Five Weeks

The past five weeks have been an absolute whirlwind. I left my life in Korea, said goodbye to close friends, reunited with my boyfriend after six months, visited three new countries, reunited with a close friend from college, and had countless new experiences.

I’m so overwhelmed with the experiences I have been privileged enough to enjoy over the past month, and there is no possible way I could have go into detail about each of them – if I did, we’d be here all day. So, for my grandparents, and aunts and uncles who are probably getting antsy without an update, here are some of my favourite moments from the past five weeks.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics

I had never considered going to the Olympics, and I certainly never thought that I’d ever visit the Olympics in Korea. What’s more, I never thought my favourite band from Ontario, would arrive at the Olympics at the same time as me, and perform not one, but two surprise shows. I was even more stoked when the Arkells dedicated our song to Jay and I during their set – turns out, dreams do come true. Oh, and seeing Canada’s men’s hockey team win bronze was also pretty dope.

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Bronze medal hockey game!

Scuba Diving

I made plans to take my Open Water Scuba Diving certification without batting an eyelash. I love the water. I love to swim. What could go wrong? Scuba diving ended up challenging me in ways I had never imagined. I was terrified and anxious at the start. I was determined to enjoy myself diving. One month, and thirteen dives later – I couldn’t be more stoked I stuck with it.

Being a REAL LIFE Couple

After six months of long distance, just getting to hang out with Jay and be a normal couple was the absolute best. I couldn’t have asked for someone better to share so many experiences with – silly selfies, diving, overeating, and even traveler’s diarrhea – it was a truly bonding experience.

EATING

Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand have offered me an insane amount of delicious food. The mix of cultures throughout these countries has allowed me to indulge in everything from Indian cuisine, to Chinese, Japanese, Malay and Thai. I also can’t forget about all the tasty vegan restaurants I’ve found myself at.

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Singapore

Singapore gets it’s own category, because I have so much appreciation for this country. Progressive and forward thinking – Singapore is clean, accessible, and beautiful. Two days weren’t enough to appreciate this unique country.

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Singapore’s Botanic Garden

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Gardens By The Bay
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KITCHENER ROAD

Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

I spent endless hours trying to find an ethical sanctuary in Thailand, and Phuket Elephant Sanctuary was perfect. Hands off, and all about the elephants. Observing these magnificent creatures was a humbling experience.

Rock Climbing in Railay

Since I started climbing indoors a few years ago, I have been terrified to get outdoors due to my fear of heights. The opportunity to climb in one of the climbing hot spots of the world pushed me out of my comfort zone and got me out on some real rocks. I surprisingly didn’t lose my cool 20 metres up a rock face, and it was a pretty incredible experience.

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Climbing at the Diamond Cave in Railay, Thailand

Khao San Road

A casual stroll to check out a local tourist street in Bangkok turned into countless hours of dancing in the street with new friends. Unforgettable.

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Put your hands up

Learning things

This has been the longest I have ever been unemployed, and it’s given me a lot of time to learn new things, about myself and my surroundings. It’s been a period of growth and change. I’m slowly learning what I really appreciate and enjoy doing with my time – such as yoga and cooking – things that are challenging to maintain while living a travel lifestyle.

I am also slowly learning how to be a more ethical and mindful traveler. The longer I stay on the road, the more aware I become of issues faced all around the globe. Whether it’s the visibility of feminist issues as I get harassed anytime I walk down the street, or the exploitation of animals everywhere I turn, to the harsh reality while scuba diving that our environment is in tremendous danger – my travels have been eye opening in many ways.

I have been traveling with others for the past five weeks, and as of today, I start the last four weeks of travel on my own. I have only a few short days in Bangkok until I embark on a three week solo adventure in Myanmar. I am looking forward to the challenge of exploring a country with minimal tourist infrastructures in place. Stepping into a land with poor internet and a lack of Starbucks and McDonald’s is sure to be both shocking and a great learning experience.

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Five amazing weeks. Excited to see what the next month holds.
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Taiwan 2018: Scrap the Bucketlist

Ah, my final vacation before I wrap up my time in South Korea – only to venture onto a long-term vacation in a few short weeks – life is tough sometimes. Given that school has been slow over the past month or two, I have had quite a lot of free time. With that free time, I did a lot of research about Taiwan – places to eat, places to see, things to do. I got to Taiwan, and for whatever reason, I completely scrapped majority of my plans. If I were to compare my list of shit to do, with the list of shit I actually did, there would be a reasonable amount of discrepancies – and I couldn’t be happier.

