Checking in to the DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur

Looking for a place to stay in Kuala Lumpur?

Look no further than the DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur.

It is conveniently located just five minutes away from the nearest metro station, and a 10 minute walk away from the city’s famous Petronas Towers.

image 13.JPEG
3A14AF63-A6AC-4642-A1C6-DFF108D11C32.JPG

The DoubleTree by Hilton KL offers its guests countless amenities and perks, but my personal favorite is the warm cookie they greet you with upon check-in… and this dessert tray wasn’t half bad either.

There are several room options ranging from basic twin bed guest rooms to king bed terrace suites, but honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of them! I stayed in a twin bed deluxe room, and had everything I needed.

1E53FE0D-CE94-4EAB-9EBD-CD1BE0B93D49.JPG
89B018D0-665C-4F2F-A258-592D421175E8.JPG

In addition to its many other features and services, the DoubleTree by Hilton KL also offers its guests a delicious complimentary breakfast and boasts five in-house bars and restaurants.

Read more about my experience at the DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur, and view the full photo gallery here.


OTHER FEATURED ACCOMMODATIONS

The Best Beach Spot in Hoi An (& How to Get There)

If you're heading to Hoi An, you're undoubtedly planning to spend some time by the beach… but with such a lengthy coastline you might wondering where exactly to go.

Well, when you look at the map, you’ll see you've got two main choices - Cua Dai and An Bang beach... but if you look a bit closer, you’ll see a littleeee spot between the two called Coconut Beach - a name I had hardly seen on the "go to the beach" sign by the main road.

9D4AF6C8-A3F1-4E3B-814D-0EA374F98FBD.JPG

Located at the northern end of Cua Dai, just by the Boutique Hoi An Resort, this quiet little beach spot was my favorite escape from the hustle and bustle of Hoi An.

In the three weeks I was there, I can count on one hand the number of other foreigners I saw on the beach here, making it the ideal spot for me and my sometimes reclusive tendencies.

091D2AB3-3CC9-4344-8C0B-C81303EDEF53.JPG
6409842A-C873-4875-8E65-ED5EB5995E7F.JPG
FA8131FF-06BB-4526-97CF-88114F1F26EF.JPG

By some stroke of luck, Andrew found this cozy little spot for the first time one afternoon while I was getting some work done at Hub Hoi An.

He was on a mission to find a cool spot at the beach, and discovered this absolute gem.

Coconut Beach was our go-to spot for the rest of our time in Hoi An. 

Prior to finding Coconut Beach, we spent our beach time by the two major beach accesses, and they were both always packed with tourists... more so An Bang than Cua Dai.

Andrew and I much preferred the local vibe, and peace and quiet of "Coconut Beach."

83F1A268-539E-460E-8823-EC2B423DA762.JPG
8165D42E-D825-468A-9EB6-75C190A45AB2.JPG

Though it lacks the restaurants, bars, and shops found at the major beach spots, it does have a charming little snack bar bungalow.

At this little family owned bungalow, you can pay a small amount to rent beach chairs for the day, buy beer, icecream and other snacks.

The ladies who owned it were so friendly, and their kids were adorable.

As the sun went down that first day, we had successfully befriended the shop owner’s daughters. Though they didn’t speak much English, they played in the waves with us, and laughed hysterically every time Andrew intentionally wiped out in one.

EA0B807D-CC57-4011-BFAE-D1E4A64D7256.JPG

This is also a fishing hotspot, so the beach is lined with several bamboo boats. In the early morning, and as the sun goes down, lots of local fishermen could be seen heading out into the water and preparing their fishing nets.

Each time we came to Coconut Beach we were greeted with warm welcoming smiles… which is always nice when you’re in a new, unfamiliar place. By the third time we went there, the ladies stopped charging us to use the chairs, so we just had to pay for our beach beers.

Though there isn’t as much going on, I found the cozy “Coconut Beach” to be much more enjoyable than the larger beach accesses. If a quiet beach beach day is what you’re after, definitely head to this lesser known area of Hoi An’s coastline.

2018-07-19 21.JPG

LOCATION


A Day At the Tracks - How to Get to Hanoi's Train Street and When to Go



The first time I visited Vietnam, I travelled from Hanoi to Hue on an overnight train.

I had no idea that, shortly after leaving the station, the train passed right through the narrow streets of a lively, residential area – Hanoi’s Train Street.

Unlike most areas in Vietnam, you don’t have to worry quite as much about getting run over by motorbikes here… Though it’s still possible, most people are more concerned with the speeding train that passes through the area multiple times a day.

Keep reading to find out more about our day at Hanoi’s Train street, how to get there, and when to go.

0939FED6-F847-46B7-9B61-5DF282ADCE14.JPG
C751FADA-7625-4B09-BBC9-EF0BE1A1A244.JPG

Every day, multiple times a day, residents of this teeny tiny street, located in the midst of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, stop what they’re doing, clear the tracks, and make way for the passing train. Before and after that, life carries on as usual.

This summer, instead of passing through on an overnight train, Andrew and I decided to go explore this unique neighborhood for ourselves.

DE8438A9-CC51-4819-B494-2CC20128D10E.JPG

After spending some time walking along the tracks, we grabbed a seat on a couple of little plastic stools outside the Railway Hanoi, a cozy cafe in the middle of Train Street. It was the perfect spot to have a Bahn Mi and have a couple local beers. We shared conversation with fellow travellers aross the tracks while watching life unfold on Train Street.

We saw residents chatting on the tracks, families preparing meals, laundry being hung out to dry, tourists trying to snap that perfect photo, roaming roosters pecking at our sandwich crumbs, and children racing up and down the tracks.

It was all fun and games until the smallest one stepped on a loose railway tie and got a nail through her foot.

Basically, we saw everything but the train. 

BFE9467C-554D-42B5-BC00-FF6A2A43A9ED.JPG
93842BA1-78E4-4658-9262-07AF3980DE86.JPG

Getting There

Train street is located between Le Duan and Kham Thien. You can easily walk there from Hoàn Kiếm Lake or the Old Quarter in about 20-30 minutes.

If it’s too hot to walk, or you’re short on time, use the Grab app to catch a ride there!

When to go

You can wander down train street at any time of day, but if you want to pay a visit to the Railway Cafe, or catch a glimpse of the passing train (which we sadly did not), you’ll have to plan your visit carefully.

The Railway Hanoi is open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. everyday but Tuesday. It’s the perfect spot to have a bite and people watch while you’re waiting for the afternoon train to pass.

From Monday to Friday the train passes through twice - once at 6 a.m. and a second time at 7 p.m.

On Saturday and Sunday it runs more frequently, passing through at around 9:15 a.m., 11:35 a.m., 3:20 p.m., 5:45 p.m., 6:40 p.m., and 7:10 p.m.

Note that these times are all approximate. The owner of the Railway recommends you arrive at least 30 minutes prior to ensure you get a good (and safe) spot to view the passing train.

52118045-690A-4FF6-BA0A-126B70890E3A.JPG

Have you visited Hanoi’s Train Street? What did you think?

Let me know in the comments below!


 Like this post?

Pin it & Share it!

 
IMG_7480.PNG
 


WHERE WE STAYED IN HANOI - GOLDEN CHARM HOTEL

MORE VIETNAM DESTINATIONS - HA LONG BAY - HANOI - HOI AN


Why I Loved Teaching English in Korea... And Why I Left



If you’ve been following this blog, you probably already know that my round the world travels began in 2015 when I quit my jobs, packed up my life in North Carolina, and moved to the big city of Seoul, South Korea.  

For over a year I’d talked about teaching abroad.

I took a TEFL course after graduating college, and I’d started considering where I wanted to go… but even to me, the thought of actually DOING it seemed absurd. So absurd that even I kind of doubted that I ever actually would… until I did. Twice. 

Teaching in Seoul was a great experience and Korea was an amazing, highly underrated country.

Here’s why I loved it… and why I left.

7CB9EC36-5B8E-4F87-9E6A-EE83F64FAA9D.JPG

 

Throughout my time in Korea, I taught literally hundreds of students ranging from Western age 4 to 14. I wasn’t properly prepared, trained, OR certified to do so, but I quickly found myself teaching MUCH more than just English.

I basically taught everything, but IN English… basics like the ABC’s and phonics to subjects like science, debate, social studies, art, and even cooking. Though some of these posed a real challenge for me at first, they also made me get creative and put my teaching ability to the test. 

