Would Seoul be a good Korea move?

I am not actually considering Seoul as a ‘career’ move but during my short visit, I found the sophisticated but highly energetic city did make me think about what it would be like to live there.

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Seoul was not an ‘original plan’ destination for this trip but half way through, I was losing a bit of motivation and felt the need to be more spontaneous. It was actually Japan I thought of first. Japan has long been somewhere I was excited about going but after some thought and research there was just too much I wanted to do there for the time and money I had left. Still feeling determined to go somewhere different, I checked out some flights and found that Seoul would be a realistic option, even if just for a few days. So off I went! 


It turns out, Seoul is no ‘poor mans’ Tokyo, (who even said that?) I can’t say I can draw upon a comparison yet but what I do know now is that a lot of South Koreans, unlike people from other Asian countries I’ve met, do not admire Japanese culture or aspire to be more like them. Some actually resent the comparison. The truth is there are similarities but South Koreans are actually very patriotic and have their own unique culture, style and traditions. 
As only in Seoul for a few days, I tried to visit as many places as I could. I combined some of the popular hotspots with my obsession for hunting down bargain vintage clothes (especially now Korean or Japanese stuff was up for grabs!) and I couldn’t resist some k-beauty madness. 

Hongdae
Hongdae is where one of the main universities is and the part of town where the Korean youth partying goes down. Although I didn’t fancy clubbing, (and apparently I’m too old in Seoul with rumours of maximum age limits of 30 in some clubs!) I stayed around this area, close to Hapjeong station. It’s a tiny bit quieter, more restaurants than clubs but music still plays throughout the night. Earplug life. And the party really does go on all night for some young Korean’s – I tried to get a coffee at 9am one morning and found nothing open but plenty of people just finishing up from the night before!

Itaewon

The expat zone. It’s a lot more multicultural here with little India and middle eastern areas plus all the Americans. I didn’t care much for the Main Street here but I loved Usadan Road. A narrow but long street full of boutique shops, vintage, restaurants and intimate rooftop terraces. The best spot I found was the rooftop of Mmm Records which is a record shop/ coffee shop/ bar for an alternative view of the city and its encompassing mountains. 


Meuongdong

Whaaa this place is mental. Pretty much door to door Korean beauty stores blaring out music to ‘intice’ you in. The shop assistants hand you a basket before you have even committed to walking through the door and tell you about all the offers and discounts they have on. It’s quite impossible to go home empty handed. Well, I certainly wasn’t strong enough to resist trying out the supposed power of snail secretion gel on my face or avoid picking up a few dozen face packs that can not only brighten but tighten, smooth and perfect your skin. I have to admit I was tempted by the foot peels but also scared my entire foot might dissolve. 


Extreme beauty treatments are very popular in Seoul. In fact Seoul is the plastic surgery capital of the world. It’s not unusual to see young girls walk along the street with facial bandages on straight from one of the many clinics. It’s quite common for young girls to have eyelid surgery to make they eyes look bigger or to get a quick nose job. I decided to stick to the snail slime.  

Cheonggyecheon Stream

Such a lovely walk on a sunny day! It’s a modern stream and recreational feature of the city, down below the busy streets. I felt like I was the only person in the city down here. The best way to describe it is that it’s a really long park. Underneath each bridge on one side there are huge steps that lead down to the stream to create a lovely spot to sit in the shade. It was boiling that day, probably why I was I on my own but the bridges provide a perfect spot to cool down and enjoy the beauty of the inner city sanctuary. 



Gwangjang Market

This indoor market just off the stream is best known for its food but they have a secret. The entire ground floor is full of Korean favourites such as cold noodles and dumplings but if you make your way upstairs to the 2nd floor there is a huge vintage clothes market! 


I mean I was in heaven. There are probably over 50 sellers here, each with their own personalised stall. Most of the sellers were uber cool Korean guys, looking the part but there were also some Korean granny’s selling the contents of their old closet. Men’s and women’s clothes, vintage trainers, coats, Skajan jackets, trousers, dresses from the west, Korea and Japan. 


I probably spent about 3 hours here trying everything on. The best thing is, the majority of the stuff is actual vintage, not just vintage look and it’s not expensive. I managed to limit myself to just one bag of clothes but I vowed to myself to go back one day, it was just so good. Cold noodles on the way out, not for me. Should have had dumplings. 



