Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul

Ahhh, Seoul.

My home away from home, and a vastly underrated travel destination.

From endless underground shopping to incredible nightlife... a vibrant, well-preserved culture and amazing, modern architecture... this sprawling city seriously has it all. 

Turns out, it's also a photographers paradise…

In no particular order, Here are 10 urban photo spots you won’t want to miss.

Ewha Womans University

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

I was pumped when my friend Nick said he wanted to shoot here because, despite living in Seoul for years, I still hadn't been. We arrived so early on that Saturday morning that the, typically crowded, famous walkway on campus was practically empty... which made for some incredible shots.

According to google images, this is also an epic spot to shoot after the sun goes down and the buildings light up. I didn’t get a great shot of the buildings (because I only had my phone camera, and, when it comes to night photos, its shooting abilities are subpar at best). I did, however, get this cool photo of the empty cafe area.

Getting there

Head to Ehwa Womans University Station on the green (2) line. Take either exit two or three and walk straight for a few minutes. You'll run right in to the university grounds!

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld


On the southside of the Han, in an unsuspecting camera shop, is one seriously swoon-worthy spiral staircase. There's really not much to see here other than that... (unless you're in the market for some new Canon stuff), but it makes for a pretty cool "Down the Rabbit Hole"-esque shot.

If you're in Apgujeong, pop in to the CanonPlex for your next insta-post!

Getting there

Head to Apgujeong Rodeo Station on the Bundang (yellow) line and walk straight out of exit 5. The CanonPlex will be just down the road on your right!

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

Dongdaemun Design Plaza

CAN I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE... YES, YOU! If there is one place in Seoul you HAVE to go… it’s here. Seriously.

This was one of my favorite areas in the whole city since I first moved to Seoul in 2015. My friends made fun of me for loving it so much, but who could blame me!? - Look at those curves! (Side note: I also had a really adorable first date, first kiss on a butt-statue chair here, therefore, it will always hold a special place in my heart. The place, not the butt statue...).

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

Aside from its sentimental value, the DDP's futuristic architecture and design never cease to amaze and inspire. Be sure to wander inside the spaceships as well. Scotty might not beam you up, but I guarantee you'll find an exhibit, stairwell, or spacey corridor that'll make you feel like you're on another planet.

Getting there

Head to Dongdaemun History and Culture Park Station, (located on lines 2, 4, and 5), and walk out of Exit 1.

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

Blue Square

Blue Square is a culture complex with a bookstore, cafe, and even a performing arts theatre. The walls of its Book Park are lined with books from the floor to the ceiling, and the massive windows, giving this aesthetically pleasing location an even cozier feel.

There are several little nooks and lofts where you can literally sit amongst the bookshelves... so, that's exactly what I did. I got a cup of tea, pulled out my journal, and was happily stuck here waiting out a rainstorm for the rest of the afternoon.

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

Note: BYOB(ook). 

There are lots of books here, but, as I wasn't here book shopping, I'm honestly not sure if any of their books are actually in English. It isn’t uncommon to go in a book store in Korea and find fake English books on display.

Getting there

Blue Square is located at Hangangjin Station on the brown (9) line, and just outside of exit 2. Pair this with a visit to Leeum Art Museum (mentioned a bit later).

Sulwhasoo Flagship Store

This location is a spa, a boutique, lounge, and the home to what may be the most genius staircase concept I've ever seen. The metal grid alongside the outdoor stairwell seems to go on forever... and, though it actually stopped at the rooftop garden lounge, it was still awesome.

We got some really cool, minimal shots here - in most of which, I was either sticking my tongue out (or taking photos of Nick taking photos of me)... but I was such a minimal midget, you'd never be able to tell... (which is why I LOVE THIS TYPE OF PHOTOGRAPHY - as there's zero pressure on the person in the frame).

The golden metal staircase at Sulwhasoo would undoubtedly be an amazing background for portraits as well... but, unfortunately, at this point in the day, my sniffly nose was wayyyy too red and runny for that

Getting there

The Sulwhasoo Flagship Store (not to be confused with the Sulwhasoo Spa in Jamsil) is also accessible from Apgujeong Rodeo station.

Take exit 5 and walk straight along Seolleung-ro (선릉로).

When you reach the first major intersection, past the CanonPlex & Sony store, turn right on to Dosan-daero (도산대로). Turn down the third road on your right. This spot will be down the road and on the right - can't miss it!

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

Anyang Art Park

This park deserves a post of its own… because it is quite literally the most elusive park I have ever been to. The installations are scattered throughout the woods… and the signage is all in Korean… so the first time I attempted to go, I didn’t find any of them.

The second time, I found a few installations but most of them were locked… so I tried a third time… (and, surprise surprise, still didn’t find all of the installations I was looking for).

Thankfully, Seoul photographer James Lucian let me snag a few of his photos for this article!

Each installation is so unique. I love the different compositions you can make of the textures and colors.

Getting there

Gwanak is the nearest Metro Station to the art park. Like I said, it’s super tough to sort out where everything is… I’ll go into more detail in a post just for this a bit later.

In the meantime, I’ve pinned it in the map below - Pay attention to the signage when you leave the station and be prepared to walk through the woods. May the odds be ever in your favor!



Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld


Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

StarField Library

The beautiful StarField library is located in the COEX mall, Asia’s largest underground shopping center. It is well lit, aesthetically pleasing, and has the cutest little photo spot at the curve of the shelf.

Though it isn’t the quietest library in the world, it’s definitely a cool spot to check out while visiting the city.

In addition to the library, there are so many other things to see and do within this complex. There is an aquarium, clubs, hotels, restaurants, and, of course, lots of shops.

Right across the street from COEX, you’ll find the Bongeunsa Temple - one of the largest Buddhist Temples in the city.

Getting there

Take the metro to Samseong Station and take exit 5 or 6 to get to the mall!

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld


Leeum Art Museum

On my second weekend in the country, I braved the metro and headed to Itaewon to visit the Leeum Art Museum and explore the area… making this museum one of the first places I visited on my own… not just in Korea, but probably ever. Prior to moving abroad by myself, I had a group mentality, and was honestly a bit scared/nervous to go places on my own. This would be the first of many times I ventured out solo.

