Back to Seoul!

I love love love looooove South Korea. Seoul has an amazing subway, is totally walkable, is CHEAP, has crazy good public WIFI almost everywhere, you can drink cheap booze outside of a 7/11, there are FREE TOILETS, clooooothes, and like zero homelessness – at least nothing at all like Seattle. It’s like a little playground of happiness, bright lights, cute phone cases, and puffy coats. 


Just as an FYI, I lost almost ALL of my photos in Korea. So here’s a tiny snippet of the trip.

After 3.5 years of being away from the true and authentic smell of kimchi, I was back in Korea! As a past expat, I had all the nostalgical feels throughout this trip. I was excited to bring the dude this time and I had a strict itinerary: Eat ALL of the food that I missed so much.

South Korea can be done on a budget (and even more so if you don’t booze up too much). We stayed in a budget hostel in the lively Hongdae University district from Wednesday, February 27th through Monday, March 5th. We love bunking with strangers and trying to make friends.

And because I’m a nerd, I tracked every $$ – ₩ – that we spent.

Here’s our budget breakdown of our time in Korea for 5 nights.

Accommodation + free breakfast: $150

Airport train to our hostel: $10

On our first night I was actually really bummed. We had been traveling forever and I really just wanted some soju and deokbokki. The Deokbokki was found, but it was booze free. And in our neighborhood there were only craft breweries! I’m from Seattle! I don’t need craft beer? I need Hite! I had forgotten that you can’t just go out and get a drink, you need to stuff your face and I wasn’t ready for KBBQ that evening. Nevertheless, 7/11’s were there to save the day. 

-Round trip train from Seoul Station to Pyeongtaek to meet up with Taylor’s brother for a day: $18 (2 tickets round trip)

-All other transportation including taxis and the subway around Seoul: $37

Gyeongbokgung Palace: $6 (2 tickets)

Leeum Samsun Museum of Art: $9 (1 ticket)

Bunny Cafe with snacks to feed the critters: $13

-Cafes: $40

-Booze: $28

-Food: $217 

Street food is dirt cheap. We can each snack for about $5 total. Our favorite experience was when we visited Colin, Taylor’s brother, in Pyeongtaek and got all you can eat Korean BBQ and a few beers and sojus. The bill for 3 people came to only $44. 

Total spendings: $528 and divided by two people that’s just $264 which comes to just over $50 per day. Hooray! 


Traveling with the looooove of my life.




The pics say it all….. Two years of loving the life I lived in Korea.

There is no way I can share EVERYTHING… But I think this page is a good summary.



While living in Korea I ran a 10K, four half marathons, and one full marathon. The night before the 10K my friends and I had a few bottles of wine – each? The next morning with stained red lips we called a cab and showed up to our race that was an hour north of our city just in time to make the start time by TWO minutes. Not a care in the world. We ran the race; I PRed and got a satisfying 50 minutes, and we went and drank Magkeolli out of frisbees and trash bins post race in the park. That’s just WHAT YOU DO. A beautiful day for a little bit of exercise. 

LOTS of 맥주 (BEER)

Yep – beer, magkeolli, soju, somak, you name it. Prep a little soju cocktail outside of a 7-11 before a night out. Alcohol is VERY cheap in this country and it is RUDE not to drink if offered by a Korean (especially a superior). 


I played ultimate during my two years in Korea. This was really the reason that I loved my life so much at the time. My Ulsan teammates were my family and we would travel almost every weekend to play across the country. I was also able to fly to Jeju for an international tournament and my team won the championships in the spring of 2014! This kept me sane and active the whole time I was abroad. 


Just. Eat. Everything….                                                                                                                   well except the smelly dried squid, beondegi, and live octupus. 


Hiking culture

Dress in your brightest apparel, get as drunk as you can, and huff up that mountain. Please, mountain, make sure that there are absolutely no switchbacks, way too many stair cases, and the climb should be straight up. 


