Thursday, 18 December 2014

A girlie weekend in Seoul

This photo is courtesy of Ane.

I love taking photos of the places that I go but sometimes I get scared of what the world is becoming. I look around and see people in coffee shops not communicating with each other, with their heads stuck in their phones or people spending hours trying to take the "perfect" selfie.

So this past weekend when I went to Seoul with my good friend Ane, I actually had too much fun shopping, drinking, eating and chatting to really take photos! I think everyone needs a weekend like that every once in a while. Unfortunately I only took about 5 photos and realized afterwards that I should have taken more for the blog...oh well.

So, I'm not going to lie, I love Seoul. I love how it becomes even more multicultural every time I visit and you can find anything that you want there.

We flew up from Busan on the Friday evening, it gave us plenty of time to check in to our hostel and have a nice dinner. We stayed in Itaewon. Itaewon is a huge foreigner area and you can find every type of foreign food or drink imaginable here. I love staying here when I visit Seoul because I can get so many things that just aren't available in Gimhae.

I always say that if I lived here I'd be fat and penniless. That first night we went to The Wolfhound, an Irish pub for some dinner. There is also one in Busan that I love to visit. We had some delicious fish and chips and I got some alcoholic cider so I was a happy girl. We spent the night just chatting. I love having friends that I can literally chat with for days on end and never run out of conversation! We then met Anes friend from home (South Africa) and spent so much time chatting that before we knew it it was 3am!

The next morning we decided to look for some brunch (BRUNCH!! It's impossible to find in Gimhae) First we went to a beautiful coffee shop and I ordered a coconut latte, which was absolutely to die for! Brunch was equally good, we had salmon and rucola and a chicken sausage dish.
My amazing coconut latte and Anes Mocha latte.

The beautiful Christmas decorations where we had brunch.
Then it was time to head to Myeong Dong for some shopping. Myeong-dong is a huge shopping area in Seoul and as my Christmas gift this year Jason decided to give me a shopping weekend. I've been feeling pretty bad about my weight lately and the fact that I'm a double xl (if I'm lucky) here in Korea doesn't help matters (I'm usually a size medium back home). I've also had some comments from teachers in my school about my weight which affected me quite a bit so we both thought that some shopping up in Seoul would do me well.

SHOPPING!

We had a great day shopping and 300,000\ later we decided to head back to Itaewon for some Greek food for dinner. Afterwards we headed to some pubs and began chatting and once again it was after 3am when we were heading back to the hostel!

Enjoying our girlie chats.

Our final day in Seoul was spent with both of us sniffling and feeling under the weather so we had a yummy brunch of paninis and a cheese and bread set. We then headed to the train station for the trip back to Gimhae.

All of the carbs, but it was amazing!
I'm sorry that there aren't many photos, but we just too much of a good time :)

Where we stayed:

POP hostel: We booked a twin room but were given a double room which was fine with us. It is in a really nice location, right in the center of Itaewon but down some nice side streets away from the action. They are basic rooms but did the job perfectly.

Website: http://www.guesthouseseoul.net/

You can see their tripadvisor reviews here.

How to get there: We booked an Air Busan flight up as the regular KTX seats were booked out and the flight was only 10,000w more expensive than the 1st class train tickets.

We then went to Seoul station on Sunday and managed to get seats on the next available train to Gupo station (in Busan) in their movie section. Unfortunately for us the movie showing was the new Dumb and Dumber...it was shocking!

There were Christmas decorations everywhere! 

It was the perfect way to get in to the Christmas spirit.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

8 Hours in Amsterdam


Myself and Jason are always looking for an opportunity to see more of the world so when we were flying to Ireland a couple of years ago and found a ticket that involved an 8 hour layover in Amsterdam we jumped at the chance to see another part of the world.

After doing a quick search online we found that it's pretty easy to see some of Amsterdam while on a layover. The airport is close to the city and they are connected very well with a train that leaves every 10 minutes or so. Once we landed we headed straight down to buy our train tickets (luckily our bags were going straight through to Korea). The train was waiting for us and we were right in the city center about 15 minutes later.

