If you are finding the right reasons to visit Korea during Winter perhaps the best timing to go is during the upcoming 23rd Winter Olympics 2018 happening at PyeongChang from 9 to 25th February 2018. The Winter Paralympic will also happen at the same venues from 8th to the 18th of March 2018.
The games will be played in two main areas – PyeongChang will be at the opening and closing ceremony and hosts all the snow and slide based sports such as Ski Jumping, Luge, Big Air Snowboarding and Gangneung holds all the ice based sports such as ice hockey and speed skating.
I have the chance to visit Alpensia Ski Resort, a sprawling complex with multiple ski slopes and a commanding ski jump tower that overlooks the whole area and is the main event venue of the Winter Olympics 2018
Alpensia (The Alps in Asia) is about 184km from the capital city and is designed to be an all year round mountain top resort 700m above sea level. The whole complex has three main accommodation options namely the ultra luxurious Intercontinental Resort Hotel, Holiday Inn Resort and Holiday Inn Suites. Of the three, the suites provide a more homely feel and in some ways, can save more money.
I was pretty surprised to find a movie theatre at the heart of the resort’s retail village. As I visited the place just after the winter skiing period, most of the shops are closed except for the G25 convenient stores, 4 of them (or more) throughout the village so getting something to eat shouldn’t be a huge issue more so when the area is back to skiing season again.
Bokwang Pheonix Snow Park
Pheonix Snow Park is another venue that will host most of the snowboard events (Cross, Half Pipe, Slalom, Slopestyle) and also free style Skiing. If you are into the snowboard events, there’s accommodation there too from Hostels to Hotels.
Woljeongsa Temple / Odaesan
Alpensia will get a wee bit boring after a while if you are not really into winter sports. There are still places to visit around the area and Woljeonsa Temple located at Odaesan should be at the top of the list. If you do have time, you can also indulge in a temple stay experience there too. During Autumn in October, there is also the Odaesan Mountain Buddhist Culture Festival where the arts is used to highlight on the environment and ecology of the area. Since you are already at Odaesan might as well do the mountain trekking around the temple. Perhaps even indulge in some nature photography during the milder seasons to capture musk deer, turtledoves and woodpeckers in the area.
Woljeongsa Temple is also the site of Seongbo Museum, displaying artifacts and treasures from Buddhist culture of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), including a nine-story octagonal pagoda, also called as the Sari-Pagoda (relic pagoda), and a Stone Seated Buddha figure. Also there is the Jeokmyeolbogung where Buddha’s bones are said to be preserved, and the large sermon hall Jeokgwangjeon Pavilion (taken from visitkore.or.kr).
Although the Winter Olympics is known as PyeongChang2018, the Coastal City of Gangneung will also host all the sports and games that are ice based. The coastal City of Gangneung will have two main venues, the Gangneung Olympic park and Kwandong Hockey Centre.
Jumunjin Fish Market
This place certainly reminds me of the more famous fish market of Korea – Busan’s Jagalchi Market. The good thing about Jumunjin is that it felt less crowded and more intimate. While visiting we have the chance to observe a live auction of the sea produce right off the pier. There are also eateries around the area so having fresh produce from the sea for lunch or dinner is not a problem at all.
There are a lot of history when it comes to Korea as my previous trips to Suwon Fortress, Hanok villages can attest to that. The same applies to Gangneung. Ojukheon, its name came from the black bamboo surrounding the house, is the home of Shin Saimdang (申师仁堂) and her son Yi I both of whom contributed to Korea. Shin Saimdang is famous for literature, poetry, calligraphy, embroidery and painting.
Her son Yi I is also a prodigy having finished the Confucian classics by the age of seven and passed the Court examination by the age of 13. He followed up with a total of 9 top honours in the various civil exams gaining him vast experience in governance in various positions within the government that contributed greatly to the country through his social reforms. Both mother and son are featured in the Korean Won’s 5000 and 50000 bills.
Haslla Art World
I first heard of Haslla Art World when one group from the Samsung NX Trip to Korea actually experience a hotel stay in this unique place and all are enthused by the accommodation (no chance of me staying to take the interiors, unfortunately). That piques my interest and quite honestly its quirky nature is the reason why one should visit. There are art installations throughout the place taking up the hillock overlooking the hotel as well as the coastal area around the hotel itself. If you are into photography, the installations are good subjects to make images with. I particularly like the black/white bicycle hanging precariously off the cliff.
Gyeongpo Cherry Blossoms Festival
Although you won’t really get to see Cherry Blossoms if you are visiting this part of Korea during the Winter Olympics, during the Cherry Blossoms season, Gyeongpo provided much need relieve from the throngs of people in more popular areas of Korea to look at Cherry Blossoms. Gyeonpo is still quite popular with the locals though but I manage to sneak a few shots devoid of people which are good! The whole area is a huge lake so do put aside a couple of hours if you wish to walk around the lake and enjoy the scenary with Odaesan mountain in the background.
Check out my 360 video of my stroll through the Gyeongpo Cherry Blossoms https://s.insta360.com/p/69cc8a8ca5eefa3529a42ee03155e7ee.
