Life is now complete (joking, sort of)… because I’ve been to the Hello Kitty Cafe in Seoul, Korea!
I know you want to step inside this Sanrio theme restaurant, and eat Hello Kitty cake… so let’s hop right to it.
First, how to get to this pink house? If you’re taking a taxi, tell the driver to go to this address: 헬로키티카페: 서울시 마포구 서교동 358-11
In English, this says Hello Kitty Cafe: 358-112 Seogyo-dong, Hongdae, Mapo-gu, Seoul
If you’re riding the subway, disembark at Honggik University station (aka Hongdae) and walk out of exit 5. The tall pink facade, topped with her signature bow, is impossible to miss.
Hello Kitty’s most diehard fans come to Seoul specifically to visit her theme cafe. Try to come on a weekday and during off-hours, since this is a popular destination and the two floors may be packed. If you’re lucky, you can nab a table and plush chairs, overlooking the Kitty-faced window.
At the entrance, you can place your order for cakes, waffles and lattes decorated like Hello Kitty (6000-10,000 won each, or $6-10).
How can you resist getting a cheesecake shaped like Hello Kitty’s face? It comes in three different flavors and colors.
The pink one tastes like strawberries. Only sweet dishes are served here, so be prepared for a blood sugar spike.
I also ordered a tiramisu. I don’t usually have much of a sweet tooth, but this is one of my favorite Italian desserts.
Rounding up the sugar-loaded meal: a decorated mocha and cappuccino, a pink milkshake that celebrates her 40th anniversary…
… and chocolate-covered waffle, shaped a la Hello Kitty. This one looks more like an earless Scottish Fold cat face to me.
To be honest, the pastries are priced on the high side, and look far better than they taste.
We cut Miss Kitty open, and poked at her sugary, bland insides. Not exactly the meal of a lifetime.
But if you’re a fangirl, the “kawaii” decor — including a Hello Kitty statue in a sparkly pink dress! — make up for it.
On the back wall, there’s a mural showing Hello Kitty shopping in Paris. Visitors write notes or leave their signatures here. One of the customers seems to be giving me the side-eye…
Another window shows white stones, scrawled with Korean wishes. (Photography by Ken Yuen and Noircorner)
“Kitty’s room is full of fun and play!” Why not. I’m a fan for life.
Downstairs, you can shop for special edition Sanrio souvenirs, including Korean-style ones. Shop for Hello Kitty items below >>
I was tempted to get this keychain of Hello Kitty in a hanbok (traditional Korean dress).
Let me warn you, the hurried staff is not known for its customer service. They pointed aggressively at an English sign, to make sure we understood we had to return the plates after eating. I guess some naughty diners tried to smuggle the custom dishes home as souvenirs.
Since the cafe has such a high turn-over, the tables and restrooms may not be satisfactorily maintained either. Perhaps I came on an off-day, but there was no toilet paper in the stalls — not even a square to spare! — and the staff neglected to mop up a spilled drink.
However, this didn’t damper the mood of these smiling Korean girls. Most of the customers are young and female, and come here in groups.
The “cottage” doesn’t really exist (unless I’m mistaken), but the Hello Kitty Cafe is a must-see if you’re in Seoul, and a lover of all things Sanrio.
● For more tips about places to see in this neighborhood, check out my Hongdae guide featuring Eat Your Kimchi.
● I’ve covered various Hello Kitty attractions in Asia; here are my blog posts about Japan’s Puroland theme park, and the Hong Kong Hello Kitty pop up cafe. And don’t worry if you aren’t in Asia; you can still find her products below!
Today’s a happy day… because our Philippines travel episode has been released!
Want to see me in tropical paradise, doing yoga with Filipino beauty queens? Then watch the 4-minute travel video above below and on Business Insider.
PCR is not your typical resort. There are endless activities you can take part in, which let you learn something new and experience Filipino culture. Case in point…
… I took part in an outdoor yoga lesson, with the Miss Scuba Philippines beauty pageant contestants! What a memory: stretching beneath the palm trees, while listening to the sounds of the ocean.
Even during the more difficult poses, the ladies smiled and kept their poise.
Filmmaker Eric went scuba diving with the contestants. Again, it’s impressive how they can do pageant waves under water.
Pacific Cebu Resort has well-regarded scuba instructors (here’s more about the dive school).
