What to do and see in Gangwon Province, home of PyeongChang 2018
The Seoul metropolitan area is one of the most heavily populated in the world and is home to over 25 million people. Whenever the chance presents itself in winter or summer, many of them head east to Gangwon province, home of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
There is a very good reason for that. Situated on the east of the Republic of Korea, Gangwon is a beautiful part of the world and one of the quieter regions of this busy and modern country, offering a relaxing contrast to the hustle and bustle of its big cities. It is a place to which people are lured by fresh mountain and sea air and the chance to recharge their batteries.
The seaside city of Gangneung is a good first port of call and not just because it will be hosting a number of events at the 2018 Winter Games. With its famous beaches, vibrant nightlife and many restaurants, there is plenty to see and do, and it is also a great base for exploring the east coast.
A little to the north-west lies Odaesan National Park (“san” means “mountain” in Korean). Within very easy reach of PyeongChang, it is home to campsites and hostels and offers plenty to see, including Woljeongsa, a famous temple founded in 643 and a sight not to be missed. Not far from the park lies Ojukheon, a house that features on the back of the 5,000 Korean won note and was the home of a celebrated 16th-century Confucian scholar.
While Odaesan National Park is beautiful, Seoraksan, situated a little further to the north, is simply spectacular, though it is worth stopping off at the beautiful Naksansa Temple in Yangyang on the way.
Breathtaking all year round, Mount Seorak is arguably the most beautiful spot in the country and a favourite destination for Korean and overseas visitors alike, especially in autumn, when the countryside bursts into magical colour. Do what the locals do when hiking: stock up on cucumbers to munch on the way up the mountain and then head back down for rice wine and seafood pancakes. The city of Sokcho, which boasts excellent seafood, is a perfect base for visits to Seoraksan.
Chiaksan is yet another stunning national park. Spend a day or two there and you can make a quick stop-off in nearby Hoengsong, a village famed for its delicious beef, which you can select for yourself and cook on the tables provided, with a number of side dishes and sauces laid on too.
Alternatively, as many people do, you can head to Chuncheon. A charming city that sits on the banks of a lake, it is home to “dakgalbi”, a famous chicken dish cooked in spicy sauce at the table and which is becoming increasingly popular across Asia. A popular tourist destination, Chuncheon was also the setting for “Winter Sonata”, a hugely successful soap opera that proved especially popular in Japan, China and Southeast Asia.
Heading south of Gangneung now, we come to the small but very popular resort of Jeongdongjin. The country’s east coast railway runs along the beach here, while many flock to the town and other spots along the coast to watch the sunrise, not least on New Year’s Day.
Though Gangneung is the only city in the province that boasts five-star international hotels, the small towns and villages of Gangwon offer a wide range of motels, hostels and small guest houses, which afford a fascinating insight into the real Korea. Visitors to these establishments will also find a host of activities to enjoy in the surrounding areas, such as white-water rafting, rowing on the province’s many lakes and quad-biking, to name but a few.