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The Firsthand Guide to PyeongChang and Seoul, South Korea
The Firsthand Guide to PyeongChang and Seoul, South Korea

I visited PyeongChang and Seoul in February 2017 to continue our preparations and planning for the 2018 Winter Games. The trip was a blast and I wanted to share some photos and experiences with all of you.

Overall, South Korea is extremely prepared for the Winter Games. Unlike other past events, there should be very little in way of construction delays and problems that the media loves to focus on.

Outline of My Trip to South Korea

PyeongChang’s Coastal Cluster

I started my South Korean journey by heading straight for PyeongChang after landing in Seoul. I made contact with a few local connections and friends who were also preparing for the 2018 Winter Games. To get familiar with the area I started walking around town and found it very walkable and interesting.

The Gangneung coastal region of Pyeongchang will host the hockey, curling, and skating events in its Olympic Park. Ocean views and incredible seafood are two major bonuses for visitors staying in this area!

 

Gangneung Walkway Bridge Pyeonchang 2018

Bridge to Gangneung Walkway

The Gangneugn Walkway is along the coast, and spans the river that flows into the ocean. Once you cross the bridge, you enter the pine tree walkway along the coast. It’s one of the most beautiful walks in Korea.

This is walking just one block from our hotel, Fourview Hotel, towards the coast. There are shops left to right in this area, as well as restaurants (and 7-Elevens every block!). In most of Korea, seafood is everywhere, with live fish in the fish tanks. You get to pick out your dinner while it’s still swimming, just like Red Lobster, but a little better.

 

Gangneung Beach Pyeongchang 2018

Gangneung Beach

I went to PyeongChang and Gangneung in February 2017, exactly one year before the 2018 Winter Games. Since it’s winter time, the beaches are mostly empty, as the weather can be in the 30s during the day. With tourists during the Winter Games though, we can expect more crowds on the beach and coastal areas.

Not pictured here, and throughout the whole coastline, are lots of swings that anyone can sit on and enjoy their coffee while looking at the ocean.

 

Gangneung Beach sunrises for Korean New Year

Did you know that the Winter Games overlap with Korean New Year? It is Korean tradition to watch the first sunrise of the year, and the Gangneung Beach is a favorite spot to do so.

This picture was taken while crossing the bridge. The water is pretty clear, although it’s wayyyy too cold to jump in this time of year.

While I was there it was too windy to fish, but this seems like a great spot when the weather permits.

 

Gangneung Beach South Korea

The Gangneung Beach will undoubtedly be a great place to unwind in between events.

This view is once you cross the bridge right before you get to the pine tree walkway. The water was crystal clear and very blue. This photo doesn’t do the view justice! (#nofilter)

 

Gangneung Boardwalk, South Korea

The east side of the Gangneung Boardwalk features gorgeous ocean views.

Continuing on the path you’ll start entering groves of beautiful pine trees along the coast. There several lookout points throughout the walk. This view is towards the end when the trees start to thin out.

About every 100 meters you’ll find very clean public restrooms along the walkway.

 

Gangneung Boardwalk shops

The land-facing side of the Gangneung Boardwalk has tons of shops, restaurants, and other points of interest.

Right after you pass the bridge, you’ll have pine trees on the right and more shops and restaurants on the left. The street will be to your left and the coast will be to your right. The best of both worlds!

 

Gangneung Boardwalk Seafood

One of many seafood restaurants along the Gangneung Boardwalk. South Korea is famous for their seafood, and the coastal town of Gangneung certainly will not disappoint.

These are actually restaurants, displaying their fresh seafood out front. This is a common restaurant setup in Korea. If you’re visiting South Korea for the first time, you’ll be amazed at first, but quickly get used to it. You’ll certainly not get any frozen, processed fish here!

 

Fresh seafood in Gangneung

At most seafood restaurants in Gangneung, your food will still be live when you order it. It doesn’t get any fresher!

This is a close-up view of the fish tanks. There are dozens and dozens of fish in these tanks, here we have flounder.

 

Korean dried squid

Squid caught offshore is often dried in the sun – a favorite Korean snack all year long.