Eric took the video and these photos with a GoPro camera — a tiny and affordable device that lets you film under water. We’re big fans of the Go Pro, since it’s easy to use and gets gorgeous shots like the school of fish above. If you’re going snorkeling or diving, take a look at these cameras.
On dry land, we shoot photos with the Sony alpha 7, a mirrorless camera (it’s full-frame quality, but half the size and weight of a regular DSLR).
And this travel video was filmed with a Canon 5D Mark II, known as one of the best DSLRs on the market.
We loved the philosophy of this hotel group, sáv. They participate in community programs that aim to build a better future.
The Miss Scuba Philippines contest, for example, raised awareness for marine conservation, safe diving practices and scuba tourism — while celebrating the inner beauty and courage of today’s young women
We listened to 2013 Miss Scuba first runner up, Christine Paula Love Bernasor, speak about the “Sea of Change” required to save marine life.
This one-of-a-kind pageant fits perfectly with sáv’s theme of well-being for the body, soul, and environment.
Even the food reflected the Filipino culture. At each meal, we could order local favorites like adobo chicken, lumpia and lechon. Above — I tried danggit, or crispy fish heads dipped in vinegar. They were great!
I also discovered a new favorite drink: calamansi (a tart citrus from Southeast Asia) with gin. Such a pleasure, to sip this cocktail while looking out at the beach.
Many resorts can get boring after a while… but not this one. Guests can get accredited in SCUBA right on location.
Cebu is diving paradise, with dozens of coral-rich reefs just off the islands.
Other activities: banana boats, sunset cruises, para-sailing…
You’ll recall that one of my favorite days of 2014 was this one — sailing around Lapu Lapu, and meeting the villagers.
The three above photos are by K of Bright Production in Hong Kong. The other images are by Melissa Rundle and Eric Bergemann.
And don’t forget the 24-hour spa service. The PCR staff can even send a masseuse to your room.
Travelers tend to overlook Cebu as a beach destination, but coming here opened my eyes. It’s not expensive to stay in the Philippines, and a roundtrip flight from Hong Kong is only around $200 US.
The islands aren’t overrun with tourists and chain restaurants. And I found the beaches, scuba and snorkel to be better here than in Phuket or Bali.
And please watch our Cebu travel video here. Thanks for supporting my work!
Have you ever considered a yoga retreat? Did this series convince you to visit the Philippines?
Jump for joy — I’m heading back to Tokyo for the launch of Odigo! Wouldn’t you like to join me?
There’s a rare chance. On Feb 28, I’m hosting an exclusive travel blogging workshop in Tokyo. We’ll teach you all we know about travel blogs, journalism, TV, video, photography and more.
Read on the for details, and photos from the bloodiest, strangest, craziest theme bar ever!
I’m excited to announce the official launch of Odigo, a site that lets you plan an exceptional journey to Japan. You can search for offbeat attractions — such as kawaii stores, theme restaurants — as well as more traditional spots. Odigo links everything together in an optimized itinerary, which lets you get from place to place with ease.
I invite you to sign up to be a contributor – anyone can share their finds on Odigo! And if you’re in Japan… come to my travel blogging workshop on 2/28. My professional photo/film team and I will give in-depth advice on travel writing, photography, TV and video production, social media, working with sponsors, finding a niche, and much more.
When: Saturday, February 28, 1:30-4pm (followed by a round-table and reception). Matador U is giving a workshop before us (see all details on the Facebook invite and MeetUp)
Where: Ryozan Park, 6F, 3-36-7 Otsuka, Tokyo (here’s a map. It’s a few minutes walk from Otsuka station on the Yamanote line).
Cost: Free if you sign up on Odigo and submit writeups for 10 spots. For everyone else, 5000 yen per person. Limited to 25 spaces, including lunch, resources and networking.
Thanks to Odigo, you can easily find info about the most bizarre and obscure places in Japan. For example, I did a writeup about Kabukicho bar, Guinea Pig. Look for a plain building with a winding staircase, and take the elevator up to a door with a barely visible sign.
This underground bar is for those with a bloody disposition. The decoration consists of such nightmares as chains, baby mannequins, and horror movie art.
