Hadrian’s Wall Walk – West to East

Hadrian's Wall Path

Hadrian’s Wall Path

“We walked across England!” – Walking Hadrian’s Wall, West to East

• Bowness-on-Solway • Carlisle • Banks • Old Repeater Station • Halton Red House • Newcastle-upon-Tyne • Wallsend •

The day finally arrived for our first long distance walk, west to east on Hadrian’s Wall National Trail in England. Hadrian’s Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built in 122 AD by Roman soldiers, under the orders of the Emperor Hadrian. The path follows this stone wall across England from coast to coast, so we could say “we walked across England!” This path seemed doable for our first walk – but still a challenge. Most walk Hadrian’s Wall east to west, but our route was west to east, so we would have the prevailing winds at our back.

According to my Hadrian’s Wall T-shirt, the trail is 136 km (84 miles), with 80 milecastles and six Roman forts. The actual length is probably a bit longer when you go off the path for accommodations, detours, food or fort visits. We decided to complete the walk in 6 days. If you are planning your own Hadrian’s Wall walk, see below for more specific tips and resources, and info about our hiking gear. Here’s how our walk went!

Day 1: Bowness-on-Solway to Carlisle

31 km

It was a perfect June morning to begin our walk, with blue sunny skies. We arrived in Carlisle a couple days earlier to have time to explore the city, and recover from jetlag. For the first section we had to take bus #93 to the path’s start at Bowness-on-Solway, then walk back to our Carlisle hotel for one more night.

Bowness-on-Solway is a peaceful village on the Solway Firth. The cute homes here don’t have addresses, but names like Silver Hill, and the White House. We saw the well-known local pub, The Kings Arms, but it doesn’t open until 4pm, which is too late for most west to east walkers.

And so it begins!

7040 miles from home. Across the firth is Scotland.

The official start of Hadrian’s Wall Path is at a small shack along the Firth, which opens into the Irish Sea. At this point the firth is also the border between England and Scotland. The path begins fairly flat with a long stretch along the firth, and lots of birds.

Early on this first section there was an interesting man who had made a road sign, which he updated for each walker to mark the distance to their hometown.

On the first day, there was no actual wall to be seen…at least not in its original form.  After the Romans left the wall was no longer in use, so people used stones from the wall for their own construction needs. An example of this is St Michael’s Church, in Burgh-by-Sands. This 12th century church was built on the foundation of a Roman Fort, with stones from the wall. In 1307 Edward I was brought here to lie in state after being killed during the uprising of Robert the Bruce. It is one of many churches and other attractions to see along the path.

St Michael's Church, Burgh-by-Sands: This 12th century church was built on the foundation of a Roman Fort, with stones from the wall. In 1307 Edward I was brought here to lie in state after being killed during the uprising of Robert the Bruce.

The 12th century St Michael’s Church, in Burgh-by-Sands, was built on the foundation of a Roman Fort, with stones from the wall.

Although we didn’t see remains of the actual wall, there was a lot to make this part of the walk interesting, from listening to birds in the wetlands, cute villages, wooded areas and pastures.

The first of many cows we would meet along the path.

We saw a lot more cows and sheep along the path than people.

Hadrian's Wall gate

Much of the path goes through private property, and there’s an amazing variety of ways to cross through gates or over walls. The acorn on the post is the symbol of Hadrian’s wall path.

Walking into Carlisle we encountered a detour due to the devastating flood in early 2016. By the time we reached our hotel again we had walked 31 km, tired but happy to have completed our first leg. It’s worth spending a day in Carlisle to explore the small city and its castle.

Day 2: Carlisle to Banks

27 km

The Eden Bridge, Carlisle

The Eden Bridge, Carlisle

This morning we rejoined the path at the Eden Bridge, and for the first while the it followed the River Eden. The path leaving Carlisle was beautiful, down a long aisle of spring flowers.

June is a great month for wildflowers along the path.

Wildflowers along the path in June.

The Stall-on-the-Wall honesty box.

The famous Stall-on-the-Wall honesty box.

After a couple of hours, we came across the “famous Stall-on-the-Wall”, which is an honesty box filled with assorted chocolate bars, chips and other treats to maintain your strength during the walk. There are a few of these fun stations along Hadrian’s Path, so if you go bring some small change or bills to enjoy them. One even had a small freezer with ice cream bars.

Much of Hadrian’s Wall path goes right through farmer’s fields, so we passed by lots of sheep, cattle and horses. We enjoyed seeing them, and most animals watched us with mild interest, but this cow right beside the path was a little intimidating. We went off the path to give it as much space as possible, and Darrell promised it he would cut back on beef.


This cow was a little intimidating.

a nice path

After walking 20km we appreciated the comfy wood chips on this path.

Near the end of day two we came across the first substantial section of the wall. It was a fantastic day, but my feet began to protest and I got some nasty blisters. After the last steep hill we were both VERY happy to to reach the Quarryside B&B. After listening to our moans, our host, Elizabeth, asked how far we walked that day, then burst out laughing, “Is that all?”

Hadrian's Wall

Finally, Hadrian’s Wall!

Our Quarryside B&B room with a view

Quarryside B&B room with a view.

The Belted Will Inn, Hallbankgate

The Belted Will Inn, Hallbankgate

Our ensuite room at Quarryside was lovely and spacious with a view of the country. After a short rest, the Elizabeth’s husband drove us to the Belted Will Inn for a pub dinner.  I had a tasty fish pie and Darrell had steak pie, in spite of his promise to the cows earlier that day. After our delicious dinner the pub owner gave us a ride back to our B&B.

Day 3: Banks to Old Repeater Station

27 km (completed 14 km)

Day three started with an excellent breakfast at our B&B, including their own farm fresh eggs and local sausages. We also took Elizabeth up on her option of a packed lunch.

A Milecastle at Hadrian's Wall

A Milecastle at Hadrian’s Wall

Before setting out, I doctored my feet with Second Skin, Compeed, and duct tape. With them fully covered they didn’t feel too bad. The weather had become misty with some rain, but we were prepared with rain coats and covers for our backpacks.  The cooler temperatures were pleasant to walk in so we didn’t mind at all. This section of the path is hilly, very picturesque, and we were seeing a lot more of the wall.

