My last cities on my radar post was not accomplished at all. I mean, I got distracted. I moved to China. So now that I am in eastern Asia, I have a whole new list of places I want to see. These are mainly cities that I wouldn’t have thought about before being in such close proximity to them! Now that I am traveling with a bit more frequency, I hope to keep up this series more.
Busan, South Korea After visiting Seoul, I really feel connected to South Korea. This city has beaches, mountains, temples, and probably a good bike rental system which really gets me going. Some friends tell me to go to Busan, get a beer on the beach and drop some soju in it. Which sounds really fun and wild, but I’m a bit more interested in the mountain views, winding roads, and tiny historic towns. Either way, we know Busan has a lot to offer.
Hong Kong I will soon be checking this one off my list. A more tropical city, a little more expensive than China, but still very interesting. It will be cool to see how different it really is from mainland China. I have heard that it’s really boring, but also that is has some of the best juice anyone can ask for. And who doesn’t love juice?
Osaka, Japan I have not been to Japan yet, but I am extremely excited to go soon. Osaka seems like a great place to start. The seafood, the history of the temples, and then there are the cool dotonbori and and namba areas. Neon lights, street food, and hip shopping.
Cambodia Before moving to China my knowledge about the history of Southeast Asia was slim. I had watched the Ken Burns documentaries about the Vietnam war this past fall. Of course, I had taken history classes in high school about world history but in college I mainly studied west civ. Being in China though, you kind of have to face the facts that you walk by people who have had a harder life than you and lived through things you only heard about from a text book.
So I want to visit every country I can to meet the people, learn about the stories. Cambodia was where I wanted to start because the ruins of Angkor Wat are fascinating and huge, the people there are working so hard to rebuild their country. I will not go there until I read the book First They Killed My Father.
Manazita, Oregon Yeah, super random because I’m currently in China but this place is on my mind. I met someone who took a van trip down the pacific coast and it just made my desire for the west coast even stronger. I have never been! After living in a city like Beijing the smallness of Manazita might be perfect for a trip.
So let’s see if I actually make it to any of these places this time! I hope I can cross off at least a few of them, I mean why live in Asia if you aren’t going to see Asia?
I made a super chatty post about Seoul and my feelings about traveling and moving for my photo dump this month. That made me want to give you a bit more of a “just facts” post about my seoul trip. Maybe you hate it, maybe you like the chatty versions! Either way this should help fill in the gaps if you felt like you missed all the information.
Arrive at airbnb by 3:30
Address: South Korea, Seoul, Jongno-gu, 통의동 35-1 대림미술관
Directions from Airbnb
Walk to Namsan Gymnasium and take Bus 402
Take it ten stops to Sejong Center
Walk around ten minutes north to the Museum.
Address: 24 Jahamun-ro 24-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Directions from Museum
Walk toward Jahamun-ro, the main street.
Walk North, then turn right on Jahamun-ro 24-gil and then follow the road
Arrive at Bear Cafe.
Must order: soy sauce ddeokbokki, with two additional dishes.
We totally did not find this dinner place. Instead we went to a Thai restaurant in the same area. It was right next to a sushi place, but man we made the BEST choice. It was delicious, the owner was wonderful. I felt really treated.
We DID find this one, it was amazing. You head down some stairs into a dimly lit room. the music alternated from Santana to Drake but the vibe still worked. A hand written menu, a sketchy portrait of Volstead on the wall, and some antique wall hangings made this bar feel less dive-y and more cozy.
Thursday was the only day I really planned. The other days I just picked out options for us to see what worked best. I didn’t know how easy it was to get around the city or how expensive it would be. It turned out to be very easy. When you arrive to Seoul, head to a 7eleven and ask for t-money cards. We put around 15000 on them, and they cost 4000. They lasted us the whole weekend, it was super convenient.
So next you will find a list of some places I found that I wanted to go, some I managed to get to but some I didn’t.
Opens: 10:00 am
Very close to airbnb, great reviews on brunch.
We went here because it was RIGHT across the street from our airbnb and MAN it was DELISH. I miss yogurt a ton so I had a granola yogurt bowl, and Johnny had this intense egg, bacon, arugula crepe situation. Obsessed.
Opens: 10:00 am
Fresh food, breakfast, lunch, and dinner options highly rated! Small location.
