Juggling July..and Now August.

Ok, so July was a little crazy. I got caught up in all of the fun and excitement of it being summer that I completely forgot to update my blog. But really, where did the time go?

The first week of July included celebrating Canada Day AND the Fourth of July at Sam Ryan’s, a bar in Suwon. I indulged in some good old Canadian Club, Moosehead and poutine on Tuesday night (O Canada!), followed by a Root Beer float, plenty of Jack and coke and some shots (‘MURRICA!) on Friday evening. samryans

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The first weekend in July, I finally ended up seeing a Korean baseball game at Jamsil stadium with some friends. It was really fun and so much more lively than the Jays games at home. Koreans REALLY get into their baseball games. It was loud (there were even cheerleaders), plenty of drinks to be had and it happened to be a gorgeous day. We only paid about 15,000 won at the gate and got seated in the blue section. The game started at 5 pm and carried on for about 3-4 hours. By the end of it, we were all tired from the heat and day drinking, so we headed back to Suwon. It was a fun way to spend a Saturday evening.

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If my memory serves me correctly, that same weekend (on Sunday), Michelle and I went on a little yachting cruise around the Han River. I had come across the group trip on the Living in Korea Facebook group. The event itself was free with an extra 12,000 won cost for the pizza dinner afterwards. It was nice! I wouldn’t exactly have called the boat we were on a yacht but it was still enjoyable, and we got to meet some cool people. Our driver was also really friendly and even let us all take turns steering.

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The following weekend, Michelle and I ventured to Building 63. We had both been wanting to check it out for some time now. We bought a ticket for about 30,000 won, which allowed us access to three different attractions. We went to observatory, the wax museum and the aquarium. The wax museum was small but it actually exceeded my expectations. The aquarium wasn’t big at all but it was still entertaining. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day so the view of Seoul wasn’t that clear when we got to the top. Regardless, it was a good way to spend a rainy day.

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Next up – Mudfest! Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like – a big, messy party. This festival marked its 17th year this time around. I was excited to be part of it and be able to add it to the list of things I had done in Korea. It has been said that this special mud is good for your skin. I have no idea how true that is, but I sure got my dose of it that weekend.

The foreigner bar in Suwon called The Big Chill ran an event in which they set up a bus to the Boryeon Mud Festival during the weekend of the 19th. We all departed from The Big Chill at around 8:30 am and arrived in Boryeong at around 11:30 am. We didn’t waste any time getting the party started on the bus. Drinks were in full effect. By the time we got there, everyone was anxious to suit up in their swimwear and get to the mud zone. There were a few activities taking place outside of the mud zone but the good, messy, fun-filled stuff was in a separate area in which you had to pay for. The entire group was willing to shell out the 10,000 won for the day pass but unfortunately, they sold out! Ridiculous. We watched as everyone inside the gated area participated in mud wrestling and obstacle courses. That’s when Nicole and I decided to say screw it and crawl under the fence. We made it in, but realized we were in the kids area. A security guard stopped us and asked us where our wristbands were. Uh oh. Like any smart individual, we used the foreigner card — “OPSOYO!” He wasn’t buying it and told us we needed to exit the area. Nicole scurried away and I pretended to follow the guard to the exit. Suddenly an arm pulled me into a line and we were masked by the crowd. Needless to say, the two of us got CRAZY muddy and had an awesome time! So worth sneaking in for. That night, we watched fireworks and then hit the sack. The next morning, before we left, we enjoyed some lunch and time on the beach. I was too scared to bring my phone or camera near the mud but luckily Brendan captured some great shots!

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The last weekend of July, I rented out an apartment style pension in Sokcho to celebrate my 25th birthday with the girls. I have really wanted to check out Sokcho for a while now. I had heard its beaches were awesome and that it was completely different than other areas of South Korea. Let me just say that Sokcho exceeded my expectations and I was very satisfied with my birthday weekend getaway. I rented a room at HJ House. It was clean, spacious and very comfortable. I had a Korean teacher help me book bus tickets for the six of us. We departed from Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal at 10 am and arrived in Sokcho for 1 pm. It was perfect timing because right as we got there, the clouds parted and the sun made an appearance! We quickly changed into our bathing suits, grabbed drinks and proceeded to the beach. The beach was awesome for Korean beach standards. The water clear and clean. We were all surprised. The waves were pretty intense so they had roped off an area where people could “swim.” When we tried to go past the rope, the lifeguards would get a little whistle happy. The water was a bit cool anyway, so we enjoyed the tan time until around 7 pm.