All around the area, even in the mountains, people dry fish out in the sun and sell it for consumption. Salt and sun make these delicious!

 

Gangneung Hockey Center

The Gangneung Hockey Center is currently being renovated so as to look its best in 2018.

This is at the Olympic Park in the Coastal Cluster. All venues are finished and ready for the Winter Games a year ahead of time. I wasn’t able to go inside, but it’s ready to go.

 

Gangneung Hockey Center

2018 Winter Games figure skating fans can look forward to state-of-the-art facilities in the figure skating venue – the Gangneung Ice Arena.

This is the figure skating venue, which is also ready to go and get filled with fans!

 

Gangneung Oval Coastal Cluster

We’re looking forward to seeing the Gangneung Ice Arena light up with fans and athletic talent in February 2018.

I was able to get inside the venue and take a tour. Everything looks ready to go a year out, so I’m excited to see it finished out and filled with fans during the Games!

 

Pyeongchang 2018 Mascots

Meet Soohorang and Bandabi, the 2018 Winter Games mascots.

These Winter Games mascots are close to the Olympic Park, in the interactive center. These two are all around town near the coast, and may make their way up to the mountains next!

 

The Alpensia Mountain Cluster

Alpensia is a ski resort and tourist attraction in PyeongChang county, one of South Korea’s most popular winter travel destinations. This dreamy mountain area will host all skiing, snowboarding, luge, skeleton, and bobsledding events for the 2018 Winter Games.

I visited the mountain cluster on a cold winter day, but the sun was shining and there wasn’t a ton of snow on the ground. It made for easy exploring!

 

Pyeongchang 2018 Welcome

Snowy, sunny Alpensia will be a welcome setting for the ski-based events in the 2018 Winter Games.

Up in the mountains, we have this 2018 sign getting us pumped up for the Winter Games!

 

Pyeongchang Ski Slopes

Alpensia Sliding Center.

This Alpensia Sliding Center where fans will watch luge, skeleton, and bobsleigh.

 

Yongpyong ski resort

We’re driving through the venues on this road, this street will be closed during the games.

The road in the mountains snakes through tons of Winter Games venues, and you can expect flocks of fans lining the streets up here.

 

Pyeongchang Skiing

During the ski season, the foot of the range is filled with snow mazes and sculptures. In the spring and summer, there are gorgeous gardens and flower beds planted here.

This is an area surrounding the Olympic Stadium, where the Opening Ceremonies will be held. This is part of the town up in the mountains where you can find coffee shops and restaurants.

 

Ski Jumping Alpensia

The Ski Jumping event will certainly be a thrilling one – especially with such impressive facilities.

I wasn’t able to get inside this venue because there were trials the next day with athletes from around the world.

Seoul City Tour

Towards the end of my trip in South Korea, I spent a day in Seoul and went on a city tour to see some of the local attractions.

If visiting South Korea for the first time, you’ll definitely want to spend a day or two in Seoul. You can visit at the beginning or end of your trip to PyeongChang. Compared to PyeongChang, it’s a huge, bustling metropolis, but you’ll still find lots of history and culture throughout Seoul.

 

Seoul City Tours

The South Korean capital of Seoul is home to 25 million people. It boasts thriving nightlife, business, tech, and music scenes.

This view is from my hotel window in Seoul. Basically any hotel you book in the city will give you a similar view. Since office workers stay so late working hard, many of the buildings are lit throughout the night.

 

Gwanghwamun Gate to Gyeongbokgung Palace

The Gwanghwamun Gate dates back to the 14th century and serves as the main gate to Gyeongbokgung Palace.

I witnessed the changing of the guard, which lasts about 10 to 15 minutes. Tourists and locals come by to watch the ceremony daily. It’s pretty cold watching the whole ceremony, but it was worth it.

 

Deoksugung Palace

The Deoksugung Palace is located at one of Seoul’s busiest intersections – a perfect representation of the blend of ancient an ultra-modern that this city offers.