One day my friend Stacey & I were hiking on a mountain near Ulsan. As we were frolicking up the mountain we ran into a 70 year old man named “Mr. Jeong.” He spoke English well and asked if he could join us for the remainder of our trek. We chatted and enjoyed the outdoors together for the next few hours. When we got to the top of Munsu we relaxed and enjoyed the view. This was only the start of the fun. Mr. Jeong offered to buy us beondegi and magkeolli post climb so, of course, we accepted. It is very common for Koreans to drink magkeolli throughout the entire hike. Well, it’s common for Koreans to drink all of the time. 


Mr. Jeong wanted to continue his free “tutoring” lessons and I ended up going on a few more hikes with him. On our next outing it was pouring rain and he was dressed just perfectly for the occasion: nice slacks, a button down shirt, dress shoes, and, of course, his umbrella to keep him from getting wet. We trekked to some rolling hills and had a “picnic” of ramen and magkeolli in an old abandoned hut. He was pleasant to be around. 


Stacey and I would often be outdoors and made our way one summer day to Sinbulsan. It took us a couple of bus rides to get there from Ulsan and it wasn’t easy. We got there with not a plan in mind on how we would return. We drank our magkeolli, made our trek, lit fireworks (it was American Independence Day), and ended up in a little hut eating pajeon. After a few bottles of magkeolli post climb we were feeling pretty warm. And how were we supposed to get home? We were at least 20 miles outside of Ulsan and the buses had no regular schedule out on the mountain. 

Luckily, we found a guy in a van and hitched a ride. I offered him 20,000 KRW ($20) to get us back to the city. He didn’t speak any English so we just kept shouting “ULSAN” assuming he would be heading that way. We drank in the back of his van and found that, yes, we were going in the right direction. He ended up taking us back but started veering away from our destination. We ended up a bit scared so jumped out of the car at the next stop light and ran the remaining three miles home. 


So, if you want to ever go on a little Korean trek, bring the magkeolli and plan on making friends. 

Buddhist temples

Make sure to do a temple stay if you go to Korea. I spent a weekend at a temple with some friends. We were given nice meals, had tea with the monks, and learned about Buddhist culture. It was a very relaxing and zen weekend away from our crazy and busy lives. That night we went to bed early and slept on mats in a small room just across from the temple. We woke up at 4 AM to meditate and did that throughout the morning. As the day went on we would try to meditate for longer periods of time. I would like to pat myself on the back because I lasted a whole 45 minutes without looking at my watch. We also practiced Tai Chi, went on a meditation walk, and learned a bit about the history of Buddhism.

Thanks to my friend David who took my waygook buddies and I away for the weekend. He taught us well. Here is a bit more information on Buddhism in Korea and a bit about Buddhism in the western world.


Dad does the laundry

Dad came to visit me in the ROK about a year after my mom and sister did. He was there in January 2014 for a week. 

I taught him how to stay up until 3AM at the bars, how to use chopsticks, and how to drive a scooter.

He taught me how to read a label on the laundry bag and helped me realize that no, I had not been using detergent for the past year and a half – OOPS. 

Here were some of his reactions to KOREA:

  • It was surprising to watch the locals drink soju and just collapse on the sidewalks
  • Squatters
  • Loved the the fast KTX train and all of the public transportation
  • Nice parks along the river walkway
  • Very impressed with the restaurants and food
  • Surprised by the racism
  • Enjoyed the cat cafe
  • We did a DMZ tour

Playing tour guide is always fun. 

Chocolate pie in North Korea

The DMZ is about a 2.5 mile (4km) wide border line between North & South Korea that runs 160 miles (250 km) long.

Here is a bit about what I learned while taking notes on my first tour in late 2012:


  • From 1910-1945 (end of WWII) the Japanese had control of Korea.
  • Post WWII North Korea was support by the Soviet Union and South Korea by the Americans.
  • NK then wanted to unite and become a communist country and that is when the Korean War began (1950-53).
  • After the Korean War there were 10 million people displaced from their homes.
  • The war ended when the armistice was signed and that was when the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) was created. The north and south both have 2 km.
  • The DMZ area was violated so now there are many armed camps and it is one of the most heavily armed places in the world.

