Pyeongchang & Seoul, South Korea

Having recently moved to Hong Kong, it is no surprise that this is where the journey starts. It was coming up to the Christmas holidays and a trip to South Korea for some Skiing was penciled in. There are several ways to get to the airport from Hong Kong Island but its hard to beat the convenience of the ‘Airport Express’. At Hong Kong Metro Station/under IFC mall there is a train where you can check in your bags for your flight, and then you get on the train and arrive to the airport without the hassle of having to deal with you check-in luggage when you get there. The journey only takes about 30 minutes and before I knew it, it was time for an airport beer.

There were four of us travelling but on two separate flights. We were due to arrive in over an hour before the other two but then our flight got delayed, for about 40 minutes. Long story short we ended up right behind them in the queue for immigration so it all worked out well. We went outside for taxi, got a ticket and then they told us which taxi stand to go to. We went, as directed, to no. 6 but the taxi wasn’t big enough for us and our cases so we were told to go further up to a bigger one (which was a bit more luxurious but I’m not sure if the price was higher than normal because of that or not). We had a big load, because after South Korea, we had two weeks in Indonesia to consider also.

We had booked a guest house in Seoul near the bus stop for the bus that would take us to Alpensia in the morning. We had not planned on exploring Seoul too much that night as we were late in and had two days there at the end of the holiday to explore after the skiing. Regardless, we still found time for a beer and ended up in a place called Flair Bar (7,000 Won for a beer), which reminded us of the aprés ski vibe and got us in the mood already. After that we went and found some fried chicken and beer (3,500 Won for a beer and 19,000 for a biiig plate of chicken), a must in South Korea! It was approaching midnight by the time we left but the place was still really full so chicken and beer seemed more common that I first thought. The guest house itself was convenient but not a fantastic standard, it did the job for us but we wouldn’t be rushing back to stay there again with rock hard beds, and roasting hot (to the point of not being able to sleep) rooms.

We arrived in plenty of time for the bus as I had read that it was very punctual and didn’t wait around. As 8am approached, the bus still hadn’t arrived so I was slightly worried that I got the pick up location wrong even though the directions were very clear and others were waiting in the same area but the bus arrived at five to eight and as soon as everyone was on, it left at one minute past eight. There was no checking of tickets… yet anyway. So the bus didn’t hang about, that is for sure.

There were a couple of small stops along the way while still in Seoul and then a main stop, about 15 mins at the Olympic stadium sports complex where we changed buses. It was only then that they checked tickets and needed the barcode to scan (Note when receiving confirmation of tickets I got an email with a png file attached, this is the barcode u need, it doesn’t mention it in the email and I only printed it as an extra precaution, so I was lucky). Anyway, by 9am we were on the road again. and headed directly to Alpensia. The journey was a total of about three hours (form our pick up), and was a great service really. The only concern was through the journey, and even on approach to the resort, there wasn’t a huge amount of snow. What I’d learn later was that this area is known for its high quality produced snow, and only averages about three metres of actual snowfall a year. The dry (low humidity) climate allows the produced snow to be of a very good standard.

Although we were staying Alpensia Resort, the slopes there were closed as the winter Olympics were just around the corner and preparation was in full swing, but there was free shuttle buses every hour between Alpensia and Yongpyong (a five minute bus) so it was no trouble at all. For our first day of skiing we had to collect ski passes and rent equipment etc. and although it was all paid for before we arrived, it was done through a company, who weren’t completely organised, so it took us a small while but eventually a company representative showed up and we got sorted with ski passes and got our tickets for equipment and went to the rental desk to get our gear.

In the afternoon, we had a ski lesson with Diego, our Spanish instructor. He was a great instructor, I thought anyway, and I learned more in that first lesson than I expect to learn the whole week. We had a second lesson with Diego in the morning but before that  finished up our skiing for day 1 and found a nice Korean barbecue restaurant, and had a few beers there too. To finish the night we made our way back to the hotel and had a few drinks in the room and played some cards.