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That evening, we had a pretty less than impressive meal. We definitely chose the wrong restaurant because we were served gizzards and chicken wings that could have easily passed for dragon flies. We thought our night was going downhill until we met a group of Korean guys that invited us to their pension to drink with them. On any other given night and in any other country, we would have all refused this offer; however, with the night spiraling downwards after dinner and the rain starting up again, desperation kicked in and we agreed to join them. It ended up being one of the best nights I’ve had in Korea thus far. They were so much fun to hang out with! They cooked a big pot of ramen for us, provided us with beer and soju and we ended up playing card games with them until 3 am! We all got to try the “tasty,” traditional Korean snack food too, called Beondegi (silkworm pupae). When in Korea, right!?

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The next morning, we woke up, grabbed some breakfast and went straight to the beach. Our bus home was at 4 pm which left us with plenty of time to soak up the sun. Again, we were lucky enough to have awesome weather.

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By 3:30 pm, we were checked out of HJ House and on our way to grab the bus back to Suwon. It was a relaxing weekend, spent by the beach – which was exactly what I was anticipating.

That brings me to the first week of August. From August 2nd to the 10th, I spent time in Japan! It was an AMAZING trip, but I will have to save that post for next time, so stay tuned!

Among other news – 10 more days until I leave Korea!!! It’s unreal how quickly a year has passed. I’m happy to be heading home but I’m also very sad to be leaving all of my little kindergarten babies. The fact that I will never see them again breaks my heart. However, Korea will always remain as a chapter of my life, where all of the memories will serve as a reminder of the new experiences I had while immersed in Korean culture. This past week, I have just been trying to get myself organized. I’ve been cleaning up my apartment, eliminating junk and packing a bit. It’s all a bit stressful actually. I can’t wait to be finished packing. Nevertheless, I am excited to be making a pit stop in Washington/ Virginia Beach before heading home on September 7th. When I return to Whitby, I will be on the hunt for a new job and I guess we’ll see what the future holds.

Well, that’s enough of an update for now. I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer!

Jeju Island Adventures

Since before coming to Korea, I had heard a lot of great things about Jejudo or Jeju Island, one of the nine provinces of South Korea. This island is known for its blue waters, beautiful waterfalls, Halla mountain, Manjang Cave, oranges, the grandfather carving known as dol hareubang, barbecued black pork and much more. During the first weekend of June, I had a three day long weekend. I decided to head to Jeju Island with Seoul Hiking Group. This group welcomes people in Korea to join events which take place on a weekly basis. Usually, everything is organized for you. You pay, thus reserving a spot for their excursion and you are all set!

We departed Seoul at midnight on Thursday evening. It was a long bus ride but we ended up at Yulpo beach by 5 am. From 5-10 am, people napped on the bus, relaxed on the beach and had breakfast. Following this, we moved onward to the Boseong green tea field. We climbed a bunch of stairs, high enough to get a great view of the tea fields and surrounding area. The area was filled with rich, dense greenery.DSCN4209DSCN4223DSCN4224 DSCN4230 DSCN4231 DSCN4236 We made our way to the ferry for a two hour ride to the island. Our ferry was delayed and we ended up leaving the island around 3:30 pm. We arrived at about 5:30-6 pm, dropped our bags off at the hotel, freshened up and head out for some barbecued blackened pork, a traditional dish that Jeju island is known for. We feasted and headed back to our hotel to crash out for the night. It had been a long day.