I really enjoyed teaching and living in South Korea. I was able to learn about a new country, got involved with local organizations like Teach North Korean Refugees, and learned a little bit (but not nearly enough) of the language. I discovered a passion for education, language, culture, (food), and a deep love for the innocence, hope, and joy that comes with spending time around children.

Unfortunately, for all the positive aspects of this experience, there were several negative ones too.

 

The education system in Korea is extremely intense and competitive. From a very young age many kids are involved in numerous extracurricular activities. They go from their regular elementary school to academy after academy, and, when they finally come home, they study even more, sometimes with an in-home tutor.

As a teacher at one of these private academies, called hagwons, I found myself going through multiple textbooks a month with my kindergarten students, giving scantron tests to seven year olds, and memorizing speeches with kids who, months earlier, didn’t even know the English alphabet. At school and at home, many of them never have time to just play and be kids.

In a parent teacher meeting at my third (and last) school, I had a mother tell me that, lately, her child didn’t want to study at home… that he seemed to be getting burnt out on phonics. This came as a surprise to me because this kid loved phonics at school…. Every day he would literally choose to practice writing new vocabulary words over having playtime with his friends. 

After spending hours at school (then going to whatever afterschool classes and extra-curricular activities he was involved in), I can only imagine that, once he got home, he wasn’t too keen on studying anymore. After all, he was only 6… and already learning about the silent k in “kn” and that “ph” actually makes an f sound.

A few minutes after trying to reassure her… since she seemed concerned… she then expressed that she felt he wasn’t learning enough in comparison to a kid in their neighborhood. This competition between parents is not an uncommon occurrence.  

Parents are highly concerned with their kid’s success… and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what some of them fail to understand is that more textbooks don’t necessarily mean more learning. Unfortunately, in my experience, the administration at many hagwons will cater to these parents and allow them to call the shots…. Making it feel more like you’re working at a business than a school. If the parents want more books, then you’ll find yourself cramming more material into your already rushed lessons.

The heavy emphasis on fast, textbook learning is stressful on teachers and students, and, overall, it isn’t doing anyone any favors. In my experience, kids who may have been incredibly book smart lacked skills like creativity, critical thinking, and were unable to work as a part of a team. They were afraid of making mistakes… a harsh reality that likely comes from not getting nearly enough time to play, explore, and just be kids.



I worked at three different schools during my time in Korea, and while the overall job was pretty similar, each one’s administration and organization was exponentially worse than the last. The expectations became higher, the pay and resources become lower, and my stress level absolutely sky rocketed.

At my final school I took a significant cut to my salary. I initially didn’t mind because the working hours were (seemingly) much shorter. I quickly found out that less working hours doesn’t necessarily mean less work.

Though I was supposed to be out by 5 pm every day, I found myself staying anywhere from one to two hours later, just so I had time to finish correcting books, writing comments, and preparing for the next day. This happened multiple times a week, but was never considered overtime, and I was never compensated for it, since it wasn’t technically “teaching hours,” (just the time it takes to prepare for teaching, which, in my opinion is almost more important… but, anyway, I digress)…

I was doing a lot more. Making a lot less. And dealing with a lot more bullshit.

This school was the most unorganized by far. The constantly changing administration had zero clue what they were doing, and frequently sprung things on teachers with little to no notice. They didn’t take into consideration the time or effort that went into doing the job and doing it well, and were constantly raising their expectations and our work load.

Though my students were tough to handle at times, they were nothing compared to the stress I felt working under such a disorganized and inexperienced administration.

 

“Comparison is the thief of joy” is a pretty adequate quote explanation of the situation I found myself in here…. because even though the school and its management were an absolute mess, I still really loved teaching and all the little monster students in my class… (even the one little bundle of energy and enthusiasm who couldn’t sit still, colored on the walls, and plugged the sink, intentionally flooding the hallway a few times).

If I hadn’t had my previous schools to compare it to, I probably could have stuck it out here… but, I DID have those comparisons… and I knew that this school was seriously ripping teachers off, and taking advantage of the ones who didn’t know any better.

 

Despite the negative circumstances I left under, I still love Korea - it was my first overseas home away from home, and the place where I met the love of my life. I loved teaching, and will never forget my students or the close connections I made.

Moving there and documenting the travels that followed allowed me to rediscover my love of writing, and uncover new hobbies like photography and video. Due to my draining, toxic work situation, I found myself with little time or energy to dedicate to these personal passions… so finally, after having two different directors, and three different co-teachers in a three-month span, I decided enough was enough and put in my notice. 

After roughly three years of teaching in Korea, it was time to move on…

 

I took a few weeks to detox in Vietnam, took advantage of some pretty big partnerships while I was still in Asia, then made a quick stop through Thailand before returning home.

I decided that it’s time to pour more of my time and energy into fulfilling my own goals and less fulfilling every unrealistic whim of ungrateful, parent-pleasing, hagwon bosses. It’s time to be closer to my family and friends… and to be around for the things that are important.

 I loved Korea, but it was time to leave.

It’s time to begin new adventures and take on new challenges… So that’s what I’m going to do.

 

So, what’s next??

Well, stay tuned, y’all… cause I’m moving to Europe!


*Disclaimer - My perspective of teaching in Korea and my decision to leave was entirely dependent on my personal views of education, and the experiences I had in my work environments. Other individuals may have vastly different views depending on their experience and the type of schools they worked in.

For example, teaching in the EPIK program is very different from teaching at a hagwon, and each hagwon varies greatly. Other factors like the neighborhood you live in, the status of your housing, and personal relationships with coworkers and other staff also come into play.

I have both lived, and heard my fair share of horror stories when it comes to teaching in Korea, but still believe there are plenty of great companies to work for.

For legal reasons, I’ve chosen to not fully disclose any names or specific situations I dealt with, but if you are considering teaching in Seoul and have any questions or concerns about the interview process, contracts, or specific schools, feel free to contact me for the full, unedited scoop.

Sustainable Tourism in HaLong Bay aboard the Au Co Luxury Cruise



A08A6337-5B29-4521-A6E5-1AE09A886403 2.jpg

Named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994, HaLong Bay is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and a popular tourist destination in Vietnam for domestic and international visitors alike.

For years, waking up in the crystal blue waters of the bay on a junk boat amidst the limestone cliffs was at the top of my bucket list, and, in 2017, I finally made it there. According to statistics from the Halong City People’s Committee, so did about 7 million other tourists... with a majority of them flocking straight to the port to board their cruise in the bay.

As you can imagine, this mass tourism can have detrimental effects on the environment in HaLong Bay, however, I don't think tourists should let this dissuade them from visiting. There are companies who care about preserving the beauty of HaLong Bay, its wildlife, and the local communities who call this place home... companies like Bhaya Cruise Line.

29858350-FAA9-4641-AA55-ADF75DDFFA30.JPG

About Bhaya Cruise Line

In 2007, Bhaya's first ships set sail, and just over ten years later, with four different fleets and several cruise packages to choose from, it is already become the largest cruise operator in HaLong Bay. It is also one of the Bay's most reputable cruise companies.

In 2017, Bhaya launched several sustainable tourism initiatives designed to protect and preserve the environment, and to help local communities.

This summer, I had the pleasure of exploring the beauty that is HaLong Bay a second time aboard Bhaya's Au Co Luxury Cruise. I was very impressed with the ship, the staff, the off the beaten tourist track excursions, the food(!), and with Bhaya's overall dedication to leading the way for sustainable tourism in HaLong Bay.

Want to learn more about the Au Co Luxury Cruise, Bhaya's social and environmental initiatives, or how you can get involved?

CA3FCD46-48FB-42DC-A6E4-D32A16D0AA2F.JPG
37127970_10156434255498290_7162608524499877888_o.jpg

The Cutest Homestay in HaLong Bay - HaLong Ginger Homestay



 
halongbay.png

HaLong Ginger Homestay

If you're planning a trip to northern Vietnam, chances are taking a HaLong Bay Cruise is high on your list. Most people go straight from Hanoi to the bay and almost immediately board their cruise, however, if you have the time, I highly recommend staying at least one night in mainland HaLong beforehand.

5A8EB88D-3BE0-410E-9CD1-1A47EED29EBE.JPG

Why stay a night in mainland halong bay?

The journey from Hanoi to Halong Bay can be a bit exhausting. If you're a morning person, maybe you won't sweat the early morning wake up call, but I personally was SO tired once I had finally arrived and it was time for the cruise - (Seriously... barely survived happy hour... mostly due to my extreme exhaustion).