On our way in to the city center.

We arrived in to the city at about 7 a.m and immediately nearly got knocked down by a bike as we wandered along the bike lane (big mistake, don't ever do that when you are in Amsterdam, people will hate you). We went for some breakfast in a restaurant close to the train station. We normally aren't big fans of hop on/hop off buses but found that that was probably the best way to see the city in such a short time plus our ticket also included a canal boat ride trip.

We weren't too sure about exactly what we wanted to see in the time frame that we had but when the bus went nearby the Van Gough museum we couldn't pass up the opportunity and jumped off to join the queue.

We waited in line for about 50 minutes but weren't disappointed when we got to see the beautiful works of art.

The outside of the museum. It was truly worth the wait.

Afterwards we decided to just walk back towards the main area of the city to try and fit in a canal boat ride. We got lost along the way but this allowed us to see some more of the beautiful city and even get a sneak peak of The Red Light District.

We were there during the day so we didn't see anything too crazy!


The canal ride itself was absolutely beautiful, we got to  ride through the tiny canals and get a peak as to what every day life is like in Amsterdam. I'd highly recommend taking a boat ride while visiting the city.

The beautiful canals of Amsterdam.

Enjoying our layover :)

One of the many boats the ride through the canals.

Once we got off of the boat we were a bit worried about time and jumped on a tram to take us back to the train station. Luckily for us our flight was delayed by an hour so we made it back to the airport with some time to spare.

We were both surprised by how much that we saw and did in our layover. It was such a fun way to spend the time and it tired us both out ahead of our long flight to Seoul. It also gave Jason a chance to see another part of Europe since he's only seen Ireland.

For those of you that are flying through Amsterdam and have more than 4 hours of a layover I'd highly recommend getting out and seeing the city!


One of the many beautiful buildings.

It's wonderful to see how many people use bikes as their main mode
of transport here!


The beautiful train station!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Shanghai; a world class city where you don't have to spend a fortune!


A couple of years ago myself and Jason were trying to decided where to go during our Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) break. We were checking up the cost of flights and found some cheap tickets to Shanghai so we booked it. We didn't have a lot of money so we found a hotel on Agoda for a good price and were all set for our trip.

We spent 4 days in Shanghai and excluding the new pair of runners that I bought I think I spent less than $100 during our time there (our hotel was prebooked).

The reason that we didn't spend so much money is that Shanghai is one of those rare cites where most of the big attractions is the architecture of the city. It has such a unique skyline that most people can recognise it just from a photo.


The skyline that everyone knows.

So what did we do while there?

Well, both myself and Jason love using local transport when visiting a new place. Our transport of choice while in Shanghai was the subway. It's such a great way to get to know the city, save money and see the people that live there.

On our first evening we decided to walk towards the beautiful skyline and found a tiny run down noodle restaurant and decided to grab dinner there. Inside, it had some handwritten menus on the wall, all in Chinese so we just pointed at a couple of options and hoped for the best. It turned out to be delicious and ridiculously cheap too!
That evening we walked around the financial district taking in the incredible modern architecture.
The old and the new combined.

The next day we grabbed some breakfast from a stall outside our hotel area and headed down to the famous Bund. Again the biggest draw to this area is that it has some beautiful colonial architecture and is the perfect viewing point to take in the modern Shanghai skyline. Afterwards we walked down the shopping area of Shanghai and took a stroll in a beautiful park right in the city center.
The stall that we got our breakfast from.


The beautiful view from The Bund


We then spent the evening meandering down the streets of the old town. We found a beautiful tea shop and bought some tea in there that had as many free refills as we'd like. We must have spent nearly two hours in that little shop just sipping on green tea while watching the world pass us by on the outside.

The streets of Old Shanghai.



My tea from the beautiful tea shop.


And Jasons tea...


The next day we decided to visit the French Quarter. Again the main draw to this area of the city is that it is very quiet, has coloniel buildings and beautiful tree-lined streets. We spent the morning strolling around this beautiful area of Shanghai and then got a subway to Quibao which is an old town just outside of Shanghai. This was very touristy but it was still very beautiful. Once again, as we did in the rest of Shanghai we strolled around taking in the scenery.
That night we decided to go to a tiny little local massage parlor and got full body massages for about $10



The leafy streets of The French Quarter


It was such a quaint area.