On Saturday, the group had their choice of hiking up Mount Hallasan, bike riding on Udo Island or going off to do their own thing. A bunch of people chose the hike, while 12-15 of us chose take a 15 minute ferry over to Udo Island. When we got there, we rented bikes for two hours and made our way around the entire island. It was warm, sunny and the cool breeze off the water was perfect! DSCN4253(2)DSCN4280 DSCN4277(2) DSCN4270(2) DSCN4267(2) Once we were finished, we returned to Jeju island and took the bus to Jungmun Resort to kill a few hours before heading to to see Jeongbang falls and Loveland – where we would meet the rest of the group. Jungmun Resort is the largest resort in Korea. It features a botanical garden, a teddy bear museum, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Pacific Land, a park with four waterfalls, including the infamous Cheonjeyeon Falls, Jusangjeolli Cliff, restaurants and much more. The first thing Michelle and I did was have lunch at Kraze Burgers.   DSCN4285 Once we were finished, we decided to explore the park to see all of the waterfalls. They were awesome! While walking through this area, I didn’t even feel like I was in Korea. DSCN4286 DSCN4288 DSCN4291 DSCN4294 DSCN4301 DSCN4302(2) DSCN4306 We finished up within an hour and a half and hopped back onto the tour bus. The bus drove us to Jeongbang Falls, which is known as the only waterfall in Asia which falls directly into the ocean. It was nice. Some of the guys also decided to be rebellious and go for a dip. This was before a Korean guard started blowing his whistle at us (whoops!).DSCN4323DSCN4312 DSCN4321 Loveland — well, it was very interesting. I’ll let the photos do the talking… DSCN4324 DSCN4326 DSCN4325 DSCN4328 DSCN4332DSCN4357DSCN4358DSCN4360DSCN4352DSCN4356 That evening, the trip leaders and some of the other people staying in a 10 person room used their kitchen to cook us up some mandu, hot dogs, sausages and stir fried veggies. We all ate, had drinks, played some games and got to know each other better. It ended up being a late night but it was a lot of fun.

The next morning, we woke up bright and early. We made our way to Manjang Cave, and concluded with a hike up to Sunrise Peak. Afterwards, we headed to the ferry to depart Jeju and make our way back to Seoul! I don’t regret spending my three day long weekend in Jeju. I had a great time!
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How To Book Cheap Flights – A Guide to Skyscanner

Journalist On The Run

A lot of people regularly ask me how I always seem to find the cheapest flights to the places I plan on traveling to, so I thought I would write a quick post about one of my favourite booking websites – SkyScanner.

Tip 1 – Search regularly

I browse SkyScanner as often as most internet addicts browse Reddit or 9Gag…let’s just say I spend an obscene amount of time on the site and am always ready to grab any cheap deals which interest me. In fact, my addiction to skyscanner and browsing flights to exotic destinations at bizarre times throughout the night recently led me to booking a flight in my sleep! When I woke up in the morning I had an email confirmation from SkyScanner with a booking reference number for a 1 way flight to Thailand! Turns out I must have half woken in the middle of the…

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Casablanca Sandwicherie in Itaewon

Yesterday, I spent a large part of my afternoon in Itaewon. Since it’s about an hour and a half trek to get there on weekends (with traffic), I don’t make it out there a lot. However, when I’m yearning for some comfort food and I’ve had enough Korean food, it’s always worth the trip. I met up with my friend Sarah and the original plan was to find a patio where we could relax but, it was SO hot that being outdoors actually felt like we were roasting in an oven. Sarah suggested Casablanca saying that I “HAVE TO TRY THEIR SANDWICHES!” I was pretty neutral considering my stomach was growling and I was ready to consume anything at that point.

Casablanca is located in the residential area of Hae Bang Chon (HBC), next to the Yongsan army base. Apparently, this area is extremely popular, as it attracts many foreigners. I didn’t realize I was missing out on this hidden gem until yesterday! The street was lined with a ton of restaurants, mainly burger joints but also a few other places. I’ll definitely be going back to scope out the area.

Casablanca has a small menu but the quality of their menu items make up for it! Also, the prices were extremely reasonable. For 9,000 won, I ordered the Morrocan chicken sandwich, a Moroccan salad and a bottle of water. Within minutes, our salad was brought to the table. It was SO good. I don’t know if it was the dressing, or the fact that the tomatoes were so cold and refreshing, but I knew it could only get better from that point on.

