5 Must-Dos in Seoul

When I wrote my “10 Vancouver Must-Dos List” for summer 2014, some of my readers asked me if I could do one for South Korea when I returned end of August that year. I began it and never finished it. I sincerely apologize. Recently I’ve had quite a few people ask me about what to do and see in South Korea, which prompted me to find this draft and complete it.

Although it has been delayed, I finally managed to compile one and it’s been updated since my last trip to South Korea in Spring 2016. Instead of writing “10 South Korea Must -Dos List” as was the original plan, I will now divide them up by cities. This post will focus on the must-dos in Seoul. 🙂

As someone who loves to travel, see the world and have new experiences, I know that I should really take every opportunity I get to venture off to another place in the world that I’ve never been before. However, there is just something about South Korea that holds a special place in my heart. I have been to this beautiful and dynamic country 5 times in the past 6 years. Every time I return, I love it even more. ❤

There’s just so many fun things to do, see and delicious food to eat in South Korea!

Here are my top 5 things to see and/or do while in Seoul:

1. Shopping in Myeongdong & Dongdaemun

If you’re a shopaholic like me, Seoul is the place to be. It’s a shopper’s paradise! From fashionable clothing, shoes, fancy hair accessories, jewelry, makeup, face masks to gadgets, Seoul has it all. Moreover, depending on your style and taste, you can go from high end to affordable trendy. Two of my favourite places to shop in Seoul is Myeongdong and Dongdaemun.

Myeongdong is considered the shopping mecca in Seoul. It has endless stores from international brand Forever 21, H&M, UNIQLO, to popular Korean brands. If you feel like you’re done with Myeongdong, hop over to Dongdaemun. At Dongdaemun, you can literally shop till you drop, since shops close at 5am! You can slowly shop at every floor of the shopping malls all night, and re-energize with some food in the food court so you can continue shopping into the early morning! I love both Migliore (lower end mall) and Doota (higher end mall) because you can find lots of local designers and brands!

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I loved seeing and eating such colourful cotton candy at Myeongdong! If you’re there, try looking for this street food stand! 🙂

 

2.Insadong

I love this area as you can see Korean culture come to life through its traditional arts. Also, Insadong is filled with lots of delicious Korean food places (including street food, look for “Dragon’s Beard Candy” to try!), tea houses, art galleries and unique shops (check out Ssamziegil Mall). For me, the best part in Insadong is appreciating cultural art such as the Korean ceramics, paintings, antiques, jewelry etc. I always enjoy buying souvenirs here for myself and others as they are not only one of a kind but also handcrafted.

For more information:

http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264354

https://theculturetrip.com/asia/south-korea/articles/the-top-10-things-to-do-in-insadong-south-korea/

 

3. Bukchon Hanok Village

If you want to get a feel of living in a traditional Korean village, this is the place to go as you explore it. This village has many alleys and traditional houses known as hanok from the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897). This is an actual neighbourhood where locals reside so tourists are asked to respect the peace and quiet of its local residents when wandering the alleys and taking photos. There are also tea houses, cafes, restaurants, cultural centres, galleries, museums and guesthouses spread throughout this neighbourhood. This is a wonderful place to learn more about Korean history and culture!

For more information:

http://english.visitseoul.net/attractions/Bukchon-Hanok-Village_/263#

http://www.theseoulguide.com/sights/villages/bukchon-hanok-village/

 

4.Gyeongbokgung Palace

A trip to Seoul is not complete without visiting this beautiful Main Royal Palace of the Joseon Dynasty!

For more information:

http://www.royalpalace.go.kr/html/eng/main/main.jsp

http://www.theseoulguide.com/sights/palaces/gyeongbokgung-palace/

 

5. Cheonggyecheon Stream

If you want to find some tranquility in this busy city, this urban park is the perfect place for it! It’s more than 15 feet below street level and surrounded by small waterfalls, greenery and many overhead bridges.

