Postcards from Cambodia

Cambodia: Siem Reap – Phnom Penh – Kampot – Kep

It may seem kind of ridiculous posting now. I took my trip to Cambodia in January and its already July. Where has the time gone? I’m starting a job very soon and moving soon to start a new phase of my life but I can’t help but reminisce, as memories are far more valuable upon returning to familiarity.

Travelling doesn’t always go to plan and I can safely say the trip to Cambodia was challenging. It was somewhere I’d always wanted to tick off my map. Lured by Siem Reap, the reality was I was disappointed with it being such a tourist town. I also got the worst case of food poisoning I have ever experienced, taking tablets for a 5 hour bus to reach Kampot, I then stayed at the hotel heading to the bathroom, even after a drink of water. This lasted a few days. It was bad, despite Kampot being a lovely place (as far as what I saw – it seemed so)

I started to feel better and planned to go to Koh Rong. But…the idyllic island had an outbreak of some illness, so having recovered from food poisoning, we decided to play it safe and go to Kep. A nearby small town famous for crab – quieter, beautiful sunsets, amazing seafood and lovely people it was without doubt my favourite part of this trip. It just goes to show that what you expect isn’t always what you get. From ‘gap yah’ trousers to ruins, and finding out more about it’s recent history, in hindsight Cambodia was challenging but certainly well worth a visit. It was a memorable and incredible experience and amok – the national dish is delish.

 

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Postcards from New Year: Korean Style

New Year: Korean Style

New Year is usually characterised by a terrible hangover, wallowing in self-pity, drinking copious amounts of tea and watching Disney movies.

Whilst Koreans are known for their love of a good party (Korea drinks on average 14 shots a week), NY is celebrated slightly differently. The idea is to get up very early (or stay out very late) and watch the first sunrise of the year. For our final NY in Busan we welcomed in 2017, Korean style.

New Years Eve was spent revisiting Bujeon market, eating bibimbap then indulging in some noraebang (karaoke). The UK was still doing the countdown when we woke up to incredible views over Busan’s Gwangalli bridge. I really enjoyed the Korean way of celebrating New Year, I felt so much more proactive for January 1st although I couldn’t imagine doing it in Blighty’s miserable weather. It’s hard to believe I can now say to friends and family, ‘see you this year.’ I’ve become so used to being so far, detached even, to the goings on of life at home. Soon I’ll be leaving Korea and the sunrise was a great welcome to the new year as well as a sentimental goodbye to this amazing city.

새해 복 많이 받으세요 – Happy New Year

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Postcards from Hiroshima & Fukuoka

Hiroshima & Fukuoka, Japan

If you want the quick version of this trip check out my Youtube video:
Chuseok: A Trip to Hiroshima and Fukuoka

2 weeks ago Korea had one of its biggest national holidays, Chuseok. For the short break we took a ferry from Busan to Fukuoka. Whilst this was my fourth visit to Japan, the trip really stood out. This was my first time to Hiroshima and I didn’t know much about what happened on August 6th 1945. I watched a documentary beforehand to get a better idea but nothing could prepare me for the visit. It was an emotionally sobering and important experience. Visiting sites where tragic events took place is a strange thing. In the past I’ve almost felt detached. It’s hard to believe you are somewhere so well known for such horrific events, yet feeling nothing.  Maybe because in a way, it’s really impossible to fully understand such trauma and to say I do, would be untrue. When I went to Hiroshima, I was incredibly moved, frustrated and upset. The place left me feeling uneasy but also peaceful. Whilst we can never understand truly what happened, we can feel whats left and learn from it.

It’s important to say that whilst the Peace Memorial Park was a distinctly memorable part of our experience, there is more to Hiroshima than it’s dark history. During our stay we also visited some beautiful traditional areas including Miyajima and Iwakuni. We finished our trip with a day in Fukuoka exploring modern Japan. Here is our itinerary.

Day 1: Hiroshima
We got the ferry from Busan to Fukuoka and were told that our ferry back could be cancelled due to a typhoon. We were worried about what school would say but took the risk. We arrived, caught the bullet train to Hiroshima, ate ramen and that was that.

Day 2
1. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park
We got off the tram and literally right there stands the A-bomb dome. It’s the only building to have survived the nuclear attack and is incredibly eerie. The park is simple and beautiful but this stands out as a distinct reminder of what happened.  There are booklets spread about in different languages allowing you to read more on what happened. The Children’s Memorial is incredibly moving where groups of school children were singing, paying their tributes. After, we visited the museum. It was incredibly informative and doesn’t use much technology. It lets the evidence speak for the horrors of what happened. By the end of it I was in tears.

2. Miyajima
It was a very heavy morning. We were both incredibly moved but we also knew that there was more to Hiroshima than just a traumatic past. The city is very cultural so we nipped over on a ferry to Miyajima. This is where you see the huge red gate in the middle of the water. You can see it at low tide or high tide, depending on how close you want to get to it. It was beautiful and there’s deer walking around freely. Nara take two! We finished the night with an incredible sushi meal in Hiroshima. The sushi chef insisted he made us his ‘special.’ Thinking he was giving us one piece we said yes, then realised we were getting a whole set. We were nervous as to how much our bill was rapidly adding up but couldn’t help but enjoy the best sushi I’ve tasted. It was worth every penny.

Day 3:
1. Iwakuni
Hiroshima is famous for its castle and the gardens but instead we went to a place not far out called Iwakuni. The area is famous for the Kintaikyo Bridge, a castle and its serene Japanese gardens. However, in amidst this lies some oddities which made it a really interesting stop. In the same area you can also visit the Imazu White Snakes Museum. Actual white snakes. We’d also heard that there was an ice cream shop which sold 100 types of ice cream including some rather unusual flavours. You can choose your standard vanilla or if you’re more adventurous, maybe ramen, curry or garlic ice cream? We chose the wasabi and it was actually really good!  It was time to head back, eat more ramen (ramen every day) and then off to Fukuoka.

