Take a walk off the beaten path to discover Gangwon’s hidden gems
HOME OF THE 2018 WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES, the laidback Gangwon province in South Korea that was otherwise under the radar until the past year is now anticipating an influx of tourists.
Situated just a couple of hours’ drive from the Incheon International Airport a little west of Seoul, Gangwon is truly a hidden gem with many yet undiscovered attractions.
Because of its ideal geographical location, the province boasts a spectacular landscape with rolling mountains that almost reach the sea.
From pristine beaches along the coast of the East Sea to lush green forests, to architecture from the Joseon period to the modern lines of the official Winter Olympics venues, Gangwon strikes the perfect balance in being in between two worlds.
Getting around the province may require some good planning as it is not as connected as Seoul. But what’s an adventure without earning some good old travel mileage via the more “traditional” means: Ie. Getting around by bus and on foot? After all, as they say, those are some of the best ways to really discover places and things.
Here are some of the not-to-be-missed experiences and activities:
Haslla Art World
Love a good trip to the museum and have about two hours to spare? Then you’re going to enjoy a walk in and around the magnificent Haslla Art World.
“Haslla” was the former name of the Gangneung area during the Goguryeo and Silla periods. Haslla Art World sits on 61 acres overlooking the seemingly endless East Sea, with a hotel that looks like a piece of art on its own and a museum located on the very same ground.
The meticulously decorated museum displays a variety of artwork including Marionette dolls, wood art, and contemporary sculptures. Visitors may take part in experience programs if they want, although prior inquiries and reservations are required.
Take a stroll in the park and hike up the small slopes at the art garden to admire the thought-provoking installations while enjoying the cool breeze from the East Sea. Haslla Art World’s outdoor area also makes for a good spot to take lots of pictures. Once you’re done, head on over to their sea cafe for a refreshing glass of iced tea.
- Admission: KRW10,000 (US$36).
- Opening hours: 9am – 6pm.
- Address: 1441, Yulgong-ro, Gangdong-myeon, Gangneung-si.
Walking the needle fir forested path that’s boarded by a babbling brook leading to the centuries-old Woljeongsa Temple really sets the tone for what you’re about to experience at the historic destination – calmness and peace.
Founded in 643 during the Goryeo period by monk Master Ja Jang, Woljeongsa is a head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism and in charge of over 60 temples and eight monasteries in the area. It’s home to many items of cultural heritage, including the octagonal nine-story stone pagoda, the bronze bell of Sangwonsa, and the seated stone Bodhisattva.
Woljeongsa offers temple stay programs where visitors can learn about the temple’s history, meditate without distractions, and experience Buddhist culture.
One such activity in particular is the prayer necklace of 108 beads. With the help of an assigned instructor, taking up the activity would mean you’d need to bow and kneel before threading each bead. The action represents an affliction you would need to dispose of in order to walk the path of enlightenment.
- Admission: KRW3,000 (US$2.80).
- Opening hours: Two hours before sunrise (opening), two hours before sunset (closing).
- Address: 374-8, Odaesan-ro, Jinbu-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun.
Daegwallyeong Sheep Farm
If the words “Samyang Double Spicy” mean anything to you, then don’t miss out on visiting the charming sheep farm the company owns. (To the uninitiated, “Samyang Double Spicy” is also known as Korean “fire noodles”, the extremely spicy instant ramen that triggered the #SamyangChallenge trend around the world)
Said to be Asia’s largest green pasture on a plateau, the Daegwallyeong Sheep Farm sits on a ranch in an area about 195 k㎡ in size. The ranch is the only one in PyeongChang that raises sheep, and boasts a large grazing field to accommodate the fuzzy, four-legged friends. Daegwallyeoung also allows visitors to get an up close and personal experience with the sheep via the sheep feeding experience.
When you’re done getting your palms tickled by the feeding sheep, hop on a tractor and take a ride up to the highest spot of the ranch, the 1,470 meter-high plateau. There are large wind turbines at the top and remarkable views for days, making it a good spot to enjoy fresh air and take pictures.
It does get a little chilly during winter although the thick blanket of white looks oh so magical. So do remember to bundle up prior.
- Admission: KRW4,000 (US$3.70).
- Opening hours: 9am – 5pm (November – February), 9am – 5:30pm (March – October), 9am – 6pm (April – September), 9am – 6pm, (May – August). Last admission is at 4:30pm. Hours are subject to change depending on weather conditions.
- Address: 483-32, Daegwallyeongmaru-gil, Pyeongchang-gun.
Anmok Coffee Street
Located in Gangneung, Anmok beach spans over 500m in length and covers an area of 20,000㎡. Popular with the locals, the beach is often packed with couples, friends, and families. It’s also home to the busy Anmok Port, where fishing boats can often be seen unloading their catch.
But those aren’t the only things Anmok is famous for.
The coffee culture is strong in South Korea and this is especially true in Gangneung, which has been recognized as the “city of coffee”. Anmok beach is the place to be for coffee lovers, for right across the street from the sprawling Anmok beach is a street lined with everything from Starbucks to locally-owned artisan coffee establishments.
So grab a mug and maybe a slice of cake for a fairly reasonable price, get up to the top floor of the coffee shop, pick a seat facing the beach, then stare out at the sea of emerald green and deep blue while watching the happy dance of seagulls.
- Admission: Free.
- Opening hours: Open all year round.
- Address: 17, Changhae-ro, Gangneung-si.
Yongpyong Ski Resort
Are you a personified adrenaline junkie and someone who isn’t afraid of heights? Then a trip to PyeongChang’s Yongpyong Ski Resort has your name on it.
Located smack in the center of Korea’s Baekdudaegan mountain range, Yongpyong Ski Resort sees an average of 250cm of snowfall per season, making it perfect for skiing. The ski season runs from November to April but the resort is an all-season leisure facility.
Aside from impressive ski slopes and excellent services for skiers, the resort also houses plush accommodations and an enormous 17 million sqm recreational complex including a 45-hole golf course, gondolas, and a swimming pool.
In recent years, Yongpyong Ski Resort has hosted a number of international competitions including the World Cup Ski Competition and the Asian Winter Games, as well as the Alpine Skiing event for the Winter Olympics. To add on, the resort also made quite a name for itself when it was featured in popular Korean dramas Goblin, That Winter the Wind Blows, Sad Love Story, and Winter Sonata.
- Admission: More information here.
- Opening hours: 8:30am – 4:30pm (day), 6:30pm – 10pm (night).
- Address: 715, Olympic-ro, Daegwanryeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun.
*This article was written in collaboration with Korea Tourism Organization.
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Source: Travels travelwireasia.com