Ready to walk Hadrian's Wall Path - rain or shine!

Ready to walk Hadrian’s Wall Path – rain or shine!

A section of the trail through a quiet woods.

A section of the trail through a quiet woods.

Turret 49B. Two small watchtowers, or turrets, were built between each milecastle.

Turret 49B. Two small watchtowers, or turrets, were built between each milecastle.

Birdoswald, one of the best preserved Roman forts on Hadrian's Wall.

Birdoswald, one of the best preserved Roman forts on Hadrian’s Wall.


After about an hour, we reached Birdoswald, one of the best preserved Roman forts on the wall and well worth a stop.

A short time later we arrived at these remains of the Roman Willowford Bridge, which originally crossed the River Irthing. Over time the course of the river changed so these remains are a distance apart from the current modern bridge.

Remains of the Roman Willowford Bridge

Remains of the Roman Willowford Bridge

Some super-cute lambs frolicking on the hill.

Some super-cute lambs frolicking on the hill.

Despite the beautiful scenery, my feet could only make it about 14 km. While walking to a bus stop, a couple of local ladies in an  SUV stopped to ask if we needed a ride. They had noticed me hobbling, and we gladly accepted their ride to our next B&B.

At the Old Repeater Station we had a nice welcome from our host, Les. The room was a small ensuite with a comfortable bed and cozy bedding. There is also a comfortable common lounge and dining room. Les made a delicious dinner for us and his other guests, served family style at his big table. I had steak pie and Darrell had lasagne, served with bowls of mashed potatoes, vegetables and bread.

Day 4: Old Repeater Station to Halton Red House

23 km (Instead, Housesteads Roman Fort to Carrawburgh Temple of Mithras: 10 km)

After another hearty full English breakfast (and a few more packages of Compeed and Second Skin) we were ready for day four.

The previous day we had cut the walk short and missed some of the most spectacular sections, so we took a bus back a few miles to begin our day at Housesteads, the most complete Roman fort in Britain. We were glad to see the fort, and the dramatic landscape in this section was a highlight of our walk.

Housesteads Roman Fort

Housesteads Roman Fort

The path follows the best preserved section of the wall up and down steep hills, with spectacular views. The ground here is steep and very uneven, but with our hiking boots and walking poles it was a pleasure. This was the busiest section of the path with a lot of day walkers, but not at all overly-crowded.

Rugged terrain and spectacular views on day four.

Rugged terrain and spectacular views on day four.

We were only able to make it 10 km, to Carrawburgh, Temple of Mithras, then I had to stop again because of my feet. So we took a bus to Chollerford, then a taxi to our next B&B, Halton Red House Farm. At this point we changed our goal to walk at least 100 km of the trail. My disappointment at cutting short another day’s walk was soon forgotten when we arrived at Halton Red House Farm, another lovely B&B. Our hostess Sheila drove us to a nearby pub where we had another excellent, hearty meal.

Day 5: Halton Red House to Newcastle

27 km (completed 17 km)

After a perfect English breakfast we set off again towards our next stop at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. On day five the rugged terrain was behind us, and the hills flattened to gently rolling farmland that looked beautiful even on this rainy day.

Leaving our pretty B&B, Halton Red House Farm

Leaving our pretty B&B, Halton Red House Farm

A pleasant walk on a grass path.

A pleasant walk on a grass path.

After about 5 km we came across the Robin Hood Inn, where we decided to stop in for an excellent scone with cream and jam.

The Robin Hood Bar & Restaurant

The Robin Hood Bar & Restaurant…

where we had an excellent scone.

…where we had an excellent scone.

We walked 17 km, then stopped at the Three Tuns pub at Heddon-on-the-Wall, then again because of my sad feet, took a taxi to our hotel in Newcastle.

Day 6: Newcastle to Wallsend

8 km

On our final day we hired an Uber driver to take us from Newcastle to Wallsend, which is the eastern terminus of Hadrian’s Wall path. We then walked west back to Newcastle. At Wallsend is the Segedunum Roman Fort and museum. We didn’t visit the museum, but we did go up their tower which looks over the former fort, and has a good video explaining the history of the site through the ages.

The bridges of Newcastle-upon-Tyne

The bridges of Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Then we walked the 8 km back to Newcastle, which is a very nice urban path once you get past the first bit at Wallsend. Coming into the city the path follows the River Tyne, with Newcastle’s interesting buildings and bridges.

So in the end, we walked 107 km of Hadrian’s Wall path, coast to coast, but with 36km skipped across days 3 to 5.

The only real discomfort was from blisters on my feet. In hindsight I think I caused this by having a pedicure a couple weeks before our walk, which may have made my feet look pretty, but also removed callouses that probably would have been a layer of protection for a long walk. Otherwise, we both felt good, and the hills even became easier as we went. It was a great experience as our first long distance walk, and I’m already thinking of where we could walk next.

The Hadrian’s Wall National Trail itself was fantastic, with a great variety of landscapes as well as the famous wall and Roman forts.  It was a pleasure to get to know the area up close, walking through the many farms, villages or wilderness areas. There are more attractions than we had time for along the way, including Roman forts, and also churches, museums, and villages.

Planning your own Hadrian’s Wall walk

Two resources that helped immensely in planning our trip:

  • The National Trail website: They have a map that was a great help in finding accommodations along the wall.
  • Hadrian’s Wall Path guidebook, by Gordon Simm and Jacquetta Megarry, helped in planning the trip, and kept us on track during the walk.

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Hadrians Wall pin


Getting ready for our Hadrian’s Wall walk

We spent today in Carlisle, Cumbria, excited to begin our coast-to-coast walk across England via the Hadrian’s Wall National Pathway. This trail runs from Bowness on Solway in the west, to Wallsend, east of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Carlisle Castle

Carlisle Castle, which is along Hadrian’s Wall.

I’ve dreamed of doing an epic hike for a while. This is far from a 500 mile Camino, but it is our first multi-day hike. Hopefully all goes well and it won’t be our last – if only to make use of all the gear we acquired in preparation for the trip. After the walk I’ll post a complete itinerary, including a list of all our gear, and what we used and what we didn’t.


