South Korea Travel Diary

This past month has seen me travelling through Asia—specifically, Vietnam and South Korea—with my partner. South Korea has been an especially interesting one as I haven’t been here since I was teeny tiny and I knew very little about the country coming into it.

As my partner has been off getting a plethora of new tattoos whilst we’ve been here, I’ve done a good chunk of exploring by myself. I have absolutely no experience solo travelling so I’m rather proud of myself for getting to it and figuring it out!

Whether you’re planning a trip to Korea yourself or you’re just curious about what I’ve been up to these past couple of weeks, here’s what I’ve loved in Korea so far.

To do:

Kimchi-making class

If you haven’t checked out the experiences that Airbnb offers, I’d highly recommend taking a peek! They have tons of experiences hosted by locals all around the world. Even if you have no travel plans in your future, it’s worth having a look to see what’s on offer in your own city—they make great date nights! The highlight of my time in Korea has actually been a kimchi-making class, which I booked through Airbnb. It was hosted by a local Korean couple in their own home. They provided all the ingredients, jars to take our kimchi home in, and a full dinner for all the people in the class to share. It was super interesting hearing about the kimchi’s history and health benefits, and even cooler learning how it’s made! It was surprisingly simple and only had a few ingredients, which can be found in anyone’s local supermarket. I’m just devo that I can’t smuggle it through Australian customs.

seoul’s many, many, many coffee shops

Evidently people are SERIOUS about coffee here. Every second store front is a coffee shop. Every convenience store has the largest array of iced coffee options you’ll ever see in your life. Every restaurant, café, and fast food joint you can find undoubtedly serves lattes and Americanos (known in my native language as long blacks). A lot of them also have some really funky flavours; for example, I strongly recommend Coffee The Camp’s iced banana cream latte. It sounded almost too funky for me, but as an avid banana cream pie enthusiast, I had to try it. It’s heaven in a cup, truly. Egg Drop has the best hot, black coffee, and you basically can’t go wrong anywhere with an iced latte.

Gwangjang Market

Another great Airbnb experience! We booked a food tour through Gwangjang Market one night and it was incredible. I’m always worried with these things that the vegetarian options will be abysmal—or worse, the vegetarian options won’t be vegetarian after all. But our host was amazing and he showed us a ton of delicious Korean food. All the food at this market is dirt cheap and so good. My favourites were a tie between mung bean pancakes (not pictured) and the kimchi dumplings from Yoonsun Cho’s stall (if you’ve seen Street Food on Netflix you’ll be familiar!).

ALTDIF Tea Tasting Course

This tea tasting course was hands down one of my favourite things we’ve in our entire month-long trip. My partner, who only has one (very specific) type of tea he likes, loved it too. I love the concept of this tea house. Throughout the year, they change their theme; in the past they’ve done literary themes like Alice in Wonderland and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as well as themes such as wellness and summer. They change their teas to fit each theme. The theme of our tasting was tarot, and each tea we tried reflected a different tarot card. Part of the tea house is taken up by a long bar, where the “tea master” makes fresh tea in front of you; part of the tea house is a showcase of the various products they sell; and part of the tea house is made up of comfy chairs, couches, and a coffee table—their “tea lounge”. We booked through Airbnb because duh and also because Airbnb is the only way to access their English courses; Korean courses can be booked through their website. If you follow me on social media, you’ll already know how obsessed I was with this experience. Highly recommend!

COEX Starfield Library

I’m obsessed with books and bookstores and libraries; my partner can attest to this as I’m always dragging him into our local bookstore under the pretence of “just dropping in for a minute!”. So once I found out about this giant, gorgeous beast of a library, it shot to the top of my to-do list. The library is smack bang in the centre of COEX Mall, a beautiful shopping centre in Gangnam. There are tons of seats and desks to sit at and read or work and there’s even a small English language section. I brought snacks and books and sat here for hours reading and people watching. Heaven! Seeing as we’ve been staying in the university area of Seoul—Mapo-gu—it was a small hike to get here (40 minutes via subway), but well worth the trip.

