South Korea

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One breath at a time. Mt Seorak, South Korea

From the moment we began travelling together several years ago my partner and I  have encountered places, environments and people that consistently challenge us to meet them, at least halfway. Each time we rose to that challenge, some dormant part of us awoke; sometimes a part we never knew existed at other times a part we’d always suspected was there but lacked the courage or faith to acknowledge let alone embrace. Whatever the case, we’ve learned these parts, once ignited, can never be fully extinguished. And whether we choose to use the experiences to foster further travel or not, they exist now as parts of us that can be tapped into anytime, anywhere … if only as a reminder of what we’re capable of.


One such place was in South Korea’s Mount Seoraksan National Park, about a three hour car or bus drive from Seoul and a long way from Tasmania, Australia. Our goal - a hike to the ruins of Gwongeumseong Castle, above the Cheongbuldong Valley.


Korea had already challenged us in other ways … eating the traditional fermented cabbage dish kimchee (a gauntlet to my dread of getting sick from eating unfamiliar food) and accepting a military presence in Seoul as part of the political landscape.


But the Gwongeumseong climb took us further out of our comfort zone on more personal levels. My partner’s bypass heart surgery was still at the forefront of our memories and his asthma an ongoing consideration. My new hip had settled in and my fear of heights subdued to wariness over the years. While these elements could turn into obstacles if we let them, they also provided the impetus for our lifestyle choice, to spend as much time travelling where we could while we could.


In the jam-packed cable car my partner takes photographs while I concentrate on breathing my way through another testing ground; small spaces and crowds.

When we alight the car, a short walk takes us to the base of the castle ruins. Looking up we see the Korean national flag waving at an altitude of 1,200 meters.


We are initially comforted by sighting a number of elderly hikers and small children.

How hard can it be? On the park’s online tourist site the climb has a difficulty star rating of only one. But we soon remember fear is fear. Courage is courage.

Despite it being spring, one of the most temperate and prettiest times to visit the park, we were in a minority of Western tourists. We’re taller and heavier than most of the other visitors, we move more cautiously, and my partner’s shock of curly hair is a bobbing white cap in a sea of black heads. We’re fish out of water and that’s the point.


The first thing we notice before commencing our ascent is the level of steepness, then the lack of climbing aids. With the exception of a rope in some parts and a guide who appears at a particularly tricky bit to lend a helping hand if needed, we are just two more creatures in a line of creatures swarming across a rock face.

The hike turns out to be part climb, part scrabble. We use the rope when it appears and keep an eye out for hand and footholds along the rocky outcrops. A sheer drop to one side is at times unnerving. The exposed environment means a level of unavoidable wind. We occasionally get wobbly and have to steady ourselves, knowing the climb down will pose its own challenges. Our hearts thump and our fingers tingle with each reach for a handhold. Look ahead. One step, one breath at a time.

A mere thirty intense minutes later we reach the pinnacle. Some climbers whoop, share rice wine, purchase official gold medals of achievement from the mountain vendor.

We sit in silence for a few minutes taking in the view that stretches before us, across mountain peaks, the coastal cityscape of Sokcho and the coastline itself. We did it! we finally say to each other. The question of Where next? already forming another tentative chain in the link between us and the rest of the world.

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A Decade of Departures

I left home as soon as I was able. It had never been a happy place and the often violent streets of Belfast offered little respite. I therefore spent much of my childhood in my room, longing for elsewhere, learning to spell the names of countries as I leafed through my father’s well-worn hard-backed atlas.

When I was eighteen I enrolled at university and took the boat to Scotland. I was reasonably happy there, but every night before bed I would sit and gaze at the maps I had pinned on my wall. After graduation my friends all started settling into careers and communities, marriages and mortgages. I, however, made preparations for departure: crossing the sea had failed to cure me of my lust for leaving. So I divested myself of almost everything I owned, packed the remainder into a backpack, and took a train to the airport and a plane to Paris.