This time around, we opted to head to HaLong Bay a day early. This allowed us to rest up, while also giving us just enough time to explore. We got an early morning bus from Hanoi, and were dropped off right at the door of our adorable homestay in HaLong. Once there, we dropped off our bags, ate some lunch, and went to hike Bai Tho Mountain.

If you're not already convinced to stay a night, check out this incredible view of the bay from Bai Tho Mountain, and then get ready to book your accommodations in HaLong.

B4650888-846D-4C65-9AA5-67F99FD5FA87.JPG

Where to stay

Sold on staying a night in the mainland?

Skip the fancy hotels and resorts, save a few bucks, and book a stay at the HaLong Ginger Homestay instead... a cozy, convenient, affordable, (and totally instagrammable) little homestay...

BCB85A29-91FF-4F8A-B8CF-F627EA9B8BD1.JPG

other featured accommodations 

How to Get an Epic View of HaLong Bay - Hiking Bai Tho Mountain



 
halongbay.png
12840259-CD3D-40D7-A2CB-B4E5C9D05B62.JPG

The first time I visited HaLong Bay, I, like most travellers, got picked up early in the morning from my Hanoi hotel, and was driven straight to the pier to board my cruise (...with one tourist trap restroom/souvenir/food pit stop along the way).

*Pro tip: don't buy anything but snacks here (and don't even buy those unless you absolutely have to)... Seriously. All of the souvenirs are sold at ridiculously high prices, and most of them can be found in the markets you'll likely visit at some point during your Vietnam travels*

Anyway, this time around, I decided to spend some time in HaLong Bay prior to our cruise, and I'd highly recommend you do the same. Not only was I well rested the day of our cruise, I was also able to explore and enjoy more of the area. The highlight was hiking Bai Tho Mountain and getting the most incredible view of HaLong Bay. Keep reading to find out how you can do the same!

993CA787-FE82-46D2-B8A7-4764074DA610.JPG

 Getting to HaLong Bay from Hanoi

Since we were going a day early, our transport to HaLong Bay wasn't included or supported by our cruise company, and when our Airbnb's contact fell through at the last minute, we were stuck trying to arrange transportation to HaLong the night before. I was stressed at first, but after a quick google search came across TravelerTick.com, an extremely easy to navigate site with lots of routes and transportation options.

A limousine bus from Hanoi to HaLong bay cost us $19 per person and we were picked up and dropped off at the door of our accommodations (something other bus and shuttle services claimed they weren't able to do).

With only 5 other people on board, we had loads of room and an extremely comfortable ride. 

Visit their website for more information about transportation routes and prices.


Hiking Bai Tho Mountain

After checking in to our homestay, we put on some sneakers and headed to hike Bai Tho Mountain. I'd seen loads of pictures of this spot when planning my Vietnam trip and absolutely had to check it out for myself.

To get there head to Hàng Nồi road. Walk down the street (almost to the end) until you see the "Good Store."

IMG_4715.jpg
FE9166DA-CC40-4577-A3BD-3CF9D7A89C36.JPG

This is where it gets interesting...

To get to the mountain trail you have to go through someone's house. The entry way is just to the left of the Good Store.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the woman sitting outside (presumably the owner of the house) who knew exactly what we were there for. She showed us through the house... past a bird cage... a chicken coop... a bunch of dogs... and to a very much locked gate... (surrounded by barbed wire... with a large hole... that we then climbed through to begin our ascent up the mountain trail).

Side note: this trail is technically closed for tourists, and since it's located in her backyard, she is capitalizing on the opportunity - (can't say I blame her). The "Admission cost" is 50,000 VND per person (roughly $2), but its well worth it for the view you get at the top.

The hike will take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending on how quickly you go (and how many photos you stop to take along the way).

To be honest, I hadn't anticipated it being quite so strenuous and hadn't packed any water. All I had were a bag of dried mangoes (that I gave to a German girl who had stopped along the way with low blood sugar).

*Pro tip - DON'T BE LIKE US. Bring snacks and water!*

When you get to the top there are quite a few good spots for photos. Snap away (and recharge with your snacks and water).

Though the sunset views are surely incredible,  I would recommend going earlier in the day, as making your way down might be a bit tricky after dusk!

B4650888-846D-4C65-9AA5-67F99FD5FA87.JPG
601C41C8-07BF-41DD-96A9-78EC367D7C8A.JPG

Where TO STAY IN HALONG BAY

If you're looking for a cozy place to stay in HaLong Bay, I'd highly recommend the HaLong Ginger Homestay. With several options ranging from a queen sized en suite and dorms to adorable garden cottages, there's something for everyone. You can even book the whole house if you're travelling with a large group! 

During our stay, they were renovating the space beyond the two triangle cottages for their cooking school. Though the property is already beautiful, it will look even better once this construction is finished!

BCB85A29-91FF-4F8A-B8CF-F627EA9B8BD1.JPG
AC7E6FF5-B28D-488B-8390-C0D4311999F4.JPG
5A8EB88D-3BE0-410E-9CD1-1A47EED29EBE.JPG

 To book your stay contact homestayginger@gmail.com or view their options on AirBnb.

Sign up for airbnb and get $40 in travel credit!

 
 

 Looking for more Vietnam tips?

A Plant Lover's Dream Come True - Seoul's Cactus Greenhouse and Plant Delivery in Korea

C2B4B86D-F8BE-4402-B063-87EE6C8B9AB9.JPG
IMG_2514_1.jpg

 

Are you a plant lover? More specifically - are you a low maintenance plant lover? You know... the type of person who loves having pretty, green things alive in your apartment... but isn't so great at the keeping them alive part? 

Since moving back to Seoul, I've basically turned my studio apartment into a mini greenhouse, and it has made this little hole in the wall feel much more homey...  (not to mention the fact that it has also significantly improved the indoor air quality).

Unfortunately, due to my forgetful nature (and frequent weekend getaways), most plants and I have a pretty short lived relationship. Therefore, I have boundless love and the utmost respect for plants of the low maintenance variety - I'm talkin' succulents, air plants, and cacti. I love em... and, so far, the ones brightening up my spot in Seoul seem to love me too.

If you're also a fan of these low maintenance beauties, then you'll definitely share in the excitement I felt when I found out that 1) Plant heaven is a place on Earth... and it's in Ilsan, and 2) you can get plants delivered to your door in Korea.

First things first...

 

Ilsan Lake Park's Cactus Greenhouse

50D50CE4-5AA8-4271-9341-02AD7D575939.JPG
9CED1F1E-99C1-41FF-8A64-0B1FDE10E1F4.JPG
21102917-4247-4497-AC68-4EAFDDDADB7B.JPG

 

That's right... A green house filled with my favorite little (and big) green (and red and white and orange) prickly little, self-sustaining friends. For only 1,000 won, you can wander around the greenhouse enjoying these beautiful plants for as long as you'd like... Well, at least 'til closing time.

There's even a little shop where you can purchase a cactus, succulent, or air plant to take home with you. (Sadly, I couldn't take advantage of this part since I'm planning a big move soon and already have more plant babies to find new homes for than I can handle).

For me, a visit to the Cactus Greenhouse was a really cool (and cheap) way to spend our random Wednesday off. It was something different, we were able to see a new part of the city... and I love plants. If cacti and cheap activities aren't really your thing, then travelling 2+ hours round trip to and from Ilsan to look at plants probably isn't for you... but, even if you decide to skip the greenhouse, Ilsan Lake park is still a cool place to spend the day.

 

611CC766-74CD-4BDB-AA3C-0FF83CC57F5C.JPG
ED290A16-8E1B-4EA9-918D-7F387BAA1EBF.JPG
EBD21DAD-09D0-47FA-9255-250BE88FF49B.JPG

 

 

These last few shots weren't taken in the Cactus Greenhouse, but you'll find these spots on your way there!

 

As you can see, the rest of Ilsan Lake Park is pretty cool, too!

 

 

389405F3-7FD5-4899-8C62-CB84B8627FC5.JPG
18C6624D-2565-4B85-8B78-4EC444F322F0.JPG
4390EFE1-D3E5-4B48-AE1F-4DCFE0FBB7B6.JPG
E1804836-47F5-4A1A-877E-98A4414DD2D3.JPG

 

Getting there

Head to Jeongbalsan Station on the orange line (3).

