A few weeks back I returned from a four month escapade around Asia (queue crying emoticons and “take me back” Instagram posts). A few posts back, I described my experience of travelling around sunny (and also very rainy) South East Asia with lymphoedema. This post and the next will cover the second half our trip, in Far East Asia. “Our”, if you remember rightly, means Charlotte and I, and it’s important I mention Charlotte as my whole experience of travelling would be very different without her organised, caring and sometimes angrily pointing hands.
Tip: Always bring a Charlotte. Remember to provide with food and or wine.
Back in Singapore, my wonderful lymphoedema therapist recommended I detoured away from South East Asia as soon as possible due to my leg’s reaction to the weather. The heat had got to me and my stockings had started to lose their strength, so staying much longer than we did could have been disastrous.
Tip: Leave enough budget spare and don’t book anything too far in advance so you can change plans if needs be.
With that in mind, we decided to cull Laos and Cambodia from our list and decided to head to South Korea which was not only more expensive, but much, much colder.
Comparing the climates of South Korea and S.E. Asia is like comparing an ice-cube with a freshly grilled cheese sandwich. The weather dropped from 28°C to -13°C, we wore scarfs instead of swim-shorts, and we trudged through sparkling snow instead of soft, white sand. The entire contents of our rucksacks were abandoned but thankfully, due to our timely location of Hoi An, we were able to purchase faux North Face jackets, fleeces and socks before we left.
Off we flew across the East China Sea and after five hours or so, we arrived in Seoul. So, what should you expect if you’re visiting South Korea?
Firstly, it’s amazing. Alongside a fascinating history, a huge fashion scene and a booming economy, the South Koreans also have the fastest internet speed in the world, a diverse art scene and a tasty although somewhat bizarre cuisine. Their people are proud, very friendly and incredibly polite and will always engage you in conversation or point you in the right direction – even when you show no signs of being lost!
We stayed in a mixture of homestays, Air B&Bs, hostels, traditional Korean homes known as Hanoks and on one special occasion we even stayed the night in a temple with Buddhist nuns. In most buildings across SK the floors are heated and in more traditional households, the people sleep on the floor. To be fair, it is very cosy down there, especially when the snow outside is up to your waistline.
Early in the trip, we visited the Korean demilitarised zone which was a terrifying and humbling experience. We watched Black Panther with the locals in Busan, experienced our first ever VR café in Seoul and were even lucky enough to get tickets to the Winter Olympics.
If you would like any tips on things to see, do and eat in South Korea just drop me a message – I would love to share!
Travelling with Lymphoedema around South Korea
As I mentioned earlier, the change in temperature was a real shock to the system. We didn’t realise quite how cold it was until we stepped off the plane where a bitter breeze slapped us across our tanned freckly cheeks.
The circulation in my swollen leg was poor which meant acclimatising to the cold was difficult. Extremes are never good for lymphoedema, and I learned this within the first few days of our arrival. Where the lymph had gathered, most noticeably in my thigh, the limb turned extremely cold. It felt like I was walking around with a block of ice at times making it tough to walk and very uncomfortable to sit down. With icy pavements, this became even harder so I would recommend you purchase a good, fitted pair of walking boots that allow plenty of room in case of swelling. Charlotte and I also purchased plenty of hand warmers that I rubbed on my legs after lengthy spells outside.
Tip: Head to the high street store Uni Qlo (a global brand) where you can purchase thin but effective thermal trousers, vests and jumpers.
An impressive feature of Seoul is their newly built subway system. The stations sound a charming alarm before the super spacious trains with heated seats arrive. The carriages are air-conned and the locals tend to resist occupying any seating allocated for the disabled, pregnant or elderly. It seemed like a social faux par as far as we could tell. I got quite a few stares mind, but I didn’t particularly care as my leg hurt too much.
Tip: Purchase a T-money card which is a travel card accepted on most trains, buses and certain brands of taxi. It’ll save you a lot of standing around!
We also visited the national museum while in Seoul and the free tour in particular I would highly recommend. We had a great time learning about the Korean language, traditions and history but the most noticeable part for me was the museums accessibility. Wheelchairs were free to use and could be found next to a big sign making visitors aware of their existence. I wheeled myself round, careful not to knock over any ancients jars, and was able to enjoy the tour much easier without straining my already tired leg.
Over 40% of South Korea’s population lives in Seoul. It’s the place to be and it’s not hard to see why. What that does mean however, is that the rest of the country doesn’t offer quite the same experience as the capital. Don’t expect the same transport or accessibility everywhere you go and be aware that the locals rarely speak English or any other language for that matter. Plan your day in advance to avoid long waits, getting lost or any other unwanted experiences!
Have you tried kimchi? The pickled cabbage is the latest craze to hit the UK but personally I’m not sure what all the fuss is about (sorry guys). Bibimbap however really is delicious, nutritious and very filling! When visiting SK, don’t expect to recognise any of the food you see. Overall, they have a big emphasis on healthy side dishes which are quite bold in flavour. They do enjoy their fast food however and a favourite meal, especially amongst students, is fried chicken and beer. Not the best thing for lymphoedema, but certainly delicious.
Surprisingly, I became dehydrated more often in the cold than I did in the warm. The bitter weather tricks you into thinking you have consumed fluids and because you don’t sweat as much, you don’t tend to reach for your bottle every five minutes. Keep that in mind as dehydration will slow you down and worsen your lymphoedema.
Until next time, SK
For us, South Korea was unforgettable. In fact, across our whole trip Seoul took the prize for favourite city which really says a lot considering some of the incredible places we visited.
The country is blessed with proper seasons meaning if you go in the summer period you’ll likely experience extreme heat compared to our extreme cold. However, if you do decide to go in the winter, remember to wrap up snuggly, bring plenty of hand warmers and purchase a flask on arrival!
In my next post I will cover our incredible journey across Japan – stay tuned!