Discover PyeongChang, South Korea: Year-Round Adventure Awaits!
There's a reason that PyeongChang, located in South Korea’s east coast in Gangwon Province, was chosen for the 2018 Winter Olympics. With two national parks, coastal beach towns, and eons of history, Gangwon Province has a lot to experience. This guide offers a few suggestions to help you make the most of your trip to PyeongChang. Try something: Physical, Tasty, Hallyu, Artistic, Spiritual.
Cities and sites visited:
TRY SOMETHING PHYSICAL
PyeongChang is a winter sports paradise. Skiing, snowboarding, tubing, and snowshoeing are some of the obvious ways to enjoy the great outdoors. But these are four-season resorts, so there is something for everyone anytime of the year. Gangwon Province has eleven ski resorts, with four resorts located near the PyeongChang vicinity:
Use Olympic venue transportation options to get to Alpensia, YongPyong, or Phoenix Park. To get to Welli Hilli, take the KTX shuttle to Gangneung Bus Terminal, then ride the intercity bus to Dunnae (about an hour and 45-minute ride from Gangneung). Hail a taxi for the 5-minute drive to Welli Hilli resort.
Alpensia is PyeongChang’s official Winter Olympic Park. This is a nice option for cross-country or beginner skiers because it has just 3 miles of slopes and there are no black diamond trails.
YongPyong is where you’ll want to head if you are a hardcore downhill skier or snowboarder. YongPyong has over 20 miles of slopes, 15 lifts, a nice mix of beginner, intermediate and advanced trails, and the Dragon Park sports zone with jumps, rails, and tabletops.
Phoenix Park is a little further west and about half the size of YongPyong Resort, but might be a less-crowded option. Like YongPyong, Phoenix Park has a variety of trail options to suit every skill level and an Extreme Park for leaps, jumps, and gravity-defying tricks.
Welli Hilli has just over 10 miles of trails and bills itself as a “snowboarder’s mecca”, with an international-class half pipe for budding amateurs to hone their skills. Who knows, maybe you’ll witness a 2022 gold medalist in the making!
Pricing: Adult day passes average about $75 and all resorts offer night skiing and equipment rental.
If hiking is your thing, head to Sokcho and Seorak Mountain (about an hour from Pyeonchang by car). Seorak San (San 산 = Mountain) is the highest mountain in the Taebaek mountain range in North East Korea. The hike to Ulsan-bawi (울산바위) is a popular route, passing several temples and prayer places, as well as a few water falls. We visited on a dreary day, with drizzle and clouds. As we neared the top of the peak, though, we witnessed an awe-inspiring duel of nature. We had been hiking in a fog, surrounded by a blanket of white. Within minutes, air warmed by the sun on the opposite side of the peak chased the clouds downward, revealing the distance peaks. The cold air retaliated, pushing the fog back up. We could feel the tug of war in the changing air temperature, the warmth retreating and then advancing; the distant view disappearing and then re-appearing. It was so cool!
TRY SOMETHING TASTY
While you may have encountered some of Korea’s more well-known foods, such as kimchi or barbequed meat, traditional cuisine in Gangwon is simple, surprisingly familiar…and won’t set your mouth on fire.
Where to Eat
Ask any local where their favorite restaurant is for any of the foods mentioned here. Korean restaurants tend to specialize in a particular ingredient or dish and the locals will know which restaurants excel. Chodang tofu restaurants are clustered in Chodang Village, just 10 minutes by taxi from Gangneung Ice Arena.
Potatoes: Tubers entered this grain culture through Gangwon Province in the 1830’s by a visiting missionary. Try a fried potato pancake (“gamja-jeon”), which is similar to a hashbrown. Feeling braver? A piping hot bowl of potato dumpling soup (“gamja ongshimi”) is simple but satisfying on a cold winter day. Potato flour is mixed with freshly grated and squeezed potatoes to form dough-like balls that are added to a light, clear anchovy-vegetable broth.
Squid Sausage: Ready to challenge yourself to a more adventurous taste? Stuffed squid (“ojinga soondae”) is regional cuisine that is rare to find outside of Gangwon Province. “Soondae” in Korean loosely translates as sausage. Squid is stuffed with a mild-flavored mixture of seasoned tofu, minced mushrooms, diced tentacles, rice noodles and garlic. The dish is steamed, sliced into chewy rolls, and served with a vinegary red pepper paste dipping sauce.
Buckwheat: Another staple ingredient of Gangwon cuisine, buckwheat seeds are ground into flour to make noodles, which you’ll find in chilled buckwheat noodle soup (“mak-kuk-su”). For something warmer, try a buckwheat pancake (“mae-mil-jon-byong”), which is similar to a crepe and filled with a sweet red bean filling. A heartier version has a mixture of mild kimchi, tofu, and ground beef.
Tofu: Yes, I hear your hesitation: “Tofu is tasteless!” Commercial tofu uses artificial additives to curdle soymilk and add flavor. In Gangwon Province, however, the tofu is all-natural, made with locally-grown soybeans and salt water from the East Sea. Rich in taste and texture, people queue in long lines for a bowl of white Chodang tofu stew (“soon-dubu jiggae”)…and so should you!
