The Alpensia Sliding Centre. (©IOC)
The world's athletes have been working for years to hone their skills to participate in the XXIII Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018. The opening ceremonies are February 9, 2018, with competition concluding Feb. 25.
For the average person, however, getting there is just as easy as scheduling that plane flight. The biggest question is where to go and what to do.
The Gangwon-do Province, which encompasses Pyeongchang and neighboring areas, has everything from high-flying views to treasures hidden in caves; all with its proud history on display. Come early or stay after the Olympics to take advantage of what the area has to offer, including pristine skiing conditions on competitively sanctioned slopes.
Quick Facts: The Essentials to Know Before Visiting
Jumping through paperwork hoops shouldn't be an issue for short-term trips as passport-carrying travelers from North America are granted visa-free entry to South Korea for 90 days. "Won" is the monetary unit in South Korea and cash exchanges can be made at banks and exchange centers. Traditional credit cards—Visa, MasterCard and American Express among others—are accepted widely throughout the area.
Before booking, check flights to different airports as ways to get to out-of-the-way sites: Yangyang International Airport is about 50 miles from Pyeongchang. Incheon International Airport in Seoul is just over 100 miles, but may be a better option for many. By 2018, the high-speed train line that can make the trip in an hour from Seoul to Pyeongchang will be completed.
Things to Do in Pyeongchang
How to Experience the Country
As part of the Ari Hills Resort, the Jeongseon Skywalk—South Korea's "Grand Canyon Skywalk"—affords views of the cliffs shaped by the Donggang River from 1,900 feet above. To make it that much more exciting, the glass bottom, u-shaped skywalk extends out 36 feet. To really experience the view, try the Zipwire. From 1,000 feet up, slide down a 30-percent slope at speeds up to 72 mph, finishing at the Donggang Freshwater Ecology Fish Center.
The Baengnyong Cave—designated Natural Monument No. 260 (1979)—is a one-mile-long limestone cave alongside the Donggang River. The Baengnyong Cave Eco Experience opened in 2010 and allows visitors to view 500-year-old enigmas like a piano-shaped stalactite and the fried-egg stalagmite.
Formerly the Samyung Ranch, the Eco Green Campus is the perfect spot for taking landscape photography, viewing sheep or watching cows drink from Samjeongho Lake. It takes about two hours by car to circuit the entire ranch. For a spectacular event, head to the plateau and see the sunrise over the East Sea.
Trout Festival: A Can't-Miss Event
The Pyeongchang Trout Festival usually runs from December into February. With dates still to be determined, it will be the 12th-annual incarnation of the festival, which includes sledding, snow rafting and ATV riding. Of course there is ice fishing, tent fishing and bare-hands fishing with cooking on-site. For those who come up empty, never fear, the food center has you covered—for a price, of course.
Ski and Hike at Alpensia Resort
Those arriving before the Olympics can ski/snowboard on six slopes in the winter sports area of Alpensia Resort. Up to the start of the games, the ski jump tower is being used as an observatory. Not a skier or snowboarder? Alpensia Snow Sledding Park has a slope designated for tube sleds.
On the resort side of the park is Alpensia Ocean 700, a year-round indoor water park. Enjoy a lazy pool or a wave pool, tube and body slide or sweat those cares away in the sauna.
Ski Yongpyong Resort
The resort is open from mid-November to April and can accommodate up to 20,000 skiers a day with its 28 slopes and 14 cable lifts including a gondola.
Water lovers will be happy with Peak Water Park's indoor wave pool, lazy pool, slides and water massage pool.
Explore Odaesan National Park
Among the things Odaesan National Park is known for is having the largest natural woods of Korea. Designated as a national park in 1975, Odeasan National Park is divided by the Baekdudaegan mountain range with six distinctive peaks. The park features the famous royal azaela and Geumgang Chorong (Diamond Bluebell) across two peaks (Durobong, Sangwangbong) while the 5,100-foot Birobong Peak is noted for containing Yew and Nuncheunkbaek tree forests.
In the eastern valley of Mt. Odaesan is the Woljeongsa Temple, which are 60 temples combined into one large temple. Its history dates back 1,000 years and has national treasures throughout the compound, including the nine-story octagonal pagoda (National Treasure No. 48). To see more historic artifacts, visit the Woljeongsa Museum.
Visit a Snow Park
Phoenix Snow Park, at the foot of Mount Taegi is the host host venue for snowboarding and freestyle skiing. Of its 22 slopes, 12 are approved for international competition.
Take a break from the slopes at the Phoenix Blue Canyon. Open year-round, the indoor facilities include a wave pool, kid’s pool—with a shipwreck slide—a spa and indoor sweat chamber.
Find More Treasures: The Seongyojang House
The Seongyojang House in Gangneung is the former residence of the the Nabeon Lee noble family (1703-1781). Of dwellings built in the past 300 years, the house and structures on the property are said to Korea's most well preserved. For a tour in English, make reservations in advance.
What to Eat: The Best Restaurants in Pyeongchang
When wishing to stay authentic, there are a few standards that will need to be on the food playlist.
At the top of the chart is kimchi, the fermented vegetable dish of which there are 10 different types and accompanies most meals. A main meal to sample is bibimbap, a bowl of rice mixed with meat and vegetables. Korean barbecue is colloquially known as pulgoki and Hanjoungshik is a full Korean meal consisting of grilled fish, short ribs, meat and vegetables with steamed rice, soup and kimchi. In PyeongChang, there a few few spots that serve Korean food exclusively.
The Korea Traditional Food Culture Experience Center presents dishes made with organic vegetables grown by the staff. Recommended for foreigners is the aforementioned bibimbap and Bulgogi Jeongsik, a set menu with bulgogi (thin, marinated slices of beef grilled on a barbecue). As an added bonus, the center offers lodging in a traditional Korean house.
A regional product, buckwheat—specifically Idaepal black buckwheat—is a staple at Migayeon. Among suggested items to try are Memil Jeonbyeong—buckwheat pancakes—and Memilssak Yukhoe—sliced raw beef with buckwheat sprouts.
A search for Western-style cuisine may turn up fruitless unless you check resorts, which also offer quality lodging.
Hotels, Resorts and Other Prime Places to Stay in Pyeongchang
The Phoenix PyeongChang Hotel is right on the slopes of Phoenix Snow Park and has standard rooms up to a presidential royal suite. Food options range from KFC to Won Halmeoni, which dishes out boiled pork, pig's feet and cold noodles.
The Holiday-Inn Alpensia PyeongChang has more than enough options to keep its guests satisfied.
The Intercontinental Resort is the first five-star hotel in a resort complex in Korea and aims to keep its customers healthy with its wellness center; the Holiday-Inn Resort is another five-star hotel with a spa and convention center; while the Holiday-Inn Suite is a village condominium.
To get the lodging stamp of approval from the Korean Tourism Organization, look for the Goodstay logo which indicates a motel or inn has met their high standards including reliable and affordable accommodations.
There are 78 Goodstay lodgings in Gangwon-do Province, including the Green & Blue Hotel and the California Motel in PyeongChang.
The Green & Blue Hotel has 36 rooms and is situated 10 minutes away from both Yongpyong and Alpensia resorts, with a free shuttle to Yongpyong Resort. Rooms include wi-fi access and a 42-inch TV; breakfast is available with a surchage and there is a barbecue area for guests to utilize.
The California Motel's four-story building has small but clean and well-maintained rooms and is local to Phoenix Snow Park and Yongpyong Resort.