So, how do you get to Guinea Pig? The address is: 2-41-2 Leo Kotobuki Building 3-A, Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku, Tokyo (all this info is on Odigo!) 1000 yen cover. Opening hours vary; generally from 8pm to early morning. Phone: 03-3209-3455
The bar’s decor is inspired by b-horror movies: zombie hands reach down from the ceiling, and a mannequin in chains sits at a table.
The owner, a flamboyant fellow named Roxy, is hilarious and will make you special cocktails. He’ll also dare you to play with his live pet snake.
Our friends ordered Bloody Marys, while Yukiro and I got his specialty, a mix of grapefruit, rum, and maybe some voodoo potions.
Strange art hangs on the walls. It’s a unique mix of dread and humor in this bar.
And here are all of my posts about bizarre theme restaurants, in Japan and elsewhere.
Some of these bars are one-act novelties, but I can go to Guinea Pig again and again. It’s a subculture hub — there are always interesting people drinking at the small counter.
If you’re a fan of Japanese horror films, and fetish is your idea of fun, then I have a feeling you’ll dig Guinea Pig too. You can look up more spots like this on Odigo.
All of these photos are by Tokyo-based photographer Said Karlsson. He took these candid snaps of Yukiro and me dominating the neon streets of Shinjuku.
No, we’re not posing… we always cross the street like this!
Every dark creature must stop to curtsy in front of evil queen Maleficent.
We couldn’t resist climbing this Japanese kids playground equipment, and striking a pose. Funny, we did something similar in Berlin.
Antics in the convenience store. I’m not sure what we were doing in the magazine section…
We ended up getting special edition rose and sakura flavored Haagen Dazs ice cream. The pink looks nice against my Totoro nails.
In heaven, people feed each other rice with chopsticks. In hell, I suppose they survive on pink ice cream!
Have you been to any of Tokyo’s crazy theme bars? Which ones are your favorites?
I hope to see you at my Odigo travel bloggers workshop, on February 28 in Tokyo! Info is at the top of the post, and feel free to leave a comment if you have questions.
I’ve always been fascinated by how themes of life and death are expressed so vividly, in New Orleans. This is a city where locals party hard, and play jazz in the streets. At the same time, NOLA is famous for cemeteries, haunted houses, voodoo shops and vampires.
To celebrate Mardi Gras, we’ll climb the Tree of Life…
… and then wander through the French Quarter’s dark side. At the end, we’ll take a frank look at the Katrina aftermath, and the struggle to rebuild neighborhoods destroyed by the hurricane.
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My friends and I rode the historic St Charles streetcar to the Garden District, about 20 minutes from the stop near the Hotel Modern. It’s a scenic ride that costs only $1.25 each way.
We passed by grand Southern houses (some photos at the bottom of this post), the Eiffel Society, and the Loyola and Tulane university campuses. We got off at Audubon Park, and found ourselves surrounded by majestic trees and lakes.
“I’m like a bird…” A variety of creatures make the park their home. We spotted a Great Egret soaring above the water, and a mother duck with a row of babies swimming behind her. Do you see the squirrel on my left?
This land was once a plantation. In 1871, the city purchased it, and made it into a park. It’s named after John James Audubon, an artist / naturalist who lived in New Orleans at the time.
The more time I spent in New Orleans, the more sides I saw of the city. I wish I could have stayed longer, to explore more of the outer neighborhoods and nature sites.
Like Elaine from Seinfeld, I don’t use the word “breathtaking” lightly… but it seems like the right word to describe this pathway, shaded by Southern oak trees.
The twisting branches and soft, mossy canopies are a quintessential part of Louisiana’s landscape.
After walking for about 15 minutes, we reached the Tree of Life. This immense oak is the size of a building, and the branches dip to the ground — the ultimate invitation for climbing.
Beneath these powerful, century-old branches, you can’t help but admire nature’s grandeur.
I braided part of my hair, to show the contrast between purple and blue, over red. My hairstylist is Stephanie Hoy at Vancouver’s Stratosphere salon.
❤ Click below for details of my clothing ❤
The Tree of Life is a popular spot for couples to get married. According to legend, someone planted this tree to honor his new wife, during the days when Audubon Park was a plantation.
Molly (who took the photos of me in NOLA) says “I know nothing about Audubon Park from a history angle, but let’s just discuss how much fun I had climbing that tree.”
– I turned of the knobs into a make-shift hanger for my handbag. (It’s by Paule Ka and available here.)
Molly tried out some pole and yoga moves on the branches.