Photo credit: https://bnbheroblog.com/2015/10/21/sundae/
TRY SOMETHING HALLYU
Ah, Hallyu – the Korean wave of cultural exports that includes K-pop music, K-fashion, and K-drama films! The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) capitalizes on the popularity of Hallyu by preserving and promoting film locations. Challenge your friends to a scavenger hunt where the gold-medal winner is the first to post tagged photos of him or herself at Hallyu locations throughout Gangwon. Winning insider tips:
Ride the gondola from YongPyong’s Greenpia condominium in PyeongChang to the top of the mountain to snap your Winter Sonata photo. The set from Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring is within walking distance from Greenpia condominium, near Alpensia Ski Park. For photos of The Goblin’s Jumunjin Beach and Saimdang’s Ojukheon House, take the KTX shuttle or Express inter-city bus to Gangneung bus terminal. Take local bus 302 or 315 to Jumunjin Beach. Take bus 200, 203, 204, or 205 to Ojukheon.
Winter Sonata: At the top of the ski lift at YongPyong resort in PyeongChang, snap a selfie beside the life-size cutout of Winter Sonata heartbreakers Kang Joon-Sang and Jung Yu-Jin (played by Bae Yong-Jun and Choi Ji-Woo). Extra points for photos that re-enact the scene!
Spring Summer Fall Winter Spring: Near the entrance to Greenpia resort, just a short walk from the ski-jumping arena at Alpensia Sports Park in PyeongChang, is the floating raft and monastery gate from the movie set of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring.
The Goblin: On the pier at Jumunjin Beach in Gangneung City, the quirky heroine of the recent K-drama sensation, The Goblin, accidently summoned the “Protector of Souls” by blowing out a candle, making this a popular pilgrimage for the show’s fans.
Saimdang Light’s Diary: The prim woman on the 50,000 won banknote is Shin Saimdang, South Korea’s most famous artist of the Joseon Dynasty era. Her unconventional story is told in the 2017 mini-series Saimdang: Light’s Diary. Ojukheon House, where she was born and raised in Gangneung City, is one of the oldest preserved wooden homes in Korea.
Whether you are a Hallyu K-drama fan or not, this friendly competition will get you out and about, exploring both PyeongChang and Gangneung City.
TRY SOMETHING ARTISTIC
Get in touch with your creative side at two of Gangneung City’s themed art centers:
Take the KTX shuttle or Express inter-city bus to Gangneung Intercity Bus Terminal. Take city bus 111, 112, or 113 to Haslla Art World (about a 30 minute ride).
Haslla Art World: High atop a cliff overlooking the East Sea just north of Gangneung City, natural landscapes are transformed into interpretive works of art. Sculpture and pattern in Time Square trace the celestial equinox. In the Sky Observatory, art extends into the Z-axis beyond the cliff edge. A boardwalk wends through Pine Tree Garden, where nature takes center stage. The hotel itself is a work of art, a glass and steel structure with bold red, yellow and green stained windows contrasting against the blue sky and sea.
Sun Cruise Resort: The hotel again steals the art show – a cruise ship perched on the edge of a cliff above Jeongdongjin Beach. From the ship’s bow or the glass observatory, guests have a captain’s view of the East Sea. Surrounding the ship are gardens landscaped according to the season. Giant hands and other curious statues make an excellent fore-ground subject as you capture the blazing beauty of Gangneung’s morning and evening sun show.
Insider Tip: Go early and stay late to see the country’s best sunrise and sunset at either location!
TRY SOMETHING SPIRITUAL
The principle of yin and yang teaches us to recognize the ebb and flow of contrasting emotions, recognize emotions as temporary, and strive for balance. A temple visit in Odaesan National Park will restore your emotional equilibrium.
Take the KTX shuttle or Express inter-city bus to Jinbu. At Jinbu, take a city bus to Woljeongsa Temple stop.
Woljeongsa Temple: For over 1300 years, generations of peace seekers have traversed its winding path, progressively unloading worldly cares as they passed through three purposeful gates enroute to Woljeongsa Temple. This temple’s distinctive features are the nine-story octagonal pagoda and the seated medicine Buddha statue. A bodhisattva (saint) sits in prayer near the base of the pagoda, creating a connection between the observer and the observed. Inside the main hall, dragons flank the seated golden Buddha. The rhythmic tap of the wooden moktak and the gentle chanting of monks in prayer waft across the temple grounds. READ MORE...
Sangwonsa Temple: Just up the road from Woljeongsa Temple is Sangwonsa temple, which houses Korea’s oldest bronze bell, dating back to 725 A.D. If the weather is nice, hike the Birobong Peak trail for some fresh mountain air and follow the signs to Sajaam Temple and Jeokmyeolbogung Temple.
Hongnyeonam Temple (홍련암) on the shore in Sokcho. Since its founding in 676, the temple has been rebuilt many times -- as recently as 2002 following a tragic fire. The sound of the crashing waves and the warm wind blowing from the sea is calming.
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