From there, walk out of exit 2 and straight across the pedestrian overpass until you reach the park. To get to the Cactus Greenhouse walk to the right past the Rose Garden (pictured above), cross the two footbridges over the lake, and then turn left. The greenhouse will be on your right!

 

image 6.JPEG

 

If you've made it this far, I'm guessing you like, like me, are big on plants...

You may be wondering how I ended up with so many little green plant babies in the first place.

If you're living in Korea currently, you'll find part 2 useful.

 


Getting plants delivered to your door in Korea

I blame (and praise) G-market for my little greenhouse apartment. I have literally lost count of how many I've acquired in the past few months. Though there are lots of cute mom and pop plant shops scattered throughout the city, it can be difficult to get your new plant babies home if you, like me, rely heavily on public transportation.

Skip the hassle and go plant shopping online instead. In a few business days or less, you can get virtually any plant (or anything really) delivered directly to your door by G-Market... Korea's equivalent to e-bay or Amazon.

IMG_9744.jpg

Though I was skeptical about purchasing plants without seeing them first, all of my selections from the sellers below arrived quickly and (most importantly) still alive. I highly recommend purchasing through these vendors - (and no, this isn't a sponsored article, just tryin' to share the love with my fellow plant people in Korea).

I spent an entire day scouring the site for the best plant deals, so here they are!

 

 House plants, flowers, herbs, and succulents

NeoFlower - SO many options, and free shipping on purchases over ₩12,000!

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 8.55.10 PM.png

 

Air Plants

Tillandsia -  Lots of different sizes and options, with a low ₩3,000 delivery fee... 

(...unless you go crazy and spend 100k... then delivery is free).

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 8.56.32 PM.png

 

Larger house plants (with a decorative touch)

 E-Green Store - Make sure to select the option for the decorative potting when purchasing - it costs a bit extra!

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 9.00.28 PM.png

 

For more tips on the best places to find low-budget plants

and other trinkets to make your Seoul apartment feel like home,

get in touch

 

 

 

Accommodation Spotlight: DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Penang

FEATURED ACCOMMODATIONS

doubletree resort by hilton penang

8E86DB00-936D-4B66-8F70-60A28438F1DB.JPG
018EA641-25E4-43F8-9E75-65679EF6F41A.JPG

If you're heading to Penang and aren't sure where to stay, check out the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton.

With its numerous amenities, including a great location, affordable price, all you can eat breakfast buffet, and a shuttle in to George Town, making this resort your home base in Penang is a no brainer.

I had the chance to stay here over my birthday weekend, and loved it so much that I nearly pushed my flight back to Korea back another day.

The entire property, from the reception to the bedrooms, is absolutely beautiful. Speaking of bedrooms, I had the most comfortable nights sleep I've had in ages in our room's heavenly king-sized bed.... But the perks of the DoubleTree Resort definitely don't stop there...

Thoughts & Reflections of a (now) Upper 20-Something Year Old

Well, folks...

The days where I can say I've lived a quarter of a century have officially come and gone.

In the blink of a flippin' eye, 365 days have passed and I've somehow fallen over the hump and into the dreaded "upper twenties" category... Or is it dreaded?

I'm honestly not so sure... because my 26th birthday was pretty flippin' epic.

D731EB01-C655-4741-AB32-0553DE2B8E77.JPG
image 4.JPEG

The past year has been filled with more than its fair share of ups and downs.

I came home from an incredible two month backpacking trip... almost immediately started working two jobs... and quickly realized that settling in North Carolina just wasn't in the cards for me... at least not yet.

I returned to Asia (perhaps a bit prematurely), spent Christmas at home with my family (after passing out on the plane) for the first time since 2015, then, at the start of the spring, moved from one horrible Korean private school to another (...though the one I moved to is probably worse... more on that later).

I attended the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, gained a new best friend, and fell in love with what might be the greatest human on the planet - (this is not an exaggeration... I'm tellin' ya... he's a gem).

As my 25th year of life came to a close, I dove headfirst into an attempt at vlogging, scored my first big name hotel partnership, and, early in the morning on the Eve of my birthday, headed to Malaysia with Andrew (the aforementioned gem) to explore Penang and write a review for the DoubleTree Resort (coming very soon).

Flash back a little over a year ago - I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the last leg of my Asia adventure before returning to the states indefinitely (lol). After weeks of hostels and cold showers, I splurged on a hotel with an epic view of the Petronas Towers (and hot water... and room service).

I decided to write a review on the property, despite my stay there not being sponsored - (I later would write several other unsponsored reviews... because practice makes perfect, ya know).

After posting one of my photos taken at the Kuala Lumpur hotel on Facebook (a good ole' GoPro, screen-grab selfie), an old high school classmate commented saying "I thought this was a Hilton ad."

18193074_10155190108893290_3430688296583922120_o.jpg

I laughed then... but, flash forward... less than 13 months after my indefinite departure from Asia and, plot twist.... I'm still not making Hilton ads.... but I am back in Asia... and I did score a complimentary birthday weekend stay at a Hilton hotel in Penang, Malaysia.

The irony does not escape me.

Long, sentimental post short... life is unexpected. It's tough... rub some dirt in it... get a helmet... no pain no gain... or whatever motivational quote you can most easily identify with. Despite it's inevitable challenges, hard work eventually pays off. In all this hard work, I've found that the (aka my) key to a happy, fulfilled life (coming from a barely upper 20-something year old) is finding a challenge you enjoy... and to always, always, always keep going for it.

This time last year, when I was back home slaving away at two restaurant jobs, my dreams of travel writing (and Asia) seemed, again, like a far away pipe dream... over 7,000 miles away  to be exact.

Looking back, somehow, the daily little baby steps have amounted to one big step in the right direction.

I'm not an expert or a professional (like.... at anything... honestly).

I do, however, have one thing... and lots of it. Passion.

My trip back to Malaysia was filled with a handful of brilliant, inspiring little creative sparks (and lots of much needed R&R)... and all together, this rekindled a fire - a burning desire to keep setting foot on new ground, to keep creating, keep meeting people, keep making mistakes

...to keep learning from them and getting better... becoming better at my hobbies and becoming a better person.

The great Albert Einstein supposedly once said, "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving," and I couldn't agree more.

Now, I don't know exactly what the next year of life will bring... but I do know one thing... I cannot wait to find out.

A BIG thank you for all the birthday wishes, and an even bigger thank you to all the people who support and push me towards fulfilling my goals and dreams all the other days of the year.

Here's to another year of life, (albeit a year in my upper twenties)...

...365 days of experiences, changes, and growth... one baby step at a time.

1572C5BD-35B3-4493-BF7D-9F9BB83EDC52.JPG
savingPNG 2.PNG

Saturdays in Seoul (ep. 1) - Bongeunsa Temple + The Great Korean Beer Festival

Welcome to "Saturdays in Seoul"

A new lil’ vlogging venture…

...and, this time, my boyfriend Andrew is along for the ride.

Though we still have quite a bit of work to do as far as our coordination goes, (in more ways than one... watch 'til the end to see what I mean...), overall, we had a great Saturday and are really excited about creating more of these to document the rest of our time in Seoul.

 

*No Andrews were harmed in the making of this video*

 

WHERE WE WENT

 

Bongeunsa Temple

In episode one, Andrew and I start our day at Bongeunsa Temple, a calm oasis in the middle of the bustling city. It's my favorite time of year to visit the temples in South Korea... because the rows of lanterns are already hung for Buddha's birthday, but the hoardes of tourists aren't lined up to snap photos with them... yet...

Avoid the crowds and head there early, or stop in at night to see the lanterns all lit up.

Getting There

By cab: 봉은사 

By metro: Bongeunsa Temple Station, Exit 1. Cheongdam Station, Exit 2.

FDD95F72-85ED-4B3D-A71D-80230028049C.JPG

 

 

Great Korean Beer Festival

After exploring the temple, we wandered over to the Great Korean Beer Festival, conveniently located by the COEX mall just across the street. If you missed it this weekend, don't worry - this year's beer festival is everyday from 12 p.m. until 10 p.m. through May 6th. 

COEX is pretty massive, and we weren't sure where exactly to go at first for the festival. You'll find this year's festival at the K-POP Square right outside of SMTOWN. Check out the food and drink selection before you go here.

Getting There

By cab: 삼성역

By metro: Samsung Station, Exit 5 or 6.