Hongdae Shopping Street

The best night markets we found are on Seogyo-dong in Mapo-gu. During the day, the street is quiet and relatively empty; at night, it comes alive with shops and stalls and street performances. You can see young people dancing and singing along to K-pop in the busking section of the street and you can buy clothes and souvenirs along the rest of the street. Like everything else in Seoul, the markets are open quite late—it’s a cool place to go find a Korean dessert or bubble tea after dinner.

943 King’s Cross Harry Potter Café

I have a certain annoying habit of seeking out Harry Potter-themed things anywhere I go in the world (much to the chagrin of my friends and family and partner). A lot of the themed things we’ve done in Seoul have been extremely gimmicky and not worth writing home about, but this café was incredible. It has five totally decked-out levels: the basement is a bar decorated like the Hog’s Head Inn; the ground level is the main café with a wand wall and lots of themed souvenirs you can buy; the other levels are decorated to look like the inside of Hogwarts. Even the outside of the café is built to look like King’s Cross Station in London! I was totally in my element. The café has Hogwarts robes and scarves you can try on and take photos in, which, I admit, were kind of gross and extremely worn-in, but fun all the same!

How to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

I’m no stranger to travelling, and living in Australia makes it hard to fly overseas without taking a flight less than 8 hours long. Over the years, I’ve learned to perfect the art of travelling long distances without feeling like a greasy, bloated, smelly monster when I disembark on the other side. Here are my best tips and tricks.

Skincare

I never bothered with in-flight skincare until a couple of years ago, and it has totally changed the way I travel. Before I leave for a trip, I pick up a couple of travel-sized moisturisers, face wipes, and sometimes (if I’m feeling extra boujee) a tiny bottle of hydrating mist. My favourites at the moment are from the Essano SuperFoods range – they’re made of natural, organic ingredients and the sample pack is perfect for travelling. I try to clean and moisturise my face throughout my flight—before I sleep, when I wake up, and at the end of my flight before landing. I also make sure to throw a small bottle of hand sanitiser and hand cream in my carry-on. It’s a super easy way to feel clean and refreshed throughout your entire flight.

Know the do-s and don’t-s of eating and drinking

It’s super tempting to take advantage of the free food and drink offered on your flight, but don’t give into the temptation too easily—think carefully about what you put in your body on a long-haul flight. There’s nothing wrong with a coffee or a glass of wine, but over-indulging in caffeine and/or alcohol will only serve to dehydrate you, make you feel groggy, and make it harder for your body to fight jet-lag once you arrive at your destination. Drink as much water as possible and try to keep alcohol and caffeine to a minimum.

If you’re not a huge fan of plane food (who is?) and you’re planning to pack snacks, try to stick to protein-filled foods like protein bars or peanut butter sandwiches that will keep you fuller for longer. As I’m a vegetarian and my in-flight breakfast options generally consist of either some type of meat or a couple of measly pieces of fruit, I generally try to pack my own meals. As well as a homemade sandwich, I often carry protein bars onboard with me and I also like to throw in a cup of instant oatmeal; then I just ask the flight attendant for a cup of hot water to cook my oats instead of breakfast. But if you’re planning to take your snacks off your flight and into the country you’re visiting, make sure you read up on that country’s customs restrictions first!

Don’t forget that you can special-order your meals to fit your dietary restrictions—there are tons of options: vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal, and heaps more. A perk of this is that special meals come out before the normal meals, which allows you to get your mealtime over with and fall asleep earlier.

Zzz

I always hear people say, “I just can’t sleep on planes!”. False. Everyone can sleep on planes. If you think you can’t fall asleep on a plane, you’re probably just taking the wrong approach. Sleeping on a plane is exactly the same as sleeping anywhere else, except probably just a little less comfortable. Stay away from caffeine if you want to try to get some sleep on your flight (obviously); try drinking something more calming instead, like decaffeinated green tea, or just hot water or milk. Make sure you have an eye mask and ear plugs if you need total darkness and silence to sleep. Wear comfy clothes and pack an extra sweatshirt or scarf in case the airplane is cold. Be mindful of the music you’re listening to before you sleep (maybe upbeat pop or rap isn’t the best option) and try to limit how much you’re looking at a screen pre-sleep (try reading a book or listening to one of those 1,000 podcasts you always said you’d listen to but never did). Take a sleeping pill if need be! Most airlines will provide a pillow for you to sleep on—I suggest bringing your own pillow or neck pillow anyway. This way, you can put the provided pillow behind your lower back to keep back pain at bay, while not having to compromise your sleeping comfort. Most flights will adhere to the time zone of wherever you’re flying to, but if they don’t, you should anyway. Try to sleep when it’s nighttime in your destination; this will help you stave off the jet lag a little.

