Pyeongchang Olympics December 2017 Update

The Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic halfpipe at Phoenix Park

Season Opening Dates

The 2017/8 season is now almost in full swing with most resorts having opened in the second half of November and the last few hills near Seoul & in the south opening in early December.

Visiting Seoul in Winter

Check out the Snow Guide Korea guide to visiting Seoul in winter!

Pyeongchang 2018 Accommodation

Most hotels are now booked out in Pyeongchang, Gangneung, Donghae, and Wonju; those that are still available are at steeply inflated prices. Sokcho still has some availability, and Seoul has plenty.

There’s still loads of availability on Airbnb, but also at jacked up prices near the venues. For those still looking, Yangpyeong (between Seoul & Wonju) could be a good base with 15 trains per day each way.

See here for a full guide on where to stay

Pyeongchang 2018 Transportation

Ok, so I know a lot of people out there have been finding the lack of information very frustrating, but we do now finally have a clear picture of the transportation situation. The new KTX line to Pyeongchang & Gangneung starts service on December 22nd, and you can see the full schedule here (pages 5 & 6 for the Olympic dates, and page 9 for the Paralympic dates); the Korail site has also been updated to show the new stations, so you can now search & book online here (reservations can be made 30 days in advance – recommended to do so ASAP if you want to have a seat!)

Last month Korail announced a Pyeongchang Rail Pass for the Olympics; this is key for anyone staying in Seoul and making repeated round trips by KTX to the venues. You can buy this pass until January 31st, details here

For full details on the new train line see here

Olympic Host Resort Closures

Alpensia won’t be open at all for skiing this winter (sledding will be available though). The season schedules for the ski hills at the host resorts are as follows:

Yongpyong open all season, but with the Rainbow and Silver areas (gondola included) closed off

Phoenix Park open until January 10th, with Phoenix Peak closed off but most of Mont Blanc (the main hill) open bar the boardercross and halfpipe.

Alpensia closed (but with sledding available)

Jeongseon opens to the general public in late 2018

(For the best places to actually do some skiing yourself during the Olympic season, see here)

Any questions? Leave a comment below!

Seoul Winter Guide

If you’re visiting Korea for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, chances are you’ll be staying in Seoul for part of your stay (see here for the latest on the Pyeongchang 2018 accommodation situation); once you’re done at the Olympics in Pyeongchang/Gangneung, maybe you’ll have a few hours to check Seoul out, maybe a few days, maybe even a couple of weeks.

Or perhaps you’re staying in Seoul throughout and commuting to the Games on the new Gangneung KTX bullet train.

However long you have in Seoul, you’ll find it to be a bustling, dynamic, vibrant metropolis with plenty to see and do; it’s also bloody freezing in winter! This latter point makes some activities less attractive than they might normally be (though still doable if you’re prepared) – while of course also making it possible for you to hit the slopes yourself!

If you visit Seoul in summer, you’ll see couples sitting with their feet in Cheonggyecheon stream and groups gathering for picnics in parks or on the banks of the Han River – the winter climate isn’t conducive to doing any of that though, so here’s the Snow Guide Korea guide to visiting Seoul in winter.

Weather

First things first, Seoul is usually bitterly cold in winter, and bone dry; a typical day sees bright sunshine and a clear blue sky, with freezing temperatures and an icy wind ripping across the city. The temperature remains subzero throughout January & February and the rivers & lakes freeze solid, yet it seldom snows (and never rains). Buildings are very well heated and insulated, but be ready to wrap up whenever you need to head outdoors.

Basic Orientation

The Han cuts across Seoul from east to west, with the city’s traditional heart on the north side of the river and the fashionable modern districts on the south, including the famous Gangnam of Psy fame.

The small mountain Namsan, topped off by N Seoul Tower, stands pretty much dead centre of the city, just on the north side of the Han, and is the most obvious landmark for orientation. The enormous new Lotte Tower standing in Jamsil (in the southeast of the city) provides another useful landmark. You can also often get your bearings from the mountains, especially Bukhansan (on the northern edge) and Gwanaksan (on the southern edge).

Most traditional sights (palaces, markets etc) are found to the north of Namsan, while there’s plenty of shopping and nightlife on both sides of the river.

Skiing & Boarding

If you’re visiting for the Winter Olympics, it stands to reason you might fancy doing some skiing or boarding yourself! If you manage to stay in or near the main Mountain Cluster venues at Yongpyong/Alpensia, you can do some skiing at Yongpyong itself, though be aware half of the runs (including most of the best ones) will be closed off for the Games; if you’re based in or near the freestyle venues at Phoenix Park, you can ride not too far away at Welli Hilli Park.

Halfpipe at Welli Hilli Park

Welli Hilli Park

Otherwise (i.e. if you’re staying in Seoul), there are half a dozen resorts in the immediate vicinity of the city, with the most convenient being Konjiam (from most of the city) or Elysian Gangchon (for those staying near Cheongnyangni Station for KTX purposes).

High1, view from the gondola

High1

High1 is the best resort you can visit in the 2017/18 season (see here for the top 5 Korean resorts to hit during the Olympic season), but the long journey makes it a pretty tough day trip and accommodation at High1 will be hard to score. For a good compromise between size of hill and convenience of access, head to Vivaldi Park or Welli Hilli Park.

Traditional Sights

Seoul’s main traditional sights are the five Grand Joseon Dynasty Palaces, and Jongmyo Confucian Shrine. See here for more on visiting them, including which ones to go for if you only want to pick out one or two.

Bukchon Hanok Village: Hanok is the name for traditional Korean homes, with their attractive brick architecture and tiled roofs. They’re a rare sight in Seoul where monolithic high rises mostly dominate the landscape, but the Bukchon Hanok Village is an area which has retained its old homes and traditional atmosphere, and ended up becoming a popular tourist sight as a result.

It’s still very much a residential area, but many of the owners have opened cafés and restaurants aimed at the tourist trade. There are also various galleries, workshops, and homestays in the area.

It’s a nice neighbourhood for an afternoon of strolling or warming up with a coffee, and it’s one of the most photogenic corners of the city (just remember people live there so don’t go poking your camera where it isn’t welcome).

Bukchon Hanok Village is between Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung palace, a 10-minute walk north up the hill from Anguk Station.

Observation Decks

If you want to get a bird’s eye view of Seoul – without hiking up a mountain in subzero temperatures – you can go up to one of these observation decks in Seoul’s skyscrapers and towers.

(if winter hiking is your cup of tea though, see hiking below)

Lotte World Tower: Seoul’s newest and tallest skyscraper, Lotte World Tower is the world’s 5th tallest building at 555m (with 123 floors), with the ‘Seoul Sky’ observation deck occupying the top 6 floors. Access is via Jamsil Station, and it costs 27000 won to go up to Seoul Sky. Lotte World stands next to Seokchon Lake and is part of the massive complex of Lotte developments occupying Jamsil, including Lotte World theme park and various department stores; you can easily fill a day in the area checking it all out.

N Seoul Tower: Seoul’s most famous landmark, this old TV tower stands on top of Namsan mountain in the middle of the city. Although the tower is only 236m tall, Namsan itself is 243m tall so the observation deck is over 400m and commands excellent views of the entire city.

Namsan makes a pleasant hike up from Seoul Station or Myeongdong (even in winter – see here); you can also take the bus or cable car up from Myeongdong. It’s 10000 won to go up to the observation deck, but there are also good views for free (and plenty of restaurants & cafes) from the area around the base of the tower.

63 Building: These days thoroughly overshadowed by Lotte Tower, 63 Building used to be the city’s tallest and has an observation deck on the top floor (the 63rd – hence the name). It remains a good option if you’re nearby and don’t fancy the trek over to Jamsil or up Namsan. It’s a 10-minute walk from Yeouinaru Station and costs 13000 won to go up.

