Inspirational Stories to Watch at the PyeongChang Winter Games

The 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea are right around the corner, and boy could the world use a few weeks of sportsmanship and international camaraderie to distract us from simmering political tensions all around the globe.

In spite of the turbulent times in which we live, the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang are set to be a historic and inspirational event. From incredible athletic journeys to striking international precedents to increasing environmental sustainability, PyeongChang could be the glittering example of progress and perseverance that the the world needs.

Take a break from the constant stream of doomsday coverage for two weeks this February, and be sure not to miss these inspirational aspects of the 2018 Winter Games:

Three Nigerian women will be Africa’s first bobsled team

No African nation has ever won a medal at the Winter Games, but three Nigerian sprinters are determined to change this. Seun Adigun (who sprinted for Nigeria in London in 2012), Ngozi Onwumere, and Akuoma Omeoga decided to apply their athletic talents to a sport without any following in their home country – bob sledding. After a successful GoFundMe campaign and months of training on a hand-made wooden sled, these three women have qualified to compete among bobsledders from icy northern nations.

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Akuoma Omeoga, Seun Adigun and Ngozi Onwumere are paving the way for winter sports in Africa. Source.

“This is a huge milestone for sports in Nigeria,” Adigun told KweséESPN after qualifying to compete in PyeongChang. “Nothing makes me prouder than to know that I can play a small role in creating opportunities for winter sports to take place in Nigeria. Our objective now is to be the best representation of Africa that the Winter Olympics have ever witnessed.”


PyeongChang will be among the greenest Games yet

With each passing year, cities bidding to host the Summer or Winter Games are subject to increasingly strict environmental and energy regulations. A successful bid requires that the event includes measures to offset carbon emissions from the intensive construction and spike in international travel to the region. After the Vancouver  Winter Games achieved net-0 with their carbon emissions, PyeongChang is following their example.

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The Gangwon Wind Farm, the largest wind farm in East Asia. Source.

PyeongChang is striving to be the most sustainable Winter Games on record and the first to adhere to ISO-2012 regulations, an international standard for environmentally stable events. The 2018 Games will be entirely wind powered, with wind farms in the Gangwon province already producing more megawatts than is anticipated to be necessary for the event. Six of the newly constructed venues, including the largest venue, will be either solar or geothermal powered. These sustainable buildings alongside PyeongChang’s fundraisers for carbon trading should help the event achieve their goal of zero carbon emissions, further cementing this standard for future host cities.

Two sisters will compete in Ice Hockey – for different nations

Sibling duos are nothing new in the world of sports, but rarely has the world ever seen a scenario like that of the Hannah and Marissa Brandt. Hannah will be playing in PyeongChang for the U.S. women’s team, and Marissa for the South Korean team.

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Big wins deserve big smiles. Photo source.

Marissa was adopted from Korea as a baby by Greg and Robin Brandt, with little sister Hannah arriving as a surprise pregnancy shortly after. Both girls grew up playing hockey, and Hannah always dreamed of playing on the national level. Soon after Hannah qualified to play in PyeongChang, Marissa was fielded by South Korean officials. As the host country for the Winter Games, South Korea actively sought out hockey players of Korean heritage from around the globe in order to build a stronger team.

“Unlike my sister, I never really dreamed about going to the Olympics when I was a kid,” Marissa said. “It’s an amazing opportunity, though, and I’m excited to be able to enjoy this experience with her. I’m also lucky it’s in my home country, because then my family can experience where I came from. It couldn’t have worked out much better.”

Read more about the Brandt family (who happen to be Bucket List Events clients!) in one of our earlier blog posts.


North Korea is likely to send athletes to compete, as well as cheerleaders and a pop group

The world has held its breath wondering how South Korea’s reclusive northern neighbors would react to PyeongChang’s successful Winter Games bid. The fraught relationship between the two countries, who were once one nation, has piqued international curiosity as well as safety concerns. But the world has breathed a sigh of relief with the news that North Korea is likely to send two figure skaters to compete in PyeongChang.

After a selfie taken by one North and one South Korean gymnast at the Rio Summer Games went viral, the photo became a symbol of hopes for reunification and peace between the tragically separated countries.

