Asia

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

CanonPlex

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!

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

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
PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY BRITTANY VARANO

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY BRITTANY VARANO


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.

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY BRITTANY VARANO

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY BRITTANY VARANO


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!

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN


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.

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

BONUS PHOTO SPOT

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

MAP

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


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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 LifeofBrit.com.

Follow her adventures on Instagram.


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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.


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

The Most Delicious Meal in Hoi An... (under $2)

If there’s one thing that keeps me dreaming about Vietnam (aside from the beaches and the people and the general laid back way of life)… it’s the food.

Vietnamese food is fresh, flavorful… and, best of all, it’s cheap.

This summer, while visiting Hoi An, I ate my way through the city in an attempt to find the best places to grub. I was surprised to discover an up and coming Western style Brunch scene… and was unsurprised by the associated Western style prices.

Click here for: 7 Budget Friendly Brunch Spots in Hoi An

I’m a big fan of brunch… however, as tempting as it might be to eat those comfort foods, I stronglyyyyy suggest you try to eat locally whenever possible instead.

The BEST meal I had in Hoi An, in terms of taste, affordability and ambience (because, yes, that is a thing) was at a little family run tea house called Mot Hoi An.

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If you’re walking down Tran Phu Street, you might notice the Mot’s adorable shop front… or you might not… because during opening hours it’ll likely be blocked by a huge line of customers.

Mot’s attracts loads of drive by visitors each day with their delicious (and very photo-worthy) take-away herbal teas.

This signature tea is made from a blend of herbs which can be seen displayed in ceramic bowls at the store front - cinnamon, lemongrass, honeysuckle, and lime, with a lotus petal added as a decorative touch.

It is the perfect refreshment on a hot day, and will only cost you 10,000 VND, (roughly 43 cents). However, as delicious as it is, this tea does have one very obvious downside… its single use straw and the plastic cup that it’s served in.

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Though it might be tempting to grab one on the go, I suggest you go inside and grab a bite to eat, too… that is, if you can find a seat. There are only about half a dozen tables inside the cozy restaurant, but if you can get one, it’s so worth it. (Plus, maybe as Hoi An continues to get rid of single use plastics, Mots will provide reusable cups for its dine-in customers).

I decided to have the Cau Lao, a Hoi An specialty, a herbal tea - and the whole meal only cost me 45,000VND. That’s about US$1.50! As far as Old Town restaurants go, that is a steal… and it tasted ohhhh so good!

Mot’s has a wide variety of other options on their menu like curry noodles, wonton soup, and (of course) pho. For or all you vegan/vegetarian travellers, they also offer meat-free options. Overall, their prices are incredibly affordable, with the most expensive dish ringing in at just over US$1.

Mot’s offers great food at a Great price (in a great location). It’s a win, win really.

Do yourself a favor and skip the flashy waterfront restaurants of the Old Town. Head to Mots Tea House on Tran Phu Street instead! This family run joint is a cozy, delicious, and affordable spot that you' won’t want to miss.

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Have you been to Mots? What’d you think?

Let me know in the comments below!


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Top 9 Hoi An Photo Spots

From its beaches and lush rice fields to the lantern lined streets of the Old Town, all of Hoi An is just screaming to have its photo taken… And everyone knows it. To be honest, the selfie sticks and posing tourists are actually my least favorite part about Hoi An… but who can blame em - the town is flippin’ adorable.

Here are some of the top photo spots in Hoi An and a map to help get you there!


 
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COCONUT BEACH

Depending on when you go, you’ll likely find more bamboo boats than tourists on this quiet beach. This not only makes Coconut Beach a great spot for some very insta-worthy sunrise and sunset shots, but also my favorite spot for beach hangs in Hoi An… Easily! More on that here.

Once you get your shot, be sure to stick around! - Put your cameras away and enjoy.

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RICE FIELDS

Aside from lounging on the beach, another thing I loved to do in Hoi An was starting my day with a morning run, or taking the scenic route to town through the city’s lush, green, rice fields. Though it was my second time visiting Hoi An, the beautiful landscape still blew me away.