Bukchon Hanok Village and Gyeongbokgung Palace

Completely different vibe at Anguk metro station. After a little walk down the high street passing bakeries and cute cafes I arrived at Bukchon Hanok village. It’s a heritage site of traditional Korean architecture with a history of over 600 years. There are a fair few visitors here so plenty of shops and restaurants make it pretty busy but it was still really cool to see. Young people also visit here to dress up in traditional Korean clothing called Hanbok. You see loads of them walking around going selfie mad but the outfits are beautiful!

Right next to the village is Gyeongbokgung Palace. The second palace I visited in Seoul but the grounds of this one made it my favourite. There are actually 5 palaces to visit in Seoul. The history of this one dates back to 1395, it was burnt down during the Imjin War but restored again around 1852. 
A perfect photo location for those dressed up in Hanbok. 

The Verdict 
I managed to squeeze in a few other things like a visit to Namdaemun Marmet, Seoul’s biggest market and a sneak peak of Gangnam where VIP partying goes down but there are so many more things to do I didn’t get time for. There are actually mountain walks you can do directly outside the city which sound amazing. The food in Seoul was a lot spicier than I expected but so delicious and Korean BBQ… yes. I loved the people, they have a keen desire for fun without any inhibitions. Young couples are sweet, loving and wear matching outfits and older people I met had great sense of humour. 

Despite my love of Seoul, my number one city still remains, good old London. No matter where I go, I think it will always feel like home to me. I’m looking forward to being in London again soon and getting even more out of it. The horrific tragedies the city has suffered recently upset me a lot but I certainly will not be turning my back. I want to be there supporting with everyone else! People in London want to make good stuff happen and it’s inspiring. I love the culture, the diversity, the constant evolvement and I love being around like-minded people, who love the city just like I do. 

So thanks Seoul but London, I’m coming back! 

Peace and love ✌🏼️💄

You aren’t married!?

Whilst in India and Sri Lanka I was asked all the time if I am married. I know it’s unusual for someone my age to be unmarried in those countries but it has made me think about our culture in comparison.


For many single people, living in London particularly, finding love doesn’t seem to come easily. I’ve noticed that a lot of people in their twenties living in London are focussing on careers or just busy enjoying themselves which can mean that, even unintentionally, relationships just aren’t a priority. Living in a competitive society makes us compare ourselves to others and judgemental of people’s achievements or lack of. I have been guilty of this myself in the past and no matter how hard I try to be more open-minded, I am probably a bit conditioned to think this way. I believe that ambition to achieve career goals or financial stability is important for our own psychological development (and our bank balance) but also I am attracted to people who are that way. I wonder if the expectations we set for our potential partners makes us lose sight of what might really make us happy with someone – like just love and having a family. All of a sudden, you reach an age where you might like to be in a relationship but now you have been exposed to so many possibilities, your unrealistic expectations will mean that no one will ever be right. 

I think we, along with all our dating apps, as well as our exposure to so much in the media through the internet have massively over complicated our thoughts and even our lives. 

In India traditionally, life is about family and living as a close unit. Working for your family, providing security, safety and future are the priorities. It has been beautiful to see such genuine closeness of families and the contribution to family life on a daily basis. It’s a bit of a contrast to some of us back home in the U.K. Yes most of us do care about our families, but we tend to think about ourselves above everyone else. As a young woman in India, you will be found a suitable partner through your family and live happily ever after. As a slightly older, but still young man you will be found a wife and also live happily ever after. And that’s supposed to be kind of it! Sort of. At least from that point you will probably have some children and live your life as a family together. 


In modern India, the culture is changing. For somewhere like Kerala (or major cities) where education is advanced and a lot of families are middle class, many young people want to pursue more freedom in their lives, travel and find their own partner through a “love marriage,” which is not arranged. The family I stayed with in Kochi are an example of this. Boss of the house, Linda, lives with her husband and 2 children. Linda tells me her son, aged 17 is hoping for a love marriage, much to her dissatisfaction. Linda believes that by ensuring the matching of two people of the same level of education and class are what make arranged marriages so successful. It’s hard to say what defines a ‘successful’ marriage in India but statistically the divorce rate, although gradually rising, is still very low. Linda and her husband’s marriage was of course arranged and there is no denying that they are very happy together.


Sometimes I think maybe a consenting arranged marriage would have been great for me. Do these modern young Indians really know what they are letting themselves in for?! I’ve spent a good 10 years of my life expecting to end up in a decent long term love relationship, let alone marriage and I know I’m not the only one! 