Unfortunately, being by yourself sometimes means missing out on epic shots like these. Thankfully, Brittany of LifeOfBrit let me borrow this shot of her in one of the Museum’s most well known exhibits.

The Leeum Art Museum has many permanent and rotating exhibits of traditional and modern art. Museum 1 showcases traditional Korean art and Museum 2 features modern and contemporary pieces.

There is an admission fee of 10,000 won, but if you are a university student with school ID, under the age of 24, or over age 65, you can get a 50% discount.

Getting there

Head to Hangangjin Station (Seoul Subway Line 6) and take exit 1. Walk straight for 100m then take a right down the first alley. Walk about 5 minutes up the hill to reach the museum.

Pair this with a trip to Blue Square (located at the same station) or a day of eating your way through Itaewon.



Seoul Botanic Park

This gorgeous Botanic Park opened in Western Seoul in October 2018… (which is a huge bummer for me because I had already left the country by then).

Like the famous Cloud Forest in Singapore, the Seoul Botanic Park has a skywalk through its upper canopy. There are currently about 3,100 kinds of plants, but their goal is to eventually have 8,000 plant species.

The architecture of the park looks gorgeous… especially in these golden hour shots by James Lucian… plus - I love plants. The best part… during their trial period, admission is free!

Getting there

Seoul Botanic Park is a short walk from exit 3 of Magongnaru Station on subway Line 9 and the Airport Express Line.  They are open from 9 am to 6 pm.

Visit their website for more information!









Ttukseom Resort Station

Okay, so I know I said the DDP was my favorite spot in the city… but that’s not entirely true. This riverside station actually takes the cake for my number 1 favorite spot in Seoul.

There are plenty of parks by the Han, but, the first year and a half that I lived in Korea, I’d ride the train 40 minutes across the city just to get to this one. Thankfully, my last apartment in Korea was just a couple stations away!

The spaceship-esque building connected to the station is actually a small library and events center, so if it’s too cold to be outside, you can go inside and still get a great river view.

This is a great spot to chill and have river beers, go biking, or just do some people watching. On weekends when the weather is nice, the lawn areas are filled with tents and blankets as friends and families picnic together (one of my favorite Korean pastimes).

Getting There

Directions for this one are easy. Take the train to Ttukseom resort station… and then you’ll be at Ttukseom resort station!

Make sure to take exit 2 or 3 so you come out of the station on the river side.





Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld


While you’re in the area, I’d recommend walking or taking the train one stop to Konkuk University station area and heading to another super trendy photo spot in the area - Common Ground.

Common Ground is a shopping and restaurant area made from shipping containers where lots of festivals and special events are held.

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld


Need a little help finding your way in Seoul? Click around my custom map to discover the best urban photo locations in and around the city.

About the Contributors

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

Nick Classen

Nick Claasen, a New Zealand born photographer based in Hong Kong, is absolutely incredible behind the camera.

During his visit to Seoul last year, we teamed up to create some minimal shots that show off just a handful of the city’s many futuristic, architectural masterpieces.

I can say without a doubt that he is one of the most creative people I've ever met and has what is easily one of my favorite urban photography accounts on Instagram


Brittany Varano

Originally from the states, Brit quit her job to move abroad and  teach English in Daegu, South Korea for two years.

She has loved spending her weekends finding the most picturesque spots in Seoul and  
practicing her photography along the way.

Brit shares all of her Korea travel tips, guides and recommendations on her blog

Follow her adventures on Instagram.


James Lucian

Originally from St. Louis, James is now lives and teaches English in South Korea. Though his interest in photography began in high school, and he majored in photography in university, James says living in Seoul really rejuvenated his desire to pick up the camera.

He bought an old camera at the Namdaemun Market and started taking pictures again.

James says that living in Seoul has given him a great canvas for photography. “The streets of Seoul are so different from home and I am constantly stimulated by them, even after three years of living here. It’s been such a pleasure to go photograph them!”

Check out his work on Instagram.

Like this article?


Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

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

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.


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.


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.


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. 


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.


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! 


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.


Burnout and Heartbreak in Siem Reap


Travel burnout is a very real thing, and, after a month of nonstop travel, it hit me like a freakin’ wave.

Things had become rocky with the person I’d travelled with in Indonesia, and I can now attest to the many horror stories I’d heard about traveling with close friends – (10 out of 10 would not recommend).

I was exhausted...

Tired of airports. Tired of living out of a backpack. Tired of not knowing when I’d be able to do laundry. Tired of not being understood... And I’ll tell ya what, this exhaustion and burnout could not possibly have come at a worse time.

Cambodia was about to rock my world.



Before visiting the country, I saw a lot of your typical, travel blogger-esque photos. You know the ones I’m talking about… Pretty girls wearing pretty dresses, and probably a sunhat of sorts, strolling through temple ruins. Based on these and these alone, Cambodia looks picture perfect.

I still wonder where people go when the only thing they have to say about Cambodia is how beautiful and amazing it is. Sure, the temples are breathtaking... And, yes, the lights and competing Top 40 tunes blaring from Pub Street’s booze carts make for a fun night out… That is, if you get drunk enough to overlook the barefoot kids begging tourists for money late in to the night.

After having been there, I’ll say this… Yes, it is a beautiful, amazing country, as rich in history as it is in heartache. The poverty and hardships still faced by much of the population were indisputably visible… and, as someone who wears my heart on my sleeve at all times, I found it hard to come to grips with this gruesome reality after witnessing it first-hand.


Here’s a little history lesson for ya...

Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, systematically killed an estimated two million Cambodians through execution, forced labor, and starvation. This (very recent) genocide resulted in the loss of a quarter of the population, including many of the country’s doctors, politicians, teachers, scientists, and anyone else who was viewed as a threat to the regime.

Families were separated, and, instead of going to school, children were put to work or trained to fight. The devastation that took place under Pol Pot in these four years has had lasting negative impacts on the Cambodian people, and millions of undetonated landmines and ordinance still litter the country today.


After reading up on the history of Cambodia, I knew it would be a tough country to visit...

...I had no idea just how tough it would be, or how much it would break my heart.