Walking Poles


Our Route

Hadrian’s Wall National Trail follows the line of Hadrian’s Wall, 84 miles from coast to coast in northern England. It typically takes about a week to complete.

We’ve planned to complete the walk in six days, mainly because that’s how it worked out booking our accommodations. There are limited options for rooms near the path, so reservations must be made in advance of the trip. I’m looking forward to staying in these small B&B’s, and finding some interesting pubs for dinner along the way.

Our walk begins tomorrow, so I’ll let you know how it goes!

About Hadrian’s Wall

The Wall is one of Britain’s most impressive Roman sites. It forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site ‘Frontiers of the Roman Empire.

The Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the wall built in about 117AD as the northern border for Roman Britain. It was a massive project, taking about 15,000 soldiers to build. Along the wall there were 80 milecastles, as well as many observation towers and forts.

Calgary Summer Festivals

Calgary 2019 Summer Festivals

When warmer weather approaches Calgarians are ready to burst out and celebrate. For the summer of 2019 there are dozens of festivals and events for every age and interest. Whether you live here or are visiting, check out this roundup of some of the best summer festivals in Calgary.

Calgary summer festivals

The 4th Street Lilac Festival

June 2, 2019, 10am to 6pm

  • This free one day event is the start up to Calgary’s vibrant festival season.  
  • Enjoy the unique and pedestrian friendly 4th Street venue, offering an array of musical talent, artisan vendors, quality entertainment and some perfect people watching.
  • There are six stages hosting over 30 performances throughout the day, and over 500 vendors that vary from artisan crafts to street food.
  • website

Sled Island Music Festival

June 19-23, 2019

  • The annual Sled Island festival features over 250 bands plus film, comedy and art across 30+ venues in Calgary!
  • website

Calgary Stampedechampios-buckle-up

July 5 – 14, 2019

  • At the biggest festival of all, the whole city joins in the world famous Calgary Stampede.
  • Parade, rodeo, midway, music, and food.
  • Events throughout the city including numerous free pancake breakfasts with entertainment.
  • website

Calgary Folk Music Festivalcow-bg

July 25 – 28, 2019

  • The 4oth annual Calgary Folk Music Festival at Prince’s Island Park features acts from around the globe on multiple stages.
  • The festival includes an interactive family area, international craft market, global culinary delights, a record tent and tree-shaded beer garden.
  • Over 70 artists present roots, blues, world music, funk, country, and bluegrass.
  • website


July 27 & 28, 2019

  • Pet-A-Palooza is a FREE family-friendly and pet-friendly festival.
  • Bring your pet to sample treats & food. Shop for toys, collars, coats and beds! And best of all get hooked up with FREE SWAG!!
  • Join us at Eau Claire to meet over 80 exhibitors, local rescues, listen to live music, check out Running of the Bulls – French and English Bulldog Races! And, you did what with your wiener?! Raced em’! New this year wiener dog races!
  • website

Calgary International Blues Festival

July 29 – August 4, 2019

  • The Calgary Bluesfest takes place at Shaw Millenium Park, offering non-stop mainstage performances, a beer tent and nightly dance parties that run late into the night.
  • This family friendly event draws audience members from around the world, who enjoy the grass-roots feel and fun for all.
  • Also check out the Calgary Mid-winter Bluesfest running February 25 – March 2, 2019.
  • For an up-to-date artist line-up visit the festival website

Inglewood SunfestfooterLogo

August 3, 2019

  • A summer festival in the heart of historic Inglewood, with activity for all ages.
  • Street performers, music, unique shopping, and food outlets.
  • website

Expo Latino Festival

August TBA

  • Celebrate Latin Culture at Calgary’s hottest outdoor festival experience.
  • World-class performers, sizzling dancing, exotic foods, arts and crafts, and more.  In the heart of Calgary’s downtown at Prince’s Island Park.
  • website

Marda Gras Street Festivalcta-mask

Sunday, August 11, 2019

  • The streets of Marda Loop will come alive at this 32nd annual New Orleans themed festival.
  • Purple, green and gold pageantry; a variety of high quality cultural performers, dance groups and musicians; outdoor activities; and a wide variety of delicious cuisine draws kids of all ages.
  • website

Opera in the Village

August TBA

  • Calgary Opera is the only opera company in Canada with an annual outdoor summer opera festival. In 2019 Calgary’s East Village RiverWalk Plaza will once again be filled with music as Calgary Opera presents an abridged production of Carmen.
  • website


August 15 – 24, 2019

  • An international fireworks festival and celebration of Calgary’s diverse cultural; with cultural pavilions, ethnic food booths and a night market.
  • website

The Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF)

September 18-29, 2019

  • Watch up to 200 multi-genre feature and short films all over the world. The festival also hosts gala events, movie screenings in several Calgary theatres, and special presentations to bring out an entertaining and educational 12 days each fall.

    Local Tip: Fans and local filmmakers can get the chance to interact with each other through the Behind the Screen series.

  • website


September 18-22, 2019

  • Science and engineering meets art and entertainment, and is on display across Calgary for five days, rain or shine. Experience large-scale mechanical public art, celebrations of space, concerts, performances, science-themed culinary creations, hands-on workshops, bizarre vehicles, and spontaneous acts of technical and digital artworks popping up in unexpected places.
  • website

For information on even more Calgary festivals, check out www.visitcalgary.com.

Bluke the cat

How to travel with your cat to Korea

Most people don’t travel internationally with their cat, but we recently brought Bluke from Calgary, Alberta to Seoul, South Korea. Here are a few of our cat travel tips.

Competa, Andelucia, Spain

Travel Inspiration 2019

I don’t know about you, but I get almost as much feel good mileage from travel planning as from the trip itself.

A few years ago, a study from the Netherlands found that vacationers were generally happier than non-vacationers – not necessarily after a holiday, but before the holiday, while planning and anticipating their vacation.

So I’ve been looking at travel trends, and dreaming and planning for our next trip. If you haven’t started planning your next vacation, here’s some travel inspiration for 2019 so you can take advantage of this pre-trip happiness.

Travel hot spots “off the beaten path”

Although this is an oxymoron, a lot of people want to go where the other traveling masses haven’t settled in yet.