To the locals, I probably looked ridiculous stopping every few meters and snapping away - but I mean… come on… the rice fields green and beautiful and unlike any of the (many) fields we have in North Carolina.

Though there are plenty of rice fields to choose from around Hoi An, my favorite spot for photos was behind Hub Hoi An - (a co-working space that is also very insta-worthy and worth checking out if you’re looking for a cozy spot with good WiFi to get some work done).

I recommend getting up early and heading there for sunrise. At this time, the roads are (more or less) quiet and the lighting is still soft.

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OLD QUARTER

For the most part, all of Hoi An is photogenic, but, with its bright walls and lively streets, Old Town stands apart from the rest.

I loved capturing the buzz of the area, but if you want one of those quiet “wow I’m the only one here” shots for your insta feed, you’re gonna either have to get creative… or get up at the crack of dawn.

Here are a few of my favorite old town shots. The particularly colorful, (and oddly quiet) spot pictured below is located just around the corner from the Japanese Covered Bridge (by Rosie’s Cafe - one of my favorite spots in the city to grab a bite).

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Pro Tip: Hoi An is hot… if you’re out taking photos, at some point, you’re going to need to stop for a drink. As tempting as it may be to down yet another Vietnamese coffee, cooling down with a delicious herbal tea from Mots Tea House is a tasty alternative.

Mots is a cute little family run restaurant that also serves up local favorites like Cao Lau and Pho. Their signature herbal teas are as refreshing as they are cute… If only they’d get rid of the plastic cups and straws, then these teas would be perfect.

More on Mot’s famous herbal tea and their other affordable menu offerings here!

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TEMPLES

Just like rice fields, there is no shortage of temples to explore around Hoi An.

We really enjoyed Chùa Long Tuyền, a Buddhist temple located just around the corner from one of our Homestays. It’s a bit off the beaten track and away from the Old Town… which we didn’t mind at all - this meant it was totally empty.

It’s a great spot to stop and snag some photos, but make sure you’re dressed appropriately (which I unfortunately was not in some of these pictures).

When visiting temples, you should always make sure that your shoulders are always covered. Vietnam is HOT, and I, having not planned for a stop at the temple, made the rookie mistake of wearing a tank top. Learn from my mistakes and either go in a top with sleeves or bring a scarf with you to cover up!

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HOI AN CENTRAL MARKET

If you go to Hoi An and don’t go to the Central Market, you’re doing yourself a massive disservice. If you do plan to go, prepare for sensory overload. This lively market is a great place for snapping photos, grabbing a bite to eat, or just people watching.

I recommend heading here early for a traditional Phở brekky. Early as in, before the cooking school tours roll through… not that there’s anything wrong with being a part of a cooking school tour! I’ve done a couple in Hoi An and really enjoyed them, however, I just suggest you explore the market on your own, too!

Pro tip: look out for bikes and scooters on the side streets surrounding the market.

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CAM THANH VILLAGE

Taking a bamboo boat ride through the water coconut palms forest is also a must while visiting Hoi An. It’s such a fun experience, not to mention an awesome photo opp.

Kill two birds with one stone and book a cooking class with Hoi An Eco Cooking Class. They begin the class with a tour of the Central market, a bamboo boat ride, and then an awesome cooking experience.

If you’re lucky, you might get to see how the pro bamboo boaters have fun on the water. (Hint - there’s lots of spinning involved).

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“Hoi An Vibes Only” Mural

Sunday in Hoi An is an adorable shop that sells everything from housewares and gifts to clothes and accessories. Their products are made from natural materials by artisans in Vietnam and throughout Southeast Asia.

It isn’t uncommon to come here and see a line of people waiting to take a photo with the mural, but my advice is to actually take a look around. If you’re anything like me, I guarantee you’ll want one of everything. So, in that case, maybe put your blinders on and don’t look around…

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I practiced self control and settled for two things - an adorable two piece jump suit and a wooden phone case. The were both a bit pricey by Vietnam standards, but both worthwhile purchases. I wore the jumpsuit for the rest of the trip, and the phone case saved my phone from getting destroyed when it fell out of my pocket while riding the scooter.