**FUN Facts about the DMZ**

Please note that this was all just told verbally to me by the guide and I didn’t have any other sources at the moment.          After the fact I looked into the accuracy of what was told to me.
  • As we were heading up north on the bus from Seoul our tour guide told us about the barbed wire fence along the river. The further we got, the higher up and more armed the fences became. There were soldiers stationed along the river the whole way. North Korea used to send out spies along the river which is the reason for the barbed wire.
  • In SK, all men are required to do two years of military service. In NK, men are required to serve for ten years and women for seven years.
  • Hunger is still a huge issue, even for those in the military.
  • People are constantly trying to escape due to the fact that there is no hope. A great read about a prisoner who escaped is the book “Escape from Camp 14”.
  • A common phrase in SK is  “당신은 먹었” (Have you eaten?) because their biggest concern from the prior two generations was that people were always going hungry. 
  • When we arrived at the DMZ checkpoint one of the military officers had to check our passports.
  • To be in the military you must fit these three requirements:
    1. Must be 175 cm tall (5’7”)
    2. Must be trained in one martial art
    3. Must be handsome (tour guide was a jokester).
  • The light green uniforms were for American soldiers and the dark green were for the Koreans.
  • We drove over “cow bridge” or “bridge of no return” which has its name because the man who started Hyundai came from NK with only his cow (source from guide).
  • During the time that the DMZ was being created there was a lot of tension about borders. There were a million landmines placed within the area. The SK army had only recovered about 10% of them so there are still about 900,000 left.
  • There have been four tunnels found at the DMZ. They were built by the North Koreans and were heading towards Seoul. Three were found in the 70’s and one was found in the 90’s. It is still believed that there are more. We were able to walk inside of the third tunnel for a few hundred meters until the barbed wire stopped us and we could see the North Korean side. The whole tunnel was about 2 meters wide by 2 meters high.


  • The tunnels were painted black so that if they were discovered it would be thought to have been used for coal mining.
  • In 1980 there was a “flag pole war” in the DMZ area. Who could have the tallest flag pole? NK won and now has the third tallest flag pole in the world. Congratulations! This was near a “Propaganda Village” on the N Korean side and now is populated with residents.
  • We went to the lookout and saw the village mentioned above. Our tour guide informed us that they may look the same as the South Koreans. We saw people walking around and riding bikes. It was a bit eerie. There was a line that we couldn’t cross and take photos otherwise the guards would take our cameras and phones and erase all of the memory.


  • At one point, the N Korean factory workers were given $110 a month and two pieces of chocolate pie per day. That kind of money goes far in NK and the pie was a luxury as it is not heard of in that country. People would sell their pie on the black market for about $10 a piece. When that was found out, the government started rewarding people with more pie so that it wasn’t such a rarity.
  • In North Korea there are over 25,000 statues of the leaders.
  • We went to a deserted train station, Dorasan, near the border. From 2007-2008 it was open and went to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang to transport goods back and forth. In 2008 a South Korean woman was killed by a North Korean soldier so the train was closed. The station is now currently deserted. There is hope that the train station will open again one day.


  • In the northernmost town of SK the people are not required to serve in the military or pay taxes (because it’s dangerous to live in that location). That used to be the case for the second most northern town, as well, but then they all became wealthy farmers so now have to pay taxes and serve in the military.
  • On the way back from the DMZ we saw “Freedom Bridge.”It is the bridge that the prisoners crossed over after the Korean war to go back home.
  • In 2000 there was a museum built in SK that was supposed to have relics from NK. But NK broke their promise and never gave them any relics so now it is just an empty building.

Our tour guide told us that we had seen the past, present, and future. The past was that the tunnels were built and we got to go inside on of them. The present was standing at the observatory and looking into the village with the North Korean people. The future was the train station and the hope that it can be reopened one day and that the countries can be unified.

**For more information about life in North Korea watch the following: