The 10 BEST things about living in South Korea.

As many of you know, my time here in Korea is quickly coming to an end. I am actually pretty sad now and not too excited to go back to America. (I mean duh. Do you watch the news?) I can already likely see myself going back abroad whether it be back to Korea or another country. Any who, before I leave I wanted to make the top 10 things I appreciate/like/love about living here. So without further adieu…

 

  1. Easy work life: WOW! I knew that coming abroad would be a pretty big change as far as work life was concerned, but I didn’t think it would be as easy as it was. Don’t get me wrong, I had some days where the kids were on another level of rowdy but as far as actual work life, things were a breeze. As a foreign English teacher you either co teach with another teacher (normally a Korean teacher) which means you all may split the class time 50/50 so essentially only teaching 20 minutes or less at a time. Or, you may be like me and teach the entire 40 minute period, but even that is light work. The most I actually teach in a day is maybe 4.5 hours. The other time is spent at my desk, surfing the internet, chatting with friends, or blogging. Now there aren’t too many places in the states where you will get such a relaxed schedule. In addition to this, our dress code is relaxed AF. Some days I choose to dress up in business casual but you literally can come to work in jeans and tees. (let’s not forget we also wear slides/slippers while indoors) I can honestly say I haven’t been stressed from work or overwhelmed.
  2. HEALTH insurance for the win: If you are in the States you already know the gamble with health insurance. Most people my age no longer work in standard companies. We are either entrepreneurs, working in start-ups, or contractors. Often times, being in positions like these don’t allow you to automatically be afforded a healthcare plan. I had to buy into a plan which I actually lucked up on. I hated paying that monthly premium but I was secure in knowing that if I needed it, it was there. As a teacher overseas you are provided health insurance. As far as how the premium is paid, I am not 100% sure but I doubt it was $250+ a month that I was paying back home. To top that, you can literally walk into any clinic, doctor’s office, eye doctor or whatever and be seen instantly. I think the longest I have ever had to wait was maybe 10 minutes because I came when the staff was just coming back from lunch. Now I will say, depending on the type of office you may get a super quick scan from the doctor, given a diagnosis (or prognosis whatever the word is), given your prescription, and sent on your merry way which sometimes makes you feel like you weren’t throroughly examined. But I have only experienced this at the ear, nose, and throat doc and he was usually correct in what I had at the time so it was ok. Now, my favorite part is the cost. In the States, depending on your plan, you pay a copay before being seen. After you are seen, you may then be billed for additional services not covered in that type of visit. In Korea, you pay AFTER you are seen and everything is paid for at once so no subsequent bills are coming in the mail. When I went to the ENT my cost was about $4 plus a $3-$4 prescription. When I went to have x-rays of my wrist after injuring it I paid $30 which included speaking with the doctor,  x-rays, a 10 minute heat therapy session , 15 minute cupping session , a 10-minute sports massage, plus them wrapping it and giving me a brace. When I had my wisdom teeth pulled (they only take two at a time) my cost was $40 plus a $5 prescription. Finally when I went to the eye doctor I paid $100 for an eye exam, 7-months of contacts including a set of colored ones, and new glasses which were cut and made in 15 minutes. I could go on and on but I think you see what I’m trying to say here.
  3. Did someone say SERVICE?:  *In my best Oprah voice* “You get a free thing, you get a free thing, everyone gets a free thing!” That’s right, in many businesses getting something free is always part of your purchase. When you go to certain restaurants you often get free side dishes with your meal. When you go to any cosmetic store or skincare store, you always get free samples too! My favorite cosmetic store often has a promotion where you pick a number 1-5 and get an actual bag of free stuff based on the number you choose. 
  4. Guns are illegal and crime is low: When I first told people that I was moving abroad, there main concern was my safety. I can say that I have never felt more safe than while being abroad. The main reason why is guns are illegal, dangerous crimes are not common, and Koreans are very HONEST people. I’m not saying Koreans are saints but I never had to worry about anyone robbing me, breaking into my apartment, pulling a gun on me, getting hit by stray bullets, etc. All of these things are actually giving me some anxiety about moving back home. I see and hear stories everyday and I’m just floored that things have gotten so bad back home. The most you will hear here in Korea is about men being pervs or some type of sexual assault, but it’s still not very common. You can literally leave your belongings, step away to go to the bathroom or somewhere, and can trust that your stuff will still be where you left it. I know a girl who recently left her bookbag with a new MAC laptop in it somewhere, and she was tracked down via a card in her bag and her belongings were returned. WOW! I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in America but it’s not as common. I did have the one run-in with the lady at the gym, but that blew over and I never had any issue after.
  5. Transportation is super efficient: Having a car here is not a necessity because you can get anywhere by bus, train, or taxi. The transportation system is very efficient, very cheap, and runs pretty smooth. There is an app for everything to make things even easier. To get to Seoul from where I live, I pay about $5.50 to take an express bus which takes around 1 hour to go straight to Seoul. If you need to go anywhere far you can take speed trains that are also pretty cost efficient and low on travel time. Regardless of where you need to go, you can get there without breaking the bank and without too many issues. 
  6. Cheap international travel: Of course this is probably my favorite because…well I like me a good vacay and for the low! In this year alone, I will have gone to 8 new countries (not counting Korea). The flights vary in price but have been significantly lower than traveling from the States. I have seen the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, and I will finish with the Maldives next week! I mean who is gonna pass up cheap flights to destinations you probably would never see otherwise? Not me.
  7. There is actually a diverse expat (foreigner) community: While moving to certain areas of the country will have you feeling as though you are all alone, there is actually a large number of foreigners scattered around. Yes, most of them are in Seoul or Busan, but the point is they are here. The program I am in has around 60 foreign teachers in our city alone so you can always find someone to have normal convos with. More and more foreigners are also opening busineses here so that is helping as well. Not to mention there are several large American military bases in the country and you can find almost anything American around them. So if you’re willing to do a little traveling you can always find a little piece of home. (Even if it’s not the U.S.)
  8. Aye y’all got free wifi? Yes we do!: So wifi (or weefee as I call it) is EVERYWHERE in Korea. I know it seems wifi is almost any where in the world now, but surprisingly it’s not. Furthermore, Korea is said to have the fastest connection in the world. (I think they are being extra on that but it’s still great nonetheless) Wifi is so accessible that my friend has survived being here almost 2 years without phone service. Yea…let that sink in!
  9. There is always something to see or do: I have been here basically a year and there is still so much I won’t get to see and do. There is always a new and interesting cafe popping up and I live for a cute cafe. Also, Korea is the home of festivals. I have never seen or heard of so many random festivals in my life. I literally saw a sign for a wax corn festival. ( I have soooo many questions about this) You can also city hop. You can get from one end of Korea to the other in 4 hours by train. So the possibilities are endless. Hopefully I’ll be back and I’ll be able to see and do more. 
  10. Food delivery is super clutch: I know in the states we are used to having certain food delivered but Korea takes the cake. My eyes were opened when I learned about McDelivery (McDonald’s delivery service). You literally can have anything on the menu (within a certain price) brought right to your door. Almost all local restaurants deliver and the majority of fast food chains do as well. They even deliver rain, sleet, or snow. Now delivery guys drive like maniacs and will run your over on their scooter in a heartbeat…but at least the food is getting delivered right? I mean we gotta eat! 

As you can see, Korea is actually a really great place to live. I will miss it dearly although I’m not convinced we are really parting ways forever. If you ever get the chance you should definitely visit my temporary home some day.

As always, thanks for reading and happy traveling.

Swimming in mud and racing up 123 floors…the Korea edition!

Hello folks:

I wanted to update you all on a couple of MAJOR acheivements here in Korea. Now most people would think I’m crazy for doing them (and trust me I had to question myself a few times) but the feeling after actually doing it was worth it.

Back in May, I took part in the Lotte Tower Sky run in Seoul. Lotte Tower is one of the WORLD’s tallest skyscrapers sitting at 123 stories. Someone somewhere decided that it would be fun for people to compete by seeing how fast they could climb the 2,917 steps in the lava-lamp shaped building. Of course, being the over-achiever that I am, I decided to sign up and do it!

In the weeks leading up to the event, I ran the stairs in my apartment building to somewhat prepare me. I honestly never made it past running 60 floors but it was better than nothing.

