^o^ Korea!

tl;dr – (ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ*:・゚✧ I LOVED SEOUL!!! Now I’m in Taiwan for 3 weeks. 

I did not want to leave Seoul this morning.

It was raining and I had this feeling of dread as I walked through the terminal to my gate. The kimchi withdrawals were already beginning to kick in.

The overwhelming sadness was not helped by the fact that I had just spent the night sleeping in the airport on a bench for just 4 hours.

While I had intended on rounding out my Korea trip the same way it began (lounging in the Incheon Airport spa), things did not pan out the way I’d hoped.

I got to the spa at midnight and the place was fully booked. The train back to the city had already stopped running for the night, so I trudged through the airport until I found a decently cushioned row of chairs to curl up on.

At 5 am, I woke up to the shrieking sound of packaging tape being wrapped around luggage. A huge group travelers chatted loudly about whatever there is to chat about at 5 am. I heaved my backpack on and checked into my Taipei flight.

I hadn’t expected to love Korea, and I definitely didn’t expect that I was going to LoOooOooooOooooOooOoove Seoul. It actually hurt to pass through immigration.

It didn’t matter whether I was eating tteokbokki alone at a restaurant or drinking soju with new friends, I loved nearly every moment of my time in Korea.

The city is so livable and interesting. The food is weird and incredible. The public transportation is thorough and convenient — even if I did manage to mess up every time I took it.

My favorite running path along the Han River.

Speaking of getting lost, I botched the one big sightseeing adventure I attempted in Korea. Getting to the DMZ, the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea, was a true nightmare.

For those headed wanting to visit the DMZ themselves, here’s a step by step guide to doing it wrong:

Step one Get lost at Seoul’s main train station. Literally run around the massive station trying to catch a 9:20 am train. Ask for help. Get conflicting information from every employee. Do this for one hour.

Step two – On the verge of crying, finally get on the right train to Munsan Station. After about an hour of travel, get off the train at Munsan and walk to the bus stop. Twenty minutes later,  get on a bus to Imjingang Station.

Step three – Get off the bus at the wrong stop. Note: The key to this step is to not know you are at the wrong stop. 

Step four – Walk around the ghost town of a stop and feel like giving up. Try to find a ticket booth you saw on some travel blog. Stare at the buildings and notice that nothing is written in English. Feel like a failure.

Step five – Open up Google maps, tell yourself that you won’t wasted 4 hours of your life only to give up on your DMZ dreams now. Start walking along the highway toward Imjingang Station. Don’t cry.

Step six – Hail the taxi that comes along, as though by magic. Show him your Google Map and understand exactly zero of his Korean. Sit back and revel in the air conditioning.

Step seven – Get dropped off at the wrong place. (In lieu of steps 6 & 7, maybe just light your money on fire instead. Same result.)

Step eight – Seek out help from a kind Korean man working at a kiosk. Sort of understand him and start walking down the highway again.

DMZ Time

Step nine – MAKE IT TO THE DMZ PARKING LOT!!!! Be weirded out by the amusement park blasting Justin Bieber music. Find the ticket booth and pay for a tour of the DMZ.

Step ten – Get on a tour bus. Realize you’ve just committed to a 3 hour tour. Feel overwhelmed.

Tunnel to North Korea - not for the claustrophobic.

Step eleven – Look with your very own eyes at the southernmost part of North Korea. Walk through tunnels that the North Koreans built to try to infiltrate after the Korean war. Feel lucky to be there, but feel exhausted.

Step twelve – Take one bus and two trains back to Seoul. Mess up twice.

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So visiting Korea wasn’t a piece of cake, but it was a dream – a dream I am sad to wake up from. I could honestly see myself living in Seoul, getting lost on the subway every day and consoling myself with Korean desserts.

Taro shaved ice with boba, because dreams *do* come true.
Taro shaved ice with boba, because dreams *do* come true.

But that chapter of this trip is over. It’s time to enjoy Taiwan, even if it has a hard act to follow.

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Viet Mom

tl;dr – My mom came to Asia and we went to Vietnam. Now I’m alone in Korea. 

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Last week in Hoi An, a 52-year-old woman named Tina playfully slapped my cheeks and called me a baby.

She had wrangled my mom and I into her shop to remove our unwanted peach fuzz (lady facial hair), and now she was using the threading technique to rip the fine follicles out of my jowls. I was wincing and maybe almost crying. It hurt, a lot.

When she finished torturing me, she slathered on some face cream said to make the hair “never come back again.” 

A staple of the trip, cà phê nâu đá, Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk.
A staple of the trip, cà phê nâu đá, Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk. 

She had quoted us 100,000 Vietnamese Dong (the currency in Vietnam, about $4.50 US) for the painful service, and in the end demanded 800,000 for me, 600,000 for my mom. The only thing I hate more than peach fuzz is getting hustled.

I saw it coming but didn’t think we’d get charged 8x more (I didn’t think I had so much facial hair either). It wasn’t the first time I’ve been hustled, and it sure as hell won’t be the last! We paid Tina and took our waxy, smooth faces back into the insane Hoi An heat.

The face cream she applied ended up giving a bad red, raised, rash that lasted nearly a week. Also, the hair is coming back already.

Travel savvy mother in Hanoi at the One Pillar Pagoda.
Travel savvy mother in Hanoi at the One Pillar Pagoda.