I knew I wanted to do something… anything… to give back while I was there, and, though it was only a small gesture, I opted to send my old teaching supplies to Siem Reap versus leaving them behind at my school in Seoul.

While researching reputable organizations, I read numerous articles about scams in Cambodia – Schools, orphanages, and even “non-profits” that, to put it simply, are not legit, and take advantage of tourists’ bleeding hearts. I made sure to find one that was legitimate… the Angkor Legacy Academy, located in the heart of Lolei Village, about half an hour outside of Siem Reap. After spending ₩150,000 on expedited shipping, and raising money to donate to the school’s community food program, it was finally time for me to make my way to Lolei myself.

Though I’d planned to volunteer at the academy and teach a morning English class, I woke up that particular day with a horrible stomach bug… and, if I’m being totally honest, an odd sense of anxiousness.

Cambodia was doing a number on me, and I was beginning to question whether or not the school in Lolei was like the ones I’d read about. I decided to sleep it off and headed to the school that afternoon instead.

Later that day, after shaking off whatever funk I woke up in, I hopped in a tuk-tuk with my driver Buffalo and we headed to the school. As hordes of tourists went in their vans and carts toward Angkor Wat, Buffalo and I turned down the road and headed in the opposite direction. For half an hour, we drove through absolute nothingness… empty road and empty fields for miles. Finally, we took a left onto a narrow dusty street marked with a sign for Lolei. We tuk-tuk’d along a little bit longer before stopping in front of a big, open air classroom.

As soon as the cart came to a stop in the drive, a dozen kids immediately rushed towards us. Unlike many of the other children I’d encountered on the streets of Siem Reap, they weren't asking for money or trying to sell me souvenirs. They were all politely smiling, introducing themselves, and asking my name. Two young girls reached for my hand as I got out of the tuk-tuk, and led me into the classroom. Then they spotted the big box Buffalo was carrying from the cart and their eyes lit up. The kids all crowded around, likely curious as to what was inside.

After figuring out who the teacher was, (which took a while, as she looked no more than 18 herself), I asked if I could speak to the director, Sovannarith. We’d been communicating back and forth for a month or more, and I’d called him earlier that day to let him know when I was on the way. Oddly enough, he was nowhere in sight.

The teacher gave me a confused look, (which I figured just meant I’d butchered the hell out of Sovannarith’s name), and went to get the director. The shirtless, potbellied man who walked out of a back room was most definitely NOT Sovannarith. He exchanged words with Buffalo in Khmer… and then Buffalo turned to me and said, “This is the wrong school.”



Of all the things that broke my heart in Cambodia, this damn near ripped it right out of my chest.

I apologized profusely, explained the situation, and did the only thing I knew to do. I opened the box intended for the other school, and emptied it of half its contents. The sheer gratitude for simple things like new pencils, notebooks, whiteboards, hair clips, and stickers was heartwarming... and also heartbreaking, because I wished that I could do so much more.

I said goodbye to the children, and Buffalo and I headed down the road to the other school. In the smaller, more rundown classroom, the kids gleefully went through the remaining contents in the box. Though they didn’t know the difference, I felt horrible that I’d given away half of the supplies. While they drew on their new white boards and emptied the box, I emptied my wallet. I gave Sovannarith the $100 I’d raised for his community food program, (and the rest of the US and Cambodian money in my wallet).


Just when I thought Cambodia had finished mentally and emotionally rocking my world, I had a chat with a volunteer who was teaching at the school and staying with Sovannarith’s family in the village. I told him what happened, and found out about an "orphanage" in the area.

At said orphanage, the kids were known for rushing to any volunteers who showed up in the drive. They would greet them the same way they greeted me. I put quotations on the word orphanage, because, supposedly, at this orphanage the orphans are actually kids who are bused from their homes... and their parents... to pose daily as orphans.

Like I said before, I'd done research on these types of places, and made sure to find a reputable school. Yet, as luck would have it, a fake orphanage is, possibly, exactly where I ended up.

I still have not fully processed the range of emotions I felt during my visit to Cambodia. I was in awe at the Temples of Angkor. I was happy to reunite with friends I’d met in Vietnam on Pub Street. I was heartbroken every time I gave money to kids on the street, and every time I turned them down.

That day in Lolei, I felt helpless, stupid, sad, and even a little angry. At the same time, I thought, who the hell am I to judge?

Whether or not that open air classroom, of a potentially fake orphanage, was filled with orphans or children with families, at least it gave these kids a safe place to play and to learn. If that’s their only option, or their best option, then who am I to say whether it’s right or wrong? Since I’m not sure about the legitimacy of this place, I’m really glad Bleeding Heart Kirst hadn’t given the director any money. I’d just given things that, hopefully, have been used and enjoyed by those kids… and I would do it again.


Siem Reap broke my heart... 

...and, all of a sudden, the global gallivanting I’d saved for and carefully planned for months began to feel really selfish.

I witnessed first-hand something I already knew, but that hadn’t quite yet hit home. The world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and travel isn’t as glamorous as Instagram makes it out to be.

If you’re anything like me, visiting Cambodia will be overwhelming.

Though you may feel hopeless and powerless, remember there’s always something that can be done to give back. I don’t know about you, but I’d take helping on a small scale over doing nothing any day… and, while in Siem Reap, I found a number of places and ways to do just that.

If you're planning a trip to the city, and are interested in finding out how and where to give back GET IN TOUCH.

For a better understanding of Cambodia and it's history, I highly recommend reading First They Killed My Father, a powerful memoir written by Loung Ung, a survivor of the Pol Pot regime.

Accommodation Spotlight! FireFly Villa - Ubud, Bali

Looking for a quiet escape in the magical rice fields of Ubud? Does your dream Bali vacation involve spending a night in an eco-treehouse or bamboo cottage?

If you’re anything like me, you answered yes to both of these questions – Keep reading to find out how to make your Bali travel dreams a reality.

Down a winding path in the rice fields of lush Ubud is a quiet, cozy spot that you won’t find on GoogleMaps - Firefly Villa


Firefly, a beautiful rice field hideaway, is the perfect place to stay while visiting Ubud.

Though it’s just a short walk to the city center, the property is highly secluded, and only accessible by foot or by bike.