On the day of the race, I met up with my friends that morning at the race site. One of my friends, who actually told me about the race, would also be doing the climb too. Our two other friends came as our personal cheer squad. I was super nervous but anxious to get it all over with. Since it’s Korea, they had a whole mini festival going on around the tower to get people pumped up for the race. There were even professional athletes in town just to compete in this race. They apparently travel around the world competing in these types of extreme races. The crazy thing is, the fastest time among them was FIFTEEN minutes.

My goal was to complete the climb in under 45 minutes. The first 50-60 floors had me wanting to quit. But, after that it’s as though the numbers were magically changing by 10 with each stair that I climbed. Once I hit the 100th floor my second wind kicked in. (Or I just really wanted it all to be over. Hey whatevs) I pushed through those last 23 floors and ran through the finish line! My time came to my phone… I MADE MY GOAL!!! I was so happy. I collected my medal, took a few pics from the top of the tower, and made my way down the high tech elevator.

Now I can say, I competed in an international race! It was a tough race, but some how I wasn’t satisfied and decided to go even farther.

I had seen posts from a Facebook group inviting people to come to Seoul for free Saturday workouts. This was something I had really been missing from my workout regimine. So my friend and I decided to check out this group called Seoul City Crew. They hosted free outdoor workouts for ANYONE on Wednesday and Saturday. They were also preparing to compete in….the Spartan race. Initially I said no to the race seeing how I had done a similar race in the states a few years ago. But again, the overacheiver in me decided otherwise. My friend and I would once again put ourselves through physical extremes. (What is wrong with us??) There were also over 60 people from the Crew that would take part in the race.

We loaded up on buses on June 30 and made our way to the race site an hour outside of Seoul.

There were soooo many people. I couldn’t believe that everyone wanted to endure physical torture just like me. Our race time was at noon so we spent time just walking around. (I was actually just trying to calm my nerves.) We would be doing the shorter version of the Spartan race, called the Spartan sprint. I was under the impression that it would only be about a 5k and 20 obstacles. BOY WAS I WRONG.

The race started out with 3 obstacles back-to-back. A set of walls to climb over under and through followed by a barbed wire crawl on the ground straight into a cargo wall. Whew…ok I was prepared for those so it actually wasn’t too bad. Next came what seemed like an eternal run on a path built over a really pretty lake. (thank God the scenery was beautiful because I would have quit LOL. Just kidding) After this LONG run came another set of obstacles….a rope climb that I had to opt out of and do burpees, a set of high hurdles to jump, a heavy atlas stone carry, then 3-4 different sets of monkey bars that I also had to opt out of and do burpees. (it all became a blur after this) The burpees were grueling since it was super hot out that day too!

Next came a VERY STEEP trail climb up a mountain that lasted about 30 minutes alone. Everytime I thought I was at the top, I had to go up even more. However, the race creators failed to keep one thing in mind…we all had to come down this steep mountain. There ended up being a long backup of race goers trying to get down the steep and narrow path. This added at least 30-45 minutes to everyone’s race time.

After we finally got out of the woods and off of that mountain we had to carry heavy buckets of rocks around a mini obstacle course and then go through a series of puddles of mud. The last “puddle” was actually a mini pool of muddy water that we had to swim under a wall to get out of. UGHHHHHHHH. From there it was another wall and more running. The last few obstacles included carrying heavy sandbags around a stadium, crawling under more barbed wire but in sand while being sprayed with water, a tall cargo wall, and finishing by jumping over a small fire pit.

WHEW!!! The total distance of the race ended up being well over 8 KM or around 5-6 miles. While it doesn’t sound like a lot distance wise, when you add in the obstacles it becomes pretty hard. Just think, people were out doing a 12 KM version. More power to them!

I was so proud of myself for even finishing. I wanted to stop several times but I just kept pushing and giving myself pep talks along the way. I was rewarded with a NICE medal and a t-shirt that says Spartan Race FINISHER! Yayyyy.

I’m sure after reading this, you think I have lost my everlasting mind. But I actually encourage you to try something out of your comfort zone. If you do, or if you have, share it in the comments section. I want to see how awesome (and crazy) you are too!

As always, thanks for reading! Happy traveling.

More Seoul searching…

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Hi folks:

So the weather is finally breaking here in Korea and that means I’m back out exploring as much as I can.

My friends and I decided to head out to Seoul to check out a few rooftop cafes that we heard about. The first stop of the day was to a small but very picturesq place called Seoulism. It was initially a little hard to find especially since there is a lot of construction going on aroung it. I took the subway to the Songpa stop (exit 2) and then had to catch a cab from there. You can also walk. (it was about a 20 minute walk but it was so hot) The sign on the front just says coffee and it’s mixed in a small strip of other businesses along a main road. (Address Songpa-gu, Songpa-dong, 48-7, Seoul)

There is usually a small wait since the rootop area is very small. They let people up as other people come out. In order to have access to the rooftop you have to first purchase a beverage. The beverages are a little pricey as far as cafe drinks go. (6,500-8,000 won) I purchased an iced caramel macchiato, my friends had the berry ade and the cookies and cream smoothie. The berry ade was really good so I highly recommend that. Once you are given your drinks you are allowed to take the elevator up to the 6th floor.

When you get upstairs, you think that you are in the wrong place. But once you walk throught he curtain to the left you are taken to the small terrace like area to enjoy your drink. You can then walk up another set of stairs to find the gorgeous photo spot with the lotte world tower in the background. To make your photos even better, there is a really cute “SEOUL” backdrop and even a chair to sit in. Luckily the photo area wasn’t crowded when we were there, but then again it’s not that big anyway.

We literally only spent our time taking photos and then we left.

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Out next stop was on the opposite side of Seoul so we had about a 30-40 minute subway ride to Hongdae.

We made our way to the Sangsu stop (exit 1) to get to Contoyner cafe. It was about a 5 minute walk from the station to the cafe. Just like most cafes in Hongdae, it was a little hard to find since it is in one of the smaller alley ways. (Thanks to my friend’s naver app we didn’t get lost)

Contoyner is a super cute cafe that sells all types of trinkets and memorabilia from your childhood. In addition to this, they have a really adorable rooftop as well. Just like with Seoulism, you have to purchase a drink to get access to the rooftop. The drinks here are a little more reasonable in price. This time I had the lemon ade, my friends had the grapefruit ade and a green grape smoothie.

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We made our way to the rooftop and WOW!! It was a rush of pastel colors and cute props perfect for a photoshoot with friends. We could barely stop to enjoy our drinks before we started taking photos. Again, there wasn’t a crowd when we went so we were able to take lots of pictures.

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We spent about an hour or so here just taking pics and coming up with random ideas for new poses. I highly suggest this place for the photo opps alone.

We worked up quite an appetite after this, so we made our way back toward the Sangsu station and stopped at a cupcake shop called Chikalicious. We stumbled upon it on our way to the cafe, so we had to make our way back. They had a large assortment of cupcakes from salted caramel, red velvet, and even earl grey. They also serve banana pudding. We sat at the small bar and enjoyed a cupcake and the banana pudding. It was probably one of the best desserts I’ve had in Korea especially since Korean dessserts aren’t usually prepared the same as Western desserts.

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Even with our cupcake tasting, we still needed to eat real food. Just like the cupcake place we stumbled on the Hongdae location of Nekkid wings. I had never been to the Itaewon location, but according to my friends this location has more options on the menu.

I decided the nuggets as my meal. The nuggets come with a choice of two dipping sauces. I had the smokehouse BBQ and classic buffalo sauce. We all were really impressed with the tastes. Getting actual Western flavor is very hard in Korea since they love to put their own spin on most things and it tends to mess it up. But this place reminded me of an upscale chick-fil-a! My taste buds were very happy.

As you can see we had quite an adventurous day. I have about 7 weeks left here in Korea before I return to the states. I plan to explore as much as I can between now and then. There is still so much to see before I leave so stay tuned.

Thanks for reading and Happy Traveling!

 

Travel Review: Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

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Hello folks:

Here is the continuation to my last post. As I mentioned before, I decided on a 2 day 1 night excursion out on Ha Long Bay.