 Day 4: Fukuoka
1. Robosquare
In Tokyo, I didn’t really get to see many robot-y things. However, Fukuoka is apparently one of the leading areas in this field. Robosquare offers a taster of some techno-gimics. It’s small but free to visit and fun. Talking with Hello Kitty in Japanese and watching the robots perform a show is something you can truly only see in Japan.

2. Pokemon Centre
With the hype of Pokemon-Go and just simply wanting to relive my childhood, we had to visit. I went to the store in Osaka and I would say that one is better but it was still awesome. So hard to not spend all your money. PIKA-PIKA-CHU!

3. Ramen Square
We ate ramen every single day, so why not finish with it. Ramen Square is host to many noodle restaurants in a shopping mall. The food here is so good. After, we hit up the photo booths known as ‘purikura.’ This is where they make you look like a manga character, your eyes are enlarged, skin is flawless. It’s like you’ve been made by the creators of Wallace and Gromit with added frills. I wish they had this in Korea.

Luckily the next day our ferry was still running. It was a choppy journey but we returned safely. This was probably my last visit to Japan. I’m very sad to say goodbye, but really can’t complain given what opportunities living in Busan has given me. Sayonara ㅠㅠ

 

Postcards from Taipei

Taipei, Taiwan

If you want the quick version of this trip check out my Youtube video:
Taiwan: Four Countries, Three Weeks

It was time to visit the biggie, the capital Taipei. Because we’d had such a great time in Taiwan’s smaller cities; Tainan and Kaohsiung, I was a little worried about going back to the intensity of a big city. If you want to find out what we got up to before hitting Taipei, here is a link to Postcards from Kaohsiung and Tainan. Soon after arriving, I realised I didn’t need to be nervous. Taipei was still pretty relaxed which I think is due to the friendlier atmosphere in comparison to other capital cities. It was the best part of the trip taking the gold for our 3 week vacation.

Day 1:
1. Long Shan Temple
Another day, another temple. This is the most famous one in Taipei and because of that, I thought it would be too touristy. Actually, it was really nice in the evening. We then went through the ‘Tourist Night Market’ nearby. Don’t bother with this, we didn’t get a good vibe and it sold a lot of tat.

2. Ximen Area
First we stumbled onto The Red House Theatre, which as the name suggests, is a red brick building. It houses performances but also hosts a kitschy, design market on weekends. Then we made our way over to the main square. I loved Ximen. This area is buzzing and always busy. Even on a Sunday night, this place was packed. It’s kind of like Shibuya combined with Harajuku, so of course it was right up my alley. Clearly a Japanese influence in this area but again still friendly and down to earth, making it distinctly Taiwanese.

Day 2
1. Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
Along with Long Shan temple, this place is a landmark of Taipei. I did not expect the size of this place to be as big as it was. It’s a huge square with a memorial erected for the leader Chiang Kai-shek. The blue roofed building is the most iconic in this area and it’s a must-see attraction.

2. Taipei Confucius Temple
We went to the Datong district and this temple was really tranquil. Whilst we were there, a guy was just writing out calligraphy for free. Skip the 4D movie though, it’s utter pants. I was laughing so much at how bizarre it was, watching a kids animated cartoon on Buddhism whilst being prodded in the back by strong streams of air. I’ve been to 4D things before, but this was much more rigorous with the effects. It made the experience oddly funny to me. It just didn’t work and doesn’t need it because the simplicity of the place does it enough justice.

3. Shilin Night Market
On our way back to the hotel we stopped in Ximen for some shaved ice. Much to Dave’s delight. He loves bingsu; a Korean dessert which is similar. After freshening up it was time to tuck into the largest night market in Taipei. The clothes area of Shilin is great. But surprisingly, we preferred the markets in Tainan and Kaohsiung. Why? Shilin food market is mainly a basement food court. There’s some stalls but I found it a little too overwhelming. We found a lot of the restaurants downstairs which were just selling the exact same dishes. It was all sit-down from what we could find. So, in terms of food, we felt a little let down. I guess the expectation of it being the biggest and the ‘best’ probably was too high. It was still fun though.

The weirdest part was ‘urban shrimping.’ You get given a rod and try to catch live prawns. If you’re successful you cook and eat them yourself. Dave caught one between us so we spared its life. I think my inability to catch anything confirms being a fisherman is not my inner calling. This one we was a little less legit and fairground-ish than other urban pools but all in all, a fun, spur of the moment and utterly bizarre experience.

Day 3
1. Maokong Gondola
This is the most relaxed I’ve felt all holiday. Little did we know the cable cars have maintenance on Mondays, so we turned up thinking we couldn’t go. Instead we took a bus up through the hills and i think it was a blessing in disguise. Barely any people were there. Rested in the hillsides are lots of little tea shops. You can also get a great view of Taipei 101 surrounded by greenery. It was so peaceful, just sat back with my pot of Earl Grey overlooking the scenery.

2. Yongkang Beef Noodles
Near Dongmen station there is this a well known noodle place called Yongkang Beef Noodles. It’s just off a cute little quirky shopping street and the food was good. We tried beef noodles and spicy dumplings, finishing it off with mango sorbet and shaved ice. Naturally.

3. Return to Ximen
We’d seen many a night market by this point so returned to Ximen because the area is so great. We shopped. Again just tons of cute cartoony shops with every character imaginable, nail bars, tattoo parlours and of course street food. That night we tried seaweed mayo chicken. It was good but nothing on Korean chicken. 😉

Day 4
At this point we hit a dilemma. It was the last day before we checked out. Dave wanted to try gorge walking but it was 3 hours out of the city. Then there was the option of Juifen, which is meant to be beautiful but we’d had our fair share of tea. So, we looked for something new. We decided instead to take a short visit out to a Taiwanese aboriginal village called Wulai.
1. Wulai 
Steeped in it’s aboriginal history, Wulai is set within the mountains and known for its waterfalls and hot springs. We visited on a weekday and it felt as though nobody had touched it. The Old Street cooks up some interesting eats including wild boar sausage, millet wine and steamed rice in bamboo. We decided to take a dip in the outdoor hot springs admiring the view. It was one of the best experiences we had.