Walking through the palace grounds, there were photo opportunities. Everywhere. The grounds are pretty extensive and go on and on.

 

Gwangjang Market

You’re sure to find a unique gift at the Gwangjang Market.

The Gwangjang Market is where we ate our final meal on the trip. The market has a food section for eating, and grocery shopping area as well. The grocery area closes around nighttime. The restaurant area is divided into seafood, meat, and vegetarian sections. Choose wisely!

 

Food at Gwangjang Market food.

Gwangjang Market also has some of the most amazing street food you will ever taste.

The vendors often don’t speak English, and the menus are in Korean. So stick with your guide, who will help translate and pick the perfect meal. (There can be some weird seafood here.)

Throughout the city of Seoul, there are also plenty of international restaurants. As a huge cosmopolitan city, you’ll find French, Italian, American restaurants and more!

 

Jogyesa Temple Seoul

Jogyesa is the main temple of the Jogye branch of Korean Buddhism.

Beautiful huge statues in the small temple. Like most buildings, you take your shoes off before you enter. You’ll find locals praying and paying their respects here.

 

Buddhism in Seoul

You’ll also see plenty of colorful, modern expressions of Buddhism in Seoul.

Right outside the temple is a statue with colorful arrangements.

DMZ Tour

There are four main DMZ tour sites along the border of South and North Korea, and many people have this as a must on their bucket list. I went on the DMZ tour closest to Seoul.

The Demilitarized Zone is one of the most fascinating historical sites in the world, serving as the border between North and South Korea and a monument to the tragic conflict that has separated the two countries.

If you’re interested in history or geopolitics, I highly recommend this tour. There’s nothing like it in the world.

 

Korean DMZ

The DMZ is filled with poignant monuments that call for Korean reunification.

This sculpture sits right outside the entrance to the DMZ site museum, right outside of Seoul. There are four DMZ sites in total.

 

Korea DMZ

“End of Separation, Beginning of Unification” : Set up in 1953 as part of a UN agreement, the DMZ is 60 miles long, and 2.5 miles wide.

Right before you reach the lookout point where you see North Korea.

 

North Korea DMZ

The view of North Korea from the South Korean side of the DMZ.

Lookout point, overlooking North Korea. If you look close enough, you can see a fake town created by North Koreans.

Experiencing Korean Food

Any successful trip abroad includes loads of delicious local food. Rest assured that you will leave South Korea with a very happy tummy. Here’s a sampling of some Korean specialties that I ate in PyeongChang:

 

Korean seafood.

Fresh seafood is a staple in the Korean diet.

Remember those fish tanks? This is what happens a bit later. An assortment of sashimi-style raw fish. I ate it with soy sauce and it was delicious.

 

bibimbap

Bibimbap, anyone? The most amazing blend of flavors and textures.

Bimbimbap is a local dish, and this is a vegetarian version. I heard a lot about the dish, and it was delicious. This portion can feed two people, it’s huge!

 

korean bbq

Family-style feasts allow you to try a bit of everything.

This is what Koreans call a family-style appetizer. Six of us shared this round of food before the main entrees came out.

 

korean bbq

Meat lovers rejoice – Korean BBQ is world-famous.

This is a traditional Korean BBQ table, where you sit on the floor and cook your own meat. A waiter assists you with anything you need. Anyone with knee or hip problems can adjust.

We also drank soju, a rice wine, that you dip into your beer. You can’t even taste the soju, it blends in with the beer, but the alcohol hits you faster!

Summary of the Trip 

Overall the trip was an amazing adventure. My main goal was to check out the sites for the Winter Games, and I was happy to see that all of the venues were completed, or just about done.

Both cities – Seoul and PyeongChang – were clean and efficient. Travelers will enjoy the orderly and on-time transportation throughout the country.

Surprisingly, there wasn’t as much snow as I thought there would be, but it was still cold everywhere. In the mountains, there was more snow, and the event organizers have been storing snow for the Winter Games for the last two years! That’s preparation for you.

The food was a great culinary experience. There were one or two items that were a bit too exotic for me, but if you have a guide helping you out, you can’t go wrong.