There are several companies that offer tours to Ha Long Bay. They range from day tours, 2 day-1 night tours, and even 3 day-2 nights. In my opinion, the 2 day 1 night option is perfect. I used the boating company that my hotel (Hanoi Cristina Hotel) recommended. The hotel also served as a small travel agency. I emailed them ahead of time to ask for the prices of the tours. They offered three boats which ranged in luxury. The higher end boat was the Viola Cruise which was $160, then the Diamond cruise which was $150, and the boat I took was the Lemon cruise for $125. These initial prices were for double occupancy (two people). Since I was traveling alone, the prices were slightly higher: $210, $190, and $150 respectively. That’s one of the downfalls of solo travel.

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You can also wait until you are in Hanoi and visit any of the many travel agencies in the Old Quarter to seek their prices. I saw signs for pricing that was much lower, but I am not sure of the quality of the boats.

Now, about my tour.

The host was the one who came to get me from the hotel around 8am of day 1. There ended up being only 5 other people on the tour with me which was perfect. We set out on the 4 hour ride from Hanoi to Ha Long. We stopped midway for a bathroom and snack break. All of the buses stop at this same place, which also sells souvenirs. We spent about 30 minutes there before finishing out the journey.

When we arrived at the port, we had to transport our bags from the bus to a smaller boat (our tender boat). Some of the higher end boats had carts to help you transfer your luggage, but the walk was less than 2 minutes to the boat. We took the smaller boat out to meet our larger boat since it could not dock directly at the port.

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Once on the boat, we were assigned our rooms and given our keys. We were told to check our rooms for any issues and to report back around 1:45 for lunch. The room that I was assigned to was pretty simple. It had a comfy double bed and it’s on bathroom with shower. There were no T.V.s but there was air con. ( It only worked for a portion of the trip due to the small generator on the boat)

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At 1:45 we met for our first meal on the main deck of the boat. The staff made more than enough for the six of us on board so you had the option to have more.

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After lunch, we prepared to head out to our main excursion for that day. First we would kayak through the Bay and a small floating village. We kayaked for about 45 minutes. The scenary was very beautiful. Our boat was the only boat out kayaking at the time, so it was also very peaceful. We got pretty wet, so be prepared for that.

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After kayaking, we went to a local pearl farm which was very close to the entry point for kayaking. The pearl farm was very small and not that interesting. (Hey I’m honest)

From there we loaded up again on our tender boat to head out to a beach on one of the over 2,000 small islands that make up Ha Long Bay. Initially we were one of the only boats there, but halfway through our time several other tour boats came to the small beach. The beach was cute and you also had the option to play some volleyball. (I played and had fun.) We spent about an hour there before getting back on the tender boat and heading out the the large boat.

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Once on the large boat, we had some down time until our dinner. Our dinner that night was a large spread of various meats served on the large bamboo plate which is customary in Vietnam. We had a few side dishes such as rice, salad, and some vegetables. Fresh fruit was always served after each meal as dessert. On the boat, drinks were not included in the tour price, but the drinks were very cheap. (they also had a small bar on the boat if you wanted to order alcohol. Beer was about $2 and cocktails were $5)

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We were scheduled to do some night fishing but it began to rain. I was pretty tired, so I headed in to my room for the night.

Day 2:

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The morning started very early. Breakfast was served at 7am. Breakfast was pretty simple: toast, eggs, and fruit.

Our tour that morning was to a cave. The cave wasn’t very big and all of the boats came at the same time, so it was a bit crowded. After going through the cave, our host gave us some time on a small beach next to the cave for pictures.

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We loaded up onto the tender boat one more time and then on to the large boat. At this point we started the check out process and closed out any drink tabs. We were making our way back to the main port. I simply took in the scenary on the way back just like I did on the way there. Around 11:30 am we had lunch which was another assortment of various Vietnamese dishes and noodles. We made it back to the port right around noon and set back out to Hanoi the same way we came. (with the same stop at the midway point.)

All in all, the cruise was great. The price was a little steep for a single person, but again you may be able to get cheaper prices once you actually get into Hanoi. The scenary was absolutely breathtaking so I don’t regret it one bit. You actually do alot in the short 2 day period. The food was always hot and fresh and there was always plenty. The crew was very friendly and willing to help with anything you needed. As I mentioned before, I highly recommend an overnight cruise versus just going there and back in a day. The four-hour ride each way isn’t worth it for just a day trip. If you are already closer to Ha Long, you may be able to do the day tour on your own, but coming from Hanoi overnight is best.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. As always, thanks for reading and happy traveling!

Travel Review: Hanoi, Vietnam

Hello folks:

I’m back with another (YES ANOTHER) travel review. This time I had the opportunity to visit Hanoi, Vietnam during an extended weekend holiday here in Korea.

First: The Visa process

If you are an American passport holder (Some other countries as well so please check) you will need a visa to enter Vietnam. The Vietnam visa process is two-fold. You have to first get a letter of approval from an official company or person. I simply googled Vietnam visa on arrival and read a few sites before choosing one. The prices range from $10-$25. The company I went with charged $10 for a one-month single entry. The site is pretty self-explanatory from there. (https://www.vietnam-evisa.org/apply-visa.html) It took about a day and a half for them to email the letter to me. Do not be alarmed if your letter has other people’s name on it with yours. This is pretty standard for the company’s that issue letters. You can pay a fee to have a letter with only your name, but it honestly doesn’t matter. You will need your travel dates before applying for the letter. They can possibly deny entry on your dates so that’s why it’s important. You will also need to complete the visa-on-arrival form to accompany your letter. The company I used sent a link for me to do the form ahead of time. The form will also be available at the airport.

Once I arrived at Hanoi’s airport, I went to the visa on arrival counter before going through immigration. You hand the agent your letter, passport (take off any covers), and the visa application. You then wait in queue for them to approve and issue your visa. Once they are done, you passport picture will pop up on a TV screen and you go to the second agent to pay the visa fee of $25. They only accept cash, so have it available. You should also have a passport sized photo, or you can do like me, and pay $2 for them to take the picture on site. (it’s cheaper that way honestly)

From there you are given a receipt and your passport and you are now able to go through immigration and customs. The process took all of 30 minutes total.

Second: My Hotel

Hotels in the Old Quarter of Hanoi are very inexpensive and are in abundance. They are mostly smaller boutique hotels but are clean, comfortable, and cute. At the recommendation of a friend who travelled a few weeks before, I booked my room with the Hanoi Cristina Hotel. I booked a double room at $25 per night, including a decent breakfast, for 3 nights. I did the book now, pay later option on booking.com which is standard for most hotels in Hanoi. Tip: To avoid a 3% surcharge for using your debit card, bring cash to cover the balance. The hotel instantly sent a follow-up message to let me know they could book tours or even airport transfers for me in advance. I decided a day or two before my trip that I wanted to do an overnight cruise on Ha Long Bay during my 3 night stay. The hotel was more than accommodating in cancelling one of my nights in order for me to do this without extra charge. I decided not to use them for the airport transfer since they charged $16, which is pretty expensive compared to other options. (I’ll explain soon)

The hotel turned out to be in a great location, although a little hard to find initially. They gave me a map specifically designed for them which helped me to get around during my entire trip. (I didn’t even get lost. The map was very accurate)

Now, the GOOD STUFF…

I arrived in Hanoi around 9am on a Friday. I had read in advance that there was a local bus that goes from the airport into Hanoi city. The bus is the Express 86 bus. The stop is located just across from the #2 taxi stand once you exit the airport. There will be an attendant on site to ask where you are going and who will tell you which stop to get off. (He speaks fast so I honestly didn’t hear him) The bus comes every 30 minutes or so. Once you are on and settled, the attendant will then come and collect the fee. The ride is 30,000VND or roughly $1.15. Try to exchange a little money to be prepared for this. He will in turn give you a receipt. The ride was about 30 minutes even with a few stops. I still didn’t know which stop I needed but luckily the attendant came around one more time to tell everyone again. ( I think it’s more so because we all looked lost)

The bus drops you along the main street, so it won’t go into the heart of the Old Quarter. You will need to ask the locals to point you in the direction of your accommodation or have a SIM card and map handy.

Once I arrived at the hotel, my room wasn’t ready. They allowed me to leave my luggage while I went out to exchange more money and to find food. This is when I was given my new BFF, the map. The receptionist told me where to go for food and where to find good money exchangers.

It was super hot but I expected it to be.