Havana, Cuba

Havana, Cuba | photo by Michael Gaylard / CC BY

For Canadians, Cuba has been a popular sun vacation for years, but we haven’t made it there yet.

It’s great that more travelers can now safely visit formerly off-limits countries such as Cuba and Columbia. I’ve even seen Iran on some recent must-see lists. Through Instagram, I’ve seen how interesting and beautiful that country is, and I would love to visit, but today it’s still too difficult and dangerous for me. During my lifetime, the same would have been said about countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia, and today they are top tourist destinations, so maybe someday.

Getting away from it all, but closer to nature

South Georgia Island

Finding that undiscovered gem means different things to different people, but as people are traveling more than ever, you might have to go further to get “off the beaten path”. Getting closer to nature on a safari in African, elephant sanctuary in Thailand or tiger spotting in India are bucket list kind of adventures.  Lately I’ve noticed more travelers are also visiting very remote Arctic or Antarctic locations, such as Greenland or South Georgia Island, where humans are outnumbered by polar bears or penguins.

South Georgia Island

South Georgia Island | photo by nomis-simon / CC BY

In case you don’t know about South Georgia Island (which I didn’t), it’s part of the Falkland Islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean. Visiting South Georgia Island is a bucket-list expedition that looks awesome but is pretty pricey. Maybe someday!

Jasper National Park, Alberta

For spectacular mountains, outdoor adventures and plenty of wildlife, I recommend Jasper, Alberta – and with the current low Canadian dollar it’s a bargain. For the best prices and to avoid crowds, try to travel outside peak times in July/August.

Black bear in Jasper National Park

A black bear we spotted in Jasper National Park.

Jasper National Park is also one of the world’s largest accessible Dark Sky Preserves, and one of the best places to view stars and northern lights. The Jasper Dark Sky Festival is held each October. And getting to Jasper…via the the Icefield Parkway from Banff is one of the world’s most unforgettable road trips.

Speaking of road trips…

One of the best ways to put some distance between yourself and the traveling masses is by taking a road trip. A lot of travelers only take road trips locally, but internationally it’s a great option as well. Having a car gives you the freedom to stop at those interesting places not so accessible by public transport. If there are two or more of you, it can also be one of the least expensive ways of getting around.

Travel Inspiration 2016, Competa, Andalucia, Spain

Stopping at a mosaic-embellished bench to take in the view of the white hill-town of Competa in Andalucia, Spain.

A Spanish Road Trip

A couple years ago we took a road trip through south and eastern Spain. Along our planned route were a lot of places we had not heard about, and it was wonderful having the freedom to stop and explore.

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden | photo by Thomas Fabian  / CC BY

A Scandinavian Road Trip?

We recently visited Stockholm, but a road trip might be a great way to see more of Sweden, as well as Denmark and Norway. These are relatively expensive countries, so we would have to figure out some ways to stretch our budget.

Alternates to the most popular big cities

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal | photo by Rustam Aliyev / CC BY


One way of stretching your European vacation budget is to visit alternatives to the most popular destinations like Paris or Rome. Portugal is a great example, being one of Europe’s least expensive countries, but with great architecture, food and culture. Other options might be the Le Marche region of Italy, or Eastern European countries such as Hungary or Montenegro. While still popular with travelers, some of these options are less busy, and less expensive.

Hokkaido, Japan

Tokyo is a must-see if you are visiting Japan, but for something completely different, check out the mountainous northern island of Hokkaido. It’s a popular recommendation this year, as the Hokkaido Shinkansen high-speed train from Tokyo will begin service in March. Hokkaido is known for it’s wilderness areas with outdoor activities such as skiing or hiking, and Sapporo’s famous snow festival with enormous ice sculptures. Hokkaido is also a great food destination, with fresh seafood, dairy, produce and delicious local dishes such as soup curry. If you go to Hokkaido, be sure to visit Otaru, a picturesque small harbor city northwest of Sapporo. In addition to the rail link, it’s easy to fly from Tokyo Haneda to Sapporo with more than 80 flights per day.

Food in Hokkaido

Food in Hokkaido | Light and delicious cheesecake in Sapporo, and fresh grilled shellfish in Otaru.

More dream destinations for 2019

  • MATERA, ITALY and PLOVDIV, BULGARIA | In 2019, Matera and Plovdiv are the European Capitals of Culture.
  • ARLES, FRANCE The town famous for Vincent Van Gogh is getting a major new arts venue which features the Luma Arles tower by Frank Gehry.
  • SINGAPORE | More famous this year after the success of Crazy Rich Asians

So if you haven’t planned your vacation yet it’s time to start dreaming!
Where would you like to go in 2019?

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Travel Inspiration


Our New Zealand visit to Middle Earth

Nestled in rolling green hills on New Zealand’s North Island is the Hobbiton Movie Set, used to film the “Shire” scenes in JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (“LOTR”) movies.  I’m a fan, so a visit to the real Middle Earth was a must-do on our first trip to New Zealand.

In search of the Shire

Our view flying into Auckland.

Even before our flight landed in Auckland, we thought New Zealand looked perfect for the Shire.

The Shire is a charming country village in Tolkien’s fictional Middle Earth that is home to the hobbits. Although Tolkien was inspired by locations in Switzerland and England, Peter Jackson would be filming LOTR in his native New Zealand. Finding the right location for the Shire was vital, as it represented the good in the world worth fighting for.

In 1998, LOTR location scouts were doing an aerial search when they came upon the Alexander family’s 1250 acre sheep and cattle farm just outside Matamata, which looked perfect for the Shire.

The Alexander farm and location of the Shire at the Hobbiton Movie Set.

The idyllic setting of the Alexander farm, and location of the Shire at the Hobbiton Movie Set.

Matamata is a rural farming town about 2.5 hours southeast of Auckland, near the base of the scenic Kaimai Mountain Ranges. Peter Jackson himself went to the farm to seek permission from the owner, but was told to come back after the rugby game he was watching ended. Mr. Alexander had never heard of LOTR, but apparently his sons had and they persuaded him to allow the filming on his farm.