Prior to departing for Taiwan, I realized that the novelty of traveling (particularly by myself) has worn off a little. I realize how much of an asshole I sound like for even saying that, but it’s true. When I think back to the first few times I went to a new and exotic place, and the first few times I traveled on my own, I can almost relive the intense anxiety and excitement I had in the days, and even weeks, leading up to my trip. But now, I find myself eager to explore somewhere new, but I am lacking the anxiety and excitement I once had. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so.

With this increase in comfort and confidence traveling, again, particularly on my own, comes an ability to trust the process. I no longer feel compelled to plan out my entire trip, or even make any solid plans. I no longer feel required or pressured to visit the “most popular landmark” simply because TripAdvisor told me to. That FOMO we’re all known to experience is gone. When I think back to my most memorable experiences in every country I’ve been to – I remember the people I met, the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, the really shitty situations I encountered, and the spontaneous moments that wouldn’t have otherwise happened if I hadn’t left room in my trip for them.  Taiwan was a great example of how memorable a trip can be, even if you don’t go to that super famous temple, or visit that really important museum – what will be will be, if you just let it.

So with that, here are a few of my favourite moments from Taiwan:

Stumbling upon beautiful places that aren’t on the “Top 10 list of things to do in Taipei”

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I think this place was called Peace Park, but I’m not entirely sure. Regardless, it was beautiful.

Discovering that eating a vegan diet while traveling isn’t that bad

Exploring popular destinations at night, when no one else is around…

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Jioufen – absolutely bat shit crazy during the day, a peaceful sanctuary late at night.

Getting lost…a lot

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Uhhhh…..am I trespassing?

Making new friends and realizing just how small the world truly is

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The most southern point in Taiwan with new Australian friends and a fellow Kitchener/Ulsan friend #WhatAreTheChances

Coming to the understanding that major tourist attractions often disappoint you the most…

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#WHY

Expecting to be disappointed because, “it’s not beach season”….

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The beachiest season there ever was!

Taiwan was beautiful and unexpected. I met amazing people, ate amazing food, and spent most days aimlessly wandering – what more could I ask for?

 

Observations of a Collective Society

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I was standing at the back of a second grade classroom proctoring an exam. The students were exhausted from getting four hours of sleep each night due to excessive studying. The bell to indicate the exam was beginning rang, and in an extremely uniform fashion, the rows of students passed back their test sheets one at a time.  The execution of their test sheets was as flawless as a synchronized swimming routine. I imagine my clumsy self being inserted into this assembly line – I’d be fumbling papers, dropping them, and scrambling to pick them back up.

When I went to the hospital a few months back, I was passed along from person to person, and within the span of forty five minutes –  I had seen a physician, received not one, but two x-rays, had an EKG, was admitted to the hospital, and had an IV inserted into my hand – in forty five minutes. This process would have taken hours in Canada.

I have observed that when it comes to routine tasks, the people of Korea are excessively efficient. It seems that everyone knows exactly what they’re supposed to do, and when they are supposed to do it. Day to day roles are clearly defined – even down to the simple roles – like passing exam papers in a classroom.

What causes this efficiency? Are we doing something wrong in Western Culture? I recently listened to a podcast by Russell Brand that discussed the idea of individualism in Western cultures versus collectivism in Eastern cultures. This got me thinking – what if we are doing something terribly wrong in Western culture? I wonder if our society and our communities would be stronger and more efficient if we moved away from our obsession with individualism. I am not even sure how, or if such a paradigm shift would be possible. We are taught so early in life to focus on ourselves – to be selfish. I find myself pondering over the idea that maybe the world would be a better place if we put our communities first.

On the other hand, there has to be a downside to a culture based on collectivism. I have observed in Korea, that there is a stronger expectation to follow a traditional lifestyle. In Canada, it is more acceptable to go against the grain. I pride myself on being a highly independent and self-sufficient person – who doesn’t necessarily follow a traditional way of life. I can’t imagine a life for myself where this wasn’t the case. I also find myself wondering whether individualism or collectivism best promotes a culture of creativity. Perhaps we shouldn’t be exploring the downsides of both individualism and collectivism, but finding a balance between the two.

