Whether you’re coming to the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics to support your country, to snag your own long down-padded jacket, or to cheerlead curling, exploring South Korea beyond the congested Olympics facilities is a must.
Luckily, South Korea has no shortage of adventure, and the country’s flawless transportation makes it a breeze to sightsee nearby Seoul, faraway Jeju Island, and everything in between.
Before practicing your hangul, check your itinerary and make sure at least one of the seven places below is on your to-explore list.
1. Gangneung Coffee Street
Gangneung Coffee Street, like Pyeongchang, is in Gangwon-do, so you won’t have to travel far for the best pick-me-up in South Korea. The street, sometimes also called Anmok Coffee Street because of its proximity to Anmok Beach, is home to plentiful cafes that dot the shoreline like seashells.
Plus, “Not willing to let the Olympic visitors leave without visiting the popular coffee shops during the Olympic period from Feb. 9 to 25, Gangneung is holding a world winter coffee festival centered around and near the street,” a recent article in The Korean Times said.
If you’re flying into Incheon Airport in Seoul, Insadong is worth checking out. Actually, even if you aren’t, Insadong is worth checking out. The main street in the heart of Seoul is a piece of tradition tucked in the middle of high-rises and underground noraebang.
Rent hanbok, traditional Korean clothing; drink traditional Korean tea in a hanok, or traditional house; shop for Korean arts and crafts in the spiraling Ssamziegil building; and gorge on a veganized version of traditional Korean food at Ose Gye Hyang.
3. Ihwa Mural Village
Take shelter from Seoul’s “Bali, bali” or “Hurry, hurry” culture in Ihwa Mural Village. In 2006, the “Naksan Project” asked artists to create 64 different installations around the village. But, when the art drew in too many tourists, residents requested most of the art to be removed.
In 2013, artists came back to the area and put 60 more displays. Less tourist-packed and with new “quiet rules” enforced throughout the village, Ihwa is the perfect day trip for discovering murals and cafes through winding streets, away from the hum of crowds.
4. Gapyeong (Garden of Morning Calm, Nami Island, Petite France)
If you don’t want to pick just one thing to do during the day, consider a Gapyeong City Tour. For about 5,000 won, you can get on and off the circle tour bus as many times as you want. The bus stops along hotspots such as the oldest private garden in Korea, The Garden of Morning Calm; French cultural village, Petite France; and tree-lined getaway, Namiseom Island. While this bus line is usually a pretty popular tourist destination, perhaps the Olympics and Korean holiday Seollal will draw crowds south, away from Gapyeong.
5. Temple Stays
If you aren’t Buddhist, and even if you don’t know who this popular Buddha guy is, it’s okay. The monks and nuns will welcome you anyway with open arms and bland food.
South Korea is full of these experiences, some that that are quite strict and require certain prayer, meditation, and work times, and some that allow guests to roam the grounds freely and even to try their hand at calligraphy.
Whichever type you choose, you’ll find that temple stays are a fantastic way to learn more about Buddhism, Korean culture — and perhaps even yourself — all while in an enchanting setting.
Perhaps the most famous in Pyeongchang’s Gangwon area is the Woljeongsa Temple, but if you’re willing to travel farther, consider the Lotus International Meditation Center. I personally stayed at this center during New Year’s 2017 for three days, and it was one of my top three experiences in South Korea. This center’s head monk even speaks perfect English, so you can ask him anything you’d like during your time at the temple.
How could I make a South Korean trip list without including Jeju? Although a bit harder to get to than some of the other places on the list, this paradise is where many Koreans themselves vacation. From the pristine Cheonjeyeon Falls to the white sands of Hamdeok Beach, Jeju’s breathtaking sites are worth exploring now that the weather’s warmed up a bit.
Ready for something a bit more devious? Check out Jeju’s Loveland, a sexual-themed outdoor sculpture park, featuring work too taboo for me to describe without blushing and giggling like a little girl.