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PyeongChang and Gangneung, South Korea

by Elyse Glickman

Nov 2, 2017

© Evgeny Gerasimov | Dreamstime

Asia

In the decades since the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea’s popularity as a family destination increased thanks to a prolific assortment of museums, trendy neighborhoods, parks, restaurants and markets that offer something for every conceivable age group and interest.

 

During that time, South Korea made several bids to bring the Olympics and Paralympic Games back to its shores and, in 2011, finally succeeded in becoming the host country for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang and Gangneung. As the global sports spectaculars are swerving toward television screens around the world this winter, it is hoped the broadcasts will also win international visitors’ hearts long after the last gold medal has been handed out.

Korean Ice Hockey Team 2017

Photo: Katatonia82 | Dreamstime

 

If your team is headed to the games (or at least to the area January–March), it’s important to note the 12 event venues are organized in two separate clusters. The Gangneung Coastal Cluster hosts ice-centric events including hockey, figure skating, curling and speed skating. The PyeongChang Mountain cluster is devoted to alpine sports, including the landmark Alpensia Ski Jump and the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium for opening and closing ceremonies. Throughout the region, greetings from mascots Soohorang (the tiger) and Bandabi (the Asiatic black bear) will drive home that the Games and Korean culture stir up an infectious child-like wonder.

 

The PyeongChang House, a visitor center built from train containers arranged in the Games’ trademark, is small in size but big on interactive activities. The indoor mix includes several virtual reality kiosks putting one in the shoes or skis of different athletes; a virtual reality theater ride; an interactive hockey area; and a gallery of life-sized action figures flanked by Marvel Comics-inspired posters detailing each event. Older kids will find interesting displays about the process of preparing for the games, from construction of the venues to small details ensuring the games go off without a hitch. Outside, there is a children’s playground that includes a stationary Korean bobsled.

 

Those interested in gaining competitive skiers’ perspectives can catch a monorail to the upper floors of the landmark Alpensia Ski Jump Tower, which bears an uncanny resemblance to an Olympic torch. Views are literally breathtaking, especially when taken in from the ascending monorail or the outdoor observation deck’s Plexiglas floor. Less daring souls can enjoy the sights from the coffee shop and indoor viewing areas. Back on Earth and inside Alpensia Stadium, the Korean Ski History Museum displays a fascinating mix of alpine gear, photographs and biographical information about Korean winter athletes.

Skier skiing on Deogyusan

Photo: Tawatchai Prakobkit | Dreamstime

Before the Olympics put this region, located along South Korea’s northeast coast, on the world’s radar, it was long a favorite year-round outdoor getaway for generations of Seoul families. The establishment of Alpensia Resort ski and sports complex attracted adrenaline seekers of all ages to take advantage of the area’s slopes, powdery snow and fresh air.

 

Like its counterparts in the European Alps, Colorado and British Columbia, hiking, biking and lush temperate zone greenery are the area’s big draws during the warmer months of the year. What sets Pyeongchang and Gangneung apart, however, are centuries of fascinating history waiting to be discovered, as well as hearty, family-style cuisine that will surprise and delight kids who relish trying foods different to what they can enjoy at home.

 

Numerous museums and historic landmarks abound, including several lovingly preserved royal residences such as the Ojukheon House and Municipal Museum and the Seongyojang House. East meets West beyond the games at the Charmsori Gramophone & Edison Science Museum, whose exhibits show how Thomas Edison’s ideas and inventions (including some of the 850 on display),ushered the entire world into the modern era.

 

The Jeonggangwon Korea Traditional Food Culture Experience Center includes a museum displaying representations of different Korean staple foods, dining and kitchen areas. Groups of 10 or more can book a full cooking class, while families can book a lunch where kids get the opportunity to prepare a family-sized bibimbab — arranging vegetable and beef components in mandala fashion before blending it by hand with gokchujang (chili paste).

 

Chodang Dubu Village is another great option for parents looking to expand their kids’ food vocabulary. Dishes here are prepared with the regional variation of the protein crafted from locally sourced soybeans and water from the East Sea. Pyeongchang Hanu Center, 10 minutes from Alpensia, takes “eating like a local” literally. Diners first shop its small butcher shop to select cuts of Korean beef, and then head upstairs to a reserved table. Once the server lights the grill in the center of the table, guests cook their marbled meat to perfection. Excellent bulgogi (thin sliced beef on rice with vegetables) and a myriad of interesting condiments add to the fun.

Gangwon-do, South Korea

Photo: Jeonghyeon Noh | Dreamstime

 

While Anmok Beach In Gangwon-do is tailor made for leisurely weekend strolls, its adjoining Gangneung Coffee Street imparts extra warmth and sweetness. Competing cafes beckon with steaming cups from artisanal coffee roasters as well as hot chocolate, tea, desserts and percolating coffee-related attractions ranging from an October coffee festival to a coffee museum and coffee factory. L Barbecue serves up a novel take on the American truck stop, from its aromatic smokehouse to abundant platters of brisket, pulled pork, baby back ribs and side dishes, to Korean Coke cans and a funky assortment of memorabilia.

 

With the West primed to discover this once best-kept secret in South Korea, there’s been a hotel building boom as well as established hotels look to up their game through renovations. The InterContinental Alpensia PyeongChang Resort recently updated its familiar Western ski resort setting with numerous family-oriented amenities. South Korean hotelier Lotte entered the competition with its Resort Sokcho, noted for its definitively Asian approach to a family luxury travel experience.

 

Temple stays at Woljeongsa, Hyundeoksa Temple or Bohyunsa (also great daytrip spots), however, offer most immersive, traditional and relaxing lodging experiences. Guests are surrounded by the influences of traditional Korean Buddhist culture and a history dating back 1,700 years.

#WhereverFamily

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