I’ve camped twice. Once, under the stars with the Bedouin in the Jordanian desert. That was a warm and comfortable experience. The Bedouin are pros at desert camping and they take good care of guests. My other camping experience was in Canada, Victoria Island, BC. The October weather was rainy and miserable.
My friends sat in a circle, mostly strummed guitars, and sang popular rock songs. I was bored to tears. I hardly slept because I was cold and uncomfortable. Also, all the campers were constantly reminded by one friend about how amazing their previous camping experience was, when apparently, everyone slept with everyone. That story alone made this boring camping trip forever embedded in my memory. I hoped that the Korean Pyeongchang Camping Festival event would be completely different.
I heard about the Pyeongchang Camping event through Mr. CC Pak while hiking Ansan with Climbers In Korea (CIK) last month. CC explained that Mr. Kim, the organizer and director of CIK, was running a program, sponsored by Pyeongchang county, Gangwon-do and the Korean Tourism Organization. The purpose was to promote the upcoming Olympic Games here in Korea. All expenses were covered by Pyeongchang county, and there were a limited spots available. The last count I saw anticipated 280 guests.
I signed up, reserved my spot, and showed up at with personal items on Saturday April 8th, before 8:45am. All camping supplies, including tent, mats, lanterns, sleeping bags, and food would be supplied. We were provided with an itinerary so we knew exactly what events we’d participate in.
Saturday April 8th:
- 9am – Leave Sports Complex Station
- 3:30pm – Lunch and Welcome Ceremony/ 2018 Olympics promotion
- 6pm – Attend hockey match: Women’s league: Netherlands VS. Korea
- 9:45pm – International performances (camping guests perform)
- 11pm – Open air movie
Sunday April 9th:
- 7am – breakfast
- 8am – Korean yoga
- 9am – Camping safety training
- 11:30am – Head to Pyungchang traditional market for lunch
- 1:40pm – Head to Gangwon-do coastal walk (East Sea)
- 4pm – Return to Seoul
I’ve listed the times as I remember them taking place. The schedule deviated from the initial plan due to changing circumstances like traffic encountered traveling to our destinations.
As already mentioned, Pyeongchang county and Korean Tourism Organization funded the event to promote the upcoming Olympics. Mr. Kim, the director and organizer, managed a group of volunteers who in turn managed their respective groups. The volunteers received group updates via instant messaging to their phones while we travelled together on buses, and they quickly imparted the new updates to their groups.
Several buses were used, and while traveling, the bus drivers lined up the buses conveniently in chronological order so guests could locate buses easily. This was especially useful when we made short toilet breaks at intervals during longer bus commutes, like driving to and from Seoul.
On arrival at the festival camp, Pyeongchang camping organisers had prepared tents, distributed sleeping items and outlet equipment so each tent had access to electricity. Cooks prepared our meals. The camp had hired an MC, a band, and prepared giveaway prizes for performances. The festival also had an onsite café and food truck just over the little bridge from where the CIK guests were camping.
MY STORY: MY TOP FIVE HIGHLIGHTS
The journey to the Kwandong Catholic University Campus (관동 대학교) was long because of traffic, but we were very happy to be admitted and seated fairly quickly on arrival. Everyone wanted to pose for photos with the Olympics backdrop and fun characters. Most of us stopped by the merchandise table and collected Korean and Dutch flags to wave in support of our female hockey teams that were battling it out for a lower league title.
The stadium was small compared to the stadiums I had visited in Canada, and I wondered if this stadium would be used for any of the winter Olympic events in 2018. The nice thing about a smaller stadium is that the action takes place near you! Unlike previous games I’ve watched in Canada, here, I didn’t spend my time watching the big screen rather than the action on the ice itself.
Our crew was pretty tame compared to a bunch of Koreans to our right who seemed passionate, shouted a lot, and frantically waved their flags. Partway through the first twenty minutes, a young Korean fella working for the stadium wearing white was assigned over to our calm crowd and he began revving us up.
Thanks to his motivation, Kate and Vass and myself had a really good time! We bounced to the DJ tunes during time outs, shook our flags, slapped promo balloons together and let the young Korean fella teach us new dance routines using our promo balloons. Kate and I joked about how handsome he was, and whether he was in need of a girlfriend.
