Time for the Pyeongchang Olympics!
The Vancouver 2010 Olympics winter games were so awesome that I wanted to experience it again in Pyeongchang. This post chronicles my short 2 days, 1 night trip to Gangneung to watch the Olympics live!
I decided to go in December but by then the tickets to the opening ceremony and many of the (um…cheaper) tickets to some of the events on the first weekend were sold out. However, I noticed there were lots of tickets still available for the second weekend and I proceeded to make my purchase. The first was to a men’s round robin curling game while the other is to a women’s hockey match.
It turns out the second week of the Olympics coincided with one of Korea’s largest holidays – Seollal. Ha~
Due to prior schedules, my roomie and I weren’t able to depart from Jeollabuk-do until mid-afternoon, which posed some problems, mainly the huge Seollal traffic jam. Even though it was a Saturday, many people were already leaving their hometowns to return to Seoul, which happened to be one of the roads we need to take to go to Gangneung, where the curling center is.
After 7 hours on the road with a break in Wonju for dinner, we made it to Gangneung. We couldn’t book any hotels within our budget, so we settled for the jimjibang or Korean sauna called 황실 사우나 (Hwangshil sauna) (only 10,000 won each!).
We chose this sauna specifically because it was close to the transportation centers where we could take free shuttles to the Olympic venues. Unfortunately, it seemed like many Koreans and some foreigners came to the same conclusion as us. The jimjibang was completely packed with people, each bringing their own sleeping habits, some louder than others. At one point, verbal shouting erupted between two not-so-friendly sleeping neighbors and I conceded to the fact that I won’t be sleeping that night. The sauna was one of two near the Gangneung Station.
At 6 am, we left the jimjibang to grab breakfast at Gangneung‘s famous Jungang Traditional Market. The restaurant we wanted to go opens at 6:30 am, so we stayed warm inside a convenience store until it opened.
The restaurant was called Gwangdeok Restaurant 광덕식당 and was famous for sundae (pig’s blood) soup 순대국밥 and somori (cow’s head) soup with rice 소머리국밥.
After eating, we snoozed a bit in the car before heading out to the Curling Center. Yes, finally some Olympics stuff!
The shuttle buses we were supposed to take was located on the side road next to the train station, not in front. We lined up to take the regular bus station in confusion and then fearing we won’t get there in time, took a taxi to the venue. We told the taxi driver our destination but he dropped us off at the entrance for the athletes … Volunteers wouldn’t let us in so we took a 15 minutes detour to get back to the front.
Luckily, at 9 am, there were few people filling into the Olympic Park, so security clearance didn’t take too long. I’m finally inside!
Not wanting to be late, I didn’t walk around the area and went straight into the Curling Center. The center was actually an older building and had served other major sporting events like Asian Games, figure skating, and short track championships.
My first time at a curling tournament! I’ve played curling (once) but never watched a game live. I bought the tickets early and somehow scored some nice seats on the second row, just behind the Canadian team, who was playing the Swiss. I had a group of Americans to my right and a huge contingent of Japanese fans right behind me – with large flags, cowbells, and even a guy with a Mr. Potato mask (seriously don’t know why) and all. If the game was broadcasted in Japan, I’m pretty sure I made it on TV :)
There were three games going on at once and there was a lot less yelling than I thought! The game would last over 3 hours, going into extra ends and finally ending with a Swiss win. It was the last game to finish but most people stayed to watch it :)
Returning outside, the Olympic Park is now packed with people! In addition to the curling center, the Gangneung Olympic Park includes the ice arena (for figure skating), the hockey center, and the speed skating oval as well as a cafeteria (nope not food court), merchandise superstore and many sponsor’s pavilions.
The huge merchandise superstore by far had the longest lineup – a wait time of 30 minutes. I already got my goods online prior to the start of the Olympics but I still lined up to go in. Unfortunately, that meant I didn’t have time to live up to other pavilions such as the Samsung, the coca cola, and even McDonald’s! I did get a free limited edition IONIQ miniature car from Hyundai for posting something on Instagram … WOOO
The Canada House was located outside the Gangneung Olympic Park, and we needed to register and pay AHEAD of time, which we didn’t and so we failed to get in :(
Feeling hungry, roomie and I actually went back to the Jungang Traditional Market to grab food because my roomie was all about eating and we just couldn’t settle for convenience. Unlike 6 in the morning, the traditional market was packed with people too! We ended up getting sweet spicy chicken or Dakgangjeong, which was very popular in Gangneung and best eaten cold. The chicken was covered with this sweet sauce and bits of peanuts, all chopped in small pieces for eating convenience.
We also went to a sit-in restaurant called 감자바우 Gamja Bau nearby. It’s a local restaurant on the second-floor selling Gamja Ongsim, or potato balls with noodles. Ongsim means bird’s egg, spoken in Gangwon-do dialect. It’s called so because the shape reminds them of quail eggs. We also ordered a side dish, potato pancakes! As predicted we got full, very fast.
Suffering from a lack of sleep and possibly a dose of food coma, we contemplated about calling it a day and forgoing the women’s hockey game, which was a classification game between Sweden and Japan. However, we will probably never get to watch another Olympics game in Pyeongchang, so we decided to go, this time to Kwandong Hockey Centre, some 20 minutes away from the train station via the free shuttle.
We didn’t get the nice seats this time, instead, we were almost at the back of the stadium. The view was still ok, plus, we were dozing off quite a bit during the first period because of fatigue …. wouldn’t that be embarrassing if we were caught on air (yikes!)
The stadium was built for the Olympics, but seeing that it is located on the campus of Catholic Kwandong University, it’s posstible they could be using this as school stadium or other events :) It seats 6000 people but it has few concession stands (sorry, I love snacking, and snacking goes hand in hand with sporting events for me).
The second period was better because we moved into better seats. They were vacated when some people filed out or (most likely) went down to even better seats. The atmosphere was quite good overall, there was even a little kid near me that was super intense during the game, like a little a hockey dad :P
The game ended 3-2 in overtime with Japan coming out the winner. We took the shuttle back, ate some snacks and drove back to Jeollabuk-do.
We stopped at 3 or 4 rest areas along the way for washroom breaks, to eat, and even had a 30 minutes power nap. Eventually, we made it back safely (whew).
Overall, we only spent $200 each and this included the tickets, the meals, the gas and the accommodation. I also got to soak up all the Olympic fun and cheered for the Canadians. Until next time … Pyeongchang Part 2!