C7745457-CAFF-4ABB-B62D-90471A2026CC.JPG
C96FFB8B-961B-485C-87BD-FC84BCBB63B5.JPG

 

 

Starfield Library

When it got a bit chilly at the beer festival we ducked inside COEX's Starfield Library to warm up (and charge my phone). If you're in the area, it's absolutely a must see.

Directions are the same as above.

EB49A009-1CE7-4BFC-B6AE-712F898C1271.JPG

 

Unfortunately, the day wasn't entirely smooth sailing. When the hoodie I bought at H&M didn't warm me up, I was shivering so much I was nearly spilling my beer. Then Andrew told me it wasn't even cold outside, so I decided to stop rallying through the day and we headed home... where a full blown fever fully caught up with me. Being the complete perfect human that he is, Andrew got me soup, made us tea, and I was asleep by 10.

Despite this turn of events, it was still an awesome day, and, again, in my opinion, resulted in what may be the best video I've made so far.

Check it out for yourself!

If you liked this week's episode, be sure to give it a thumbs up, and subscribe to my channel on Youtube for future Saturday shenanigans in Seoul!

 

 

A Day at Jeongdong Theater - The Palace: Jang Nok-su-jeon Show – Sponsored by Trazy

Heading to South Korea? Not exactly sure what to do? 

Travel Crazy with TRAZY.

Trazy.com is the best Korea-based travel booking site. With activities like cooking classes, performances, guided tours and weekend trips, there's something for everyone on Trazy.com

Though I’ve lived in Korea since 2015, I still find new activities and events on Trazy.com that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. From the major cities of Seoul, Busan, and Jeju, to other destinations throughout South Korea, Trazy makes it easy to find the newest and trendiest things to do at an affordable price. 

This weekend, I had the chance to check out one of the traditional Korean shows offered by Trazy.com - The Palace 'Jang Nok-su-jeon' Show at the Jeongdong Theatre.

A6F5CE19-B594-4B0B-A947-BCECA8490A8E.JPG
2986095D-93F0-4A5A-8215-26E5E974AB9D.JPG

The Jeongdong Theatre is known to showcase traditional Korean performances, with a touch of modern flair, and this weekend's show was no exception. Though there was no dialogue in the performance, it was still highly engaging and entertaining.

The show is about a women named Jang Nok-su. Once a lowly servant, with her talented performances, she becomes a highly revered Kisaeng (a performer who worked to entertain Kings). Then, as the story goes, Jang Nok-su, known as deadly Cinderella, comes to be the only Kiaseng to step foot into the palace during the Joseon Dynasty.

Now I don't want to give too much of the story-line away, but I will say that I highly enjoyed this performance. For one, the cast was extremely talented. Though there were occasional closed-captions (in Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese) that scrolled along screens to the left and right of the stage, the overall story was told only through music, action, and expression... and, I must say, I was so impressed with the cast's ability to portray emotions and tell a story without using any words.

As a foreigner, this was a great way to experience a traditional Korean show without being totally in the dark as to what was happening and being said.

AECCB3D0-6A33-4DCF-80A7-95514CE797E5.JPG
50ACB6C4-CB49-413E-9D85-0C1588EC9DCE.JPG

The set, costumes, choreography, and music were exceptional. I was absolutely mesmerized by the colorful traditional clothing, and by the rhythm and movement of the musical and dance numbers performed throughout the show.

Though it definitely cannot be strictly categorized as a traditional Korean performance, overall, I really enjoyed "The Palace – Jang Nok-su-jeon" and it's fusion with modern Korean theatre. I would highly recommend it, whether you're an expat living in Korea or just passing through.

To book discounted tickets to the show through Trazy.com click here.

To find out more about the Jeongdong Theatre and it's current showings click here.

A0D7BEE1-FE86-4BF8-BD53-15F835A2DF2E.JPG

Getting there

By cab: 정동극장

By metro: Head to City Hall Station. Walk out of exit 12 and then take your first left. Take another left and walk alongside the Deoksugung Palace Gate. Continue walking straight through the roundabout and the theatre will be on your right.

jeongdongtheatremap.jpg

To browse or book other activities offered on Trazy.com, click here.

6 Spots You Don't Want to Miss in Busan, South Korea

Planning a visit to Busan? Good!

Korea's second-largest city, situated on the country's southern coast, is absolutely beautiful... and, like most other Korea-related things, it is highly underrated.

From picturesque beaches and traditional temples, to bustling markets and bars, there's truly something for everyone in Busan.


Watch our busan adventures

For more information on what to do in South Korea click here

Seoul Doesn't Suck... But You Might - 6 Things I Love About Living in Korea's Capital City

9BAADF69-4C86-4592-94D7-13EBEF468759.JPG

Alright… here goes. I’ve kept my mouth shut on this one for far too long.

I’ve just moved to my fourth apartment and finished my first few weeks at my third school in Seoul. I’ve been through the freakin’ ringer in this city… I’ve had good days and bad days, but at the end of all these day, I could not be more thankful for the chance I have to live here.

Since moving to Korea, I’ve met some pretty fantastic people, and I’ve done some things that weren’t even on my radar before… (like, most recently, going to the 2018 Winter Olympics – check out that epic adventure here).

I’ve delved back into old passions and am more motivated to write, to capture moments, and to keep a record of all these crazy experiences this expat life has rewarded me with.

I know people make the cliché “Seoul Searching” reference all the time… but that’s truly what this experience has been for me. In a city where no one knew me, I was able to get back to a version of myself that had almost been buried under the mundane expectations of living a “normal” adult life.

South Korea isn’t the end goal for me, but moving to Seoul has without a doubt been the catalyst that allowed me to begin living the life I’ve always dreamed of.

…And on that note, I am sick and freakin’ tired of seeing and hearing people rant on with nothing but negative things to say about this place… saying that Korea sucks… that’s it’s soul sucking… and, my personal favorite, a shit hole.

If you’ve heard or seen statements like these… please take them with a grain of salt and don’t let them deter you from visiting (or moving to) this dynamic, beautiful, and seriously underrated country.

Sure, Korea has its positive and negative aspects, just like ANY other place in the world… but at the end of the day if you say it “sucks” I say, sittttt down. Korea doesn’t suck… and Seoul definitely doesn’t suck… but, hey… you might.

Save for the brutally frigid winters and occasional heavy smog, I truly love living in Seoul. Here’s why.

DB4D6735-58B6-4D1A-9648-679D07A46A7F.JPG

 

1. It’s extremely safe.

Seoul’s night life is popping, and, more often than not, late nights out turn in to early mornings. Thankfully, unlike in many cities, you don’t have to be fearful after the sun goes down.

I can (and have) walked home alone at 4am and not been afraid… at all. For reference, I wouldn’t walk a city block by myself after dark back in the states… and I am from a very small North Carolina town.

Obviously, you should be on your guard like you would anywhere else, but I’ve never been fearful here in South Korea.

To prove my point on safety, here’s a super embarrassing story that I’ve never made public… til now. My first few weeks in Korea were like my first few weeks of university… but on steroids. I was in a brand new environment, meeting new people, finding my way… and mistakes were made.

When I first moved to Seoul I vowed that I wasn’t going to go out drinking for a while… not til I found solid friends that I could trust. Well, on my first day in the office, one of my coworkers said, “Hey Kirstie, we’re going to wine buffet next weekend, do you want to join us?”

…I, without even a smidgen of hesitation said, “Yes!”… not because I was worried about missing out or wanted to fit in and impress these people… but because it was a WINE. BUFFET. My favorite two words.

So anyway… flash forward to my second weekend (and ninth day) in the country. My coworkers and I put on our Saturday best and went to said wine buffet. Being the overly competitive person that I am… I took on a bet to try all of the dozen or more wines. After losing said bet (but trying my damn hardest) we stumbled to Itaewon, Seoul’s foreigner district.

Three years later and Itaewon’s winding streets and hills STILL confuse me... but that night, as you can imagine, the drunken maze that is HBC was even more puzzling.

Once there, things went downhill pretty quickly. We for some reason continued to drink, and I promptly lost literally everyone… in a part of town I had NEVER been to before.

I took my phone out of airplane mode… (tragic)… called my ex (also tragic)… and then finally used it for something useful… mapping my way to what I guessed was the main road.

When I finally managed to hail a cab, I realized I didn’t actually have a clue where I was going and, instead of providing a proper address, proceeded to rattle off every English sign I’d seen in my neighborhood in the past 9 days. Bless that poor cabbie who did not have the slightest clue what I was on about.

Eventually, drunk Kirst got the bright idea to call one of my coworkers who was able to direct him. I made it home in one piece, but it was still a pretty dumb night for me.