Homes for hobbits

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

For LOTR, 39 hobbit holes were created from untreated wood and polystyrene. The oak tree that overlooks Bag End was transported in and artificial leaves were wired onto the tree. Filming began December 1999 and continued for three months, and that was going to be the end of the set. The Shire set was not built to last but fans of Tolkien and Lord of the Rings flocked to the New Zealand movie locations.

In 2009 a rebuild of Hobbiton began for the filming of The Hobbit, this time using permanent materials. The process took two years to complete and Hobbiton is now a permanent attraction with 44 hobbit holes, gardens, a bridge, mill and The Green Dragon Inn. The Shire scenes for The Hobbit were filmed in only 12 days, but today it’s one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions, with more than one million visitors. Each hobbit hole is unique, with details like picnics laid out on a table and hobbit clothes hanging on the line.

Our New Zealand visit to Middle Earth

The Hobbiton Movie Set tour begins with a short narrated bus ride through the farm down into the valley where the hobbit holes are found. In the photo below is the most famous hobbit hole, Bag End, which was the home of Bilbo Baggins, then of Frodo Baggins, and eventually of Samwise Gamgee and his wife Rosie Cotton. The Lord of the Rings opens with Bilbo preparing for his 111th birthday party, and as the sign indicates, he was busy with preparations.

Bag End, home of Bilbo Baggins.

Bag End, home of Bilbo Baggins, who was busy preparing for his 111th birthday.

Bilbo’s birthday took place in a field dominated by a large “party tree”, so a magnificent tree was needed for the movie’s party scene. As you can see the Alexander farm also had the perfect “party tree”.

the party tree

The party tree.

The hobbit holes have unique details in the windows and gardens.

No filming took place inside these hobbit holes, but there are still unique details in the windows and gardens.

This is the cozy home of my favourite hobbit, Samwise “Sam” Gamgee and his wife Rosie. Sam was Frodo’s companion and one of the most courageous and honourable hobbits.

The home of Samwise and Rosie.

The home of Sam and Rosie is especially lovely as Sam was a gardener.

Details of each hobbit hole give clues to the relative wealth and occupation of each resident.

Details of each hobbit hole give clues to the relative wealth and occupation of the resident.

In LOTR The Green Dragon Inn was the local meeting place for hobbits, and stopping for a pint is part of the Hobbiton tour experience. Interior scenes of the Inn were filmed in Wellington studios, but the interior has been recreated. As part of the Hobbiton tour, guests receive a complimentary ale, cider or non-alcoholic ginger beer, brewed locally for the Hobbiton Movie Set. Food such as scones and meat pies are also available for purchase.

The Green Dragon Inn

Stopping for a pint of ale at the Green Dragon Inn.

Inside the Green Dragon Inn

Feeling like a part of Middle Earth, inside the Green Dragon Inn with a cider and a scone.

Our New Zealand visit to Middle Earth

The property is still farmed today by the Alexander family, with approximately 13,000 sheep and 300 Angus beef cattle.


For fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings this Middle Earth tour is a New Zealand must-do. Even if you aren’t familiar with the books or movies, the Hobbiton Movie Set is still enjoyable both for the behind-the-scenes stories, and its idyllic setting.


“Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.”

Recited by Bilbo upon his return to the Shire.

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

How to Visit Hobbiton Movie Set

  • Book your Hobbiton Movie set tour in advance.
  • The only way to visit is via a two-hour guided bus/walking tour. Your guide will escort you through the twelve acre site, with stories of how the movie set was created and used.
  • Address: 501 Buckland Rd, Hinuera, Matamata, New Zealand
  • Hobbiton Movie Set Tour Prices – Adult (17+): $79.00, Youth (9-16yrs): $39.50, Child (0-8yrs): Free with adult.
  • The walking portion of the tour is easy, but sensible footwear is recommended.
  • Check online for discounted pricing, especially if you need transport to the Hobbiton location. (I found discounted pricing on Expedia.)
  • There is a cafe and a souvenier shop onsite at the Shires Rest entrance.
  • Hobbiton is about 2.5 hours by car from Auckland, or about 45 minutes from where we were staying in Tauranga.
  • Visit the Hobbiton Movie Set website for more information.

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Have you been to Middle Earth?

Bukchon Hanok Village

Exploring Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul

Bukchon Hanok Village (북촌) is a historic residential area north of central Seoul between the Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung palaces. Today Bukchon contains almost 900 traditional Korean houses (hanoks) and is a great place to find traditional Korean architecture in modern Seoul.

A view of modern Seoul from Bukchon Hanok Village.

Over the rooftops of Bukchon is a view of modern Seoul, with the Seoul Tower on Namsan Mountain.

Bukchon (which means “North Town”) backs onto the mountains, giving it hilly streets and great views. It’s a wonderful place to wander through the narrow streets and alleys, appreciating the craftsmanship and simple beauty of the hanoks.

A very brief history of Bukchon

Bukchon Village was formed during the early Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1910) and was originally home to noble families and high-ranking officials. During a housing shortage in the early 20th century, larger plots of land were filled in with smaller homes. These are called reformed hanoks, as they incorporate modern materials such as glass and western tiles. In the 1970s developers began tearing down hanoks to replace them with modern structures. But recently Seoul has recognized Bukchon for its cultural significance, and the hanoks are appreciated and preserved.

What is a hanok?

A hanok is a home built in a traditional Korean style of architecture. Han means Korea, and hanok literally means Korean house. Hanoks are similar in appearance to other Asian structures, but there are differences that make them uniquely Korean. Although palaces are highly decorated, hanoks are usually left natural. They blend in very well with natural surroundings, as they are constructed of wood, stone, and paper, with a tile roof.

Bukchon hanok

Hanoks are also characterized by deep eaves.

Girls in traditional Korean dress (Hanbok) for a special occasion.

Girls in traditional Korean dress (Hanbok) for a special occasion.

Ondol and Maru

A main feature of hanoks is the efficient combination of ondol and maru floors that keep the temperature comfortable in Seoul’s variable weather. Ondol is a heated stone floor that keeps the occupants warm in cold months and maru is a raised wooden floor that remain cool in hot weather. Rooms often surround an inner courtyard. The maru room is usually in the center of the home, and is like a living room, larger, and used for receiving guests. Its wooden floor is raised so air circulates keeping it cool in hot weather. Sliding doors and hinged doors are able to open for circulation or close for warmth and privacy. The ondol rooms are off the maru room and used for sleeping and eating.

