abandoned places

2016 Recap - Part 5 - Friendsgiving, Korean Santa, and Champagne Showers Down Under


With November came a wicked chill in the air and the sudden realization that my time in Korea was quickly running out. Though I’d been doing a lot all year, I still had an inexhaustible list of places I wanted to go and things I wanted to see. Up until then, it had been easy to put them off and make the excuse that I’d do them later… but my time to do things later was dwindling fast. Since there were no international trips this month, I kicked crossing off the Korea bucket list into high gear.

One of the first places I went on my Seoul Searching adventure is Yongma Land, an abandoned amusement park on the outskirts of the city. It was creepy, quirky, and made for some interesting photo ops. I got there pretty early, so I had the place mostly to myself for about an hour, but, by the time I left, the park was filled with hordes of Koreans. From amateur couples with their selfie sticks to teeny models with wardrobe changes, a full blown posse of photographers, and a blaring boom-box, the influx of people and K-Pop tunes kind of ruined the creepy vibe for me. I grabbed my GoPro and called it a day.


I explored new parks in the city, marveled at the JunkHouse piece on the side of LuLuLemon in Apgujeong, and went to the Euljiro Light Way Exhibit at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. Despite my best efforts to stay ridiculously busy, as the temperature grew colder and Thanksgiving drew nearer, I couldn’t help but start to miss home. Thinking about all the turkey and mac and cheese I wasn’t going to be eating had me feeling low, so I got high and had breakfast with a view. No, not THAT kind of high… the mountain climbing kind of high.

I’ve been meaning to hike Gwanaksan for ages. I can see it from my apartment window and it’s only a short walk away… but, because of its proximity, it had always been one of those, “Oh, just do it later,” things. Finally, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I got up well before the sun and headed to the mountain. I’d been TO the mountain, but had never hiked up it. It was still pitch dark outside, so I found an ajussi who looked like he knew what he was doing, and followed close behind til the sun came up and I got my own feel for the trail.

Losing a few extra hours of sleep was well worth getting to watch the sun come up over the city. The view at the top was absolutely incredible. If you’re in Seoul, I definitely recommend checking out Gwanak Mountain. It isn’t the tallest mountain by any means, but it is a fairly easy climb and highly accessible from the SNU subway station.


The following weekend, to celebrate Friendsgiving, a couple girlfriends and I went on a winery tour and to the Daedunsan Cloud Bridge. I definitely hadn’t anticipated hiking in the snow that weekend, but, when the snow began to fall and the world turned white, the Cloud Bridge got that much cooler… literally. Though it was freezing, the snow was beautiful and refreshing, and we were like a bunch of giddy little kids...

...So giddy, in fact, that I decided to start a snowball fight with no gloves on, and I'm not convinced the phrase, “Cold hands warm heart,” was made for that day. My hands were so frozen I couldn’t properly hold or use my chopsticks at dinner, but, all in all, I am not sure there's a better way to spend a Saturday than with a post-wine tasting snowball fight on a suspension bridge. Click here to read more about our Friendsgiving day away from the city.


Another HUGE thing that happened in November was the finalization of my backpacking plans. After weeks of planning various routes, and searching one-way flights at such super human speeds that SkyScanner literally kept locking me out, and asking me to solve CAPTCHAs to prove I wasn’t a robot. I’m so pleased with the deals I was able to find and can’t wait for this two month, 8 country adventure. Shout out to Air Asia for the cheapest flights in the game. Read all about where I’m going, and when, here.



Andddddd (can I get a drum roll please), we FINALLY made it to December – The coldest, and seemingly longest, month of the year. Last December, I was twiddling my thumbs and counting down the seconds til I could get on my Christmas day flight to Thailand, but, this year, that was not the case. In an attempt to stay busy and prevent the pre-holiday away from home blues, I went into full blown Christmas elf mode... but I bit off way more than I could chew. I had SO much to do to prepare for my trip to Australia that I was actually wanting the weeks to slow down.

Pictured below: A wild Kirst in her natural Christmas decorating habitat.

I'm never at my apartment, so I decided to decorate my classroom instead. This tree was covered in ornaments and actual lights by the time I was done with it, but, first, I had to cut it and make it a bit smaller... which was tough because I was practically in tears from laughing when I realized I was literally trimming a tree. If that's not funny to you, we can't be friends.