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Next up was the sandwich. Although the presentation wasn’t anything to write home about, the taste was awesome. The bread was perfect, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. The chicken was coated in a tasty mix of spices and was also filled with deep fried mashed potatoes, mayo, pickles, lettuce and tomatoes. There was some serious texture action going on in this sandwich and I was thoroughly impressed. The shrimp sandwich was especially tempting and perhaps I’ll try that one next time around.

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According to Sarah, she had never seen the restaurant so empty (when we first got there). Surely enough, it filled up VERY quickly. Seating is limited due its small size but I assure you, it’s worth the wait.

Directions: Take the subway or train to Noksapyeong station, walk straight out of exit 2 and take the first left. Walk straight along the road until you see the big kimchi pots. You will then see Casablanca on your left hand side.

Once we were finished, we made our way back towards Itaewon station. We stopped at Standing Coffee. This place was insanely busy. We were curious to know what all the hype was about. We saw people walking around with their blue lemonade, made with blue curacao syrup. We decided to try it out. I opted for the lemonade with gin (7000 won), while Sarah got the regular lemonade (5000 won). They both were delicious but if you don’t like your lemonade as tangy, I suggest the addition of the gin. It was fruity and flavorful, not too sweet and not too sour. I now know why this place was so crowded.

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At this point, Sarah and I went our separate ways. I also decided to get my eyebrows waxed at Tiffany’s Nails before making my way home. The lady did a good job and for once, the price was reasonable at 10,000 won. At the salons in Suwon, they charge upwards of 25,000 for an eyebrow wax, which is insane to me. Needless to say, it was an eventful day. The heat must have gotten the best of me because I got home around 5 and passed out until 7 pm.

Today has been quite relaxing. I plan to go to AK plaza soon to checkout their foreigner food selection. I have a gift card to spend and I figure since I’m such a foodie – what better way to spend it!

This upcoming week, we have Friday off. Michelle and I have booked a trip to Jeju Island with Seoul Hiking Group which leaves Thursday evening. For 275,000 won, this trip includes the trip from Seoul to Janheung ferry terminal, Jangheung to Jeju, 3 days of touring Jeju, covers all entrance fees (Mangjang cave, Sunrise Peak, Waterfall, Loveland and Hiking Hallasan), our beach pension accommodation, 3 breakfasts, 1 dinner and snacks on the bus. If anyone is interested in joining, I believe there are still a few seats left. There are pick up spots at Express Bus Terminal, Jukjeon, Singal, Manghyang rest stop and at Daejeon Bokhap terminal after 11 pm. Check out their Facebook page for more information!

I’m excited to see the “Hawaii of Korea.” I’m hoping the nice weather holds up.  I can’t wait to be on a beach looking at crystal clear water!

Until then, I hope everyone has a great week!

Exploring Gyeongbokgung Palace & Bukchon Hanok Village

Since the weekend before last was so nice, I made sure to use it to my advantage. I ventured to the Northern Palace, otherwise known as Gyeongbokgung Palace, and also visited the Bukchon Hanok Village. This way, I could spend my day outside, get some sun and do something that didn’t require spending a lot of money. The weather was perfect! It was warm and sunny, which made walking around enjoyable.

I got to the palace at around 1:30 pm. Admission was 3000 won, which was cheap and included admission to the National Palace Museum and National Folk Museum, both located within the Gyeongbokgung itself. There was also another ticket that could be purchased for 10,000 won which included access to all four palaces.