North Korea has performed historically very well in the Summer and Winter Games, especially compared to other countries of its size, having taken home 54 medals to date. As is typical of communist countries, athleticism is hugely emphasized in North Korean education and public life, and sport stars are considered patriotic heroes.

It is still unconfirmed whether North Korea will indeed send its athletes to PyeongChang, but they are indeed planning to send two of the nation’s most popular entertainment groups: the “Army of Beauties” cheerleading squad, and pop-group Moranbong.

These entertainment groups will not be permitted to perform any propaganda numbers while on South Korean soil. But the hospitable gesture will not go unnoticed by the world over.


We can’t wait to watch these intriguing and inspirational stories unfold at the PyeongChang Winter Games. If you can’t make it this year, it’s never too early to start planning for the Tokyo Summer Games in 2020 or the Beijing Winter Games in 2022.  To stay updated on travel packages to these and other exciting international events, subscribe to our newsletter in the sidebar.

How the Brandt Sisters Will both go to the 2018 Winter Games – But for Opposing Teams

Sometimes the sporty gene just runs in the family.  Several sets of siblings have made names for themselves on the international sports scene, but the world rarely hears stories like that of Marissa and Hannah Brandt: two sisters competing in the same Winter Games sport, but for different nations.

This winter in PyeongChang, look out for the Brandt sisters – two women’s hockey athletes who will be playing on different Winter Games teams. Both first time athletes at this level, one sister will be playing for Team USA, and one for Team South Korea.

And we’re happy to call their family Bucket List Events guests.

How did this unique scenario even happen? It started with an adoption, an unexpected pregnancy, and family passion for hockey – the rest is still unwritten.

Growing Up with Hockey

Greg and Robin Brandt originally thought they couldn’t have children. But by the time their adopted baby Marissa showed up in Minneapolis from South Korea after a 2-year adoption process, Robin was three months pregnant with Hannah.

“It was a lot to take in,” Robin said. “After trying for so long, we got two babies in six months.”

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Marissa and Hannah in their figure skating days. Photo from Hannah’s Twitter.

Growing up in Minnesota, both Hannah and Marissa grew up in the world of winter sports. Both girls were on the ice from a young age as figure skaters, eventually making the move to hockey before their teen years. The sisters played on the same teams together throughout high school.

They only began to play on different teams after starting college. Marissa went on to Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, and then a year later Hannah went to University of Minnesota.

One Sister’s Dreams

A star recruit out of high school, Hannah had always had ambitions to become an hockey player in the Winter Games. But her path to Team USA wasn’t without its challenges.

Before her freshman season at the University of Minnesota, Hannah joined the U.S. women’s national team for the 2012 World Championship. At the age 18, Hannah was the youngest American woman to skate at this level in decades.

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Hannah playing for the US Women’s National Team. Associated Press Photo.

She played four seasons at the University of Minnesota where she helped the Gophers to three NCAA championship titles (2012-13, 2014-15, 2015-16).

Although a major setback was being passed over for Team USA for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, that just gave her motivation to work harder. Hannah eventually secured a spot on the 2018 Team USA roster.

One Sister’s Surprise

While Hannah had been on a track to the Winter Games from the beginning, Marissa’s path to PyeongChang is rather unconventional.

A few years ago, female hockey players at U.S. colleges began receiving seemingly random emails asking if they would try out for the South Korean women’s hockey team. What seemed at first to be spam turned out to be a highly targeted campaign by South Korean officials to beef up their national team roster.

As the host of the 2018 Winter Games, South Korea gets an automatic spot to compete in each sporting event. Officials were eager to use this opportunity to field a high quality team, but ice hockey isn’t exactly a national sport in South Korea. In order to improve their nation’s competitive chances in ice hockey, scouts started reaching out to student athletes of Korean heritage all over the world.

According to The New York Times:

“The offers were sincere. Officials in South Korea had apparently scoured online rosters for North American college hockey programs, looking for women with last names that looked as if they might be Korean. They were on a shopping spree to assemble Olympic hockey teams from scratch for the 2018 Winter Games.”