2. Wufenpu 
After our trip, we came back to Taipei for some last minute shopping at Wufenpu, the wholesale fashion market. This place is a maze and cheap as chips. I’m always hearing Dave say that men’s clothes are so much more expensive than women’s in Korea. However, this place had great deals for both me and him.

3. Raohe Night Market
Of course, we couldn’t leave our last night in Taiwan without visiting a night market. We preferred Raohe to Shilin. It’s older, local and manageable but still with a great buzz. I had what can only be described as the Taiwanese, Greggs cornish pasty. Needless to say, I went back for another.

Day 5: 
We had one of those weird days where you check out, but can’t fully relax because we had a flight at a weird time. So, we did do some exploring.
1. Taipei 101
The tower is Taiwan’s modern landmark. Instead of paying a fortune to go up to the top, we went to Starbucks on the 35th floor. I won’t say too much as I did a post all about Taipei 101. Basically, it’s more exclusive because you have to reserve in advance which means less people which means more views. Highly recommended.

2. National Taiwan Museum
Not to be confused with the National Palace Museum. We met up with our friend who is also an English teacher in Korea. It was okay, not much there but they had a section on black and white photography which I enjoyed. After, we went to Bopiliao Old Street which is really not worth your time.

3. Cinema Street
We still had time to kill time but knew we had to go back to the hotel and collect bags. Nearby to our hotel was cinema street. Lined with pockets of street art and cinemas, it’s a pretty funky area.

And that is the last installment of ‘postcards’ for now. Keep your eyes peeled for the next itinerary as over Chuseok, the Korean national holiday, Dave and I took a short trip to Fukuoka and Hiroshima. 안녕 (Bye)

Postcards from Kaohsiung & Tainan

Third Stop: Kaohsiung & Tainan, Taiwan

Great food, great people, great places. Taiwan has an air of friendliness which was very noticeable after visiting Shanghai and HK. Whilst it flares up it’s heritage from China and Japan it seems proud of its influences. It doesn’t play victim or feel burdened by it. Instead bitterness is left at the door, and the people have taken it, making it their own. It just makes this country all the more endearing.

After seeing god knows how many temples, I’ve become harder to impress, but Taiwan had some of the most ornate buildings I’d seen. The night markets are also what stand out on this trip. With the buzz of a funfair and quick tasty eats, Taiwan takes the gold for summer vacation. We made three stops in Taiwan; Kaohsiung, Tainan and Taipei. This week I will be focusing on the first two cities.

Day 1: Kaohsiung
It was quite a relief to leave HK, if you want to read more on what we did, check out Postcards from Hong Kong. Kaohsiung was our first stop and is the second largest city in the country but it was really chilled out. The relaxed vibe was apparent as soon as we left the airport and its exactly what we needed after visiting Shanghai and HK.
1. The Lotus Pond
It was pouring down but we didn’t let that stop us from exploring. First we went to the lotus pond. Around the lake are a number of little temples. There’s a huge dragon and tiger you can walk into. Opposite that, was perhaps my favourite temple of the trip. My photos did not do it justice. The torrential rain at first seemed a pain but in the end, it really added to the atmosphere. We had the place to ourselves.

2. Ruifeng Night Market
Our first night market and the most well-known amongst locals in Kaohsiung. The first time you visit a night market its a little over bearing. Stalls after stalls of food you recognise, food you don’t, there’s an overwhelming amount of choice. Not to mention, lots of people. The prospect of ordering is kind of daunting but once you’ve tried a few things it becomes part of the fun. It is incredibly cheap to eat here so you can try a range of things. This night we tried fried lemon chicken, brown sugar bubble tea, oyster omlette (famous in TW) and a cream cheese bun. We also dabbed our hand at a few games but alas, we won no fluffy toy.

Day 2
1. Fo Guang Shan
I’ve seen a lot of big Buddha’s, believe me. It seems every monastery claims to have ‘the biggest Buddha’ but here is a place you do not want to miss. This one is framed by eight pagodas. It’s an incredible entrance. Ultra modern but the history of how the place came to be where it is, is really interesting. Fo Guang Shan is dominated by female monks and houses one of three teeth from Buddha in the world. We thought it was cool because unbeknownst of that, we’d visited Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka earlier this year. We need to head to India now so we can tick off all three teeth. The place feels like a Buddhist amusement park so I don’t know how it isn’t better known.

2. Luihe Night Market
Before heading to the night market, we felt like trying a Taiwanese restaurant. We noticed a lot of Japanese inspired food during our time here and that night we had the greatest sashimi. Then, it was time for more food at a smaller night market. Because we’d eaten our fair bit of fresh fish all I can really remember is trying the papaya milk, which is so well known here. It tasted cheesey to me. Our time in Kaohsiung was short but sweet.

Day 3: Tainan
We took a train over to Tainan. Whilst Kaohsiung has its status as the second largest city, it feels less dense. Tainan is more concentrated and because of that felt more like a city than KS did. We relaxed, nipped out for some Taiwan-Japanese fusion food then went to another night market.
1. Flower Night Market
The most well known night market in Tainan and perhaps my favourite of them all. This is set in a huge square. This place had a really great atmosphere with more option for clothes too.

 Day 4
1. National Museum of Taiwan Literature
We really only went in here to use the air con because my gosh, it was hot. You couldn’t stay out in it too long. Literature Museum was meh, but we weren’t really expecting much to be honest.