Nowhere other than Panmunjom can you feel the real danger than at Unification Park. Here you can see a decommissioned warship given by the U.S. Navy to the South Korean Navy. The ship served the South Koreans until it was decommissioned and placed here at Gangneung. A more interesting artefact is actually a small submarine used by North Koreans special forces in 1996 to infiltrate and spy on military installations in the South. I can’t believe 26 poor sods actually squeezed into this sorry excuse of a military craft. There’s also a wooden boat used by North Koreans to escape to the South too. Interesting place to visit to understand the War Between the Two Koreas.
Other Places to Visit or Things to Do Around Seoul
Location: Gahak-dong, Gwangmyeong-si, South Korea (Map)
A disused coal mine is now transformed into a living museum and historical site that speaks of the Japanese colonial past. It was closed and then refurbished with gaudy lighting. There are some highlights though. Right at the back is a wine tasting store although most wines on sample are more sweet wine rather than the typical wine we all know. Not a fan though. There is also an exhibit by Weta Studio, the special effects company behind the Lord of the Rings franchise. There is also an amphitheatre and aquarium too. The place is unique in itself though I very much prefer the naturalness of the caves using warm coloured light instead.
Korean Folk Village
It may sound like a tourist trap but it is one of the nicest tourist traps I have been. Visited 3 times and each time is a different experience and there are a lot of things to shoot too as there are staff who dressed up like locals during the Joseon period. Imagine the Forbidden City with staff dressed up like court officials and the courtesans walking around. It just gave you a quick glimpse of the past as though you have travelled back in time (if you tune out all the other ‘modern’ visitors). What I appreciate too are the cultural performances so you will get a good idea of the Korean Culture.
Check out my 360 video of the farmers dance here.
I am always a fan of martial performances and what better way to really enjoy them than to put K-Pop into Korean Taekwondo. That is what K-Tigers have done and I have enjoyed all the performances that I have the opportunity to witness. Merging all the hip-hop and military precision dance routines into Taekwondo means the amulgamation of movement, power and energy into one single performance. Your jaw will be touching the floor most of the time with flips and flying kicks (not to mention flying wooden boards too).
The Painters: Hero
The Painters: HERO is an innovative non-verbal performance that stages the entire process of painting combined with incredible visual effects and a witty blend of mime, dance and comedy. Audiences will enjoy a play, an art show, and a musical in a single performance that creates about 10 art pieces live on stage through an 80-minute, excitement-filled show.
The performers are thoroughly engaging and you will definitely laugh at their antics. Most of all, their ability to draw part of an image on the canvas that you would not have guessed until they put it all together. If you have watched Jeju’s famous Nanta, I would say The Painters (it is used to call The Drawing Show) is rated as high as them.
How to get to Alpensia / Gangneung
Before the promised KTX high speed train link is completed by the end of the year, the only way to Alpensia / Gangneung is basically via the 3/4 hour bus service from Incheon Airport. Costing from 70k Korean Won or SGD87 for a return ticket it is actually quite cost effective. The only thing is to book the ticket online (for Alpensia) before proceeding to collect the bus ticket and board the bus at Exit 1 at the airport’s arrival hall. If you plan to visit Seoul first, you can buy tickets and board from the capital city, however do note that the pickup point will change so best to check your ticket voucher.
If I am to plan a trip (highly likely during the January period), perhaps having a car to go around will be a better idea as there are also three more stand-alone venues – Yongpyong Alpine Centre, Jeongseon Alpine Centre and Bokwang Snow Park, to visit if you are really into the winter sports.
As for Gangneung, here’s a website you can try. Personally I will still wish for KTX service. Pay more yes but the time saved (easily 2-3 hours) is worth the money.
Getting the Tickets to the Winter Olympics
If you are planning to attend the Winter Olympics now is the time to get online and enter a ticket lottery system between now and 23 April. Following that the online general sales will be opened from the 5th September 2018. Onsite sale will happen in October 2017. To buy the tickets click here.
The Food We Ate
Starbucks (Yes we need to warm up from the wet and cold Seoul weather when we arrived)
Jo Jeong-gang, who ran a renowned traditional restaurant named Dongchon for many years, opened this site, covering about 33,000 square meters, to exhibit the traditional Korean food culture. There is a food museum, a kitchen to learn how to cook Korean foods, a seminar room, a fermentation room, and a vegetable garden in this complex. Visitors can stay overnight as well!
Korean BBQ (A Lot of Styles)
Gaeul Donghwa Antique Cafe
Location: 470-1, Jukheon-dong, Gangneung-si, Gangwon-do (Map)
Here’s another eatery that is made famous because of K-drama. The Antique Cafe was featured in the 2000 romantic drama serial – Autumn in My Heart. This is a French restaurant using the freshest produce from Gangneung and you really can’t imagine how beautiful the pan fried fish is until it melts into your mouth. Superb Superb place to eat. Oh yes have to call in for reservation first.
The Hotels We Stayed
Shilla Stay Gwanghuamun
Situated about 10-15 minutes walk from the gates of Gwanghuamun, Shilla Stay nestled amongst the office buildings of Gwanghuamun area and so if you are looking for a place to stay for the shopping districts this won’t be at the top of the list. I do however miss its very homely reception area and comfortable rooms. The scene outside gave me that Tokyo vibe as well!
Alpensia Intercontinental Resort Hotel
When you see the word InterContinental, the brand itself will give the place a bit of the luxurious feel. And we are not disappointed. Superb accommodation with beautiful scenery all around it.
For more photos do visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wilzworkz/albums/72157679215684883/
Many thanks to Korean Tourism Office Singapore for inviting me for this familiarisation trip.