City guide: Pyeongchang

Pyeongchang welcomes the world Feb. 9-25 for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games taking place in this South Korean county northeast of Seoul. Visitors not only can witness thrilling Olympic competition, but also try the local cuisine, tour Buddhist temples and test their own winter sports skills on the slopes.

The Olympic events largely take place in two ski resorts—Alpensia and Yongpyong. The opening and closing ceremonies will be held in a temporary stadium about 2 kilometers from Alpensia Olympic Village. Additional events are happening in neighboring counties, Jeongseon and Gangneung.

Pyeongchang has not enjoyed much economic power in a country dominated by capital city Seoul.  Locals believe the area’s financial future lies with tourists drawn to its mountain resorts and scenic coast; they hope the games will offer a boost. Today, the service sector accounts for 70% of the area economy.

Getting to and from the airport

International visitors arrive at Incheon International Airport in metropolitan Seoul. A high-speed rail line from the airport to Pyeongchang opened in December 2017; Korail is running express trains during the games. A one-way journey takes about 90 minutes. Bus service is also available to Pyeongchang; the journey takes about three hours, and the fare is 40,000 South Korean won (US$37.35, using the exchange rate US$1 = ₩1070.94).

Getting around Pyeongchang

 Free shuttle buses run between Pyeongchang and Olympic satellite cities, as well has to and from Olympic venues. Find schedules at the Pyeongchang 2018 website or download the official mobile app. Taxis are available, but there aren’t many drivers within Pyeongchang. It’s best to have your hotel order a taxi for you in advance.

Where to stay

 Luxury and upscale accommodations in the area include Intercontinental Alpensia Pyeongchang Resort (385 Yongsan-ri Daekwallyeong, Pyeongchang; Ph: 82-33-339-0000) and Holiday Inn Resort Alpensia Pyeongchang (195 Alpensia Resort, Yongsan-ri, Daekwallyeo; Ph: 82-33-339-1240).

 Things to see and do

To immerse yourself in South Korean culture without leaving the games, visit the free Cultural Olympiad exhibits in Pyeongchang Olympic Plaza. One pavilion highlights modern Korean culture, while the other focuses on the traditional heritage and way of life. Both venues offer art, live music and dance performances.

Pyeongchang and the surrounding Gangwon province are winter playgrounds. Aplensia ski resport has six runs with areas suitable for beginners, expert skiers and snowboarders. Yongpyong, the largest ski resort in Korea, has 31 runs.

After a day on the slopes, relax as South Koreans do in a jjimjilbang mineral bath and sauna. The sauna at Holiday Inn Resort Alpensia is open to the public and is an excellent way to recharge aching muscles.

Take time to visit to a local Buddhist temple. The most impressive is Woljeongsa, founded in 643 on the eastern slopes of Mount Odaesan. Within the grounds, you’ll find an intricate nine-story stone pagoda dating back to the 10th century. Make the visit a day trip by adding a picturesque hike down the mountain.

 Where to eat

 To get a sense of how the locals eat, visit the Jumunjin Fish Market. Vendors pile into the market early each morning to sell freshly caught seafood. Typical offerings include red snow crab, octopus, squid, mackerel and crab. You can select your seafood of choice and take it to any one of the nearby restaurants. They will be happy to cook your purchase in a traditional Korean style. The market is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Hanwoo Town (translates to “Beef Town”) is considered one of the best restaurants in Pyeongchang. The specialty here is Korean barbeque. Don’t be fooled by the modest interior. Diners enjoy their locally sourced beef with all the fixings, including kimchi, radishes, fermented soybean and oyster mushrooms. Wash it all down with a glass of soju—a traditional Korean rice liquor. Find it at 38, Olympic-ro, Daegwallyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do; Ph: 82-33-336-2151.