2. Confucian Temple & surrounding area
The temple itself has a small charge and its… nice. Nothing special. The Elementary school next to it is actually more impressive and in a great area. After our temple stop we embarked on a quirky café hop. First to Narrow Alley Cafe which is hidden within the tiniest gap in the wall. Dave was fitting in between the walls for jokes, only to spot a hidden door which led to the cafe. After refreshments, we wandered for something more filling, stumbling upon a place called Pop Pie. Naturally, I didn’t want to get my hopes up at the word ‘pie.’ Pie in Asia rarely means the pie I know. Whilst it wasn’t pie, this café serves up amazing quiche. ACTUAL QUICHE. It’s amazing how excited about home food you get when you live abroad. I never thought I’d be getting excited about quiche and a salad. The set included pumpkin soup and we finished off our indulgent afternoon with a lemon cappuccino. Worth checking this lovely place out.

3. Hayashi Department Store
We were looking to fill time and noticed this department store. From the wooden architecture and the name, it was obviously Japanese. Hayashi, for a department store, is small, manageable and has high quality souvenirs. You know, in Korea I find it hard to get something ‘Korean’ without it looking tacky. The goods are still completely about Tainan but the building is historically influenced by Japan.

4. Dadong Night Market
The runner up to the Flower Night Market. We noticed that the exact same stalls from the night before move to this market, so its great if you feel you missed out on something. This was the best night of dining because we saved our stomachs for a completely market-food filled evening. We tried spring rolls, pork bun (AMAZING), fish balls, beef noodles, cheese wrapped in bacon and more.

Next Tuesday on ‘Postcards’ I will be posting our itinerary for Taiwan’s capital, Taipei.

In the meantime, we’re off to Fukuoka tomorrow for the Chuseok holiday! Yay

Postcards from Hong Kong & Macau

Second stop: Hong Kong & Macau

If you want the quick version of this trip check out my Youtube video:
Hong Kong and Macau: Four Countries, Three Weeks

Okay, I’m going to say it… I didn’t really get the fuss about Hong Kong. I know. I was surprised too. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy certain things. It’s clear from my video that we had some good times but Macau really stole the show. I think particularly with travel blogs, do we really pay attention if we say we ‘love’ every single place we visit. That’s why I feel I need to be honest about Hong Kong here. Unlike the food, which was great, the place was a little bland. I know many who love HK and that is absolutely fine. Just, for me it was a haven of shops, a consumerist dream with little else to offer. Overall we felt underwhelmed considering its glowing reputation.

I recognise our experience of Hong Kong will perhaps have been influenced by our terrible accommodation. Even though accom. is just a base (you had no choice, living in the box we were staying in), coming back to ‘Chungking Mansions’ was tiresome. Just don’t do it. It’s cheap, yes, but let’s just say you get what you pay for. I got sick very quickly of walking through that place receiving inappropriate comments which were hurled just in the short distance from our room to outside. This unfortunately happens everyday for many ladies and it was almost guaranteed every time I took a step in that place. I felt uncomfortable. I have stayed in basic places before, even without hot water and still tried to not let it effect my opinion, making the most out of the ‘experience.’I can’t blame the accommodation fully for our reaction nor ignore it.

It was a seedy area to stay in and I’m sure if I’d stayed in a decent hotel, my outlook on HK would perhaps have been brighter. But, even outside of Chungking there was a distinct feeling of unfriendliness. Macau on the other hand was wonderful. We needed that day trip and it was without doubt the highlight of our stay here. Here is our itinerary for HK.

Day 1:
1. Arrived at ‘Chungking Mansions.’
Whomever came up with ‘mansion’ to describe this place is extremely ironic. It’s made up of tiny hotel rooms. I repeat. TINY. If you’re looking for knock off ‘phone cases, handbags, watches…cocaine sir?’ (this was offered to my boyfriend) then this is is the place for you. Dodgy as hell.

2. The Symphony of Lights
Okay, so we left our terrible digs, but its okay because HK is going to be amazing. Let’s start with the most famous light show, ‘The Symphony of Lights.’ I don’t know if people in HK just have a funny sense of humour but yet again, this had an ironic title. Was I looking the wrong way? A more accurate description would be ‘The Symphony of A light.’ No plural. It felt like there was one building doing all the work. It was nice to see the junk boats but honestly, what an anti-climax for an incredible setting. It reminded me of those really old rides at Universal or Disney World that they cling onto for nostalgia, when you really just know it’s long overdue to say farewell.

3. Pulse 3D Light Show
Here comes my first positive comment on HK! YAY. Luckily, after ‘The Symphony of Lights’ came an impromptu light show which blew it right out of the water. Projected onto a huge screen with lights, animation, music, the show was really great and got me pumped up for our stay. Positive attitude was back on board. It was only the first evening after-all.

Day 2:
1. Ngong Ping 360
This is where you take a cable car across to see the ‘Big Buddha’ on Lantau island. It was really foggy so we didn’t get a great panoramic view, but we still had a laugh about how scary it was. The village leading over to the main sight is completely built for tourists but once you’re past that and seeing the Big Buddha and Po Lin monastery, it’s all good.

2.  Yat Lok – Michelin Star Restaurant
I know what you’re thinking. How come you’re staying in CK Mansions but can afford to dine at a Michelin Star Restaurant? Well, whilst Yat Lok has one Michelin Star their prices are really cheap. It’s extremely local. You sit in, eat and leave. No messing about. It’s far from what you would associate with Michelin Star in a traditional sense. The service was unfriendly but the goose is great. Definitely worth a visit.

3. Victoria Peak
This is the place to get your photos of HK at night. I thought the tram was the best part about this to be honest. The view is nice but I wasn’t ‘wowed.’ It’s a must-see in HK so I wouldn’t miss it out, but don’t be expecting too much.

Day 3:
1. Mongkok Ladies Market
Don’t worry gentlemen there are some shops for you. This place has incredibly cheap clothes. It reminded me of Korea with its array of character shops, even if its something mundane like a tape measure or apron. As long as it has Totoro’s face on, I will buy it. Those shops are my weakness. It was great though. I enjoyed pottering around the place, eating egg tarts and probably spending too much money.