Pro Tip: There are actually two Sunday in Hoi An locations in the old town, but only one where you can get this shot of the mural. Be sure to head to the location on Trần Phú.

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MURAL VILLAGE

If you liked that last mural, you’re gonna love this photo hot spot - an entire mural village.

The Tam Thanh Mural Village was a joint project between the Vietnamese Peoples Committee of Quang Nam Province and the Korean Community Art Exchange Program. Over a dozen Vietnamese and Korean artists painted over 100 murals around the community.

The project aimed to create art for a better community and to bring more tourists to the area. So far, it has been a massive success and has even inspired other similar projects to spring up in the area… more on that soon.

Though it’s not technically in Hoi An, the Mural Village is just a short day trip away and well worth a visit if you’re a fan of street art. It lies alongside a beautiful beach which was totally deserted when we visited… making it a pretty surreal spot for photos as well.

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Pro Tip: Though the entrance to the mural village is just beside the market, the murals actually begin much further down the street.

If you’re coming here by car, I’d recommend getting dropped off a bit closer to save yourself a sweltering walk.


CHAM ISLAND

Cham Island, located about 9 miles off the shore of Hoi An, is another picturesque location for photos. However, not during peak tourist visiting hours… which is basically all day.

The best way to snap a decent shot (and to have a good island experience) is to stay overnight. By around 3 or 4pm, most tour groups leave for the day… and then Cham island is basically deserted.

We camped out on Cham Island and had the best time playing some footy with one of the local kids on the island, getting to know fellow travelers around a campfire, and sleeping in a tent by the sea.

The good thing about booking a tour and camping out overnight is that most tours also include your choice of diving or snorkeling! Read more about our trip to Cham Island here.

Cham Island
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Map

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

Have you been to Hoi An?

Where did you take your favorite shot? Let me know in the comments below!


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The Most Hands-On Cooking Experience in Hoi An - Hoi An Eco Cooking Class

While visiting Hoi An, or Vietnam in general, it would be silly to miss out on taking a cooking class. With so many to choose from, you may be wondering where to begin.

During my first trip to Hoi An, I spent a day at Green Bamboo Cooking School. This time, I wanted to try something different, so Andrew and I decided to go to the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class. It shared some similarities with Green Bamboo Cooking school, but overall I think it gives guests a more hands-on cooking experience.

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WHAT TO EXPECT

Visiting The Market

Like my previous cooking class experience, the Hoi An Eco Cooking class begins with a trip to the Central Market. Here you’ll see the colorful lively market where many locals buy and sell their produce and other goods. If you’re a first timer at the market, it’s nice to go with a guide who can teach you a bit about the market and products sold there.

(Tip: Once you’ve been given the inside scoop, be sure to head to the Central Market on your own, and do it early! - before the parade of tourists comes through. You’ll see what I mean).

Bamboo Boating

After visiting the market, we drove to the cooking school which was conveniently located right beside the water in Cam Thanh Coconut Village.

Before the cooking begins, you’ll take a ride in a traditional coracle, better known as a bamboo boat, through the beautiful water coconut palm forest.

The local fisherman guiding your boat will teach you how to catch fish and purple crabs. He also attempted, with no success, to teach me how to properly paddle the boat… let’s just say I’ve been skipping arm day at the gym for way too long.

Hands-on Cooking Experience

After exploring the channels, you’ll return to the cooking school for quick refreshments. Then you’ll get down to business. You’ll be given an apron, a number, a chef’s hat, and full responsibility for everything you cook from then on. Everything we were to eat we had to make totally on our own, so if your cooking sucks, your food will suck… the head instructor’s words… not mine. No pressure.

We learned how to make rice milk, which we then used to carefully make rice paper. The whole process was so delicate and precise. We used our rice paper to make fresh spring rolls, which we dipped in a delicious sweet and sour fish sauce.