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Hmm…

China: Expect the Unexpected

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Outside the walls of The Forbidden City in Beijing

At the beginning of October, Korean’s celebrated Chuseok, also known as Korean Thanksgiving. As a public school teacher, I was lucky enough to get a 10 day vacation based solely on public holidays. When I arrived in Korea, I frantically began to look for flights, and was disappointed to see that the prices were outrageous to fly anywhere in Asia – except to China. I never had a strong desire to go to China, truthfully, it was near the bottom of my list of places to visit in Asia. That being said, I typically let cheap flight prices dictate my travels, so I went for it.

My friend and I set out on a nine day adventure around China with the lowest expectations possible. I had heard that China Eastern – the airline we were flying with – was the worst airline ever. I was told that China was dirty, busy, and to prepare myself to get body-checked more than I do in Korea (which is a lot). I was also told that as a vegetarian, it would be nearly impossible for me to eat at restaurants. Lastly, I was told China was difficult to navigate, and that I would definitely require a VPN to survive among the Great Firewall. None of these things were true. 

We left for China on our China Eastern flight with no issues, and minimal delays. When we touched down in China, I was immediately shocked by how clean and modern everything was – point one China.

Our first stop was Shanghai, where we spent five nights. I instantly fell in love with Shanghai. I am hesitant to say this, but I think Shanghai is my favourite city I have ever visited. There is something extraordinary about a city that is home to architecture from ancient China, and buildings with a strong European influence, but also the modern and futuristic buildings of Pudong. We visited Yuyuan Market, which is a large area near the Yu Garden with a number of shops and food stalls. Yu Garden was initially constructed in the 1500s and the architecture in this area was what I expected to see in China. Not more than a few kilometers away, is The Bund – an area where you can walk along the river and view buildings that appear very European, only to look across the river and see a skyline straight out of the future.

 

 

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Shanghai was energetic, but not so busy it was overwhelming. It was easy to find quiet places to seek respite, and there are plenty of opportunities for good food and nightlife.

 

 

Two of my most memorable experiences in Shanghai, were Disneyland (obviously) and having a traditional Chinese massage. I paid no more than $10 for a one hour massage, including at least fifteen minutes of a Chinese woman doing intense work on my back -while standing on me. It took me several minutes before I even recognized that she was using her feet – such talent. It was an interesting cultural experience, and my body cracked in places I didn’t even know possible – success.

Of course, Disneyland was one of the most memorable moments of the entire trip. I have been deprived of Disneyland and Disney World my entire life – thanks Mom. But, you are never too old for Disneyland, so I took it upon myself to fulfill these dreams at the age of twenty-six. Disneyland is a truly magical place. Maybe I am still a kid at heart, or maybe the people of Disney are just pure genius, regardless, it was wonderful. We even had the opportunity to see The Lion King musical live – in Mandarin. I was mildly embarrassed by how many lines I could quote, even though not a word of English was spoken.

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Disneyland wouldn’t have been complete without my Mickey Mouse ketchup shirt…
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The Lion King musical – in Mandarin!

After several days in Shanghai, we made our way to Beijing. Again, I arrived in Beijing with low expectations, thinking I would enjoy it much less than Shanghai. Again, I was caught with my foot in my mouth. Beijing was much more modern than I had expected. While there were many areas with famous sites from ancient China – the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Temple of Heaven – the downtown area was well developed with many modern skyscrapers. There is such a rich history behind every ancient site in China, so before we visited each site, I did some research online to get a background of why each place is so important. Because of The Great Firewall, I had to use Bing for my searches – seriously, who uses Bing?

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Downtown Beijing – the CCTV headquarters
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Temple of Heaven – Bejing
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Exploring Qianmen shopping street – Beijing

In the Tiananmen Square area, there was a distinct communist feel. As most people know, Tiananmen Square is the site of the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989. According to my Bing searches, this appears to be a very controversial and unspoken topic within China. It is still “unknown” how many lives were lost on that day, and there is no site to commemorate them. For me, this created a very strange vibe in the Tiananmen Square area.

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Creepy vibes in Tiananmen Square – you get the idea.

On a lighter note, we also visited a pretty decent replica of Central Perk cafe from Friends. Of all the places in the world to have a replica of the Central Perk cafe, I did not think it would be China. They had good coffee, the friends couch, and even a replica of Joey and Chandler’s apartment.