Although many countries take advantage of flexible citizenship laws for their Winter and Summer Games squads, this was perhaps one of the most creative methods reported so far. South Korea had just 1,880 registered ice hockey players in 2011 when they won the Winter Games bid, compared to over 500,000 in the United States. Given those stats, it’s clear that South Korea had to draw from a wider pool to field a top-quality team.

Marissa Brandt was a senior and student athlete when she received the offer to try out for the South Korean team. She remembers being studying for her finals as the email first came. She decide to accept, and two weeks later was on a plane to South Korea.

As told to Twin Cities Pioneer Press:

“I didn’t know anybody there, I didn’t know the language, I didn’t know anything,” she said. “It was kind of terrifying. I was like, ‘How am I going to survive here? I don’t know what anybody is saying.’ I got there and ended up going to the tryout and they must’ve liked what they saw and I’ve been going back and forth ever since.”

After her tryout, Marissa had to get citizenship in order to officially be a part of the South Korea roster. It took five months to finalize everything, she said, before she was officially eligible.

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Marissa Brandt playing for the South Korean Women’s National Team. Photo source.

While it was a tough deliberation, Marissa has decided to go by her Korean birth name while playing for South Korea – Park Yoon-Jung. She sees it as her strongest connection to South Korea, and wants to proudly represent her birth country. So don’t look out for the Brandt name on any South Korean jersey, look out for Park Yoon-Jung.

2017 Championships & Winter Games Training

As of April 2017, both Hannah and Marissa are already world champions for their respective teams.

Hannah won her second straight World Championships gold medal with Team USA in a thrilling overtime defeat of Canada.

After a quick celebration, she raced back to the hotel to watch Marissa play for South Korea in the Division II, Group A World Championships.

Shortly after Hannah’s team won the gold medal, Marissa’s team did as well. South Korea handily defeated the Netherlands 2-0 in the IIHF Division II Group A World Championships in South Korea.

“Her games were on a YouTube channel so it was really easy to watch,” Hannah said. “We basically won our World Championships within six hours of each other. You can’t make that stuff up.”

With the 2018 Winter Games just months away, both sisters are now in full-swing training mode. Marissa headed to training camp in South Korea in July, and Hannah started training for Team USA in August. They’ll no doubt be putting in grueling hours to with their teammates to prepare for the world stage in February.

Ultimate Test: the 2018 Winter Games

Will the Brandt sisters end up playing each other in the Winter Games?

The U.S. and South Korean teams are in different groups, and the cards are stacked against the South Korean team to advance to the final medal round. Although it’s unlikely, there’s still a small chance that the two teams may square off against each other at some point, which would make this incredible story even more amazing.

Nevertheless, it will still be an amazing experience – especially for Marissa. “The potential is pretty incredible,” Greg said. “I told Marissa, the greatest thing will be walking in that stadium as a member of the home country. I said, Hannah will never have that. That will make it really worth it for me, right there.”

As told to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, this coming Winter Games is a dream for parents Greg and Robin:

“I can’t even explain it,” Robin said. “It’s something Hannah has always been dreaming about. And with Marissa getting to go, it was like an extra bonus. Maybe this was how it was supposed to happen.”

“Unlike my sister, I never really dreamed about going to the Olympics when I was a kid,” Marissa said. “It’s an amazing opportunity, though, and I’m excited to be able to enjoy this experience with her. I’m also lucky it’s in my home country, because then my family can experience where I came from. It couldn’t have worked out much better.”

hannah and marissa brandt

Big wins deserve big smiles. Photo source.

The team at Bucket List Events couldn’t be more proud to have such an inspirational family traveling with us for the Winter Games. Join the Brandts and many other athletes’ families in PyeongChang this February as we look forward to watching many wins for Team USA and Team South Korea!