But even the city of light soon lost its lustre, and six months later I was standing on the platform of the Gare de Lyon waiting for a train to Geneva. Every morning for the next year I spent staring out of my chalet windows at the seven peaks of Les Dents Du Midi. At first, I found comfort in their permanence but eventually I began to resent them for hemming me in. Once again, it was time to leave. As the primroses and buttercups were starting to fade, I got on a plane bound for the New World.

New York City thrilled me. On my first evening, I walked from my lodgings on 79th St. all the way to Battery Park and back. Everything I’d heard was truer and more real than I’d ever imagined: the streets were straighter, the towers were taller, the crosswalks more crowded. But I grew restive in the restless city and once again packed my bag and boarded a westbound bus.

Some three thousand miles later and I had swum and shivered in Lake Michigan, hiked through the snow to Yellowstone hot-springs, and marvelled at Seattle’s sleepless skyline. But in no place and at no time did I consider stopping, settling.

My momentum impelled me across the Pacific to New Zealand. ‘The land of the long white cloud’ was as beautiful as everyone had said, but its beauty was wasted on me. When I wasn’t at work or out hiking the Hobbited hills, I was at the library poring over travel books and magazines – dreaming once again of elsewhere. Once I’d saved up enough, I bought a ticket to Seoul.

Maybe in Asia I would find the solace I sought.

I hated it at first, this jumble of a city with enough neon to put Vegas to shame. But eventually, I fell in love with its energy, chaos and confusion. Not to mention its food. If I think too much about it, I sometimes wonder why I left, but in the moment, restlessness was reason enough.

Within weeks, I found myself on a ferry from Vancouver to a small island with an entire population comparable to that of my apartment building in Seoul. I tended chickens and ate home-grown, home-cooked food. And even though I was actually quite content I would still wander down to the shore from time to time to think about the world beyond. And soon enough, those thoughts became too powerful to ignore.

As I packed, I took a picture of my belongings laid out on the bed: a few clothes, toothbrush and razor, water-bottle, pencil-case and notebooks. During the months and years that I had been travelling, I hadn’t taken a single photograph of the sights I had seen or the places I had been. It was in this moment that I realised, as Hermann Hesse had once written, that “a magic dwells in every new beginning”. It was not the places that had brought me solace, but the spaces between the places. It was these in-between moments – packing my possessions, closing my bag, hoisting it onto my back – which thrilled me.

And it was in such moments that I was able to hope, breathe and dream.

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Aviary Photo_130368083940981037I was once told that I could never be where I am now. Now I am being told that I can never go to where I want to be. To breathe air from a different part of this earth and feel foreign soil before my feet, to interact with others who are not quite like myself and who have lived experiences that one could only dream. This is the lure that attracts me, the reasoning behind all my thoughts, my reveries, and this particular ambition. Barriers have restricted the human race for the entirety of our existence, but in return we have requited these obstructions with creations of our own. Trains, planes, automobiles, these are the oeuvres humanity has left for later generations in the attempts of never allowing impediments from slowing the advancement or greatness that we aspire to. How many times have I wished that I could iron away the blunders that destiny has fabricated. However, I’ve come to realize that destiny has made these blunders so that I could unravel the reality of the situation and the amount of perseverance it takes to iron them. I will not allow a language barrier to conquer me and distract me from visiting a land I have always wanted to see, after all I am part of the human race and have been born with the acute stubbornness all have. I will not bow before my barrier, I will not be conquered but conquer, nor allow myself to admit defeat but instead perceive the temptation of defeat as intangible, and project my thoughts as incorrigible.

I have grown many years in a short time, it sometimes scares me to have known the length of what I’ve grown. The thought of visiting this country has contributed to my growth, because I now want to grow more in order for me to be ready to explore the delights ahead and overcome the barriers put in my path, so in turn I will prove myself to myself that I am able to iron creases that even destiny has fabricated. To be able to come across new traditions and speak this language that is strange to my ears but delightful to my lips and realize that it will forever be strange and forever hold beauty, but will no longer be foreign.