Ondol floors have existed in Korea since prehistoric times, and are made up of large stones covered by clay. Under the floor are flues that carry hot air from a fireplace in the adjoining kitchen. The kitchen is slightly lower so the hot air rises through the flues to the chimney on the other side of the ondol floor, heating the large stones. These stones retain heat for hours heating the room and keeping the occupants cozy.

In Korea today, even modern high-rise apartments usually have heated floors. The floor may be heated with hot-water pipes heated by gas or electricity, but are inspired by the traditional ondol system. Warm floors are part of the reason Koreans often sit and sleep on cushions directly on the floor. Because they sit on the floor, Koreans always remove their shoes before entering a home.

Hanoks are constructed mainly with wood, stone, and clay.

Hanoks are constructed mainly with wood, stone, and clay.

Hanoks are also characterized by deep eaves, which create shade in the summer when the sun is high, but allows the sunlight to enter in the winter when it is lower on the horizon. Because of space limits, eaves in reformed hanoks are more compact.

In a traditional hanok, interior surfaces, windows and doors are covered with hanji, a strong, translucent paper made from the mulberry tree. It has the benefit of insulating the room while letting in sunlight. Today many hanoks have added modern materials such as glass in the outer windows.

If you really want to immerse yourself in Korean culture you can rent a room (often including breakfast) in a hanok. The lady who runs this soon-to-be-opened Bukchon guest house (below) let us take a peek inside. For myself I prefer western beds, but it would be fun to spend one night.

The inner courtyard of a Bukchon hanok.

The lady who runs this soon-to-be-opened Bukchon guesthouse let us take a peek inside.

Bukchon traditional tea house, with a mountain view.

We stopped for a break in this traditional tea house, which takes full advantage of the mountain view.

Bukchon is a living residential neighbourhood and most hanoks are people's homes.

Although they welcome visitors, Bukchon is a living residential neighbourhood and most hanoks are people’s homes.

Sometimes tourists are a problem in the area, so please respect peoples privacy and don’t make too much noise, especially if you are walking through in the evening. Although visitors are welcome, Bukchon is a living residential neighbourhood and most hanoks are people’s homes. 

Today in Bukchon there is a charming contrast between the old and new, and the galleries, restaurants and tea houses make it a popular spot for both Seoulites and visitors.

A modern art gallery in Bukchon.

A modern art gallery in Bukchon.

Folk art in Bukchon.

Folk art in Bukchon.

How to get to Bukchon Hanok Village

By subway:

  • Anguk Station (Line 3), Exit 2. (5-minute walk) About one block straight ahead is a tourist information center where you can pick up a Bukchon walking map.
  • Jongo Station (Line 1, 3 & 5), Exit 6. (10-minute walk)

Want to see more traditional Korean architecture?

Nearby you can also visit:

  • Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in 1395, which was the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty.
  • Changdeokgung Palace and Secret Garden (UNESCO World Heritage)
  • The Korean Furniture Museum
  • The Blue House, which is the executive office and official residence of the South Korean President.
  • Insadong: a trendy area with antiques shops, artisan goods, galleries, cafes and restaurants. The main street is Insadong-gil with smaller alleys and roads connecting to it.

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Things to do in Busan, South Korea

About 300 km southeast of Seoul is the South Korean port city of Busan (부산). The city has so much to offer with its beautiful South Sea coastline, sandy beaches, mountains, as well as the fun of Korean food and culture—yet the city is under the radar of most western travelers.

Many Koreans and Asian tourists come here to vacation, but the city is under the radar of most western travelers.

A Few Facts:

  • Busan is South Korea’s second largest city, with about 3.6 million residents.
  • Busan is the largest port in South Korea and the fifth busiest container port in the world.
  • Although Busan is a big city, it feels more laid back than Seoul
  • There are three major beaches in the city: Haeundae, Gwangalli and Songdo.
  • Busan hosts many popular festivals, such as the Haeundae Sand Festival, the Busan Sea Festival, and the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF).
  • The quickest and easiest way to Busan from Seoul is by KTX train, which takes less than three hours.

We recently spent some time in Busan, and here are some of our best experiences.

Strolling along Haeundae Beach

Haeundae’s 1.5 km strip of golden sand is the most famous beach in South Korea. There are numerous hotels, guest houses and restaurants right across the street, and if you visit there’s a good chance you’ll be staying in this area.

Chuseok is an important family holiday, so many vacationers were families, and the beach quieter than usual.

During high season Haeundae’s sandy beach is covered with umbrellas, and has even achieved a Guiness World record in that category. We visited in the shoulder season near the end of September, during Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving), when it was much quieter. The weather was beautiful, and still warm enough to walk along the water’s edge. The beach is clean and safe to visit both day and in the evening.

▶ Getting there: Subway Line 2 to Haeundae Station (Exit 5), then it’s about 500 metres to the beach.

Sea Life Busan Aquarium

Right on Haeundae beach is the Sea Life Busan Aquarium, which is much bigger than it looks and spread over 3 underground levels. It is home to more than 35,000 species of fish, algae, reptiles, and amphibians. The aquarium is known for its conservation work including the rescue and release of sea turtles. More information and discounts are available on their website.

Fireworks, Chicken and Beer

The magical night view of Haeundae Beach from our Airbnb apartment.

One of our favourite Busan experiences was our evening of fireworks and a picnic on Haeundae Beach. We purchased a pack of fireworks for a few dollars from a convenience store along with some beer, and some fried chicken from one of the many take-out places (try the spicy sauce). (Chicken and beer is a very popular Korean combo made even more so by the drama, “My Love from the Star” as it was the favorite food of the drama’s heroine.) (Yes, I’m a Korean drama fan)

We headed to the beach and ate our picnic watching others setting off fireworks towards the sea, then set off our own.  

Lunch at Haeundae market

A fun place for lunch just across the street from the beach is the Haeundae Market. Along with the fresh vegetables, seafood and kimchi are inexpensive restaurants and stalls selling street food. We had some excellent dumplings in a small restaurant.