 

 

I was told that in China, many people would ask me to hold their baby to take photos because I’m a foreigner. I made it my goal to hold as many babies in China as possible – because ya’ll know how I feel about babies. By the time I got to Beijing, I hadn’t held a single baby – so sad. One night while we were wandering around a night market, we stopped for a break. As someone was walking by with their baby, I waved with my craziest baby eyes. The baby was stoked, and got so excited that her mom put her down on the ground, and she ran right up to me and into my lap – pure joy – my trip to China was complete.

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Bliss

On our last full day in China, we explored the Great Wall. We were taken to a closed section in the Badaling area, and luckily, did not have to deal with flocks of tourists. It was a very foggy day at the Great Wall, and while some might have been disappointed by the lack of views, it actually created a very eerie and surreal feeling on the wall. The Great Wall was significantly steeper than I had anticipated, and some sections even challenged me due to my fear of heights. The Great Wall was beautiful, but I only explored less than three kilometers of this 21,000 kilometer structure. One day, I hope to see more of it.

 

 

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I even met a Bailey look-a-like near the Great Wall

China far exceeded my expectations, but it didn’t come without it’s struggles. Fortunately, these struggles don’t overshadow the amazing experience I had in China – so I’ll save those stories for another time. China taught me to explore new destinations without bias, and with an open mind. Everyone who travels somewhere has their own experience, and that does not define my experience. From now on, I will take the comments of others with a grain of salt and choose to see and experience things on my own.

 

 

Japan: The Canada of Asia

 

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We will just pretend the clouds are a spectacular view of Mount Fuji

 

Oh, Japan… I am just going to go ahead and say this out loud – Japan is like Korea, but better – sooo much better. Within hours of being in Japan, Jay and I agreed that we 100% could live in Japan. It was beautiful, and clean, and everyone was ridiculously nice. I was so overwhelmed with the kindness of the people of Japan. I am not sure how Canadians earned the rep of being the “nicest” country, but Japan has us beat by a landslide. If we looked lost or confused for even a second, you could guarantee a Japanese person would approach us to offer help. They taught us how to use the machines at the subway, directed us to our destinations, and one woman even rode the subway with us to take us where we needed to go.

Japan was also an ideal vacation for me because our trip centered around two things – a big hike, and lots and lots of food – the dream.

Osaka

The first stop on our trip was Osaka. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed a day due to Typhoon Noru hitting Japan – the day we were set to arrive – of course. We finally arrived in Japan a day late and decided to skip Kyoto and head straight to Osaka. We spent two nights in Osaka, one at the start of our trip, and one at the end of our trip. Osaka is known for being a foodie city, so I was eager to explore. With our limited time in Osaka, we spent most of our time strolling around the Dotonbori area along the river. We indulged in sushi (of course), and also okonomiyaki, and takoyaki – which are both specialties of the Osaka area – all of which did not disappoint. I also had a horrifying encounter with a screeching bug in Japan who landed on my foot – long story short, I gave a good laugh to a few locals as I screamed and leaped around the sidewalk. I think this was one of the highlights of the trip for Jay…

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Dotonbori, Osaka

Mount Fuji

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The start of our trek!

 

For me, this was why I went to Japan. I was more excited to climb Fuji than anything else on our trip. Fuji is a manageable climb for beginners with a rather impressive elevation, standing at over 3700 meters. Due to this, it is recommended you sleep on the mountain to avoid altitude sickness. We started our day by taking an early bus up to the Subashiri 5th station at 2000 meters elevation, and then we started our climb. Within an hour, I started to get light headed and nauseous – I now had an irrational fear of getting altitude sickness. We decided to take the climb slow and take many breaks, so I could acclimatize properly.

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Break time

 

We took a longer trail that is less frequented and goes through the forest. There was an eerie mist throughout the forest for most of our climb, and we saw very few other climbers – it was perfectly peaceful. Inevitably, the higher we climbed, the more barren it got, and out of nowhere – the mist cleared up and we realized we were far above the clouds.

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Bliiinded by the light

After about 8-9 hours of climbing, we reached our hut at the 8.5 station where we would sleep for the night. We had expected to see a mix of Japanese locals and tourists, but we were surprised to see that most of the climbers were locals from Japan. We slept in a room with 100 other sweaty hikers, nestled into rows of bunk beds.

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Cozy accomodations

Around 1 am, we were woken up by everyone preparing the trek to the summit. I woke up a very sleepy (and slightly grumpy) Jay, and we started to prepare to head to the summit. When we stepped outside our hut, I could not believe my eyes. There were thousands of people trekking up to the summit, and all you could see was the trail of lights.