Opens: 11:00 am
Vegan cafe, great reviews. Good for a meatless option.
Opens: 8:00 am
Great lattes and coffee, finishes latte at table!
Opens: 9:00 am
Kimbap location recommended by caricakes, good location to walk around.
We did eat at OTTO Kimbap and the area was amazing. We walked around, saw a few vintage stores, a record store. A lot of the stores opened later but it was still pretty cool. Caricakes, who is a youtuber, recommended this place once while walking around Itaewon.
Main Ingredient is AVOCADO. Health focused meals.
Opens: 10:00 am
Health focused food, lacks taste or reviews often say small portion for the price.
The Veggie Eating Bear
Vegetarian bibimbap! Located in Hong-dae so you know it’s cool.
Opens: 12:00 pm
Um, it has a meerkat and a fox??
Thanks Nature Cafe
Opens: 11:00 am
We went to this cafe, it was in Hongdae where we were doing some window shopping (turned into real shopping, oops). It was really cute. The cafe was a little busy so the sheep seemed really tired and overwhelmed but CUTE CUTE CUTE.
I’m currently writing at a desk in my fancy hotel room in Tianjin. It’s so strange that I never find time to write about my trips until I’m on another one. It’s been almost three weeks since my long weekend in Seoul, but I loved it so much I have thought about it almost every day since. I’m going to use my April photo dump to gush about Seoul and how beautiful it was and then write a small travel guide from my trip in another one.
We had a flight at around 10 am, and a week before the trip the weather was beautiful, 70’s, sunny, tee shirt and shorts weather. The weekend of the trip however: rainy, cold, near 40’s. Seriously, April? We packed for the weather, even though I stubbornly choose to pack a sweater and rain coat instead of a winter coat. This mainly just lead to me purchasing a much needed jean jacket (because who doesn’t need a jean jacket?) and taking photos where I was actually pretty cold but acting like I was not.
After we landed in Incheon, we took a train/subway to our Airbnb (I loved our Airbnb, to see where we stayed click HERE). After we dropped off our bags, it was around 3 or 4 pm so we went right out to the Daelim museum, there was an exhibit where everything was made out of paper. It was pretty interesting, by the end you kind of forget you that everything is paper. After that we walked around and wandered to Bear Cafe. This adorable place will be beautiful in sunny weather. It was peaceful in the rain as well. I felt happy to just stare at the leaves reacting to the weight of the rain on them.
After Bear cafe we stopped for some wine, went home, got ready for dinner, then headed out again. I had picked a place for dinner in Itaewon, which is the area we stayed in, but we couldn’t find it. So instead we found a Thai place that I swear is not on any map, but it was so good. I wrote a little bit about it in my quick update blog, the owner was so nice, gave us wine on the house because it paired well, a small appetizer and a small dessert. This all took me by surprise because we hadn’t found any of those small customer service moments in China.
The next day we woke up at 8m which I guess was too early for Seoul. We had coffee at the only coffee shop we found that was open (to see all the closed ones, view the previous post), but I loved the design of it. In the middle, a big table with tons of magazines and books about travel, fashion, and mindfullness. On the walls prints from a featured artist made me feel appreciate of my appear and all women’s, I even bought stickers of her work and took a card so I could remember to buy prints later. The owner had fresh cookies being baked, a few regular customers came in with dogs, children, or just a few kind words. It’s nice to be around people who care about coffee and people.
After this cafe, we headed to BIM BOP for breakfast, I had read a few reviews of this place since it was near our airbnb and it lived up to the hype for sure. All the food we had was amazing, there was a clean decor, a featured Egg, and a great menu. I took a couple photos of food there and I am not ashamed. Like LOOK at that egg, bacon, crepe situation?? There was a smoothie bowl place near BIM BOP and we didn’t get a chance to visit it, but it looked super good. If you go, take pictures and send them to me.
The thing about Seoul. It’s not just one pretty thing, it’s like several. It’s layers, there is a foreground, a mid-ground, and a background. All wrapped up in one beautiful scene. I was mainly walking around the winding roads of Itaewon, and I know that’s some parts are touristy or clubby areas, but it felt nice. And then there was this random bear in a park?