As the match wore on, entertainment ensued. Kate and I shouted more and more furiously as exciting collisions occurred between players, an angry shove emerged from a goalkeeper, two goals smashed into the Dutch net, and bodies slammed full speed into the Plexiglas separating the players from the audience! Soon, we were fully decked out, complete with temporary tattoo face-stickers and flags pledging Korean allegiance wrapped around our bodies.
It was funny to notice that many Koreans had flags for each team, including Kate, suggesting that some people didn’t really care who won anyway and patriotism was not a big deal at this event. At the last minute of the game, I grabbed Kate’s Dutch flag, viciously waved it around demanding one goal for Dutch honor, but the fabric flag flew off the white handle, and me and my friends laughed heartily. Korea was destined to reign victorious.
PERFORMANCES BY THE GUESTS
On Saturday evening, we were treated to an international performances show. Apparently, Korean style camping often involves some kind of entertainment, so a stage and seating is usually situated within the camp site so campers can easily access the show. Across from our camping area, families were also camping and therefore attended the festival. It made for an odd mix of “foreigner” twenty to thirty somethings age group, and then parents who were eager to have their children up on stage. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t our age demographic that showcased inappropriate performances.
One performance showcased a little girl no older than six years old, lip-syncing and dancing to a popular KPop song. She took to the stage wearing a sexy, adult outfit: a belly top and short skirt. The evening was cool, and I was wearing a hoodie, hat, and scarf so she must have been cold. In her performance, she imitated the sexy dance moves of the adult song version. My friends and I felt uncomfortable watching this because we felt like this child was being objectified. Interestingly, the MC actually awarded her first prize for her performance.
CIK guests were invited to perform onstage, whether dancing, singing or introducing their home culture in some way. These performances were incredibly entertaining, and included a Salsa duo, modern dance, Indian dances, and acoustic songs from India.
Punil, who performed at the end of the show, was quite the performer. He refused to leave the stage. He sang song after song from the Punjab, while we in the audience clapped in rhythm to his soulful ballads. His eagerness to share his culture was infectious. Toward the end, he invited his friends to join him on stage. Indian Bhangra music blasted from the stage speakers, and we in the audience wanted to hop up and dance along! It was an incredible feeling to observe this all live. I felt like I was inside a Bollywood movie, and wished we could have cast aside our wretched, confining seats, and burst into dance too.
Later that event, Peter, an older British fella, invited me back to his camping spot to enjoy some Makkoli (local rice wine). Kate, Yoona, Brooke and others joined, and after an hour or so, we drifted elsewhere. I wandered over to CC and friends, who had a campfire set up. CC was discussing martial arts with Alex, a fella from Australia. Everyone was drinking, while I was invited to enjoy some sashimi that several members of the group had ordered in. No guitar playing, no singing, no talk about who slept with who on previous camping trip. This was a much better experience so far.
Our party soon dispersed as the rain began to come down. By 2am, I returned to my tent. To my delight, my tent-mates, Yoona and Kate had also both arrived, so we settled down for the night, enjoying the heat supplied from our electric heating pad.
MEETING NEW INDIAN FRIENDS
The following morning, we ate a (mostly) hot breakfast, and then participated in open air yoga. After a rainy night, the morning was cool, and everyone seemed to be warming their hands using hot packs which had been distributed the evening prior.
After yoga, I had the fortune to talk with some of the India fellas who had been part of the performance the night before. I met Punil, Gautam, Varun, Vivek, N Gyan, and Manoj. This encounter was the highlight of my trip! I explained to them how much I enjoyed their contribution to the International Performance show, particularly Punil’s songs, and everyone’s dance! I learned that they are engineers, and some of them live in Delhi, which is precisely where I’m headed later this month.
We joked and laughed, while I practiced my very limited Hindi skills. They were so encouraging with my language learning, and offered to help me while in Delhi if I need anything. The camping safety demonstration began over the speakers, and after exchanging contact information, we soon dispersed. I walked away with a warm feeling in my belly.
