Hey Travel Family,
It has been another HUGE week on this #SquadSQ trip! We have seen, done and flown so much, I’m going to do my best to try and remember it all. I’m up early this lovely Friday morning, writing this to you from Singapore after a few massive days. We’ve walked so much recently my calf muscles are just one big, solid lump haha I realise I am desperately in need of a decent pair of walking sneakers for travel.
When we wrapped up TW last week, we were just about to head out for our last afternoon game drive in Sabi Sands, South Africa. I was hoping we’d get to see hippo and rhino and, you know what, we did! We even got to walk down to the hippo’s spot in the water and watch them for a little bit, from a safe distance and under the very watchful eyes of our guide, Morné and tracker, Rector. The rhino experience was amazing too! It was like being close to a dinosaur, it was absolutely huge and just mesmerising.
That night was our last night so we made the most of the amazing food at Lion Sands Game Reserve by eating as much as possible then we packed our bags, laid our clothes out for the next day and went to bed. We woke up super early for our very last game drive and when Morné asked what we wanted to see, I told him I was hoping for a male lion as we hadn’t seen one yet, just a lioness. Well, he and Rector set about finding one for us and with the help of other guides calling in their sightings, we saw one!
I wasn’t expecting it at all but as soon as I saw the lion, I felt so happy and overwhelmed I started happy crying. It was just such an amazing moment. You guys know, from reading the posts on here and following along, things can be challenging and while many people like to make it look like this kind of job is ‘perfect,’ it really isn’t. You also know I’ve had a lot going on personally this year and when I saw that lion, it was just so overwhelmingly awesome, I felt validated. I felt like every decision that had ever lead me to that point was worth it. Every moment was worth it. It was just perfect and I felt so happy, grateful and fulfilled.
I knew a safari would be amazing but I really didn’t expect what it did to me emotionally and spiritually. I’ve got a lot more I want to share about it but I’ll save that for a proper post about my safari experience so I can really get into it but, suffice to say a safari should be something on everyone’s travel bucket list. It’s one of my all-time favourite travel experiences.
We said some very heartfelt goodbye’s to Morné, Eurence, Rector and Charlotte at Lion Sands then climbed aboard a tiny little Cessna bound for Nelspruit. After a short layover and a big two hours on the wifi we flew to Johannesburg and were met by our final South African guide, April.
April is one cool guy! He speaks 11 languages, including Xhosa, the awesome one with the clicks! His energy was infectious and he jumped right into telling us about Johannesburg’s history as we drove along. We arrived at our destination, Lebo’s Backpackers in Soweto, and had a quick bite to eat before setting off on a guided TukTuk tour with a local guide. I had no idea what to expect from Soweto or the tour but quickly realised it was going to be an amazing afternoon.
As we drove along, the people of Soweto waved and said hello, greeting us with big, warm, welcoming smiles. Little kids ran out onto the streets to yell and wave, making us feel so welcome. Everywhere we went, especially when we stopped to get out and learn more from our guide, people would go out of their way to greet us and little kids would rush over. The locals made us feel like we were at home, they were so genuinely kind, loving and generous they had no trouble making us feel part of their community immediately. The little kids were gorgeous, posing for photos, chatting with us and asking to take more, more, more photos! The locals, of course, were absolutely BEAUTIFUL and everyone was happy to pose for photos and videos.
The energy in Soweto was just incredible, it re-energised Matt and I after a big day of travel and we were both smiling from ear to ear, feeling so happy and joyful. We learned a great deal about life in Soweto and, of course, about how the people here were and still are affected by apartheid. We visited Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Winnie Mandela’s homes and ended it all with unbelievable views over Soweto and beyond. It was one of those truly unexpected travel experiences you just fall in love with.
Very tired and ready to sleep, we grabbed a quick dinner of delicious pasta at Coob in Parkhurst then headed to the hotel. April picked us up early again the next morning and did a driving tour around Braamfontein followed by a trip to the Neighbourgoods market. I was expecting a local fresh produce market but it turned out to be this hidden, up-scale market service incredible local and international food, baked goods, cured meats, coffee, snacks, clothes, jewellery, accessories and more. It felt like a local showcase, offering up the best of talented creatives, whether their speciality is food, art or fashion.
Then, we drove to the airport and got ready to board our flight from Johannesburg to Seoul, via Singapore. Our time in Johannesburg was very short, with only one night to experience as much as we could. But, I feel like we got a really good sense of the area, the people who live there and learned a lot about the history. Like many travellers, I had heard some bad stories about Johannesburg and have been told that safety there is an issue. Like anywhere people travel to, it’s always important to be diligent and use common sense to look out for yourself but I just want to say there was never a single moment I felt unsafe or afraid in Johannesburg. I’ll talk about it more in a Johanessburg guide but, I believe some of the issues may be made out to be worse than they are and that people can safely travel there.