If I’d been this unaware of my surroundings anywhere else in the world, I’d probably be chopped up in the basement of a warehouse somewhere… but that, thankfully, is a non-issue in Seoul.

Soooo yeah, despite its proximity to a malevolent northern neighbor, South Korea is really safe.

In addition to personal safety, you also generally don’t have to worry about theft.

I’ve had people chase me down the street to return cash that has fallen out of my pocket. When I’m at a café, I frequently leave my laptop and bags unattended to go on a bathroom run. I’ve even known people to lose their wallet and have it returned with the money put in order.

*Again… bad things CAN and DO happen here… just like anywhere else (so don’t be totally off-guard), however, in my experience, safety isn’t as much of an issue in Korea as it is in other places I’ve lived and visited.

IMG_2504.JPG

 

2. Most things are incredibly convenient.

Korea is also extremely conveninent.

You can pay your bills at the convenient store, use T-money to pay for the subway, cabs, or whatever things you’re picking up from the convenience store. You can link up to public wifi on the train (or walking down the street), and get just about any food imaginable delivered straight to your door with one of the many mobile delivery apps.

Public transportation is super cheap and, once you get the hang of it, is really simple to navigate. You can get across the city or across the country by hopping on a bus or the train.

Seoul seems massive… but Korea as a whole is actually pretty small. Catch an express train, and you can go from one end to the other in a matter of hours.

Between the beaches of Busan and the green tea fields of Boseong… epic hikes and island getaways… Korea has actually got a lot to offer.

LRG_DSC00954.JPG

 

3. I’m never bored.

Speaking of having a lot to offer, you’ll literally never be bored here… unless you yourself are a boring person.

In and around Seoul, there is literally always something happening… even on the most frigid winter weekends.

I personally prefer to hibernate during the winter months, and save my energy (and money) for all the fun spring activities, but despite my frequent seasonal reclusiveness, It’s still nice to have options.

There is always a new café to visit, some sort of sporting event happening, rotating museum exhibitions, concerts, festivals, and so much more. If you’re not comfortable navigating to a festival or special event on your own, there are several facebook groups you can join that frequently organize outings and other trips. A couple of my favorites are Adventure Korea and WINK – (for other travel group suggestions, feel free to contact me).

TRAZY, a Korea-based travel company can also organize private transportation and guided tours to popular destinations like the ski slopes of Pyeongchang, the cherry-blossom lined streets of Jinhae, Jeju Island, or Seoul hot spots like Nami Island and Gyeongbukgung Palace.

D377D930-70AF-42DE-AD64-65876A7185A6.JPG

 

4. I don’t pay rent. This one is a no brainer.

One of the best things about teaching abroad in Korea is the benefits provided to foreign teachers… and, for me, the biggest benefit (after getting to work and live in a foreign country) is that my living expenses are fairly low.

Most schools provide either a furnished apartment or a housing stipend for their teachers. In addition to not having to pay rent, I don’t need a car here so I don’t have to worry about those monthly payments either.

I don’t have cable… as a matter or fact, I don’t even have a TV. I don’t have a phone bill, as I usually stick to using public wifi and only charge up my data when I need it.

All of the money I save by not having these expenses goes straight to whatever budget airline has the cheapest flights (and my highly unfortunate student loan payments).

 

5. My job is really rewarding

…AND KOREAN KIDS ARE FREAKIN’ CUTE.

Let it be known that a lot of the things foreigners in Korea (myself included) complain about are job related… and many of these job related grievances are things that we literally signed up for.

Like I said, I’m guilty of this as well.

The hours are long… the vacation days are few and far between... But, hey, we knew this when we signed our names on the dotted line and faxed our contracts back to our future employers.

Though there are obviously things about the Hagwon (private school) teacher life that I wish I could change, I overall really enjoy my job, and find it to be SO much more rewarding than the other positions I’ve held.

IMG_9293.JPG

There are so many positive aspects to teaching English and working with young kids here in Korea, and I’m going to focus on those… (but, if you want to hear about the negatives, and other sticky situations, stay tuned for a bit of a Hagwon tell all).

I’ve been at my current school for nearly a month now, and I already love my students so much. They’re still in a bit of an adjustment period as they get acclimated to a new school year, new teachers, and new subjects… but, like with most things, they are soaking it all up like a dozen little sponges, and I couldn’t be more proud.

When it comes to Hagwons, I’d say third time has definitely been the charm. Though the school I just started at has been a lot of work so far, it’s really nice to feel like a teacher again. I was able to decorate my classroom (something my previous school told us NOT to do), I teach my kids all day, and, since I’m their only teacher, feel like I’ll get to know them really well.

I’m only teaching kindergarten, which is my preferred age group, and am finished teaching by 3 p.m. everyday (this is HUGE for me). Though I don’t really have a break from the start of the work day til the end, I finish MUCH earlier than I used to. It’s been SO nice being out of work before the sun goes down, and having time in the evenings to work on things that I want to!

037FA0DC-60E1-424E-93D7-647A3A2771D7.jpg

 

6. OPPORTUNITES

Speaking of working on things that I want to, Korea has opened SO many doors – travel opportunities, creative opportunities, collaboration opportunities… you name it.

There is truly something for EVERYONE in Seoul.

Into writing? There are several foreign magazines always looking for featured writers. Want to do yoga or learn muay thai? There are gyms for that. Want to try your hand at stand-up comedy? Yep. Salsa dancing lessons? You can take those too.

I guess this goes along with my previous point about never being bored. ANYTHING you could want to do or try or learn about, you can find it here.

Of all the opportunities I’ve had, the opportunity to meet such diverse, interesting, and talented people from all over the world is without a doubt at the top.

Here’s a fun little fact that’s actually laughable now… I had never even met a Canadian until I moved to Seoul (I guess they don’t really travel to the south much, eh?).  In the past two and a half years I’ve met people from SO many walks of life... and I’m so thankful for all of the laughs, adventures, and late night chats I’ve shared with each one of them.

The growth I’ve made by moving to Seoul is due, in part, to the lessons I’ve learned from each person I’ve crossed paths with – some good lessons, some bad, and all important.

IMG_9138.JPG

 

So… yeah… I really like Seoul and am so happy to live here.

If you need a change of pace… want to do something challenging… to try new things, meet new people, and see new places, I’d highly recommend spending at least a year in this city – and teaching abroad is without a doubt the best way to do it. I can’t really speak much for the rest of the country, (though Busan seems pretty tight).

Maybe I’ve just been really lucky… but I have a hard time believing that anyone can truly think Seoul sucks. If you see these statements, again, take them with a grain of salt... then consider this...

A lot of times, by the time someone's teaching contract is finished, they're SO ready to get out of the country... to begin travelling, or to go home... that they're broadcasting the negatives and ignoring all the positive experiences they've undoubtedly had in their time here. Living in Seoul be stressful, you can meet bad people, and you WILL have bad days... but, does that mean the place as a whole sucks?? Absolutely not.

(To said people who spout nothing but hate for their time in Seoul, if your hometown sucks… and that’s why you came to Korea… and then Korea sucks… and then the next place you go sucks… and you hate the next place, etc, etc, etc… Maybeeeee it’s not the location that sucks, after all. Perhaps… the common denominator is… you?).

D2E0736D-E5BC-4974-817E-408EC2EF9F8A.JPG

If you have questions about teaching or living in Seoul, feel free to contact me.

For more information about things to do in South Korea click here or follow me on Instagram @kirstie.hall.

instagram Block
This is an example. To display your Instagram posts, double-click here to add an account or select an existing connected account. Learn more

Post-Olympic Adventures at Yongma Land - Seoul, South Korea Day Trips

In the suburbs of north eastern Seoul lies an abandoned, supposedly haunted amusement park. The whole place and it’s run down rides have a pretty creepy vibe… that is up until the bands of Korean models show up with their matching outfits, camera men, and boom boxes blasting K-pop.

By the time I left on my first visit, the creepiest thing about the place was me – the lone foreigner, wearing all black, slinking about the place and hanging out on all the rides.

Like most attractions in Seoul, Yongma land is kind of a photo trap... but, all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was happy to go back again when my insta/blogger friend, Tara (of sillylittlekiwi.com), came to visit Seoul.

