After spending an awesome weekend with the guys in London, we left what we’d now call ‘warm’ England, 12 degree weather for 35 degree extreme humidity weather in Bangkok! Back to Thailand we went.
My oh my! I don’t know if it was the contrast coming from the cooler weather to the extreme heat but we just could not handle the heat!!! The first time we arrived in Bangkok was when we first left Australia back in January 2015. We had just arrived from a hot Aussie summer so I guess the transition was not very hard.
Arriving in Bangkok, we didn’t have too much of a plan. Our rough idea since Kel hurt his knee was to have a bit of a holiday before going back home to Sydney. We really enjoyed our time in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Last time we were there, we became friends with Becky, a German girl we met while teaching the kids at CESHE. We were messaging before we left England and were planning on meeting up with her and hanging out in Siem Reap for a while.
The weather in Bangkok was really unbearable for us! We checked the weather in Siem Reap and it was even hotter there! We also knew it would be getting even hotter and more humid with the rainy season soon approaching. Despite knowing we’d love it in Siem Reap and that we’d see Becky as well as Anita and Derek (friends from school) as they start their adventure, an opportunity soon came up which felt like a sign! An opportunity in Seoul, South Korea. We received an email from a hostel owner who asked if we’d like to work at a hostel/café, speaking English to Koreans who want to practice their English! We shot a few emails back and forth, then all of a sudden, Kel and I bought the next flight to South Korea. We were happy to be going to a new country, but we were also sad that we wouldn’t see Becky or our students we taught a year ago. We will go back to Cambodia though, as we want to teach the same children and hopefully see Becky again.
We first flew to Busan from Bangkok which took 5 hours. Busan is in the southern part of South Korea and our first impressions of South Korea were very positive. The temperature had dropped dramatically and there were mountains surrounding the city! Our flight arrived at about 6:30am and we took the light rail to the city bus terminal. Busan was filled with many tall apartment buildings amongst the mountains.
We caught a bus from Busan to Seoul which took about 5 hours. We were absolutely exhausted as it was an overnight flight ad we didn’t get much sleep. The bus we were on was so luxurious! Comfy, plush seats with a reclining chair that could go down 180 degrees!! There were only 3 seats per row to give you an idea of how big the seats were. Definitely was our most comfy bus ride we’ve had on our trip!
I tried really hard to keep my eyes open during some of the bus trip to see the scenery. The landscapes were quite mountainous or hilly and since it was early-mid April, all of their cherry blossom trees were in full bloom! I was really happy that we caught the end of their season.
Coming into Seoul it reminded me of when I was here for just an overnight stay as part of a cheap flight with Asiana airlines from Sydney to London about 6 years ago. I was on the plane next to a Korean woman who was so friendly and even gave me Won so I could buy something on the street. She also told me to go out at night as there would be night markets just outside the hotel. I wasn’t sure if it would be safe at night for a girl by herself but she assured me that I shouldn’t worry, that Korea is very safe. I now know that the hotel I stayed at was in Myeongdong which is such a lively area with lots of street food and shops around.
Today has been nearly 5 weeks in Seoul. We work with a really nice bunch of guys from Brazil, Ecuador and Canada. They are special people and I’m really learning that sometimes what really makes a place is the people you meet. I guess that’s why some people have awesome experiences in the same area as people who say they had the worst time! I also really love how travel gives me the opportunity to meet these really cool people whom I would never have met if I hadn’t left Australia!
The hostel is in an area of Seoul called Itaewon. It is known for having a big expat community and lots of the Korean guests that stay here may already live in Seoul but want to meet people from other countries to either make friends or just to practice their English! More on Itaewon in another post 🙂
For the past 5-6 months we’ve been in fairly remote places. A town of 1200 people in both Iceland and Faroe Islands is considered remote to me coming from Sydney!!! So coming to Seoul, a BIG city, has been a big change! More than 10 million people live here and space is a commodity here. I was actually feeling a bit claustrophobic here and I’ve never had that feeling before! But! After a week here, Kel and I went for a walk to the Han River which is only a 10 minute walk away and is SO great! There’s a great walking/running and cycling track the whole way around! What makes it even better is there are many areas to workout with equipment maybe every 500 metres! It was so nice to be outside in ‘fresher’ air (it seemed) and to have an open space. Another area which was good to explore was Namsan Mountain. Filled with trees and greenery, it felt like a bit of an escape from the concrete of the city! We have yet to go to Seoul Forest and Bukhansen national park which isn’t too far away.
One of the interesting things I’ve found out about here in Korea is that Koreans LOVE their food!!!! And meat! They love meat so much in fact, that out of the Koreans I’ve spoken to, none of them know anyone who is a vegetarian! And, I know of one Korean who does know a vegetarian but they aren’t Korean. One girl who comes to the English conversation classes is training to be a flight attendant with Korean Air and only found out about vegetarianism and veganism since they offer those types of meals!!!! Doesn’t that just seem crazy?!?! I found it shocking! A Korean woman said that she thinks it is due to South Korea becoming wealthy in only the past 30 years and so since people were very poor and food was scarce, there is a feeling that they shouldn’t give up a particular type of food.
Typical Korean food involves lots of side dishes and food is shared – something I now love! It’s really nice sitting down and sharing a meal with people. You also never have that feeling of wishing you ordered what the person next to you ordered J It was funny today actually, a Brazilian guy in the hostel bought some lettuce leaves from the market and was eating plain lettuce leaves with some soy sauce on top. The Koreans in the room were staring and looking at him weirdly. To them, it was bizarre to see someone eat, what is to them, a side dish for a whole meal!
Did you know Korea is the number one country for the amount of plastic surgery! In Korea, everything is so competitive and makes life very stressful for the Korean person, something I really hope changes soon. There is so much pressure on students to study EXTREMELY hard and get the best grades but then they even have the added pressure of appearance. Here, you must put your photo on your resume. So many Koreans have told me that employer’s don’t even look at the person’s academic achievements. They check the photo and if they don’t like what they see then they are rejected. Double eyelid surgeries are SO common, and like in other places in Asia all beauty creams promise ‘whitening and brightening’ with Korean girls, and guys, putting lighter coloured makeup on to look like the ultimate ‘white person’. It baffles me and I find it very sad. I grew up being told that everyone is special and unique in their own way. If I said that to some of my Korean friends they would actually be offended.
I have really learnt so much about Korea and that’s one thing I really love about coming to a country and makes me grateful to be on this journey! There’s more to say but I’ll save some for another post 🙂