This story has been chronicled extensively in multiple news outlets. Read more about the Brandt sisters here:

  • – U.S.-South Korea sister act shapes up for PyeongChang Olympics (NBC Sports)
  • – Vadnais Heights sisters headed to Olympics — for two different countries (Twin Cities Pioneer Press)
  • – South Korea, Next Olympics Host, Went Shopping in North America to Build Its Hockey Teams (The New York Times)
  • – How two sisters will make it to South Korea’s Olympics — but for opposing teams (PRI)
  • – Seoul sisters: Hockey players Hannah and Marissa Brandt are chasing their Olympic dreams (Minnesota Star Tribune)
  • – Brandt sisters become world champions just hours apart (The Ice Garden – SB Nation)

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How the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea Will Be Different

If the city of PyeongChang, South Korea doesn’t ring any bells for you, you’re not alone. But set to host the 2018 Winter Games, this small South Korean resort town is about to rise to international recognition.

The upcoming South Korean Winter Games are certain to be unique: a virtually unknown city, an up-and-coming country on the international scene, and political turbulence with neighbors to the north. Plus, South Korean athletes have not typically been medal winners in past Winter Games. Here is everything you need to know about why the world has never seen a Winter Games quite like PyeongChang.

Pyeong where?

Although Sochi, Russia was relatively unknown outside of Eastern Europe prior to the 2014 Winter Games, you are even less likely to find PyeongChang on a world map. With a population of just 43,000 people, this mountain resort town is no Vancouver, Turin, or Salt Lake City. This will be the first East Asian Winter Games to be held outside of Japan.

Map of Pyeongchang Venues

How is PyeongChang preparing for the Winter Games?

The sleepy town of PyeongChang is revving up its infrastructure to make way for 80,000+ tourists, athletes, and their families during February 2018. Without any regional airport of its own, a high speed rail is being built from Seoul and the highway system between the two cities is undergoing expansion.

Hospitality within the area is also receiving a lot of attention. Taxi drivers and hotel staff are being encouraged to learn English and brush up on regional history so they can better converse with guests. Many new hotels are being built, and old ones are being renovated. In order to avoid dumping millions into buildings that will stand empty after the Games, ancient Buddhist temples in the area will also be converted into hotel stays for February. These accommodations offer visitors a very unique hotel option, and their Buddhist monk hosts will help prepare homemade meals from their gardens during their stay.

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Ski Jumping facilities newly built in PyeongChang

Organizers are also partnering with General Electric to make these Games the most environmentally friendly to date. Working to create efficient heating solutions and to convert waste to fuel, organizers hope to set a green standard for future Games.

Reminder: this isn’t North Korea

Although the Demilitarized Zone is a mere 40 miles away from PyeongChang, South Korea is doing all they can to reinforce a stark difference between their nation and their hostile neighbors.

In an effort to keep foreigners from confusing the Winter Games host city with the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, the Winter Games bid included capitalizing the “C” in PyeongChang.

When balloons stocked with propaganda float across the border, South Korean guards shoot them down immediately. Defense along the DMZ will be at an all time high during the Games, but Bucket List Events travelers can opt for a special trip to tour the DMZ and its Reunification Museum during their stay. 

DMZ south korea museum

Poignant monuments on the South Korean side of the DMZ calling for reunification.

At this time, there are no North Korean athletes qualified to compete in 2018. Should this change, they would be welcome to cross the border and stay in the Athletes’ Village along with other athletes. This would be a huge symbol of international peace, something that is important to the spirit of the Games.

If the current global tensions traced back to North Korea have you worried, remember that South Korea is one of the world’s safest countries.

Why 2018 will be good for South Korea

South Korea has really risen in recognition over the past few decades. Home to one of the world’s best and busiest airports and one of the top host countries for international events and conventions, making the leap to host the Winter Games will be a huge boon for the South Korean world-standing and economy.

South Korean athletes are not typically medal winners in the Winter Games. Although South Korea is a cold and snowy nation, there are not particularly extensive resources or facilities for winter athletes in the country. Building out the the venues in PyeongChang will give South Korean winter athletes top-notch facilities in which to train. We can expect a marked improvement in South Korea’s performance in upcoming Winter Games.

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The Alpensia sliding center in February 2017.

