An ice festival near the heavily fortified inter-Korean border has become a major international winter event, attracting more than 100,000 foreign visitors for the first time this year, despite high cross-border tensions.
Some 101,000 foreigners have visited the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival for 17 days since it opened on January 14, organizers said. The 23-day festival attracted 78,000 foreign visitors last year.
When a stream close to the border freezes in the border county of Hwacheon, about 90 kilometers (54 miles) northeast of Seoul, people carve out a hole in the ice and begin to fish for "sancheoneo", a type of mountain trout that lives only in clean waters.
Along with ice fishing, festival organizers provide bare-hand fishing, ice-skating, snow sledding, sleigh race, snowmobile riding, and various ice-related leisure sports and cultural activities.
Since it was launched in 2003, the festival has become South Korea's top winter event that attracts more than one million people every year.The number of foreign visitors has increased from 1,200 in 2006 to 25,721 in 2012 and 78,000 last year.
The event was chosen as South Korea's best festival by the culture ministry in 2010 and regarded as one of the world's four major winter festivals. County chief Choi Moon-soon has said the Sancheoneo festival competes with other major winter festivals such Japan's Sapporo Snow Festival, China's Ice and Snow World, and Canada's Winter Festival.
The economic effect from the festival last year reached 99 billion won (84 million US dollars), he said.