Museums

Museums make for a good way to absorb some history or culture if you’re finding it too cold to hang around outdoors at the palaces; there are far too many to list exhaustively (a total of 115 apparently) without writing up a whole separate museum guide, and if you’re visiting for the Olympics you’ll likely only have time for one or two anyway. For first time visitors to Seoul, one or two of the following should satisfy (entry is free to all the museums on this list):

The National Palace Museum of Korea: right next to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the National Palace Museum covers Korean history in the Joseon period, when Gyeongbokgung was the main seat of rule of the Korean royal dynasty for 500 years. It makes good sense to visit the museum at the same time as Gyeongbokgung – covering both will occupy several hours (and you can also visit the National Folk Museum on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung, and the nearby Sejong museum on Gwanghwamun, see below)

National Folk Museum: this museum covers Korean traditional life from pre-medieval times through to the end of the Joseon period. For most visitors it’s not going to be worth going out of your way for, but its location in a handsomely pagoda-topped building on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung makes it easy to check out as part of a visit to the palace.

Seoul Museum of History: located on the grounds of Gyeonghuigung (the smallest and least visited of Seoul’s 5 palaces), this museum has a fairly eclectic mashup of exhibits covering local history, some art, and random rotating exhibitions (last time I was there they had one on the thorny issue of Japanese war crimes). There’s a cool scale model map of Seoul occupying a large room upstairs which you look down on from glass walkways.

While probably not worth crossing the city for in its own right it makes a good activity in conjunction with the neighbouring palace, and you can also make the short walk to nearby Deoksugung Palace for a nice museum & palaces half-day out.

It’s located between Seodaemun and Gwanghwamun stations on Line 5, or get off at City Hall (Lines 1 & 2) and visit Deoksugung first then walk to Gyeonghuigung (as per here)

King Sejong Story: this museum’s cool to visit just for the Indiana Jones-esque entrance built into the base of the statue of King Sejong in the middle of the wide Sejong-daero boulevard (on the approach to Gyeongbokgung Palace in Gwanghwamun). Go round the back of the statue to find the entrance, and the museum’s downstairs. It’s free to visit and it’s quite a surprisingly large space down there, with the main exhibits on Admiral Sun Shin and the Japanese invasions in the 1500s (the other prominent statue on Gwanghwamun is of Admiral Sun Shin), and on the Hangeul script designed by King Sejong (staff are available to teach you how to write your name). It’s not a mind-blowing museum or anything, but it’s free and makes a cool way to pass an hour or two and worth stopping in if you’re nearby e.g. to visit Gyeongbokgung.

Access via Gwanghwamun exit 9, free entrance

National Museum of Korea: the National Museum of Korea is the one to go for if you’re after a large, serious, world-class art and history museum. It’s huge and you can easily spend half a day on your first visit without covering everything; if you only visit one museum in Seoul (and don’t have a specific interest in any particular one), it should probably be this one.

Access via Ichon Station (Line 4 and Gyeongui–Jungang Line)

War Memorial of Korea: both a memorial to the fallen Korean & allied soldiers of the Korean War, and a museum detailing the history of the Korean War plus some more general displays of military hardware, this is well worth a visit if you want to brush up on the history of the division of Korea and resulting war.

Some of the displays inside the museum are a little jingoistic, but the memorial itself (individually listing the names of all the many thousands upon thousands of fallen) is a sombre & moving place.

Access via Samgakji Station exit 12 (Lines 4 & 6)

Seodaemun Prison: This former prison was used by the occupying Japanese government mostly to detain political activists, many of whom were subject to torture and execution without trial (there is an execution chamber within the prison). It leaves me in two minds to be honest – it’s an important place and a dark piece of history which should be acknowledged & remembered, however some of the torture exhibits (using models in graphic poses and blood-curdling soundtracks) I feel cheapen it as a memorial, while it also makes the glaring omission of how the prison was used following the end of Japanese rule (i.e. it fails to acknowledge that the nationalist dictatorship which then governed Korea for 40 years also used Seodaemun Prison the same way). Still, if you’re interested in this period of Korea’s history it’s worth a visit.

Access via Dongnimmun Station (Line 3)

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP): DDP is a multi-purpose convention centre and public space, which includes a design museum. The museum itself is fairly modest, but taken as part of the DDP it’s well worth visiting; the DDP is part of Dongdaemun History & Culture Park, and the area’s also good for fashion, architecture, eating, and general wandering.

Access via Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station (Lines 2, 4, 5)

DMZ Tours

Visiting the DMZ (De-Militarised Zone) between North & South Korea is one of the most popular things for visitors to Seoul, and one of the most interesting and unusual day tours you’re ever likely to do. Be warned that spaces to visit the actual border line in the Joint Security Area at Panmunjeom are very limited and tightly controlled (by the military), and these tours will likely be booked out and very hard to get onto throughout the Olympics. For more details see here

Markets

Namdaemun: the obvious choice for a traditional market in Seoul, Namdaemun is a sprawling market in the vicinity of the Sungnyemun gate for which it’s named (Namdaemun means ‘Great South Gate’). They sell pretty much anything you want at Namdaemun, from clothing to furniture and cameras to chess sets, with plenty of food & drink stalls in the mix; it’s also the most photogenic market in Seoul, so it ticks all of the boxes.

Namdaemun market

However, if your main focus is fashion head to Dongdaemun instead (see shopping, below), and if your main focus is food try the following:

Gwangjang: walking distance from Dongdaemun, this market is mostly about food, and is the best single place for working your way through a wide range of Korean street foods. Prices are low but quality high, the place has bags of atmosphere, and the combination of the roof overhead with plenty of heaters means you don’t get too cold even though you’re eating outside(ish)

(Many of the stalls do also have indoor seating behind them if you want to warm up properly)

Noryangjin: this one’s for the seafood lovers – Noryangjin is Seoul’s main fish market. The main trade here is wholesale fish to restaurants around the city, but there are also a number of restaurants on site. If you like your seafood so fresh it’s still moving (literally, if you order it that way), head to Noryangjin.

Shopping

Dongdaemun Market: Dongdaemun literally means Great East Gate, and the area is named for Heunginjimun, the east gate of the old city walls. The area near Heunginjimun is the heart of Seoul’s fashion & design scenes, being home to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and multiple malls and indoor fashion markets. The cluster of malls on the main road opposite DDP are fairly standard shopping malls, while the indoor markets behind DDP are full of independent designers spread over many floors, selling their wares wholesale to buyers from the city’s fashion stores.

Although not intended as a place for the average retail shopper to buy individual items, you can still go inside these market buildings and wander around. If you see something you like the stall holder will usually be happy to sell you it, but note that these markets are aimed at bulk fashion store buyers and active through the night – if you go before 8pm you’re too early.

It’s not this author’s scene at all, but even I found it reasonably interesting to check out the time I got dragged in there!

For non-shoppers, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Dongdaemun History & Culture Park are going to be of more interest (see museums, above), and the Dongdaemun area also has lots of retail stores, cafes, a cinema, and loads of places to eat.

Myeongdong: full of hotels, department stores, fashion boutiques, beauty stores, ginseng stores, and souvenir tat, Myeongdong is Seoul’s tourist central, especially for visitors from Japan, China, and SE Asia. Expect to hear lots of Chinese and Japanese sales pitches from the staff calling to potential customers in the street.

Shops & food stalls in Myeongdong

It’s also a good place to try a wide variety of street food, with a plethora of food stalls lining the main walking street running down from Myeongdong Station. It’s a little overpriced and there’s better quality elsewhere, but the sheer range makes it a good place for culinary exploration (for a better price and quality of street food, head to Gwangjang market, see above)

Jongno: the major east-west thoroughfare running across the main business district north of the river, Jongno is a busy shopping and socializing area. The main shopping stretch runs between Gwanghwamun and Jongno 3-ga stations, and there’s a large cluster of restaurants and bars in the network of narrow streets lying in the block to the southeast of Jonggak Station. Insadong (see below) runs north off Jongno, and the entrance to Jongmyo Shrine is on Jongno just east of Jongno 3-ga Station. Cheonggyecheon stream runs parallel to Jongno, a short distance to the south.

