Sunday, 22 February 2015

Bukhansan trail: 정릉 - 대성문 - 구기

This trail in the southern area of Bukhansan mountain national park is a moderate hike, a few rocky parts on the way up, and gentle on the way down. Total 3.5 hours. No stunning views but pretty enough, and when I went there were a quite a few other hikers around, but it wasn't super crowded.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Good Design, Bad Design

Today I visited the War Memorial of Korea, Seoul's military history museum. It's only a 20 minute walk from my house and I often go past it on my way to the supermarket, so I thought it would make a nice afternoon out on a lazy Sunday. If it wasn't so close by, I don't think I ever would have been interested enough to go there, and that would have been a shame, because it turned out to be a very worthwhile visit.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Beyond coffee: Mustoy figurine painting

In Seoul, you're never short of things to do. While coffee shops, bars and karaoke rooms may be the most popular hang-out spots, there are also a huge number of 'theme cafes' that offer a range of unique experiences. Although these places call themselves cafes, it's not their refreshments that you'll be going there for. Some offer a chance to play dress-up, others allow you to hang out with dogs or cats, and others give you the opportunity to get artistic and spend time creating something.

Yesterday me and a friend discovered 'Mustoy' cafe, where you are given a blank ceramic figurine and a basket full of permanent markers, and you then sit and decorate the character however you want.

The whole cafe is surrounded by shelves of toys painted by celebrities, artists and regular customers
There's no need to book to visit Mustoy, you can just walk in and sit down, and you then choose which size and shape of figurine you want to customize. There are a few different options, and we both chose the basic smaller figure with a 'hair up' style.

Once you've been given your blank figurine, colored pens, a drink, and a card to draw your design on, you are free to sit and work on your character.

Unsurprisingly, there were quite a few couples in the cafe when we visited. I think part of the reason that so many of these kinds of themed cafes exist in Seoul is to do with Korea's couple culture. The way that people date here means that there's a big market for easily accessible places that offer interesting and unusual activities. Of course, it's also a great way to spend an afternoon just with a friend or two.

Our finished Mustoy characters
Not only was this a really enjoyable way to spend some free time in Seoul, but we also got to take our toys home at the end. The figurine is carefully wrapped and put in a box for you to take away. The best part is that all of this cost a total of just 15,000won per person!

We visited the Mustoy cafe in Hongdae, but there are also 8 other locations around the country. Check the Mustoy website for more information.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Three Places in Osaka, Japan

1. America Mura (アメリカ村)

This is the Hongdae of Osaka. The Harajuku of Osaka. It's the area where all the cool kids hang out, so obviously it's the area where you need to be hanging out, too. The narrow streets lined with fashion boutiques, vintage clothes stores and graffiti art converge on a small central square (actually it's a circle) overlooked by a replica Statue of Liberty.

Spend a day wandering around, browsing the latest Japanese trends, and  then perhaps grab some takoyaki and a bubble tea and sit in the square for some great people-watching.

To get there, take the subway to Nanba (なんば) or Shinsaibashi (心斎橋). America Mura is easily found on maps, guide books and Google street view.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Korean Cities: Incheon 인천

Most visitors to Korea pass through Incheon on their way to/from the airport, but it's not exactly a tourist hotspot. Nevertheless this city has a special place in my heart! I lived there for a year when I first moved to Korea.

Located to the west of Seoul and well connected to the capital by bus and metro, Incheon (인천) is a city of just under 3 million people, but is made up of many smaller districts. There isn't one main 'downtown' or central area, but rather a variety of different areas that are somehow all grouped togther to form a city.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

On the Road in China

At the check-in desk of a hostel in Kangding, on the edge of Tibet, a Chinese girl approached me, and asked if I was on my way to Lhasa. "Would you like to come with us? We're going  to hitch-hike. We've got 2 girls and 3 guys in our group, and we think it's best to pair up each girl with a guy and hitch-hike in pairs. So we just need another girl to join us."

Hitch-hike to Lhasa? I would have joined them in a heartbeat! Unfortunately for me, foreigners are fobidden to enter Tibet proper without a special visa and an authorised tour guide, so I had to pass up on the offer. But the friendliness and trust extended to me by this total stranger is really characteristic of backpackers in China. This sincere and open trust, together with an undaunted sprit of adventure are what define these young people, as I've come to learn through sharing dorm rooms with backpackers across China.

A lot of young Chinese people these days are taking travel gap-years, backpacking around the massive country in search of experience, freedom, and a new lifestyle. And just like in other countries, cheap and friendly youth hostels are the meeting-points for these similar-minded travellers.

In Chongqing, I shared a hostel room with two young guys who didn't speak a word of English. Despite my limited Chinese, they invited  me to join them for dinner, and we went to a local restaurant together and shared a big cauldron of chicken soup. We swapped travel photos and stories, communicating with the aid of hand gestures and smartphone dictionaries, while I attempted to gnaw on chopstick-held chicken bones with as much dexterity as I could muster. Both of these guys were serious backpackers, one of them on a round-the-coutry trip for which he'd set aside a whole year. His phone was crammed with stunning pictures taken atop Everest-like mountains. Back at the hostel, we shared a few cans of beer with our other roommates, a mix of girls and guys, all Chinese except me. It was as though this group of total strangers were old friends.

Encounters like these have given me the impression that Chinese backpackers are the most awesome people you could wish to meet on your travels through China. While other English-speaking travellers can sometimes seem distant and self-protective, and those of other nationalities may be too daunted by the language barrier to approach a foreign stranger, I've never met a Chinese backpacker who wasn't completely open and friendly, without condition. Chinese backpackers are the best.

2013 in pictures

I haven't blogged about many of the places I visited over the past year, but I have been taking lots and lots of photographs. Here are some of my favourites:


A prayer cushion at a temple on Qingcheng Mountain

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Travel Sichuan: Dujiangyan 都江堰

Very close to Qingchen Shan is another scenic area, Dujiangyan. It's famous for being the site of an ancient irrigation system, but even if you're not interested in that it's still an awesome place to go for a day trip out of Chengdu. It has everything - water, forest, mountain, nature, history, a scary rope bridge, temples ... oh yeah, and China's 'first sightseeing escalator covered by an ancient corridor along the mountain'. Yep.