Happy Christmas & Happy New Year!
The holidays were such a busy time for me. I was afraid that I would be spending Christmas alone, but thankfully God answered my prayer and I was able to spend it with friends. New Years was a little different, but today’s post is about Christmas in Pyeongchang, home of the 2018 Olympic Games. So I’ll just go ahead and talk about that.
Christmas is not a huge deal in Korea. Because of this, I actually had to work on Christmas Eve! Well, kind of. By “work” I mean that I had to go to school and not do anything because students weren’t in class. But that’s neither here nor there.
Right after school, I went straight on the bus to make my church’s Candlelight service. I figured that if I couldn’t spend Christmas with my family, I might as well do something Christmasy. I got to the church 30 minutes after the service started, but that’s okay because I didn’t even miss the message! And even better because someone from my small group got there late as well and we ended up sitting together.
Afterwards, a group of us went to see the lights at City Hall. I had no idea this existed until they mentioned it. Turns out, there was a Christmas tree and an ice skating rink and even a Christmas lights display on the Cheonggyechon Stream.
We walked for a bit, ate some street food and then I headed out in order to make it to my hostel before closing.
That’s right. I finally stayed in a hostel. I found one off Google the day before and booked it.
It wasn’t so bad actually. I got in around 11:15 pm and left before 7 in the morning.
When I woke up, it was Christmas!
It felt so weird to wake up in a hostel and take a nice, very chilly morning stroll to Hongdae. There were tons of people out and I kept wondering why so many people were out until I realized that maybe those people hadn’t gone to bed in the first place. Hongdae is one of the hot, nightclub places in Seoul. I actually felt sort of sad that so many people were still very drunk from the night before. Happy birthday, Jesus.
Anyways, I arrived to my destination and met up with Seoul Hiking Group. Seoul Hiking is one of the tour companies here in Korea. They’re actually my favorite because not only are they the cheapest, but the guy who runs the group, Warren, is super chill and the tours aren’t really tours at all. They’re more like “We’re going to drive you to this place and you can figure out what to do.” Most of the people in this group are also pretty relaxed, so you know you can just say “hello” and it won’t be too weird.
A few of my friends told me about this trip a few weeks ago, so we all signed up together. We met up on the bus and headed to our first destination — Phoenix Park.
At Phoenix Park, we rented some ski gear and I bought some winter clothing because I didn’t bring any of that to Korea. Skiing here is SUPER cheap. Oh my goodness. It cost 50,000 (roughly $45) to book all of the gear and get a day ski pass. Isn’t that just crazy? I would really like to go skiing again because of how cheap it is.
2 of my friends skipped skiing and instead headed to the indoor water park. However, my friend Serena and I headed towards the slopes. This was my first experience at a ski resort outside of New Mexico and wow, was it fancy. They had a huge restaurant area! I was super impressed. As for the slopes, they were just okay. There was mainly just one giant hill to go down.
I’ll be honest and say that I totally sucked at skiing. I hadn’t been in years and overestimated how good I was. My poor friend was waiting for me all the time. Thankfully, she’s skied a ton and offered lots of advice and help. After about 2 hours of skiing, we decided to eat some warm food at one of the restaurants.
I was pretty beat after all this and decided to sit around the restaurant drinking hot chocolate and watch all the skiers and snowboarders. My friend went on the slopes some more, but told me that I wasn’t really missing anything because it had gotten super icy and crowded.
After another hour, we skied to the bottom of the mountain and walked around for a bit. Everyone was calling it a day and I really just wanted to be warm. My fingers got numb a few times.
Around 4:30, our group headed back to the bus and traveled another hour or so to our pension.
At the pension, we were all told to help cook dinner. I didn’t do much helping, but I watched some girls in my room cook the meat.
It took about 2 hours for us to prepare everything and by the time dinner was ready, everyone was dying to eat. The common room (or “party room” as Warren called it) was super toasty and cozy with everyone eating and chatting away. I met a few more people and 2 guys played guitar.
