If there’s one thing that I love about going to South Korea, is the fact that no matter how many times I’ve been there, there are always new places and things to discover. That having said, despite having gone numerous times, I’ve never experienced the South Korean winter, reputed for its biting cold, until recently.
It was life-changing.
In February, I took off to South Korea for a trip with our friends from Korea Tourism Organisation (Malaysia) to check out the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics (평창 동계 올림픽) sites. Armed with layers and layers of Uniqlo HEATTECH and packets of heat/hot packs, I was prepared for the well-below freezing cold and dry winter.
PyeongChang, a county in Gangwon province of South Korea located in the country’s north mountainous region, is gearing up to host the next winter games. 8 years in the making, the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, scheduled to take place from 9th to 25th February 2018, will mark the 3rd time that the winter games is being held in an Asian country (with Japan having hosted 2 previously, in 1972 and 1998).
For a more in-depth look that the planning for the games, check out some of the amazing things that South Korea is doing in preparation of the major international sporting event while you weren’t looking:
1. Blood, sweat, and (likely) lots of tears
Like a true, inspirational success story, South Korea fought tooth and nail, sacrificing blood, sweat, and tears to make this happen! In 2010 and 2014, Pyeongchang launched bids to host the Winter Olympic Games. Sadly, despite having the most votes in the first round of voting, Pyeongchang lost in the final round of voting by 3 and 4 votes respectively. Not one to give up, the organising committee soldiered on year after year in hopes of being elected. PyeongChang finally won its bid for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in the first round of voting, receiving 63 of the 95 votes cast, giving them the required majority to be elected as host city (the others contenders being Munich in Germany and Annecy in France). The announcement was made on 6th July 2011 by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), after the 123rd IOC Session in South Africa, undoubtedly a historic moment for South Korea.
2. The price of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics
Korea will spend USD13 billion, nearly 4 times less than Russia spent on the Sochi Olympics, the most expensive in history. 90% of that spending is on the infrastructure that will benefit a region that has long been perceived as one of the most backwards in Korea. We’re talking about improving logistics (high-speed rail lines, highways), constructing impressive world-class stadiums, and building new hotels as well as refurbishing existing ones. That is, of course, not including the advertising and marketing dollars, as well as the cost of the on-ground ceremonies and events. But we don’t bore you with those details.
3. Getting to the sites
Currently, it takes about 3 hours worth of travel time by car from Incheon International Airport to Gangwon. But construction is underway for a high-speed rail line that will connect Pyeongchang to Seoul. It is said that the new high-speed rail will effectively cut the travel time by more than half, which means that it will soon take slightly more than an hour to get to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics sites from Seoul. Alternatively, there’s a relatively small international airport (as compared to Incheon International Airport), Yangyang International Airport, in the Gangwon Province that serves Sokcho, Gangneung, and Pyeongchang. New highways (the 2nd Yeongdong highway between Gwangju in Gyeonggi Province and Wonju and the new highway between East Hongcheon and Yangyang) will also help to distribute the traffic volume between Seoul and Gangwon.
4. Working hard to put their winters sports on the map
It’s true: when you think “winter sports”, you wouldn’t immediately think South Korea. And that’s largely due to the fact that people aren’t aware of their winter facilities, namely the ski slopes at Phoenix Snow Park and Yongpyong Ski Resort, both of which will host some of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics snow and sliding sports. Let’s not forget that the country has pretty good record in iceskating and is the homeground of the talented figure skater Kim Yuna, a multiple Olympics gold medalist. That right, South Korea isn’t all about Korean entertainment, they’ve got excellent track record of snow and ice sports to boot! All of which the world will soon discover and marvel at come the games next year <3
5. Housing the games in multiple venues
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It is without a doubt that the compactness of the venues for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics helped South Korea win the bid. Competitions will be hosted at the PyeongChang mountain cluster and the Gangneung coastal cluster. In fact, to narrow it down further, the games will be centred around 2 main venues: the mountain resort of Alpensia for the outdoor sports (Nordic and alpine skiing, bobsled, etc.) and the coastal city of Gangneung for the indoor sports (figure skating, hockey, curling, etc.). On top of that, there are 2 mountain standalone venues and 13 competition venues – 6 of which will be new. You could say that South Korea is definitely going for gold with the upcoming games ;)
6. Plenty of accommodations to go around
New hotels are being built and old hotels are being refurbished to accommodate 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics dignitaries and athletes from around the world as well as spectators and tourists. During our trip, I was booked in Samcheok Sol Beach and Phoenix Snow Park (refer to the pictures above). What I loved about the hotels in Gangwon was the variety – you can either choose to stay by the beach (Samcheok Sol Beach) or right next to the ski slopes (Phoenix Snow Park, Alpensia Ski Resort) because Gangwon has the best of both worlds! Admittedly, the hotels are not as busy or bustling as the accommodation in Seoul, but it was big and comfortable enough to house guests. After all, the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics will be hosting a whopping total of 29 games – 20 Olympic events, 5 Paralympic events, 2 non-competition events, 2 non-sport events. So you can imagine the amount of people that will be flocking to PyeongChang to join the festivities! More information on the available hotels here.
7. Making damn well sure that everything goes according to plan
South Korea isn’t leaving it all up to chance. From now until 9th February 2018, the day that the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics is scheduled to start, several test events are being held. Not only will the test events help athletes and officials to familiarise themselves with PyeongChang and its venues, it’s a great opportunity for would-be spectators or tourists to experience the preparation as well. For example, while I was there, we witnessed the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships 2017 and the FIS Snowboard World Cup 2016/17! It was truly an eye-opening experience. The test events is also the time where the organisers will be looking out for feedback to take into consideration and improve (if needed) before the games. As far as we know, 3,000 athletes (some are returning stars while others will be looking to make their Olympic mark for the first time) are expected to participate in the test events – many of them coming to Korea for the first time – as well as 1,000 volunteers.
With less than a year left to go to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the excitement is brewing. Much more than I can put down in words! But if you’re in the area and you need more information on the games, don’t hesitate to visit the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics Centre located about 30 minutes away from the host city: 131, Nanseolheon-ro, Gangneung-si, Gangwon-do, 25466.
Special thanks to our friends from Korea Tourism Organisation (Malaysia) for the opportunity!
Hype Malaysia is also an official “Wow! PyeongChang!” supporter in conjunction with the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea. So keep a look out for our future posts as we’ll be gushing over places to go, things to do, and food to eat in Gangwon ?
Big shoutout to our friends from Travel Recommends for keeping us connected with unlimited data on our trip to South Korea, enabling us to update real-time for the entire duration without a hitch ?