BYO power

Always, always, always bring a spare power pack as well as your chargers. You never know when something you need is going to die unexpectedly and this can be stressful if you’re on a flight with no other way of charging your device. PS—as a general travel trip, DON’T FORGET to pack power converters! They’re an obvious essential when travelling but are also super easy to accidentally leave out in your night-before packing rush.

Be realistic

I think most people who’ve travelled can relate to having a “holiday self”—basically a version of yourself that you hope to magically turn into once you leave for a holiday. My holiday self is suuuuper chill, way more spontaneous than anyone you’ve met before, and has tons of time to read tons of books. Holiday Monique prompts Real Monique to pack way too many books in my suitcase and tempts Real Monique to leave hotel bookings and holiday activities to chance and spontaneity. Realistically, though, I’m going to get stressed if I haven’t planned my trip. I’m relatively spontaneous, but still like to book things ahead and not leave too much to chance. I love to read, but I know that I’m not going to be sitting down with a book my whole trip.

Make sure you’re being realistic with the things you’re bringing on your trip; this includes in your carry on. Do you need more than one box of crackers? Are you actually going to read 3 whole books on your 10-hour flight? You don’t want to get stuck with a bulky, heavy carry-on when you’re not even going to be using half the stuff inside it,

Bring a change of clothes

Okay, I know that most normal, grown people don’t tend to spill stuff all over themselves while eating or drinking, and I know that you’re most likely not going to sweat through all your clothes. BUT you never know what might happen while you’re travelling. I once had a flight attendant spill a cup of hot tea all over me when we hit turbulence and I couldn’t do anything except dab at it with the 2 paper napkins he dropped in my lap before moving further down the aisle. Situations like these are why you should bring at least a spare t-shirt. I always bring an entire change of clothes—t-shirt, pants, undies, socks, the lot. I feel SO much fresher (and less stinky) if I can change my outfit toward the end of my flight.

I’m not a total expert on travel, I’ll admit. But I’ve definitely taken quite a few flights in my day and I’d like to think I know what I’m talking about. So follow my advice, or don’t. Be smelly and greasy with gross skin and raging jet lag. That’s your call.

2018/19 Travel Wishlist

I’ve had an incredible 21 years of travelling under my belt. I’ve been to so many amazing countries and had some pretty unforgettable experiences (South African safaris, Italian fashion shows, surfing at Waikiki Beach—you get the picture). But, of course, there still remain hundreds of countries left to visit and an infinite amount of memories to make.

This year I was blown away by how thoughtful all my birthday presents were. I felt so loved opening my gifts and seeing how much thought had gone into each one. One of the best gifts I received this year was from my ever-generous parents, who gifted me an overseas trip that I can take whenever, to wherever, with McKenzie, their pseudo-daughter (yes, I do know that I’m the luckiest girl in the world).

Obviously I immediately went into Planning Overdrive™, making lists of all the places I want to visit, the best time of the year to visit each place, the biggest tourist attractions of each place as well as the lesser known attractions, and even what I’d wear while travelling. After a little while, my list got way too long, my hand cramped from writing, and McKenzie was probably annoyed at the endless texts I was sending her asking for her opinion on everything.

So as usual, I’ve taken to my blog to make sense of the blur of ideas I have. Here’s a list of the top places I want to travel to in 2018/19.

If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment below! I’m always open to advice or recommendations.

Amsterdam

 

You can’t tell me Amsterdam isn’t the most romantic-looking city ever. It’s straight out of a fairytale. I mean, come on—it even makes me kind of like the look of snow.