Insadong: a popular tourist street off Jongno (on the north side, between Jonggak and Jongno 3-ga stations), Insadong is full of shops selling souvenirs and traditional arts & crafts, and teahouses, cafes & restaurants aplenty.

Traditional masks on sale in Insadong

Gangnam: made famous by the Psy song Gangnam Style, Gangnam is the place for Seoul’s beautiful and wealthy people to flash their cash – or to spend their cash on plastic surgery if they don’t feel beautiful enough yet (hence Psy having a dig at the place).

The streets in the area between Gangnam Station and Shinnonhyeon Station are full of shops, bars, and restaurants, and packed with shoppers most days.

Gangnam is actually the name of an entire district, and elsewhere in the district you can find branches of all the main Korean department stores like Shinsegae and the massive Coex Mall (the world’s largest underground mall).

Nightlife

Nightlife options can be found all over Seoul, though in the majority of locales it tends more towards late-night restaurants and noraebang (karaoke) places. For more of a bars & clubbing scene, there are three main areas to check out:

Itaewon: as Seoul’s main ‘foreigner district’, Itaewon is home to the city’s most diverse range of bars & restaurants, plus a handful of clubs, and sees some pretty crowded & raucous nights on weekends. It’s a mixed Korean/international crowd, English is widely spoken, and the drinking establishments in the area will be of a familiar nature to visitors from overseas, all of which means Itaewon offers the most readily accessible nightlife scene for those new to Korea. If you want to delve a little deeper, head to Hongdae or Gangnam.

Hongdae: the area surrounding Hongik University (aka Hongdae) is jam packed with restaurants, bars, and clubs. Due to it being a student area it’s generally a younger, more Korean crowd than in Itaewon (though also popular with expats), tending towards the cheaper end of the scale, and with a lively street scene (live music etc) though not so much in the deep cold of winter.

Gangnam: Seoul’s most impressive dance clubs are all in plastic-fantastic Gangnam, and if you’re looking to go all out on a big night of clubbing you should hit the likes of Octagon or Answer. You’ll be partying with an overwhelmingly Korean, overwhelmingly beautiful and well-dressed crowd, and as long as you’re ready for the hit to your wallet Gangnam’s plenty of fun.

You always need to show ID when entering clubs in Korea, and also for many bars, so make sure you carry a national ID card or driving licence (or your passport if you don’t mind the risk). Also be aware that sometimes clubs in Gangnam can be funny about letting foreigners in – Club Arena has been notorious for this of late.

Hiking

There’s plenty of great hiking in and around Seoul – see my Seoul hiking guide here.

Just be aware of a few things due to the winter season – firstly of course it’s very cold, so many people won’t fancy hiking anyway. If you do, the smaller hills like Namsan, Achasan, and Inwangsan are fine in winter – Namsan in particular is nice & easy with a paved path all the way up to Seoul Tower and great city views at the top.

Achasan isn’t so high but still has cracking views

The bigger mountains like Bukhansan, Dobongsan, and Gwanaksan need to be approached with a little due care in winter. The granite formations at the tops of Dobongsan & Bukhansan are pretty treacherous in icy conditions, so you should make sure to have some spikes with you. Clip-on spikes can be bought from the shops near the Bukhansan park info centre after you get off the bus, or the stalls lining the path from Dobongsan Station to the hiking trail.

The summit of Bukhansan is the highest point in Seoul

Gwanaksan is fine in winter, as long as you stick to the trails from SNU or Gwacheon. The trail from Sadang Station is definitely not recommended though, unless you’re equipped and capable for the scrambling terrain near the top under winter conditions. You can potentially expect temperatures of minus 10 or below at the tops of these higher ones.

Winter hiking in Seoul obviously won’t be for everyone, but if you’re a hiker these are some great hills and the views on clear days are outstanding (and to be honest if it’s not a clear day, do something else!)

Theme Parks

The Seoul area is home to three theme parks – Lotte World (in Jamsil), Seoulland (just outside the city proper in Gyeonggi-do Province), and Everland (on the outskirts, also in Gyeonggi-do).

Everland is the largest of the three, but the least convenient. Lotte World has the distinction of being the largest indoor theme park in the world – a good selling point when it’s minus however many degrees outside! There’s also an attached outdoor area (for the larger rides) on an island in Seokcheon Lake. Seoulland offers a good compromise of size & convenience.

Given the frigid winter weather and the travel times, Lotte World is probably the better choice for Olympic visitors wanting to hit a theme park while in Seoul.

Public Urban Spaces

There’s lots of great public space in Seoul thanks to the city’s many mountains (see hiking, above), but there are also some decent public urban spaces in downtown Seoul if you want to stretch your legs a bit but don’t fancy a mountain hike.

Cheonggyecheon: this stream runs through central Seoul from near Gwanghwamun & City Hall to Dongdaemun (and beyond, eventually feeding into the Han River in eastern Seoul). It was covered over by a highway during Korea’s 20th Century economic boom, then uncovered and spruced up in 2005 as an urban revitalisation project. Walking paths run alongside the stream with various historical displays and art installations placed along them (several of which are light projections i.e. only visible at night), and in summer it’s a popular spot to paddle in the water and cool off.

It’s a little less popular in winter when it’s frozen solid though! All the same, it’s still a nice place for a walk if you want to take a stroll in the city without traffic getting in the way. The section at the start near Gwanghwamun is quite concrete-lined, but the fauna increases as you walk east. From the start to Dongdaemun is around an hour’s walk; Gwangjang Market (see markets, above) is located just north of the stream near Dongdaemun.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza and History & Culture Park: the Zara Hadid-designed structure of the DDP looks like some sort of UFO parked up in the middle of the city. The architecture’s awesome and there’s plenty to check out in the area (of the fashion markets, cafes, shopping & eating variety), and you can easily hop back indoors if it’s too cold to be lingering outside!

Seoullo 7017: another urban revitalisation scheme involving a decommissioned elevated road (like Cheonggyecheon), the recently completed Seoullo 7017 saw the conversion of an old viaduct crossing the tracks near Seoul Station into an elevated park and footbridge (drawing comparisons to New York’s High Line). While it’s hardly anything to get wildly excited about, it’s a good example of repurposing crumbling old infrastructure to improve an inner city urban space. Seoullo 7017 probably isn’t worth going out of your way to visit (especially in winter), but the east end of the park is near Namdaemun market so it works well to visit it in conjunction with the market. From Seoul Station (subway exit 8 is next to an escalator up to Seoullo 7017) you can walk along the viaduct to Hyeohyeon Station, then delve into the market from there.

(In case you’re wondering about the 7017 name, it refers to 1970 when the viaduct was first built & 2017 when the conversion was completed)

Seokchon Lake: this artificial lake in southeast Seoul is just next to the sprawling Lotte development that seems to occupy most of the urban fabric of the Jamsil area, including the Lotte World Tower skyscraper (Korea’s tallest and the world’s 5th tallest) and the Lotte World theme park (part of which is on an island in the lake; see theme parks above). It’s especially popular in spring as one of Seoul’s best cherry blossom spots, and in autumn for the colours of the maple trees around the lake. In winter it’s cold and icy, but nice for a stroll if you’re in the area to check out Lotte World Tower or visit the theme park.

Cherry Blossoms

For visitors to the Paralympics in March, should you stay in Korea for a while after the Games end you might be able to catch the wonderful April displays of cherry blossoms. The trees in central Seoul usually bloom in the second week of April, with those at higher elevations (e.g. at the top of Namsan) a week or so later. For more on where to see them, see here

Where to Stay

If you’re coming to Seoul for the Olympics, see Snow Guide Korea’s page on Olympic accommodation here

For more general visits, search Agoda for hotels in Seoul

Remember to check Airbnb as well as the hotel listings. It’s a particularly good option in Seoul, where there’s a huge number of places available, and Airbnb’s really convenient in Korea – hosts usually have it set up so you can arrive & check in by yourself without having to wait around to meet someone for the keys, and the housing standards are decent with underfloor heating and excellent internet connections as standard. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, you can get a 35-dollar discount off your first rental by signing up through Snow Guide Korea; simply click on this link and register!