For more information:

http://english.visitseoul.net/attractions/Cheonggyecheon-Stream_/35#

 

*Worth Exploring: Hongdae 

For entertainment and nightlife, check out this vibrant youthful area that never sleeps! It is known for its indie music and urban street art. It is also filled with all night dance clubs (many close at 6am), bars and independent cafes etc. When you come here, there are often live street performances. Aside from the lively nightlife, shopping is great in this area too!

Macau: Must-Dos & Hidden Gems

It has been almost 8 years since I last visited Macau, and it certainly has changed a lot over the past few years. It definitely lives up to its reputation as being the Las Vegas of Asia. The last time I was here, there were only a few hotel casinos, and this time I’m astounded by the sheer amount of hotel casinos that have popped out all over, the area has developed a lot! Since I’ve also been to Las Vegas before, I have to say that the words that come to mind when describing these hotels are: newer, grander and fancier!

Since I’ve done all the big touristy things in Macau last time, this time I was just enjoying seeing it through new eyes and want to share with you the big must-dos that I think are worthwhile, and the hidden little gems that I uncovered while staying here for a few days.

 

First thing first, let’s do the big must-dos.

1.Casinos

Everyone says it but really, visiting the casinos is a must!! There are free casino shuttle buses that take you to the casinos from the Macau Ferry Terminal to Taipa, where all the newer casinos are located, and you can also take them back to the terminal or elsewhere in the city. I’ve only had time to explore Galaxy, City of Dreams and Studio City (sister casino to City of Dreams) this time. Even for non-gamblers like me, just seeing the sheer size, creativity and design of each hotel, is enough. Plus the eating of course. 🙂 I highly recommend “Din Tai Fung” inside City of Dreams. 🙂

 

2. The House of Dancing Water

Seeing The House of Dancing Water at City of Dreams: I love, love, LOVED IT A LOT!! It has everything: a love story plus all the thrilling actions including diving, acrobatics, motorcycle stunts, dancing etc.! The money is definitely worth paying for. In my opinion, it’s even better than Cirque du Soleil’s O in Las Vegas.

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3. A-Ma Temple

It’s the oldest temple in Macau and located in the southeast part of the peninsula, at the top of the mountain. Without transportation, it is quite hard to come here, but the trip to come here is so worth it. There are less people here, and it is very tranquil. Furthermore, the views are pretty.

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After visiting the temple, we walked to see the huge statue of A-ma, the sacred goddess of the sea. The temple plus the statue are made to commemorate her since she blesses the fishermen. Therefore, the temple and statue face part of the sea.

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Here is a good website with detailed description of the temple:

https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/macau/a_ma.htm

 

4. Tasting Portuguese food

Since Macau used to be a colony of Portugal, there is an abundance of Portuguese restaurants to choose from. I recommend trying Fernando’s at Hac Sa (Black Sand Beach). It may be a little bit out of central Macau, but the trip here is worth it as the food is delicious and the atmosphere is warm and rustic. I think a visit to Hac Sa Beach is not complete without visiting Fernando’s as well. 🙂

Fernando’s website: http://www.fernando-restaurant.com/index_en.html

 

5. Macau Portugese Egg Tarts at Lord Stow’s Original Bakery

The egg tarts from here are famous, and having them at the place of origin is best! You can either buy the egg tarts as take out, or if you would like to sit down and savour the egg tart with a cup of tea or coffee, then I’ll let you in on a little secret. 😉 Behind the bakery, there is actually a tiny cafe associated with it, where you can dine in. It’s a great place for afternoon tea with friends and/or family!

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Lord Stow’s Bakery (Original Shop)
1 Rua do Tassara, Coloane, Macau
Tel: +853 2888 2534
Opening Hours: 10am – 7pm Daily

 

And without further adieu, here is the list of little hidden gems in Macau that are often overlooked:

1. Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall

Since I was studying in Taipei, I knew there is a Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, to honour Sun Yat Sen, the first president and founding father of the Republic of China. I was surprise to find one in Macau as well! It’s interesting to note that this was originally the Macau residence of Dr. Sun Yat Sen. He used this house occasionally till his death. It is opened daily from 10am-5pm, except on Tuesday.

