All eyes turned to Pyeongchang when it was chosen as the location of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Nestled in the Taebaek Mountains, the region is very sparsely populated. You are more likely to see swathes of pink and yellow flowers and fields of buckwheat than you are to see people. In the warmer months rice paddies turn the countryside bright green.
The snow remains the main attraction, with ski resorts sending you zipping down the hills. The most popular skiing is in Yongpyong, the oldest ski resort in the country. Most of this province is covered in mountains, so dress warmly and be prepared for a beautiful blanket of white snow. Each season is celebrated at Herbnara Farm’s seven themed gardens. Azaleas bloom in the spring, leaves change color in the fall, and quiet gardens open to ponds. Enjoy a relaxing cup of tea made with one of the 100 herbs grown at the farm.
The name Pyeongchang implies goodwill; deconstructed, “Pyeong” means peace and “Chang” prosperity. Though its population is small, the welcoming spirit will endear you to the region immediately. Remote villages harken back to a simpler way of life. The six traditional buildings of the Jeongseon Ararichon Folk Village will help you understand the old way of life. Hear folk songs, admire the sculptures, and try the rice wine. If you love barbecue, sample Hanwoo, a Korean beef served with kimchi. Buckwheat noodles, pancakes, and steamed buns are tasty treats too.
Scenic Odaesan National Park’s mountains are covered with the largest natural forest in the country. Hike along the trails scattered with Buddhist places of worship like the Woljeongsa Temple featuring an octagonal pagoda, a curved roof, and a design called Dancheong. These painted geometric designs come in five main hues—blue, red, black, white, and yellow—and are spread along its walls and pillars. The ancient Koreans took inspiration from the sun, moon, stars, flowers, trees, butterflies, and beasts they saw around them. Aside from adding a vibrance to their architecture, the patterns help to protect the wood from rotting and were believed to ward off evil spirits.
Buddhist artifacts from the Goryeo Dynasty stretching back to 918 are displayed at the Seongbo Museum. The faithful stream to Jeokmyeolbogung Pavilion, where it is believed that Buddha’s bones are preserved. The tranquil area is scattered with pagodas housing the remains of various monks.
In contrast to lively Seoul, Pyeongchang is a quiet corner of South Korea best explored with a Ker & Downey expert at your side.