Pyeongchang 2018: New horizons
SPONSORED CONTENT: PyeongChang, South Korea, will host the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in 2018. Video: Korea Tourism Organization
The Winter Olympics brings us many things – head-scratching introductions to sports we've never heard of; folk heroes like Eddie the Eagle; and even the occasional Australian gold medal – but perhaps the most important is the excuse to travel somewhere snowy and amazing to watch the Games in person.
There's nothing quite like hearing all those cow bells, seeing all of those athletes, and maybe getting in the odd ski run for yourself in the place that it's all happening. And in 2018, that place will be Pyeongchang, South Korea. As preparations heat up for the February Games, it's time to take a closer look at the Olympic experience, as well as some of the other reasons to pack your bags and jump on a flight to Seoul Incheon next year.
The 2018 Winter Olympics
From February 9 to 25 next year, the sporting world's attention will turn to Pyeongchang, a ski resort in Korea's highlands about a two-hour drive east of Seoul. This is where all of the Olympic alpine sports will be taking place, as well as quirky gems like ski jumping, cross-country skiing and the biathlon. The team sports, meanwhile – ice hockey and curling, as well as speed skating and figure skating – will be held in coastal Gangneung, 30 minutes east of Pyeongchang. Tickets for all events are on sale now through cosport.com.au, see pyeongchang2018.com for more information.
The song made famous by the K-pop star Psy – yes, the song you'll now have stuck in your head for the rest of the day – makes reference to "Gangnam style", which is the fashion and attitude of those who hang out in the Gangnam district of Seoul. This is the city's area to see and be seen, the hub for nightlife and the venue for plenty of Seoul's best restaurants. It's also a place that has its own sense of fashion, something you'll be able to get involved with if you spend a few hours wandering the streets of Gangnam and calling in to a few boutiques. Koreans are mildly obsessed with fashion, and if you want to party in Gangnam, you're going to need to adopt the style.
South Korea has some amazing modern attractions, but it also has a history that stretches back thousands of years, something you can't fail to notice in ancient cities such as Jeonju and Gyeongju. In the former, travellers can wander the traditional hanok village, a network of more than 800 old-style Korean homes, many of which offer accommodation, the perfect way to appreciate the culture. Gyeongju, meanwhile, was the capital of Korea up until 935AD, and is packed with UNESCO heritage sites such as Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram grotto, and the Yangdong Folk Village.
The craft beer scene
Most Korean beer, we would have to say in the nicest possible way, is pretty bland. It's usually a light lager designed to be consumed with the local food, which is heavy on flavours and carbs, so it does make sense. It just doesn't taste great on its own. Enter a new breed of Korean craft brewers, who are doing some truly great things with the humble ale. In Seoul, check out Magpie Brewing Co for a delicious pale ale, or Hopscotch in Gangnam for a sensational IPA. In the southern city of Busan, meanwhile, the guys at Galmegi Brewery are making top-class amber ales.
Buddhist boot camp
Picture spending a few days at a Buddhist temple: it's relaxing, isn't it? It's all meditation and quiet reflection, vegan meals and weighty silence. And when you stay at Golgulsa Temple in the south of Korea, you get all of those things. You also get two daily 90-minute classes of Sunmudo, a non-contact martial art that is a serious workout. The monks, of course, barely break as sweat as they kick and punch and jump and crawl their way around for an hour and a half, while most of the tourists pant and wheeze and wonder what they're doing there. A stay at Golgulsa is good for the heart, however, and great for the soul.
South Korean quirkiness
There's a charming sense of the bizarre to a lot of Korean fashions that you can't help but be both entertained by and swept up in. For example: in the ancient town of Jeonju, it's become de rigeur for middle-aged domestic tourists to hire school uniforms and spend the day wandering the streets having their photos taken. Also, keep an eye out for "couple clothing" – couples of all ages who dress exactly alike to demonstrate their love. This even goes for leisurewear when couples go out for a morning jog. Koreans also love a quirky food fad, which explains one of the hot culinary items in the Seoul suburb of Hongdae right now: "Hand Steak". It's steak and chips in a small bowl, which is served perched atop a large cup of beer. Sip the beer through a straw, and eat the steak with a fork. Delicious.
South Korea's best-known alcoholic beverage is probably soju, the ubiquitous rice spirit that the locals love. However, there's another drink that holds an equally special place in their hearts: makgeolli . This is a milky rice beer, and it's traditionally drunk in bars dedicated to the stuff, particularly in Korea's gastronomic hub, Jeonju. There you can settle in at a table and spend the whole night sampling makgeolli, chatting to locals, and working your way through the menus of amazing food designed to match the drink.
The culinary scene in Korea is seriously underrated – from cheap-as-chips street food (that sometime is chips) to Michelin-starred fine-dining, there's plenty to keep hungry visitors sated 24-7. Most people would have sampled Korean barbecue by now, so it's nice to find that this style of grilled meat is a cultural staple in its homeland. But wait, there's more: check out "chimaek", the widely loved combination of fried chicken and beer. Or sample street food treats such as fried mung bean pancakes, or "twigim", which is the catch-all term for anything deep-fried on a stick. Traditional Korean cuisine, meanwhile, sumptuous multi-course feasts served in beautiful surrounds, is also popular. One of the best ways to sample all of these different styles is with a food tour – Intrepid Travel does an excellent eight-day spin around the country.
This article brought to you by Korea Tourism Organisation