We cooked some of Vietnam’s famous Pho Bo (beef noodles), Aubergine with soy sauce, and a delicious banana flower salad. Then things got hot as we played with fire to fry up some Banh Xeo (crispy pancakes).

As each dish was finished, we placed it on a tray with our number, and, once everything was complete, sat down to a delicious and rewarding feast.

To end the day, everyone watched an incredible food art demonstration! Sadly, I didn’t manage to turn tomatoes into roses and carrots into flowers on my own. We were given special cooking tools, a mini cook book, and serious food comas to take home with us!


WHAT I LOVED

Unlike the Green Bamboo Cooking School, where each guest chose and prepared a single dish (but got to try a bit of everything), at the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class you prepare everything you eat on your own. Though it was a bit more fast-paced, I really enjoyed getting to learn more about each food and how it is made.

(Note: Since you were only responsible for preparing one dish at the Green Bamboo Cooking School, there was more time to relax and chat with the other travellers. If you’re looking for a more laid back experience, this may be a better choice for you).

I for one felt proud when I successfully prepared all of the dishes on my own… and even more proud when they actually tasted good. I also really enjoyed the Bamboo Boat ride - This was something Andrew and I wanted to do anyway, so it was great to get that experience and a cooking class all in one!

This class is also great for those with dietary restrictions. Even the vegetarians in the group were able to cook veggie-friendly versions of each dish (which is something you definitely won’t get at every cooking school)!

If a fun, hands on experience is what you’re after, then the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class is the perfect choice for you.

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BOOKING

To request a spot at in the class, head to hoianecocookingclass.com.

Note: I was a guest of the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class, however, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own.


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Beach Camping on Cham Island - When to Go & What to Expect

The big cities of Vietnam can be a bit overwhelming… and Hoi An is no exception.

I love its lantern lit streets, cozy cafes, and endless tailor shops… but if you plan on spending more than a week there, you may find that you need a little break from the incessant horn honking and selfie stick filled streets of the old town.

Thankfully, there’s an island escape a short boat ride away - Cham Island.

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what is cham island?

“Cham Island,” is actually a cluster of eight small islands just eight miles off Hoi An’s coast… but only one is inhabited. This island is said to be the perfect getaway for anyone wanting to get out of the city for a bit… and after a couple weeks in Hoi An that’s exactly what we needed.

We booked our trip to Cham Island with ALO Travel Asia, a company which offers a number of tours and excursions in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. Our booking included roundtrip hotel and boat transfer to and from Cham Island, snorkeling, all meals, and an overnight stay in a little tent on Bai Chong beach.

What to expect

At 8am the day of our trip, we and a bus full of other travellers were picked up and driven to Cua Dia pier. From there we boarded a double decker boat with Cham Island Divers and began to make our way to the islands.

The boat stopped twice along the way for snorkeling, diving, and free time to swim and jump off the boat. This was the first time I had gone snorkeling since I was a kid… and I must say, I was pretty horrible at first. Andrew got a huge laugh as I kept going too far under with my snorkel on and ending up with a mouth full of water. It also didn’t help that my first pair of flippers were WAY too big. Anyway, once I got my mask/flippers/general technique sorted, we both had a really great time.

At around 1pm we arrived at Cham Island and had lunch on Bai Chong beach. The beach was already filled with other tourists at that point, so, after lunch, we grabbed a beer and a hammock under the palm trees.

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An hour or so later, the tourists boarded their boats back to Hoi An and the only foreigners left on the beach were six French girls, Andrew, and myself. It was then that we really got to enjoy this quiet island getaway.

We went swimming, relaxed on the beach, and Andrew had a mini game of football with a young local boy. Though he hardly spoke any English, he and Andrew got by with hand signs, smiles, and laughs. I’ve always known a smile to be universal, but now I’m fairly certain that football must be too.

After awhile, the boy proudly proclaimed, “My name Thuy. Who you!?” - and then laughed hysterically when he found out our names.