What to Eat

The Snow Guide Korea guide to Korean winter cuisine is still in the works, so for now check out this list here for ideas.

Transportation

Getting around Seoul is an absolute breeze thanks to one of the best subway systems anywhere on Earth. The Seoul Metro spreads across the whole Seoul-Incheon-Gyeonggi conurbation, with its furthest tendrils reaching all the way out to Gangwon-do and Chungcheongnam-do provinces; trains are spotless and punctual, service is frequent (though the frequency drops on the lines further out), and you can cross the entire city for just a few dollars.

The best way to use the Metro is using a T-Money card; this is a rechargeable stored-value card much like those in Tokyo (Suica/Pasmo), London (Oyster Card), Hong Kong (Octopus Card), etc, which saves you the hassle of having to buy single tickets every journey (and messing about with the deposit each time – see below). It also saves you 100 won on every fare, can be used to pay for taxis and buses, and enables you to transfer between the Metro and buses without paying twice (you just get charged for the total distance). Fares are distance-based, starting at 1250 won (1150 with T-Money) for short journeys, up to 4000 if you were to ride the Metro all the way across the system from Chuncheon to Asan (an unlikely journey however – you’d usually use the national Korail trains for such a distance).

The T-Money card can also be used to pay in convenience stores and some fast food outlets, so if you’re spending any more than a day or two in Seoul it’s well worth getting one.

To get yourself a T-Money card, simply visit any station and buy one from a ticket machine; they cost 2500 won, so if you’re only going to take a couple of subway rides it probably isn’t worth it, but for most visitors it’s a good idea. Not least because it also saves you messing around with the single fare deposits (see next paragraph)! The cards don’t expire, so as long as the T-Money system remains in place you can bring it back to use on any future visits to Seoul; and even if you never return, it’s a decent little souvenir (especially with the commemorative Olympic-themed designs being rolled out)

If you just use single fares, your ‘ticket’ each time is basically a single-use T-Money card, for which you pay a 500 won deposit. After you complete your journey, to get the 500 won back you stick the card back into one of these machines:

Seoul Metro deposit refund machine

All a bit of a faff, and another reason to use T-Money!

Navigating the system is easy, with most announcements and signs in Korean and English (and also often Chinese & Japanese), and plenty of maps usually found on the platforms. You can find various apps for checking routes on the Seoul Metro; if you prefer to use a webpage, head to CyberStation.

My only real gripe about the Seoul Metro is that the layout of some (ok, many!) of the transfer stations requires you to go the correct way as soon as you step off the first train, or else you can find yourself on the wrong platform for the second train with no direct way across other than a tedious walk back around or asking the staff to let you through the barriers.

So, when you get off a train to transfer, take a second to make sure you go the right way:

Seoul Metro platform

Pick the right direction from the platform, as it’s often too late once you’ve walked to the other line

Look out for the colour-coded signage (using the same colours for each line as on the map), and check the stations listed for each direction; of course, you’re unlikely to actually know the terminal stations, so you’ll need to consult the map.

Signs in the Seoul Metro

Handy colour-coding: green for Line 2, light blue for Line 4

It’s therefore a good idea to check the map in advance so you know the name of the terminal station in the direction of your destination station. In practice it’s easy to forget to do this (i.e. pretty much every time!), but there are plenty of system maps on every platform to check.

Also, some of the older stations (mostly on lines 1 and 2) have no way to cross platforms once you’re through the barriers – if you accidentally go through the wrong side, or realise you’ve taken the train going in the wrong direction, you can’t simply walk over to the other side.

In both the above cases, if you’re stuck on the wrong side with a ticket barrier blocking your way over to the other side, if it’s a manned gate you can ask the staff to let you through. Otherwise, look for one of these gates:

Gate in the Seoul Metro

…and hit the call button. You may have to try and explain the problem over the intercom, but usually they just buzz you through.

Taxis are plentiful and relatively cheap (e.g. you can cross from Hongdae to Jamsil for around 20000 won), and will usually use the meter without messing about – an exception is weekend nights in Itaewon when the drivers tend to take advantage of the situation (excessive crowds, excessive drinking) to refuse undesirable journeys or to refuse to use the meter and instead ask for severely inflated fares. May be better to go eat & wait for the first subway!

Money

ATMs can be a bit of a hassle for foreign visitors to Korea. Firstly, you need to be aware that the majority of ATMs simply won’t accept overseas cards; those that do are specifically labelled as global ATMs. But even then, it isn’t guaranteed that any given bank’s global ATMs will accept your particular card – for example, I personally find that my UK Mastercard only works with Sinhan Bank’s global ATMs, whereas my Japanese Citibank card works with most global ATMs but not Sinhan’s!

What this basically means is that you can’t expect to be able to just quickly pop to the ATM – be prepared for the time-consuming possibility that you may have to traipse round a bunch of banks to find one that works for you. It’s obviously best to do this in a busy area with a high density of banks, e.g. along Jongno between Jonggak Station & Jongno 3-ga Station, or around Gangnam Station.

Thankfully card payments in shops & restaurants usually work without any difficulty, as long as you remember to notify your bank in advance that you’re going to Korea.

If you need to change foreign cash for Korean won, head to Myeongdong. The area of pedestrian shopping streets has dozens of moneychangers; generally the further you walk down from Myeongdong Station the better the rates, with those near the Chinese Embassy usually being best (shopping around can get you an extra one percent or so)

Resources and Useful Links for Visiting Korea

For accommodation options for the Pyeongchang Olympics see here

Flexible travel insurance from World Nomads; for those hitting the slopes, check out their winter sports cover.

Pick up a copy of Lonely Planet Korea

Check out the Korea stuff on my travel blog, including my guide to hiking in Seoul

See the Korail website for train timetables.

Seoul Sub→urban is a fun blog which explores Seoul one subway station at a time, visiting the surrounds of one station per post. It’s a work in progress, and they’ve covered about half of the system so far; as well as being entertaining, it’s also actually a pretty useful way of checking out an area you’re looking at on Airbnb, for example. I particularly like their take on Jamsil Station and the People’s Republic of Lotte!

(This page contains affiliate links i.e. if you follow the links from this page to World Nomads, Agoda, or Amazon and make a purchase, Snow Guide Korea will receive a commission from them; this commission comes out of their profit margin at no extra cost to you. I only link to products and services I personally know and use; thank you in advance should you choose to use the above links!)

Any questions for your trip to Seoul? Give me a shout below!

Pyeongchang Olympics November 2017 Update

Top station at Yongpyong ski resort

Opening Dates

The 2017/8 season is finally underway, with Yongpyong, High1, and Phoenix Park all having opened on November 17th/18th.

Welli Hilli Park, Elysian Gangchon, Jisan Forest, and Vivaldi Park are all aiming to open on the 24th/25th, with Oak Valley scheduled for the 29th and the remaining Seoul area hills in early December.

Olympics

Pyeongchang 2018 is now just 3 months away, but many would-be visitors are still in two minds about coming due to uncertainties over accommodation and transportation. The majority of visitors will be staying in Seoul and travelling on the new KTX bullet train to the Olympic venues, but with standing tickets available capacity shouldn’t be an issue. The Pyeongchang Rail Pass (see below) also makes it affordable to commute each way multiple times, so if you’re looking at doing that make sure to buy a pass by December 10th. (Update: sales period has been extended to January 31st)

Pyeongchang 2018 Accommodation

Most hotels are now booked out in Pyeongchang, Gangneung, Donghae, and Wonju. Sokcho still has some availability, and Seoul has plenty. See here for a full guide on where to stay

Pyeongchang 2018 Transportation

Last month Korail announced a Pyeongchang Rail Pass for the Olympics; this is key for anyone staying in Seoul and making repeated round trips on the new KTX train to the venues. Details here

Yongpyong, Alpensia, and Phoenix Park have all confirmed they’ll have shuttle buses from their nearest KTX stations for guests and skiers throughout the season (Olympic events venues will be accessed by separate shuttle buses for ticket holders only)

For full details on the new train line see here

Olympic Host Resort Closures

Alpensia won’t be open at all for skiing this winter (sledding will be available though). The season schedules for the ski hills at the host resorts are as follows:

Yongpyong open all season, but with the Rainbow and Silver areas (gondola included) closed off

Phoenix Park open until January 10th, with Phoenix Peak closed off but most of Mont Blanc (the main hill) open bar the boardercross and halfpipe.