Somehow I believe that I have found my true love in things that are foreign to me. Of an alien land whose represents balance and the elements and emits charm through its traditions and culture. In four years I hope to visit South Korea with the ability to speak its citizen’s language, lay on Simhak Mountain in the sea of poppies and look up at a different but same sky. I have been told that I can never go to where to I want to be, however, these words fall upon death ears because this is the place that rouses me, inspires me, and where I will spend my time wisely with no regrets for as long as my destiny has given me.

About the Author: Luisa Rincon grew up in Elizabeth, NJ and was born in Colombia. I hope to visit South Korea in three years after I master the language before I start freshman year in college.

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patsy-7457I was at a party with a selection of great-looking mini-desserts. Having a sweet tooth, I got one of each. Meanwhile, my friend filled her saucer with her favorite cream puffs. I wondered why she didn’t try the other variants and I learned the answer as I forced myself to finish the ones on my plate. The cream puffs were splendid – perhaps the only good thing on the table. Unsatisfied by my selection, I got up to replace mine with more cream puffs, but the tray was already empty.

When I planned my trip to Seoul, I vowed I would have the best time of my life. Months prior to my trip, I read travel books at the library, logged-in to different travel apps, and listed all that I wanted to see and do. In my list I included the time shrines and museums would open, and if there were attractions like the changing of the guards, I’d be there to see it. I knew it would be long before I return to Seoul, so I have to make memories worth sharing.

When we travel for a weekend getaway, our effort to try and make the most out of that trip is to cram so many activities in our itinerary. While it is a surefire way to see all that the place has to offer, in the end we are overwhelmed by memories of exhaustion rather than the quality of how we spent the time.

In Seoul, time will never be on your side. The bustling metropolitan will leave you in awe. There are so many things to see that the day may end without coming to a decision. I spent five days in Seoul, and during the first day, I roamed around the neighborhood where I stayed to familiarize myself with the nearest convenience store, train station, and information center.

The next two days, I hopped from one historic site to another – my itinerary for the day more detailed than any travel agency. Honestly, the shrines and palaces all look alike, hence I spent no more than 1 hour at each place and rounded up all major shrines in Seoul within 2 days. On the fourth day I filled my SD card with photos of Korea’s autumn colors at Jongmyo Shrine. I was lost in the moment of photography – everything from the architectural details, the serene lake, and the people coming together to savor the last warm rays – until I felt my stomach complain.

Due to the time spent in Jongmyo, I skipped going to Insadong, Dongdaemun, COEX, Lotte World, and other areas commonly included in the “Must-see in Seoul” list much to the chagrin of my friends back home. I don’t understand why they feel disappointed about my trip when I was extremely satisfied. I was excited to go back, not to cover the ground I skipped, but to take photos of the same place in a different perspective and season. I want to see what kind of feeling it will give me when I experience it during winter or under the rain.

The abundance of nature in Jongmyo is something easily seen in most conservatories yet there is something magical about it. The road less traveled compelled me to explore the area rather than follow the concrete main path leading to the exit.

Cheesy as it sounds I thought, “Ah, this must be how it feels to be alive.” Ironically, I felt it at the place built to honor the deceased royalties of Joseon.  It was as if their spirits were handing wisdom from the world beyond, telling me to live to the fullest without regrets. It is not the kind of YOLO that justifies dangerous activies, but the kind of YOLO that should make your heart beat through the endless possibilities of learning and new experiences. It should make your inner being hunger for more, push forward without looking back.

Like the dessert table, life offers us many choices resulting to two types of hunger: unsatisfaction and craving. Which one’s yours?

About the author: Patricia is a mermaid who enjoys the world of humans.She likes dark chocolates and warm hugs.