I first found a money exchange place which was also in a jewelry store. The average rate was $1 = 22,000VND. As I was walking to find food, I was approached by several “city tour” guys on the pedal bikes. One was very “persistent” so I agreed to a tour at 4pm that afternoon. In turn, he suggested a pretty good (and popular) food spot.

I went to New Day restaurant and had the beef with pineapple and an iced strawberry tea. (Strawberry tea is soooo good) My meal was hot and about $5.

After eating, I walked around using my map to get my bearings. (and to kill more time) I finally headed back to the hotel to check in, nap, and shower.

Right at 4pm, I headed back out to meet the tour guide. Before getting into the cart, I asked for a price. He quoted 300,000 ($13) for an hour-long tour around the city. I’m sure I could have bargained but I was honestly tired of him (LOL) He took me all around the main part of Hanoi Old Quarter. He even stopped at times to take pictures of me if I needed or for me to get out and take pictures as well. It did begin to rain while on the tour, but he was prepared with coverings so I didn’t get wet. The tour went for exactly an hour at which point he tried to get me to extend to another part of the city, but I declined. I got out and decided to do more site seeing on foot.

Luckily my tour stopped right near Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s a small lake with a cute red bridge that leads to a temple. The bridge is a popular picture spot. There is a fee to enter the actual temple as well. Most people, including me, just walk the bridge and take pics from the outside.

Just across from Hoan Kiem is a very busy intersection that is seen is most pictures for Hanoi. There were no traffic lights and traffic literally went however people decided to go. It was pure madness but somehow no one crashed. I stood (safely) on a sidewalk and just watched in amazement. From there I continued my journey on foot, going down random roads to see what was there. I eventually stopped at a cute coffee shop to try some of Hanoi’s infamous “egg coffee.” It’s sounds weird, but it was really good. The coffee was around $2 (40,000 VND)

I continued on my walk and stopped to pick up a few souvenirs including some banana pants. (yes pants with bananas all over them!) I eventually stopped at a restaurant to have some fresh spring rolls and chicken pho. I mean who goes to Vietnam and doesn’t eat Pho. The Pho was around $2 and the spring rolls were about $2.50.

Since it was the start of the weekend, there was a large night market taking place a few blocks from my hotel. I decided to go check it out. The market stretched for several blocks and vendors sold almost everything you could imagine. I only picked up some cute shades and tried some passion fruit juice. I was pretty tired by this point, so I made my way back to the hotel. I knew I had an early start the next day.

I woke up pretty early to get breakfast before heading out for my overnight trip along Ha Long bay. Breakfast was served in the neighboring hotel. The options were pretty good. They offered Western breakfast as well as Vietnamese dishes such as noodle soup. From there, I checked out of my first room and waited for the tour guide to come pick me up.

(I’m going to do a separate post on the tour so I will skip over that day and finish up with my last day in Hanoi)

Day 3:

My Ha Long tour bus took me back to my hotel in Hanoi around 4pm. I checked back in to a new room, put my bags down, and set back out to explore. On the list, was to try Banh Mi, which is a Vietnamese sandwich that is similar to a Panini. I went to a more popular shop in the heart of the old quarter. Just like most other Vietnamese food shops, the shop had the small plastic stools and low tables inside and along the sidewalk. The sandwich was about $1.13. (25,000 VND) I had the chicken sandwich and it was pretty good. I could have almost eaten two.

I spent the rest of my afternoon just doing more site seeing. I even caught a ride on a motorbike to see the popular Train Street. Train Street is an actual residential area that has a train track going through it. There is a train that passes through the narrow alley three times a day. When I walked the tracks, there were families outside going on about their everyday life. Kids playing, women prepping dinner, and people just hanging out and talking. I wish I could have seen the train actually pass through because the alley is really not that big so I can only imagine how these families have to prepare each time.

My flight left around 1am. I booked a taxi through one of the travel agents in the Old Quarter. The trip was $10 compared to the $16 at my hotel. I would have taken the same bus back but it stops running around 10pm.

All in all, my trip to Hanoi was fun. The hustle and bustle of Hanoi was quite a site to see. Everything was super cheap and someone like myself definitely appreciated that!

As always, thanks for reading and Happy Traveling!

Tokyo, Japan…in 24 hours.

Hey folks:

I am back with a new review of my recent trip to Tokyo, Japan. Since I’ve been here in Korea, I’ve been wanting to get there but the flights were never cheap enough for me. (Obviously they are still much cheaper than flying from the States though.) I lucked up in early March and picked a random weekend to go for about $200.

Once my flight was all squared away, I started looking for somewhere to stay. I first had to research the different areas of Tokyo to see exactly where I wanted to visit. Since I was limited on time, I needed to be in  a location that was central to the most attractions. I knew for a fact that I wanted to see Harajuku and Shibuya crossing. I typed in both areas on search engines to find accommodations. I came across a pod hotel in the heart of Shibuya. At the time, the hotel had not opened so I was hesitant not having reviews to read first. I knew that staying in a pod or capsule hotel was something that was on my Tokyo bucket list, so I went with my gut and booked.

I then had to research my transportation options into Tokyo since I would be arriving on a really late/early  morning flight. At this time, all trains would have stopped. I found info on an airport bus company (Keiyu Bus Co.) that had a bus into Shibuya during late night hours. The bus was around $16 compared to taking a taxi at that time for around $80. I had a few friends in Japan call for me to inquire as well. Although I wasn’t able to reserve a seat in advance, I still decided to wait and try my luck.

Everything went smooth and I made it to the hotel. When I walked into The Milleanials Shibuya, I was blown away. It was brand spanking new and the location was perfect. Upon check in, I was given my own iPod touch that would serve as the control for my pod and the building elevators. Once I arrived at my pod, a really nice souvenir toiletry bag was waiting for me with towels, slippers, a toothbrush, cotton pads, and ear plugs.

I set my alarm using the iPod touch. You also control your bed position, the lights in the pod, and the theater system with it. After playing around with all of the functions, I finally decided to head to bed. (I was too excited.)

I opted for late check out since I arrived so late. I wanted to give myself a little more time to sleep and then prepare for a non stop day, afterall I literally only had one day.

I checked out of my pod and stored my bag with the hotel and set out. I asked the front desk attendant for a pancake restaurant recommendation. To my surprise, there was one just steps away.

I arrived right when they opened at 11am so I didn’t have a wait. I ordered the strawberry banana pancakes with orange juice. I had missed homemade pancakes since Western style pancakes are hard to find in Korea. The breakfast total was around $14.

After breakfast, I set out to see the infamous Shibuya crossing. Shibuya crossing is known as the world’s busiest intersection. It was amazing to see all of the people crossing from 3 different ways. I wandered around Shibuya for a bit and stumbled upon another famous site, Hachiko statue. Hachiko was a dog that would come to Shibuya train station to greet his owner after work every day. The dog even continued this after his owner died for several years. ( Now that’s loyalty) A statue was erected in the dog’s honor.

After watching the chaos of the crossing a few more times, I set out toward Harajuku. Luckily it was also in walking distance (about 15 minutes) Harajuku is the area that I picture when I think of Tokyo. Here you find all of the girls and guys dressed in Kawaii costumes as well as stores that sell the clothes as well. Harajuku is also home to lots of retail stores and cool restaurants. In the heart of Harajuku is a really cool escalator with a kaleidoscope like mirror.

The only thing I was in search of while in Tokyo was sneakers. Korea doesn’t always get the best selection and if they do, they tend to charge more. Let’s just say Tokyo is a sneaker lovers dream. I browsed in several stores, going down different streets just to see what was out there. I wanted to think my decision through carefully so I waited to purchase until I was able to truly compare the options.

That afternoon, I had reservations at the Kawaii Monster Cafe. I have been eyeing this place since I came to Korea. Kawaii Monster cafe is a restaurant that, as one person describes, is a child’s dream on acid. You are escorted into the doors and you instantly say WOW!!! The colors! The lights! The crazy merry-go-round in the very middle! It’s a sensory overload. I didn’t know which way to look first. Since I was alone, I was able to get a small table that was literally in the middle of all the action. (SWEET!) At this restaurant, you can either pay for the $5 admission in advance online (which I did) or pay in person. (Just be mindful you will have to wait until people with reservations are seated first if you pay in person) Once you enter you must then purchase one food and one drink item from the menu. There are also pre paid menu packages you can opt for. I ordered fries and a coke. (cheapest things on the menu) The fries came with an assortment of colored dips to mimic the theme of the cafe. Other menu items include: colorful pastas, crazy shakes, and desserts. Every hour and a half the “Monster girls” do a live dance show and get guests involved too. It was super cute and the kids loved it. (SO DID I!) After watching the show, eating my fries, and closing out my bill I headed back out to continue my sneaker hunt.