Iceland

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Blue Lagoon. Enough said.

Vienna

 

I visited Salzburg a few years ago and fell in love; I’ve been dreaming of Vienna ever since. I mean, it looks like a Christmas village year-round—what more could I ask for?

Ireland

 

Ever since my parents and younger brother went to Ireland (yes, without me) when I was 15, I’ve been absolutely desperate to go. I practically go to bed dreaming of sipping hot coffee while standing on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher and dancing in an actual Irish pub and getting lost in bookstores in Dublin.

Phillipines

 

Living in Australia, it’s so cheap and easy to get to Asia that it’s astonishing I haven’t seen more of it than I have. I reckon those photos say it all.

Your Melbourne Weekend Itinerary: Signed, Sealed, and Delivered

Maybe I’m a tad biased, but I reckon Melbourne is the best city in the world. We’ve got it all: beaches, mountains, a beautiful city, amazing food, an awesome art and music scene, and tons of festivals and events to fill your weekends with. You can never be bored in Melbourne—there’s always something to do. Whether you’re taking a vacation or you’re just in desperate need of a staycation, here’s how I would fill a perfect weekend in Melbourne.

Friday Night

Grab dinner at one of Melbourne’s best restaurants

There’s no shortage of dinner spots in Melbourne. If you’re aiming for something on the fancier (read: more expensive) side, Dinner by Heston, Attica, Rockpool Bar & Grill, and Vue de Monde are all safe bets. Want something more casual (ahem, cheaper)? Hit up Mamasita, Vegie Bar (or its sister restaurant, Transformer), Hochi Mama, or 400 Gradi. Since calories don’t count on weekends, satisfy your sweet tooth and grab dessert at N2 Gelato.

Holey Moley

Mini golf isn’t just for kids anymore. Past 5pm, this indoor mini golf joint is only open to 18+. It’s got 2 levels, 2 bars, 18 holes, and private karaoke rooms.

Grab a drink in a hidden bar

Melbourne has a knack for making things more complicated than they need to be, but still way more fun than anywhere else. Boston Sub in Windsor makes a mean roasted veg sandwich. But its real attraction is the bar it’s hiding behind the inconspicuous cool room door.

Hit the sack in an Airstream on a rooftop

The fun doesn’t stop just because you’re going to bed! Hands down one of my favourite places in Melbourne is Notel, a rooftop in the CBD filled with airstream caravans, all decked out with bathrooms, double beds, iPads, and minibars. One caravan even has its own private jacuzzi. A bonus of staying here? Everything in the minibar is free and you get a free round at Holey Moley. Although breakfast costs a little extra, I highly recommend ordering a breakfast box ahead of time. The hotel is positioned on top of Saluministi’s Flinders Lane location; you tell them the time you want your breakfast and they’ll give you the best breakfast (and coffee!) you’ve ever had.

Saturday

But first, coffee

Obviously everywhere in Melbourne does fantastic coffee, so if you decide to wander around and walk into the first café you see, I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed by their coffee. However, some people like to have a plan, so I’m gonna give you a list of my favourite places to get coffee in the CBD. You’re welcome. Standing Room is small, but their coffee packs a punch; Rustica does an amazing smashed avo if you want a little breakfast with your coffee; I’m a huge fan of the batch brew at Shortstop (and their doughnuts are to die for—my favourite is the maple walnut & brown butter); Hash Specialty is home to the Insta-famous fairy floss hot chocolate, but it also has fantastic coffee; Trunk is the cutest café/restaurant/coffee shop/bar/beer garden and one of my favourite—if not my favourite—places to eat and get coffee in Melbourne; last but not least, Market Lane is one of the most popular coffee spots in Melbourne (but be warned—their coffee spritz nearly killed me).

Go walkabout

I can sit here and give you a million suggestions of things to do and places to go and attractions to see in Melbourne (and don’t you worry, I will without a doubt still do that), but the one thing I tell everyone who visits Melbourne is that you can’t go wrong just walking around the city, wandering aimlessly and without a plan, exploring on foot. Melbourne’s charm lies in the laneways and hidden coffee shops and street art. You’ll miss a lot of things if your nose is stuck in a map (lol, as if anyone owns an actual map anymore) or you’re on a tour bus. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said to someone, “I would’ve never found this place if I hadn’t just happened to walk past it!”, I could probably pay for Ubers so I wouldn’t have to walk everywhere.