Firefly can arrange airport transfer for you at a cost of US$30, if you give them enough notice... since it will literally be impossible to find on your own. I took my chances on snagging a cab at the airport, (and ended up paying about half that). Bali travel tip! - If you're getting a taxi from the airport, BARGAIN for a cheaper fare. In my experience, something about being a solo female traveler with a too big backpack on my back made some people think they could get one over on me.

The first taxi driver who approached me... while I was eating breakfast at the airport cafe... (and not at all soliciting a cab)... said he'd ONLY charge me 400,000 rupiahs to get to Ubud. The second cabbie I was approached by after breakfast one upped him by quoting me an "excellent flat-rate price" of FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND. 500,000 rupiahs to Ubud?! Try again, El Chapo! I stopped, looked at him, said, "You must think I'm some kind of stupid," and kept walking.

Travel hack: Even though it's frowned upon/"not allowed" in some parts of Bali, you can still download Uber to at least get an estimated price for your trip. Bargain for a ride priced a bit higher than Uber, and Wa-lah! Never get duped by rip off cabbies who don't run a meter ever again! A bit of negotiating/playing hard ball later and I found a taxi driver to take me to Ubud for 200,000.

My taxi driver looked confused as he came to a stop at the side of the road, a location given to him after calling a staff member at the villa. He turned to look at me in the backseat and asked me, yet again, “Are you sure this is the right place?” I shrugged, called the Airbnb number, and within a few minutes, a motorbike engine sputtered to a stop. A hotel staff member had parked their bike at the top of a very steep hill, and was walking down to the road to help me with my belongings.

With my big backpack on the handlebars, and my small backpack on my back, the two of us somehow kept our balance as we rode down the tiny path through the rice fields. He asked me, “Are you afraid of snakes?” as a massive lizard cut across our path, then made some comment about the beauty of staying in nature (that I only halfway heard because my eyes were peeled, and I was concentrating on the presence of snakes). I wondered, not for the first time in my life... (and also likely not the last), “WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU GOTTEN YOURSELF IN TO?”


We arrived at the property and all my worries dissipated. I'd totally stopped my attempted snake spotting because HOLY SHIT - This place was a DREAM.

Though I was early, and the Bamboo Eco Cottage wasn’t quite ready for me to check in, the manager Ketut was very warm, welcoming, and told me to make myself at home in the open air kitchen and common area.

After travelling for 39 hours straight from Myanmar, I was perfectly okay with that. I grabbed a beer, my journal, and a cozy spot on the couch overlooking the quiet rice fields.


I have nothing but good things to say about FireFly... and the best part is the affordable price.

It was so relaxing, and though there's a lot to do in Ubud, FireFly made me want to kick back and do absolutely nothing. The first day, we stayed in the Bamboo Eco Cottage, a perfect little loft with a private walkway, patio, and a beautiful view. No one was checking in the following day, so we were able to spend the morning having a delicious breakfast and relaxing in the sun on the patio with a cute Bali pooch who came to hang out with us.

For our second night at Firefly, we moved to the Birds Nest, a literal four-story bamboo, treehouse style nest with private pods that can only be accessed by using their respective wooden ladder. Each level has a double bed with a canopy, a light, and an outlet. As you can imagine, these aren't extremely spacious, but it's all the space you need (and a hell of a lot better than a hostel bunk bed).

My travel companion stayed on the second level, and, with a go big or go home mentality, I decided to stay on the fourth. The climb up is definitely not for the faint of heart, but don't worry about having to take any of your things up there with you, as lockers are provided in another common area.

When we woke up in the morning it was POURING down rain. I couldn't even be mad at Mother Nature for ruining our plans to explore Ubud, because the sound of the rain from the treehouse was absolutely incredible. It was like sleeping in the clouds, and neither I nor my friend minded pushing back our plans for the day to stay in our nests a little longer.



Despite being an open-air, eco-property, FireFly was really clean (with the exception of the bugs who, lets face it, live there). The food was delicious, and the staff was so helpful when it came to arranging activities, boat tickets, and transportation around the city. The one thing that may be a down side for some travellers visiting this property is the spotty wifi. Also, the power as a whole cut out a couple of times, but this wasn’t just a property issue, it’s a city/Bali-wide issue.

All but one of the other guests were friendly, laid back, and understanding of the fact that when you’re staying in the midst of nature, you’re not going to have aircon constantly blasting, or full bars on your cellphone. However, a deranged solo traveller, who we coined “Cali Bro,” absolutely flipped out about this… (and everything else). Despite his cursing, shouting, and promises to give them a bad Airbnb review, Ketut the manager, and the rest of the staff, handled him flawlessly. (If you do read a bad review of the property, chances are it’s him and shouldn't be taken to heart).

In addition to having a horrible attitude, Cali Bro left his stuff everywhere, blasted his shitty music for everyone to hear, and even used the food in the fridge that belonged to the property restaurant. There’s a difference between respectfully making yourself at home, and treating a shared space like it IS your home, and Cali Bro definitely did the latter. He has apparently behaved this way before, and, in an attempt to keep him from returning, was banned by the host on AirBnb. Cali Bro literally made a NEW ACCOUNT in order to stay there and wreak havoc again.

Seriously, Airbnb if there’s anything you can do about making sure that FireFly's management never has to deal with this guy again, I know they, and travellers like myself, would appreciate it (as he was the only negative aspect of my stay here). CHEERS!


I loved this place and can't wait to go back to stay in one of the many other villas on the property - (maybe one with A/C! Because, yes they have those). 

And I almost forgot - The outdoor showers and bathrooms are incredible! Whether you're trying to cool off in the heat of the day, or showering under the stars, the bathroom situation at FireFly WILL NOT disappoint.


Interested in booking a stay at FireFly?

Click here to book the Bamboo Eco-Cottage.

If you're Ballsy, Click here to book the Bird's Nest Level 4.


Visiting Ubud? Need a ride? Call Gusti!

Want to skip the hassle of haggling with cabbies, or just want to learn a thing or two about Bali? Get in touch with Gusti! Referred to us by Ketut, Gusti was one of the best people I met in Indonesia. He didn’t just take us from point A to point B, he taught me a lot about Balinese culture, customs, and was just a really nice guy.

