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Published: August 17th 2018
Wow! Greetings from Pyeongchang, South Korea! Six months ago, when I visited Northern Ireland for a few days, I remember watching the Winter Olympics on TV while I was having breakfast in my lovely BnB there in Belfast, and thinking that in a few months, I’ll be there myself. In fact, here it is, I am here myself! It seems so strange to be here, having seen this place on TV on the other side of the world so many times, and it’s actually really amazing. I have had a thoroughly enjoyable couple of days here, and just when I thought travel fatigue might be around the corner, starting to get the better of me, up popped Pyeongchang, and I am renewed once more with travel energy again! And I don’t think it will stop there. Tomorrow I am off to Seoul for the final few days and final destination of my trip this summer, and I am also filled with the excitement of visiting South Korea’s buzzing capital, after just over a week in its hinterlands. Indeed, I am also looking forward very much to going home and being at home once more, but I am actually
Winter Olympics 2018
not at that stage of travel weariness where I sometimes find myself towards the end of a trip. Yay!
So last up I believe I wrote from the lovely city of Andong. Yesterday morning I boarded a 3.5 hour bus to the north and east, to a similarly small city on the east coast of South Korea, Gangneung. I wasn’t altogether looking forward to this journey, as South Korean buses don’t have toilets on board, and 3.5 hours is quite a bit of time for me, or for anyone I believe, to be on a bus and being at the mercy of the driver as to whether one can relieve oneself or not. I did my usual thing, that is not drink anything apart from a mouthful of coffee to get me going in the morning, as it was quite an early start, and ended up with a bit of a headache – but definitely far preferable to being busting with no hope of relief. The bus was actually really comfortable, with three seats per row rather than four, and really nice, large, reclining seats, but still no toilet. Fortunately the bus did make two pit-stops along the way,
so no problems there. In Gangneung, it was a five minute changeover to my next bus, a 30-minute journey back the way we came, and up into the north-eastern mountains of South Korea. I was heading to a small town nestled in a mountain valley called Hoenggwe, which in actual fact was the centre of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018, hosting the Winter Olympic Stadium and the Olympic Torch Tower. Here, I was met at the bus station by my wonderful, jovial and very friendly guesthouse owner, Mr Jeong, to whisk me away to his really quite magical and wonderful guesthouse called “Terrace on the Cloud”. Along with the owner’s own lodgings, the guesthouse has seven further accommodations of various sizes, and comes straight out of a “Grand Designs” episode to my mind. It is really quite a stunning building, whose grounds are covered with wild flowers and colourful birdhouses, overlooking the mountain range beyond the town of Hoenggwe. A really quite beautiful, whimsical place to stay. Upon showing me to my room, Mr Jeong made my day, twice, by being astounded when I told him my age (40) – he said in Korea people would think I was 25!
After this he explained that each of his rooms is named after a Greek god, and then mentioned that he was going to call me “Adonis” from then on as he thought I was so handsome! My goodness, flattery is always welcome in this house! Thank you Mr Jeong!
After a quick head-down and lunch, Mr Jeong gave me a lift back into town, and dropped me off for my sightseeing for the rest of the day. I began with a walk around the centre of Hoenggwe, a little surprised to see that the Olympic Stadium and a number of other Olympic buildings had been demolished, they were only planned to be temporary! The Olympic Torch Tower was still standing, though in a sea of dirt and demolition, which actually made it quite photogenic. Oh how amazing the place must have been back in February, but today it feels quite like a ghost town. I am seemingly the only foreigner for miles around, yet this surely can’t have been the case half-a-year ago when the world’s eyes were on this sleepy little mountain town. There were also other Olympic remnants around, most notably lots of figures of the Winter
Olympic mascots, Soohorang and Bandabi, and I treated myself to buying two cuddly toys of the pair – very cute! After completing my walk around town, I decided to visit one of the two nearby ski resorts which hosted most of the ski-related events, and one of the principal skiing destinations in north-east Asia apparently, the resort of Yongpyong. I didn’t really know what to expect until I got there, but I was not disappointed.
In all my years of travel, I have actually never been to a ski resort, nor skiing. I don’t actually feel called to try skiing at all, but was intrigued to finally be in a ski resort, and out-of-season it was actually even more intriguing. There were still a fair number of domestic tourists, as there are still activities that can be enjoyed here, such as hiking and golf, but most of the ski lifts were not running, and there is absolutely no snow at all. I did notice that a distant cable car was running, so quickly purchased a return ticket, to find out it was heading up one of the area’s highest peaks, Mt Balwangsan, at 1458m. The journey was spectacular and
really quite long, taking about 15 minutes in total, and particularly impressive as it climbed up towards the cloud-covered peak at the end. Reaching the top, and being at cloud-level, you couldn’t actually enjoy the amazing views from up there, but the temperature was really very pleasant. After four weeks of high 30s, this was the first time in a long time that I’ve felt cold, and I enjoyed the feeling very much! It was about 17 degrees at the Yongpyong resort, so it must have been about 14 degrees or so up there. And for the first time in these four weeks, I did not soak my t-shirt through in sweat yesterday, and in fact used the same one again today – wow! Indeed, the climate is very agreeable up here, and it seems that many domestic tourists probably come here also to escape the heat of the lowlands. From the top, you could continue on foot for a further 10 minutes or so to actually climb to the peak itself, and when I got there I had the place to myself. It was lovely. After immensely enjoying again the journey back down the cable car, and a delicious
Korean meal at the resort’s food area, I asked one of the hotel’s reception desks to call me a taxi to take me back to my magical guesthouse, for contemplation of the day and a wonderful night’s sleep.