I eventually made my way to Takeshita street in the heart of Harajuku. This is the most popular street in the area filled with street food, restaurants, vintage clothing stores, and souvenir shops. After reading several blogs, I found that crepes and gigantic rainbow cotton candy were must try things. I wasn’t in the mood for that much cotton candy on my own so I chose to try a crepe. I had an apple cinnamon crepe. It was only OK. I also decided to try peach coke from one of the 1 million vending machines found on the street. It reminded me of cherry coke a lot but was still pretty good.

My last mission, outside of my sneakers, was to find as many of the crazy Kit Kat candy bar flavors. Tokyo has been known to produce unique flavors of the candy. I found a small assortment pack in a random souvenir shop. The pack had: strawberry cheesecake, apple, purple sweet potato, matcha green tea, matcha almond, strawberry, and a few other flavors. (I ended up also finding a melon flavor in the airport. I’ve tried a few so far and they are really good)

I finally made my sneaker decision after consulting some friends via text and went to make my purchase. (I did great!)

By this time the sun was setting and I was a little hungry since I had only had light meals all day. Another Tokyo bucket list item was to have ramen from Ichiran. This is a small ramen shop that always has a wait outisde. You first stop at the “vending machine” outside to place your basic order and pay. (cash only) You are then seated at a personal cubby where you are given a checklist on how you want your ramen to taste. Your ramen is then served through the small window at your cubby and the window flap closed once you receive it. You have a small water tap and cups at your cubby as well so you can truly eat in peace. The ramen was around $8.

After enjoying my delicious ramen I started to make my way back toward Shibuya to check on my bags and rest my legs a bit. Although I was checked out, the hotel allowed me to relax in the lobby area. I charged my phone up a bit and decided I had one last must-do…SUSHI IN JAPAN!

I once again asked for a recommendation from the front desk. The initial place that was recommended had a crazy line and I was short on time. I decided to just walk around Shibuya some more to see it come alive at night. I was able to see a flash dance performance, street rappers, and even people racing in the human Mario Kart. I eventually came across another sushi place (Genki Sushi) that looked really fun. I only had one hour left to get in, eat, and get out. There was a short wait but I made it in just in time.

This place was SOOOOOO COOL. Once again you are seated at a personal stool in front of a small tablet. You order your food via the tablet and it is whisked directly to your seat on a conveyor belt that goes around the whole restaurant. You then notify the belt that you have your food by tablet, and the mini cart is sent back to the kitchen. You can order however you want but you have a 45 minute limit to ensure other guests can get in and eat too. The sushi was really fresh and pretty inexpensive too. I was happy to have stumbled upon that place.

After chowing down, I made my way back to the hotel one more time to grab my bags. My full day in Tokyo was coming to a close and I needed to catch the subway to the airport.

The station was only a 5-7 minutes walk from the hotel. ( I literally didn’t have to pay for transportation that day except to and from the airport. Once I arrived at Shibuya station, I had to ask several people to point me in the right direction for the airport train. There are so many different lines so it was kinda confusing. However, I made my way to the airport with time to spare!

As you can see I had a fun and busy day in Tokyo. It’s a somewhat expensive city compared to other Asian cities. (But about the same as a major city in the USA) It is such a cool vibe and I saw people of all races there too. I didn’t get the weird stares that I expected from an Asian city. I could see myself living in Tokyo if the cost of living wasn’t so high. Hopefully I can get back one more time before I leave this side of the world. There is still so much for me to see!

Thanks for reading and happy traveling.

 

When Korea (or any country) shows you who it is…believe it!

Hey folks!!

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted. As many of you know I made the decision to pack up my life as an Attorney to live abroad for a little while. It’s been a pretty great experience overall, but Korea is by no means perfect. To be honest, these last few weeks here haven’t been so pleasant. My “some what perfect” experience has officially been tainted.

As you all have read over these last eight months, I have really enjoyed my time here. I’ve seen and done more than I could have imagined in such a short time. Unfortunately just like any other country, Korea has its flaws. I was quickly introduced to them in a couple of unpleasant situations recently.

Situation 1:

As you know,  I teach at two elementary schools. One 4 days a week and the other only once a week. The school that I work in once a week is pretty behind compared to my other school and I am usually the only English these kids get during a week. It’s frustrating at times to not see them progress. It can be even more frustrating knowing some teachers aren’t making the effort to catch them up. This creates even more of a language barrier between my students and me.

In my 3rd grade class we were without the interactive CD-rom for 3 weeks. Keep in mind these are students new to taking English so it was very difficult in those weeks. I had to improvise but we made it.

The situation that really took me over the top, was with a different class. These students are also fairly new to English but not new to me. However, their home room teacher is new to this school and his style is very different from mine. In one particular class, I was introducing some new vocabulary to the students. I noticed that most of them weren’t listening or even looking at me. They were distracted by the other teacher going around a playing with different kids. It got so bad that the student’s became super rowdy and I was now yelling over them to fight for their attention. I was yelling so loud I felt like my head would explode. I figured the kids would catch on to my frustration, but they never did and neither did the home room teacher.

I put my foot down and made the students take out paper to copy sentences. I told them to copy the three sentences on the chalkboard, ten times each. Now, my “good students” complied. The others…not so much. They continued to play and the home room teacher just stood there. My blood was boiling. I finally asked one kid to turn around in his seat to finish and he boldly told me NO! WHAAAATTTT??? At that point I knew that my time was not being valued, so I packed up and told the home room teacher I cannot teach under these conditions. My being there was pointless. He then tried to act confused which added fuel to the fire. I told the teacher he can come get me when the students are ready to respect me and ready to learn. And that was that.

After about 20 minutes, the teacher comes down to the office. I’m thinking ok, he’s had a talk with the kids and he wants me to come back. WRONG. He came to make copies and to play the “Oh my English isn’t good, I don’t understand” role. You see, Koreans “don’t do” confrontation, which is REALLY annoying. He starts talking to me acting as though he suddenly forgot how to use his English. (Mind you he talks to me just fine any other day) So in this broken, choppy way he tries to ask me why I left. (*Insert a super side-eye here) I try to explain that I cannot teach under those conditions and he continues to act clueless. He then starts trying to “tell the story” in Korean to the other teachers that were in the office at the time. I knew this because he said my name a few times and I picked up a few other words as well. Lucky for me, no one really fed into his story so he left.

I decided to wait until all of the children left for the day to go to his room to talk about the whole situation. I knew if I didn’t then I would continue to have this issue for weeks. Using my best hand motions and broken English I explained to him that if he wants me to effectively do my job, he needs to do his. He magically understood but asked me to make some rules for the students. (*insert another side-eye here) Mind you we are a month into the year and these aren’t kindergarteners, so they know how to behave in school. It’s HIM who needs the rules. But I agreed.

The next week I came with my pretty new rules in English and Korean and we actually had a great class. Now let’s pray the rest of the semester goes well.

Situation 2:

Now this situation really did it for me.

So I am really big on fitness and working out. I was a trainer back in the States and was pretty consistent on staying in shape. I knew coming to Korea I wanted to maintain my fitness routine. I started out at one gym but it wasn’t that close to where I lived so I changed.

I initially paid for a 3-month membership. It was (and is) a nice gym with everything I needed and it was steps outside of where I live. When I signed up, I was only given the receipt to show proof of payment but nothing more. I threw the receipt away because I was told by another foreigner that they will notify me when it’s time to pay again. COOL! (Or so I thought)

The months went by. During this time, I also went on vacation for weeks among other things. So keeping track of the exact date, wasn’t the first thing on my mind. I continued to workout day in a day out. The staff would greet me and nothing else was said until…

About a month and half after my membership expired, an employee finally came up to me to say it had expired and I needed to pay. I agreed to pay and didn’t think anything else of it.

