bath and one of Korea’s  dolmeori (돌머리), or smooth pebble beaches. 


There are also a number of important historical sites to round out your weekend. But, if you have bugs on the brain and want to visit the Butterfly and Insect Expo, this year’s festival runs April 24th through May 10th.

More Information:
11th Hampyeong Butterfly Festival Official Site (in Korean) 

Getting There:
→ From Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal (subway lines 3 and 7), non-stop buses leave three times daily between 08:35 and 16:40. The 4 hour 20 minute ride costs between 16,200-24,000 won.

(A version of this text aired on KBS World Radio on May 17, 2008.)


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