I happened to be just in time to watch the re-enactment of the Guard On Duty Performance at 2 pm outside of the front gate. I was unaware this took place so it was a nice treat. I did some research and learned that this ceremony dates back to 1469, when the royal guard of Joseon Dynasty performed the task of guarding the entrance of the Gyeongbokung Palace. This was where the king ruled the country. Today, it’s re-enactment which takes place three times a day continues to draw in tourists. The guard’s costumes are bright, as they are wearing royal uniforms and they also carry traditional weapons and instruments. photo (2) DSCN4127 DSCN4128 Once the ceremony was complete, I made my way into the palace grounds. The palace grounds are quite large and it is easy to get lost. However, there are signs that point you in the direction of each of the museums, as well as other areas. DSCN4129 DSCN4130 DSCN4142 DSCN4144 I’m not sure what exactly this area called was but the scenery was beautiful and awesome for pictures! photo (3)DSCN4150DSCN4152 The National Folk Museum displayed historical artifacts that Koreans currently and previously used in their daily lives. I did also visit the National Palace Museum; however, I didn’t take any pictures.

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My next stop was the Bukchon Hanok Village located nearby. This village contains traditional hanok style housing with tiled rooftops. Visitors are able to experience Korean style living by staying at the guesthouses in the vicinity. These hanok stays are popular, as tourists can stay overnight in a quiet, traditional setting. I really enjoyed exploring the narrow streets and all of the cute little stores selling trinkets and other souvenirs. On the main strip there was also a TON of restaurants and cafes. Not only do they cater to those who love Korean cuisine, but they also had quite a few Western style restaurants serving pizza, pasta and Japanese food! DSCN4196DSCN4195DSCN4194DSCN4182DSCN4184DSCN4208 I also happened to stumble upon a historic site! DSCN4192DSCN4190DSCN4188 By the time I finished up at the village, I was exhausted from all of the walking so I made my way home.

This past weekend, I went on a hunt for some Korean street food. I was successful. I ate my heart out in the Ewha Women’s  University area, shopped, got a manicure and pedicure and finally returned home late that evening. I’ll leave you with some pictures of all the food that entered my belly!     20140527-200801-72481919.jpg 20140527-200804-72484273.jpg 20140527-200806-72486258.jpg 20140527-200840-72520308.jpg 20140527-200837-72517265.jpg 20140527-200841-72521862.jpg

Seoul Zoo, Everland and Everything In Between

A couple weeks ago, all of us teachers at SLP were given two days off for Buddha’s Birthday and Children’s Day (May 3rd – May 6th). This was a much needed break, considering our last holiday was the Lunar New Year in January. This long weekend also coincided with my boyfriends arrival from America. He came to visit for two weeks (hence my lack of posting!).

We tried to pack the four day weekend with as many fun-filled events as we could. On Friday night, we decided to go for Indian food and to Big Chill for some drinks. The Big Chill is a popular foreigner bar in Suwon where many English teachers go to hang out on weekends. Not to mention, Friday is their Ladies Night special, so drinks were FREE from 9-11 pm.

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On Saturday, we woke up in the early afternoon and made our way to Seoul Residence in Gangnam. We had booked a hotel so that we could go for a nice dinner, have drinks and not worry about making it back to Suwon before the subway and buses stopped running. We checked in around 3:30 pm, grabbed subs to keep our stomachs in check and returned to the hotel to chill out before dinner. The hotel was perfect. No complaints. We made reservations at a restaurant called Grano (in Sinsa) for 8 pm. It wasn’t insanely fancy but it was definitely more sophisticated than the average dining experience. Even better, the food was authentic Italian (which is quite hard to find in Korea). We ordered the four cheese pizza with salami and cherry tomatoes, as well as the macaroni and cheese with truffle sauce to split between us. The pizza was awesome and the macaroni and cheese was rich and creamy. The portions were also generous, so we were quite full by the end of our meal. Depending on what you order, this restaurant may have you spending upwards of $120+ on a steak meal; however, the pastas, pizzas and other main dishes were all within the 23-40 thousand won price range. I would recommend this restaurant!

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After dinner, we decided to go to Pandora for drinks. Pandora is also in Gangnam and offers an all you can drink menu for a fee of 10,000 won for women and 20,000 won for men. We spent a few hours there and then head back to the hotel!

Sunday morning, we went to Butterfinger’s Pancakes for breakfast. I have mentioned this place before in a previous post due to it’s awesome assortment of breakfast options. We ate our hearts out and moved onwards to Seoul Grand Park to visit the zoo!

