Gangneung: a “beach town” that also was the host to half of the Winter Olympic Games. Even though it is called the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games, only the mountain events took place there. The rest, mostly the arena-based sports, were based out of Gangneung, where you could almost ditch the winter parka and your mind was very confused as to why it can do this at the *ahem* WINTER Olympics in the middle of February.
Totally kept the ultra-Canadian Hudson’s Bay gear on though for the “they could look like they are athletes so let’s take a photo with them” moments. Oh and for casually running into Hoda from The Today Show during her morning runs.
Now, hotel prices were inflated bigger than Richard Branson’s hot air balloons for the Olympics and availability was limited since we started our search only two weeks before arrival.
Thank goodness we did enough research beforehand because there are a number of different types of accommodations, and turns out, we almost stayed in a “Love Motel” … more on that in a bit.
A few different types of accommodations aside from your standard hotels and Air BnB’s :
- “Sauna” : Given a T-shirt & shorts and you sleep on a heated floor in a shared sleeping area. Cheapest option if you are into that kind of thing
- “Motel” : PLEASE READ THIS. I nearly booked a motel just simply due to the lack of availability and we would have been in for the biggest surprise had we done this. In Korea, this can also be known as “Love Motels”. Rooms can be rented for the night, or by the hour for couples looking for a quick … ‘meet up’ let’s say. From what I read online, there are mixed reviews about people’s experiences at these accommodations (ranging from, ahem, ‘romantic’ bathtubs to some noises elsewhere in the building). Not to say they are all like this, but do your research
- “Guesthouse” : basically a B&B. A few friends did this option and had nothing but wonderful things to say about it
For more detailed breakdown on all of the types of accommodations, check out this article.
Getting Around & Essential Applications:
Before diving into restaurants, I learned as I went when it come to the ‘how to get around’ aspect of Korea. Do yourself a huge solid and check out my post on “What Every Traveller Needs on Their Phone in a Foreign Country“.
Now the important part.
To me, you must be willing to try anything and everything food wise when you travel. Food is at the core of culture and it is certainly not the time to be picky. You may not fully be given a description of what it is, especially depending how far inland you get where menus slowly contain less and less English, but regardless, it is always worth it.
Back to Korean food.
Scissors trump knives here and it was the best idea someone has ever come up with. Why this isn’t a global trend at this point blows my mind.
TRY THE SEAFOOD!!
Gangneung is a coastal town so naturally you can imagine how fresh the seafood is here. Literally, I think some of it melted in my mouth and is some of the best I have ever had.
Restaurants line the beachfront streets and outside of them are large tanks of fresh fish and plenty of giant snow crabs.
You definitely have to try seafood here and especially try some raw fish here…. But whatever you do please don’t call it sashimi. Technically that’s a Japanese term. Here in Korea, Sashimi is Hwe and Maki is Kimbap.
Jk no one will get mad at you, but it’s good to know. Also, Ramen is not Korean.
There are far too many things to try, but these were my favourite dishes aside from seafood. I’m sure I am missing quite a bit… likely because I don’t even know the names but just asked what was popular.
- Korean BBQ (obviously) – different places operate differently, but typically you select which meats you want and then you make your wraps accordingly. Little etiquette tip: try to wrap them that they are meant to be in one bite. Throw some of the veggies and Kimchi on the grill too. Ask for sesame oil on the side for dipping too.
- Soft Tofu Stew (순두부찌개) – Soft tofu, clams and spicy broth
- Tteokbokki (떡볶이) – Easily found as street food. Basically dense rice cakes in a sweet/spicy amazing sauce
- Soy sauce crab (간장게장) – It’s delicious. Exactly what it sounds like. Just try it
- Bibimbap (비빔밥) – You’ve probably seen this around in your local city. I personally like the hot stone Bibimbaps and let it sit for a bit to let the rice crisp up
- Bulgogi (불고기) – I am obsessed with this meat. I’m not a big meat eater at home, but this is really really good
Half of the adventure is finding recommended restaurants of your own, but here are a few I can vouch for (and remember). I don’t have a specific seafood restaurant on this, but highly recommend you find one on the water.
Key: a popular convenience store is called GS 25.
There were three general areas that we explored, aside from the Olympic grounds. There is the beachfront next to Gyeongpoho Lake, the beachfront further south (Anmok Beach) and central Gangneung near the train station. I’ve highlighted a place in each area in the map below:
ON THE COAST:
Get the seafood. Anywhere. I don’t care. Have I said that enough yet?
Bossa Nova (보사노바) @ Anmok Beach
Incredible coffee shop with an even more stunning view that overlooks the water and has a rooftop terrace. The street it is found on is literally called “Coffee Street”.
FOR A HOTEL POOL WITH A VIEW
Golden Tulip Hotel (Infinity Pool) @ Gyeongpoho Lake / Coast
Brand new hotel that was built for the Winter Olympics, which makes sense because it seems like the only giant structure along that skyline that you can’t help but notice it (cue white arches). They have a stunning infinity pool on the roof top there which is worth going up to take a look or take a dip. I personally did not stay here and can’t comment on accommodations, but worth a visit at the least.
Geumhak Kalguksu (금학칼국수) @ downtown Gangneung
You WILL NOT regret this.
If there is one food spot you need to go to in Gangnueng it is here. Do not google more about it. Just go and trust me….. a stranger you just found on the internet.
No word of a lie, I typed of a description of this place but I want you to experience it for yourself. Just know that you are in for a very casual and quaint meal with some of the best buckwheat noodles in a spicy broth you have had in your life with an even better family-like atmosphere.
It can be a little hard to find, since we went off verbal directions and that it was ‘down an alley’. Literally. However, you’ll know you’re in the right alley when you see the large line of individuals and the overhanging arch way. The line moves fast I promise.
BONUS: When you’re done, around the corner is a skincare shop called “it’s skin”. Super cheap but amazing products because, well, it’s Korea and they are a powerhouse for this stuff. May have gone three separate times here.
“THIS PLACE” @ Downtown Gangneung, closer to the Train station
An awesome spicy seafood stew with noodles that they have here and a few other food options. No one spoke English here and at one point our server said something in Korean when I used the chopsticks and the entire restaurant laughed. I’m rolling with it as a compliment.
Below is how you can find it from the main train station and what the store looks like from the front.
“A random street” @ Downtown core
This is what I mean about getting recommendations. We asked someone for good Korean BBQ and they pointed us in this direction, telling us to go to the one with the “black roof”. These KBBQ joints have tents that extend for the front of the restaurant. The choice is yours for these but this is how you find it!
Also when it comes to KBBQ, there are plenty more spots. This was just one area with a few options.