For day 2 we woke up to it snowing and Diego had us going up the intermediate level slopes with for our second lesson. The name of the slope was ‘mega green’ but it was a blue level slope. Confusing right?! I’ve no idea why it was done that way but each slope had a colour for a name, and then each slope had a colour coded difficulty (which is normal) but the mix was just a recipe for confusion. Anyway, after our trip to the mega green, Diego offered to take us on a further away on a longer run, that we hadn’t been on before. we set off for ‘Red Paradise’ and I felt out of my dept but I survived and, as Diego said, in order to improve you need to go out of your comfort zone. Helen, sat out that part of the lesson and we all met up after for some hot chocolate and coffee. In the afternoon, we were out on our own and mixed it up with the different slopes before three of us ventured back to red paradise one more time. I knew I had to test myself but I struggled again.

After the skiing we made our way to a nearby town called Hoeng-gye. Diego had recommended a place there, so we got dropped off on the main street and headed into a random bar called Birch bar first where we had a plate of sausages and nachos before going up to the bar on the 4th Floor which we think was the one Diego recommended, regardless we had a few more beers there. While we were there was a group of Koreans who seemed to think we were Olympic skiers because we were wearing matching jackets, but the language barrier got in between us to get proper confirmation of that, still we enjoyed the free pizza they offered us! There was no easy way back to the hotel as the town was quiet so we asked the bar man to order taxi and translate but then taxi didn’t seem to show up or showed up and left before we got down so bar man dropped us home and wouldn’t except any money. Now that’s hospitality!

On the third day we thought we had a third and final lesson with Diego but one way or another there was a mix up and we didn’t, but it wasn’t the end of the world, we had the free reign of ourselves for the day. It was a good day and we mixed between different slopes and split when some of us wanted to go try some harder slopes further away. Yongpyong Resort is one of only a handful of destinations worldwide where night skiing is catered for and we had planned on doing it that night, but we left the 30% off vouchers at our hotel so we waited until the next night. For dinner we had a not so traditional Turkish kebab, and some beers. There was a few Turkish kebab outlets, around the resort…who knew that type of food was popular in South Korea! After dinner we went back to the hotel, and decided we’d try and stay local for the night so we checked if there were any bars in the Alpesnia resort. After a quick stroll around we found the Kloud bar near our hotel. The bar itself was quiet enough but equipped with some sweet bizzlas (beers) and cards, we kept ourselves entertained.

Day 4 was our last day of skiing, so although I was a bit nervous, I ventured up to the gold and red paradise run with the others. The views from the top were spectacular and I was delighted that I decided to do it, and my friends were excellent guides for the run. By the time we reached the red paradise area that I struggled with before I realised how far I had come as I found that much easier than before.

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That evening we did the night ski (vouchers in hand) but before that we refueled with some pizza, beer and played cards. Outside the restaurant window we could see three guys flat out asleep on the bench. I couldn’t resist taking a picture. I guess they were just taking a nap before the night ski but they looked like they were out for the count.

The night ski was a great experience, I’m not sure if I will get a chance to do that again, but it was such a different experience to the usual and it is always nice to try something new. We didn’t bother going out that night, I guess we were all just tired from the great, but long day. Tomorrow we would set off for Seoul so we would get up and get a great breakfast in and go from there.

The next morning we heard some fighter jets outside, we weren’t sure if it was some military training or if it some preparation for an air show for the Olympics but it was cool. You could see the Olympic ski jump platform from our room and normally you can take a tour up to it but in preparation for the Olympics it was closed, so we didn’t have much to do until our bus at 4:30pm. However, I contacted the bus company via online chat to try change our departure time from 4:30pm to 12:30pm but they said changes couldn’t be made within 3 days of booking, which is fair enough, policy is policy. As we had not much to do, we said we’d try it anyway so we hopped on the 12:30pm bus and luckily there was space, as explaining what we wanted would not have been easy in Korean! Although after we got on in Alpensia the bus made a quick stop in Yongpyong resort, so we were made to sweat a few minutes more.