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We took the sky lift to the zoo, where we spent the rest of the day walking around and visiting all of the animals. We did notice although the grounds were well kept, the animals seemed like they weren’t given much attention. We didn’t see a single person working there, aside from at the ticket booths. This was strange since at the Toronto Zoo at home, it’s common to have workers inside the cages, feeding the animals, playing with them, or just giving visitors someone background information on each exhibit via microphone. It could have been due to the fact that it was a holiday weekend, but either way, it was kind of disappointing.

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On Monday, we spent the day near the Han River. It was nice weather, so we walked around for a while before getting on a boat for an hour long evening cruise. Afterwards, we proceeded to Vatos to celebrate Cinco De Mayo! We feasted until we were bursting and then trekked back to Suwon.

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Tuesday was spent in Suwon. We went to Manseok park, which is near my apartment. We had a picnic with some drinks. It was nice to relax and get some sun before going back to work on Wednesday.

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Thursday evening, we decided to go to Sam Ryan’s (another foreigner bar in Suwon) for some food before heading to a DVD-bang near Suwon Station. Just like a jjimjibang (Korean bathhouse) or a norebang (karaoke room), a DVD bang is one of those unique to Korea experiences. Essentially, it’s a place with many rooms where couples or groups of friends can rent and watch a movie for about $12-15. I think that because it’s so common for young adults to live with their parents until marriage, it’s a way to have some private time with their partners without any parental supervision.

After going to multiple DVD bangs (there were about 5 in close proximity to one another), we finally decided on one and chose to watch Super 8 that evening.

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Friday evening, we visited Big Chill again for some drinks. Since we were planning on getting up fairly early on Saturday, we didn’t go hard on the alcohol.

Saturday morning, we woke up and were on a bus en route to Everland by 8:30 am. The bus ride was quite long so we ended up there around 10-10:30 am. Everland is South Korea’s largest theme park. It is operated by Samsung and has a zoo, as well as a separate water park called Caribbean Bay. Unfortunately, not all of the rides were operational in the water park, so we just bought a single admission rather than the combined one for both areas. We spent a lot of time in the safari area of the park. We went on the bus ride in Safari World, as well as on the land/boat ride in Lost Valley. We got to see a ton of animals up close! It was awesome (and way better than the Seoul zoo). We also went on a few roller coasters (T Express and X-train), admired the rose festival taking place and stopped for lunch at an Italian restaurant before heading home. We were exhausted that evening, so we napped and then had some traditional Korean pancakes with spicy cold noodles for dinner. This was also Bryan’s last night, as his flight left early Sunday morning.

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Sunday morning, I accompanied Bryan to the Incheon airport shuttle bus and he was back on his way to America!

That same week also happened to be Teacher’s Day (May 15th). My kiddies spoiled me with a ton of presents. It felt good to be appreciated! 🙂

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Seoul’s Lotus Lantern Festival

About three weeks ago, I went to the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul for Buddha’s Birthday. This festival is held annually and this year, it fell on April 26th. This event brings local and international visitors together for a fun filled evening under thousands of illuminated lanterns. The parade began at Cheonggyecheon Stream and moved toward Jogyesa Temple and Bonguensa Temple. The lantern parade was said to feature more than 100,000 large lanterns, varying in shapes from lotus flowers, to elephants, to dragons. This was definitely accurate. The parade itself lasted over 2 hours.

A group of us decided to head down to the Jogno street area at around 6 pm that Saturday evening. When we got there, we noticed chairs lined up along both sides of the street. We looked around but majority of the seats were taken. We decided to stand in an open area to ensure we had a good view. That’s when a few ajummas grabbed us, threw ribbons around our necks, handed us candy, yogurt drinks, lanterns and made us sit with them. It all happened so fast that the five of us were in shock. They were so sweet!!! They were excited to hang with us and asked us to take pictures with them. That was probably by far my best and will be my most memorable experience with ajummas in Korea.

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Once the parade was over, we headed over to Vato’s in Sinsa for some Texas Tea, kimchi fries and burritos! Once we were done feasting, we made our way home with full, satisfied stomachs!

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