We wondered parks, neighborhoods, bought face masks, walked up giant hills that made me nervous to fall down. I know that I like to plan ahead of a trip to find the coolest places with the best coffee. I felt like I didn’t need to do that with Seoul and when I return I won’t. It was so wonderful just to wander around.
The last night we went to a place called MOW MOW and it was really great. It had an awesome view of the city, the food was amazing, I am running out of adjectives. This place makes their own Makgeolli, which is a milky, sparkling rice wine? This place apparently makes some of the best. We actually asked about it and got confused because of the language barrier, so we didn’t try it. Next time though! We have to get it, and so do you!
After that dinner we wandered more, found a dessert cafe called big step? I think it was big step? The front of the cafe had three big steps up to the counter, with comfy looking bean bag chairs for the patrons to lounge on. There they had extremely gorgeous looking desserts, we took two, read a magazine article about Nicki Minaj and watched the cute couples passing by the big windows.
I really liked how Seoul made me feel. I was excited by everything I saw. Moving to Beijing has been interesting because I so desperately want to feel settled and to be in a routine. I don’t want to think of it as a vacation all the time. But it kind of is? I’m in this massive city where I need to explore. If I lived in New York City, would I just want to cook dinner all the time at home, or would I want t go out for drinks at a new place? Also there is the conversation of what is the REAL Beijing. Am I living in the Western Beijing? The Historic Beijing? I don’t know!
Even though I want to keep exploring Eastern Asia outside of Beijing, it will be important for me to try and force myself to explore this city as well. If you have any Beijing or Seoul recommendations, please leave them below!
Every time I think I understand China or Beijing, I get surprised. I want to be clear, this isn’t like a complaining post. This is a wow culture shock! post. But even so, I love learning these things and adapting them to my worldview. Being in a different country and culture, you have to expect some things to surprise you.
So with that positivity in mind, some examples of things that have taken me by surprise are..
THE PARKING. People talked about the driving, but HONESTLY it’s the parking that really confuses me. Cars will park anywhere. Anywhere. Sometimes I have no idea if I am in a parking lot or not. I’m include pictures of an area near where I live, but it’s insane. I have no idea how they even move, cars are so blocked in. And then they park on the street, on the side walk, in the turn lane, in the bus lane. Any road is fair parking game. There are also the people on scooters and the people driving weird little metal carts. They look like metal rickshaws? They don’t have any rules.
In Beijing, when you see a way you go. This applies to crossing the street too. Sometimes that means I’ll be standing on a street corner waiting for the street walk sign to turn green, and there will be several people just standing in the middle on the road. Like nothing is bothering them, not the twenty plus cars racing past them on both sides. If it’s clear, why not go? Sometimes when the light is green there are so many people turning you can’t go without being honked at or dodging cars. It’s wild.
So that was like way too long just about parking, so let’s move on.
There is a ton of street food here, and almost anything can be found on a stick. Also, basically all the food here is good. The vegetables and the fruit are amazing. Super flavorful, I see people selling everything from full pineapple to baby strawberries on the street. There is a small grocery seller at the entrance to my apartment. They have a lot of options, like watermelons, lettuce, cabbage, lemons, and mangos. If I am ever craving something I can just grab it on my way home. It’s a lot more conviennent than junk food.
Speaking of junk food, the flavors are interesting. Some lays chips flavors I’ve noticed are yogurt, cucumber, matcha, and spicy chicken. I tried the matcha ones, have tried the others. Not sure if I will. But the kids here love these flavors.
The public transportation all stops by 10:30 so after that you either have to walk or take a didi, which is like Uber or Lyft. But the bars don’t shut down at 10:30? It just seems like Beijing doesn’t want to become a party city, so they do what they can to have people come home by 10:30, but in some areas it doesn’t really work. If I’m in Sanlitun, which is a fun area with a lot of bars, I will probably be there until the wee morning hours.
There are more surprising things, like the fact that all the brooms seem to be either sized for children or made out of branches with absolutely no in between. But this is a good first installment of surprising things.
I’m currently taking a mini vacation in Seoul, as it is the tomb-sweeping holiday in China. So far, I love it. It’s beautiful, it’s lively, it’s fun, it feels youthful. I have a whole list the size of my arm of things to do, but I keep getting pulled in by the amazing things I see on the streets. I already know there will be at least a second vacation here.
