BORYEONG, South Korea (Reuters Life!) - For nine days of dirty fun, a quaint South Korean coastal city paints the town a dull shade of mud.
Boryeong says its mud has special powers to refresh the skin and soothe the soul. Last Saturday (July 12) saw the start of its 11th annual Mud Festival, which attracts about 2 million people to the city of a little more than 100,000 located about 190 km (120 miles) southwest of Seoul.
“The mud makes people friendly,” said Angela Sharp, a U.S. Air Force service member stationed in South Korea who is one of the tens of thousands of foreigners attending the festivities.
One part of the festival gives visitors the chance to play in 200 tonnes of the greyish goo at mud wrestling pits, mud slides and mud baths. Somewhere along the line, ample supplies of alcohol add to the high spirits.
The other part of the festival is pitching beauty and skincare products made with mud from the nearby mudflats.
“Boryeong’s mud is different from other mud,” said local mud entrepreneur Kim Song-soo.
One skincare maker writes proudly in English on the label of its products: “Natural mud from Boryeong is helpful in calming, smoothing and water balancing”.
The mud festival ritual is pretty much the same for all visitors. Step one: arrive in clean clothes. Step two: get muddy, often while enjoying a tasty beverage.
“Foreigners heard that there is a place to come get muddy, get messy, and get drunk,” said Boryeong resident Kim Ja-gyeong, adding that over time the locals have learned to accommodate the occasionally off-putting antics of their foreign counterparts.
On Boryeong streets, men and women in bathing suits, their skin identical shades of grey, dried mud, pump about 53 billion won ($52.75 million) into the local economy each year, local officials said.
Convenience store operators say sales usually double or triple during the festival.
Many Koreans said they appreciate the festival and the license it gives them to let loose.
“We can get crazy during the mud fest -- just during the mud fest,” said Lee Hye-ryeong, a young woman who works for the city’s tourism department and who has attended many festivals.
Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Miral Fahmy