It took us about two hours to reach the summit as we were going at a snail’s pace (my kinda pace) in line with everyone else. When we reached the summit, it was freezing cold, so windy, and snowing (sort of). I had to dig through my backpack to add on several layers of clothing, to the point where I was even wearing a pair of socks on my hands – yeah, I can be pretty resourceful. To our disappointment, we did not see a proper sunrise due to poor weather. We got a few glimpses of it through the clouds, but that was it. **Insert some cheesy quote about how it’s about the journey and not the destination**. Thanks for the pivotal life lesson Fuji.

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Every hiker frantically trying to catch the .35 second glimpse of the sunrise.

However, once we started to descend about 50-100 meters, the views above the clouds were incredible. We started our trek to the bottom, which involved sliding down loose volcanic gravel for several hours – this proved to be quite challenging for my grandmother-like joints, but I survived. I was pleased when we reached the bottom to discover that I had lost my hippie clutch – aka my wallet – aka my Visa and my Korean ID card…. It will likely puzzle me forever how and where I lost that stupid thing, but that’s life.

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When it’s so cold you wear socks on your hands…
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It’s pretty amazing being above the clouds – sunrise, or no sunrise.
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Who’s this stud muffin?

Fuji was a beautiful accomplishment, and I was reminded of this  in the following three days as I navigated the metro and streets of Tokyo. Every stair was taken painfully, one at a time, while my non-dilapidated boyfriend was able to walk around like normal. I will forever be grateful for escalators, elevators, and moving walkways.

Fujiyoshida

We spent the night in a small town with views of Mount Fuji the day we came down from our climb. I expected Fujiyoshida to be a small, but busy and touristy town, but to my surprise it was a sleepy mountain town perfect for recovery from Fuji. Our guesthouse was perfectly situated beside a vegetarian Japanese restaurant called Little Robot. I came to the conclusion at this restaurant that they do everything right in Japan – even vegetarian food.

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Incredible vegetarian meals at Little Robot

We also climbed 398 stairs to see the iconic view of Fuji from Arakurayama Sengen Park, but all we saw was clouds shaped perfectly to entirely block Mount Fuji. It was a beautiful quiet park, and Jay was pretty stoked about taking over a Pokemon gym – or something like that.

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“Mom” fashion

Tokyo

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Tokyo by night

First impression of Tokyo when I stepped out of Tokyo station – “Wow, this feels just like Toronto”. The general areas in Tokyo aren’t as crazy as I would’ve expected – it’s not insanely crowded, it’s clean, and it’s pretty quiet. However, there are several popular areas and neighbourhoods in Tokyo that are insanely busy with a buzzing high energy.

To be honest – our main focus in Tokyo was eating (well, for me at least). However, we spent most of our time wandering various neighbourhoods, exploring various shops and markets, and trying to navigate the monster metro system. Shinjuku was by far my favourite area of Tokyo. It was high energy, had lots of food, shops, bars, and small pockets of areas, each with a different feel. We visited an old school video game cafe where I observed Jay spend over an hour setting a high score on some game… to which he succeed. Good for him… We also visited a bar in the Golden Gai area, where the stairs were lined with red shag carpet and the interior had money all over the walls. We met an older couple from Thorne Hill and spent our night chatting about Canada and critiquing the sport of “Speed Walking” that was being displayed on the TV. We even spotted some Canadian Tire money on the walls of this place!

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Appropriate

We visited Shibuyua (the world’s “busiest” intersection), Harajuku, Raponggi Hills, and Asakusa, but the highlight of all of this was by far the food. We ate some incredible sushi, ramen, and tempura – all of which, will never be the same again outside of Japan. At most restaurants we visited, we were sat so we could watch the chef prepare our food, which was a pretty special experience on its own. I am pretty sure I gained at least 5 lbs  in Japan, but was pleased when someone asked me upon my return – “Have you lost weight? You look so skinny” – the happiest moment after you have indulged in multiple dinners and even pizza for dessert over the past several weeks.

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I told myself I’d be a “good” vegetarian after this meal
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The world’s “busiest” intersection

Japan has been my favourite country in Asia so far – any country that offers good food, kind people, and beautiful scenery will win me over. I am interested to see how China contrasts when I visit in six weeks.

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Thanks for the memories, Japan!

Seoulicious

While this post is pretty delayed, I am still dreaming of the delicious food tour I had in Seoul at the start of May. In Seoul, there is an area heavily populated by foreigners called Itaewon – lucky for me, this area is a foodie paradise. As I have complained about often throughout my time in Korea, I have been quite deprived of my foodie and wino needs.