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DSC00388nI have never been celebrated Winter in my life. I am from Indonesia, a very tropical country with never ending summer. Truthfully the idea of having winter is always on my mind. I always want to go to Iceland or even Greenland just to feel some winter euphoria. Then, I decided to go to South Korea this winter. South Korea is the closest place to feel the winter from Indonesia.

I arrived at Busan, I planned to took a bus to Seoul from Busan. When the flight attendant opened the airplane gate, all i felt was “This is no joke” I said that to my friend. I kept wow-ing wherever I go because that was totally different from my country. The weather, the people, the technology was completely insane. A that time, the weather is really cold, about -12 celsius degree tops.

At Day 5, I had the opportunity to visit Nami Island, located at Gangwon Province, not so far from Seoul. I always enjoyed scenery wherever I go. Nami Island and its neighborhood is really breathtaking. The place is also colder than Seoul. There was so many tourist back then. But, believe or not, they are local tourist from so many province in South Korea. I managed my self to ask one local tourist who speak English about Nami. He said, “I’ve been to Nami like 5 times, but I never get bored. This is my country’s asset, how can I miss?”. I don’t know but at that time while hear his answer, at that perfect scenery of Nami, all I think about is my home, Indonesia.

South Korea has so many great places such as Jeju, Nami, Mount Sorak, etc. South Korea also has “hallyu wave” for korean pop and korean drama which led so many tourists to visit this country. There’s so many westernization things also, but the people are very nationalist about their country. They love their country so much.
I looked up into myself. Indonesia also has so so so so many place to be explore. But I always wanted to go overseas because of many reason. Other than Bali, Indonesia has Raja Ampat Island, Borneo with their rich culture, and the beauty of beaches since we are “Island Nation”. When I was in Nami,all I think about is, “After this, I will go to the Gili, West Nusa Tenggara and walking through the sand while carry my sandals and wear my thin shirt”. I realized that I went away too much. I realized that there is so many things in Indonesia that you can actually do. And somehow, I feel lucky to have summer all the time. Because feeling cold is the last thing that I want after I felt all that coldness in South Korea. But yes, still I want to go to Iceland.

Then I went home, to where I belong. Thank God that I had the chance to go to South Korea. Because the people made me realize that I should explore my own land before I go abroad.

South Korea is giving me this idea. For my next trip, I already plan to discover Java, Bali and West Nusa Tenggara in a month. Wish me luck!

By Naresawari Notoprodjo

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south koreaBanks of neon from street to stars seared my retinas. Seoul at night. I was in South Korea for a specific reason. To find work. But not just any old work, acting work. Being cooped up in London, too poor for acting school, no real experience of note, meant I was just another face in the crowd. I had heard Seoul was looking for foreign faces. Internationalizing their ever growing media industry.

The streets of Seoul shopping central, Myeongdong were overwhelming. I knew nobody, spoke none of the language, understood nothing of the customs. I had arrived earlier in the day, and struggled to recollect how I had ended up there.

With what little money I had in my pocket, in most countries I would have possibly failed. But Korea, the people and the timing saved me. There is an invisible aura of possibility that hangs over the city. People go about their business, not scrambling over one another, but teaming together to bring Korea in line with other leading nations.
Staying at a youth hostel, I became friends with one of the staff there, a guy from Brazil, and soon got to spending time with the owner. Knowing about my foolhardy goal of kick starting my acting career in Seoul, possibly more out of pity than anything else, he offered me a free bed in exchange for four hours per day volunteering in the hostel. This was my lifeline. Winter was setting in and I spent the remaining money I had on a winter coat from the sprawling market at Dongdaemun. There are numerous large buildings stretching over a mile, each one packed with market stalls over ten floors high. For such a small country, often the scale of Seoul can be impressive.

It was enough to buy me the time to make contacts and get the right visa to start me off on a three year span that would see me featuring in Korean movies with the stars. By the time I left Korea, I was a minor celebrity appearing weekly in television shows. I learned Korean and started to get better roles. But without that help from the hostel owner Danny, and from everybody who would buy me a meal, keep me alive, offer me a chance to perform, I could not have done it.

