On a cold winter night, five snowsport instructors from Phoenix Park went on a journey to a magical mountain far, but not that far away. The road there was arduous as they were not allowed to put any new scratches on their rental car. Doing so would have resulted in very angry front desk staff.
They set off on a Wednesday night after all of them spend an afternoon on the slopes, picking up people and adjusting many bindings. Many turns, french fries and pizzas were made.
When the clock hit 3.30 pm we all lost our boots and changed our uniforms for our own style. Which can best be described as adults dressing like fifteen year olds.
All of us spend three months in the same resort, Phoenix Park, with the same people and all living together on very small spaces. Last year it was exactly the same. Spending that much time in the same place and living together makes me a bit claustrophobic.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the people I work with but after two weeks spending inside our snowschool cave, I needed a breath of fresh air. It helps me keeping my sanity. Being a nomad, staying in the same place for a long time gets to me after a while. Getting out and doing things keeps me healthy and it makes winter so much more interesting.
For this season, I got an international driver’s license so I could explore the area around Phoenix Park. Our snow resort is part of the Pyeongchang area, where this year, the 2018 Winter Olympics are being held. South Korea’s biggest resorts Alpensia and Yongpyong are just behind the corner from Phoenix Park.
For this trip me and my friends decided to leave the snow behind, rent a car and head out to the mountains. We stayed one night in Sokcho, right next to the ocean.
Renting a Car in South Korea
We started our trip from Wonju, a city one hour west of Seoul. We rented our car with SK car rentals. If you don’t read nor speak Korean, you will have a hard time making a reservation with this company.
In that case and if you don’t have any Korean friends, you are a very sad person. There are special car rental sites for the likes of you, try Avis.
You will need an international driver’s license if you want to drive in Korea. You also need your passport and local driver’s license.
Driving in South Korea
All of the signposts have English translations of cities and towns. Maximum speed is 100 km per hour with speed cameras every few kilometers. They drive on the right here which definitely had me driving more alert every time I turned. Bus drivers are very assertive in this country, VERY assertive. Best to give them some space.
If you have a Korean navigation system, they’ll warn you about speed cameras and gigantic hawks who might fly off with your car while you’re in it.
Don’t go on the left lane unless you like getting chased by cars going 170 km per hour. Stay on the right lane, it’s the polite thing to do.
Hanwha Resort, Sokcho
They really like to build big in South Korea. Hanwha Resort has five buildings joined into one megabuilding sitting next to a mega waterpark. For late night snacks and dumpling dinners, head to the CU in the basement. They also have Karaoke and a games room.
For a coffee fix, there’s a Starbucks next to the front desk and if you’re hungry and don’t feel like going out, try one of the three restaurants in the resort.
For a more authentic Korean dining experience, head out to Sokcho’s waterfront for the best seafood restaurants or Korean barbecue.
Korean barbecue goes like this: sit down in front of a little carbon fire grill. Restaurant staff will bring out pieces of meat. Then you grill it yourself and eat until your heart and stomach are filled.
A standard room in Hanwha resort has one queen size bed, a small kitchen with fridge and microwave, shower and spare room where you can sleep Korean style. This means, sleep on the floor with floor heating and wake up feeling like French toast next morning.
Seoraksan National Park
To enter the park you need to pay an entry fee of KRW 3 500.
The bottom part of the park has a few walking tracks. There are also pizza restaurants disguised as Buddhist temples. Behind the cafes and restaurant you can find the Buddha, hanging out on top of a rock, making the best zen pose a stone statue can. There is a big temple complex when you walk past this statue.
To get to the top part of Seoraksan, you can hike or take the gondola. A ticket costs KRW 10 000. The top has two walking tracks. One that leads to a small temple and viewpoint, the other ends at beautiful rock formations on the edge of a cliff.
The park is well developed so you can walk in your sneakers, even high heals if you hike in style. You might need some spikes on those heels though because it can be slippery.
Seoraksan national park is busy, even on a weekday. This means taking pictures from different angles trying to capture the zen aspect of the mountain without people in the shot. Seoraksan national park is a beautiful place, that’s why it brings out the crowds. The frozen waterfalls high up the cliffs distract many drivers to stop in the middle of the road to admire their beauty.
That’s a bit annoying but I can’t blame them, we all went WOOOOOW as well when we spotted it.
For next week’s adventure we’ll be heading to Yongpyong. One of the other resort that will host Winter Olympics competitions. It’s one of the biggest resorts in South Korea. We’re heading out there before the Christmas holidays turn all resorts into a monsoon of people and snowboards.
Special thanks to my friends Ruth Fryer, Camron Abbott, Scott Russell and Christopher Painter for heading out with me on this trip and for that time they warned me I was veering off the road.
Driving and staring at trees is dangerous.