Two hours after I leave, I began getting nasty texts from the owner. Her first text was a threat to seek legal action against me for “illegally using her facility and if I didn’t pay back $140 by the next day, she would sue me.” Of course this took me by surprise seeing as though I had just agreed to pay when asked that same day. Needless to say, we got into a text battle over notice and her failing to do her job adequately as a business owner. She belittles me when I explain to her I am a lawyer and I understand how things work. Furthermore, I explained that I know right from wrong and had I really known that I was doing something illegal, I would have made it right. She started bringing up “other issues she had with me” which didn’t apply to anyone else in the gym. (Not to pull this card, but I am the only black person that attends this gym. And yes racism is alive in Korea just like any other place.) After the hour long text war, I told her that I agreed to pay and that was my intention the next day. I think what distured me most, was that this lady could have easily said something to me in person. (Goes back to the point of Koreans “don’t do” confrontation. UGH)

I go in after work to pay for a new month of membership, it was a little after 5pm. To my surprise, there was no one working the desk of the gym so I went to the other floor to check for someone. NOPE. I go back to the desk and walk around looking. There is no one there. So I go home to wait. I return about 30 minutes later and the front desk girl is finally there. I explain that I am here to pay for one month and like I told the owner I will pay for an additional 3 months in a few weeks when payday comes next month. The girl pulls out a calendar to show me when my last membership expired and that I needed to pay from that date through now. Ummmm No! I was never notified that was when my membership expired so I am not responsible for that. Furthermore, if I was not supposed to be there, why was I allowed to workout all this time? She calls the owner several times but she never answers. Finally, the girl agrees to the one month. She writes it on a basic intake form and takes my payment. I asked if I needed to sign anything and she said no that was it.

I go back to my workouts for the next 4 days with no issue. Four days later, the owner begins texting me again this time saying if I am seen there again she is going to call her lawyer AND the police. So either I pay her more money or I don’t come back. I told her I paid as we agreed and these subsequent texts make no sense. Again, she starts bringing up more issues that she has with me (my outdoor shoes) that have never been addressed with anyone else. It was at this point, I realized that she definitely has a personal issue with me.

I decide to contact my director to explain to her the situation since the lady is threatening to have me arrested. (I have never been arrested a day in my life so I don’t play with that.) My director contacts the lady, but as expected she comes back saying that I needed to just pay the money.

It was at this point, I finally saw who Korea (and any other country) really is. You see as a foreigner, you don’t have the same rights as a native. Furthermore, as a black foreigner it’s even harder. Now I understand every class and race faces discrimination and racism in some aspect. But no one can truly understand the day in and day out of being black in any place. While I hadn’t experienced any direct discrimination until this point here, there have been little situations that show me that people everywhere look down on me just from the color of my skin. I’ve experienced things from people staring and taking pictures of me because of a hairstyle, people scrunching their nose up because they think black (and brown) people smell, and even taxi drivers blatantly not stopping for me and my friends. Those situations honestly didn’t bother me because they were small. But, after being in a situation like the gym one, I realize this place (along with the world) is still very flawed.

It doesn’t matter how many degrees or certifications I have, how many news appearances or newspaper articles I’ve had, or even my general compassion toward others I’m still not good enough to some people… and that’s fine. It’s sad, but I refuse to let people like that keep me from living the life that God has designed for me. Now I will admit, this situation has shown me that my time here has run its course. I will likely be coming back to the states after my one year instead of extending now. But this won’t stop or slow my passion to see the world. There are still places out there that love me and my skin and I would love to go and show them love back.

I hope this post in no way deters anyone from traveling to or living in Korea, or any foreign place for that matter. These were only 2 situations in a matter of 8 months that I faced. I am grateful for my time here and I will cherish it forever. I have met some awesome people and even learned a new language along the way. I’ve taught my kids to accept and honestly love natural hair, something they hadn’t really been exposed to before me. I’ve made an impact on my female students and taught them they are beautiful no matter what society tries to shove down their throats. I’ve connected with my male students so much so that they have special handshakes and salutes when they see me. I’ve written for an international website (my city’s tourism site) and been given high praise for it too! So, I think I have made my mark in this place and for that I am satisfied!

Sorry this post is a bit long, but it was important that I share this! As always, thank you for reading and Happy Traveling.

Life Abroad Update

Hey folks:

In this post I will update you on all that’s been going on with me and my time abroad.

Can you believe I have been here almost 8 months now?! WOW!! Time really does fly when you are having fun. I’ve seen and done so much in the last few months, so I thought I would create a post to update you all on my life over here.

So the kids here went on Winter vacation the Friday before Christmas. (December 22) I was pretty much off along with them. As a part of our contract we have to “work” half days when school is not actually in session. Since my school was officially closed (no staff present) I was assigned to a language camp for about a week and a half. After that I had to report to my school for a week to host an English camp for students who signed up. During the week we played games and made crafts centered around my theme, “The Olympics.” It was a pretty fun week for all of us and again, you can’t beat three hour days.

After fulfilling my duty of hosting camp, that is when I was able to go on my 12 day trip that I previously wrote about. From there school was in session again for another week or so in which we actually wrapped up the school year. On February 9, the sixth grade students had graduation and I was kinda sad to see SOME of them transition to middle school. After that week, we were back on break for another two weeks. (Yes another break) This was the actual “spring break.” It’s a lot different than schools in the States as you can see.

Somewhere in this time, I accidentally became a YouTube star in my Korean city. (Seriously) I applied for a writing gig her in my city and was also asked to help film a YouTube video. It was fun. I’ll paste the link for your viewing pleasure! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfKGoEPvMBc&t=77s)

During the shorter break, instead of going to the language camp, I actually went to my school for my three-hour days. I spent most of my time on the computer writing and chatting with friends.

It was around this time that the Winter Olympics started in Korea. They were held in Pyeongchang which is north east from me. Two friends and I decided to purchase tickets to an event and attend our first Olympics!

We had to catch the bus to Seoul (1 hour), take the subway to the KTX train station (30 minutes) and then take the train ride from northern Seoul to Pyeongchang. (1 hour and 15 minutes)  Despite the long travel times, we made it to our event, Women’s aerial skiing. It was super cold, but it was super exciting so we didn’t mind.

 

Since our event was later in evening we didn’t get to see much else around the village. One of my friends and I decided to make the long trip again the next day to walk around the Olympic park. It was a really great experience and I can actually say that I have been to the Olympics.

The next weekend, I attended my first concert in Korea. It was a Hip Hop festival featuring OT Genesis, 2Chainz, and the Migos. (They also had some Korean hip hop artists too) I had a blast and it was cool to see Koreans enjoy American artists as well.

Soon after the Olympics I was notified that I got the writing gig I had applied for. I didn’t think the gig would be a big deal, but I was wrong. We were invitied to a really nice dinner that also included meeting and taking photos with the Mayor of our city. I, along with 8 other foreigners from all over the world, were introduced as the 1st class of Social reporters for the city’s tourism website. Pretty cool!! (I will keep you all up to date as my articles are published.)

On March 2 the actual school year began. (I was getting used to this whole vacation/ 3-hour days thing) Since it is a new year, literally everything changes. Unlike in America, teachers here work on 5-year contracts. So the longest they will work at a school is 5 years. We lost a few teachers and of course welcomed new ones. Also for the teachers that did stay, many of them changed the grade level they would teach. My teaching schedule changed and I even have new books that I will use. It’s taking some time to get used to it all but I am managing.

This past weekend (3/10) my friends and I took an impromtu trip up to Seoul to check out this bar/cafe we have been wanting to try. It’s called Urban Space/ Urban Source. (Located off of the Seongsu subway stop Exit 4.)  I list two names becuase one side is a restaurant and dessert cafe. The other side is a BALL PIT BAR!! (Yes, a ball pit) If you remember I went to one in Kuala Lumpur, but this one was much CUTER! Event the drinks were super cute. (you can get alcoholic or non-alcoholic) You have to purchase a drink to be able to get into the pit though. We spent several hours here. We ate dinner and spent time at the pit after. They even played really good music too! (The food and drinks are a bit pricey, so keep that in mind)

As you can see, I’ve been staying pretty busy over here and just enjoying my time. Once Winter officially leaves, there will be even more to see and do! I can’t wait.

Thanks for reading and Happy Traveling!

