May 092012
 

BY MICHAEL FRAIMAN

There is no particular reason that Korea’s rural northeast is often overlooked. Rather, there are several small reasons: it’s out of the way from any significant city, the bullet train doesn’t run there, winter brings heavier snowfalls than it does most the rest of the country, and it’s not proximally close to either China or Japan, which could historically account for its underdevelopment. It’s the sort of area one would probably read a book through on a bus ride, though if you glanced out the window you’d notice mostly flat, traditional Korean roofs hovering over a sea of cabbage farms and some of the best mountain views in the country, widely unobscured by condominiums.

Gangwon-do’s southern half is rough and beautiful, like a female bodybuilder; you’re frightened by her toughness, but equally attracted by the challenge. It’s a perfect weekend trip for anyone looking for natural respite free from hordes of fashion-conscious Busanites and, well, white people. Continue reading »

Mar 162011
 

Muju ski resort, Busan, South Korea

MUJU (now apparently also called Deogyusan??)  is Korea’s biggest (maybe), best (probably) and most publicized (definitely.) ski resort that makes for a great weekend away. It was a little confusing getting everything booked and together, so hopefully this will be a one-stop shop (or rather… resource) for information on getting there.

muju ski resort complex and liftsGETTING THERE:
Call +82-051-806-8811 and tell the lady “ski bus” and the date, and they should help you. Every time I called, I got operators with limited English, so be prepared to spell your name about six times. It will cost you 45,000 won for a round trip ticket.The big orange-colored bus leaves from Seomyeon (metro exit 3 or 5) at 5:30AM (!!), but they’re nice buses and they stop at a rest stop about halfway through the ride. It takes about 3 to 3.5 hours total to get to Muju, depending on traffic. The buses then leave Muju Resort at 4pm, so it IS POSSIBLE to just go for a day trip.

Once you’re there, there’s a free shuttle bus connecting everything in the resort together. These run fairly frequently.

ACCOMMODATION
The resort has three hotels. The first (Tirol) is oppressively expensive, but it’s right on the slope, and looks genuinely Swiss. Then there’s the “Family Hotel” which are actually a collection of about eleven hotels. The rooms are medium-range price-wise. The cheap way is the Kookmin Hotel. It’s hostel-esque, and there are lots of six-person rooms (Korean style = sleep on the floor) with a shared kitchen. We paid 162,000 per night for a six-person room. Not too bad. *You get a discount on your lift ticket and rental, though, if you stay at the resort!

If you don’t want to stay at the hotels at the resort,it’s possible to stay in the little “village” down the road (you’ll pass it on the bus as you approach Muju – about 40 ski shops and motels). You’ll have to take a taxi, though, and I don’t think there’s much going on in that little town.

Of course, you can spend the night in the jjimjil bang there as well. It’ll cost you 20,000 ish to stay the night (not entirely sure about the price).

It would behoove you to book in advance. To do this, you can call +82-63-320-7830. The first time I called, the operator didn’t speak much English (again, the name spelling thing). The second time I called, the operator’s English was great. They’ll send you a confirmation by text or by email if you prefer.

muju ski resort lift to the topSKIING
Like I said before, if you stay at the resort, you get a nice discount on your lift ticket and equipment rental (You can also rent coats and snow pants if you need to). You also get a nice discount if you pay with your KB or Shinhan card (which of course I didn’t have). There’s also a Gondola that you can ride to the very top of the peak. You don’t have to be on skis to do this.

There is morning skiing (9-12:30), afternoon skiing (12:30-4:30), and evening skiing (6:30-10). I think there’s also early morning and late night skiing as well, but maybe that’s only available on weekends? All the info for pricing and a map of the runs is on the website (see below).

There are lockers there (1,000 won), as well as bigger ones for large backpacks. If you can’t get a big locker, the people at the equipment rental will hold onto it for you. The lockers only take 500 won coins. You can change your money at the coats/snow pants counter.

OTHER STUFF TO DO
If skiing’s not your thing, you can always drink beer on the benches outside and watch the beginners crash into everyone at the bottom of the hill. For non-imbibing fun, you can always ride the gondola to the top of the mountain and walk around as well. There’s a cafeteria up there, and also a cool pagoda/temple-type thing that affords some nice views. On the bottom of the hill, between the two bases, there’s also a sled hill, snowmobile rides (you don’t get to drive), and a small amusement park with some pretty basic mini-golf as well.

The best thing to do once you finish skiing is go to the pool/spa. It’s in the second group of family hotels on the left, near the Mansun base. The hot pool is outside, which is awesome. There’s also a cooler pool (but still warm enough to bear) for swimming. Very nice. It’s about 12,000 a person.

Like any good Korean village, there’s a jjimjil bang attached to the Tom & Toms Coffee at the Mansun base. It’s 15,000 won (12,000 if you use a KB/Shinhan card). You can spend the night there too for a little more. The baths are way small (three small pools (one is a freezing one that nobody goes in) and not enough showers. The heated rooms are pretty nice, though.

In terms of other amenities, there’s a little shopping area with a few (expensive) restaurants, cafe, norrae bang (karaoke), hofs, a small grocery store, and of course, plenty of expensive outfitters where you can buy goggles or hats with Mlickey Mlouse on them or one of Mlickey’s other zany friends.

For Muju’s website, go here.
For a detailed map of the runs (ha! runs), go here.