Quick story: Johnny and I were walking around looking for a restaurant I saw online in Itaewon. We couldn’t find it so instead we went to a Thai noodle place. This place was pretty small and it wasn’t super busy on a Thursday night so the man working had a lot of time to chat with us. The food was amazing, and we had gotten something to drink before coming here so we didn’t order drinks. The barkeeper asked us if we did drink and when we said yes, he treated us to wines that would pair well with our dishes!
Now, Johnny and I love wine. He took a wine tasting class in France, we always keep flavors in mind when picking wines for dinners, so this was just wonderful. We also were treated with a small appetizer and dessert. We chatted about how it was our first night in Korea and the barkeeper seemed excited that he could treat us to great service for our first dinner.The attention that a small business owner can give to his customers makes a huge difference.
I could find this place on the map ANYWHERE. But it’s called Ma I Mien I think and in right next to a sushi bar on bongwang-ro in Itaewon, super close to the Itaewon subway stop. I actually took horrible photos inside but I’ll include two anyway. I think I was just too excited? I don’t know. I hope if you come to Seoul you try this place. It was really wonderful. I’m excited to tell you guys about the rest of my trip!
This month was one of the most interesting in my life. It has been so fun having each day be different, but also slightly exhausting. I’m excited to finally understand the routine of life here so I can figure out how to have real energy. I think in April I’m going to try to do some sort of phone detox. I’ll let you know how that goes, but I will try to not let it effect my photos.
I turned 24 this month, which sometimes feels crazy old. At dinner with my boyfriend, I sat and thought about how I want to set goals and achieve them. So I’ll be posting a goal list here later in April.
Have you ever seen a post from me about hiking? No. Will you? Maybe? Does this mean I don’t like nature? NO. I love nature and plants and trees and being outside. I just find myself liking to be inside a lot too. So here in Beijing, we have this incredible chain called MAAN coffee. It could be in all of China, it could be in all of Asia! I have no idea, what I do know though is that it has the perfect atmosphere for when I want to be in a cafe that feels like I’m in a woodland fairies house.
I’m sure we have all had that feeling right, like if only we knew what fairies lived like. I feel like I know now. This coffee shop is only a five minute walk from my apartment and is so cozy. The two story cafe has several trees inside it, giant chandeliers, hanging lanterns, and huge book shelves. Add in many wooden tables and chairs, a few secluded nooks, and giant windows letting the natural light in, and you have yourself a woodland fairy house. MAAN cafe has many locations, at this time I have only been to one, so I don’t know if they are all this grand. It has quite a large selection of coffee and non-coffee drinks, along with delicious looking foods.
Johnny and I started out with a latte and vanilla latte. The vanilla some how blew my mind, mainly because it wasn’t the same vanilla flavor that Starbucks uses I guess? It was almost marshmallowy? The plain later was okay, but it didn’t have great espresso. It almost tasted like maybe it had a flavor in it? There are still a lot of questions here. In our next round of drinks we went for a matcha latte, Johnny’s new favorite thing to order, and a cloud coffee. The cloud coffee is their specialty coffee, it seems like maybe it’s a nitro cold brew? I really like it, it’s pretty smooth.
The cloud coffee gives me a perfect chance to brag on the kindness of the Chinese people I have interacted with. I ordered the matcha latte in Chinese fine, but I didn’t know how to say cloud coffee, so the guys helping me gave me his phone to rake a photo of the menu item. Like how NICE, he gave me his phone to do that! I just have been blown away by the kindness of everyone here. We had received help like that a lot, people just doing everything they can to help us. It’s amazing.
Anyway, MAAN coffee is definitely worth the visit if only for the amazing atmosphere. The location on the edge of Beixiaohe Park in Wangjing is the one Johnny and I go to. If you have any more coffee recs PLEASE drop them by us. Also, I know its been two coffee shop reviews, with no other info. I understand! It’s just a busy month here. I have a few other posts planned, and then a trip to Seoul and Tianjin planned for the next two weekends. So expect a lot of fun content on those too!
Have you ever heard a song and within the first few seconds, you know it was going to be one of your favs? That’s how I felt when I saw the adorable store front of Never Bored. Bright, silly yellow doodles, a giant giraffe, and plants hanging all over the place. This store screamed JOYFUL to me, and so I dragged Johnny in. The owner was so kind and helped us order in Chinese, I got milk tea and he bought a latte, “Wǒ yào nǎichá hé ná tiě.”