Thankfully, I left my weekend in Seoul with a happy tummy – you could say Seoul was good for my soul. This post is mostly for other foodies living in Korea, who are struggling to find delicious international food, so here we go. (Warning – I’d stop here if you’re already hungry for lunch).

The Flying Pan Blue

Brunch – the most important meal of the day (well, on the weekend at least). Luckily, there are ample opportunities to get your brunch on in Itaewon. We found this adorable hidden gem that served delicious Norwegian Benedict and mediocre coffee. I approve.

Burger Mine

This place is a bit outside Itaewon in Yongsan, but well worth the trek. The veggie burger was good (by Korean standards), but the real highlight was the “Animal Fries”. Apparently these are a take on a dish served at In-N-Out – french fries with thousand island dressing – yummmm.

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Soft Queen

Who doesn’t love soft serve? What’s better, is soft serve with crumbles of oreos sprinkled on top and a churro!

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Pizza Peel

I have a love-hate relationship with pizza in Korea. While it fulfills my cravings, it just isn’t Pepi’s (Holla Kitchener friends). What I do love, is that they serve their pizza here with – wait for it- honey and pickles. I’m not kidding, dip your cheese pizza in honey, and put some pickles on the side. Flipping delicious. Anyways, pizza peel does a pretty great job at a traditional pizza, and at an affordable price.

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Pizza Perfection

Champ Coffee

If I haven’t already mentioned it, my life here consists of drinking endless packets of instant coffee. It’s a sad life. Champ Coffee is a step in the right direction with regards to good coffee. However, the fact that it’s tucked out of the way down a quite alley, and has awesome hipster vibes gives it bonus points.

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#DoItForTheInsta

Gusto Taco

Another spot outside of Itaewon, but yes – so much yes. Gusto taco is amazing. Their tacos and their quesadillas are sooo good. They make their own tortillas in house, and it’s all delicious. Their nachos are a-okay, but I have come to expect nothing more than that from Korean nachos.

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That cheese crunch though…

Canucks

Nothing to make you feel like you’re at home more than a Canadian bar. 401 Highway signs, a Canada Post mailbox, delayed playoff hockey games, poutine, and whiskey – what more could a girl ask for? The poutine was incredible, and there were even real cheese curds – I’m not even sure where they find those suckers in Korea. Two thumbs up for Canucks poutine.

The weeks before getting sick and my trips to Vietnam and Seoul, I was hitting the gym hard. Probably a good thing as I spent my entire weekend in Seoul eating, and then resting up just so I could eat again. What can I say, I live to eat. Nom noms.

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#Namcation

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Towards the beginning of my contract, I found out that I would have the chance to take off a week in May due to National Holidays. I was so excited as I was thinking I wouldn’t have a getaway until August when Jay visits. Anyways, luckily I was able to snag some moderately pricey flights to Vietnam with my friend Caitlin, so off we went.

While Vietnam doesn’t seem like a large country, we only attempted to see Northern Vietnam, and I still feel like we hardly scratched the surface. That being said, in five days, we managed to visit Hanoi, Sapa and Ha Long Bay. Our vacation spanned a total of five nights – two on a sleeper train, two on a boat, and one on a short, 4 hour, red-eye flight. Needless to say, we did not come home from this vacation even remotely refreshed. However, it was worth it.

I think I say this about most places I have traveled at this point, but Vietnam has to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been (okay, there is no way it trumps Iceland). Beyond the beauty, I was so surprised by the outpouring kindness of the people, and also of the English proficiency everywhere we went. I can’t express enough gratitude towards the universe for being born into an English speaking society – us English speakers are truly privileged.

As I mentioned, we visited three main spots in Northern Vietnam. Each spot was completely unique in comparison to the next, so I have to reflect on them individually.

Hanoi

Bah, what a bat-shit crazy city. We didn’t spend much time in Hanoi – I tend to gravitate to more rural areas, and don’t need much time to appreciate a city. There were very few quiet spots in Hanoi – the motorbikes and the people made it impossible to get a moment of silence unless you were inside. That being said, the energy was contagious, and helped me stay alert while running on no sleep – I was reminded to be more aware as motorbikes nearly clipped me while driving by. Hanoi – a city you could easily get run over by a vehicle or motorbike – crossing the street was absolutely insane. I thought it was difficult crossing the street in Korea at times, well thanks to Hanoi, that’s a breeze now!