On our last night in Ubud, he took us to a local market and bought more street meat and Balinese cakes than our two stomachs could handle - things we never would have known to get on our own. (He also explained the process of rice farming to me... and now I can FINALLY sleep soundly - Kid you not, he actually pulled the car over and picked some from a roadside field to show us where the rice comes from).

If you're also curious as to how rice happens (or if you need a ride) you can contact him at +62 (877)-6043-7705. Tell him Kirstie sent ya!

New to Airbnb? Click here to sign up and receive a discount on your first reservation (so you can rice and shine at FireFly Villa, too)! 


From Korea to Hong Kong - Tour De Asia Stop #1


Ahhhh, Hong Kong...

A long anticipated dream destination and the first stop on my, also long anticipated, backpacking journey.

After a bit of a rough start to the trip (which involved somewhat intentionally missing my Thursday evening flight for one last Hana Sushi dinner... and then squatting for the night in my empty, but unlocked, apartment), I finally arrived in Hong kong and began my two month, mini tour de Asia.


A few days earlier, I had said goodbye to my kindergarten class at graduation (which was quite possibly one of the hardest things I've ever done... Seriously though, how freakin' cute are these little monsters?!). I'd finished my job in Korea and completed a marathon around Seoul to close my bank account, sort things out at the pension office, and tie up all other loose ends.

Turns out making an international move is hard... and there were A LOT more loose ends than I thought there would be. I had been so occupied with preparing for the move and saying my goodbyes that I really didn’t plan much of anything for the first stop on my trip. I had no idea what to expect of Hong Kong, which isn't always a bad thing... but in this case, it kind of was.

For starters, (and the only real problem), was that I thought it was going to be MUCH warmer. I had only packed one pair of jeans, one light hoodie, and a couple three-quarter sleeve tops (all of which I planned to leave behind when I left for Vietnam). The rest of my, somehow filled to the brim, packs contained nothing but island wear - bikinis, shorts, tank tops, a totally unnecessary beach ball and god knows what else.

Speaking of filled to the brim backpacks... my god was it heavy. Thankfully, once I arrived in Hong Kong, finding my way from the airport to my hostel wasn't complicated. With my backpack on my back and carry-on on my front, I boarded the airport express train, and within half an hour was at Central Hong Kong Station. From there, my hostel, Check Inn was just two MRT stops and a short walk away in Wan Chai… (not to be confused with Chai Wan which is the last stop on the line and literally on the opposite side of the city. Don't make this mistake, as it'll be a time consuming one. I don’t know why cities give metro stations such similar names).

Side note: Bethany says I’m fake for having travelled with two backpacks, but with a laptop, a drone baby, and other gadgets, (not to mention copious amounts of underwear), it was not easy to pack for 2+ months of life-ing in one bag! I gave it my best effort, and, overall, did a fairly decent job of downsizing. After seeing loads of other people toting around two (sometimes three) packs, I realize it’s a thing backpackers do, and am no longer concerned with my little sister’s hating ways. ;)

Anyway, back to Hong Kong...

As soon as I touched down and got through customs, I purchased a couple essentials - my train ticket and a SIM card. I would highly recommend picking one up at the airport. I used to go to cities disconnected… as a matter of fact, I lived in Seoul on airplane mode for well over half a year. This time, knowing that my visit would be short, I decided that I didn’t want to spend it wandering around lost. Having a SIM (and an updated version of google maps - this is crucial) allowed me to find everything I was looking for fairly easily, including my hostel.


Planning a trip to Hong Kong?

On a time limit?

Keep reading for my top HK recommendations - things you'll need, places I loved, (and how to get there)!


Buy a Sim Card


Being connected in Hong Kong made my visit to the city such a breeze (once I'd updated my version of GoogleMaps). I was walking the streets so confidently that I must have looked like a local... and was asked (more than once) for directions. This is even funnier, and more ironic, given that, prior to moving to Asia, my sense of direction was literally nonexistent.

There are several prepaid SIM cards you can purchase and pay for as you go, but I went with the Discover Hong Kong SIM available at the airport. There were two options -the 5-day pass for HK$88 or the 8-day pass for HK$118. (Note: You'll need to have an unlocked phone to use any SIM card abroad).

Octopus Card


The Octopus Card is Hong Kong's equivalent of T-money in Korea and Taiwan's EasyCard. You use it to pay for everything from the train, taxis, and can even use it at convenience stores and restaurants. It was so efficient and convenient - (and saved me from having a ton of excess HK coins when I left). Just make sure you've always got it charged up! You can add money to your card at convenience stores and metro stations - and can get back whatever balance is remaining before you leave!

I was able to buy a pre-charged card at my hostel but they an also be purchased at metro stations or convenience stores. 

10,000 Buddhas Monastery


This is one of the top tourist attractions in Hong Kong, and there's no wonder why. I'd recommend it for many reasons. For one, it's free. Two, the sheer number, and variety of expressions and poses among the Buddha statues is pretty awesome. Three, it was a nice workout... (that was rewarded by a solid view of Hong Kong once I reached the top). As there are a lot of stairs, I'd recommend wearing good walking/climbing shoes.

Getting there: 

Getting there is really simple. Take the Blue line to Sha Tin Station, and the monastery is a short walk away! 

Take exit B at the station and walk down the ramp beside the bus terminus to the street. Follow Pai Tau Street around to the left. Then take the first right on Sheung Wo Che Road and walk to the end of the street. On the lefthand side of the dead end, you will see a small sign and a pathway leading to the Monastery. 

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Nan Lian Garden


Amid Hong Kong's skyscrapers lies the tranquil and perfectly landscaped Nan Lian Garden. This cute little garden was the most zen spot to stop and relax after climbing a million stairs at the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery... and before accidentally hiking a mountain. The Chi Lin Nunnery is nearby as well!

Getting there: 

Take the MRT to Diamond Hill Station and walk out of exit C2 (by the 711). Walk around the shopping centre to the left then cross the road at the first intersection on the right.At that point, you should see signs and the entrance to the garden. Hours of operation are from 7 am to 9pm and admission is free!