Walk around Dongbaek Park

walkway around Dongbaek Park

The walkway around Dongbaek Park.

Dongbaek is a lovely park next to Haeundae beach on a rocky island forested with evergreens and camellia trees (dongbaek in Korean). Although it is still called an island, Dongbaek is connected to the mainland as the waterway was silted in many years ago. There is a walkway that circles the whole park with beautiful views up and down the coast. At the top of the island is a statue and a monument of Choe Chi-Won, a ninth century scholar and poet, who carved “Hae un dae” in the rock, thus naming the area (which means sea and clouds).

The view from APEC House to the Gwangandaegyo Bridge

The view from APEC House looking towards the Gwangandaegyo Bridge

The park is very popular in the morning with people out walking or using the exercise machines along the pathway. At the tip of the park is APEC House, a modern building which was used for the APEC Summit Meeting in 2005. It’s open to the public 9:00-18:00 and worth a quick look, but the main attractions are the awesome views and the park itself. 

▶ Getting there: Subway Line 2 to Dongbaek Station (Exit 1) walk 800m towards the Busan Westin Chosun Hotel, which is at the start of the park.

Haedong Yonggunsa Seaside Temple

Haedong Yonggunsa Seaside Temple

Haedong Yonggunsa Seaside Temple

Haedong Yonggunsa is a beautiful temple first built in 1376 in a unique coastal setting. It’s a top tourist attraction in Busan, so there are lots of people, and lots of booths selling snacks and souveniers.

Haedong Yonggunsa Seaside Temple

Haedong Yonggunsa Seaside Temple

The beautiful temple and spectacular setting are worth the visit in spite of the crowds. Go early if you can and grab a piping hot Hoddeok (pancake) from a food stall to munch on as you take it all in (try not to burn your mouth on the delicious melted brown sugar filling). The temple area can all be seen in an hour or so.

▶ Getting there: Subway Line 2 to Haeundae Station (Exit 7). Then take bus 181 and get off at Yonggungsa Temple. Or take a taxi about 15 minutes from Haeundae.

▶ Open Daily 04:00 – 19:00.

piping hot Hoddeok (pancake)

A delicious piping hot Hoddeok (pancake)

A Sunset Stroll at Gwangalli Beach

paper lanterns that rose over the sea into the night sky

Along with the Gwangan bridge lights several people also lit paper lanterns that rose over the sea into the night sky.

Gwangalli beach is famous for it’s fine sand, clean water and romantic night atmosphere. The focal point is the Gwangandaegyo Bridge (also called the Gwangan Bridge or Diamond Bridge), which stretches over 7.4 km and is the largest ocean bridge in South Korea. The bridge sparkles at night with 100,000 lights that change colors making it especially beautiful.

▶ Getting there: Subway Line 2 to Gwangan Station (Exit 3 or 5). It’s about a 5-minute walk to the beach.

A Must Try: Busan’s Fresh Seafood

Gwangalli seafood BBQ

Gwangalli seafood BBQ (jogae gui) with pork belly.

After your evening stroll, Gwangalli is a great place to try a seafood bbq called jogae gui (baked clam). There are many options at the east end of the beach. Like other Korean bbq places there are vents hanging down over the centre of the table above a grill. Red hot coals are placed under the grill and you cook your own meal. With the shellfish comes foil containers of enoki mushrooms, kimchi, and shredded cheese to cook over the grill with the shellfish. So good and a great Busan experience!

Shop at Shinsegae Centum City – the world’s largest department store

Shinsegae is the world’s largest department store according to the Guinness Book of World Records, so if the weather is poor or you are needing a shopping fix it’s worth a visit. Besides every kind of merchandise you can imagine, it has numerous restaurants, an indoor ice rink, golf range, movie theater and the famous Spaland. (Note: it’s the world’s largest department store, not the largest mall.)

▶ Check the Shinsegae website for more info.

▶ Getting there: Subway Line 2 to Centum City Station (Exit 12)

Busan Museum of Art

Korea is a very creative place, with a lot of interesting architecture and design. If you enjoy art, the Busan Museum of Art is a great place to spend an hour or two, and near the Shinsegae department store. They have an interesting collection of Korean modern art as well as contemporary pieces from throughout Asia. We especially enjoyed an exhibit by Busan-born artist Kim Tae Ho.

▶ Check museum website for current exhibitions.

▶ Open 10:00-20:00, closed Mondays

▶ Admission free, except for special exhibitions.

▶ Getting there: Subway Line 2 to Busan Museum of Art Station (Exit 5), then walk about 100 metres to museum.

Tip for Getting Around

Taxis are reasonable for short distances in Korea, but don’t expect your driver to read or speak English. It will help your driver to have a map of your destination and the address in Korean.

Have you been? What are your favourite things to do in Busan?

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Busan things to do

elephant nature park

Before you ride an elephant in Thailand

Trekking through the jungle in Thailand perched high on an elephant, seemed both exciting and romantic to me. After researching this activity, I wasn’t so sure. Eventually we decided to visit Elephant Nature Park, and it was truly awesome!

Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park initially caught my attention as it is ranked high on TripAdvisor. It is a sanctuary for abused and unwanted elephants, and we would have the opportunity to meet, feed, and spend time with these elephants. We wouldn’t be riding them, and the elephants would not be performing tricks. 

Elephant Nature Park

The park itself is in a beautiful setting, surrounded by mountains, and with a river the elephants can bathe in. A guide was with our group for the whole day, and he told us about the sanctuary, and a little about each elephant we met. It was really moving to hear the stories of family and friendship between the elephants.

meeting elephants

We were able to meet several of the resident elephants.

elephants after a mud bath

Happy elephants after a mud bath.

Life before the sanctuary

Some of the rescued elephants had formerly worked in the logging industry, some were kept to perform tricks and beg, others were used to give rides to tourists.  We met elephants who had their legs broken, who were blind, whose ears were scarred by abusive owners. Some elephants were abandoned because they were too old to work. Some are as old as 75-80, and at the sanctuary they can live out the remaining years of their lives with no more work or abuse.

Elephant with scar from a land mine

This elephant has a scar on his left foot from a land mine.