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Motorbike madness

Now it wouldn’t be a vacation if we didn’t indulge in some awesome Vietnamese food, so of course, our first stop when we landed was to the highest rated Italian joint in the city – whoops. Props to Vietnam, because it was a pretty bomb pizza. Okay okay, onto the Vietnamese food… While in Hanoi, we didn’t get to try much because we were short on time, but I wasn’t leaving without trying three things: Bahn Mi, Pho & Vietnamese coffee. All were delicious, but oh em gee the coffee – probably the best I have ever had. If you are a coffee lover, go to Vietnam, go right now.

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VEGAN PHO
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Bahn Mi

Sapa

Oh Sapa… Sapa is one of those places that leaves an imprint on your heart. It’s one of those places that you daydream about when you get a bad wave of wanderlust when you’re having a rough day at work, or when you’re sitting in a Canadian snowstorm wishing for better weather.

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Taking it all in.

There are no words to describe how lovely Sapa is. We spent a day trekking in Sapa – I would normally say that wasn’t enough, but it was 30 degrees Celsius PLUS the humidity, so it was definitely enough. Our day trek in Sapa was led by a guide through a company called Sapa Sisters. They employ all local women to run the treks, and they are all private tours. While trekking through the Sapa Valley and taking in the sights of the beautiful rice fields, and water buffalo bathing in mud, I also got to talk with our guide, Zo. She shared so much about her life in Vietnam – her son, her work, things about her community. We discussed the differences between our cultures and shared many laughs. She was truly wonderful.

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Our amazing guide – Zo!

One wonderful thing about Vietnam is the abundance of babies! I’m not kidding – babies, babies everywhere! For those of you who know me, you know that this is essentially my paradise. Our guide Zo even hooked me up with a four month old baby to hang with when we stopped in the village for lunch – what a magical moment. Another memorable moment was a baby, not more than two years old, who yelled bye to us at least 17 times as we were leaving. It turned into a game, and I kept turning around to say bye to her, and she would say it again, and again, and again. What a smart cookie learning English already.

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Happiness is stealing babies.
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And puppies…
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Smart kids already knew English (and they weren’t wearing pants) – so wise.

Our day in Sapa ended with a motorbike ride back into the village. While I thought I would be scared for my life as we were headed directly into oncoming vehicles, it was a surprisingly calm experience for me. Kinda makes me wanna get a motorbike…

Ha Long Bay – Bai Tu Long Bay

Alright, I admit it – I hate organized tours. I hate being told what to do, I hate being told where to go, I hate being given a schedule to follow, and I hate rules. WOW, I sound super bitter. However, Ha Long Bay is a beautiful place that is far too challenging to visit without going on an organized boat tour.

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Our boat at sunset.
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Our guide telling me how to take photos – I’m clearly having none of it…

Luckily, our boat tour was really great – our guides were awesome, the people on our boat were lovely, the weather was good, and the Ha Long Bay area is stunning. I expected a few of those rock formations here and there – no, no, no, they just keep going and going forever. No matter where you go in that area, there are these miraculous rock formations, and so many of them. If I knew anything about them, I would tell you, but I don’t, so Google it – or you can visit my friend Caitlin’s blog – cause she knows shit about science, and I don’t.

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Starting our cruise through the mystery rock formations.

We spent a lot of time relaxing on the boat – the food was good and they had wine, so my tummy and my heart were super happy (Korea has been depriving me of my usual wine intake, and it is very distressing). Caitlin and I discovered that we vibe well with lovely couples from other cultures. We met a wonderful couple from Israel, and another from France.

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Sunsets are my favourite.

We also had the chance to visit a rural fishing village in the bay, where people actually live in floating houses. I admire those people – I was so sea sick after two days on the boat that I thought I might die. Followed by nearly a week of, what is called, “land sickness”, who even knew that was a thing? I felt like I was on a boat for almost a week after I was actually on a boat. Essentially, I felt like one of those bobble head things, and I would get awesome waves of nausea. It was pretty rough. However, the beautiful views made it all worthwhile.

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People LIVE here…

Anyways, I’ve blabbed enough about my awesome Namcation, and I will certainly be going back. Stay tuned for my next post about how I gained 10 lbs in Seoul. Nom noms.

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The closest I got to swimming, as there was a swimming ban in Ha Long Bay.