That being said…

Melbourne has so many things to see and do that it can be overwhelming heading out without a plan when you’re spending a day in the city. There’s a bus tour of Melbourne and tons of walking tours, too. But it’s more fun for me if you let me play travel agent and map it out for you.

Start North. Soak in the street art and funky vibes in Fitzroy. Visit a thrift shop (don’t worry, it’s cool to do that now). Find a rooftop bar (Naked for Satan will never disappoint), grab a coffee, and check out the incredible views of the city. After that, make your way down to the Carlton area. Take a peek inside Melbourne Museum. Walk around Melbourne Uni (I guess it’s actually pretty beautiful when you don’t associate it with assignments and all-nighters and stress). Take a lap around the Royal Exhibition Building and the Carlton Gardens. Head down just a liiiiittle bit farther and you’ll get to the Queen Vic Markets (hot tip—the markets are best viewed on Wednesday night during the Summer or Winter Night Markets).

A little further South and now you’re in the CBD. The CBD is full of street art (check out Hosier Lane if that kinda thing sounds good to you), live music (walk down the street and come across about a million buskers), and amazing food. Grab a burger and a drink on the rooftop of Curtin House (this place also becomes an outdoor cinema in the summer!) or hit up Easey’s if eating your lunch in a refurbished train carriage sounds cool to you. Don’t forget to hit the token touristy spots like Federation Square (ACMI in Fed Square is worth a visit if you like film and digital media), Town Hall, State Library, and the clocks at Flinders Street Station.

Keep walking down and you’ll reach the Southbank area. This is an awesome part of Melbourne because it’s home to the NGV, Southgate, the Royal Botanical Gardens, and Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Have a picnic in the Gardens or catch a movie at the Moonlight Cinema if you’re in Melbourne in Summer. If you’re in this area at night, you can’t not lose a little bit of money at Crown, the southern hemisphere’s largest casino—there are some amazing restaurants and even shopping in the complex, too.

Now you might wanna catch a tram down St. Kilda road all the way to the Esplanade. Walk along the beach, go for a ride at Luna Park, and grab dinner. Some of my favourite restaurants are in St. Kilda: Trippy Taco, Sparrow’s Philly Cheesesteaks, Rococo, and Little Blue. After dinner, take a stroll down the pier at sunset and watch the fairy penguins emerge from the rocks and dive in the water when it gets dark.

Sunday

Rise and shine, it’s day trip time!

You know what’s fun? Road trips. You know what’s even more fun? Road trips in a Kombi van to some of the most beautiful spots in Victoria/Australia/the world. Tour company Hike and Seek runs day trips out of Melbourne to tons of different places: Mornington Peninsula (including the hot springs), Phillip Island, Great Otway National Park, Wilson’s Prom, the 12 Apostles/Port Campbell, Mt. Buller, and the Grampians. The folks at Hike and Seek provide you with transportation (the Kombi, duh), a guided tour (usually including hiking, so dress accordingly), coffee, and vegan snacks.

If hiking and vegan food isn’t exactly your kinda party, maybe you’re better suited to a wine tour in the Yarra Valley. There are tons of different tours to choose from since Yarra Valley has no shortage of vineyards. Yarra Valley is only about an hour-long drive from the CBD and most tours include transport to and from the CBD and between wineries. Most tours range from $100-$200 per person.

Don’t drink? Or maybe you just don’t like to spend over $7 on wine? That’s cool too, Victoria has tons of spots that are perfect for day trips. Catch the V-Line to Bendigo, rent a car and coast down the Great Ocean Road, hike the Dandenong Ranges, or make your way to Healesville to check out the animal sanctuary where you can feed a kangaroo or cuddle a koala.

Melbourne is my favourite place in the world and no matter how far I travel, I’ll always call it my home. Here’s hoping you love it even half as much as I do.