At dinner, I had one of those moments where I stopped, looked around, and wondered how in the world I ended up in Korea. I never in a million years thought I’d be surrounded by such people in such a strange place. Life is so weird. I always dreamed about being one of those young adult travelers, but never thought I’d actually be one. How amazing is it when we stop dreaming and start doing things?
My friends and I only stayed in the party room for a bit because we were so tired. We were all in bed around 10 pm. To end the night, I suggested a reading of the Nativity story. Instead, my friends narrated the entire story by making it into a modern day musical. It was so hilarious. I can’t believe how creative they were. I’m thinking this has got to be a screenplay.
On day two, I woke up tired and absolutely convinced that I didn’t want to do anything at all. I was already disappointed because our pension didn’t have wi-fi which meant I couldn’t skype with my family on Christmas. All I wanted was to go to a cafe and sit and read and sleep.
I also knew the last thing I wanted to do was go outside. I don’t like cold weather much.
Oh, if I only knew what the day would hold for me . . .
We had 3 options in the morning — go to the ski resort, go to the waterpark, or go to the temple and hike IN THE SNOW.
I figured that I would go to the temple with my friends because
A) I wanted to be with my friends.
B) I have no money right now and temples are free.
C) I figured I could find a cafe somewhere near the temple and hang out.
Before the temple, we stopped in the “city” and went to a cafe with (surprise) wi-fi! I was super grateful to skype with a few family members.
After chilling for about an hour, we headed to the Moljeongsa Temple and walked around. It was an absolutely beautiful temple, surrounded by mountains and trees. There was even some sort of ceremony where you could hear the monks chanting.
Also, this temple served free lunch! The lunch was just okay, but hey . . . it was free. I can’t really complain.
And this is where God has a sense of humor because I very quickly realized there was no place for me to “hang out.” I had to go hiking in the snow.
I was pretty pissed off about this in the beginning because I really didn’t want to be cold and I hadn’t worn any warm clothing.
At first, my toes were frozen, but I prayed and they started to miraculously warm up and stayed warm for the entire hike through Odaesan National Park to another temple, the Sangwonsa Temple.
Did I mention this hike was 6 miles long? And it started snowing at the beginning of the hike and continued through the entire thing? Yeah. I never in ten thousand years thought I’d go snowhiking. It never appealed to me.
But after awhile, when it was just me and the snow and the stillness of the day, I fell in love. The scenery was gorgeous.
After 2 1/2 hours, we made it to the snow covered Sangwonsa Temple. The place was way gorgeous and they even served us free tea and rice cakes! I’ve always wanted to see a snow covered temple in the mountains. I can’t believe I almost missed out on it because I didn’t want to be cold.
It was the perfect ending to a surprisingly perfect hike.
Finally, our hiking group headed back to the bus, picked up the resort goers, and stopped in the town for dinner. Pyeongchang is supposed to be where the 2018 Winter Olympics is going to be held, so I thought it’d be a little more enchanting. The entire town was more like a ghost town than anything. And it was FREEZING.
Instead of searching for food, we stopped at a random chicken place and had fried chicken with some new friends.
We ended the night by hanging out in the common . . . er, party . . . room for a little before having our own little party in our girls room. My friends brought tons of snacks and I even tried silkworms for the first time! I wasn’t planning on eating them, but they were there and someone else did it so why not? They weren’t terrible. They sort of tasted like salad.
On the final day, I skipped the morning snow hike to sleep.
When I woke up, I ate a quick breakfast alone and then decided to walk around the neighborhood.
It was, again, gorgeous. The morning was serene and the weather was perfect.
Because nobody wanted to ski or snowboard in the morning, we left early. I was happy about this because it meant I would make the final bus home!
All in all, the trip was incredibly peaceful and life giving. I enjoyed hanging out with my friends and meeting new people. Though the ski resort was slightly disappointing, the hike was stunning. I suppose that sometimes, it’s the little surprises in life that bring us the most joy.
P.S. I made a video blog about my time in Korea thus far!