July Travel Diary: Another month, another five countries down. I’m writing this from a (rather wet and crowded) third class train carriage between Nuwara Eliya and Ella in Sri Lanka, country number 13 of this trip and number 32 overall. Here’s a funny story for you: I took this train for a) the magnificent views and b) the chance to photograph the Nine Arch Bridge from the carriage. Erm…it’s currently like travelling through a giant, leaking cloud and I’ve just discovered the bridge is after Ella anyway. Still, the journey only cost 37p and I had the foresight to order an extra pizza last night for an el-traino lunch.
July was one of the most hectic months so far, after The Dragon Trip in May. I wouldn’t usually span 5 different countries in the space of 31 days, preferring to travel slower and y’know…nap more. However, I began July in Seoul, South Korea and had Japan on the list too. East Asia is significantly more expensive so taking it slow and steady wasn’t really an option.
July Travel Diary – South Korea: BBQ, Sheep Cafés and an Accidental Smear Test
Seoul was a bit of an itinerary curveball, added in because I realised it probably wasn’t somewhere I’d go out of my way to visit from the U.K., but was intrigued by nonetheless. Having been, I can now safely say I’ll definitely be exploring more of South Korea one day and yep – it’s absolutely worth a flight from London in its own right.
I enjoyed being back in a more modern, cosmopolitan city, not least because hello drinkable tap water! What a treat. Seoul is brilliant. It’s young, vibrant and frankly really bloody weird. You’ll see couples in matching outfits, entire five-story shops dedicated to emojis, a poo cafe, a sheep cafe and more face masks than you can possibly imagine.
Initially I experienced a strange culture shock: this looked like a city I should know how to navigate, but really, I didn’t. I couldn’t speak a word of Korean, there was little English available and even navigating the mini supermarket felt like a challenge. Mainly, I was surprised at how expensive everything felt, though perhaps that was exacerbated by 3.5 months in South East Asia.
Once I found my groove I loved it. I spent almost two weeks roaming the giant beauty district, discovering quirky back alleys and even seeing into North Korea, all fuelled by a lot of kimchi and soju.
So, about that accidental smear test. How does one find themselves unexpectedly led on a nurses bed with a sixty-something Korean man doing his best impression of a farmyard vet visiting a pregnant cow? Simply, I popped in to a medical clinic because I had a slight infection, probably caused by bacteria from scuba diving. I thought I’d maybe pee in a cup, do a quick DIY swab with a blown up cotton bud in the loo? Nuh-uh!
Why am I telling you this? Well, because other than the sheer shock of finding Dr Kim acquainting himself with my ovaries (Do you know how far up ovaries are?! I’ve since been told this is not standard smear practice, before you cross your legs so tight you cut off all circulation. It probably does account for the delightful £90 bill though), it was totally FINE.
Quick and a low level discomfort at best. I was cringing more about the irony of the bizarre purple ‘modesty skirt’ I’d been made to wear! So if you’ve got an un-booked NHS invite at home or have been putting yours off, then tell yourself this: if Beth can do it unexpectedly on a drizzly Wednesday afternoon in South Korea, you will be fine. Book that fanny admin, ladies!
Now, enough about my vagina…
July Travel Diary – Hong Kong: noodles, naps and scrambling up a mountain
Hong Kong was scheduled as a weekend stop over to visit a friend between Seoul and Japan (yes I know that makes no geographical sense and no, I did not realise that until I’d spent triple what I needed to on flights). I’d like to say I gallivanted around the city making the most of every second, but actually I just relished being in a homely apartment for a weekend and spent an entire Sunday on the sofa ordering Deliveroo.
I did venture out long enough to eat the world’s most adorable dumplings and scramble up the side of a mountain on almost all fours. Long story: I found an ‘off the beaten track’ trail on a blog post…that was probably 5 years old because that trail had not been beaten in a long time. Was the view worth the hives? Who knows!
July Travel Diary – Japan: Capsule hotel, night bus and supermarket wine
Japan was a weird one. I’d love to say I loved it, but I didn’t. I think the reason was three-fold; I’d loved Seoul and couldn’t help but compare, I was tired of being in big cities and ready to take things back to basics and I wasn’t feeling in the best place. I let myself get totally overwhelmed by a mounting to do list, whilst simultaneously forever adding more and more to my plate.
Over a bottle of cheap supermarket wine in Tokyo and a few tears, I realised that something had to give.
Whilst in Kyoto I also had a bit of a money panic. I added up everything we’d spent so far. In hindsight, that was something I should’ve kept track of from day one, so it was entirely my own fault when the figure made me feel like I’d been punched. Throw in over five grand of long-outstanding invoices and I suddenly realised I didn’t have enough in my account. I ended up taking a chunk out my savings which didn’t feel good as I’ve always been very on top of my money (hence I had a travel fund and separate more responsible savings in the first place). I shared this on Instagram because I figured it was probably an ‘oh fuck’ moment other travellers had experienced to and I felt it was responsible to let wanna-be travellers know that there’s so much more to it than just booking a flight. Thankfully so many people were supportive, had been there themselves or were pleased to see money being spoken about honestly. One person called me a spoilt princess and obviously that was what hung over me all weekend.
I don’t regret sharing my money anxieties. It doesn’t grow on trees and often influencer culture, especially travel related, appears to imply that it does. I know how very fortunate I am to have been able to work and save enough to travel and have an emergency fund. Anyway, I dusted myself off, made a steamy date with an excel spreadsheet, downloaded a budgeting app and set some strict limits.
As someone put it well to me in a DM – this is probably the first time in my entire life I’ve ever really spent my money. I’ve earned it, I’ve saved it, I’ve bought the odd treat but I’ve never spent thousands before. Travel, even budget travel, is expensive, there’s no point beating around the bush.
July Travel Diary – Kuala Lumper: noodles and infinity pool views
Thankfully I’d already booked and paid for my night in KL before I had that realisation! In truth, it looked a lot fancier than it was and £24 a night for an infinity pool with a brilliant view was worth it in my eyes. I can’t say I saw much of the city, when I did venture out I didn’t love the vibe (I was so disappointed by the supposed Jalan Alor ‘hawker’ streetfood that I drank a 7/11 slushie for dinner instead). Instead, onto country number 4 within a month, I sunbathed and napped and tried to take things slow before what I knew would be a crazy few months in Sri Lanka, India and Nepal.
July Travel Diary – Sri Lanka: what the tuktuk?!
I landed in Sri Lanka at the end of July and have been here ever since, touring the country by tuktuk no less. I won’t waffle too much because there’s plenty of time to wax lyrical about this enchanting country. It is without a doubt one of the best places I’ve ever been!
What a month!
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