WALK ALONG THE EAST SEA
We made a quick stop at Jung-Ang market (중앙시장) in Gangneung city (강릉시) to eat lunch.
We then embarked on a private coastal walk along Jeongdongjin beach (정동진 해변 ), patrolled by the Korean army due to its proximity to North Korea. We were lucky that organizer, Mr. Kim, arranged for this tour as Jeongdongjin is not open to the public.
Once we descended the wooden steps from the guarded entrance to the coast itself, we walked along a metal platform, secured by rods and drilled into the large rocks below. I was happy to be by the coast, surrounded by blue sea, crashing waves and salt spray. The sun was shinning and warm, and we all walked along our designated route, the same one that the Korean guards use to patrol the coast.
Wooden look-out posts along our path were forbidden locations to photograph. I saw no boats. Nothing was traveling down from North Korea. We were alone, walking along and snapping photos together in groups. The large boulders along the coast has some interesting markings, and Peter remarked that, based on the striation markings on the rock surfaces, over time, these horizontal rocks lying on the sea bed had gradually been erected vertically. They were fascinating to look at.
Finally, we stopped off beside Sun Cruize Resort, and after examining the grounds and absorbing our last few weekend rays of sun, we hopped aboard our bus that promised to return us to our daily routines in Seoul. We were all sad to leave.
MY OVERAL IMPRESSION:
There were numerous amazing things about this trip. First and foremost, organizer, Mr. Kim and his team, including my fantastic tent-mate Yoona, ran the event smoothly and professionally despite the challenges encountered. The entire event was fully funded and we guests hardly spent a dime!
We were provided with food, including two hot breakfasts, dinner snacks on the bus, and vouchers for lunch at Jung-Ang market. I never had a chance to get hungry throughout the trip. Not only were tents, mats, sleeping bags and lanterns provided, but we also received heating blankets and long-life hot packs (lasting thirteen hours) for our hands. All our transport was included to and from Sports Complex station in Seoul. In addition, we received entertainment for almost every moment that we were not on the buses.
Unfortunately, some seats on the bus were empty, so due to some no-shows, people that wanted to attend the event missed out. We encountered traffic, particularly en route to Pyeongchang, and between the festival campsite and the hockey stadium. We observed plenty of construction on the Gangwon-do roads. Pyeongchang county is constructing lanes to make the city more accessible for the upcoming Olympics. I got the impression that congestion will probably be one of the major challenges that Korea will face during the 2018 Olympics, and since Korean terrain is mountainous, this is no easy task to address.
Pyeongchang County and Korean Tourism Organization were so industrious in their efforts to provide us with a special experience that we were often rushed for time. This was exasperated by the traffic between locations that often put us behind schedule. Everyone seemed to sigh a breath of relief when we returned to the campsite Saturday evening, because we could finally camp and enjoy free time.
I appreciate all the effort put into the planning and execution of this trip, but I think we guests would have been content with fewer plans. Finally, some friends had experienced hiccups, whereby one tent didn’t receive a heating blanket, and another set of friends had no tent allocated, so a tent was set up in a hurry, but later leaked during the overnight rain. Nevertheless, these friends appreciated that the volunteer team did their best, and minor oversights were bound to happen. Everyone was just happy to be part of this memorable experience.
WOULD I DO IT ALL AGAIN?
Absolutely! I am grateful that I had the chance to see the Korean preparation for the upcoming Olympics. I can begin to understand the scale of the challenges faced to accommodate international visitors to a mountainous terrain in a country plagued by excessive traffic.
I observed coastal sights I may never see again. I savoured experiences, like enjoying my first Korean hockey game, and bouncing to Bhangra tunes with new friends. I am so thankful to have been included in this experience.
I’d like to thank, Mr. CC Pak, for inviting me to this event, and both my tent-mate and friend, Kate Changhee Lee, and Mr. Varun Bansal, for helping me document our trip as accurately as possible. Finally, thanks so much to Mr. Kim’s efforts, and his brilliant volunteer team, who put our experiences and needs ahead of their own.
Have you visited Pyeongchang to see the changing infrastructure in preparation for the Winter Olympics, or had a chance to visit any of the locations designated for Olympic events? Please comment below to share your experience or opinions.