I think what I am really thankful for is the goodness of people. That we live in a multicultural world that certainly has its ignorance and its disagreements, but that allows a stranger to feel welcome. Eager to give something back, I have helped as many people as have needed it ever since. Korea taught me to be a better person. At the heart of travel is enlightenment. To learn and understand another culture so far away and to assimilate, to see that people really are the same worldwide, is the essence of travel. It is why travel is an addiction, and it is one I hope I will never be cured of.

About the Author: Paul Stafford works in the film industry and as a writer. He spent three years working in Seoul, South Korea in lieu of going to acting school. He currently lives in London and studies a masters in screenwriting.

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DSC00171I soaked in the sights as we whizzed by, mostly dazzled by the half-melted snow on the ground. I exhaled out a breath of cold air which fogged up the chilled window of the bus and doodled the word ‘Korea’. I was finally here! The homeland of Korean pop music and Korean food. It was day 1 in Seoul and there was much that came across as strange or unfamiliar to me, namely their winter season. No matter how prepared I thought I was, I was not.

Arriving at the Changdeokgung Palace, our tour group eagerly hopped off the bus. My nose, startled by the sudden attack of coldness, began to water like a leaking faucet. Chills raced up and down my spine, and at that moment I wanted to return to the warm embrace of the heater in the bus. However, I grudgingly followed our tour group as we approached the towering pillars of the palace gates.

We stood at the entrance of the Changdeokgung Palace listening to the enthusiastic dialogue of our equally animated tour guide, recounting the palace’s remarkable history. I was losing interest fast. I was no history buff and had zero interest in attending a history lesson. Time was of the essence here! I wanted to leave and explore famous shopping hotspots. While attempting to distract a grouchy stray cat, I gathered that the Changdeokgung Palace was the most favoured palace of the past Joseon kings. A treasured monument, it was designated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. With that the tour group trooped in and I trailed unwillingly behind, bracing myself for the inevitable.

Stepping in, it was like I just entered a winter wonderland. Powdery snow from a few days ago was sprinkled on the ground like fairy dust. Except the walkways which were cleared of snow for the tourists, the ground was mostly covered in snow. With the massive architecture as the background, I felt as though as I have been transported 600 years back to the Joseon Dynasty during its winter season.

It was mesmerizing.

So magical.

It was a sudden 180 degree attitude change. Craving to know about the history of the palace, I followed closely behind, hanging on to every word. We stopped at the Injeongjeon Throne Hall, it was used to discuss major state affairs between the past kings and the state ministers as well as to receive foreign diplomats. Peering inside, a lone throne remained, surrounded by the dark and drabby interior of the hall. All at once, my imagination started to work its magic. The thin film of dust that covered the throne disappeared; the bright colours that adorned the walls were restored. I saw a bevy of ladies-in-waiting and eunuchs waiting expectantly by the side, silent but alert. The state ministers kneel by the sides in two neat rows, heads bowed in reverence, each slightly jittery. The atmosphere tingled with tension, a frown or a single gesture could mean getting exiled to some godforsaken land or even, decapitation!

I turned to face the large expanse of courtyard, this time I was loyalty. Dreamily, I pictured the large crowd of subjects kneeling before me with utmost deference and slight apprehension, as I descended the stairs like a fairy floating down from Heaven. What an ego boost it gave me! Our next stop was the Seonjeongjeon Hall, it was the Government office for the state ministers where they held daily meetings. Among all the buildings which stood on its own, the Seonjeongjeon Hall stood out exceedingly well, its structure and exterior design was a portrait of brilliance, its vibrant colours and intricate patterns brought life to a seemingly sombre palace environment.