 

2. The Mandarin’s House

This used to be the home of a well-known Chinese literary figure, Zheng Guanying and his family. It was constructed in 1869. The government has decided to preserve this place as part of Macau’s rich history and cultural heritage, opening it to the public. I enjoyed spending a few hours here roaming around the nooks and crannies of this heritage home, and learning about its history.

mandarinhouse

A detailed description of the Mandarin’s House

 

3. Breakfast at Piu Kei Hung Heng

This is a small hole in the wall breakfast place where the locals come for breakfast, so to experience the local way of life, I highly recommend coming here for one morning or more. 🙂 In my opinion, the congee (rice porridge) is one of the best I’ve tried, and its texture is quite different from what I’ve eaten before. It is very smooth and light, it’s like drinking a good bowl of flavourful water. The steamed rice noodle rolls, cut up into mini pieces, served with peanut sauce, soy sauce and spicy sauce, is to die for!

Address: https://www.mlocal.biz/eng/biz/4e6698d26249fb3109000235

 

4. Eating the best pork chop bun at Jardim da Flora (Flora Garden)

This cafe is hidden inside this garden. From the entrance you need to walk a bit and turn left once you see a little lane, passing by a playground. The cafe is located at the top of a building. It has a tiny indoor seating; most of the seating is outdoors. The pork chop bun is one of Macau’s most famous and popular snacks. The bun is crispy on the outside and very soft on the inside, with a piece of salty pork chop in the middle. The reason I think this pork chop bun is the best I’ve had in Macau is because the pork chop is not deeply fried like many cafes here, that all you can taste is the oil. Instead, the pork chop bun is lightly fried and the taste of the pork really stands out. This pork chop bun is best eaten hot or warm!

 

5. Taking the shortest cable ride up in the world at Jardim da Flora

It opens from 8am till 6pm daily, and it takes 80 seconds to reach to the top of Guia Hill, where the Guia Hill Municipal Park is located. The trip costs MOP $3 one way or MOP $ 5 return. The park is a great place to stroll around, appreciating the green landscapes, and visiting Guia Fortress, built in the early 1600s in an attempt to protect Macau from naval attacks.

A panaromic view of Macau can be seen at the top of Guia Hill.

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10 Vancouver Must-Dos List

I just came back from a much-needed relaxing one week vacation to Vancouver, British Columbia after one intense month of wrapping up the end of the school year, and getting ready for my exciting summer teach abroad opportunity, and moving to a new school for September.

The past week has been incredible as I was able to explore and discover the beauty of Vancouver and its surroundings, and experience the laid back lifestyle of the Vancouverites. Part of this vacation was made so much better with the companionship of my good high school friend Sheena, and also my Vancouverite friend Greg, who has such a wealth of knowledge of his city and province. Thank you to both! 🙂

Vancouver is such a beautiful and eclectic city in Western Canada. Whether you are an outdoor enthusiast, a foodie, a history buff or interested in trying out a variety of activities, there is definitely something to do for everyone there.

Here are my top 10 favourite things I enjoyed doing and seeing while in Vancouver and hopefully this list will entice you to visit Vancouver as your next travel destination!

1. For Cyclists: Biking around Stanley Park via Seawall

StanleyParkBiking

Stanley Park is a huge public park located in the West End of Vancouver and it is very bike friendly. It has a path called Seawall, where one can bike, cycle or in-line skate around the park. Sheena and I enjoyed a very pleasant day biking all around the Seawall, savouring the scenic views along the way and stopping whenever we wanted to take photos or rest. There are benches spread throughout the park and logs placed on the beaches for sitting. This urban park is like a peaceful paradise in the midst of the city.

Tip: End your biking at Kitsilano Beach where you can get a beautiful view of the sunset around 9pm.