One of the canals of Quibao

Quibao was a beautiful town.


 We had an amazing time in Shanghai and brought a lot more money to spend but in the end found that sightseeing in Shanghai doesn't cost a thing! Other than our meals and subway tickets we really didn't end up having to spend much money at all!

A person pushed a baby in to my arms
so that they could take his photo with me.

The beautiful tea shop

Enjoying the tea.

One of the beautiful buildings in the Old City.

They were enjoying the serenity of The French Quarter

Enjoying Quibao


Thursday, 27 November 2014

TBT- Skydiving in New Zealand


"I'd rather regret the things I've done than the things that I haven't"
Lucille Ball

New Zealand is an incredible country. The best way that I can describe it is that it feels undiscovered, like you could see a dinosaur walk past you any minute. It is full of amazing natural beauty and has something for everyone. I went backpacking around both islands with my friend Louise for about 6 weeks during our round the world trip. One of the highlights for me was our skydive in Wanaka.

Wanaka is a small town on the shores of Lake Wanaka on the south island about an hour away from Queenstown. It's a beautiful little town. Myself and Lou were lucky enough to have our college friend Kate meet us and also Gary, who is Louise's now husband.
Still as good friends today as we were back then (maybe even better)

Throughout our travels I had always said, with 100% conviction that I would never do a skydive. It wasn't even an option for me. Then, like so many other travelers before and after me, something happened to me in New Zealand. It's the adventure capital of the world and doing a skydive is almost normal here. Once we got to Wanaka, before I even knew what I was doing, Kate, Louise and I signed ourselves up for a skydive the next day.

I was so nervous that entire night, I still couldn't believe that I would be throwing myself out of a plane the next day. That morning we woke up and went to check with reception that the skydive was still happening. Unfortunately (or luckily, I wasn't sure) it was too windy and they postponed it for that evening but there were no guarantees that it would still happen. We would just have to return later in the day and see how the weather was. I breathed a sigh of relief and hoped a little that it would be too windy later in the day.

So instead of the skydive we decided to go and visit Puzzling World in Wanaka. If you ever go and visit Wanaka, make sure that you stop by Puzzling World. It's full of optical illusions and a huge outdoor maze.



We had so much fun and we had convinced ourselves that the skydive would be cancelled so when we got back to the hostel and were told that it would indeed be going ahead I think we all died a little.

We drove to the skydive site and were so surprised at how routine it was. Planes were going up every 15 minutes or so and the instructors were doing over 20 dives a day!
We had expected to have a lot of time learning what to do but really all we had to worry about was just to get out of the plane and how to land as we would each be attached to an instructor doing all of the work.
Our names were on the computer...there was no turning back now!


The three of us just before getting on the plane (don't let those smiles fool
you, we were petrified!)

We got in to our tiny plane and because I was the last to get in I was going to be the first out. Going up in the plane was the most frightening experience of my life, the plane kept getting higher and higher. At one stage I turned to my instructor and said "wow, we are high", to which he responded "yeah, we are about halfway up"

In the plane and ready to go.

Then it was time to open the doors, a mini heart attack later and my legs were dangling from the plane. I was beyond terrified at this stage and had my eyes closed but was forced to open them for the camera. Before I knew it, my instructor counted to 3 and we were rolling out of the plane. The second that we were out of the plane all of my fears were gone and it was replaced with an incredible adrenaline rush.
haha this photo sums up how I was really feeling, completely panicked!

But once we were out of the plane it was incredible!

I was floating in the air looking at incredible snow-capped mountains and feeling invincible. I could have gone straight up in another plane and did it all again  at that stage. The serenity while you are floating so high up is otherworldly. After I landed I waited for Kate and Louise to land and we all just hugged and jumped. None of us quite believing what we had just done and all of us pumped up with adrenaline.

Feeling on top of the world.