Today was also quite a full-on day, and again I’m amazed at how much travel energy I still have at this late stage in my trip. Perhaps it’s the cooler climate, or simply the excitement of being here! After a delicious Korean breakfast, Mr Jeong took me back into town once more, where I took a bus to the next town over, Jinbu, about 15km to the west of here. From here, I took another bus northwards and into the beautiful Odaesan National Park. My two destinations here were each Buddhist Temples, but I was also there for the beautiful mountain and forest scenery. Firstly, the Sangwon-sa Temple, being the more remote of the two, and situated as with so many Buddhist Temples in Korea, on the slopes of a forested mountain, with wonderful views matching beautifully with temple roofs and tiles. Secondly, another bus journey took me to the nearby Woljeong-sa Temple, further down the mountain valley, but picturesque due
to a rushing mountain stream running through it. The former temple housed Korea’s oldest bell, cast in 725AD, the latter a lovely nine-storey pagoda believed to date back to the 10th
century. My visit at Woljeong-sa also included a short round walk through the grounds’ needle fir forest, “one of the three main needle fir colonies in Korea”, although I hot-footed this one a bit in order to be back in time for the hourly bus returning me back to Jinbu, from where I took a bus back to Hoenggwe, and then a taxi to my next destination for the day, the amazing Alpensia Ski Jump Centre.
Out of all winter sports, I think I find ski-jumping one of the most exciting to watch. It really is quite amazing watching it on TV, but a visit to the actual Winter Olympics 2018 ski jump really brought it home to me just how high these things are, and how amazingly brave and daring anybody must be to actually want to ski down one of these things, and then jump off the end of it! I found myself gasping in awe at the sight of it upon first arrival, and then
once more remembering how I’d seen this place on TV just six months before, with so very many more people. Again, it was quite deserted and lonely, but of course anything will be in an out-of-season ski centre. One of the highlights of my visit was taking a virtual reality experience of a ski-jump, which was very scary indeed, particularly as I was held by a rope at my waist, and upon jumping in the visual programme, I was told to lean forward down a slope and trust that the rope would hold me. I couldn’t do it the first time, but I did it the second. My heart was racing and it took me a while to catch my breath afterwards. It was a unique experience. Why, or how, anyone would ever want to do that in real life is beyond me! So scary! The other highlight was getting to ride up to the top of the ski jump, to the observation tower, first by a steep monorail which went up the side of the jump, and then a lift right up to the top. It was amazing to consider that that was the way the ski jumpers would
Terrace on the Cloud Guesthouse
View over the back, looking vaguely reminiscent of England...!
go up when preparing for a jump – how nervous they must be! On the observation tower you could pose for a photo opportunity which made it look like you were about to ski-jump yourself – I think it looks quite realistic! After the ski jump visit, a short walk downhill on the other side of it brought me to the second of the two ski resorts in the area, the Alpensia Resort. This was actually the main centre for most of the ski activities, including the bobsleigh, another of my favourite events. It didn’t seem like you could experience the bobsleigh course in any similar way to the ski jump however, but it was amazing to see. Alpensia was also home to the International Broadcasting Centre, from where all global transmissions of the events would have been transmitted, so it was once more enjoyable to walk around an area which I had seen so much on TV already. A final taxi ride, booked from another ski resort hotel reception desk, brought me back once more to my lovely room in this lovely guesthouse with its lovely view.
I have enjoyed my stay in Pyeongchang very much. It has
Soohorang and Bandabi
Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018 Mascots
been so different to anything I have done on my travels this summer, and such a pleasant change in climate. The guesthouse has been incredible, and I have spent my time here just so happy to travel around and see all the places which were on TV not so long ago, along with other sights. Indeed, whilst I am very much looking forward to coming home, there is still some travel energy left in me yet. This is quite fortunate, as tomorrow I travel on to one of the main destinations of my travels this summer – my final stop, from where I take my flight home, the largest city in South Korea, and the second largest urban economy in the whole of Asia. That is, Seoul. I am very excited about visiting this amazing-sounding city.
I plan to write my next one from Seoul in a few days’ time, before heading home on Wednesday. I plan then to write my final one after arriving home, most likely with a few post-trip thoughts and reflections.
Thank you for reading, and wishing everyone all the best.
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