While you're in the area, check out Choi Hung Estate (just one stop over), too!


Lion Rock


I, very obviously, was not dressed for a hike... but nevertheless, that's how I ended up spending the greater part of a day in Hong Kong.

At the last second, after discovering not one but TWO epic hikes nearby, I decided to ditch my plans of lazy wandering and sight seeing to get a birds eye view of Hong Kong instead... and since I didn't want to waste time going all the way back to my hostel to change when I was already at the right station, I made my way up to Lion Rock in jeans and beat up converses instead.

The hardest part about this trail (if you enjoy climbing) was finding it, as there were many places that (to me) looked like possible entrances, that, in fact, were not. (May or may not have spent some time wandering around construction sites, and a bit too close to electrical towers).

The view of city from the top was well worth the climb, even on a fairly smoggy day. If you plan on doing any hike in Hong Kong, Lion Rock is definitely an epic one. 

Getting there: 

Since I had originally intended to hike Kowloon Peak, I went to Diamond Hill Station (and stopped to hang out in Nan Lian Garden for a bit before deciding to making my way to Lion Rock. You can also get there from the nearby Wong Tai Sin Station).

The walk to the trail is about 1.6 miles from the station, which I didn't mind since it was a nice day. It was also a good opportunity to see a different, less touristy part of the city. If you want to save your energy for the hike, and not worry about draining your phone battery mapping your way there, take a cheap taxi to the trail instead! 

Heads up! Bring lots of water, as there's nowhere to buy any along the trail. (For extra stair master action, do what I did and combine this hike with a visit to the 10,000 Buddha's Monastery. Let's just say my legs were burningggg by the time I got back to my hostel at the end of the day).


Instagram Pier


If you're into people watching or photography, you'll find a haven for both at the edge of Kennedy Town on the notorious Instagram Pier, otherwise known as the West District Public Cargo Depot.

Though there was a slightly concerning sign at the entrance saying to keep out, that didn't deter dozens of people, locals and tourists alike, from walking their dogs, jogging, or having full blown photoshoots around the pier... (I'm talking balloons, costumes, the whole nine yards).

Getting there:

So, truth be told, I never would have found or known about this place had it not been for an accidental tinder date I found myself on one afternoon. I had planned to just come to Kennedy Town for brunch, but, while enjoying my avo-toast, a guy I'd matched with (who apparently lived in the area) walked by and recognized me. He offered to show me around the area, I agreed, and, after riding his (pictured) one seater bike tandem style (and receiving several bewildered stares), we ended up at the pier.

You can get there from Kennedy Town Station or HKU Station (but HKU is a bit closer if you're walking). Take exit B2 and walk down Hill Road. Taking a left on to Des Veaux Road W will lead you straight to the West District Public Cargo Depot (aka Instagram Pier).

This was a really cool and colorful spot that I would definitely recommend checking out. After a big rainstorm, you'll be able to catch an epic reflection of the sky in the puddles on the pier... (and, speaking of catching things, while you're in the Kennedy Town area, head to CATCH for a delicious brunch and a refreshing mimosa or three).


Montane Mansion


If you've seen Alan Walker's Sing Me to Sleep music video, Martin Garrix's  Insta photos while visiting the city, (or really any photo of Hong Kong beyond Victoria Peak), chances are, you recognize this building. Though it's a bit off the beaten track, and not exactly on TripAdvisor's Hong Kong top 10, for me, the stacked urban architecture of Montane Mansion was my number 1 must see.

There are two different courtyards to explore, each with their own view. You must take a set of stairs on the street level to access the courtyards.

This has been the location of several photo and video shoots, and is basically an architectural photographers dream, but it's important to remember that it is, first and foremost, a residential area... so flying your drone through the courtyards probably isn't your best bet. Though I'm sure they're used to it, I felt a bit bad about hanging around snapping photos of what is home to so many people.

Getting there:

Montane Mansion is a short walk away from both Quarry Bay Station and Tai Koo Station. I went to Quarry Bay and walked out of exit B alongside King's road, (though you can also get there by heading to Tai Koo and out of exit A).


Victoria Peak


Victoria Peak, according to TripAdvisor and numerous other travel blogs, is supposedly the number one, absolute top "Must Do" thing for tourists visiting Hong Kong. Personally, I found it to be just a little bit overrated. Don't get me wrong, the view is pretty dope... but the tram line was INSANE and, due to my limited backpack wardrobe, I absolutely froze once I reached the top. For me, it just wasn't worth the money or time I spent getting there (and the line to get back down was even longer).

Getting there:

There is a trail from HKU that will take you up to the peak, but since I was in a hurry to see the sunset, I opted to splurge on the tram instead... However, I probably would have been better off walking. Since the tram line was so long, I missed the sunset by a long shot. By the time I arrived at the peak, it was well after dark. Aside from the long lines, (and freezing at the top), Victoria Peak does provide a great view of the city lit up at night.

To get to the peak lower tram terminus, go to Central Station and take Exit J2 onto Charter Road. Turn left and walk down Murray Street then continue straight down Garden Road. You will see the lower tram station located on the left. Cross over Garden Road and you're there!

Again, I found Victoria Peak to be a bit overpriced and overrated. For an equally good view of the skyline, with shorter lines and more personal space, go to the Hong Kong Observation Wheel instead... (or take a hike up to Lion Rock)!


Man Mo Temple


In the middle of bustling Central Hong Kong lies calm Man Mo Temple - a tribute to Man (the God of Literature) and Mo (the God of War). If you stick around long enough, I guarantee you will leave smelling like the many incense rings burning inside.

Getting there:

From Sheung Wan station take exit B and walk alongside Des Voeux Road Central. Turn left on to Cleverly Street then turn right and walk a few meters down Queens Road Central before taking a right on to the staircase known as Ladder Street. It took me AGES to find the temple because I was trying to walk along actual streets and sidewalks and didn't think to look for staircases. After that cross Hollywood Road to Man Mo Temple.


Star Ferry - Victoria Harbor

Though there are definitely faster and more effective ways to cross the harbor, if you're going to do it at night... you might as well do it inexpensively, and while getting a kickass view. According to local food Tinder date, who you can read about at the end of this post, it's actually the cheapest way to cross the harbor - (cheaper than the MRT or a taxi).

Whether you're going from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui, or vice versa, you'll get an awesome view of the skyline if you choose a bench that's facing the right direction. Every night at 8 PM you can catch the Festival of Lights, a big lights and music show coming from the skycrapers on the Central/Wan Chai side - (so if you happen to get the ferry at that time, be sure to choose a seat facing that direction to enjoy the show on your ride). 

I rode the Star Ferry to the Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon side, arrived in about 10 minutes, and it only cost me a few dollars on my Octopus card. Once there, you can walk along the Promenade, or browse the shops on Nathan Road.

Getting there:

To get to the Central Star Ferry pier, head to either Hong Kong station (exit A2) or Central Station (exit A). If you're taking the ferry to the central side, you'll find the Star Ferry Pier by going to Tsim Sha Tsui station (exit 6).

Prices will vary depending on whether it's a weekday, weekend, or holiday, but (at the time of this post) the Star Ferry runs daily from 7:20 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.


Choi Hung Estate


Colorful Choi Hung Estate is one of Hong Kong's oldest public housing estates and the home of the infamous rainbow basketball court. If you follow travel Insta-accounts or photographers abroad, chances are you've seen this multi-colored court. I've seen photos of it so many times that I knew I had to make the trip to see it myself... The only problem was that the photos I'd seen never had the location tagged. THANKFULLY, I ended up on an accidental tinder with a ginger fella who we'll call Ron Weasley. (If you're wandering how dates happen accidentally... be sure to read til' the end).

Weasley was an artsy photo dude and told me which subway station to head to if I wanted to find the court. Despite Ron's (somewhat vague, but decent) directions, I still spent a good 20 minutes wandering around the estate looking for the basketball court. All of the buildings have the same happy rainbow color scheme, but, like I said, I wanted to find THE basketball court... and FINALLY, I did.

Just in case you're ever looking for this iconic spot, here's a tip to save you the aimless moseying - LOOK UP! If you're looking for the basketball court on ground level, you'll never find it because the basketball court is actually on top of a parking deck (which is really near subway station exit and entrance to the complex... so if you wander in amongst the buildings like I did, you've gone too far).

As you can imagine, this place becomes a photographer/Instagrammers playground later in the day, but when I went just after sunrise it was just filled with local old timers walking laps, watering the plants growing in the garden, or (as pictured) doing aerobics.

Getting there:

To get to Choi Hung Estate head to the subway station of the same name (easy, right?) When you arrive take exit C3 or C4 and head to the parking deck! Take the stairs and you're there. I'd recommend going early when there are locals and it's not just a photo-shoot frenzy.


Tai O Fishing Village


At the far west side of Lantau Island you'll find Tai O, a small fishing village, and one of my favorite places I visited in Hong Kong. Coming from Seoul, I was damn near sick of cities, so it was really cool to get out of the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle to this small, quiet (albeit still a bit touristy) fishing village.

Also... try the Donuts in Tai O  - Delicious and worth the wait if there is one.

If you're going to make the trip to Lantau Island to visit the fishing village, you might as well make a day of it and go to Ngong Ping Village and the Big Buddha as well. Located not far from Tung Choi station, it's kind of on the way to Tai O and will help break up the journey a bit. The Po Lin Monastery is also by the Big Buddha, and is definitely worth seeing if you're in the area.

Getting there:

To get to Ngong Ping, first take the train to Tung Chung Station at the western end of the orange line. Once you arrive, walk out of exit B around the corner (to the right) and across the street to the Tung Chung Bus Terminus. Bus number 23 will take you to Ngong Ping and the Big Buddha. The Po Lin Monastery is also there and definitely worth checking out (check the first map below for a pin)!

From the Big Buddha, you can take bus number 21 to Tai O Fishing Village. (Bus 11 Will take you from Tai O back to Tung Chung).

If you want to visit Tai O first (map 2), take bus 11 from Tung Chung and then Bus 21 to the Big Buddha in Ngong Ping Village. Bus 23 will take you back to Tung Chung - or you can catch the cable car from Ngong Ping if it's running (which it unfortunately wasn't when I was there).


I hope this information proves to be useful, and that you enjoyed reading about my (mis)adventures in Hong Kong.

Where is your favorite spot in the city? Let me know in the comments below - as I will definitely be returning and would love suggestions from locals or fellow travellers!


All of the directions provided are up to date as of May 2017, BUT if you find an error or change that should be made, (in bus numbers, station names, etc.) drop me a note in the comments section and I'll update it!

Also, I frequently take the scenic route, so if you know of a faster way to get to any of these places, let me know!


Check out the Hong Kong recap below

and subscribe to HallAroundtheWorld on Youtube.



From Carolina to Kimchi - The 7 Most Culturally Shocking Things About Living in Korea

Last March, I took a TEFL course to prepare for teaching abroad in Korea. Day one of the course was all about culture shock, and, though I consider myself to be a fairly well-rounded, cultured individual, I quickly realized that I’d never actually experienced culture shock. Despite having traveled abroad numerous times, I was always either with family or in a comfortable, familiar place.

Now, I’ve been living on my own in Asia for nearly a year. Though I’ve adjusted to life here, and settled into somewhat of a routine, I still experience culture shock on a regular basis. Here are, what I consider to be, seven of the most culturally shocking things about living in Korea.

1. Squat Toilets


There are few things worse than desperately having to pee at the end of a long flight. The plane is descending for a good half hour, and the "fasten seat belt" sign is on the entire time. So as to not be scolded by a flight attendant on the descent into Dubai (where I had a layover before flying to Korea), I opted to hold it.

By the time the plane landed and taxied in, I REALLY had to go. I was hoping for a quick walk up to the airport… (And that I’d be find a toilet even more quickly). After the seemingly endless descent (and the bus ride to the airport terminal), I found a toilet alright. It was a hole… in the ground - my very first squat toilet experience, and my first time REALLY being shocked culturally. I was so shocked, in fact, (and had to pee so badly) that I let out an involuntary “Whaaaaaat?!” and nearly peed my pants. To make matters worse, I was still following America's TSA regulations and had brought all of my luggage into the stall with me.