2.Soho
This area was really quirky. It reminded me of a sophisticated Northern Quarter (in Manchester, U.K.) It’s a trendy area with small bars, street art and great restaurants. We went up the largest escalator in the world which runs through this area and searched for a pie restaurant. When I say pie, I don’t mean those sweet, dessert pies. Oh no. I mean proper, British, savoury pie. To anyone who knows me, this is a big deal. I haven’t had a good pie for a year and a half until I ate at The Globe. For two northerners who’ve been living in Korea, it was bloody marvellous. Momentous even.

Day 4: Macau
This day we took a trip to Macau. Firstly, make sure you book your tickets in advance, especially on weekends because it gets very busy. It’ll state on the ticket to arrive 10-15 mins before the ferry departs. What we didn’t realise is that you really need to start going into security check an hour before to be safe. It took a long time and we were rushed through immigration to get it on time. Wiping the sweat from my brow just reliving it.
1. Main Island
Macau has Chinese and Portuguese influences which is really unusual! You can see European buildings such as the cathedral or The Facade which is next door to a temple. Really bizarre mix. We just wandered around the local area. We went from watching Tai Chi to then bumping into some European country dancers. Summed the place up really.

2.  Taipa
The otherside of the island. This is where you will find the casinos. Casinos are big business here and I’ve heard it makes more money than Vegas. Gambling is banned in China, so many tourists come to place their bets. I’ve never been to Las Vegas but it has exactly what you’d expect of casinos. Excess and luxury are the words for this area. We wanted to try our luck in the casino until we realised you have to place a minimum bet of 200 dollars. Such novices.

3. The House of Dancing Water
This was without doubt the highlight of this trip and definitely up there with our top experiences. Imagine Cirque du Soleil meets a Tim Burton film. That is how I can only describe the House of Dancing Water show. It’s incredible. A spectacle of acrobatic, physical performers but with magical and eerie effects. It’s a must see from me. If you’re going to Macau, you cannot miss this.

Day 5:
1. Hong Kong Museum of History
It’s free which is good but we were a little bored with the start of the exhibition. It’s initially prehistoric history and artifacts. However, it improves and there is a section about the Japanese occupation which was really interesting.

2. Eating Pie…(again)
So, it was our last day and we didn’t know when we were going to eat pie again. It makes us happy because pie is life. Remember that China trip with school I spoke about? If not, you can read about that in my Postcards from Shanghai post. Well, I met my friend, who lives and works in Hong Kong. We reunited in Kyoto, Japan 6 years after he returned to China. Since then, we’ve met up in the U.K and now HK. It was really great to see him. So, we returned to The Globe and ate pie together. The waiter recognised us, embarrassingly.

Thus endeth the HK trip.

Don’t miss tomorrow for my black and white photos from HK & Macau.

Next in the ‘Postcards’ series will be Kaohsiung and Tainan, Taiwan. 안녕 (Bye)

Postcards from Shanghai

Shanghai, China

If you want the quick version of this trip check out my Youtube video:
Shanghai: Four Countries, Three Weeks.

Back in 2008, I went to China with a school trip. It was mandatory to take a language for GCSE and I knew that they offered trips depending on the language you chose. Having already been to Korea, I had an interest in this part of the world. So, it made sense for me to take Chinese Mandarin. That was until I realised how darn difficult it was to learn. Whilst I passed my exams, my Chinese skills are next to nothing now. On the school trip I visited Beijing for a weekend and then stayed in a boarding school somewhere in Guangzhou. Whilst this was a great experience, I didn’t get to explore much outside of the grounds.

Shanghai was my second trip to China but it really felt like I was able to get a better feel for the place this time around. I expected the city to be ultra-modern knowing that Spike Jonze had chosen Shanghai as the location for his 2013 futuristic romance film, Her. It’s modern flare is part of the city’s character but it surprised me that for such an internationally well-known place, it wasn’t hard to stumble upon older gems. You can gaze upon great architectural landmarks like the Bund but also get lost in it’s shabby streets. Shanghai has a thumbs up from me. Here’s our itinerary.

Day 1
1. Yuyuan Gardens
We only had the evening to explore. On our way to People’s Square, we got lost and stumbled upon Yuyuan. It was the best accidental opening to the trip. This is a shopping and dining area but set within traditional Chinese buildings. This night made us realise we were going to struggle with our lack of Mandarin. We chose a random dumpling place, went in and it was incredibly awkward that we were blatantly clueless. It reminded me of the first time I landed in Korea, trying to get by.

2. East Nanjing Road & The Bund
Of course, first night we ticked this off. East Nanjing Road reminded me of Time’s Square. The crowd was insane. There were police there trying to make a clear flow of direction for crowds and was manic. The Bund is just as cool and futuristic as it looks online. Welcome to the largest population in the world.

Day 2
1. French Concession
Shanghai has seen quite it’s fair bit of change and it retains a distinct French influence from its time as a foreign concession. So, this area is really unusual because you can definitely see European architecture and food at play.

2. Jing’an Temple
We were too late to enter the temple so hung around the park nearby. Whilst sat on a bench being bitten to death, this lovely old man started talking to us. Sometimes the sheer amount of people in China can be a little overwhelming and irritating. To meet this guy really brightened up our day. He was fluent in English so people kept staring at him so intensely for being able to speak to us. When talking about how he learnt English he said: ‘A man is not old unless he stops learning.’ I thought that was a nice touch. He made our time in Jing’an more worthwhile.

3. Lost Heaven
Remember I was saying I went to China with school. Well, it just so happens my friend from that class now lives and teaches in Shanghai. Before I moved to Korea, he was teaching in Thailand and was a great help for teaching advice. We went for a meal at Lost Heaven which serves up Yunnan folk cuisine. It was yaaaamay.