 

2. For Lovers of Shakespeare: Bard on the Beach in Vanier Park

BardonBeach

If you love Shakespeare as much as I do, this summer festival cannot be missed! It runs from June to September and is located by the beautiful waterfront in Vanier Park. Plays are performed in open-ended tents, where the backdrop is the magnificent view of mountains, sea and sky. We saw an evening performance of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and loved it a lot because it added a modern twist to it with some 21st century fashion and music thrown in as well.

Tip #1: If you have time before the show, walk around the waterfront in Vanier Park so you can see the natural beauty all around you.

Tip #2: The weather cools down in the evening, so dress for the evening weather by either wearing layered clothing/long pants or bring a light jacket.

 

3. For Yogis & Yoginis: Yoga Everywhere!

YogaRobson
Vancouver is known as the yoga capital of Canada and literally everywhere you go, there will be signs of a yoga studio nearby. Of course I had to try a yoga class! Luckily, I found one right in the heart of where I was staying in West End Vancouver. The exciting part is that this local yoga studio is a secret gem in the neighbourhood and not a lot of people know about it. I will be blogging about my yoga experience there soon so stay tuned! 😉

Tip: BoredInVancouver has a good post on free yoga around the city so check out
http://www.boredinvancouver.com/listings/free-yoga-vancouver-by-donation/

 

4. For Nature Lovers & Hikers: Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

CapilanoBridge
You can easily spend a few hours here because the suspension bridge is not the only attraction; it also has trails for walking/hiking. As well, it has its Treetops Adventure and Cliffwalk where you can walk to get closer views of the rainforest, and the Capilano River and Canyon. I found it fascinating that in the middle of the city there is a rainforest. I learned a lot about vegetation in this part of the province during this trip. This place is another peaceful oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Tip #1: Even though it is about 10-15 minutes away from downtown Vancouver, we really appreciated the free shuttle bus service offered by the park for tourists like us who don’t like driving a car. The shuttle bus service is frequent; it runs every 15 minutes. The stops are located in several key places in downtown for pickup and drop off. Here is the free shuttle bus service schedule: http://www.capbridge.com/visit/shuttle-service/

Tip #2: The fudge is freshly made here and is a must eat! There are so many flavours to choose from and the fudge shop is located in the souvenir gift shop called “Trading Post”. I think the sea salt chocolate fudge is out of this world!!

Tip #3: If you’re not too tired after this adventure, you can drive over or take the bus to nearby Grouse Mountain to hike up the challenging and steep hiking trail known as the Grouse Grind. It takes about an hour and a half to hike all the way up. Once you’re up there, you can get a beautiful view of the city, sea and mountains.

 

5. For Foodies and Sushi Lovers: Sushi is a Must!

Sushi selection at Fujiya Japanese Foods

Sushi selection at Fujiya Japanese Foods

As my friend Greg pointed out when we were on our city tour walk, Vancouver is a highly Asian-populated or influenced city. It seems almost around every corner, we were greeted by Asian restaurants. Therefore, what better place to have freshly made sushi by Japanese chefs than in Vancouver? We tasted a variety of sushi from restaurants and even bought some from this Japanese supermarket (“Fujiya Japanese Foods” on 912 Clark Drive) for a picnic at Queen Elizabeth Park, another beautiful park with gardens and panoramic view over the city. There were so many different kinds of sushi to choose from in Fujiya that it kind of got overwhelming. 😛 My final verdict on the sushi from Fujiya is that they are not only cheap, but also fresh and super delicious!

Tip: If you come all the way to British Columbia (BC), you have to try the BC Roll. It is a roll that has barbecued salmon and cucumber since BC is known for its wild pacific salmon. I think it’s so yummy!

 

6. For Shoppers, Foodies & People Watching: Robson Street

We discovered this cute Japanese cafe on Robson street that specializes in yummy parfaits for desserts.

We discovered this cute Japanese cafe on Robson street that specializes in yummy parfaits for desserts.