It's a good thing that I was exposed to squat toilets early on, because they're quite literally everywhere. On that note, I quickly discovered that culture shock is a very real thing.

2. Shower Bathrooms

Shock number two is also bathroom related. Since I was expecting it, my shower bathroom wasn’t so much a shock as it was an odd and difficult thing to adjust to. When my recruiter sent photos of my apartment, I noticed something that looked like a hose attached to the sink in the pictures of the bathroom. After speaking to some friends who had taught in Korea, I discovered that, no, I was not seeing things, and that, yes, for the next year, I would in fact be using a shower bathroom.

Some of you may be thinking, “Shower bathroom? What’s she on about??” Well, it’s a fitting name because there’s no tub, and the whole bathroom IS the shower. Basically, a knob on the faucet determines whether the water comes out of the sink or the shower head. Typically, I turn the knob back to sink mode immediately after showering (so as to avoid any disasters), but there have been several times that I’ve gotten totally ready to leave home and turned the sink on to brush my teeth… only to get completely soaked by the shower head. This sucks especially hard for someone like me who takes ages to decide what to wear.

At first the whole shower bathroom thing was SUPER weird, but now I kind of love it. There is so much more room for activities, it’s easier to drink wine in the shower, and my bathroom is always clean. Aside from the occasional surprise showers, the whole "Shower Bathroom" thing has kind of grown on me. 

3. Living in the Future

With an incredibly Massive Time Difference 

Blurry Face-time capture of sisters and friends still ringing in the New Year in the States, (featuring a very happy, but hungover, me on New Years Day in Thailand).

Blurry Face-time capture of sisters and friends still ringing in the New Year in the States, (featuring a very happy, but hungover, me on New Years Day in Thailand).

I thought I’d suffered jet lag on my trips to visit family in Europe, but it was NOTHING compared to what I experienced moving to Seoul. The 13 hour time difference was so tough to adjust to. Thankfully, because I’d spent two weeks in Ireland, my body had already jumped five hours ahead.

In the beginning of my year in Korea, I’d always want to stay up late to talk to people at home. However, I quickly realized that 9 a.m. comes quickly, and that late nights chatting with friends at home were followed by unproductive and exhausted days of teaching.

Drunk texting of any sort is even more highly frowned upon than usual. Whenever I’ve had a bit of soju, everyone back home is just beginning their day. It’s also super weird Face-timing or calling people back home while they’re out partying on a Friday night and I’m suffering a wicked Saturday morning hangover.



4. Korea Knows How to Party

Speaking of hangovers, NOTHING could have prepared me for Korea's drinking culture. There are no open container laws, so you can drink on the street, by the river, in a cab, on the train, at your local 711 - literally anywhere. The bar scene is fun, but my favorite place to drink (aside from the river) is a convenience store. It’s cheap, there are dozens to choose from within a half-mile radius, and they never close.

Soju, Korea’s signature drink, is both delicious and dangerous. They drink it straight… They add shots of it to cider… They mix entire bottles into pitchers of beer. It goes down like juice, but is essentially watered down vodka. I have fallen down many a staircase because of this deceptively easy drink.

Casually slicing limes and making tequila cocktails on the train. Illegal? No. Slightly frowned upon? Probably.

Casually slicing limes and making tequila cocktails on the train. Illegal? No. Slightly frowned upon? Probably.

My first staff dinner was basically a marathon of Korean BBQ and drinking games where the loser, or sometimes winner, drinks (you guessed it) soju shots. Said staff dinner ended with my phone taking a swim in the toilet, a wicked hangover, and a solid two weeks of being phoneless to follow.

Staff dinner number two involved less soju consumption on my behalf, but our Vice Director did buy us a bottle of tequila at the bar.



5. Personal Space? What's Personal Space?

Public transportation here is absolutely fantastic. It’s fast, cheap, extremely convenient, and, for these reasons, always busy. While the metro system is amazing, I will never NOT dislike feeling like I’m in a pack of sardines. When it comes to being uncomfortably up close and personal with strangers on the train, the golden rule is, “It’s not awkward unless you make it awkward.”

... But it’s not just the subway. In Seoul, the sidewalks are constantly teeming with people. Rainy days are the worst because the city turns into an umbrella war zone... though, I must say, the ahjummas, (old Korean ladies), are quite violent with their Sunbrellas on nice days as well.

To be fair, this country is TINY in comparison to it's massive population. Personal space can't really exist with so many people existing in such close quarters. I must say, I’ve become quite a master at bobbing and weaving my way through the crowds.


6. Couples Outfits

Though this photo was taken at Ultra Korea, seeing couples in identical outfits is not something reserved for music festivals. In fact, it isn't a rare occurrence at all. For Korean couples, twinning is not a mistake, it is the norm. It is carefully planned, calculated, and, to me, wildly comical.

I’ve seen some couples go so far with their clothing coordination that they even wear identical socks. I can only assume that the rest of their undergarments match, too (as, according to the mannequins at lingerie shops, this is also a thing).



7. I Actually Really Don't Mind Culture Shock

The term "Culture Shock" tends to have a very negative connotation, but, the truth is, after the initial mega-shock died down, I grew to enjoy the little daily shocks... (aside from the surprise showers - those definitely still suck).

There is nothing wrong or right about the things I've found shocking while living in Asia... they're all just different from what I was used to. It's almost as if I've had some sort of awakening - like I'm either seeing things with a new pair of eyes, or just truly seeing the world for the first time.

I will never not be a Carolina girl, but life in my small town North Carolina had started to feel like a habit. Everyday, I would go to jobs I had been working for so long that I could do them with my eyes closed. Had I stayed, I would have lost my mind. Here, life is different- It's interesting, it's stimulating, and, most importantly, it can be downright challenging. I had become entirely too comfortable at home, so these new challenges are totally welcome. 

Though the big city life can take a toll on my s(e)oul, (pun intended), it's nothing a hike up the nearest mountain can't fix. I am loving both this beautiful country and it's vibrant culture, so much so that I'm extending my contract for another six months. I've grown to appreciate the feeling of pure lost-ness that, these days, I experience the majority of the time... for, in every new thing I see, and each new place I discover, it feels like I find another little piece of myself.