Day 3
1. Return to Jing’an 
Because we’ve seen so many temples in Korea and Japan, we didn’t know whether it was worth paying to enter. But, we did anyway and actually this temple is beautiful. Set against the glass architecture surrounding this hub, it’s really, yet again a great example of how Asia has retained its tradition and modernity within the same space.

2. Propaganda Poster Museum
This was up there for me with the highlights of Shanghai. This museum is based in a housing estate. No joke. It’s in a basement of some apartments but it’s actually pretty well known as an attraction now. The small museum has a range of exclusive propaganda artwork spanning from the 1930’s onwards. It’s a really unique exhibition.

3. IFC Mall 
This is just a shopping mall in the fancy area of the financial district. Whilst you might not be able to afford much, its a really great way to get a close up encounter of the Pearl Tower.

4. Shanghai Circus
There are no animals in this circus so I was happy to go and see it. Whilst I thought the venue felt a little worn out, the performers were incredible. I don’t want to give too much away. Just go see it.

Day 4
1. Film Museum
This was more in my interests. I know very little about Chinese cinema and felt that the museum would be amazing for those who already know quite a bit. It focuses specifically on films but because of my lack of knowledge on this area, I felt I needed some background of how the context of the time affected the films which were produced.

2. Urban Planning Museum
This was for Dave. He likes architecture. I honestly thought it would be really dull but it had a good mix of artsy floors about architecture (which I liked) and then scientific, like geology and such. Good place if you want to understand the influence of European architecture in the city and the development of Shanghai’s modern landscape which has rapidly flourished in recent years.

3. Return to IFC Mall
We returned to IFC for Sichuan food at Southern Beauty. Sichuan province is well known for its spice. Let me tell you, we ordered a ridiculous amount of food. Everyone who went past our table gave us funny looks. Sichuan noodles, pork shoulder, dumplings, kung pao prawns and more. You know you’ve overindulged when you start to breathe heavy from the sheer amount of food. Great meal.

Day 5: Suzhou
Suzhou is only a short train ride away from Shanghai so we took a half-day trip. Remember your passport to get tickets. We tried the day before and were rejected without it. Hence, an impromptu museum day.
1. Humble Administrators Garden
Hailed as ‘thee’ garden to visit in Suzhou. We were a little disappointed but it was incredibly busy. In more serene circumstances the garden could have perhaps lived up to its hype. I did enjoy the bonsai tree bit because…bonsai trees are boss.

2. Pingjang Road
What a surprise this was. Absolute gem in Suzhou. The road is right by a river and feels very oldy-worldy. It actually reminded me a bit of the Philosophers Walk in Kyoto. Really quaint and feels as though you’re stepping back in time.

3. Return to Yuyuan
We got back to Shanghai after a really stressful bout with ticket collection. Long story. Yuyuan Gardens was the perfect way to finish Shanghai. During the day, Yuyuan is buzzing but on the night it is lit up and has an electric vibe.

And that was the end of Shanghai. Don’t miss tomorrow for my black and white photos from Shanghai.

Next in the ‘Postcards’ series will be from Hong Kong & Macau. 안녕 (Bye)

 

 

 

Postcards from Seoul

Seoul, South Korea

This is now my fifth visit to Korea’s capital. Seoul has never really been up there for me with other capitals such as Tokyo or London for example. However, this time round I really enjoyed it and got a better feel for the place. There is something more than Seoul just being a big city with Korean people. I can imagine now that if you lived here you would know the best places to go and really get the most out of it. There’s probably a lot more to Seoul than what I had first thought.

If you want the quick version of this trip check out my Youtube video:
Seoul in 2 minutes

Day 1
1. Gyeongbokgung
Gyeongbokgung (quite a mouthful, I know) is the daddy of all palaces in Seoul. If you want to catch hanboks with an amazing backdrop, this is the place to go. We went on a national holiday so all of the areas were free, including a beautiful view of a small temple with a pond, bridge, complete with heron. #asia

2. King Sejong
Very close to Gyeongbokgung stands a statue of King Sejong. You may be wondering who is this Sejong? Well, this guy invented Hangeul- the Korean alphabet. Apart from ruling the country he was obviously quite a clever chap so we paid him a quick visit to get a few pictures.

3. Insadong
Whether you’re looking for a really special gift or a tacky souvenir, Insadong is the place for you. This area is really artsy and has some really great shops, cafe’s and little quirky odd bits which you could only find in Korea. Head to the rectangular shopping area which is home to the ‘poo cafe’ or grab yourself some poo bread. Yes, you heard that right but don’t worry, whilst Korea has some head-turning food, this is just chocolate bread in the shape of a dookie.

4. Kukkiwon
Kukkiwon is the World Taekwondo Headquarters. I came here on my first visit and so it was really nostalgic to go back. This time we took part in a Taekwondo Experience Program which is a one hour lesson. It was my boyfriend’s first time doing taekwondo (I’m trying to get him to ditch cricket for the better sport). This was the highlight of this trip. Training at Kukkiwon is a once in a lifetime opportunity for any taekwondo enthusiast and if you’re a beginner you get given a dobok (taekwondo suit) and white belt with your name engraved on it. It’s all included in the lesson fee which is 20,000 won. Such a bargain.
After the lesson, we watched the Kukkiwon Demonstration Team who were absolutely flawless. These guys are the best of the best when it comes to showing the flashiest parts of the sport. Their set included poomsae (traditional set of movements) and plenty of board breaks. If you take part in the lesson you can also get the chance, should you be brave enough, to break a board with one of the experts.
Day 2
This day we were meant to go to Namhi Island, a destination which is well know for Korean dramas. However, my health and the ridiculous weather changed our plans. So, what should you do on a rainy day in Seoul?

1. COEX Mall
COEX Mall is huge. It has a lot of Korea’s high street cosmetic stores but also some up-market pricier stores. The cinema here is also amazing! We shopped for a little bit and then took in a movie at the Megabox screen.