Rescued elephants often have physical as well as mental scars, and both take time to heal. Elephants naturally form family groups, and at the sanctuary they allow them to form the family groupings they choose. Some become aunties, some find best friends, and these family groups help them to heal emotionally.

They are treated well, and eventually begin to trust humans again that are caring for them. These elephants can’t be released into the wild, both because they don’t have the skills to survive, and there is a shortage of grazing land due to development.

bathing an elephant

Helping to bathe an elephant was awesome!

Best friends hanging out.

A couple of friends chilling out together. One of these elephants is blind.

Today there are around 4,000 to 5,000 elephants in Thailand, when there were 100,000 at the start of the 20th century. About half live in the wild, and half are privately owned or cared for. For centuries they have been used for labour and entertainment of people. Although using elephants in the logging industry has been banned in Thailand since 1989, many still have a life of labour carrying tourists. Asian elephants are much smaller than their African cousins, and carrying people long distances on their shoulders is a heavy burden.

While elephants are revered in Thailand, in the tourist industry they are often mistreated.

Wild baby elephants are taken from their mothers (who are often killed) and endure torturous training to control them through fear. They are harmed from the riding itself, from abusive owners, and they are often chained up when not on duty. Elephants performing in the street are often mistreated, and in an environment that is frightening and uncomfortable. 

Elephant rides are a very lucrative part of Thailand’s tourism industry, and it’s a controversial subject. The costs are high to feed and care for elephants, and there isn’t room in sanctuaries like this for approximately 2,000 elephants. Many owners need their elephants to work to cover costs, but as tourist dollars are supporting places like Elephant Nature Park, others in elephant tourism may adopt better practices.

We all have to choose for ourself how our travel choices impacts others, and how our travel dollars impact the places we visit. Initially I was searching for a place to ride elephants. What we found was an opportunity to interact with elephants without exploiting them. Our experience at Elephant Nature Park was inspirational, fun, and the highlight of our trip to Chiang Mai.

elephant looking for a snack

Elephant found a snack

This elephant was looking for a snack…and found one!

Elephant Nature Park

Watching elephants, and they are watching us too.

Before you ride an elephant in Thailand, check out Elephant Nature Park

Visit the Elephant Nature Park website to book and learn more. Besides time with the elephants, our day included pick-up and drop-off at our Chiang Mai Hotel, a drive through beautiful countryside to the Park, and a delicious vegetarian buffet lunch. There are more ways to visit and volunteer at Elephant Nature Park, and other projects in Thailand and Cambodia.

About Save Elephant Foundation

Lek Chailert is the founder of Save Elephant Foundation and Elephant Nature Park. She is from a small village north of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, and understands the culture and challenges surrounding elephants. The Foundation’s approach involves local community outreach, rescue and rehabilitation programs, and educational ecotourism. Lek’s efforts have been recognized globally. Learn more at http://www.saveelephant.org/.

Korean soft tofu stew

Korean Home Cooking Class

As usual for us, many of our experiences during our visit to Seoul involve food. I like Korean food, but a lot of it is still unfamiliar to me, so I figured a Korean home cooking class would be a fun way to learn more about Korean cuisine and ingredients.

OME Cooking Lab in Seoul offers a Korean home cooking class, so I signed up, hoping to learn enough to make a couple of the most popular dishes myself.

Gyeongdong Market

Our class of six first toured the Gyeongdong market in the Dongdaemun District. Gyeongdong (or Kyungdong) is the largest wholesale food market in Seoul, and you can find every meat or produce imaginable, as well as herbal medicines and ginseng. 

Shredded peppers were one of the ingredients we would be using in our tofu stew.

The quality of the produce and other foods looked very high, and we also saw small manufacturers producing staples such as sesame oil and Korea’s famous red pepper flakes (gochugaru).

Time to cook!

After the market we went to cook and then eat together in a traditional style Korean house.

Our menu of traditional Korean foods consisted of mushroom soft-tofu stew, beef bulgogi, jeon (Korean pancake) and acorn jelly salad.

Beef Bulgogi

The first task was making the delicious sauce for the bulgogi, which includes soy sauce, garlic, green onion, sesame oil, sugar, and pepper. Thin sliced beef is first marinated in the sauce, then we pan-fried it with onions scallions, mushrooms and carrots.

Our chef/teacher Minseon explained that a well-planned Korean meal should include five colours (or close variations): green, white, red, black and yellow—representing the five basic elements wood, metal, fire, water and earth. As you can see we did so with the ingredients for the beef bulgogi.

Mushroom Soft-Tofu Stew

The soup is a flavourful and spicy combination of green onion, garlic, soft tofu, mushrooms, clams, and Korean red pepper. I was given the job of shredding mushrooms for the soup. I usually chop mushrooms with a knife but shredding them worked really well.

Pajeon (Korean Green Onion Pancake)

Jeon or Korean pancakes are a very popular food item. Making jeon is quite simple – mix the batter, then add the vegetable or seafood, and fry until crispy on each side. We made green onion jeon or pajeon, and also cute little zucchini jeon, but you can also make kimchi jeon, or seafood jeon. Jeon is often enjoyed together with Makgeolli, a milky, refreshing, rice wine.

Tip: Using ice-cold water in the batter helps make the pancake more crispy.

Acorn Jelly Salad

Lastly was the acorn jelly salad. The acorn jelly was already made, so we only had to make the salad dressing, then arrange the jelly on the plate first, topped with the salad. Since having it at the class I’ve noticed it is a fairly popular banchan item (Korean side dish), at least this time of year.

Dinner is served!

Time to eat our Korean feast, (left to right): soft-tofu stew with clams, beef bulgogi, acorn jelly salad, and Korean pancake (jeon).

The meal was delicious, and I’ll try making these dishes myself at home.

If you are interested in a fun, Korean cooking lesson, I would recommend OME Cooking Lab. Our chef/teacher Minseon was friendly and knowledgable, with lots of tips and information about the ingredients. She has even traveled to over 20 countries to experience and understand different cultures and foods.

You can find more information about the OME Cooking Lab at 5-tastes.com.

Have you tried eating or cooking Korean food?

(Note: we did not receive any compensation from OME Cooking Lab, and opinions are our own.)