The month FLEW by with a slew of tests, corrections, report card comments, and, for me, funky Christmas sweaters and packing. I didn’t just have to pack up enough clothes for a week… I had to go through literally everything I own and decide what I was going to sell, what I was going to send home, and what I was going to bring with me on my post-Korea trip. In addition to that I took on a rather big (given everything else I had to do) endeavor of creating a massive advent calendar and daily gifts for my Kindy kids.

It was a pretty stressful month, and I didn’t have time to get sick… so, naturally, I got sick… for two weeks. It was absolutely awful. Being a sick adult with no one to have your back or make you soup is the worst… but imagine how bad it is in a country where there is no such thing as sick days, and doctors only halfway understand what you’re saying when you finally find the time to go to them. I had been coughing so hard for so long that I literally pulled a muscle, and, when the pain in my ribs became too much to bear, I headed to the doctor for a third time. Read all about that literal nightmare here.


Thankfully, the third time was a charm, and my voice came back just in time for the last week of school before the winter holiday... and our open class. Open class happens twice a year, and is the day where all of your student’s parents sit in on a lesson. You are judged on your looks just as much as your teaching, and so I had to do my hair for the first time all month. I wasn’t nearly as nervous for it as I was the first two times. It could be because I know these parents better than I knew parents in the past… or because I’m about to leave this job anyway and have a serious case of “end of contract-itis.”

The open class went really well. The students (per usual) mocked me when I hadn’t asked them to repeat after me, and so I took that opportunity to tell their parents that a lot of the English the kids learn comes from copying what I say when I don’t want them to.

Later on in the lesson, which was about the five food groups, Jayden (my youngest, and brightest, student) provided more comedy when he shouted out some very insightful information about the protein group. He said… and I quote… “PROTEIN GIVES YOU MUSCLES BUT MISS KIRSTIE DOESN’T HAVE ANY.” Like I get it… I should probably train arms more at the gym, but geez. (Side note: After getting straight up called out by a five-year-old, I trained a little bit harder at the gym that evening).

Pictured below: Jayden also critiquing my photography skills. (Also pictured... Korean Santa Clause. He looked super uncomfortable in his beard, and the kids and I were not convinced. It took absolutely everything in me not to shout, “You're not Santa, You smell like soju and kimchi!”... which he did.)


Once open class was over, I felt like I was home free. I finished up my packing and started to get SO pumped up for Australia. Bright and early on Christmas Eve, I started pumping some tunes, headed to the airport bus, and prepared for what would, after layovers, be nearly 24 hours of travel time.


When I boarded my final flight from China to Melbourne I was so pleased to see that 1) I had a window seat, and 2) I was sharing a row with the most adorable old Chinese man. He was reading a newspaper as big as he was and greeted me with a friendly smile when I sat down. I could see that his passport was brand new, and, throughout the flight, he was visibly confused about things like how to turn on his T.V., light, and what to write on his declaration card. 

He didn't speak a lick of English, and my Mandarin (despite my attempts in Taiwan) still doesn't extend beyond hello and thank you. Through a series of hand gestures, nods, and smiles, we were able to communicate (and laugh at our hilariously failed attempts). I was able to help him sort out his T.V., light, and, somehow, what to write on his arrival card. Towards the end of the flight, he pulled some tangerines out of his bag and shared them with me. I had Christmas cards in my backpack so I discreetly wrote one for him and gave it to him after we landed... He definitely couldn't read it, but was still so tickled.

It was a pretty beautiful way to spend Christmas morning, and a nice reminder that no matter where you are in the world, no matter who you encounter, and no matter what your differences may be, you can always find common ground and share beautiful experiences with people when you open yourself up to them. Traveling on the holidays can make you forget that it’s a holiday at all, but the connection I made with this man served as a pretty good reminder of what Christmas is all about.


I went through customs, picked up my bags, and then began the (seemingly endless) wait for Bethany and Rachel’s flight to arrive. Their luggage was lost, and we had a bit of a rough start, but the days that followed would be filled with bottles of champagne, rainy bicycle rides, wedding fun, marvelling at Melbourne’s street art, eating all of the avo-toast I could handle, obligatory sister fights, ogling at Australia’s incredibly good looking men, and watching the fireworks at a rooftop bar as we said goodbye to 2016 (...and also watching my little sister mack on the Aussie boys. Side note: she was the only one of the trio to land a New Year's smooch.) - Ya heard it here first, mum ;)


Bethany is going to kill me... so I suppose I'll leave it at that for now. Full post on Decking the Halls in Oz, and all of the Aussie shenanigans coming realllll soon.