Reunited and you can see the adrenaline in our faces

Still, to this day I think it was one of the best days of my life and a moment that I'll never forget. I was so happy that I managed to do the very thing that I feared.

How about you? Have you ever done a skydive? Do you think you ever will?




Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Why you should consider adding Malaysia to your SEA trip


When I did my round the world trip I went to the "usual" countries on the backpacker trail in South East Asia. They are Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. I had an incredible time but a couple of years later myself and Jason were planning our first long holiday together and decided on Malaysia.
We had an incredible time there and I've swiftly moved it on to my top countries list.

Why did we love it and why should you go?
Here are some reasons:


It's South East Asia without the usual crowd:

So many people have done the typical SEA route that I myself did on my RTW trip. In fact it almost seems like a rite of passage. But very rarely is Malaysia put on that list so Malaysia ends up attracting only a fraction of the usual backpackers and therefore has a different vibe.


One of the islands off of Kota Kinabalu in Borneo.


It has awesome snorkelling:

We were surprised at how good the snorkeling was, I had dived/snorkeled in other Asian countries and on the Great Barrier Reef but this was the first place that I managed to snorkel with turtles. We also got to see lots of different reef sharks and tons of tropical fish (in the Perhentian Islands) and if you take a cheap flight over to Borneo you can dive in one of the top dive spots in the world, Sipidan.

Jason during our snorkeling trip in the Perhentian islands.


And while we are at it, incredible wildlife too:

While in Malaysia myself and Jason got to see huge monitor lizards, orangutans, crocodiles, a Gibbon and lots of other types of monkeys. If you want to see wildlife in SEA then Malaysia and more importantly, Malaysian Borneo is the place to go.


A mother and baby orangutan

A leaf insect.


It has a beautiful world class city:

Kuala Lumpur is a great city to spend some time in. It has the iconic Petronas towers, a bustling China town, the biggest mosque in SEA and so many things to do. The shopping is also world class.


The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.


It's a massive melting pot:

It's predominantly a Muslim country but there is a large population of Chinese, Indians, Thais and many other nationalities so you can eat some legit food from different places around the world in one day. We had some awesome Indian food, Chinese food, fresh fish and afternoon tea while in Malaysia. You can also go visit Buddhist shrines, Indian temples and Mosques all in one day. It makes for a very interesting country.

The mosque in Kota Kinabalu
The Batu Caves outside of KL

Preparing to enter a mosque in KL

A beautiful Hindi temple that we stumbled upon in KL

Eating some good Chinese food!

The seafood was second to none!

You can take a break from the humidity:

While in Malaysia you can visit some of the many tea fields in the Cameron Highlands. They are in the high country so you can get away from the humidity, sleep with a blanket and feast on tea and scones while looking at tea fields as far as the eye can see. Also in this area you can go trekking and see the biggest flower in the world (The Rafflesia)!

Enjoying the endless tea fields.


The Rafflesia flower.

It's the home of Air Asia:

I'm one of Air Asias biggest fans. The prices that they offer are second to none and with their hub being in Kuala Lumpar you can get a flight from any big city in Asia to KL for a low price.


The people:

Malaysian people are amazing! As with most other South East Asian countries, the people are warm and friendly and will welcome you with open arms.

Wonderful smiling faces!



It has everything you could ask for from an Asian country:

Beaches
Jungles
Temples
Great food
History
Shopping
and much more...
Sounds perfect right?

There are a couple of things to remember about Malaysia. Because it's a Muslim country, alcohol tends to be more expensive than other Asian countries. I was a bit disappointed when I realised that I wouldn't be able to sip on cocktails all day while relaxing on the beach. But if you aren't on a backpackers budget and can drink local beer then this shouldn't affect you too much.

Also they can be quite strict when it comes to Ramadan so make sure to check your dates and plan accordingly. We travelled during Ramadan and didn't have many issues except for when we took a 12 hour bus and realised that there would be no restaurants opened in the smaller towns that we were stopping at so we had to spend the day eating snacks that we bought from the shop. But other than that we had no problems.

I would definitely recommend visiting Malaysia to anyone and if you have enough time visit Borneo as well and make it a truly magical trip!