We flew to Singapore, grabbed a very quick shower and freshen up in the SilverKris lounge then boarded our flight to Seoul. Very, very tired and all messed up with time differences, we crawled out of Incheon Airport and into the transfer car, ready to meet our bed at Seoul’s Tmark Grand Hotel in Myeongdong. After a rest, we got up and grabbed a bite to eat from some local street vendors at a night market then went right back to our room to rest up.
Of course, the weather had other ideas and we woke up to a rainy day in Seoul which quickly turned into an absolute downpour. This made it impossible for us to shoot any of the outdoor activities we had planned for the day, so we decided to take it easy and do what we could around Myeongdong. We wandered the famous shopping streets in-between downpours and spent a few hours getting our feline fix at a local cat cafe. We grabbed the most creative, albeit pricey, coffee at Stylenanda’s Pink Pool Cafe followed by a delicious rose gelato. As the rain became heavier and heavier, we huddled under our umbrella and shuffled back to the hotel.
The next morning we met our local guide from South Korea’s Tourism Organisation, climbed into a car and drove North. What’s North of South Korea, you guys? Yep, you guessed it, North Korea! We did an awesome tour of the Demilitarised Zone between South and North Korea which included us being able to, very clearly, see North Korea. From our viewpoint you could spot a large statue of a former dictator, homes where people live and the city where they work. There’s also a jamming signal to stop any outside information from getting in. Then, we toured a tunnel built by Noth Korea into South Korea, in the hopes of a conducting a surprise attack. We learned so much about the Korean war and how the South Korean’s feel about the North, it was absolutely fascinating and something I highly recommend to anyone visiting Seoul.
Afterwards, we drove back to Seoul and made our way to SBS, one of South Korea’s well-known TV Stations. We met two gorgeous locals who also happen to be fashion models, social media influencers, college students and lovely people. Together with Yury and Guiae (pronounced Gooey) we went into the studio and watched the filming of a K-Pop TV Show! If you haven’t heard of it before, K-Pop (Korean Pop) is a genre of music and it’s absolutely HUGE! As Yury explained, it’s the dream of many South Korean’s to become K-Pop idols and many will work their whole lives to make it a reality. If they’re recruited into a group by an agency, they’ll work their butts off, dancing for 10 hours a day, singing for 5 hours a day and undergoing a whole lot more training to get their group to their peak. It’s a big business and it’s taking the world by storm at the moment.
We were pretty much in disbelief at the whole thing. The groups can be huge, ranging in size from 2 to 12 members, all dancing and singing perfectly. The crowd and fans go nuts when they see their favourites and some of the acts are just downright hilarious, I was laughing so hard at one point my cheeks hurt. It was one of those truly surreal experiences where Matt and I both just look at each other and think, ‘How did this happen? We working normal jobs and now we’re in the middle of Seoul, sitting in the audience, watching a K-Pop TV Show be filmed while some guy with empty beer cans strapped to his head grinds his sequin-spangled crotch on another guy.’ Safe to say, it was awesome and we loved it!
Due to the insane weather on our first day in Seoul and our entire second day spent near North Korea and K-Pop stars, we realised we were seriously lacking actual things to see, do and experience in Seoul for Little Grey Box platforms! We planned out a huge day of sightseeing and got up and at it nice and early. We pretty much had to pack in everything into the one day and, somehow, we did it! Our legs were dead and I think we both felt like our souls were going to exit our body, assume the foetal position on the shower floor and cry for a few hours, but we did it! We visited palaces, villages, shops, cafes and restaurants. We saw parks, buildings, cathedrals and gardens. We walked, we caught the subway and we walked some more. My legs may never be the same again!
We woke up very, very early yesterday morning and drove back to Incheon airport to fly back to Singapore. Our time in Seoul was quite short but we had so much fun. I loved the cafe culture, with loads of unique ways to enjoy your coffee, whether it be crafted into something beautiful or in the company of animals. I also loved the historical aspects of the city, from the traditional houses on the streets of Bukchon Hanok Village or the jaw-droppingly beautiful palace structures. Matt was taken back by the sheer size of Seoul, I don’t think either of us was quite prepared for how big it is! It’s just huge! We both loved it and it’s definitely one of our favourite cities in Asia.
Yesterday afternoon we made our way from Changi Airport to our hotel before doing a walking tour of Singapore (my legs!) I don’t have the photos downloaded and ready to go yet so I’ll save the Singapore part of TW for next week and catch you up on everything that happened yesterday and all the things that go down over the next few days as our #SquadSQ reunites and we find out how everyone’s adventures went in different parts of the world. I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone and, of course, eating a lot more Singaporean food over the next few days.
If you want to catch up on everything we got up to, you can head to Instagram where I’ve shared some photos and, of course, all my Insta-Stories are saved to my Highlights so you can see loads more photos and see more detail on what we’ve been up to. You can see my Instagram highlights here.
Have a great weekend and I’ll talk to you next Friday with a Singapore update.
Love you, Phoebe x
Watch the brand new video up on our YouTube channel this week!
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.