 

Travel Review: Phuket, Thailand

Hey folks!

I’m back with my last review of this amazing trip! (Finally lol) In this post, I will review my time in Phuket, Thailand.

When I last left you I was  leaving Bangkok. My flight was in the late afternoon. (after a delay) It was about an hour and a half flight out to the island. Once I arrived, I decided to stop at a stand a purchase a SIM card for super cheap, $5, so I could use my phone during my stay. I then proceeded to the exit to find transportation to my hostel in Patong. I was quickly approached by a lady that worked for a company that did travel presentations. I had been approached for one of these on my trip in Cabo so I knew it meant listening to a 90 minute presentation. After hearing the perks, I agreed to do the presentation. She not only paid for my taxi to my hostel but included a 5000 baht book of vouchers to use at different restaurants, spas, and even a tour company.

Once I finished my paperwork to arrange the presentation, I was walked to my private taxi for the 1 hour ride to Patong. I must say it was actually a very SCARY ride. The driver was driving like he was in a NASCAR race around the winding roads. I even started to get a little car sick. BUT I arrived to my hostel in one piece.

I was staying at the LubD hostel Patong. I booked through booking.com for about $60 for the 3 night stay. I was staying in a female 4-bed dorm. It was my first time staying in an actual dorm like hostel. The rooms were pretty clean and the hostel was HUGE. There was a really cool pool, a grill/bar, a workout area that offered daily Muy Thai classes daily, as well as a media room to watch movies and TV.

The plan was to go hang out with a friend who was also staying there, but after the cab ride I was feeling a little queasy. I decided to just find food and head to bed since I had a long day the next morning. Luckily there were plenty of food options super close to the hostel. I decided on the cute little food market across the road. I went for the chicken noodles ( I don’t remember the exact name) but they were delish. The food in Patong was a but more expensive than the food in Bangkok though. (UGH) I paid about 120 baht for the noodles. ($4) After sitting outside to enjoy my food, I walked back to my hostel to shower and go to bed.

The next morning, I was set to go out on a tour to Phi Phi island. I actually booked the tour at the airport in Bangkok through my airline, Air Asia. It was around $60 which is the average price. A van would come to pick me up to take us to the port to meet our speedboat.

Before getting on the boat, we stopped at a building where snacks were provided, we were given a briefing of the day, and then divided into groups to load up on the boats. The ride out to Phi Phi from the port was about 45 minutes to an hour. Initially the ride wasn’t too bad but it began to get choppy. Our first stop (and literally the only one I cared about) was to Maya Bay. We arrived along with about 10 other boats. Luckily I was prepared for this and knew exactly where to go to get the best photo ops. So my pictures turned out pretty amazing. I literally could have gone back home after that. (LOL) We were given about 30-40 minutes at Maya Bay before it was time to get back on the boat to go to the next stop. Our next stop would be Monkey Beach. Before stopping we passed through another popular Bay.

Once we arrived at Monkey Beach, we were able to get off the boat to get some up close and personal shots of the wild monkeys that inhabited the island. The boat drivers gave clear instructions to not touch the monkeys, yet people seemed to do it anyway. (SMH) One lady on my boat was scratched very badly by one and had to get medical treatment. So if you go, please follow instructions.

We only spent about 15 minutes on Monkey Beach, it’s not the biggest place so that was enough time. Next up was a stop for snorkeling. I was actually impressed with the snorkeling. There were some really pretty fish around in the area we stopped. We snorkled for about 30 minutes before loading back up to head to another island for lunch. There was a pre made buffet waiting for us. It consisted of a few thai dishes, salad, spaghetti (not that great), and fish sticks. The food was satisfying but I was ready to get back to some good old street food back in Patong. Our last and final stop was to a very touristy like island where it cost to literally do everything, including sit. By this point I was starting to feel sick (I was getting a sinus infection) so I paid 100 baht to rent a beach chair in the shade. I slept for most of the 2 hour stop on this island and only went to get into the water to cool off. Our boat also provided fresh pineapple, watermelon, and ice cold water for free. So I loaded up on that as well.

I was so ready to head back to Patong and back to my hostel. We made the boat ride back and the vans then took us back to our accommodations. I’ve done a million boat tours, so they actually bore me now. I had the whole hop on hop off routine that’s required.

After relaxing back at LubD for a while, I decided to go check out the infamous Bangla Road. Bangla Road is similar to Pub Street in Siem Reap. It’s a long strip filled with bars, clubs, restaurants, and everything in between. If you know anything about Thailand, this is also where people try to persuade you to go to a “ping pong” show. But do your research first. They can be a scam. Unless you’re willing to pay almost $20 for a coca-cola, I say avoid this.

After walking for a bit, I found a cute little vegan spot on a side street. I sat down and ate pineapple fried rice. It was really good. I went back into the main action of Bangla road and decided to go see a “lady-boy” show aka a Drag show. To enter you had to buy a drink which was 300 baht or about $9. The show runs every hour starting at 8pm. It was actually very entertaining. The lady-boys LOOKED AMAZING. They performed show tunes from different musicals and did lots of audience interactions. Unfortunately my phone died so I didn’t get any pictures. But they are more than willing to take pics with you.

I soon headed back to lay down for the night, as I was still feeling kinda sick.

The next morning was my travel club presentation that I agreed to at the airport. A private taxi came to pick me up and take me to the presentation. The presentation was pretty painless. It was actually an interesting presentation but I didn’t give in. After collecting my incentives, I asked the taxi to take me to Jungceylon shopping plaza so that I could use some of my vouchers. My first stop was to the spa. The vouchers were valid at a really nice spa called Pimnara. I booked a 90 minute massage and then a pedicure.

I was led to a room and given a really good (but painful) massage. It was a Swedish massage, but it included tapotement (chopping and pounding). So there were times that the lady would start chopping and pounding my muscles to get out the knots. After the massage, I was taken to the pedicure room for a really in depth pedi. My total for the spa was 1000 baht or $32. Next I went downstairs to a restaurant for lunch, a burger and fries using my vouchers as well.

From Jungceylon, I decided to head to a local travel agency that also accepted the vouchers. I needed to book my return taxi to the airport and I wanted to see what other tours they offered as well. I ended up booking a city tour for my last day before heading to the airport. (Still using the vouchers) I still had some vouchers left over, so I decided to save them and use them for dinner that night.  From the agency, I took a scenic route back to my hostel. I walked along the main strip of Patong beach. Patong Beach isn’t the nicest beach to be honest. It reminds me of any other beach in the States. I think if I ever go back, I would stay in Krabi, Phi Phi Don, or just opt for another island in Thailand all together. (There are A TON)

Later that evening, I made a reservation for a cute little restaurant that accepted my vouchers called Two Chefs. They also had live music every night which sold me. The in house band was duo of a singer and a guy on guitar that covered pretty much any hit. They also took requests on the spot. THEY WERE AMAZING. For my meal, I ordered the cashew chicken with rice, water, and the brownie with ice cream for dessert. The restaurant even gave out free shots to every one eating. I stayed for a while just enjoying the band before making my way back to begin packing my bag. Did I mention that the fruit stands in Thailand are BEAUTIFUL.

The next day was my last day but also the day for my city tour. I checked out of my room and stored my bags with the hotel before being picked up bright and early. The tour took us around various spots in Phuket that are famous to the island. The last stop, and my only reason for booking, was to Tiger Kingdom. During the tour we stopped to see a random baby elephant, a really pretty scenic outlook atop a mountain, a honey factory, a cashew farm, some temples, a jewelry store, and the famous big Buddha.  THEN FINALLY it was time for Tiger Kingdom. I’ll let the pictures speak for them self. Yes it was a bit scary at first, but it wasn’t too bad.

The tour ended around 2:30 and it was back to my hostel to take a quick shower, change, and then head to the airport to head back to COLD KOREA.

Overall, Phuket was underwhelming. I was happy to see Maya Bay and Tiger Kingdom, but next time I will opt for another Thai island such as Koh Samui or Koh Lipe. I hope this doesn’t sway you  not to see it but just go in open minded. Some people love it but if you’ve been to beaches all over the world (like me) you may find it a bit BLAH.

Stay tuned for my next post…I went to the OLYMPICS!!!! As always, thanks for reading and happy traveling!