Why PyeongChang will be awesome for tourists

Where past Games in Rio de Janeiro and Sochi were marred with concerns of environmental hazards, PyeongChang is a much healthier location both for visitors and the planet. In addition to the organizing committee’s sustainable approach to building event infrastructure, PyeongChang and the surrounding areas boast very clean air and water.

And as a small town with virtually no prior international recognition, getting around PyeongChang will be comparatively inexpensive. You can expect fresh-caught seafood and world class Soju on the cheap! And despite never having much tourist attention prior, PyeongChang is filled with things to see. Gorgeous seaside, mountains, temples, and forests, you will have plenty to explore.

food in pyeongchang

Get ready to feast. Fresh seafood, pickled vegetables, barbeque, and spicy sauces galore.

But if you’re eager to get a taste for South Korea’s largest city, Seoul is a train ride away from PyeongChang. Make sure you get at least one day in Seoul, one of the hottest cities in the world for shopping, clubbing, and eating.

Ready to cheer on the world’s best athletes at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang? Download our brochure and get started planning the Bucket List trip of a lifetime.

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What to do in Seoul for a Layover or Daytrip

First off, the city of Seoul, South Korea deserves a dedicated piece of your time and undivided attention. An incredibly vibrant, modern, safe, and friendly city filled with delicious eats, cutting edge design, and fascinating history, this is a city that is, without question, worthy of an extended stay.

But with Seoul’s Incheon Airport being consistently ranked one of the best airports in the world and its offering hundreds of transcontinental flights every day, international travelers are pretty likely to enjoy a layover in Seoul while underway to and from Asia.

That’s right – we said “enjoy” and “layover” in the same sentence.

Layovers at Incheon Airport

But we don’t mean that a layover in Seoul is something to be enjoyed just because Incheon Airport is super clean and packed with amenities (including a golf course, ice skating rink, and casino). Though these features certainly make Incheon International a great place to wait if one must.

layover in seoul

What a terrible place to wait in between flights. Source.

Incheon goes a step above and beyond to make short stays truly awesome. South Korea’s busiest airport provides free guided trips into the city for laidover guests – trips that are specifically designed to fit into your flight schedule and allow you to see the capital city for 1-5 hours. The Incheon airport transit tours feature English-speaking guided excursions to some of Seoul’s most treasured heritage sites. These transit tours pick you up from the terminal, take your group to select areas of Seoul, and bring you right back in time to catch your connecting flight. All for free!

Pretty neat, huh?

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A variety of tours are available daily. Pick one that fits with your flight schedule and enjoy a bit of sight-seeing during your layover in Seoul. Source.


South Korean Travel: Business or Pleasure?

But layovers aren’t the only reason you may find yourself in this bustling metropolis of 12 million for a quick trip. Over the past decade South Korea has invested a lot of capital into building out their infrastructure to host prestigious international events and meetings – with a diverse events calendar ranging from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang to the International Conference on Oceanography and Marine Biology. Ranked the world’s second best host city for international events in 2015, high numbers of experts, professionals, athletes, and event tourists are traveling to South Korea like never before.

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The COEX Convention and Exhibition Center in Seoul. Source.

What to do in Seoul

If you’re headed to Seoul or another South Korean city for a meeting, conference, or sporting event, the last thing you want is to have come all this way just to miss out on the many neat sights and things to do in Seoul. If you can break away from the events for a day, here is our expert travel guide on how to make the most of 24 hours in the South Korean capital.

1. Visit at least one ancient temple or palace.

Korea’s most recent Joseon dynasty lasted from the 14th century until the 20th, a 600 hundred year rule whose remnants are still visible in modern Seoul. The most famous sites of the Joseon dynasty are known as the Five Grand Palaces, all of which are open to the public.

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Locations of the 5 Grand Palaces of Seoul. Source.

While you certainly won’t be able to see all five in just one rotation of the Earth, make sure you get to see at least one. Not are the age and beauty of these palaces incredibly humbling, but exploring their grounds and museums will give you a great glimpse into Korean history, its many occupations by Japan, and its cultural traditions.

Gyeongbokgung, the Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven, is by far the most popular of the five palaces. The grounds contain beautiful gardens, the National Folk Musuem, guards in traditional garb, and a traditional changing of the guards ceremony held every hour on the hour between 10am and 3pm.

