“Oppa, it's the first snow! I have to make a wish!” said the female host, Song Jihyo, to her on-screen love interest in the variety show “Running Man”.
South Koreans are well-known for their romantic television dramas which provide an escape from the difficulties of reality. In an online poll conducted by The Straits Times, South Korea was the clear favourite as a country that Singaporeans want to have an Air Travel Bubble with.
South Korea scored 40.7 per cent of votes, more than the second and third country combined — Japan with 17.7 per cent, and Thailand with 16.9 per cent. When air travel restrictions are lifted, travellers had better be prepared because air tickets will be sold out the minute the floodgates are opened. There is no time for deliberation.
I usually travel to South Korea almost every year and winter is my favourite season to visit. We may not be able to travel anywhere this winter, but we can definitely dream of a White Christmas. Whether you are travelling with your family, your partner or taking a solo trip, be inspired by these six locations that promise an unforgettable winter holiday.
Wondae-ri Birch Forest
Mountainous Gangwon-do is filled with natural parks, scenic landscapes, laid-back coastal towns and beaches on the East Sea.
Since Wondae-ri Birch Forest opened in 2012, it has become one of Gangwon-do’s most popular tourist destinations.
This whole forest is covered with white birch trees. Under a blanket of snow, the forest turns into an otherworldly dreamy and magical place for you and your partner.
A fun activity for the lovebirds: Try to find the cone-shaped cabin in this vast forest. This spot is ideal if you want to some quiet time with each other. There’s just something about being surrounded by nature with your other half by your side.
There are seven trails leading up to the birch tree forest filled with about 700,000 birch trees, covering almost 400,000 square meters — roughly the size of 60 soccer fields.
The first time I learned about Yongpyong Resort was when it appeared as a key filming location for the 2012 Korean drama “Winter Sonata”. Yongpyong Resort is Korea’s biggest ski resort and its amazing winter backdrop sets the stage for many popular Korean dramas including “Goblin: The Lonely and Great God”. So this is a must-visit spot for K-drama fans!
If you do not ski, take the 3.7 km gondola ride to the top of Balwangsan mountain, which is the 13th highest mountain in Korea and the highest point of Yongpyong Resort. The gondola ride takes you to Dragon Peak, a traditional Swiss-style building with a coffee shop and two restaurants. Warm yourselves with hot coffee and enjoy the breathtaking snowscape surrounding the resort.
Afterwards, take a romantic walk at the sky garden here and marvel at the spectacular snowy mountains surrounding the resort.
Two million years ago, after volcanic Mount Hallasan rose up from the sea and erupted, Jeju Island was born. Hallasan is the highest mountain in South Korea, and revered by Koreans. Many Korean legends are built around it.
Hallasan is 1,950 metres above the sea level and sits on an island where nothing obstructs the wind. It is the perfect place to see a lot of “snow flowers”; these intricate icy crystals cover the trees and rocks at Hallasan, creating a snow-filled prairie that turns it into a photographer’s winter playground for a full day.
There are four Hallasan trails on and around the mountain, but only the Gwaneumsa and Seongpanak trails take you all the way up to the summit where White Deer Lake resides.
I would recommend the Gwaneumsa trail, the longest trek which will take about 4 hours to reach the summit. Visit Gwaneumsa Temple, situated at the foot of the north-east side of Hallasan, and stay overnight at the only campsite in Hallasan. In the morning, ascend to the peak and descend via the Seongpanak trail. Just a tip: In winter, you must prepare climbing irons (crampons) which can be bought at the campsite.
Ecoland Theme Park
Jeju has its own dialect that sounds almost like a different language from the common Korean language. In Jeju dialect, "Gotjawal" refers to a forest with intertwining rocks, trees, and bushes.
A trip to Ecoland Theme Park, housed in Gotjawal forest, feels like walking into a page of a winter fairy tale. The foundation of the forest is formed on small rocks and stones created by highly viscous lava erupted from the volcano. Some 109 sq m of primitive forest can be explored easily on a Lincoln Locomotive train.
The 4.5km train trip takes you to five stations: Eco Bridge Station, Lakeside Station, Picnic Garden Station, and the Lavender, Green Tea, and Rose Garden Station. These stops feature different aspects of the expansive land filled with tall trees and curious creatures and native plants from over 300 species.
Popular photo spots include a 300m-long lakeside deck, the Don Quixote and Windmill, and the famous Jeju horses.
For families with children
Seoul Plaza Ice Skating Rink
Seoul is often my last stop if I’m travelling in South Korea.
Channel your inner Kim Yuna on the Seoul Plaza Ice Skating Rink. Located at Seoul City Hall, Seoul Plaza was established in 2004 and has hosted a wide array of cultural events including concerts and exhibitions for residents and visitors.
The plaza transforms into an outdoor skating rink every winter, and Seoulites enjoy their time on the ice aspiring to be the next Olympic gold medalist Kim Yuna, a national skating icon.
The Ice Skating Rink at Seoul Plaza is a fun and affordable activity for the whole family as the admission fee costs only 1,000 won (about S$1.20) including the rental fee. So book your time-slots early as this is one of the city's hottest spots to be in during the winter season.
Ice skating classes are available for beginners on one of two rinks, the other being for advanced skaters.
There are also facilities such as skate rental, an outdoor rest area, and an outdoor standing area for ice skaters and spectators.
“We are going to an amusement park!” These words are enough to make any child come alive and forget the winter chills.
Lotte World is home to the world's largest indoor theme park, Lotte World Adventure. It houses an outdoor amusement park called "Magic Island" and an artificial island in the middle of a lake that can be accessed by monorail.
This entertainment and recreation complex boasts facilities such as a luxury hotel, a Korean folk museum, sports facilities, aquarium, movie theatres and of course, shopping malls.
Lotte World turns into a winter extravaganza with carol bands, seasonal winter performances and parades that bring cheer to the young and old. This compensates for some of the outdoor rides that are closed due to the cold weather conditions.
The fun goes beyond the theme park grounds; scattered around Lotte World are other attractions with VR experiences, haunted houses, carnival games, and mirror mazes.
There’s a South Korean saying about how true love will blossom between you and the person you catch the first snow with. It's not only a weather phenomenon for South Koreans, the return of snow is a symbol of hope and recovery. I hope everyone catches their first snow soon.
Ong Wann is the founder and principal of HANOK Korean Language School. She learned Korean from scratch, and has been helping people speak and communicate confidently in the Korean language since 2003.