 

 

Travel Review: Bangkok, Thailand

 

Hi folks:

I am back to continue with the reviews from my amazing trip. In this post, I will spill the deets on my time in Bangkok, Thailand.

When I last left you I was leaving Siem Reap to head to Bangkok. I had a night flight out of Cambodia and the flight was only 50 minutes. I actually learned that many backpackers take a cheap overnight bus from Siem Reap to Bangkok for about $8!!! I will definitely keep this in mind from now on as well.

I arrived into Bangkok after 11pm. I flew in the smaller airport, DMK, so getting through customs was pretty easy. I was actually staying with a friend from college who lives and works in Bangkok, so I don’t have any deets on where to stay. I’m very grateful that she opened her beautiful home to me for the trip!

Just like in KL I used the Grab ride share app service to get to her home. She lived near the Asok BTS station so it was about a 25 minute ride from DMK and the cost was about $12. Since I arrived so late, I decided to stay in. I chatted with my friend for a while getting suggestions on things to do and see while there. She would actually be heading out for the weekend the next day, so I wouldn’t get to hang out with her after that night.

The next day (which was a Friday) I decided to spend the day exploring the various Thai temples. After getting in quick workout I headed out to start my day.  I made the short walk to the BTS station (the above ground train system in Bangkok) and caught the train to the Siam station and then transferred lines to head to the Saphan Taksin station where I would be able to catch the ferry at Central Pier. The easiest way to explore the main temples (or Wats as said by Thais) is by the ferry. There are various ferry lines but I took the orange line ferry which was 15 baht. ($.50) I had previously downloaded a very easy to read map that listed out which pier to stop at for each temple. My first stop of the day was to the Grand Palace located at Pier 9. (You have to be up and waiting at the exit of the boat before your stop because the driver does not stop long so you have to pay attention to where you are.)

 

Once I was off of the boat, I walked through a small market and then saw the loads of other people heading to the palace as well. There is a large wall around the perimeter and a guard at the gate who checks your clothing to make sure you are properly dressed. These temples are religious monuments so showing respect when entering is very important. I was not aware of the rules so I had to purchase a wrap to cover my legs from a vendor across the road. (Keep this in mind if you plan to see the temples.) After covering my legs I was able to enter the main gate. It was very crowded with tour groups, but I eventually found my way to the ticket counter. There is a 500 baht (cash only and about $16) fee to enter the Grand Palace.

There are free guided tours available in different languages as well as maps of the premises. (It’s pretty big) I decided to self explore. The different buildings and temples were beautiful. Seeing all of the jewels and details on the buildings was breathtaking. It was also VERY hot out that day. (at least 90+ degrees) There are some buildings (mostly the ones with Buddha statues) that you must also take off your shoes  before entering. (Again these are religious shrines so as a sign of respect you must follow the rules. People even come in and pray)


I spent a few hours exploring the Grand Palace. I even spotted a celebrity doing the same. (Ty Dolla Sign)

I headed back toward the Pier, grabbing a fresh guava juice  and some fried sweet potatoes on the way. (Fresh fruit and fruit juice stands are everywhere in Bangkok. You can get a bag of fresh fruit for $1) I hopped back on the boat and went to Pier 8 to see the famous reclining Buddha. (Wat Pho) There was an entrance fee here of either 100 or 200 baht (I can’t remember) and it came with a bottle of cold water. (THANK YOU JESUS) The reclining Buddha left me speechless. Before entering you must put your shoes in a bag and then walk in. (You must still follow the clothing rules too. No bare arms and legs covered to the knee at least) The reclining Buddha is enormous. So much so that you can’t photograph it in one shot. It’s made of gold and the detail is spectacular. I literally walked around it like WOW!! There are a few other shrines as well as a Thai massage school on the same premises.

 

I headed back to catch the boat and made my way to one more set of temples. I didn’t pay to actually enter them, I just took a few photos from the outside. At this point I was starving. I had only eaten some fried sweet potatoes and bananas I picked up from a street cart. I knew I needed to find real food. A very popular are for tourist and backpackers is Khao san road. It was one of the stops on the ferry so I decided to head out there since it was further from where I was staying and I wouldn’t make it there otherwise.) Before getting off on the stop, I met another solo female traveler from Canada. She was staying in the Khao san road area so we decided to walk together. She was also traveling around South East Asia but for a lot longer duration than I was. Once we neared her hostel we parted ways and I went on to explore what is deemed the cheap eats part of Bangkok.

Khao San road is full of street vendors, street food, massage parlors, and outdoor restaurants. I finally stopped at a cute outdoor restaurant for some Pad Thai, cold water, and a sprite. My meal total was $5. Although I quickly found that you can get Pad Thai from the street carts cooked to order for a little under a dollar (30 baht! WOW) I needed to walk off the Pad Thai, so I continued to explore. I can literally walk up and down a street 50 times just taking it all in. That’s what I did on Khao San Road. I eventually stopped for a foot massage. They were a little more than the ones in Cambodia, a whopping $5 for a 30 minute massage. (LOL) By this time, I was ready to try mango sticky rice. It’s a popular dessert in Thailand made of fresh slices of mango, sticky rice, and sweetened coconut milk. It was love at first bite. The average price of mango sticky rice in Bangkok is 80 baht ($2.50 roughly)

I finally decided I had enough and bargained with a Tuk Tuk driver to take me to a BTS station so that I could get back home. (Again, Khao san road is pretty far out so plan accordingly)

 

Day 3: (Saturday)

My friend told me that one of the must see things was the Chatuchak weekend market. Just as the name hints, it’s a large market that is only open on Saturday and Sunday. Once again, I headed to the BTS station for the Mo Chit stop which is the direct stop for the market. My plan was to get up and go around 9am. However, I slept in, made breakfast, and got in a workout. So I didn’t head to the market until after 11am. By this point the sun was beaming and the crowds were in abundance.

There are maps for the market but it’s literally so big they don’t help. I just wondered aimlessly through the stalls. I stopped for a fresh banana mango shake to cool off. The market was very lively. The vendors sell everything from clothing, to plants, to custom artwork. There is every a few food sections. After a while, I decided to sit down to eat. I found a cute little stall that was pretty busy. They served various dishes with the main ingredient being duck. I settled for the noodles with sliced duck. The duck noodles were $1.65 for a large filling bowl. Once I finished my lunch I walked around a little longer to ensure I didn’t miss anything.

I made my way back to the BTS and back toward the Asok area. I first wanted to stop at the Central station to see the mall. In Bangkok, there is a shopping mall at EVERY BTS station. When I say a mall, I mean a large milti-level complex with stores and restaurants galore. Many of them also have movie theaters, gyms, and other attractions inside. The central station had about 3 large malls around it so I wanted to see them. (Malls in Asia put the malls in America to shame. ) There was also a great view from the garden on the top of the mall.

After perusing the mall I finally headed back to the apartment to relax for a while, the market wore me out! I knew I wanted to go out later that evening since it was my last night in Bangkok. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to see the famous bar (Sky Bar) where the movie Hangover was filmed or if I wanted to explore a night market.

Finally after a few hours of fighting sleep, I decided on a night market I found through a search. It was also pretty far out but I didn’t care. I took the BTS as far as I could, and then took a cab the rest of the way.

The “train” night market was super cute. Just like the Chatuchak  market, vendors sold a wide variety of things but on a smaller scale. I was more so interested in the awesome (and cheap) street food. That was my first stop of the night. I tried a few things: more pad thai a thai pancake, and of course mango sticky rice. After that I decided to browse the various stalls of vendors. I loved seeing the knock off clothes and shoes. I ended up getting a gel manicure for around $6 at one of the stalls before I made my way back to find a taxi. I had to make sure I caught the last train of the night.

Last Day:

On my last day in Bangkok, I decided to head to one more mall in search of a Nike Thailand or Nike Bangkok signature shirt. I try to collect them in countries that sell them but I came up empty handed in my search. After grabbing some ice cream at cold stone and a quick lunch, I made my way back to prepare to head to the airport for my last destination, Phuket!!

Overall, Bangkok was everything to me. I truly fell in love with Thailand just from my short time there. So much so, that I have started the job hunt there as my next potential home. Thailand is so cheap and the fruit is AMAZING!!!! I could definitely see myself living there for a little while.

As always, thanks for reading and Happy Traveling!