South Korean town set to open annual ice-fishing festival on Jan. 6
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More than a million visitors are expected to brave probable subzero weather Jan. 6 to take part in the opening of an ice-fishing festival, organized by NARA Foundation, in the South Korean town of Hwacheon near the border with North Korea, organizers said Thursday.

Once touted by CNN as one of the “Seven Wonders of Winter,” the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival is scheduled to run through Jan. 28 on Hwacheon Stream in the mountainous town of the same name which is 120 kilometers northeast of Seoul.

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As many as one million people will swarm to the town, which has a population of 27,000, to drop a line through a hole in the ice and catch “sancheoneo” — a species of trout known to live only in high-quality fresh water.

Dressed in T-shirts and shorts, visitors jump into the icy water to catch fish with their bare hands as the region is hit by a cold wave, with the mercury to plummet to a low of 10 degress Celsius.

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Two of the festival’s success factors are freezing weather in the Hwacheon region, where rivers freeze earliest in the country, and the attraction of the region’s well-preserved nature that the sancheoneo inhabit.

Held for the first time in 2003, the festival is now the 15th of its kind in January before the government called it one of the most promising festivals in 2006 and retained the title of South Korea’s most representative festival for the fourth consecutive year in January this year.

The South Korean festival has drawn more than one million tourists, including foreign visitors, for 11 years in a row, joining the list of the world’s four most famous festivals alongside Japan’s Sapporo Snow Festival, China’s Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival and Canada’s Quebec Winter Carnival.

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A total of 102,000 people from abroad, the highest ever, visited the 2017 festival in January. Many foreign news outlets moved out stories reporting the specular phenomenon of tourists swarming onto the ice to try their hand at catching fish.

January’s sancheoneo festival comes to a close 12 days before the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held Feb. 9-25 in the nearby towns of PyeongChang, Gangneung and Jeongseon, all located in Gangwon Province.

The organizers have made a pitch for the festival at international travel fairs worldwide following their deals with travel agencies in the Southeast Asian countries to promote the winter festival.

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“We will make our utmost efforts to prepare for the event so as to provide foreign people as well as Koreans with a Korean winter experience that will be never forgotten.”