I’ve had 4-ish boyfriends in total, who mostly didn’t deserve that title but who are still of some significance and more than a few attempts on top of that. Still unmarried, I prepared to wear a fake wedding ring in India to deter any unwanted attention, I decided this wasn’t necessary but people asked me often out of curiosity. I told the truth which was usually questioned with, “How old are you?” and then guaranteed shock when I told them I’m 32 and not only because I’m so desperately youthful looking. I think I shocked one guy even more when he asked if I have even had a boyfriend to which I replied “Yea, loads!” 

It made me feel a little like I often had to justify myself and our culture. I would tell them we all get married later in England. Which is partly true. The truth is I’m happy with my life and I wouldn’t change it. Yes having someone to share things with would be more than great but having the freedom to do what you want and be who you want is everything. I know I make my life complicated at times (all the time) by being ‘unsettled,’ but my parents always allowed me to make my own decisions and that meant dealing with the consequences too, whatever they may be, for me to grow and learn from. Sometimes I’m sure they wished they had made some for me and maybe they would have benefited me in some way but ultimately I wouldn’t be me without all my experiences in life. Experiences from relationships, travel (so much more to do!), countless jobs, moving around, friendships, being reckless, being scared, sometimes fearless, being bold and doing things my way. 


Whether young Indians are happy with arranged marriage or not, there are some who do not have a choice. Some women do not have the psychological and financial independence that we have and should be grateful for. Although modern India seems to be slowly developing in some areas, it’s a huge and complicated country with a long history that will take time, if ever, to change so drastically. We are very, very privileged to be able to live the way we do. 

Unlike in a traditional Indian family, I might not have been part of an every day unit with my family for a long time but I still owe everything to my parents who gave me the freedom to be the person I am today and I hopefully my path will continue to lead me to happiness, married or unmarried. 
Peace and love,

💄🎒

The Colours of Kochi

Finally I returned to India! This time, a little wiser, more open-minded and ready for my own unique experience.

After travelling around India on my first visit in 2012, I decided this time I wanted to really get to know just one area. Poor India, suffers a lot of negativity around the safety of travellers, in particular, solo female travellers. And I hate to admit it, I didn’t fancy Goa this time or even anywhere that is not Kerala (note – this is not the case now!) Kerala is considered a pretty safe state, tourism is still huge and the well educated local people want to keep it that way. Although Kerala seemed the right option for me on this trip, I think travellers would agree that most places should be safe as long as you are sensible. I appreciate that sometimes no matter how safe you are, bad shit can happen anywhere but we can only do our best to look after ourselves in any given situation. I personally haven’t been going far alone after dark because I’m in a place I don’t know that well (and a big scaredy cat) plus I just feel more vulnerable in the dark. Maybe that’s a bit extreme but I’m realising more and more just how safety conscious I am and that’s okay with me! 

I flew into Kochi or Cochin from Colombo and headed straight to Fort Kochi. Fort Kochi and Kochi old town, Mattancherry, are a real hit with your Instagram followers. The old town is dominated by a historic Jewish district that is also known as Jew Town – it’s full of colourful ruins, lovely shops in Jew Passage, antiques for days and the most expensive boutique hotel in town. Fort Kochi just west of the old town is full of colonial heritage buildings, European style streets, art, churches, cafes as well as plenty of restaurants offering tasty local cuisine. 



Fort Kochi and The Wilson’s

I ended up staying far longer than I planned. The Homestay I am staying in is so homely (big up Jeen Wilsons Homestay & Cafe), the hosts have really looked after me and so I decided to extend and take my time (again) to really explore Kochi. 

There is no denying that Fort Kochi is a touristy spot but I can honestly say that really wasn’t a problem for me. Perhaps it’s because I am visiting a little late in the season but I felt there was so much to explore, I just got stuck in. I also think that (and don’t shoot me for saying this) having some western style cafes with good wifi is particularly handy whilst you are travelling to relax, do some planning and maybe fancy something different to eat – small comforts go a long way! 


Special places to see include St Francis Church (the burial place of Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama), Chinese Finishing Nets (a beautiful sight at sun rise), Santa Cruz Basilica (first church built by Portuguese around 1500,) Kerala Kathakali Cultural Centre (Keralan Dance, Music, Yoga & Meditation!) but during my visit I was also lucky enough to see the end of the Biennale Art Exhibition at Aspinwall House which closed at the end of March. I have to say, although I’m not a huge art buff, Biennale was very impressive and presented artists from all over the world. 