So some quick and practical reason why I will be returning here even though it’s not close to where I live: the tables are high enough that I can cross my legs under them comfortably, the drinks are so good and, honestly, affordable. Going out to coffee can be as expensive as going out to dinner here, so if I am going to spend 60 yuan on two coffees it is going to be GOOD. (By the way 60 yuan is like ten dollars.) The atmosphere is so cute, too. It’s definitely a cafe for chatting and hanging out. Some cafes seem like a quick bite and then leave type of place, and some are places you can sit on a laptop and never look anyone in the eye. This is the perfect middle. I can sit and work, but also not feel weird for talking out loud. This cafe is pretty close to a hoppin street, which is fun for when you come to Beijing and want something hip. So go to Gulou street (a post about this will be coming soon), walk around and eat some street foods in the big crowds, then head over to Never Bored. I recommend the milk tea, it’s so good. The espresso there is also GREAT QUALITY. Third wave coffee seems like it is growing here, so hopefully we will find more and more cafes with great espresso. I know, here I am in one of the countries that know tea best, and I’m going to coffee shops. But guys, I can’t STOP! I love it. I have a list of other ones to go to, but Never Bored just fell into my lap. I had to write about it right away. If you have any recs, PLEASE let me know. I always love hearing from you!
Okay, so my first week in Beijing is almost complete. I have a million thoughts going around my head, so we are going to start with a bit of a word vomit and move into a photo dump.
We arrived super late at night and went straight to the hostel. We are staying at The Red Lantern House, which is not only flipping adorable, but also in a great location. We are staying in a room with just the two of us, and for three nights it is 700 RMB which translates to about 104 USD. That is expensive for a hostel, BUT we are staying in like a private room. The other dorm rooms are a lot cheaper and just as nice.
Here is the hostel:
The next day, we ate a ton of great food, and also did some boring stuff. Let’s talk food first. So it’s true that in Asian cultures you get like a big plate of food and everyone shares it’s like (INSERT AMERICAN RESTAURANT THAT HAS SHARING PORTIONS HERE). In one breakfast, we had: dumplings, red bean oatmeal, noodles, cucumbers, and soy milk. Then for lunch we had this plate of chicken, some spinach, peanuts, a pepper dish, and a soup.
By the way, I’m not leaving these names out because I want to. I have no idea what this is called. But man it was SO GOOD. Then for dinner we had some other chicken thing, another soup, and more cucumbers. I am living my best food life. It actually just occurred to me yesterday that I have no idea when I last used a fork?
Anyway HERE IS THE FOOD:
This second day we did mainly boring things like phones stuff and bank stuff. Which took foreverrrrrr, but it’s kind of like if I worked at a bank and someone with a Chinese name, address, passport, etc needed a bank account, I would have no clue how to do that, or put that into the English system we use! So it was a lot of patience on both ends. See above photo for some snacks we bought for our three hour stint at the bank.
The day after that we went on a few tours of the big places and they kind of speak for themselves. Like, these places are older than America. It’s pretty amazing learning about Chinese culture/history by being right next to it. So we went to The Forbidden City, the old Summer Palace, Beihai Park. For the Forbidden City we had a tour guide, and I really was happy to have him. If you don’t have a guide of some sort it’s kind of hard to understand WHY each detail is so important.
The thing we have done the most of while being here is walk. We have walked so dang much. There is no question about it. My calves, my feet, my thighs, they feel it. That’s probably why I’m googling baiduing massage places right now.
Some non-typical things we have done are go to a local brewery, eat jiānbǐng, take the metro confidently, go to a few coffee shops, and stroll through Gulou street. I’m really excited to experience the art district eventually, but that is near where we will be staying next, so we didn’t want to trek all the way over there to see something we will live by.
I’m going to include a vlog of our travel later and the first week here because I feel like that might help you guys see things better? I don’t know how to explain how interesting China is, and sometimes videos do more than photos, so that’s basically it. Let me know if you like the vlog, pleaseeee. I have no idea how to do one and this week was a really weird one so I tried to make it the best it could be!
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