If you ever get the chance to attend the Winter Olympics, take it! The spirit of countries coming together to witness history, the camaraderie of cheering on your country and the fight of athletes is truly remarkable. The entire world gathers to hear athletes’ stories – of passions ignited, of triumphant moments, of endless sacrifice and unconditional love. It’s something you can feel whether you’re in the arena, at the alpine heights or taking in the host city. Johnny and I feel truly blessed to watch moments when work met victory and love met pride. One of my favorite quotes is from the opening film of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino Italy and I’d like to share it here. “Greatness is born of fearless visions and unconditional devotions.” Here is our PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics travel diary.
Where to Stay
- Hemoro Pension – We spent our first night in Gangneung here. Pensions are more like lofts complete with a bathroom, small kitchen and living space. The host here is extremely accommodating. Plus, this pension has its own website where you can order food delivery including soups, fried chicken, noodles and more!
- Mute 101 Pension – This is further away in a rural area, but about 10 minutes to Dunnae Train station. Tucked in the mountains, we stayed here the rest of our Olympic trip with a fellow American. Also, the host here is extremely accommodating and will take you to and from the train station. The photo of me sleeping with all our Team USA gear is at this pension!
- Semarq Hotel – A luxury hotel staunchly perched on Gyeongpo Beach. This hotel is a massive beauty. We didn’t stay here but saw tons of photos and because of that it looks simply incredible. The views are magnificent I’m sure and this hotel is sure to have modern amenities.
- Lakai Sandpine Resort – Another gorgeous hotel with more western amenities and on the beach. The staff here is very gracious and willing to help. Even though we weren’t guests, they helped us get a taxi after our visit to Holland House, which was next door.
We made it on the Kiss Cam during the Mens Short Program! Not going to lie, Johnny definitely flagged down the videographer so we could be on this, ha!
While waiting for one of the shuttle buses, Johnny spotted the USA Figure Skating Pair Team Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim. They won the bronze medal at the Team Event and were so so sweet!
- Men’s Figure Skating – A roller coaster two days for us. This event was a big part of our Winter Olympics travel diary. We went to cheer on Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou and Adam Rippon of Team USA. Nathan came in with great prospects to win a medal, possibly gold, but nerves snatched that away from him. He fell an astounding three times in his short program, possibly the worst skate of his entire career. However, we got to see the redemption athletes only dream of when he came back the next day with fire and fury. He landed six quadruple jumps (SIX!) and ended up winning the free skate by about nine points. He placed a respectable fifth overall. Watching Yuzuru Hanyu win back-to-back Olympic gold medals skating injured was quite the spectacle. That and the shower of Winne the Pooh bears (his favorite) was another fun moment!
- Ice Dancing – Breathtaking, electric and full of passion. I started to love ice dancing when I saw Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto win the silver medal at the Torino Olympics. All three of the USA ice dancers could win a bronze medal and it was very exciting to see who it would be. We are big fans of Maia and Alex Shibutani, also known as the Shib Sibs! They skated to Paradise for their Free Dance and let me just say the atmosphere was simply electric! We knew they would clinch the bronze with their performance. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada went in the clear favorites and with good reason. I am not a fan of Moulin Rouge, but their Free Dance was simply spectacular. I’m pretty sure the whole arena was on their feet 10 seconds before they finished.
- Explore – To call Gangneung Olympic Park vast is an understatement. Aside from the arenas for the ice events, there are houses by different Olympic sponsors you can enjoy. Some of our favorites include Alibaba, KT Corporation and The North Face. It’s really cool to see the different technologies out there!
- Superstore – The place to buy any PyeongChang 2018 swag. There is a big one in the Park, then a smaller one once you pass through the gates for the Gangneung Ice Arena. We waited in line for about 30 minutes to get inside the main one to buy mascots, pins and other gifts for friends and family.
- Korea House – Almost all houses are located off official Olympic property. Naturally, the one from the host country is located in a prime spot. Right when you walk in, they have the Olympic medals displayed so you can see them up close. Plus, you can learn about the history and culture of South Korea. Oh, and if you want to be a K-Pop star, you can!
- Japan House – Hosting the next Olympics will be Japan in Summer 2020. There is a wall prominently displaying the athletes’ photos so they swing by to sign it, which is pretty cool! We breezed through quickly because of time, but there were definitely short films about the country we wanted to see.
- Pin Trading – We didn’t really know this was a thing but now Johnny is determined to start! There are hardcore pin traders who have pins dating back to the Olympics way before Johnny and I were born! They usually set up in the park and lay out their collection for others to see
- Today Show Set – Gosh, I wish I wasn’t too jet lagged or I would’ve stayed to watch the Today Show live! They broadcast at their normal 7-9 A.M. EST so that translated to about 9-11 P.M. at night for us. We were usually knocked out by then, but I did get to see Hoda and Savannah here and there!
- Anmok Beach – A quaint beautiful beach with aqua waters and light sand. It was cold when we went in mid-February but still breathtaking. Coffee culture is taken very seriously in South Korea, which we don’t mind. This beach is lined with tons of coffee shops, hence the name Coffee Street. This was one of our favorite spots and well worth a mention in our Winter Olympics Travel Diary.
- Cafe Bossa Nova – Our favorite coffee spot during our Olympic trip without a doubt. This cafe spans three floors and features floor to ceiling windows so you can watch the waves roll in. However, the best part of this cafe is the rooftop terrace. Whimsical white curtains contrast the sleek ironwork and give customers the perfect place to nestle in and enjoy a cup of coffee.
- Gyeongpo Beach – White sand and azure waters make this beach the third most visited in South Korea. Olympic Rings are staunchly planted at the beach’s entrance to mark the location’s spot in history. When we visited there were massive art pieces along the beach. Each one is made by a country participating in the Olympics and tells a story. At the end of the Olympic Games, they will all be burned. Plenty of seafood restaurants line this beach, so I recommend getting the fresh catch to eat. There are also a few more western spots.
- We used a mix of taxi, Olympic shuttle buses and the Korail train to get around. Of course, this provided us a great mix, which is always a great Winter Olympics travel experience.
- Download a translation app and have it on hand. Also, taxi drivers are usually middle-aged men, so have the address in Korean ready to go. Most of them can’t read English
Where to Eat
- We stumbled upon a lot of great Mom and Pop restaurants. I highly recommend the area around Gangneung station. We found a place where you can get 10 dumplings for around $2 USD.
- In general, the food is quite delicious so you are safe wherever you go
- This was my first big international trip and I’m so glad it was! Being able to share this Winter Olympics travel diary with y’all makes me so happy
- South Korea is 14 hours ahead of EST, so take time on the plane to readjust your clocks! Otherwise, you’ll be quite miserable like I was
- The Coastal area of South Korea is truly stunning and I can only imagine what it’s like during warmer seasons. The weather is beautiful, even though it’s cold during the winter.
- You cannot choose exact seats at the Olympic venue, so get there a little early to find your seats. Also, if you’re a woman, don’t use the restroom during the normal breaks or you’ll wait in line or 20 minutes. Leve about 10 seconds before the last skater’s program is over.
- HAVE FUN. This was honestly one of the best experiences of our lives and we are planning on going to Beijing 2022!