DF69BEC6-0DFF-436D-8F26-0E307A0B0BE9.JPG

 

GETTING THERE

To get to Yongma Land, go to Mangu Station and take exit 1. After walking around for a bit on my first trip to Yongma, I decided to just get a cab. I had no trouble finding my way back to the station from Yongma Land, but, for some reason, finding my way there was tough.

yongmamap.jpg

My second visit to Yongma Land with Tara was literally right after we returned to Seoul from our Olympics trip. Mangu station is one stop away from the Sangbong KTX station, and it was silly to go all the way back in to Seoul to drop our things off... so we just brought them all with us... (and, looking like a couple of bag ladies, quickly opted for taking a cab). 

Since it only costs a few bucks, cabbing it is the most time and cost effective way to go. Most cabbies are familiar with the park, so it takes the guess work out of navigating there.

 

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

There will be hoards of selfie taking Koreans... and they probably really will have K-Pop anthems blaring as the soundtrack for their photoshoots. Join the fun! Everyone's here for a few (hundred) quirky shots, and a good time.

There is also an entrance fee of 5,000 won per person to get in to the park. *Note that only cash is accepted!*

0C250190-290D-45E9-92DF-A96E0D66BBD5.JPG

NEED MORE IDEAS FOR THINGS TO DO IN SEOUL?

Accommodation Spotlight - Olympic Weekender in Gangneung at Analog 76

 
gangneungsmall.png

Typically speaking, if I have more than two consecutive days off work, I'm on a plane and adding a stamp to my passport... but this year's Lunar New Year holiday was a little different.

Why? Two words. Winter. Olympics.

image 6.JPEG

As you can imagine, finding accommodations in an Olympic city (during Lunar New Year) was a bit of a nightmare... (a nightmare only made worse by people's unwillingness to commit to solid plans).

Knowing that I'd need to secure a place to stay well ahead of time (cause they weren't gonna get any cheaper), I went ahead and began the search for our Olympic holiday accommodations.

I spent weeks scouring just about every booking site I could think of... browsing hostels, hotels, airbnbs, and guest houses in the Olympic cities of Pyeongchang and Gangneung. I even looked at options in the further, but cheaper, surrounding cities.

Almost all of the accommodations I came across had one thing in common - they cost a lot for a little... all except one.

Enter Analog 76.

Analog 76 could not have been a more perfect place to stay in Gangneung, home to the Winter Olympics Coastal Cluster. Not only was it extremely close to all the action at the ice venues... it was also extremely affordable.

When it comes to affordability, the same cannot be said for most of Gangneung's surrounding hotels and guesthouses. By the time we booked, most places were either sold out or cost upwards of 200,000 won per night for a small motel room, or worse, a shared hostel dorm.

We opted to splurge a bit on Analog 201 - The Industrial Loft. This incredible, cozy space was located just a five minute drive from the ice venues, and a short walk or bike ride to the beach.

Want to read more about Analog 76's location, amenities, and other units?

Ready to book your stay?

First you'll need to sign up for airbnb. Sign up using my referral link for $40 in travel credit!

To book A201 - The Industrial Loft - click here.

E7F637CC-9DF8-49A7-A93B-91D831E44D18.JPG

MORE ACCOMMODATION SPOTLIGHTS

Meeting Mandalay, Money Mishaps, and Other Myanmar Reflections

 
mandalay small.png

When I arrived in Myanmar last spring, I was just about overcome by an irrefutable combination of feelings... I was excited... Nervous... A little bit puzzled, a whole lot mystified... and extremely hungover...

Here's a little back story.

713A23C0-6C25-485F-9DF2-BE5CC2C26D7C.JPG

The weeks prior to my arrival in Mandalay had been spent packing up my life in Korea, travelling through Hong Kong, and making my way from bustling Hanoi alllll the way down to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

The days prior had been spent quite literally raging in Bangkok.

You see, when I realized I'd need to have a stopover in the city anyway, that was the only excuse I needed to make it a little extended layover, and to visit my friend who lives there.

It should be noted that the friend I was visiting is one of my wildest university friends. We've had a couple of reunions in our Asia adventures, and they've always been epic, but nothing could have prepared me for our March and April shenanigans.

I flew in to Bangkok on St. Patrick's Day... That in itself was a good time... but, as luck would have it, there was also a music festival the next day... (which I, of course, was grooving at til the early hours of the morning... before heading to the airport to catch my flight to Mandalay).

I smile (and get a headache) just thinking about it.

It was a great weekend.... had a blast... lost all of my photos from that 40ish hours... (which I'll explain later)... but, would I do it again?? 100%.

...When I woke up the next morning, I felt justifiably horrible. So much so that I was only slightly revived by the 711 Toastie that Brad brought me in bed. For reference, these little convenience store grilled cheeses usually work hanger, hangover, and munchies miracles... but on that particular morning, it did not.

I got in a cab who proceeded to drive me to the wrong airport. When we were back on track, and I'd arrived at the correct airport, I spent the next hour running around looking for a place to print out another copy of my e-visa approval letter. 

Finally got it all sorted and made it to my flight just in the knick of time.

Sooo, yeah... that's a little backstory on my arrival to Myanmar.

*note - the glitch at the 0:09 second mark is me tripping over a rock in the temple*

 

In fairness, I knew Myanmar was going to be a bit mind bending regardless...

At the time, I hadn't known anyone else to travel there, and, therefore, had literally no clue what to expect. To be honest, I kind of liked it that way. I didn't want anyone else's experiences or perspective to influence my own - I just wanted to go and wander and take it all in.

The plane landed in Mandalay and my brain kicked in to high gear. I felt those, "I'm about to explore somewhere totally new!" butterflies in the pit of my stomach... the kind that are always accompanied by mixed feelings of excitement and fear.

I grabbed my backpacks, breezed through immigration, and then headed to find an ATM.

I am an English teacher. Math is not my thing... Numbers make my brain hurt... especially when I'm tired (and hungover)... but I thought surelyyyy I'd worked out that USD to Myanmar Kyat currency conversation properly.

You can imagine my freak out when the ATM spit out the this massive wad (and I mean WAD) of colorful, elephant clad cash. I let out an involuntary, "Shitttt," before quickly shoving the money in to my wallet as best I could. I didn't want anyone to see how much money the solo girl with the too-big backpack had just withdrawn.

I walked away thinking, "OH MY *expletive* GOD I MUST HAVE ADDED AN EXTRA *expletive* ZERO AND JUST CLEARED MY ENTIRE *expletive* U.S. ACCOUNT,"... but trying to look cool, calm, and collected, I went to sit down and put on my best, "Hey all good - nothing to see here," face.

D027973D-111F-4F39-B42E-5F8F3929374F.JPG

I tried to link up to wifi to figure out just how much *expletive* kyat I had just crammed in to my too small wallet... but there was no wifi. *Expletiveeeee* (Side note: Since thought filters apparently aren't a thing for me, I figured I'd try a bit of censorship for my mum's sake. Better, ma??) 

I didn't find a wifi connection, but I did spot a counter selling SIM cards. I went over to get one, and, by the time I'd finished, the crowd by the ATM had cleared. Trying my best to look casual, I walked back over to try to redeposit the money - (lol). As it goes, the only option was withdrawal.

After setting up my SIM card, I realized I had been stressing over nothing. One of these bills was actually worth just around US$3.

Crisis averted.

I still didn't quite feel comfortable toting around a fat wad of wash without pepper spray on me as well, but everything turned out okay.

It's all very funny now - BUT IT WAS NOT AT THE TIME. 

I bought a bus ticket, and, after waiting a bit, was on my way to Ostello Bello, the hostel where I'd be spending the next few days.

7DBFAC07-C38B-4171-8198-05786AF9985C.JPG

Side story: When deciding whether or not I'd go to the festival in Bangkok (which didn't take long), I rationalized my decision by saying, "Oh I'll just sleep on the plane and the bus and when I'm dead." I got ZERO sleep on the bus ride in to the city... as this was quite literally the bumpiest bus ride I have ever had in my entire life.

Even if it hadn't been a bumpy ride, I'm not sure I would have been able to sleep. I was  staring, wide-eyed, out the window... soaking in all of this crazy landscape that I'd never seen before. Though it was business as usual for the people of Mandalay, it was extraordinarily foreign for me.

Confused as hell by the writing on the road signs, I attempted to scope out places I'd return to in the following days.

When I finally arrived at my hostel, my hangover had passed but I was exhausted. I took a shower, had some dinner, and completely crashed. 