We strode on, often pausing to hurl fresh snow at each other. Our tour group passed the royal family’s private living quarters, each more massive than the previous. Finally stopping in front of a nondescript looking house, its lack of size and colour made it seem like a misfit in the overall majestic grandeur of the palace. With further explanation, it was known to be reserved for the King’s favourite concubine, in an attempt to give her some resemblance of a normal lifestyle. The only irony was the several servants’ quarters surrounding the main house.

Regretfully, our 45 minutes tour in Changdeokgung Palace concluded. As I stood at the entrance from where I entered moments ago, I gazed wistfully around the palace grounds, saddened that the time spent was so fleetingly short. Yet, I was relieved that I could experience this ancient beauty personally, it was beautiful not because of its majestic structure and dynamic colours but it was the beauty of the passing of time that enabled this precious monument to exist today. For this, I felt blessed beyond words.

About the Author: Amanda Jane Yap from Singapore, a student studying for a Diploma in Tourism & Resort Management in a local tertiary institution. Her interests include reading, writing and travelling. She hopes to explore the world before she dies.

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wierd koreaThank you to Chris Backe for sharing one of his Seoul Itineraries with us from his book, Weird and Wonderful Korea

Welcome to Korea! An introduction: South Korea – home of soju, kimchi, and love motels. Presented here are the weird and wonderful parts of Korea – the places that tourists rarely reach and even locals don’t know much about. Read this for the real stories and histories behind some of Korea’s most unusual and fascinating destinations.

Itinerary #1: Northern Seoul – “Rice wine, Monks, and Sheep”

Baedari Brewery – the museum of rice wine Stars: ***

Baedari Brewery has been brewing makgeolli (rice wine), jukyoju (a clearer and more potent rice wine) and soju (Korean fire-water) since 1915. In 1974, Goyang makgeolli was sent to Pyeongyang for the first inter-Korean summit. This museum, dedicated to the brewery’s history, was founded in 2004, and today the fifth generation continues the legacy. Although Baedari continues to produce alcohol, you won’t see it at every corner store. While this particular museum / brewery doesn’t offer taste tests or samples, plenty of offerings exist in the restaurant. Start by entering the main building and appreciating the first few simple exhibits – the majority of the collection is upstairs on the second floor.

A dim light seems appropriate for the dated items that once assisted in the manufacturing of fermented rice wine (known as

막걸리, or makgeolli) and soju. The technology these days is much better of course, but looking at over 90 years of history has its merits as well. They have the wear and tear expected of items used in an industrial setting on a daily basis. Some are simply displays, while other exhibits are models describing the different processes of making rice wine – unfortunately, nothing is in English for the foreign visitor or tourist. Try reading the descriptions if your Korean is good or a Korean friend is with you.

Once you’re finished with the museum, there’s Korean food

(including 김치전, kim-chi jeon, kimchi pancakes, 12,000 won) and locally-brewed makgeolli (3,000-6,000 won per

glass) downstairs. While the typical makgeolli is fine, give the 천년초 막거리 (cheon- nyeon-cho mak-keo-li, or cactus makgeolli) a try. It’s a little pinker and sweeter. There is some irony that you’ll only get by reading the bottle’s labels – Baedari’s cheap but ‘traditional’ makgeolli contains wheat from the US, as well as aspartame. The premium- labeled glass bottles, meanwhile, use organic rice.

Name: Baedari Brewery (배다리 박물관) Address: Gyeonggi-do, Goyang-si, Deokyang-gu, Seongsa-dong, 470-1

Korean address: 경기도 고양시 덕양구 성사 1 동 470-1 Directions: Use the Seoul subway system to get to Wondang station, line 3, exit 6. Cross the street and walk about 500 meters. Look to the right – the building is fairly easy to spot. Hours: 10am-6pm (weekdays) 10am-7pm (weekends) Admission: free (food and drinks are comparably priced to local restaurants) Phone: 031-967-8052 Website:

About the Author: Chris Backe blogs about travel and life at Chris in South Korea and Chris in Thailand. He’s been published numerous times across Korea, including Groove Magazine, 10 Magazine, Busan Haps, The East (based in England), and visitseoul.netWeird and Wonderful Korea is his fourth book –Octopus Formality, a book full of Konglish, was his third, while Korean Made Easy was his second. He doesn’t talk about his first book. He’s currently living in Thailand researching the most unusual destinations in the country.