If you love to spend a day strolling, shopping, eating and people watching, this is the street for you! This busy teeming street is filled with ethnic restaurants, coffee shops, sports bars, lounges, grocery stores and shops. There are a variety of shops from big names to little boutiques, and even a few souvenir shops in between. If you get tired from shopping, you can simply buy a cup of coffee/tea and sit outside on a patio and people watch for fun! 🙂

 

7. For Beach Goers: English Bay Beach, Second Beach and Third Beach (located in Stanley Park), Kitsilano Beach & Sunset Beach

Third Beach

Third Beach

Vancouver is surrounded by beaches, so it is definitely worth to hit up one or more of these beaches and enjoy them whether you want to swim, walk, windsurf, sail, bask in the sun or just play in the sand. I thoroughly enjoyed just sitting on one of its many logs placed on these beaches, observing the beautiful landscape.

 

8. For Photographers: Scenic Route along Whistler

The drive from Vancouver to Whistler and vice-versa is simply breathtaking. There were so many scenic views along the way that I’ll share some notable stops with you here:

Shannon Falls Provincial Park

Shannon Falls Provincial Park

Green Lake Provincial Park

Green Lake Provincial Park

 

Stawamus Chief (a.k.a as the Chief) where people challenge themselves by rock climbing!

Stawamus Chief (a.k.a as the Chief) where people challenge themselves by rock climbing!

Porteau Cove, Provincial Marine Park

Porteau Cove, Provincial Marine Park where scuba diving is possible

 

A view of Vancouver city from the peak of Cypress Mountain

A view of Vancouver city from the peak of Cypress Mountain

 

9. For History Buffs: Victoria

A view of the waterfront and British Columbia  Parliament Buildings

A view of the waterfront and British Columbia Parliament Buildings

We thought if we come all the way to Vancouver, we might as well take a day trip to Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, known for its British charm. This city is named after Queen Victoria of England, and is one of the oldest cities in Western Canada. The British settled here in the 1843. The British influence is evident in its historical buildings, architecture, double-decker buses, horse-drawn carriages, formal gardens and tearooms around the city. We enjoyed leisurely strolling around the major streets and the waterfront area which is pretty and buzzing with activity from buskers performing to artisans and artists selling their work of art. As passionate foodies, we could not resist trying two British meals in famous places while here in Victoria. We had fish and chips for lunch at the popular Red Fish Blue Fish and Afternoon Tea at the majestic Fairmont Empress Hotel. I will be blogging about both food experiences so keep an eye out for them. 🙂

Tip #1: When we arrived to Vancouver, we learned that Victoria is actually very far from Vancouver, and it takes about 4 hours to reach Victoria via bus and ferry boat. At the suggestion of our hotel’s front desk, we decided to book our transportation to and from Victoria through a company called Pacific Coach. They specialize in their Cross Water Service and we found it very easy to reach their bus terminal (Pacific Central Station) from our hotel to board their bus and then we didn’t have to worry about the rest of our trip. See http://www.pacificcoach.com/Bus-Coach-Travel/Crosswater/Vancouver-to-Victoria

Tip #2: The scenic views from the ferry boat was simply stunning. Make sure you go on to the top deck to experience the magic and natural beauty all around you. Bring a light jacket/sweater as it tends to be cooler outside.

Morning ferry ride to Victoria

Morning ferry ride to Victoria

Sunset ferry ride back to Vancouver

Sunset ferry ride back to Vancouver

 

10. For Lululemon Addicts: Lululemon Lab

LululemonLab
If you are a fan of Lululemon clothing, you have to visit this place, where it all began! Be prepared that it is a small retail and fashion space where innovative Lululemon items are designed, produced and sold all in one space. The majority of the products are in neutral colours of black, white, gray and navy blue, and are created in limited quantities. I found the staff to be super friendly, helpful and honest.  The cool feature of this store is that you get to see the seamstresses at work, creating the designs for this shop only, based on the design boards. Lastly, you get pleasure knowing that when you walk out of this shop, you are one of a very few people owning a piece of unique Lululemon clothing, made in Vancouver, that will most likely not be sold in the regular Lululemon stores.