Nature makes the best seat in the house.
The trailing fringe from my dress mimics the strands of Spanish moss, hanging down from the trees.
Next to the tree of life is Audubon Zoo. The giraffes are so tall that you can see their heads poking out from above the fence!
It’s disappointing when visitors to New Orleans never leave the French Quarter. Less than 30 minutes away, Audubon Park is a joyful place that shows a different slice of life.
The surrounding homes are stately antebellum mansions with columns and gardens. Since the Quarter and the Garden District are located on high ground, these upscale areas escaped the devastating flooding from Hurricane Katrina.
Molly and I felt it was important to see the areas of New Orleans that were most heavily hit by Katrina. Taxi driver David Hammer gave us a 3-hour personal tour, which took us to the Lower 9th Ward, the breached levees, and more. (To arrange for one of his city tours, phone David: 503 931 0323)
A local who is versed in the history of New Orleans, David didn’t shy away from speaking about the ongoing problems with rebuilding. We saw homes marked with “X-Codes” or “Katrina crosses,” which rescuers used to indicate if there were hazards or deaths within.
Ten years after Katrina, many of these neighborhoods remain destroyed. Some homeowners came back and tried to rebuild, but lack of funds forced them to abandon their properties. We drove on bumpy roads, warped by the water. We passed overgrown and empty lots, followed by temporary housing, followed by ghost-houses like the one above — hazards for vermin, squatters and other dangers.
Molly reflects, “It was really painful to see a house, then a space where a house used to be, then a house, then more space. I kept thinking about what it must be like to come home to a house next to a space. Was it lonely? Scary? Do you wonder if Katrina will happen again? I used to not understand why someone wouldn’t come home if you could, but now, I think how do you come back to a place that completely fell apart? Aren’t there times where you just have to start over?”
“So, I guess what I mean is that both the spaces and the rebuilding make sense to me.” Yet there is still so much that needs to happen, before these neighborhoods are livable again. There’s a lot more one can say about the impact of Hurricane Katrina, but I’ll wrap up with the photo above: a reconstruction attempt that was abandoned probably due to lack of funding, and left as a decaying shell.
That feeling of life, death and all the areas in between come to the forefront at night, in New Orleans. Not far from Jackson Square, you can buy a hot buttered rum to go (alcohol is allowed in the streets here), and walk right up to the banks of the Mississippi River. Yes, that’s a rainbow on the top right.
The streetlights give off an eerie glow. They illuminate the history of the city, from old rail tracks to new hotels.
The castle-like Saint Louis Cathedral is the oldest in North America, established in 1720. A horse and carriage raced across, taking us back several centuries.
The spirit of Mardi Gras haunts the city all throughout the year. A feathered mask peers out of a window.
I was keen to learn more about voodoo, which has roots in African spiritual/folk traditions, and took on a life of its own in Louisiana. We popped into Reverend Zombie’s Voodoo shop (723 St Peter St), which offers readings and rituals.
Gris gris (talismans or amulets), voodoo dolls, and powerful queens like Marie Laveau are part of this tradition. While some of New Orleans’ voodoo shops have a touristy feeling, there is a tangible power in the masks and dolls we saw..
I was in my element, visiting these occult, spiritual, witchcraft and esoteric shops.
Another way to experience the darkest side of New Orleans is by joining a ghost, vampire, cemetery and voodoo tour. Some are on the cheesier side, so I recommend doing your research and looking for niche tours run by insiders.
How spooky is this image of New Orleans? It’s a marble statue of Jesus with hands aloft, casting an ominous shadow onto St Louis Cathedral.
Don’t be surprised if you run into skeleton hands and witchy-women, in the streets of the Quarter.
Vampires are a major part of the culture of New Orleans. This city is not just a setting, but almost a character in the novels of Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire, Queen of the Damned) and Poppy Z Brite (Lost Souls).
We visited Boutique du Vampyre (709 St Ann St), a collection of all things bloody (fangs, candles, handcrafted gifts).
There’s also a strong vampire subculture here in New Orleans. Members belong to Houses, and some engage in ritual blood-drinking.
I leave you with the stray cats of Jackson Square. Quite fitting that cats are associated with witches and the spiritual world.
I hope you’ll come to New Orleans, one of the most fascinating cities I’ve ever encountered. Joyeux Mardi Gras, everyone!