Gangwan-do province is popular for its captivating mountain views, dense national parks, ski resorts, and scenic beaches. In winter, a sheath of white covers the region, making it a hub for local snow festivals and hiking enthusiasts. For the Christmas break, we chose to visit Pyeongchang county — the venue of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Pyeongchang is an hour and a half bus ride away from Seoul and is perfect for a short holiday getaway.
It’s always preferable to rent a car, as you go away from Seoul, toward smaller towns or cities that aren’t connected by KTX or ITX routes. We don’t mind the ‘walking’ and chose to take a bus from Seoul Nambu Terminal to get to Pyeongchang. You can book tickets online or make a booking at the counter itself. On holidays, it’s wiser to make a reservation a week before your trip. Most buses have comfortable seating with heating and the ride is pretty smooth. We left Seoul in the wee hours of morning and reached Jangpyeong Intercity Bus Terminal, roughly an hour and a half later. It’s always good to have your GPS on and ask the bus driver for the correct stop.
It was only 9 AM and we were early for our check-in. So, we strolled around, and found a small cafe to shield us from the cold. No matter how deserted the town, in Korea, it’s never too hard to find a warm and homely coffee shop. It had probably snowed the previous night and almost everything was covered in white.
We scouted the area before making inquires at the bus terminal. There was no direct bus heading toward our hotel and we were urged to take a cab instead. Most cabs wait outside the tourist information centre and a lady, probably working at the centre, helped get a cab. Most cab drivers don’t speak English and it’s preferable to have the address of your hotel in Korean. They can always find the location using GPS and it works like a charm.
As we made our way deeper into the mountains, the sun slowly peeped behind the haze, and the scenery outside our window looked surreal.
Our holiday getaway resort was tucked in the mountains and was at least a kilometre away from the main road. Most hotels or pension houses have a check-in time of 3 PM. We were early at 10 AM and the owners of the property, a couple retired from city life, were surprised to see us. Fortunately, they allowed us to keep our backpack in the room and rest for a bit. I was ecstatic to see everything covered in snow. The owner didn’t share my joy. It was Christmas Eve and they were expecting more guests with cars. Shovelling the driveway was a difficult chore for his back.
After few hours of rest, we needed to get supplies for our meals (our room was equipped with a gas and basic cooking materials) and wanted to scout the area. Unlike the main road, always buzzing with cars from different cities, these mountain roads were desolate. There was a car that would pass by occasionally, but no people. I was really happy to walk in these fields of snow. I’ve always enjoyed these seemingly plain sights.
Everything, living or artificial, was covered beneath a blanket of snow. The air was still and it was a sunny day despite the cold.
The mountains and the fields blended in the snow. Walks like these are hard to come by. The isolation and silence made every step worth the effort.
Basil tried to take a detour of sorts and was stopped by a barking dog. In the city almost every apartment or building has a security code or a security guard. As you get away from the city, buildings shrink and security codes get replaced by four legged animals. Basil didn’t care much for this barking dog and walked as close as he could — to get this picture. On the other hand, I didn’t want to distress the dog and didn’t mind getting back on trail.
We finally got back to the trail and reached the main road. The road was lined by ski rental shops or restaurants. We picked up supplies and walked toward the lower gates of Phoenix Snow Park. We were undecided on the plan for the next day and we thought we’d take it as it comes. The owner of the lodge had agreed to organise a ski trip for us. For the moment, we were happy to just listen to the gurgling sounds of the river and birds chirping.
It’s hard to spot birds here, even if they’re always chirping in the background. We also came across contemplative kitty, feeling very cold, and lost in la-la land.
After lunch, we trudged back to our resort and were happy to be offered a ride by the owner on the way up.
By evening, we were tucked in, binge watching movies, and admiring the view outside our window. We seemed to be setting our own sort of Christmas tradition, two years in a row, with isolated mountain towns and negative temperatures.