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Soon, it was time for dinner. We joined the French girls in the little island restaurant for beers, freshly cooked fish, delicious tofu, rice, spaghetti and tropical fruit for dessert - an interesting combination, and quite a feast considering. We tried to order cocktails from the “bar” but they had already stopped serving liquor. Instead, they gave us a cooler filled with beers, and charged us for what we drank the next day.

Surrounded by the island pups, we spent the rest of the evening around a bonfire, (which Andrew proudly kept stoked). We drank as many of our cooler beers as we could, and played a really fun game called FishBowl - I had never heard of it before but would 100% recommend. We chatted about life, politics, and got to bed fairly early since we had to be up early for breakfast and more activities the following day.

We woke up to one, two, then three guard pups outside our tent, ate breakfast, and then headed back out onto the water.

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Typically, when you book through ALO Travel, day two of this trip just includes a free day on the island, lunch, and your boat transfer back to Hoi An. The staff at Cham Island Divers were kind enough to pick us up that morning for another day of snorkeling and cruising on their double decker boat.

After that, we came back to the island for lunch - (unsurprisingly, the same lunch as the day before), and, I have to say, I was absolutely appalled…

wait, what happened…?

Everything was going great… the staff and people on the island were welcoming and hospitable… the food was good… the water was cold… but the beach, which just a few hours before had been for the most part clean, was filled (and I mean FILLED) with garbage… and I don’t just mean trash the tide had brought in.

Surrounding the lounge chairs and hammocks… and, in general, all across the beach there were bottles and bags and pieces of plastic that were so small they weren’t much of an eyesore… You might not even notice them… until they ended up in the stomach of a fish who’d go belly up and wash up on the shore. And yes, we did also see a dead fish… with a very swollen belly.

Like most of us, I’d seen lots of pictures and videos on the internet of beaches hidden under a layer of plastic… until that day, I’d never seen anything like that with my own eyes.

Though I couldn’t believe this was the same beach where we’d spent the most perfect night, I was more shocked that that none of the other tourists on the beach seemed to be doing anything about it.

While Andrew and I lugged hand-full after hand-full of trash to and from the island’s bins, all the other tourists that I could see just sat and watched… or didn’t watch… maybe they didn’t care. (Plastic not pictured because, like I said, we were busy trying to pick it up.)*

I get it. People want to go to a beautiful beach… they want to enjoy their time… to relax… to have someone else clean up after them. Maybe there should have been more bins… maybe there should have been less tourists… Or maybe everyone needed to start caring a little bit more.

The fact is, if we don’t get our shit together, there won’t be anymore pretty little islands with crystal blue waters to lounge around on.

Fortunately, the first step to solving a problem is noticing that their is one… and thankfully that process has already begun.

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What is being done?

Plastic pollution is a huge problem everywhere, not just Cham Island… The island is just the first place where the severity of the problem really hit me like a slap in the face.

I spoke with Deano, one of the boat captains at Cham Island Divers, and he gave me some reassuring information about what the government and Cham Island Divers are doing to address the waste issue we witnessed on the island.

Across Vietnam, plastic bag usage has been the focus of many recent government campaigns. Additionally, Danang, one of Vietnam’s largest cities located just a short drive away from Hoi An, is launching a new campaign against single use plastics specifically. These single use items make up a majority of the rubbish we found on the beach.

On Cham Island, plastic bottles, mainly water bottles, remain a huge issue. The waste on the island, which, as you can imagine, is much worse during peak tourist season, is tidied twice daily by locals employed by the Marine Park Authority (MPA).

Cham Island Divers also works with the MPA and other local authorities to implement strategies and practices to help the people of Cham Island protect their beautiful home. On a daily basis during their dive and snorkeling sessions, the instructors do their part in cleaning up the ocean floor… all while keeping their customers educated and ensuring they have a great time.

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What can I do?

Well, it’s simple really…

You don’t want people coming and trashing your home… so don’t trash someone else’s.