This is an entry in the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest written by Jillian Gotfredson from America. Thanks for your entry Jillian!

I sat waiting in the back of the truck; the heat subsiding slightly as a storm hovered above, the beat of raindrops on metal creating watery melodies. In twenty minutes the clouds had passed, but the air still hung heavy with humidity. I reached for a handkerchief to wipe my forehead, my salvation from this sweaty beast lay only hours away; the distance from Chiang Rai to Mae Salong relatively short.

Mae Salong has a rich historical evolution. Although situated in Thailand, the town is mainly comprised of descendants of the 3rd and 5th regiments of the 93rd division of the Chinese Nationalist Army. In the 1950’s and sixties they refused to surrender to communists, retreated into Burma and later sought asylum in Mae Salong. In exchange for helping the Thai government fight communism in that area, the soldiers were allowed to settle. Though it was part of the Golden Triangle (an area across Burma, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam where poppies were grown for opium), by the late 1980’s the drug warlord Khun Sa was ejected and Mae Salong’s hillsides reclaimed by tea trees, filling the air with peace and a subtle Oolong sweetness.




After another storm had passed, I found myself riding in the bed of a truck navigating winding roads to Mae Salong. The humidity slackened as the truck climbed higher, the air now a cool breeze and the sun a warm welcome on my face. As I looked toward the horizon, a lush green ocean unfolded below a powder blue sky, the hills undulating with manicured tea trees. We passed women with baskets full of freshly picked tealeaves, dropping them off at small factories to be steamed, wrung, compressed, and dried. The air held a sweet whisper mixed with earthy tones of sun-drenched tea trees.  I took a deep breath, letting the aroma fill me.

There is only one main road; it winds up Doi Mae Salong mountain then meanders along the spine of the Daen Lao mountain range to the town of Tha Ton. I walked passed tea stalls with cups out, ready for steaming samples; kids outside a school practicing band instruments, accenting their music with pauses, then laughter; Akha women in bamboo stalls selling fresh vegetables while others sold souvenirs, wearing their ornately decorated headdresses dripping with beads and silver balls, to entice tourists.

Passing a steaming pot of siopao or “steamed buns”, I grew giddy, pointing at the pot; I held up two fingers and smiled. I can only describe them as hot cream-colored pillows encasing a heavenly-spiced meat mixture. My hunger now at bay, I decided to set out for what I had heard was a panoramic view of the area. After a few wrong turns, I found the correct path and looked up at a challenge: over seven hundred stairs looked down at me.




Out of breath, I hit the last stair and saw it, a temple-like structure honoring the late Thai Princess, Srinagarindra. I slid my shoes off in respect and looked out onto a beautifully sewn patchwork of tea plantations, farmed land, and hill tribe villages. The greenest of greens faded into every shade, the road winding through Mae Salong like a cement snake, the sky a tapestry of purplish blues and grey. I watched the clouds roll in at sunset, like a slow motion waterfall they cascaded down the hillsides, blanketing them in white.

On a walk the next day, an older woman sitting in front of her house waved me over to sit with her. Though I don’t speak Mandarin and she didn’t speak English, we managed a long conversation of pointing, smiling, repeating words and drinking tea. Over the next three days I would walk down to her house to talk, to drink tea, to eat, to go for walks, to people-watch or to help her de-kernel the corn she had been drying out. Despite our language barrier, she made me feel accepted, welcome, and for those few days, at home. The evening before I left, I pointed to the calendar and drew a picture of me leaving. She jokingly shook her head and pointed to the next week, we smiled and I said goodbye.