What to do in Seoul.

Time your visit so you can catch the Changing of the Guards Ceremony at Gyeongbokgung Palace. Source.

Gyeongbokgung gets the most attention, but the other 4 Grand Palaces are absolutely worth seeing as well, each with its own unique features and characteristics. Changdeokgung, for example, features a secret garden that is a gorgeous, quiet retreat from the city.

If temples are more your speed, the Bongeunsa Temple in the Gangnam district is not to be missed. Founded in the 8th century, this Buddhist temple is home to a giant Buddha statue, hundreds of colorful lanterns, serene gardens, and a place to leave prayers.

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Bongeunsa by night; enjoy the contrast of old and new with the skyscrapers in the background. Source.

2. Go somewhere with a great view of Seoul.

Seoul is more populous than New York City. By some accounts, it is the second largest metropolitan area in the world, after Tokyo, Japan. In order to take in the sheer size of this sprawling city, we suggest you go somewhere with a view.

Bukchon Hanok village is one place where you can get a great bird’s eye view of the city, all the while seeing one of the most scenic and oldtimey quarters of Seoul. Home to hundreds of traditonal Korean houses, these winding streets scale a hillside that gives pedestrians a striking view of the skyscrapers of downtown Seoul. In this historic neighborhood you’ll find plenty of restaurants, tea houses, and cultural sites.

What to do in Seoul

These houses date back to the Joseon dynasty. Source.

But for the view that beats them all, head to the top of Seoul Tower. Located on Namsam mountain right in the middle of downtown Seoul, the tower is visible from all parts of the city. A broadcasting tower for most of the major networks in South Korea, visitors can take a cable car up the mountain before entering the tower and riding an elevator to its observation decks. For a 360 view of the entire cityscape, Seoul Tower is absolutely worth a trip.

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The view from Seoul Tower. Source.

3. Eat, eat, and eat some more!

Korean food has something for everyone, and Seoul offers some of the most amazing street food on the planet.

Carnivore? Korean BBQ offers incredible world-class cuts of beef, an interactive format, mouthwatering sauces, and an amazing selection of side dishes.

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Grill your own meat at the table in Korean BBQ joints. Source.

Vegetarian? The national dish of Korea, Kim-Chi, can be found everywhere. Preparing this spicy fermented cabbage is treated like an art-form. Fermented vegetables of all sorts are a staple in Korean cuisine, and you can have a blast sampling them all.

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Plentiful veggies to pick from in Korean cooking. Source.

Into seafood? So are Koreans. With plenty of coastline on the Korean peninsula, fresh seafood is abundant in Seoul. Try a kim-chi pancake with squid and fish fried to crackling perfection inside.

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Kim Chi pancake stuffed with octopus, squid, fish, and green onions. Source.

And who could say no to Bibimbap? Like fried rice on crack, Bibimbap comes topped with a mountain of goodness: meats, vegetables, a fried egg, seaweed. Often served in a hot stone, the bottom layer of rice is crispy from the heat.

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Bibimbap is as colorful as it is delicious. Source.

4. Enjoy incredible South Korean shopping.

24 hours in Seoul is definitely enough time to check out some of the incredible shopping that the city has to offer. Even if you don’t plan to buy anything, there are a ton of interesting curios to be seen when you take some time to browse the numerous outdoor markets, edgy clothing boutiques, and antique stores.

The Dongdaemun district is the place to go if you’re looking for unique, edgy Korean clothing. Filled with brands you won’t find outside of Korea, you’re sure to find original pieces. And if you’re in the area late at night, stop by the Dongdaemun night market that’s only open from 9pm to 5am.

Seoul Street Fashion giving New York and Paris a run for their money. Source.

Korean beauty products are also sweeping the western world. If you want to load up on snail masks, fragrances, and cosmetics, head to the Lotte department store in the Jung-gu district. Cosmetics are duty-free!

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The Lotte Department store attracts more than 6 million foreign visitors each year. Source.