Alpensia closed (but with sledding available)

Jeongseon opens to the general public in late 2018

(For the best places to actually do some skiing yourself during the Olympic season, see here)

Any questions? Leave a comment below!

Pyeongchang Olympics October 2017 Update

The Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic halfpipe at Phoenix Park

The Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics are now only 4 months away, but many would-be visitors are still in two minds about coming due to uncertainties over accommodation and transportation. It does look like a majority of visitors will be staying in Seoul and travelling on the new KTX bullet train to the Olympic venues, but recent announcements regarding the KTX mean this should work out fine.

Pyeongchang 2018 Accommodation

Most hotels are now booked out in Pyeongchang, Gangneung, Donghae, and Wonju. Sokcho still has some availability, and Seoul has plenty. See here for a full guide on where to stay

Pyeongchang 2018 Transportation

Korail has announced a Pyeongchang Rail Pass for the Olympics; this is key for anyone staying in Seoul and making repeated round trips on the new KTX train to the venues. Details here

Standing room will be available on the KTX, easing worries about capacity

Yongpyong, Alpensia, and Phoenix Park have all confirmed they’ll have shuttle buses from their nearest KTX stations for guests and skiers throughout the season (Olympic events venues will be accessed by separate shuttle buses for ticket holders only)

For full details on the new train line see here

Olympic Host Resort Closures

Alpensia have now confirmed they won’t be opening at all for skiing this winter (sledding will be available though). This completes the season schedules for the ski hills at the host resorts, as follows:

Yongpyong open all season, but with the Rainbow and Silver areas (gondola included) closed off

Phoenix Park open until January 10th, with Phoenix Peak closed off but most of Mont Blanc (the main hill) open bar the boardercross and halfpipe.

Alpensia closed (but with sledding available)

Jeongseon closed

(For the best places to actually do some skiing yourself during the Olympic season, see here)

Any questions? Leave a comment below!

Pyeongchang 2018 Accommodation: where to stay for the Winter Olympics

If you’re visiting Korea specifically for the Winter Olympics and are trying to work out the Pyeongchang 2018 accommodation situation right now, chances are you’re bouncing all over the internet and not having much luck.

Fact is, the situation still isn’t entirely clear as things stand; on this page I’ll try to provide an overview of the situation as it is now, list the options with relevant links, and post regular updates as & when more information becomes available.

Pyeongchang Olympics December 2017 update:

Mountain Cluster ski resorts: fully booked

Other regional ski resorts: fully booked

Coastal Cluster (Gangneung) hotels: very limited availability, at inflated rates (see hotels in Gangneung)

Wonju hotels: limited availability, normal rates (see hotels in Wonju)

Donghae hotels: very limited availability, at inflated rates (see hotels in Donghae)

Sokcho hotels: limited availability, normal rates (see hotels in Sokcho)

Seoul hotels: good availability (see hotels in Seoul)

Yangpyeong: now that the KTX schedule is confirmed, the small city of Yangpyeong (midway between Seoul & Wonju) also looks like a decent potential base, with 15 trains per day in each direction (although the last few trains of the day skip it, meaning late-finishing events would likely require a lengthy taxi ride from Wonju). There are loads of Airbnbs available in Yangpyeong, and limited hotel availability (but at regular prices) as per here

A Pyeongchang Rail Pass is now available for the Olympics, granting unlimited train travel for 5 or 7 days (approx $200 for the 7-day pass); this pass is exactly what you need if you’re staying in Seoul and travelling back & forth repeatedly to the venues on the KTX. See here for details of the Pyeongchang KTX and here for details of the pass

Airbnb is showing plenty of availability in Seoul, Wonju, Donghae, and Sokcho, and even some in Gangneung (at vastly inflated rates). Airbnbs are also still available near the Mountain Cluster venues, but also at steep prices. At this stage, if you want to actually be in the venue clusters, Airbnb looks the best bet if your budget allows. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, you can get a 35-dollar discount off your first rental by signing up through Snow Guide Korea; simply click on this link and register.

Read on for full details on the above options

Pyeongchang 2018 Accommodation: overview

As you’ll no doubt already be aware if you’ve bought tickets, the events are split between the Mountain Cluster and the Coastal Cluster, with the Mountain Cluster events spread across 3 established Pyeongchang County ski resorts & 1 purpose-built new resort in neighbouring Jeongseon County, and the Costal Cluster events in the city of Gangneung. For more detail see here

The Pyeongchang ski resorts of Alpensia, Yongpyong, and Phoenix Park all have huge hotel / condo developments at their bases, but you’ll be very lucky to find anything available there at this stage (it may not even be possible at all, with block bookings for all the corporate / IOC etc beds required). Likewise, expect available rooms in Gangneung to be thin on the ground.

Additionally, there are a few more ski resorts in the region which aren’t Olympic venues, but which have accommodation and aren’t too far away – namely, Oak Valley Park (near the city of Wonju) and Welli Hilli Park (not too far from Phoenix Park), and High1 (an hour or so south of Gangneung by road) – but again, expect availability to be thin on the ground. Still, it can’t hurt to be aware of them and to check them along with everything else.

Pyeongchang 2018 Accommodation: latest situation

As Pyeongchang is a rural area with very little accommodation available away from the ski resorts, and Gangneung is a small city without much of a tourist industry, it was always likely that accommodation was going to be an issue for Pyeongchang 2018 – and organisers recently admitted that that is indeed the case. They’ve announced that several more hotels are under construction and will be ready in time to provide thousands of extra beds, but there’s been scant detail available about what or where exactly these hotels are, or if any of those extra beds will even be available to the general public.

It does seem to be the case that Olympic Games hosts these days tend to look like they’re in disarray, only to pull everything together in the nick of time; furthermore, if you spend a bit of time in Korea you’ll get to know the phrase “pali pali” (meaning roughly “hurry, hurry”) which goes hand-in-hand with a tendency to get things done at the last minute! So extra beds may very well materialise, be they in new hotels, university dorms, or whatever. This page will be updated as soon as (or if) they do, and if you’re still searching by then you may be able to score something – but do be prepared to pay a hefty amount.

In the meantime, you’d surely much prefer to get something nailed down rather than be waiting for those extra hotels to show up; if you can land something in Pyeongchang or Gangneung, great, and lock it in! If not, you can look at options further afield.

Pyeongchang 2018 Accommodation: where to stay

With the above in mind, a quick briefing on the geography; Gangneung’s on the east coast, with Pyeongchang just inland from there. Seoul is over near the west coast, near the main Incheon Airport; the city of Wonju lies roughly halfway between Seoul and Gangneung. Along the coast from Gangneung are the cities of Sokcho (50km to the north) and Donghae (20km to the south). With the new Gangneung KTX bullet train (see details) connecting Seoul & Wonju to Pyeongchang & Gangneung, all of these are feasible bases (depending where you’re attending events).

Pyeonchang 2018 accommodation map

Where to stay for Pyeongchang 2018

Red line: Gangneung KTX

Green: venue clusters

Blue: main accommodation options outside venue clusters

Ski resorts
1: Oak Valley (check accommodation and see resort guide)
2: Welli Hilli Park (check accommodation and see resort guide)
3: Bokwang Phoenix Park (check accommodation and see resort guide)
4: Jeongseon Alpine Centre (no accommodation; see details)
5: Yongpyong/Alpensia (many accommodation options; see resort guide for full details & links)
6: High1 (many accommodation options; see resort guide for full details & links)

Airbnb: if you’re going to stay in one of the cities, remember to check Airbnb as well as the hotel listings. It’s a particularly good option in Seoul, where there’s a huge number of places available, and Airbnb’s really convenient in Korea – hosts usually have it set up so you can arrive & check in by yourself without having to wait around or meet anyone, and the housing standards are decent with underfloor heating and excellent internet connections as standard. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, you can get a 35-dollar discount off your first rental by signing up through Snow Guide Korea; simply click on this link and register!