The next morning I prepared myself to leave a town that now felt so familiar to me. As I looked out the back of the truck, taking in the view for the last time, we passed by her house. She was sitting outside on the bench; we saw each other and began waving wildly with big smiles across our faces. When she was out of sight, I sat back smiling, let the sweetly scented air pass through me one last time, and said goodbye to Mae Salong.

About the AuthorJillian Gotfredson: I was born in South Korea but was adopted at a young age and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. I have a BA in Cultural Studies & Media and have been traveling since 2007. So far I have made it to Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, the Philippines, Borneo, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Burma. Find her at


In the sand dunes near Jaisalmer, India

It was March 2009. I had been working at my first “real job” in San Francisco for five months when I realized I didn’t want to sit in a cube. I wanted to travel. So, I quit. My new job, my new apartment, my new city, my new friends, and my new paychecks. I said goodbye to them all and traded them in for a one-way ticket to Cusco, Peru with some saved-up money. A bold decision, yes. But I knew that was best for me.

This didn’t just come out of the blue. Travel has always been a passion and a big part of my life. I had the privilege of going on exotic vacations to places like the Galapagos and the Everglades with my family while growing up. Since I was single and had very little tying me down, my decision to leave the United States was scary, but an easy decision.

While in Peru and South America, I volunteered, took Spanish classes, adventured to different cities and countries, and got TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certified with a fantastic organization called Maximo Nivel.

When I learned that I could teach and travel around the world with a TEFL certification, I got SO EXCITED. I never knew how easy it could be.

Volunteering in Cusco, Peru

Fast forward a few months, and I was in Seoul, South Korea. I taught ESL (English as a Second Language) there to children for two years. AND, I traveled a ton around Asia with the money I saved while teaching.

Living, working, and traveling abroad changed my life in a number of ways. Here are just a few reasons how.

1) I boosted my self-confidence. Navigating around a foreign country (especially solo) is empowering. I did things I never thought I’d do. (Ex. rode shady transportation, learned to scuba dive, zip lined in the jungle, sang frequently with little kids with my not-so-great voice). Going out of my comfort zone made me a stronger person and gave me an “I can do anything” mentality.

Pajama Day with my adorable Korean students

2) I learned about different people.  The rest of the world is really different from the United States. I loved learning first-hand about local beliefs, customs, food, and ways of life (Ex. having dinner at 10pm in Argentina, bowing in Asia, eating food I wouldn’t normally eat). Most importantly, learning and understanding about different people and cultures helped me open my heart more to those around me.

3) I saw amazing natural beauty. Natural beauty is everywhere. You don’t need to leave your country to see it. But, I guarantee that you will be speechless by some of the things you might see (Ex. ancient Incan ruins, crystal clear water, tigers in the wild, sand dunes). Some of the things I saw may not be around in the near future. I feel fortunate to have laid my eyes on them.

In the sand dunes near Jaisalmer, India

4) Reflected on my interests. When in college, I really didn’t make a lot of time to reflect on what I liked. I picked a general social science major because of its broadness. Traveling game me time to examine and develop my interests. It helped me grow and find love!

Here’s where you come in. Traveling can change your life too. With determination and motivation, living or working abroad long-term might be easier than you think. If you’re looking for inspiration, check out the newly-launched Atlas Sliced, the ONLY interview-based travel show serving up advice on how to live and work abroad.

As the founder and host, I am bringing on influential guests to share how they have made their dreams of travel a reality. Types of guests include career breakers, volunteers, teachers, musicians, unconventional travelers, diving instructors, journalists, bloggers, and many more!

Atlas Sliced is also bringing on guests to showcase sites that can serve as great resources for travel (ex. booking sites, volunteer programs, teach abroad programs).

So, check it out, and maybe you’ll be inspired to travel!

Have you ever thought about living or working abroad long-term? Are you already doing it? If so, what are you doing, and how has it affected you?

This post was written by Alexa Hart (@AtlasSlicedShow), who is working to encourage global citizenship through her web show Atlas Sliced