Mattancherry on Top

I absolutely loved strolling around Mattancherry. What’s not to love about a load of run down old buildings?






Antique Dealers 

I had read about the antique dealers here but had no idea what to expect. Many of the shops are small, selling souvenir type statuettes and some art but Mattancherry is actually home to the biggest Antique exporter in South India owned by Mr Majnu, who I ended up meeting…



Mr Majnu & The Ginger House 

From humble tour guide to owner of the biggest antique exporter in South India, the most expensive hotel in Kochi (honeymoon spot sorted) and the only sea front restaurant in Mattancherry, Mr Majnu has had huge business success here. 


Mr Majnu, from a typical south-Indian household, graduated (in Botany) and started out in the world of work. His father gave him 300 rupees to set him on his way and back then he had no idea he would end up owning one of Kochi’s most glamorous boutique hotels. 
Working as a tour guide, he noticed the keen interest in mainly religious Indian antiques from foreigners and decided to open up his own small shop. Fast forward 30 years and Mr Majnu’s shop now boasts 300 square feet of fascinating antique artefacts and furniture dating as far as back as up to 500 years old. The company have been shipping items all over India and the rest of the world for many years. 









Alongside the antique business, he runs a lovely sea front Keralan restaurant and has just opened the Ginger House Museum Hotel. Each room in the boutique hotel has it’s own unique theme filled with stunning, mostly antique, furnishings that are all for sale. So if you decide that after spending a night, you want to take the gold plated sink home with you (would be very tempted myself, had I firstly been able to afford the room), you actually can! 
Mr Majnu believes his success is owed to fate. He told me, “Believe whatever you deserve in life, will come to you.” 
I tend to agree with you Mr Majnu. 

Have faith and do good and the rest will work itself out. 
Peace and love…

💄🎒

The road back to Colombo!

So I decided to head to Dambulla and take on the Sigiriya Rock Fortress!

Feels silly now but I was a little apprehensive about climbing Sigiriya as I stupidly read loads of stuff online which made me think it might be dangerous and I wouldn’t be up to it. Stories of bee hive attacks, slippery steps and falling rocks along with an expensive entry fee almost made me not bother but I can assure you that with a tiny bit of planning and preparation it’s actually very doable and safe. 



Sigiriya Rock is undeniably the most fascinating world heritage site in Sri Lanka. Formed originally from a volcano, it’s thought that around the 5th century, King Kashyapa built his palace and fortress on top of the rock. He wanted to protect himself from the repercussions of murdering his father and seizing the throne. The rightful heir, Kashyapa’s older brother Moggallana, fled to India at first to escape being assassinated himself but there he built an army and returned to seek revenge. 
Moggallana moved the kingdom straight back to Anuradhapura and the site was thought to have been a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. It’s so old, there are other stories and interpretations around the history but I think this makes it quite a mystical place to visit.
I reached the site just before it opens at 7am. I would strongly recommend to anyone thinking of climbing the rock to do the same and avoid the heat as much as possible. It’s also a lot less busy at this time which makes the climb far more enjoyable. I think about 5000 people visit every day so its definitely worth getting in before he rush. It only took me an hour to reach the top, but I spent at least half an hour exploring once there and then took more of my photos on the way down. 
The entire climb is via 1200 steps which is not exactly a leisurely walk but it is straight forward. Unlike Adam’s Peak, the steps are of average size. There are a few that could be slippy if you aren’t paying attention but these are not high up. Consider it more a conscious climb than a physically demanding one. 

It was so worth it. It’s a very special and unique place on top! 





At $30 to enter the site and climb the rock, it’s the most expensive tourist entry fee in Sri Lanka and not ideal on a backpacker budget. However, I would definitely recommend anyone visiting Sri Lanka to go for it and if on a tight budget, just have a few less Lion beers / buy less elephant print trousers, please!
On the route back to Colombo, I passed through another part of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle for some more temples in Anuradhapura. Here, I decided not to pay the second most expensive entry fee to the ancient part of the town at $25 (will have to save that for the next visit.)

Instead I spent a short time in the town and visited the free or small donation sites such as Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. Like the Tooth Relic, the Bodhi tree here is another of the most sacred Buddhist sites, thought to have grown from a cutting of the tree the Lord Buddha sat below when he found enlightenment.


To be honest, it looks like just another temple but the atmosphere here got me emotional and, not unlike me, I cried a bit. I’ve been known to do this before in very spiritual places (when I say spiritual places, I mean anything and anywhere if the mood is right.) On this occasion I think it was something to do with seeing people worshipping and praying so intensely and many together as whole families that got me. I felt really privileged to be able to visit and be part of that. 

