MANILA, Philippines — Without a doubt, Filipinos love to travel to South Korea. Driven by their love for K-pop, K-drama, bulgogi and kimchi, most would like to see the country where they originated.
According to a recent survey of the Korea Tourist Organization (KTO), there was an increase of 37.9 percent in the volume of Filipino travelers to South Korea last year. From 403,622 tourists in 2015, it rose to 556,745,000 visitors in 2016.
Most of the time, they only see the tourist spots in Seoul, but there are so much more magical places to visit in Korea, says KTO. That is why the tourism board is beefing up its marketing programs to promote other breathtaking spots in the country, particularly in the Gangwon province where the lovely cities of Sokcho and Pyeongchang are located.
Sokcho is where you can visit the famous Mt. Seoraksan while Pyeongchang is the venue of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
During a recent familiarization tour in Gangwon sponsored by the KTO, media delegates were toured to Sokcho and Pyeongchang, which are both accessible by bus from the capital Seoul. From Seoul, it only takes two hours and 30 minutes of travel to Sokcho.
In a nutshell, Gangwon is located on the east side of the Korean peninsula, where 82 percent of the total area is mountainous. According to KTO, Gangwon is the most popular holiday destination for Koreans.
“Gangwon is often described by locals as a gift from God because of its many picturesque spots,” Jasmine Jaeyeon An, marketing director of the Gangwondo Maritime Center, tells writers during the Korea Cruise Travel Mart, an event that aims to promote the country as a top cruise destination. The tourist spots in Sokcho and Pyeongchang are included in the itinerary of cruise trips to Korea.
When you speak of Sokcho, the sublime Mt. Seoraksan always comes to mind, Jaeyeon says. Every year, approximately 3,0000 visitors come to enjoy Seoraksan, which is why it is the biggest tour and leisure destination in Korea.
“Seoraksan is designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. The shape of the towering mountains and rocks and emerald-colored water flowing through falls and valleys create such a magnificent scene,” Jaeyeon says.
Upon reaching the Seoraksan national park, you can take a cable car which will take you to the peak of the mountain. The cable car, which is an exciting experience by itself, takes about five minutes. From the mountain you need to take a flight of stairs to reach the peak and from there you can see a breathtaking view of the East River and beautiful adjacent mountains beside Mt. Seoraksan.
After visiting Mt. Seoraksan, another must-visit is the Sokcho Tourist and Fisheries market where several fish shops and sushi restaurants are located.
The market’s fresh seafood is straight from the East Sea and some of the popular fare include jeotgal (salted seafood), dak ganjeong (sweet and sour chicken), abai sundae and Sokcho specialties such as Ojingeo Sundae or squid caught from the sea, which is stuffed with pork, red pepper, radish, garlic and then steamed.
Another must-see tourist spot beside the Sokcho market is the Abai Village, which is now occupied by refugees of the Korean war, who came to the south side of Korea and were unable to return after the division of the country. To go the village, most tourists take the gatbae or raft, the one and only boat in Korea that is operated without any power, intead pulled by rope with customers connected from one end to the other. The village is popular with Hallyu fans after it became the filming location in the drama Autumn in my Heart, starring Song Hek-kyo and Song Seung-heon.
After the Sokcho city tour, you can head to the nearby Pyeonchang, the venue of the 2018 Winter Olympics, which will be held from Feb. 9 to 25. The snowy city of Pyeonchang is called the “Alps of Asia” due to its unique wintery environment. The 2018 Pyeonchang Winter Olympics will be held at Alpensia Resort, which has a ski jump, tower facility, ski history museum, golf club, hotel and condominium.
Another must visit is the Seonyojang House, a traditional upper class residential complex typical of the Joseon Dynasty. The structure, which has 99 rooms, is presently a guest house and can be reserved for lodging.
When in Gangwon, one must not fail to visit the Anmokhang Port Coffee Streets in Gangneung, called a “coffee city” because it is the home to of 250 coffee shops. Here’s a little bit trivia on Gangneung: although there are many fancy cafes dotting the port, there are as well many coffee vending machines. In fact, coffee vending machines, often called road café, were the beginning of Anmokhang coffee and even of Gangneung as a city of coffee. South Korea’s east side definitely offers a unique and wonderful experience and on your second visit to Korea, it is worthwhile to tour Gangwon where you can enjoy nature at its best.
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