Stay tuned to hear about kangaroos on golf courses, the ferrari rides that led to all-nighters down under, and How Bethany is basically a huge lady-stud...


Did you miss something? Catch up on the previous recaps!


Escaping Seoul - The quietest, quirkiest, and quickest getaways

Life in Seoul is incredible. You can hop on the subway with no set plans and will absolutely always find something to do. The possibilities as to what you will find in this massive city are endless. Seoul is dynamic, it's fast-paced, but, to be honest, life in the city is downright hectic at times. Sometimes, this Carolina girl needs to escape the can of sardines that is Seoul to get some much needed breathing room. Thankfully, Korea’s many mountains and affordable public transportation make it easy and cheap to take a break from the city.

Here's a handful of my favorite quick escapes. They’re the quirkiest, quietest, (and creepiest) places I’ve been when I needed to take a  breather, and just cool places to go if you’re looking for something different to do.

1. Up a mountain. Any Mountain

For several reasons, this is my favorite way to escape the city. There are so many mountains and trails to choose from, so, even if you do go up the same one twice, every hike feels different. My personal favorite is Gwanaksan, which is conveniently just around the corner from my apartment. A short walk there, an hour or so hike up, and I can be at the top in time to enjoy the sun rise.

There is something about hiking to the top of a mountain that just provides a renewed sense of clarity. You're so relieved to make it to the summit that whatever problems you were stressing over before or during your climb up seem so small. If you go early enough and beat the crowd of ajummas and ajussis, it's also DEAD quiet... which is a rare find in Seoul... Not to mention the added bonuses that hiking is both a killer workout and totally free.


2. Glamping

A close second to a weekend hike is Korea’s glamorous version of camping. A couple girlfriends and I, with four bottles of champagne, face masks, and a family size container of cheese balls in tow, headed to Banu, a glamping site in Hongcheon.

With two full size beds, a loft, full kitchen, and an indoor bathroom, these “camping” pods were nicer than our apartments in Seoul. We played around in the grass in our barefoot (a luxury you will miss more than you think if you were raised in the country), roasted hot dogs over the fire pit on the deck, played with the camp site owner's puppy, and, when the mosquitos eating us alive got to be too much, went inside our trendy pod to play cards and watch old N*Sync music videos (while wearing our hilarious Shrek and Kung Fu Panda face masks).

The next morning, my friends awoke to the sound of me popping our last two bottles of champagne – (What can I say? Life is meant to be celebrated). We finished off our goods, and very reluctantly, (when the cleaning staff came knocking on our door), vacated our Banu home away from home.

If you need a quick escape from Seoul, I would highly recommend glamping. There are SO many glamping sites to choose from, but I found Banu to be really easy and convenient. It’s just an hour bus ride away, and you can book a pod on AirBnb!



3. Yongma Land

In the suburbs of north eastern Seoul lies an abandoned, supposedly haunted amusement park. The whole place and it’s run down rides had a really creepy vibe… that is up until a band of Korean models showed up with their camera men and boom boxes blasting K-pop in tow. By the time I left, the creepiest thing about the place was me – the lone foreigner, wearing all black, hanging out on all the rides and slinking about the place. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

To get to Yongma Land, go to Mangu Station and take exit 1. After walking around for a bit 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. After walking around for a bit I decided to just get a cab (and since it only costs a few bucks, it’s the most time and cost effective way to go).




4. Gonjiam Psychiactric Hospital

If you're into abandoned and/or supposedly haunted places, you should also check out Gonjiam Psychiactric Hospital in Gwangju-si. Mental illness was, and is, really taboo in Korea, so this place is really out in the middle of nowhere. There's a big gate out front that says "Do Not Enter," but we crawled under and explored the old asylum anyway. (We later discovered that we could have just walked around the gate instead of crawling under it... don't make this mistake).

Gonjiam was more interesting than creepy. There were so many rooms filled with old calendars, tables, chairs, beds, and other random personal items that had just been left behind. The walls were covered in graffiti, and several empty cans of Cass, left behind by fellow trespassers, were scattered around the various deteriorating floors. The scariest part about this place was not knowing whether or not we'd get caught here... and the funniest part was hiding and scaring a Korean couple who wandered in after us. Weird way to spend a Saturday... but a cool one nonetheless.



My time in Korea is beginning to come to an end, and, with just nine more weekends left before I leave the country, I want to cram them with as many good times and funky places as possible. What are your recommendations for a quick and quirky escape from the concrete jungle that is Seoul? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!