Korean City Guides: Pyeongchang Guide
After two close calls in the race for the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, in which the city won the first round of voting ahead of Vancouver and Salzburg in 2010 only to just fall short in the second round, Pyeongchang easily defeated the French and German challenges from Annecy and Munich. The decision for Pyeongchang to host the 2018 Winter Olympics was announced in the South African city of Durban in July 2011 to much rejoicing back home in South Korea.
The whole theme of the tournament is compactness. The venues that are the most widely separated are still within 30 minutes of each other. There are two clusters. The first in Alpensia, (Alps in Asia) where the snow events take place and then the second in the east coast city of Gangneung for the ice events. Phoenix Park which will stage the freestyle became famous, not only in Korea but all around Asia, as the background of Korean TV drama "Winter Sonata." It is already a hugely popular destination for skiers and snowboarders and little work needs to be done.
Gangneung will stage ice hockey, figure skating, curling and short track speed skating. The city's two rinks will be upgraded and improved. Most facitilies in Alpensia are already built. Biathlon and cross-country are ready as is the track for the luge, bobsleigh and skeleton. The Ski Jump stadium, home to the opening and closing ceremonies that will seat 50,000 people, has already hosted the 2009 and 2011 FIS Ski Jumping Continental Cup.
Accomodation in Pyeongchang
There have been all sorts of hotels springing up in Alpensia. InterContinental Alpensia PyeongChang Resort was the first five-star hotel to appear with 238 rooms. Holiday Inn Resort Alpensia PyeongChang has 214 rooms and is interconnected with Alpensia Convention Center and a spa facility. Lastly, Holiday Inn & Suites Alpensia PyeongChang Condominium is a complex of condominiums located at the center of Alpensia. The complex has 419 rooms. Check our recommended hotels in Pyeongchang for further options.
As well as restaurants in the hotels, there are restaurants, bars, convenience stores and karaoke rooms dotted around the hotels. For those who are looking for cheaper accommodation. You can head to the nearest town to Alpensia which is Hoengye, which has a few motels as do nearby Jinbu and Jangbong. Gangneung is just 25 km away to the east and home to a number of 'ice' events such as ice hockey and figure skating in 2018. This is the largest city on the east coast and offers multiple accommodation options.
When to go to Pyeongchang
Obviously, winter is the time for winter sports and the season usually runs from November until late February but March sometimes sees heavy snowfall. January and February are busiest. This also coincides with vacation time for students and the Lunar New Year. The hotels in Alpensia are open all year round and are naturally cheaper in the off-season. A summer visit can be an option as the beaches of Gangneung are 20-30 minutes drive away where you can escape the humid Korean summer.
There is trouble brewing at Jungbong, the home of Gariwang Mountain. This is the site of the Alpine skiing slope. Construction is due to start in 2013 and finish in 2016. The problem for the organizers is that the venue is part of a protected forest reserve home, to what environmental groups say, rare tree and birds.
A local resident'' group has been formed to counter the protests. This group claims that there are no longer any rare trees in the reserve and the presence of rare birds is doubtful.
The official position of the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee is that there is no alternative as president Kim Jin-sun said. "We are planning to make an environmentally friendly games, it is part of the vision and message of the IOC and POCOG," he said. "When we chose that site at Jungbong, we looked at the conditions and we found that was the only option in terms of a downhill venue. After we were selected as the host, some environmental groups issued concerns and brought these concerns to our attention and this is completely understandable. We intend to engage with the environmental organizations and experts and the government and national and provincial level and bring together wisdom and work together so we can launch an eco-friendly games."
There has been some confusion over a high-speed rail link from Incheon International Airport to Pyeongchang. During the bid process, it was reported, and indeed stated by the bid team, that there would be a high-speed rail link to take visitors from the airport to the host city in 68 minutes.
In January, the Korean media reported that the government had scrapped plans to fund the project. Organizers claimed that it had all been a media misunderstanding and there never was a plan for a new high-speed link. It was always about upgrading existing lines from Incheon to Seoul to Wonju and then building a high-speed link from Wonju to Gangneung via Pyeongchang.
The economic consequences of the games on the local area is one that has been debated on the national stage of late and there are worries that the residents will not be the ones to benefit.
Day Trips From Pyeongchang
Chuncheon - the administrative capital of Gangwon Province is a pleasant city that nestles on a number of lakes and is an ideal place to hire a bicycle and wander around. Chuncheon is also home of the famous 'dakgalbi'. This is diced chicken that is grilled on a hot plate in front of you with spices and vegetables. Dakgalbi is extremely popular with tourists and well worth a try.
Sokcho - A city on the north-east coach and the gateway to Seorak Mountain National Park - perhaps the south's most beautiful such park and certainly its most popular. Try to avoid Seorak Mountain National Park on weekends as it is almost as busy as Seoul but if you arrive there on a quiet morning, the different trails can provide stunning views and aching legs.
Odaesan National Park - Also a worth visiting for the hikes but also for the impressive Woljeongsa Temple that nestles in the hills.
Jeongdongjin - A resort on the east coast. Not that much to do here but it has a fine beach (which has the east coast train line running right next to it and according to the tourist office is the closest train station to the beach in the world). People flock here to see the sunrise. Also, nearby is a captured North Korean submarine.
Getting to Pyeongchang
By bus, take a Jangpyeong bus at the Dong-Seoul Express Bus Terminal in Seoul. From Jangpyeong Express Bus Terminal take a free shuttle bus to Phoenix Park. The shuttle bus is every two hours from 9am-9pm. There are also buses from Gangneung to Yongpyeong, Suwon, Gwangju, Busan, Mokpo, Sokcho, and Yeosu.
Gangneung - The east coast city may be waiting for its high speed rail link but you can take the slow train that currently runs from Cheongyangri station in north-east Seoul. The bus is currently quicker and you can take an express bus from either Dong (East) Seoul Terminal or Express Bus Terminal in Gangnam.
Pyeongchang will host the 2018 Winter Olympics and transport links are being upgraded as a result. A KTX line is under construction from Seoul to Wonju via Pyeongchang for the 2018 Winter Olympics. By bus, take a Jangpyeong bus at the Dong-Seoul Express Bus Terminal in Seoul. From Jangpyeong Express Bus Terminal take a free shuttle bus to Phoenix Park. The shuttle bus is every two hours from 9am-9pm.
Article by John Duerden
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