Another three or so hours on the bus and we were back in Seoul. The hotel we stayed in was simple, but all we really wanted for the two days was a place to rest our heads, nothing fancy as we’d had that skiing and would have it for the rest of our trip in Indonesia. Anyway the price was reasonable and the location was good. We were near an area called Insadong, we walked around there looking for a good chicken and beer place, stopping for beers along the way. It was a really cool area, the lights and decor of some buildings were cool too. There were some random baseball batting cages/rooms around the area too as every now and again you could here the ping of the bats. We should have went in and played a game for the laugh but didn’t, we were too hungry looking for chicken and more beer! We were looking for a particular area with old Korean houses, in the middle of the city, on our hunt before food but couldn’t find them, then, coincidentally, we stumbled across them (near Supyo-ro 28-gil street) on the way back to our hotel. It was relatively dark at this stage so we earmarked them for the morning.

The next morning we made the quick stop at the old Korean houses before getting the metro Gwanghwamun station as the city tour bus company office was near there. As we got to the station we came out and there was a cool statue with some kids in local dress, as well as the palace in the background. Before going to get bus tickets we made our way to the palace, watched the changing of the guard and took a quick stroll around. On the way we walked by the American Embassy and there was one guy standing there protesting with a sign saying ‘no wars’. He clearly wasn’t happy with the american presence in the area.

When we got our tickets we hopped on the bus until we came to the National War Museum, where we hopped off and seen another person with a sign. I presumed it was another protest until we got closer and it was a woman standing there outside an american base with a sign saying ‘Thank you American troops for your efforts to keep us safe’ – Bit of a contrast to the other guy!

The museum had a lot of planes, tanks and ships outside as well as hall long list of soldiers from different countries who had died in the wars. We were glad we stopped there before we hopped back on the bus.

After that we drove though Itaewon which was a trendy looking area but we didn’t have time to stop there if we were to get in the traditional village and Seoul tower so we decided we’d come back to it for food and drink after the rest of the tour. Our next stop was Namsangol Hanok Village, it sounds like a bigger area with old Korean houses like we’d seen before and although it was a nice park area the buildings didn’t have that same authenticity. Next up was the Seoul tower which can be seen from many parts of Seoul so it was nice to get up close to it and get the views from the down to the rest of the city too.

The sun we setting at this point and we were all getting a bit hungry so we made our way back to Itaewon area. We went for a wander, checking out a few places we started with an Irish bar called the Baby Guinness bar, then on to another bar that had swings and sand where we had to take off our shoes, had a cocktail there called the Irish trash can (god only knows where they got that name from!). I guess you could say my choices weren’t very traditional at this point but we made up for that with some soju before we had one final Korean style barbecue!

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The next morning we had one final stop before we headed to the airport. I mean what cliche trip to Seoul would be complete without a trip to Gangnam haha and yes we did the dance!

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After the quick Gangnam trip we headed to the airport but unfortunately we were hit with another delay and to make it worse Incheon airport wasn’t very user friendly for delays, there wasn’t much to do and the food courts were cramped etc. It wasn’t the greatest way to end our time in South Korea, we even had gate changes, delays not coming up screen too but once we got going about five hours later, it was too good a holiday to care about the delay.

Next stop Indonesia!

 

Tips and Prices (In Korean Won):

Taxi from Airport to Seoul 88,000 Won

Taxi to Airport from Seoul 80,000 Won

Bus from/to Seoul to/From Alpensia 22,000 Won per person each way

Ski lift pass prices:

day: 08:30am-4:30pm = 76,000 Won

evening: 6:30pm-10:00pm = 54,000 Won

night: 9:00pm-12:30am = 38,000 Won

Skis equipment rental prices:

day: 08:30am-4:30pm = 33,000 Won

evening: 6:30pm-10:00pm = 28,000 Won

night: 9:00pm-12:30am = 24,000 Won

Get out at Samseong metro station in Gangnam to go to the Gangnam hands statue, not Gangnam station… a mistake we made at the time!

The standard of english among the locals isn’t amazing, and we found it harder than I’d like to admit to even remember the phrase for thank you, but people are still as friendly as possible, and you will get by one way or another.

The website below was good for organising buses and is full of other information too:

Funtastic Korea website

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