5. Check out the Seoul nightlife.

Seoul may just be the hottest city in the world right now for nightlife. Serious and hard-working by day, South Koreans seriously enjoy their nights and weekends. In fact, South Koreans consume more hard alcohol per capita than any other nation in the world. Visitors who are looking to party will not be disappointed in Seoul.

First brought to international fame by Psy, the Gangnam district of Seoul is the place to go for a wild night of clubbing on par with Las Vegas, Berlin, and Barcelona. Multi-level dancefloors? Check. Huge name DJs from all over the world? Check. Music blasts until sunrise? Check. Plenty of streetfood that’s open 24/7 to nosh on after a night of drinking and dancing? Check.

Plus, Koreans love to dance.

If bars and clubs aren’t your thing, Seoul is famous for its cat cafes. For the price of a cup of coffee, you get a few leisurely hours of feline company.

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Whether you want to dance until sunrise or just spend a few hours cuddling with cats, Seoul has you covered. Source.

Headed to Pyeongchang for the 2018 Winter Games? Our complete travel packages give you the option of an extra night in Seoul. Download our brochure and start planning the trip of a lifetime!

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Is South Korea Safe for Travelers? You bet it is!

Planning a big trip abroad is both exciting and stressful. Especially for huge international events like the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, it can seem like there are a million little details that need to be tended to. Certainly, one item on your list of things to think about might be, “Is South Korea safe?”

The answer to this understandable question is a resounding yes! In fact, South Korea is one of the safest countries in the world for foreign visitors. Combining that fact with the excitement of the Winter Games, the amazing Korean cuisine, the gorgeous scenery, and the ultra-hipness of modern Korean culture, the travel experts at Bucket List Events are thrilled to be guiding tour groups to Pyeongchang in 2018.

Here are 8 reasons why you can rest easy travelling in South Korea.

1. South Korea is not North Korea

If you knew this already, please forgive us for stating the obvious. But this misunderstanding is perhaps the biggest source of hesitation for first-time travelers to South Korea.

North Korea and its political issues are in the news often. While it’s common knowledge that North Korea’s political system is a form of totalitarian dictatorship with a centrally planned financial system, did you know that South Korea is a constitutional democracy with a free-market economy?

South Koreans are even more aware of North Korea’s recent threats in the news as you are. But despite whatever unease Kim Jong-Un’s missile testing have been causing worldwide, South Koreans carry on with their lives in peace on their side of the border.

Unlike in North Korea, freedom of speech and press are alive and well in South Korea. You really don’t have to worry that you’ll be sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a banner (though of course we’d never encourage breaking any laws!).

Korean DMZ

The DMZ is filled with poignant monuments that call for Korean reunification.

Furthermore, South Korea is by far the more sympathetic nation in the conflict with North Korea. Many South Koreans are vocal advocates for reunification, as this division has kept families separated for decades. For travelers interested in learning more about the history of this tragic conflict, Bucket List Events is offering tours of the Demilitarized Zone as an add-on during the 2018 Winter Games.


2. The South Korea safety ranking is better than that of Sweden, Britain, and the U.S.

Did you know that you’re better off traveling around South Korea than in ANY country in the entire Western hemisphere? Yes, you read that right. Take a look at the 2017 Crime Ranking Report generated by which places South Korea as only the 109th most dangerous out of 125 countries. The United States comes in at #53, while Sweden sits at #58 and the United Kingdom is ranked #70.

Gwangjang Market

The numbers offer a compelling reason to feel very safe travelling in South Korea. Chances are, the South Korea safety ranking is better than that of your home country.


3. Impeachment of President Park Geun-hye has led to very civil demonstrations

In December of 2016, a motion for the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye was filed by S. Korea’s National Assembly. In March of 2017, the country’s Constitutional Court upheld this decision.

Some people worried that this turn of events might lead to violent public unrest. However, this has not been the case. Even with the largest protests totaling over 1.5 million demonstrators, very few police altercations have been reported and violence has been virtually absent. With this impeachment, South Korea may just be the best example of peaceful protesting and constitutional free speech in modern history.

Is South Korea Safe for Travellers?

