13 unexpected experiences from Korea

It’s no secret I did not want to come to Korea.  I rejected the notion for at least a few months until I realised the hubby really wanted the change, the opportunity, and the job.  Fighting all kinds of (now) irrational fears, I relented and the rest is……..well, a short but fabulous history.

More than anything though, Korea has given the gift of travel.  We’ve both been fortunate to have travelled (somewhat) extensively over the years, but the last three in Korea has allowed us to travel to places, and to have experiences, we would have never otherwise considered, or been able to do.

As our time here comes to an end, I reflect on the thirteen that resonate most:

  1. Walking the Great Wall: if I tell you I had zero interest in China and didn’t want to go, you’d likely conclude this is a pattern with me ‘going places’.  I can assure you, it is not.  I’m the first one to pack a bag and head for the door but something about China just never appealed.  With Beijing being only a three-hour flight away however, it made sense to do it anyway.  The entire experience is my number-one-no-questions-asked-best-week-of-my-life.  For two days, we walked 20kms through 56 watch towers under glorious sunshine and blue skies (nearly impossible to score in China), with not another person in sight.  At one stage, we had to leave the Wall and walk miles through corn fields and farming land to then make our way back up to the Wall, climbing its exterior wall to quite a height.  Put simply – history, nature and physical exertion collided in what can only be described as a pure spiritual experience.  Read more here.
  1. Anzac week at Villers Bretonneux: this had been three years in the planning (prompted over a boozy lunch in Perth with friends from Melbourne) – and a move to Korea was not going to deter us from following through. Most know that France is my absolute favourite country and we’ve had many a magical time driving its roadways, but this week was on a whole other level.  From the remote farmhouse we stayed at, to the people who hosted us, to the complete feeling of comradery, respect and love between the French and Aussies there for the week, to the war memorials and Anzac ceremony, the food, bubbles and our friends – this week was damn special. Read more here.
  1. Dining at The Fat Duck: when my girlfriend proudly announced we’d scored a table at the newly opened restaurant of Heston Blumenthal, I was somewhat despondent. That feeling lasted all of a nanno-second once we boarded the train to Bray from London.  Over five hours, we were taken on a magical, sensory journey through 16 courses.  I have never experienced anything like it, and likely never will again.  Read more here.
  1. Cruising the Amalfi Coast: despite going in May in an attempt to avoid the ‘tourists’ (ironic, I know), this place was packed.  It’s a spectacular coastline, no question, but our preference is for smaller, lesser known villages and this is……..well, not.  We had some beautiful on-land experiences over our week-long stay (Capri anyone?), but the clear highlight was hiring a boat and seeing the length of the coastline by sea – just the two of us surrounded by silence and blue.  Bliss.   Read more here.
  1. Sunrise at Angkor Wat on Christmas Day; given we’ve travelled a bit, it never ceases to amaze me that we can still be amazed that others have the same ideas we do. Nowhere in our research did it say that Christmas Day is the most popular day to see the sunrise over this magnificent structure (apparently, there are way more people looking to escape family time than we ever imagined – some 5,000 or so).  It was a hip, shoulder and hustle to gain position but it’s another of those experiences that you simply will never describe – it’s best experienced.  Read more here.

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  1. Vladivostok; of all the farthest, strangest locations to visit in any country, I had to choose this one. Whilst I stood at the Busan airport about to board for Japan one weekend, I looked up to see ‘Vladivostok’ listed over the next check-in counter. “Where is that?”, I ask Rob.  “No idea”, he replies, “but looking at the line-up, I’m guessing it’s in Russia”.  A quick google reveals it’s a direct four-hour flight and I’m in.  There is no stopping me getting to this outpost.  Over a boozy Friday night (also a theme of both Korea and my travel planning process), I enlist others to join me.  It’s four of us – Lisa, Anna and Clair – off on what is surely, one of the most unique girl’s trips ever.  Read more here.

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  1. Driving the Hamptons: my trip to New York also came about over drinks – this time with my family in Adelaide. I casually ask my aunt, Jan, if she’d be interested in doing ten days here and without hesitation, she’s agreed.  By the end of the weekend, we’re almost organised.  I always feel I have unfinished business with New York (and even after this trip, I still do).  Whilst New York left me a little ‘meh’, driving the Hamptons was a bucket list item.  We bused into Southampton, picked up a hire car and drove through each of the villages, along Millionaires Row, taking in the real estate, the quaint shops and stunning coastline.  I’d go back in a heartbeat.  Read more here.
  1. Paris in the Fall: a birthday gift from Rob with an agenda – “go”, he said, “because maybe this will cure you once and for all”. Typically, Rob and I don’t like to return to a place we’ve already been.  Over the years, it’s happened of course, and for different reasons, but Paris always pulls me back.  To be fair, I did think a week in Paris on the cusp of winter would be wet, cold and miserable – and therefore put me off from ever returning again.  I thought the weather would make it impossible to move around a city that simply demands for you to be outside.  Not so.  We had glorious blue skies, crisp air, magical Christmas markets, mulled wine, and amazing food.  My travelling partner, Sandy and I agreed that we would by-pass the more obvious touristy options and experience the city like locals.  This week did nothing to cure me of my love of this city. I’ll be back.  Read more here.
  1. Walking the fortress of Kotor: we loved everything about Montenegro but the walk to the Kotor fortress – some 1,200m above sea level and the old city – at dawn was akin to the experience on the Great Wall of China.  Again, we had the trek to ourselves.  There is nothing greater than connecting with nature in silence, surrounded by history and being rewarded with a breathtaking view.  Read more here.
  1. Red Carpet arrivals at the Tony Awards and Nicole Kidman: standing along the red carpet at New York’s Radio City Music Hall watching the stars of theatre, TV and film arrive was a pinch-me moment.  I can be a ‘celebrity-tragic’ when the talent warrants such adoration.  Also, seeing Nicole Kidman perform on stage in London on my birthday was unforgettable.
  1. Meeting a Geisha: Rob and I had done a one-day trip to Kyoto from Osaka early on with the sole purpose of completing a tea ceremony and spying a Geisha.  We had zero success with both (and I’ve perhaps somewhat unfairly tainted Kyoto with my reviews since), so it came as a complete surprise to be allowed to not only meet a Geisha (very rare) in Fukuoka (south of Japan, and far from Kyoto) but to be photographed with them (even rarer).  This was simply a ‘right time, right place’ moment.

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  1. Walking the Brooklyn Bridge: most know I have a fascination, bordering obsession, with bridges and this is one of the prettiest walks I’ve done.  Plus, it leads to Brooklyn – which in my humble view, is the New York I was actually looking for.

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  1. Seoul – anytime, every time; unlike Busan (Korea’s second largest city, which I still fail to understand), Seoul is my soul-city. I am consistently seduced by its neon lights, modern architecture, love of street food, palaces, Karaoke bars and shopping.  It has amazing accommodation for $100 a night, and for a population of ten million people, it is probably one of the easiest cities to get around (either by subway or the extremely cheap taxi service).  Of course, you don’t visit Seoul without also making the trek to the DMZ – another extraordinary experience we would not have otherwise had.

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As we prepare now to return to Australia, it’s humbling to consider just how many truly unique and unforgettable travel opportunities Korea has afforded us.   A huge thank you too – to all our willing and wonderful travelling partners.  We’ll always have the memories. x

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