Airbnb also has listings near Welli Hilli Park, Phoenix Park, Alpensia & Yongpyong, and High1, some of which are still showing availability for the Olympics as of October 2017.

Seoul: it seems likely that many (if not most) Olympic visitors will wind up staying in Seoul, and travelling to the events on the new Gangneung KTX bullet train line. The line is now complete and is due to enter regular service in December 2017; travel time from one end to the other i.e. Incheon Airport to Gangneung will be around 2 hours, while travel time from Seoul to the Mountain Cluster will be about an hour. Bear in mind that you’ll also need to take a shuttle bus between the train station and the venue you’re heading to, and there will also be a subway or taxi ride in Seoul, depending which part of the city you stay in.

Map showing the route of the Gangneung KTX

The full Gangneung KTX route

And that’s a key point – if you’re staying in Seoul and concerned about journey times or late arrival back in Seoul following late-finishing events, try to stay as close as you possibly can to Cheongnyangni Station. Cheongnyangni is in the northeast of the city so isn’t particularly convenient for the main shopping & sightseeing areas, but it has the greatest frequency of service for the new KTX and is the terminus for the midnight trains back from Gangneung (so staying nearby would save you some long taxi rides if you’re attending late events before heading back to Seoul).

However, if your main concern is easy access to nightlife & sightseeing etc rather than journey logistics, it’s better to stay near Seoul Station and accept you may end up having to take a taxi home from Cheongnyangni when returning from Pyeongchang.

Cheongnyangni and Sangbong are both located in the northeast of Seoul; Sangbong is a smaller station and a bit further out, so Cheongnyangni is the better option of the two for good connections to the rest of the city, in addition to having greater frequency of KTX service.

If you stay south of the river in e.g. Gangnam, you’re looking at a 30 to 40 minute subway ride just to reach Seoul Station or Cheongnyangni, so try to avoid that.

(Note: 청량리 is correctly romanised as Cheongryangri due to Korean spelling rules but the correct pronunciation is Cheongnyangni. Bit of a mouthful either way! You’ll see it written both ways)

Be aware that concerns have been raised about the capacity & schedule of the trains (update: Korail have announced that standing tickets will be available, greatly increasing the capacity). With service expected to be from 5am to midnight, it could pose a problem for those needing to get back to Seoul from late-finishing events; if you’re attending an evening event, check the likely finishing time and bear this in mind when considering accommodation & transportation. Update: the schedule has now been confirmed, and the last train back to Seoul leaves Gangneung at 1am, stopping at Jinbu (near Yongpyong & Alpensia) at 1:24. This means that those attending the later-finishing events can still make it back to Seoul the same night (reaching Cheongnyangni at 2:34).

Also due to capacity limitations, it’s strongly advisable to book your train tickets in advance on the Korail site if you want a seat (not yet possible – advance booking is available one month before the travel date. Try to make bookings as soon as you can!) If you’ll be doing this journey repeatedly, take advantage of the Pyeongchang Rail Pass to keep costs down.

Search for hotels in Seoul

Wonju: the largest city in Gangwon-do, Wonju is halfway between Seoul & Gangneung and fairly close to the Mountain Cluster venues, so if you can find accommodation there it should be workable. One issue could be that although the Gangneung KTX stops in Wonju, the trains coming through from Seoul could already be at capacity; if you end up having to go by road, it’s about 50km from Wonju to Phoenix Park, 70km to Alpensia/Yongpyong, and 100km to Gangneung. The distances aren’t huge, but the traffic is likely to be heavy so it could be slow going; still, if you’re struggling to find accommodation in Pyeongchang or Gangneung but don’t want to travel all the way from Seoul, then Wonju could be a good option as long as you’re prepared for possible transportation snags. It’s definitely not an ideal solution if your events are in Gangneung, but those attending the freestyle events at Phoenix Park should definitely look at Wonju as an option.

Search for hotels in Wonju

Yangpyeong: the small city of Yangpyeong lies halfway between Seoul & Wonju, and with 15 KTX trains per day in each direction could make a good base. However the last few trains of the day skip it, so late-finishing events would likely mean a lengthy taxi ride from Wonju; bear this in mind if considering it.

Search for hotels in Yangpyeong

Mountain Cluster ski resorts: the in-resort accommodations at Alpensia, Yongpyong, and Phoenix Park will be very hard to book, if possible at all. There are some small pension-style places and motels in the nearby towns, they’re all fully-booked already of course but if you keep checking you may just be able to grab a vacancy. See here for details on options in & around Yongpyong / Alpensia, and here for Phoenix Park.

Other ski resorts in the region: Welli Hilli Park is only about 20km from Phoenix Park, and they’re located near adjacent stops on the Gangneung KTX (Dunnae Station and Pyeongchang Station). It would probably work quite well as a base at least for Phoenix Park, and perhaps the other venues too – if you can get a room! You can check their accommodation availability here (if you see anything, I’d jump on it); a nice point if you stay at Welli Hilli is you’ll actually be able to ski there as it’s not hosting any events so will be open as usual.

Oak Valley’s just outside Wonju and located quite close to Manjong Station on the new KTX line; if you can score a room there and if you get train tickets, it’s a good option (and again, you can actually do some skiing while you’re there). Without trains tickets though, the transportation gets tricky as Oak Valley’s on the wrong side of Wonju – to reach the venues by road, you’d have to take the Oak Valley shuttle bus (or taxi) to Wonju, then continue by bus or taxi from there. You can check their room availability here

One more option is High1; if you want to do some skiing, with closures elsewhere High1’s by far the best place to do it during the Olympics. There’s a lot of accommodation in and around High1, see here for details; again, it’s pretty much booked out already but if you keep checking you might just get lucky. However, High1’s probably a bad call for Mountain Cluster events due to the transportation (unless some special buses are made available direct to the venues, but that doesn’t seem likely to be the case at the moment); it would work for events in Gangneung though, being about an hour away by road (again, a lot could depend on whether extra buses are scheduled – if not, long taxi rides could end up being necessary). Update: High1 have confirmed that no special transportation arrangements are planned for the Olympics, so keep that in mind. If you do want to stay there, remember to also check hotels & Airbnbs in Gohan/Sabuk towns (see here)

Gangneung (Coastal Cluster): search for Gangneung hotels here. If you find something within your budget, snap it up! Gangneung’s well-placed for any of the events, and you can suss the transportation later i.e. once the organisers have actually sussed it!

Search for hotels in Gangneung

Donghae: this port city 20km south of Gangneung makes for a good base if you’re attending Coastal Cluster events in Gangneung. For Mountain Cluster events, the dogleg through Gangneung makes the transportation tricky (Wonju would be better)

Search for hotels in Donghae

Sokcho: as with Donghae, the port of Sokcho should work well enough for Coastal Cluster events, though it’s a bit further away (50km) than Donghae is; I’d consider it a last resort for Mountain Cluster events though (Wonju or Seoul would be better). Yangyang is just south of Sokcho and is home to the nearest (very small) airport to the venues, so that’s another possibility.

Search for hotels in Sokcho & Yangyang

Any questions about the Pyeongchang 2018 accommodation situation? Leave a comment below!

See also:

Snow Guide Korea’s Pyeongchang 2018 page; more details on the Gangneung KTX; and the best Korean resorts to ski at during Pyeongchang 2018

The Biggest Ski Resort in Korea

If you’re wondering what the biggest ski resort in Korea is, by most measurements it’s Yongpyong – though if you’re talking about vertical drop, Muju Deogyusan is the top dog (until Jeongseon Alpine Centre opens, anyway). High1 isn’t far behind, but then the rest of Korea’s ski resorts are significantly smaller.