E0DC851E-E5D8-4C36-8EE9-34421B54FBF4.JPG

The next morning, I woke up early, ate the free (surprisingly delicious) hostel breakfast, and rented a bicycle for the day for 3,000 kyat ($2.14).

Like I said before, I had no real plans for Myanmar, so once I'd gotten my very rickety set of wheels, I just cruised around the city. This was low key terrifying because I had no clue where I was going... and because the roads of Mandalay were just as mental as most other big, Asian cities.

I was greeted with  warm hellos and "Mingalabahhhh"s from little kids on the back of motorbikes as the zoomed by. These hellos came from faces, adorned with smiles and Thanaka, that radiated nothing but good vibes... and, so, within an hour of exploring, I was at ease.

Myanmar had been (and still is) a mystery to me... but I knew I had nothing to fear here.

 Photo by Jeff sainlar

Photo by Jeff sainlar

I ended up cycling over to Mandalay Palace (into the wrong entrance), and was told by a very stern, military man that I'd need to enter through the foreigners entrance.

This Palace was actually pretty surreal. There wasn't too much to see... well, rather, there wasn't too much you were allowed to see. You had to check in, wear a visitors pass, and, as a foreigner, were not allowed to enter restricted areas... which was most of them.

I parked my bike outside the gate, as instructed, and walked straight down the road towards the palace... (which was also the only direction I was allowed to go).

After exploring the Palace Grounds a bit, I removed my shoes and wandered in to one of the many buildings, and, very quickly, all eyes in the room turned to me... before I knew it I had a cue of people waiting to take photos with and of me. Bet you can guess who my favorite was.

Later on, I met and exchanged emails with a school teacher who's class was out on a field trip, then practiced English with her students.

Photoshoots and English lessons are tiring, and at this point, I was hungry... so I cycled to the closest restaurant I could find, and brushed up on some conversational Burmese with the help of my waiter at lunch.

After getting some food, I biked/walked up Mandalay Hill, and was absolutely amazed once I reached the top.

It was sparkly and authentic and magical... and, though I'm trying, I still can't quite put that place in to words.

6D5276BE-5AAA-42A8-8BC0-355EB4015746.JPG

I again, was greeted by a group of young girls wanting to chat to all the foreigners and practice their English. Pen and paper in hand, the asked, and jotted down the answers to a million personal questions.

For each question I answered, I got a sticker... one of which stayed faithfully stuck to the back of my phone case long after I returned home.

As the sun went down, I started to walk back down Mandalay Hill to where I'd parked my bike... but then my sandal snapped... and after walking barefoot for awhile, I very willingly accepted a ride from a woman heading down on her scooter. With her baby in the front, and me on the back, she quickly whizzed me back down the hill to my bike.

So much for not accepting rides from strangers. Sorry, mum.

On my way back to my hostel, I stopped at another temple, and browsed through the world's largest book at Kuthodaw Pagoda.

I chatted with monks and locals, other travellers, and made friends with the cutest Burma pooch.Then, after returning to my hostel, as you do when you're backpacking with minimal shoe options, I duck-taped my broken sandals back together - Good as new! 

D975B5B0-3370-4C01-9590-AF0EF71CC0D3.JPG

All in all, Mandalay was a magical start to my Myanmar trip.

I had been SO nervous to come here... just because I didn't know anyone who had ever been... but, I guess that's the whole point in this travelling thing - seeing new places and meeting new people for yourself... finding out that the world isn't such a bad place, and the people in it, no matter how different they may seem, are mostly good.

If you want to learn and grow and challenge yourself, you've got to go beyond where the people you know have been before, beyond where you're been before, and out of your comfort zone entirely.

The Burmese people were so kind and helpful, I felt silly for having been so worried.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MYANMAR?

Some Days it Hits You (ep. 3)

Some days... when you're packed like a sardine on a crowded subway car, or walking down skyscraper lined streets filled with flashing neon lights... it hits you.

Toto, we are not in Pleasant Garden anymore.

21764728_10155652960818290_7027678720598135615_n.jpg

You snap out of what has become your routine, and, in a moment of shock and realization, picture exactly where you are on a map... exactly how far from home.

Some days it hits you... when the only conversation you have is in broken Konglish with the lady at the 711... that this life is pretty lonely. You miss your friends and your family and your dog, and all of the other things that can make any old place feel like home.

Some days... when you're running from one job to another, spending all night writing and editing and coding and emailing, or building pages that may never get seen... you question whether it's all worth it. You think about how far you are from reaching your goals, and you wonder if you'll ever get there.

Some days... when you see photos of family and friends celebrating birthdays, holidays, and engagements... you start to wonder if you made the right choice by leaving. You've been gone so long, that the photos hardly look like anyone's missing.

Some days... when you're surrounded by coupled off Koreans in matching outfits... you think about the two year relationship that ended on a good note, but ended nonetheless. You think about all of times since that you'd tried and failed to find someone who meant something... and you wonder if you ever will.

Some days it hits you how much everything has changed... and not just your location. You've changed... in all this wandering, you got a bit lost.

Some days... when you're in your favorite quiet, cozy, little cafe and a huge group of foreigners rolls through all laughing and having a good time... you realize how much you miss having friends around that you can count on.

Not the type of friends you can count on to be down for drinks on a Friday night... the ones who are there the days you hit rock bottom with a shoulder to cry on. Not the type of friends who use you, replace you, spread lies about you, and then dish a shallow apology email months later. Real, true, deep, and honest friendships. You really miss those.

 

Some days it hits you... that, at one point, this was exactly what you wanted. 

You look back on your childhood when you spent hours spinning a globe, marvelling at airplanes flying overhead, always dreaming of far off places... and you realize that these dreams are no longer dreams. You're living it. No, it's not as glitzy and glamorous as you imagined it'd be... but you're doing it... and you've changed in the process - good changes. You're more self-sufficient, more motivated, more bold and daring.

Some days... you meet a stranger in a hostel, a random cabbie, or a bartender... and you have a conversation that absolutely changes you and life as you knew it. No, you may not have as many solid friendships in your city as you did back home... but you have made beautiful connections and met incredible people from all over the world.

Some days... when you're in the middle of a lesson or a workday... it hits you - No, you may not love your school or management or the hours... but you love teaching, and you love these kids. You realize how lucky you are to even have this opportunity as a native English speaker.

Some days... after spending hours catching up on FaceTime with family or friends... it hits you how fortunate you are to have these loving and supportive people in your life... even though they may not be around physically.

Some days... when you're on a rooftop over the city watching life go by, taking in a sunset on an empty beach, or watching the sunrise over ancient temples... it hits you that this planet is beautiful... and you can't believe that you get to see these mind-bending, awe-inspiring, tear-jerking sights with your own two eyes.

Some days... it hits me like a freaking freight train... that this long-term expat, serial traveller, life is not as easy as I thought it'd be. But if it were easy, everyone would do it.

As with anything, you can't have your cake and eat it to... you take the good with the bad. Some days are filled with literal sunshine and rainbows and some days are mind-numbingly cold and lonely. I'm learning to accept these bad days and the negative emotions that accompany them - to allow myself to be sad or angry just as I'd be happy on my best days. To feel these emotions... but to also let them pass.

Though there's ground to be covered still in the pursuit of my wildest goals and dreams, I realize how much I've already accomplished. I picture exactly where I am on the map, and can't believe I'm actually doing the things that I dreamed about so many years ago.

It's a hard and complicated life, but it's rewarding too... and it's what we wanted.

So let's be more understanding... more supportive... and, on these bad days, let's keep it moving... always one foot in front of the other. Onwards and upwards.

Accommodation Spotlight - Lazy Days at Traders Hotel, KL

 
KL small.png
7F6DD3A9-B66E-4C4F-9C26-DF4F396ABD82.JPG
kl.jpg

LAZY DAYS AT TRADERS HOTEL, KUALA LUMPUR

Kuala Lumpur was the last stop on my back packing trip around Asia... and I guess you could say I decided to go out with a bit of a bang.

This hotel, located right beside KLCC park, boasts incredible views of the Petronas Towers. With great amenities, a central location, and a great price, for me, it was a no brainer. As if all that isn't enough, Traders Hotel is also located in the same building as one of the most famous rooftop pool bars in the city... making it even more of a no brainer...


Already sold? Ready to book your stay?

For availability and current rates at the Traders Hotel by Shangri-La click here

When you book using my affiliate links, I receive a small commission that goes towards the cost of this webpage... (and, lets be honest... future travel).


MORE ACCOMMODATION SPOTLIGHTS