TEXT AND PHOTOS BY EUDEN VALDEZ
NEXT to Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, South Korea is fast becoming a favorite Asian destination among Filipinos young and old.
This trend came along with Hallyu, the global Korean phenomenon that has transformed countless Filipinos into fans of K-pop and K-drama. Many of these Filipino fans want to feel closer to their idols so they travel to South Korea to see what their idols see, to do what they do, to eat what they eat, and the likes.
Most of the time, these Filipinos want to return and look for something new. The Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) in the Philippines is pushing for a winter experience in their country. And not just in Seoul, but somewhere they can truly immerse in the season of snow.
This is at Gangwon province, which is two hours by bus or one hour by train from the capital. This countryside of mountains and trees covered in snow can truly make one dreamy. There are two key places to discover: PyeongChang County and Gangneung City. Here are 10 destinations not to miss:
1. Ski resorts
Skiing is a must try when experiencing winter for the first time. PyeongChang is the perfect place for first-timer Filipino skiers because it is home to some of South Korea’s most coveted ski resorts—the very same ones that served venue to the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Join Korea International Ski Camp that offers ski lessons in partnership with top ski resorts like YongPyong All Seasons Resort, Alpensia Resort, Phoenix PyeongChang Resort, and High1 Resort.
2. The peak of a mountain
If you choose YongPyong Resort, a must visit there is Mt. Balwangsan’s Dragon Peak. At 1,458MASL, it can be reached via a 3.7-km-long, 40-minute gondola ride.
With its elevation, it offers 360-degree views of mountain ranges, the sunrise and sunset, sea of clouds, and the Pacific Ocean on the east. This truly scenic spot, which becomes all white in winter, served as setting to two iconic K-dramas: Winter Sonata (2002) and Goblin (2016).
Mt. Balwangsan is also very symbolic to Koreans. The sum of the digits of its height is 18, which is very auspicious in greater Chinese culture. And a horizontal 8 means infinity. This symbolizes Mt. Balwangsan’s infinite amount of qi (force) to give birth to a king. As such, the mountain is believed to be the birthplace of champions and the beginning of success.
3. An indoor water park—that’s heated!
(Photos from http://www.yongpyong.co.kr)
Also found at YongPyong Resort is the expansive Peak Island Water Park and Spa. Yes, it’s open for business even during winter. Its heated indoor swimming pools with extreme slides and inflatable rides give a different kind of thrill! For relaxation, head over to the sauna or spa.
4. Winter Olympic venues/stadiums
Over at Alpensia Resort, you can take a look at the 2018 Winter Olympic ski jumping slopes. It is found inside the Alpensia Stadium where an uphill monorail goes up to the observatory. Go here and view the entire Alpenia Resort, which is also famous for its snowboarding and sledding slopes.
5. Gyeongpo Lake
Gangneung is a laid-back city bordered by mountains on one side and the sea on the other. At the center of this landscape is the Geongpyo Lake, which is surrounded by the pine trees the city is known for. The best way to savor this scenic sight is by biking solo, duo or even with groups.
6. A traditional nobleman’s house
Traveling to South Korea will not be complete without a visit inside a traditional house. The expansive Gangneung Seongyojang House of nobleman Naebeon Lee (1703-1781) is a national heritage site.
The Seongyojang House is composed of 103 houses for the noble family and its servants, as well as guest houses for poets, artists and dignitaries. The most prominent structures include the Yeolhwadang where the patriarch resided, the picturesque Hwallaejeong pavilion in front of a man-made lake filled with lotus.
In its olden days, it used to be connected to Gyeongpo Lake. Today, it remains as one of the best preserved traditional houses in Korea.
7. Coffee street by the beach
Warm up amidst the cool weather with a cup of specialty coffee. There’s plenty of brew to choose from at Anmok Coffee Street by the beach.
The history of Anmok Coffee Street dates back in the 90s when only coffee vending machines used to line up along the beach. Today, over 40 cafés line the coastline, with three-story structures facing the sand and crashing waves.
Search for Coffee Cupper, one of the pioneers in Anmok Coffee Street, and taste its fresh, house brew. It has its own farm that grows, harvests and roasts its own beans and blends, as well as a museum that showcases the passion and work of its farmers and artisans.
8. A ‘Goblin’ setting
If you’re a fan of Gong Yoo in global K-drama hit “Goblin,” then you can’t miss Jumunjin Beach. In one of its many breakwaters, an important scene took place. The lead female character Ji Eun-tak (Kim Go-eun) blew a birthday candle summoning the Goblin (Gong Yoo), which then ushered the beginning of their undying love story.
Even Korean couples line up in this spot to recreate the scene set amidst the bluest water.
9. A fertility park
After Jumunjin Beach, pass by Sodol Port where the Adeul Bawi is found, which means son rock. Legend has it that a childless Korean couple prayed here for 100 days and finally had their first born.
The Adeul Bawi is just one of oddly formed rocks that line the seashore. Locals believe that these rocks date back to the Jurassic period about 150 million years ago. Weathered by the winds and waters since, it has created a unique tourist destination for locals and foreigners.
10. A decommissioned warship
The highlight of Tongil Park is the gigantic, North Korean decommissioned warship that now serves as a museum. According to Lonely Planet, the warship was spying in neighboring Jeongdongjin when it ran aground. A manhunt took place until the South Korean Marines took claim of the warship. The warship was then refurbished as an exhibition venue in 1998.
With all these sites and activities, Filipinos, whether first-timers or returnees to South Korea, will find themselves falling for Gangwon-do in winter and other seasons too.
(Parts of this story were lifted from an article originally written for Philstar.com.)