While putting this site together, I tried in vain to dig up all the stats for ski area size, but only a handful of resorts provide that information; also, even when they do it’s not always clear if they’re giving the area of the slopes themselves, or the entire area within the ski area’s external boundary (even though most of that is unrideable forest – forget going off-piste in Korea!).

So I started comparing them on Google Maps, and that formed the idea for this post – displaying the sizes of all Korea’s ski resorts side-by-side using the satellite view in Google Maps! No stats or figures here; just a visual comparison of how much area they all cover, also allowing you to see how much of that area is actually rideable.

Here they all are, shown at the same scale, in (roughly) descending order (click resort names for individual reviews):

Yongpyong

Satellite view of Yongpyong ski resort, Korea

High1

Satellite view of High1 ski resort, Korea

Muju Deogyusan

Satellite view of Muju Deogyusan ski resort, Korea

Jeongseon Alpine Centre (still a construction site at the time this image was taken, but clearly showing the piste layout)

Satellite view of Jeongseon Alpine Centre, Korea

Phoenix Park

Satellite view of Phoenix Park ski resort, Korea

Welli Hilli Park

Satellite view of Welli Hilli Park ski resort, Korea

Vivaldi Park

Satellite view of Vivaldi Park ski resort, Korea

Oak Valley

Satellite view of Oak Valley ski resort, Korea

Bears Town Resort

Satellite view of Bears Town ski resort, Korea

Konjiam

Satellite view of Konjiam ski resort, Korea

Elysian Gangchon

Satellite view of Elysian Gangchon ski resort, Korea

Eden Valley

Satellite view of Eden Valley ski resort, Korea

Jisan Forest Resort

Satellite view of Jisan Forest ski resort, Korea

Alpensia

Satellite view of the ski slopes at Alpensia Resort, Korea

Yangji Pine Resort

Satellite view of Yangji Pine ski resort, Korea

Star Hill

Satellite view of Star Hill ski resort, Korea

(For the locations of all these resorts, see the map here)

So there you go, that’s what they all look like from space! Should give you some idea what to expect, but if you’re trying to decide where to ride in Korea, of course size isn’t everything – you may want to consider freestyle options, halfpipe availability, quality of the downhill ski terrain, travel time from Seoul, and so on – so here’s a list of the best ski resorts in Korea according to various criteria.

Also, as the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics will disrupt usual operations at the various host mountains, here’s a list of the best Korean hills to visit during the Winter Olympics

And just in case you’re wondering how the Korean ski resorts compare to some of the big boys internationally, here’s Yongpyong, Whistler (Canada), and Mayrhofen (Austria), all shown at the same scale:

Satellite view terrain map of Yongpyong

Satellite view terrain map of Whistler

Satellite view terrain map of Mayrhofen

So as you can see, the biggest ski resort in Korea is significantly smaller than the biggest in Canada and one of the biggest in Austria; I haven’t even compared it to the world’s biggest resorts like Les Portes du Soleil (in France / Switzerland) because I couldn’t fit them in a screenshot without zooming out so far you can’t make anything out!

But the likes of Korea’s Yongpyong and High1 do compare favourably for size with, say, Cypress Mountain (Vancouver) and Cardrona (Queenstown / Wanaka) – which is to say, respectable!

And that should give you an idea of how big Korea’s ski resorts are!

Any comments or questions? Give me a shout below!

For the full list of reviews for every resort above, see here

Also check out the best Korean ski resorts according to various criteria, and if you’re visiting before/during the Olympics, see the top 5 hills to ski at during Pyeongchang 2018; for more information and the latest updates on Pyeongchang 2018 see here, and for the lowdown on accommodation options for the Olympics see here

Gangneung KTX (Pyeongchang bullet train)

Gangneung KTX latest update (December 2017): Welli Hilli Park, Phoenix Park, and Yongpyong/Alpensia have all confirmed they’ll have shuttle buses from their nearest stations (schedules yet to be announced). High1 have confirmed they will have no extra arrangements for the KTX. Oak Valley yet to confirm.

The line is now set to start service on December 22nd, and you can see the full schedule here (scroll down to see the schedule during the Olympics). Tickets for KTX trains are available 30 days in advance, and the Korail website has (finally!) been updated to show the new stations so you can now search & book online here

A special Pyeongchang Pass is presently available allowing unlimited travel for 5 or 7 days during the Olympics & Paralympics. This is exactly what you need if you’re staying in Seoul and travelling back & forth repeatedly to the events. Full details here; sales period is October 10th to January 31st. If you buy one by January 10th, you get a commemorative Metro pass too.

The newly-built Gangneung KTX bullet train line (officially called the Kyungkang Line) links Incheon Airport to the port of Gangneung, crossing the north of the country from coast to coast and connecting Seoul to the Winter Olympic venues in Pyeongchang.

Map showing the route of the Gangneung KTX

Construction of the line formed a key part of the Pyeongchang 2018 bid, shortening the Seoul – Pyeonchang travel time from 2.5 hours on the highway to just an hour by train. The line was actually planned regardless of the Olympics, but the awarding of the Games to Korea provided the impetus to finally get it built; the Gangneung KTX is therefore arguably the main legacy of Pyeongchang 2018, along with the purpose-built Jeongseon Alpine Centre.

The new line runs from the city of Wonju across to Gangneung; trains will run along existing tracks from Incheon & Seoul to Wonju, and then onto the new tracks from there.

The stations on the new line are:

Manjong (in Wonju)
Hoengseong
Dunnae
Pyeongchang
Jinbu
Gangneung

The stops in Seoul – Incheon are set to be Incheon Airport, Geomam, Seoul Station, Cheongnyangni, and Sangbong. During the Olympics 35 trains per day will originate from Seoul Station, Cheongnyangni, or Sangbong; Cheongnyangni (in the northeast of the city) has the highest frequency of service. Furthermore, 16 trains per day will originate from Incheon Airport and stop at Geomam plus Seoul Station and/or Cheongnyangni on the way through to Jinbu and Gangneung.

There’s an accurate map here (and that’s a cool site if you’re interested in Korea and a bit of an infrastructure geek!). The other maps on this page are approximate (I knocked them up on Google Maps):

Map of korea showing the route of the Gangneung KTX

This line will of course be of great benefit to the population in the region, but also game-changing for us skiers and boarders wanting to get to Korea’s best ski resorts from Seoul – travel times will be significantly reduced for a number of Gangwon-do resorts, including but not limited to the Olympic host resorts, as follows (with closest station in brackets):

Map of the Gangneung KTX route also showing ski resort locations

1. Oak Valley (Manjong Station)
2. Welli Hilli Park (Dunnae Station)
3. Phoenix Park (Pyeongchang Station)
4. Jeongseon Alpine Centre (Jinbu Station)
5. Yongpyong & Alpensia (Jinbu Station)
6. High1 (via Gangneung, but still requiring a highway bus from there)

Click on each resort name for its Snow Guide Korea review, with full access details including how the journey is expected to work using the Gangneung KTX.

The journey time from Seoul Station to Gangneung will be just under 2 hours, for an estimated fare of around 30,000 won ($30 US); Cheongnyangni to Pyeongchang will be just over an hour.

Construction of the Gangneung KTX is already complete, and the line is scheduled to enter full regular service on 22nd December 2017.

Tickets can be booked up to 30 days in advance, and you can do this on the Korail website. If you’re planning on staying in Seoul for the Olympics and taking the train to the venues, there are three key bits of advice – take advantage of the Pyeongchang Pass if you’re making repeated round-trips, reserve your train seats ASAP (i.e. 30 days before) as they’re likely to be at capacity, and try to stay as close as possible to Seoul’s Cheongnyangni Station (in the northeast of the city) if you’re concerned about journey times or late arrivals back in the city after late-finishing events. If you’re more concerned about being close to good nightlife, sightseeing etc (and don’t mind having to take taxis if you end up back at Cheongnyangni after the Metro finishes), it’s better to stay near Seoul Station.

If you’re trying to work out your Pyeongchang 2018 transportation & accommodation options, see here for more details

For more on Pyeongchang 2018 generally, click here

Any questions about the Gangneung KTX? Leave a message below!