Scams aside, my mom and I had a great trip in Vietnam for about a week and a half, splitting our time between Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, and Hoi An. The country is rich with history, good food, addictive coffee.

My mom fought jet lag well and was always more energetic than me to go out and see the sights, even though it was almost 100 degrees every day with 80% humidity.

We were up every morning to go jog around Hoàn Kiếm Lake, out and about every afternoon trying not to get hit by scooters in the crazy traffic.

Misty, but still hot AF, mornings around Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
Misty, but still hot AF, mornings around Hoàn Kiếm Lake.

One of the best parts of the trip was our overnight boat excursion to Ha Long Bay. It’s just as beautiful as the Google Images make it out to be.

Limestone cliffs at Ha Long Bay.
Limestone cliffs at Ha Long Bay.

We swam, hiked, sweat, and took 40,000 pictures over the two-day experience. The views were alone were worth the 8 hours (round trip) in a bus to get there.

Mai Tai with a view.
Mai Tai with a view.

I also got very lucky in Vietnam, not once, but three times. On our first night there, we’re sitting in a randomly chosen restaurant when who walks in the door? OH I DON’T KNOW, JUST RATATAT!!!! 

If you read the last blog post, you may remember that I lost my voice for four days screaming at their show in Bangkok recently. And here are Mike Stroud and Evan Mast in the same restaurant in Hanoi. Stars, they’re just like us!

I had a fangirl panic moment and couldn’t decide whether or not to play it cool, or ask for a photo, or get up and run into their arms. I ended up blurting out some words to them as they walked by our table, saying that I had seen them in Bangkok and now here we all are, or something mediocre.

The real MPV of the conversation was my mom, who made them laugh. They walked upstairs and ate dinner and I was in shock for another few hours.

Lucky situation number two. Still in shock after the whole Ratatat thing, I tell my mom that Bourdain is also in Hanoi that night (so is President Obama, nbd), so we go to his hotel to do some light stalking at the bar. While getting out of the taxi, I thought I slipped my phone into my purse, but it fell instead to the floor, under the seat.

The beautiful Hanoi opera house.
The beautiful Hanoi opera house.

I realized this later, of course. Once we get to the Hotel Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, I go to pull out my phone a few minutes after we’ve been dropped off and realize it is missing. The panic! I run outside of the hotel to see if the taxi driver is still there, maybe waiting for another customer, but he’s gone.

The hotel staff see how distressed I am and ask what’s wrong. I tell them I left my phone in the taxi, and three of them take off running in different directions. I’ve accepted the fact that it’s gone at this point, because Hanoi traffic is insane and there’s no way they’re going to find him.

A few moments later, one of the hotel employees is walking down the street toward me, and he’s not alone. He’s with the taxi driver! He said that he had remembered the license plate number from when we were dropped off, “it’s my job.” The cab driver had gone around the corner where taxis wait for customers.

Completely unrelated photo of a guy transporting chickens in Hoi An.
Completely unrelated photo of a guy transporting chickens in Hoi An.

I was totally stunned for the second time in one night. Also so happy that I could have kissed the guy. I said thank you about 80 times and then 30 more times.

Lucky moment number three: We flew from Danang to Hanoi and then took a cab into the city (it’s a 45 minute ride.) Once we’re checking into the Hotel de L’Opera Hanoi, I realize that I left a small bag that I keep in my larger bag on the plane. Inside that small bag? My wallet with my credit cards, cash, debit card, driver’s license, etc.

I wanted to die. HOW AM I ALLOWED TO BE AN ADULT. 

But really, why???
But really, why???

I told the concierge at our hotel and asked if he could call the airlines, the numbers I had tried weren’t working and most of the information was in Vietnamese. He took over for me, and after about 7 calls he told me that they had FOUND THE BAG!!! 

The hotel arranged a taxi driver to take us back to the airport and call the right people once we arrived. He did, and we got the bag back fully intact. I gave the concierge a gift and a letter thanking him in addition to the barrage of verbal thank yous.

The moral of the story: everyone in Vietnam is my hero and I (per usual) need to be more mindful.

Beach day in Hoi An, a city where I didn't lose anything, thank god.
Beach day in Hoi An, a city where I didn’t lose anything, thank god.

My mom and I left Vietnam on the same day, but many hours apart. Her flight took off at 11, and mine at 1:45 AM (technically the next day, but you get it).

I said goodbye to her (knowing that I’ll see her again in about a month, which is nice) and spent the day doing some work, killing time at the hotel until it was time to head to the airport.

Last lunch in Hanoi.
Last lunch in Hanoi.

I left Vietnam humbled, tired, and bloated (there had been a LOT of eating in the past week). Once my flight landed at Incheon International Airport, I didn’t have the energy to take the train into the city. Instead, I paid $12 to use the airport’s Korean spa.

Best spent $12 of my life! I soaked in hot tubs, cold pools, sweat out the exhaustion in the sauna and steam room, then slept for 4 hours on a thin cushion in the napping room.

I finally left the airport and made it to the heart of Seoul. I put my stuff down at the traditional Korean guesthouse I’m staying at, and started walking around the city. I have been here once before, but only for a 10 hour layover.

Korean pancakes that I should have eaten, but didn't.
Korean pancakes that I should have eaten, but didn’t.

This place is nuts and reminds me a lot of Tokyo. I think I’m going to like it here, despite feeling very lost already.

Home!
Seoul home!

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