It’s a pretty big Buddhist deal basically and although I’m not Buddhist, I definitely felt that in the energy there (hippy vibes to the max.) So, if you are into that and spiritual/emotional like me – definitely go, sit there for a while and observe everyone and everything around you. 

There is more to do in Anurandhupra but after that I was happy checking out the markets and eating during my couple of days there. Although I didn’t, I would recommend hiring bicycles to get around as nothing is walking distance, especially in the heat. I opted for hiring a tuk tuk but they are a bit intense and want to take you everywhere (some can get you into the ancient city without a ticket) for a set price instead of just short trips. I managed to get one really cheap the first day to see what I wanted, he also threw in a visit to his family home where his wife made me tea and I played with his grandson a bit. In contrast, the next day I probably paid a bit too much just to visit some random small temples another driver suggested because I didn’t have a real plan and I was melting. I learned if you want to avoid this, and this is particularly difficult for me; always have a plan on where you are going and what you want to do before you roll out. 

For me, it’s a shame you can’t just stroll around in peace but these guys need to make money so just work out how to make it work for you. 

To finish off my time in Sri Lanka, I headed to Negombo, a major city closer to Colombo airport than Colombo itself. It’s not all that, the Dutch fort is now a prison and the Dutch canal is not very well maintained. What is fascinating here is the fishing centre of the city, rows and rows of perfectly lined up drying fish on the beach close to a fresh fish market. 


There is also a pretty unique Buddhist temple. 



Due to the location and that a lot of travellers stop here before or after a flight, there is an abundance of seafood restaurants which are definitely worth checking out but definitely no need to stay here long. 


On the whole, Sri Lanka has been an amazing and beautiful experience that surpassed my expectations.
As a new backpacker, occasionally I found it hard to know who to trust but once I let myself go a little, I found the majority of Sri Lankan people to be deeply kind and spiritual. Many times, strangers went out of their way to offer me genuine help and advice which I found truly touching and wonderful.

Thank you Sri Lanka!
LB💄🎒

Lipstick Backpacker

I’ve finally left the villa! It was tough but I’m now in Ella, a small town surrounded by mountains in the Badulla district.

There are a couple of small climbs/walks here that lead to stunning views. One is Ella Rock and the other is Little Adam’s peak. After that, there isn’t much more to see here, one or two nights would be enough. Most people take the famous scenic route from here by train to Kandy, which I am excited about doing next. And, I have a travel buddy for the 6 hour journey!

Since completing all the sights here in Ella, I’ve been having a couple of chill days. Whilst sitting around reading and drinking tea, I have also been observing the way female tourists are dressed and it’s made me think about my own appearance here as well as the safety of a solo female traveller. Many tourists are wearing the same shorts and vest tops they would on holiday in the West but as I am here alone, I’m following suit of the local women and covering up from shoulder to below the knee when out and about. Personally, I feel more comfortable and it saves on sun cream. Hello sexy tan lines. 

I am however, still rocking the bright lipsticks every day. I’m pretty determined to keep a little bit of glamour going throughout my trip but I’m also aware of the unwanted attention it could attract. At home, no matter where I go, I always pop on some lipstick, often without any other make up. It makes me feel confident, bold and I think I look like a major babe basically with very little effort. But on my own, in a country like Sri Lanka, I do feel a little self conscious as men do stare a lot and some of their views on women, in particular white women is let’s say, complicated. Sitting in a cafe or bar, local men will stare the whole time you are there and I know this is not unusual for female tourists, make-up or not. 

So I have decided I am lip-sticking to it for now but I’m going to try and pick up a fake wedding ring as although it won’t make me invincible, its something solo female travellers have found useful on some occasions. The only negative of this is that it won’t do me any good in attracting a real potential husband on my travels, but if I see any babes I’ll be sure to whip it off. 

Here’s me after my little hike up Ella Rock which was beautiful all the way from Ella train station, walking along the railway line and upwards through tea plantations and then forest. On the way down it started raining on the steep and muddy slope which made it tricky. Good job I was wearing the obvious choice in hiking shoes – ‘Flossy’ daps but thanks to a little help from one of my new yogi friends for helping to guide me down, it was totally fine and I’m so chuffed I did it. 

Would love to hear everyones comments. 

Lots of love,
Lipstick Backpacker 😉 💄❤️️