The Best Ski Resorts in Korea

I’m often asked which is the best ski resort in Korea, and I always answer that it depends what you’re looking for. So here’s the lowdown on the best resorts in Korea, presented in top-3s:

Best All-Round Korean Ski Resorts

High1, view from the gondola

High1

=1. High1 & Yongpyong

For all-mountain riding, High1 and Yongpyong are the two standout ski resorts in Korea. Yongpyong was the original (built in the 70s), while High1 is just a decade old. Both are high enough to not be reliant on snowmaking (as most Korean resorts are), are relatively large, have a good mix of terrain, and make reasonable effort with their terrain parks.

3. Phoenix Park

Phoenix Park is mostly famed for its freestyle offerings, with a halfpipe and arguably the country’s best terrain park (see below) along with Welli Hilli Park. Freestyle aside though, Phoenix Park is larger than Welli Hilli and is the 4th-largest ski area in Korea; this means it offers decent downhill skiing in addition to great freestyle, making it a good all-round option.

Best Korean Ski Resorts for Freestyle (Park)

Terrain park at Welli Hilli Park

Welli Hilli Park

=1. Phoenix Park & Welli Hilli Park

Phoenix Park and Welli Hilli Park are the two standouts in this department, each having solid, well-maintained terrain parks with a good variety of features for all levels of park rider.

=3. High1 & Yongpyong

High1 and Yongpyong are great all-round resorts, and they don’t neglect their freestyle offerings; while not nearly as impressive as Phoenix and Welli Hilli, they do both have sizeable, decent quality terrain parks.

Best Korean Ski Resorts for Halfpipe

The Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic halfpipe at Phoenix Park

Phoenix Park

There are only four halfpipes in Korea. In no particular order:

Phoenix Park

Phoenix Park has a superpipe and will host the Pyeongchang 2018 halfpipe events (if you want to ride pipe in the 2017/18 season, go to one of the others!)

Welli Hilli Park

The halfpipe at Welli Hilli Park is almost always well-cut and in good nick; it’s also located right in front of the base area, so everyone can see you eat shit!

Vivaldi Park

Vivaldi Park‘s is the closest halfpipe to Seoul, and the only one you can reach by free shuttle bus.

High1

High1 and Yongpyong are the best two resorts in Korea, but if you’re a pipe enthusiast only the former ticks that box!

Best Korean Resorts for Downhill Skiing

On the slopes at Muju Deogyusan Resort, Korea

Muju Deogyusan

1. Jeongseon Alpine Centre

Jeongseon Alpine Centre was built specifically to host the Pyeongchang 2018 downhill events, and won’t be open to the general skiing public until winter 2018/19. Once it does open, though, it’s set to be the best piece of downhill ski terrain in the country, very much by design – it was necessary to build it in the first place because the existing resorts didn’t meet the minimum requirements for the Olympic Downhill.

2. Muju Deogyusan

The southern location isn’t great for the snow quality, and there’s no freestyle on offer, but Muju Deogyusan has the biggest vertical drop and the longest runs in the country (at least until Jeongseon opens). The setting in Deogyusan National Park also gives it the best views!

=3. High1 & Yongpyong

All-round star resorts High1 and Yongpyong don’t quite match Muju Deogyusan for vertical drop, but they’re not far off and both offer a good selection of sections and runs. They also both get better snow than Muju so will often actually be better, especially early or late in the season.

Most Convenient Ski Resorts from Seoul (without a car)

Konjiam Resort

Konjiam

1. Konjiam

Konjiam can be accessed by subway (with a frequent shuttle bus from the station) or by free shuttle bus from points all over the city, taking under an hour depending on your starting point; they also have a flexible ticketing system, making this by far the most convenient hill from Seoul. The quality of the riding is also reasonable for a Seoul area local hill.

2. Elysian Gangchon

Although located in Gangwon-do province, Elysian Gangchon can be reached on the Seoul Metro or the ITX Cheongchun express train (with regular shuttle buses from the station) which actually makes it easier to reach than the other resorts closer to Seoul (excluding Konjiam). They also have free shuttle buses, though the driving time to Elysian is a fair bit longer than to Konjiam.

3. Vivaldi Park

Vivaldi Park is another Gangwon-do resort which is actually very convenient to Seoul, thanks in particular to their free shuttle bus for international tourists. It only takes 90 minutes from Myeongdong and costs you nothing, making Vivaldi more convenient than Seoul hills like Jisan Forest and Yangji Pine – and it’s a bigger & better hill (Vivaldi is the biggest hill you can reach from Seoul for free)

What do you think about this list? Agree? Think it’s nonsense? Leave a comment below!

Best Korean Ski Resorts Durong Pyeongchang 2018

Be aware that the four Pyeongchang 2018 host resorts will be partly or completely closed if you visit during the Olympic season, so check out the best Korean ski resorts to hit in the 2017/18 season

Also see here for full reviews of every resort in the country; and here for a size comparison of all ski hills in Korea using satellite imagery!

If you’re looking for Pyeongchang 2018 accommodation options, see here

Top 5 Korean Ski Resorts During the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics

If you’re visiting Korea during the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic season and want to do some skiing yourself, be aware that the four resorts involved in hosting the games will be partially or entirely closed to the general public i.e. much of the country’s best skiing will be off-limits. With that in mind, here’s a list of the top 5 Korean ski resorts to hit during the 2017/18 season:

1. High1

High1, view from the gondola

High1 is already one of the two standout resorts in Korea, but with Yongpyong’s best terrain closed for the Olympic slalom events, High1 is hands down the best place to ski during the upcoming winter. The hill’s as big as they come in Korea, with the best terrain, and they have decent freestyle offerings. They also have a 50% discount on lift tickets for foreign tourists, which offsets the long journey to get there.

See the Snow Guide Korea High1 page for details

2. Welli Hilli Park

Halfpipe at Welli Hilli Park

If you’re after park & pipe, the usual advice would be to hit Phoenix Park or Welli Hilli, but with Phoenix Park given over to the Olympic freestyle events Welli Hilli is head & shoulders above the rest for freestyle in the 2017/18 season.

See the Snow Guide Korea Welli Hilli Park page for details

3. Muju Deogyusan

On the slopes at Muju Deogyusan Resort, Korea

Muju Deogyusan is Korea’s biggest resort after High1 & Yongpyong, and actually has the biggest vertical drop and longest runs. It’s no good for freestyle, but for downhill skiing it’ll be the best available along with High1 during the Olympic period. It also has the closest thing you’ll find to an Alpine village and is situated in a beautiful national park, making it an attractive option.

See the Snow Guide Korea Muju Deogyusan page for details

4. Yongpyong

Snow bikers at Yongpyong

Even with its best terrain (specifically, the gondola and ‘Rainbow’ & ‘Silver’ areas) being closed for the Pyeonchang 2018 slalom events, Yongpyong still has enough to offer to warrant a place on this list. With those sections out of action, the remainder of the mountain is still the 3rd-biggest in the country in 2017/18; they make a decent effort with their park, too, so Yongpyong remains a good all-round choice even during the Olympic season.

See the Snow Guide Korea Yongpyong page for details

5. Konjiam

Konjiam Resort

Purely from a riding perspective, Vivaldi Park and Oak Valley probably both deserve to be on this list ahead of Konjiam; however, Konjiam makes the cut out of sheer convenience. With free shuttle buses from all over the city (taking as little as 40 minutes from e.g. Sadang Station), Konjiam is the best choice for a quick & easy day on the slopes if you’re in Seoul and don’t want to make the trip over to Gangwon-do province. It’s small, but the size & quality is decent for a Seoul local hill.

See the Snow Guide Korea Konjiam page for details

What do you think about this list? Agree? Think it’s nonsense? Leave a comment below!

For full reviews of every ski resort in Korea, see here; also check out the best Korean ski resorts according to various criteria, and this size comparison of Korea’s ski resorts using satellite imagery.

If you’re looking for Pyeongchang 2018 accommodation options, see here

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