If you’re planning to visit Cham Island be aware and be conscious… Aware of the plastic pollution problem the island faces and conscious of how you yourself are contributing to it. Make an effort to minimize the waste you are producing and to clean up the litter that’s already there.

I think people today are becoming so much more conscious… of the foods they eat, the clothes they wear, the products they consume, and the waste they create… the fact that you’re even still reading this post proves that.

Campaigns like plastic free week and Jackson Grove’s Adventure Bag initiative are a huge step in the right direction… but it’s a step we need to take together, and a step we need to take often.

While visiting Cham Island, lead your own adventure bag clean up with travel companions, or clean up what you can solo.


When should I go?

The best time to visit Cham Islands is from March to September, but, if you are planning on diving during your trip, it is recommended that you visit between June and August.

I’ve reached out to Cham Island Divers to ask if they are leading any upcoming island cleanups. I will update that info here as I get it - because that would obviously be a pretty great time to go, too!


Booking

I would highly recommend booking a trip to Cham Island through a dive school or tour company versus trying to plan a trip on your own, especially if you want to camp out overnight.

You can book your overnight trip through ALO Travel Asia like we did here, or book directly through Cham Island Divers here.

Despite it’s pollution, Cham Island is beautiful… I really enjoyed the time I spent there, and genuinely hope it remains beautiful for all of its visitors in the future.


GALLERY

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7 Budget Friendly Brunch Spots in Hoi An

I love a good brunch…

…so, while visiting Hoi An, I was happy to discover that the beloved meal between breakfast and lunch is becoming increasingly popular in the lantern lit city.

Whether you’re craving Western favorites, local flavors, or vegetarian friendly choices, you’ll find several places throughout the city where you can get your mid-day fix.

These were some of my favorite (and budget friendly) brunch spots. 


DINGO DELI

Dingo Deli is one of the best places in Hoi An to get a large-portioned, Western style brunch. Opened in 2010 by a western couple, the Deli’s extensive menu offers a variety of brunch dishes like French toast, eggs benedict, and breakfast burritos. All of these meals are served with your choice of bottomless drip coffee or tea.

If you’re not in the mood for a full breakfast, Dingo Deli has several delicious options on their a la carte menu as well.

(FYI: The Deli also has a quiet room, which is perfect for digital nomads wanting to get some work done while having a meal. When we visited, the use of this quiet space was first come first serve, but you may be able to reserve it in advance by contacting the folks at Dingo).

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Feel like hitting snooze? No problem. Dingo Deli serves up brunch all day, and, if you don’t feel like getting out of bed, they even offer delivery! Head to their website via the link below and get your brunch (lunch or dinner) delivered straight to your door!

  • Vegetarian Friendly ✓

  • Hours: 7:30am – 9:30pm daily

  • Location: 277 Cua Dai Road

  • Website: Dingo Deli


THE KEBAB SHACK

The Kebab Shack is another spot where you can get your brunch fix all day long. Opened by English owner Tim and his wife Ly Anh in 2014, this is the perfect place for English expats to go when they want a little taste of home… and we’re not just talking about their huge English breakfast.

At The Kebab Shack, locals and travelers alike can enjoy the hospitable atmosphere, while indulging in hometown favorites like Heinz beans, Magners Cider, and (almost impossible to find) HP Sauce!

The English aren’t the only ones who will find comforts of home here. The Kebab Shack also serves extremely affordable Middle Eastern style kebabs, and delicious Aussie beef pies!


ROSIE’S CAFE

Rosie’s is probably my favorite of all the brunch spots on the list.

Owned and operated by My and Thuy, two local girls and longtime friends, this cozy little café can be found tucked down a quiet alley, away from the hustle and bustle of the Old Quarter. Considering its proximity to the popular tourist destination, Rosie’s is actually extremely affordable. 

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The two girls say Rosie’s is the result of their mutual passion for coffee shops, and their desire to serve up a little something of their own. I was a big fan of what they’re serving up, and with loads of healthy options that everyone can enjoy, I think you will be too.