2. Dongdaemun Design Plaza
This place was a really great surprise last time we went. The place is full of cool stores all in one super modern funky space. If you’re into K-POP there is also a very unique store selling a ton of merchandise with everything related to your favourite artists.

I was really sick this day so our itinerary was very short. boo

Day 3
1. Raccoon Cafe
In Korea, animal cafes are pretty common. Cat and dog cafes are everywhere but more recently it seems Korea are getting even more bizarre with their choice of animals. One of Seoul’s more peculiar ones is the raccoon cafe. We went to one called ‘Blind Alley.’ I still don’t quite know how I feel about them. There were only two of them but the area seemed clean and they are super cute.

2. Gwangjang Market
Seoul is home to many a market. Gwangjang, the food market, is without doubt the most atmospheric and chaotic one I’ve visited here. It’s exactly how I imagined it. Stalls upon stalls of Korean street food. It’s all very casual and a great way to try a range of Korean nosh. We opted for jok-bal (pig’s feet) which I have to say was much fattier than in a restaurant. If you’re brave enough there is octopus and plenty of things to keep you interested.

3. Lantern Festival
This was the perfect way to finish our trip to Seoul. It’s Buddha’s birthday coming up very soon and this parade lit the street with all things Korean. Lanterns, hanboks, monks, baby monks and dragons. It lit up everything traditional that I love about Korea and celebrations like this always make me realise how special and different it is to be here.

 

 

 

Year 2 in the Bu (Busan)

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Korea 2005

I’m now renewing my contract which got me reflecting on what a year it’s been. Last year I flew into Korea on my birthday. I turned 23 mid-air, starting a chapter in a country I barely knew. It’s funny how something so short, a 2 week visit to Korea 10 years earlier would impact so greatly on my decision to move here further down the line.

The thought of returning to Korea had been on my mind for a while, but I’ve got to be honest, the day of my flight I was so scared. Everyone around me kept saying how wonderful it was going to be. The application process was long, tiring even and saying goodbye to friends and family was difficult. I didn’t know how to teach, knew very little Korean and it was for a year. However, what I’ve found to be consistently true is that the most rewarding experiences I’ve had, have required the most work. More crucially, they require the ability to take a leap out of comfort zones.

It paid off. Korea has been everything I hoped it would be. One year on and this time I celebrated my birthday with some amazing friends. Heck, I even met a nice boy! (who ironically is not Korean). Busan is my home away from home and better than I’d imagined. Now the new intake for EPIK is moving in soon and it really got me reminiscing about how I ended up here. Why this destination above others? I’d had such a short experience with Korea which really had become a bigger influence than I ever would have imagined.

For some teachers, it is their first time in this part of the world. Some are experienced having taught elsewhere. For others, this is their first time abroad! There are many people from all over the world who for whatever reason have all ended up in the same place with you for a period of time.

When teachers meet each other for the first time one of the most common questions I’ve been asked and have asked others is, Why did you come to Korea? Its a good question, so I’ll take you to my beginning. My familiarity with Korea began with taekwondo. I joined as a kid, became obsessed with the sport and that was it. My first love was taekwondo and I guess the culture that was entwined with that is what got me interested in this country.

However, things really kicked off (excuse the pun) when my Taekwondo club (Koryo  Taekwondo in Cockerton, Darlington) set up an exchange with another dojang based in Cheongju. A group of Korean students came over for a couple of weeks, they trained with us and I was lucky enough to host 유솔아. We did taekwondo together, hung out and I even took her to my school (what a nightmare that was- long story). Nonetheless, I wanted to give her the best experience possible and it certainly gave her a taster of what life was like as a teenager in the Northeast of England. Whilst neither of us could speak the same language, we really bonded and the whole family was so upset to see her go.

In 2005, it was my turn to stay with her family. Whilst I didn’t know it at the time, this was a turning point and one of the main reasons why I came to teach in Korea. I was 13 years old. It was my first time abroad somewhere so foreign, I’d just passed my black belt so the opportunity to go to Korea, the home of taekwondo was very exciting. It was scary of course. Living with a family and training in a language you can’t speak is pretty daunting but it was amazing. After that trip my interest in Korea and taekwondo was pretty obsessive. From then on I became enamored with this part of the world. The Korean flag took pride of place on my bedroom wall (this seems strange to me now) but at the time it seemed perfectly normal. I took up Chinese Mandarin at my school which enabled me to visit with a school trip. Then, in 2013 I ticked off my dream to visit Japan.

Even after visiting China and Japan there was something about Korea which drew me in. It was so long ago but I knew I needed to go back. I’d only spent 2 weeks there and had such distinct memories. Was it just because I’d visited as a youngster? Would it be as impressive now? I didn’t know.

What better way to do this than teach? I can live in the country and have the opportunity to travel as well. The English Program in Korea (EPIK) was perfect. I’d just graduated University and began my TEFL and application process immediately for the hope of getting onto the Feb 2015 intake.

Since moving here things have been non-stop. In a year I’ve been able to enjoy so many things with my new pals.유솔아 and I even reunited in Seoul for a day, it was amazing to see eachother after so long! These experiences, no matter how long or short can have a lasting impact. I wouldn’t say I’m a deeply reflective person but I can’t deny that everything has just fallen into place somehow. Without taekwondo, I wouldn’t have visited Korea. Without visiting Korea for even such a small amount of time, I may have chosen somewhere else.Would I have even come to this part of the world at all? Would I have had the confidence to do so? I don’t know.

I’m now about to embark on my second year of teaching and can’t wait to get stuck into year 2. I still love Korea just as much as I did when I was a teen. Thank you mum and dad for getting me into taekwondo. Without that, maybe I’d still be working in M&S wearing my lovely fleece. I hear people say to me all the time ‘I wish I could do that.’ Well, you can…but you have to take the jump. So, here goes. Bring on the Bu, Year 2!

