(Well, 102nd really, but I didn’t notice I’d already gone past 100!)
When I started this blog it was only ever supposed to be a way to let my family know I was still alive and well in Korea and to save me having to email them all individually! I never imagined two years later I’d have come to love it so much, or that it would have given me so many fantastic opportunities. I’m pretty sure that my mum is responsible for the days where 250 page views come from the UK alone, but when I see so many far flung countries appearing on the stats I often stop to wonder who you all are and what brought you to this blog when there are so many out there. So whoever you are and wherever you are reading this, thank you!
On first arriving in Bangkok all the clichés about this city seem to be true. We hadn’t even left the airport before we’d spotted a ladyboy, it seems perfectly acceptable, expected even, to have a beer with breakfast, and I’ve now heard enough Bob Marley to last me a lifetime.
But despite all the touts, their myriad of scams, and the rats brazenly strolling down Khao San Road, I actually really like Bangkok!
It’s an utterly insane place, but it has such a laidback atmosphere that it’s hard not to fall into the habit of grabbing a beer at
4 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
But Bangkok isn’t all cocktail buckets and ping-pong shows, and if your hangover can survive the heat there are some beautiful temples and museums to explore, too. Just as long as you’re back in the bar by 3!
Bloody hell it’s hot. We’re in Inle Lake now and the sun is fiercely hot – probably the worst possible day to have forgotten the suncream and then sit in a boat for six hours!
Inle Lake is a fascinating place. Whole stilted communities live their entire lives in the centre of the lake. Literally everything is on the water; schools, shops, the post office, monasteries and even allotments. For these people life revolves around the lake.
We decided the best way to see the lake was just to play the tourist card and hire a boat for the day. We did pretty much the entire length of the lake, paddling through floating villages and gardens, and stopping off at a silk factory, a cigar workshop and a silversmith.
Now we’re about to get on an overnight bus to Mandalay and then fly to Bangkok tomorrow morning. In hindsight a week really wasn’t long enough to do Myanmar justice, we’ve both loved it so much. I could have spent the whole three months here and still not feel like I’d seen it all. There’s so much of the world to see that it’s not often we go back to the same places but I’m pretty certain we’ll be visiting Burma again at some point.
Bagan. No words or photos could ever do justice to the sheer scale or beauty of this place. Over 3,000 temples, stupas, and monasteries are scattered across the Burmese plains, dating back more than 800 years.
It’s just incredible. It is so beautiful, so peaceful and as yet so untouched by tourism. We’ve spent two blissful, but extremely hot, days cycling around Old Bagan, scrambling up the sides of crumbling temples to enjoy the views and enjoying a nice cold bottle of Myanmar beer at the end of it.
It’s a shame we don’t have more time here but the next stop is Inle Lake!
Welcome to the Golden Land.
It’s really not hard to see how Myanmar earned its nickname. As we were flying into Yangon we passed over a huge, shimmering golden stupa, which we (mistakenly) assumed was the Shwedagon Paya in Yangon. Five minutes later we’d seen a dozen more dotted around the Burmese countryside, each bigger and brighter than the one before it. And then we actually did see the Shwedagon Paya. Wow.
Even the arrivals hall at the airport was beautifully decorated with golden spires, and we drove past a mechanics that could easily have been mistaken for some magnificent, ornate temple.
Well, to quote the famous Mr. Kipling (no, not that one!) ‘This is Burma‘. Sitting outside with a bottle – or three – of the local brew, the stresses of the last week seem a million miles away now and it finally feels like we’re on holiday!
Arriving in Beijing is a full-on attack on the senses; sight, sound, smell and fashion (yes, pleather, diamante, and unfortunate typos are everywhere. – Arnami jeans anyone?). I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere quite like Beijing!
Like Seoul, the city is a fascinating mix of old and new. Old guys sit on the street playing Mahjong outside a 5-storey market bursting at the seams with designer knock-offs, rickshaws peddle alongside shiny new Mercedes, and the smog is so thick that you feel the runway beneath you before you can even see it.
We’ve definitely ticked some things off the bucket list. The Forbidden City was incredible and Tiananmen Square was an interesting if slightly eerie place. But the huge military presence on the streets and the airport-style security checks at every subway station serve as slightly uncomfortable reminders of China’s current political situation. A lot of the time we felt like human pinballs being bounced and pinged along regardless of the direction we wanted to be going in, and the constant staring and pointing got a bit too much at times. When we visited the zoo to see the giant pandas (!!) a man and his son in front of us actually turned away from the pandas, whipped their cameras out and started snapping away at us two.
Our trip to Beijing has been a fascinating, but not entirely relaxing experience. Next stop, Yangon!
Goodbyes said, tears shed, boxes packed and shipped. Leaving Korea has been difficult, probably more so than we expected, but now we’re at the airport ready to start our next big adventure. China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, then home for Christmas…
As I sit here in the empty apartment that has been my home for the last two years I still can’t quite believe that my time in Korea is coming to an end.
It’s been one hell of a journey. We’ve met some wonderful people, eaten some (weird and) wonderful food, and experienced things that we never could have done anywhere else in the world.
Of course there have been ups and downs. At times it has been very difficult to be so far away from my family, and missing big celebrations like birthdays, graduations and Christmas has been horrible. My job has been very frustrating recently and as much as it breaks my heart to leave the kids I feel ready to move on to something new. But on the flip side, I’ve had some of the best experiences of my life here.
To anyone out there who is considering coming to teach English in South Korea I would whole-heartedly encourage you to just do it! Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it won’t always be a bed of roses. And yes, sometimes you will want to throttle the next ajumma that cuts in front of you in the queue for the bus. However, it will also be rewarding, enriching and so exciting.
So, for now it’s goodbye to Korea. The end of this chapter and onto the next.