Start your day with one of their colorful smoothie bowls, avo toast, or Rosie’s signature Brekky. While you’re there, don’t forget to try one of their delicious cold pressed juices, a traditional Vietnamese coffee, or satisfy your sweet tooth with one of their milkshakes!

  • Vegetarian Friendly ✓

  • Hours: 9am-5pm Monday - Friday, 8am-3pm Saturday, closed Sunday

  • Location: 8/6 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai

  • Website: Rosie’s Cafe Facebook


MORNING GLORY

Opened in 2006 by Ms. Vy, local celebrity and author of the cookbook Taste Vietnam, this restaurant takes its name from the morning glory vegetable. Known for its resilience, the morning glory is able to thrive and survive in the harshest conditions, and (after rice) is the second most commonly eaten food in Vietnam. According to Ms. Vy, it symbolically represents Vietnamese character.

Morning Glory, the fourth restaurant opened by Ms. Vy, aims to give guests a broader view of Vietnamese cuisine by also featuring dishes from outside of Hoi An. Some of their most popular dishes among guests are their Banh Xeo (crispy pancakes) - and Cao lầu (YUM).

Check out the original Morning Glory restaurant, the Morning Glory cooking school, or one of Ms. Vy’s many other restaurant locations in Hoi An for a delicious spin on local favorites. You can also take advantage of their delivery service on their website!


HOI AN CENTRAL MARKET

For a truly unique experience, do as the locals do and trade your western brekky for a bowl of pho or Cau Lau at the Hoi An Central Market.

As the name suggests, this market is literally located in the center of town, making it the perfect place to grab a bite before a day of exploring the Old Town.

Though you will likely end up paying a bit of a foreigner tax on anything you buy here, a visit to the market still guarantees you a delicious meal and an experience you won’t forget - all for less than a couple bucks!

Don’t forget your camera! The sights and sounds of the market and its food hall are something you’ll definitely want to write home about.

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  • Hours: Open daily from 5am

  • Location: 73 Phan Boi Chau Son Phong


THE DECK HOUSE

For a delicious brekky on the beach, head to An Bang Beach’s Deck House.

From 7-11 everyday, they offer a variety of breakfast entrees ranging from veggie omelettes and breakfast bowls to avo toasts and traditional cau lau.

The prices are a bit higher here than some of the other spots on the list, but the beach views more than made up for it.

We loved beginning our day with a run to the beach, grabbing a bite here, then taking advantage of the Deck House’s lounge chairs to soak up some rays on the beach.

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  • Hours: 7am-11pm

  • Location: When you arrive at An Bang Beach, take a left at the end of the street. The Deck house will be located on your right.

  • Website: The Deck House


FISHERMAN

To all my vegan, Instagram lovin’ readers - this last one is for you.

The Fisherman is an affordable, sustainable, and vegan restaurant also located on An Bang beach. They serve up a delicious healthy breakfast all day, and boast one of the most insta-worthy interiors and restaurant patios that I have ever seen.

The Fisherman also has happy hour specials and hosts the occasional full moon party, so if you’re visiting Hoi An, be on the lookout for that, too!

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  • Vegetarian Friendly ✓

  • Hours: 7:30am - 11pm

  • Location: Head to An Bang beach via Hai Ba Trung Street. When you reach the end of the street, turn right. Continue down the path until you see The Fisherman on your left.

  • Website: The Fisherman Vegan Restaurant Facebook


MAP


Did I miss any?

Where is your favorite place to brunch in Hoi An? Let me know in the comments below!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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

Let me know in the comments below!


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WHERE WE STAYED IN HANOI - GOLDEN CHARM HOTEL

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


Sustainable Tourism in HaLong Bay aboard the Au Co Luxury Cruise



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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.

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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?

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The Cutest Homestay in HaLong Bay - HaLong Ginger Homestay



 
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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.

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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.

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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...

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other featured accommodations 

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



 
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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!

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 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."

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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!

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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!

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 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

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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

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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.

 

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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!

 

 

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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!

 

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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.

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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!

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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).

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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!

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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

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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...

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.