Postcards from Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan

If you want the quick version of this trip, check out my Youtube video:
A Trip to Tokyo 2016

Neon lights, green tea kit kats, manga, girl groups with 30-or-so members, Pokemon, Ghibli and of course temples. Tokyo is vivid, chaotic and exciting. In Japan, modern and traditional values co-exist and nowhere exemplifies this more than Tokyo. An Imperial Palace surrounded by skyscrapers. The bustling fashion-centric streets of Harajuku just 5 mins walk away from Meiji shrine. It offers the very best of both worlds. I returned to Tokyo for 3 and a half days to tick off some things I’d missed last time and to relive its electric atmosphere.

Arrive in Asakusa
We arrived at Sakura Hostel in Asakusa based in the northern part of the city. The hostel was perfect for a few days. It’s closer to the airport than other areas in Tokyo (1hr on the Keisei Express from Narita Airport). Whilst Tokyo has only a few main temples, the hostel is just down the road from Senso-ji, arguably the cities’ most impressive one and the Sky Tree, one the tallest buildings in the world.

Day 1: Shibuya, Harajuku & Shinjuku
1. Shibuya Crossing
Probably the most famous crossing in the world. After the scramble we grabbed lunch at Genki Sushi. Whilst you can get sushi anywhere I mention this because this place is a quirky sushi eating experience. Pick your sushi on a personal touch screen and the plate comes whizzing directly to you on a rail. It’s fun, utterly delicious and cheap!

2. Meiji-jingu and Takeshita-dori
To grab some traditional culture we went to Meiji shrine. A group of Japanese students gave us a free tour round because they wanted to practice their English. It reminded me of the time Allison and I were in Nara where the same thing happened. If someone approached me in the U.K. or elsewhere I’d be suspicious. How much would this tour cost me? What do they want? but after going to Japan a couple times I’ve become trusting. That’s not to say I’m uncautious, but people there are just super friendly and its great! After our brief encounter we then left for Takeshita-dori, an area where the Lolitas and alternative characters of Tokyo hang out to flaunt their style. You may be dissapointed if you’re expecting to see hoards of crazy outfits. I only saw a few but I love this area because it captures young Japan. It’s cuteness overload and completely OTT.

 3. Metropolitan Government Building
It was a quick stop at the Metropolitan Goverment Buiding for a view of Tokyo at night. The best part is it’s free! Tokyo Tower is good if you want a retro feel and Sky Tree is cool because its one of the tallest in the world. However, if you’re on a tight budget like I was this is certainly worth a visit.

4. Shinjuku
For neon lights there’s no better area. We went to find Golden Gai, a famous little street filled with teeney weeney bars. However, we failed to locate this gem. Shinjuku is mad. If you have the time, getting lost in this area is really fun.

Day 3: Ryogoku, Akihabara & Shibuya
1. Sumo Training
This is not the season for Sumo Wrestling but the hostel exclusively organises an opportunity to watch their training. I know very little about Sumo but this was the best experience we had in Tokyo. This sport isn’t just about being big boned or eating cake. It was intense, the heirachy between the players and the coach was blatant and for a full 2.30 hours I was hooked. With only 8 people allowed to watch, its intimate and was without doubt the highlight of the trip.

2. Owl Cafe
After an intense morning we lightened things up with a trip to the Owl Cafe. You can’t grab coffee there but you can sit in a room of owls. Where else in the world could I do this other than Tokyo? It is questionable whether this is okay for the animals but I’d be lieing if I didn’t say I enjoyed it as a one off. We went to Akiba Fukurou in Akihabara, you need to book online at this one 3 days in advance. There are other owl cafe’s around the city which I’ve heard are more flexible with walk-ins.

3. Shibuya (at night)
Shibuya is great in the day but comes to life at night. Whilst it’s fun to be part of the moving crowd, if you’re looking for a better view, head to the Starbucks right by it.


Day 4: Ginza & Shimo-kitazawa
1. Tsukiji Fish Market
Has lots of fish… if you go early enough. We were lazy so only caught the Outer Markets which are still great to see. If you want to catch the Tuna Auction though you best be there for 4-5am.

2. Ginza
Was I in New York? Ginza feels like 5th Avenue and is the flashy, designer area. Whilst I obviously couldn’t afford anything, we did find a gem of a stationery store called Itoya. It has 12 floors of stationery goodness, the 8th floor being just Japanese crafts with the prettiest prints and rainbow wall of origami paper. If you’re into pens, paper and unecessary cute things that you don’t really need, well this the place for you.

3. Shimo-kitazawa
We went to this area because it was dubbed as the ‘trendy’ place to be. Shimo-kitazawa is full of quirky cafes, vintage shops and little restaurants and is its own little town. For the first time since I’ve lived abroad it really felt quite British! The layout reminded me of a small country town but its quirks made it almost Northern Quarter-esque in Manchester.

4. Robot Restaurant
No trip to Tokyo is complete without a visit to the Robot Restaurant. It was bright, crazy, surreal and wonderful. Robots, real life anime, the wild horse from Shinjuku. I didn’t really know what was going on but it was everything that I wanted. If teaching fails I think I’ve found my calling in life.


Day 5: Harajuku, Imperial Palace & Narita Airport
1. Ometo-sando
We returned to Harajuku for some last minute shopping. Ometo-sando is the fancier side of the area. We came across a shop called Kiddy Land which was full of Pokemon, Adventure Time, Star Wars, Disney, Ghibli and Moomin merchandise to name a few. I’m a massive child.

2. Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace is cool to see if it’s your first time in Japan and one of the first things you do but otherwise its not really that special. There is a really cool picture spot with a double bridge which is worth a look if you have time.

3. Narita Aiport
Then it was off home. It was a rushed day fitting everything in that Tokyo had to offer. We ran around Tokyo with our bags in the hope of catching the train to the airport in time. The rush although stressful at the time really sums up Tokyo’s non-stop atmosphere. There is little time to rest, its crazy, traditional, eccentric and tiring but everything you could ever want from Japan in one incredible city.