A protester in Seoul calling for President Park’s resignation. Source: USA Today

Since Park’s replacement will be voted into office this month, there will be political stability restored with plenty of time prior to the 2018 Winter Games.


4. Over 17 million tourists can’t be wrong

Folks worried about safety in South Korea are most likely unaware that over 17 million international tourists entered the country in 2016 alone. South Korea has an abundant tourist infrastructure that includes destinations such as:

-Gyeongbokgung Palace (Seoul)

-Haeundae Beach (Busan)

-Donghwasa Temple (Daegu)

-Wolmido Island (Incheon)

-Chungnyeolsa Shrine (Busan)

-National Museum of Korea (Seoul)

-Mudeungsan National Park (Gwangju)

The city of Pyeongchang itself was listed in 2016 as one of the 52 Best Places To Go by the New York Times. Pyeongchang is home to festivals such as:

-Pyeongchang Winter Music Festival

-Daegwallyeong Snow Festival

-Pyeongchang Trout Festival


Gangneung Boardwalk Seafood

One of many seafood restaurants along the Gangneung Boardwalk in PyeongChang. South Korea is famous for their seafood, and the coastal town of Gangneung certainly will not disappoint.

Overall, South Korea has a positive Tourism Policy and actively invests in building out and maintaining its tourists attractions.


5. South Korea is a modern country with a great track record of hosting events

In 2016, the Union of International Associations (UIA) released a report called the International Meetings Statistics Report that ranked the world’s best host countries for 2015. The report lists South Korea in position #2 for global congresses hosted.

The report reveals how the country is a modern one that’s rich in gourmet cuisine, shopping and tourists hotspots. South Korea is rated as a top country to visit for both pleasure and business due to its cosmopolitanism, organizational infrastructure, and high quality of living.

Is South Korea safe? Yes it is, and you can expect a smooth experience in this country whether travelling for leisure or business.


6. It’s been done before

Did you know that South Korea already successfully hosted the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul? Threats from North Korea were just as much of a reality then as now, but nothing came of them. Plus, South Korea demonstrated that they are capable of hosting a very smooth operation. The country did a wonderful job of investing in its tourism infrastructure for this event, and its effects are still felt today.

South Korea is a very technologically savvy. With some of the most cutting edge technologies in the world being produced and tested there, not only are they capable of hosting a global physical sporting event, they host massive e-gaming tournaments, and there are probably 5-year olds there that could set up and host your fast website (great joke).

Regardless, they have the skills, technology, and grit to get it done.


7. South Korea is among the most English-competent countries in Asia

Part of staying safe in a foreign country is effective communication. Luckily for English speakers, South Korea has the single largest per-capita private English education market in the world. That means, not only is English studied very widely as a second language, but a huge chunk of the population actively pursues further English training. South Korea outranks neighbors Japan, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Hong Kong for English proficiency.

Many street signs, restaurant menus, and metro announcements will include English. In fact, the metros sometimes announce their next stops in not only English and Korean, but Chinese and Japanese as well. Some restaurants and shops have English incorporated into their logos.

Most public signage in South Korea is outfitted with English letters and translations. Source:

Don’t be surprised if you even get a free coffee here and there when your server asks for a quick English lesson in return.


8. Not as foreign as you might think 

When a culture feels “familiar”, it adds to the feeling of safety. South Korea has become similar to the United States when it comes to common daily experiences such as entertainment, fashion, pop music, and Internet access.

In fact, South Korea has been called the “Hollywood of the East” by news channels such as CNN because of the way various entertainment channels have exploded there. Their pop music industry is now called K-pop and is gaining popularity in countries such as Indonesia, Japan and even the United States.

Though there is certainly no mistaking South Korea for Europe or the U.S., you’ll see plenty of western influence in modern Korean culture. You’ll also notice how Korean culture is influencing trends in the West!

South Korea Street Fashion

Seoul Street Fashion giving New York and Paris a run for their money. Source: Fashion Breed.

The 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang will be an exciting and, most importantly, safe time for all involved. If you’re thinking about making the trip, it’s one you’ll remember for a lifetime. By no means should the question “Is South Korea Safe?” cause you any more pause!

PyeongChang CTA