JEJU ISLAND, SOUTH KOREA

In an effort to be more consistent with my writing here on this page I realize I cannot wait until we are on an adventure or else I am never ever gonna write. I wish we were traveling frequently ALL THE TIME(like most people) but we got to work(like most people) to pay for these trips. I found that during our last vacation writing while traveling allowed me to reflect on our experiences as we went and I was able to do a day by day breakdown. If I am writing from memory then I won’t be able to remember the exact order of events but at this point we have traveled to almost 20 countries together and there are still plenty of travel experiences we can share that might help other travelers…even though this site currently has a following of zero. Heh heh.

Onward, to the point of this post. Jeju Island, what some call the Hawaii of Korea. Having never been to Hawaii I can’t personally speak on this comparision but I thought I would throw it out into the ether that is the internet. You can find the island just south of the Korean peninsula.  It is probably most famous for the citrus fruit they grow, the Jeju black pig they breed, and Hallasan Mountain. Hallasan is a dormant volcano and reaches a height of 1,950 m. It is the tallest mountain in Korea and hiking to the summit is not for the faint of heart. Kole and I enjoy hiking a ton and have gone to 7 national parks during the past 11 months of living in Korea. **Brushing shoulders off**

Hiking culture in Korea is no joke. Generally, people take it SUPER serious here. There are accessories, outfits, and equipment that you could not imagine needing for a casual weekend hike. While us, basic foreigners, we might just take a small backpack filled with some waters, a few granola bars, and my very needed inhaler for my very asthmatic lungs.  Upon reaching the top of a mountain, it is not unusual to see a group of friends sharing a full on meal with the traditional Korean drink of choice, soju, while seated on large mats or hiking chairs carried up the mountain.  I should mention the hiking pastime is practiced by an older generation here. We rarely saw people our age(people in their twenties) hiking unless they were hiking with their parents.

Anyways, back to our Hallasan climb. I should immediately say, we did not think we were going to make it to the top of the mountain at all. The only opportunity we could go visit Jeju Island was mid January, aka winter. Meaning, the mountain was going to be covered in snow and ice. Sounds cold, right? It was. We thought we would climb for a few hours and then go back to the coziness of our hostel. BUT. After about 3 hours we hit the ice on the mountain and started to slip and slide. The vice principal of Kole’s school had recommend we get some crampons, gear to attach to your shoe when climbing icy areas. We would not have made it without these crampons. Because of those damn crampons we kept going for 6 more hours. Due to Hallasan’s height there are strict rules of when you can ascend and a mandatory time you must turn back by, I think the day we went we had to turn back by 4:30PM. We reached the top an hour before that time and had a bit of time to enjoy the whipping wind and ice pellets being in a snow cloud provides. We couldn’t really see the crater lake that is at the top of the mountain because of the snow cloud. After taking a few pictures and a video, ice crystals began to form on us so we thought it was time to go. We finally made it down and our bodies proceeded to feel pain from intense soreness for a week following the climb. So worth it though. One of the best experiences we’ve had in Korea during our time here.

Other highlights of the trip include:

Staying in Seogwipo City,  this is on the south side of the island. After doing some research we decided this was the best place for us to stay. It was an easy 1 hour bus ride from the Jeju airport to our hostel, Backpackers Home. The staff at Backpackers Home were also super helpful. Upon our arrival they sat us down and helped us decide on our what trail to take for climbing Hallasan and they also gave us a detailed map with directions on how to get to the park entrance via bus.

Attached to the hostel out front, there is a specialty cafe that focus on unique Jeju black pork burgers. The burgers were massive in size and the staff seemed to be trained to help patrons cut the massive sandwich with some intense flourish. It also seemed to be general practice for the severs to take a picture of you with your food while you and whoever you are with create a heart shape with your two hands. Cutesy? Yes. Unneccessay? Yes. Delicious? Yes. We also got a really tasty shrimp sandwich but the pork burger was the favorite hands down.

The last highlight would have to be the natural beauty of the beaches and waterfalls Seogwipo City is recognized for. Kole and I only had one weekend in Jeju and while Saturday was spent hiking, Sunday was reserved some relaxing exploring and wandering around. We woke early and went in search of some coffee and found this cute little cafe/food truck making some delicious smells and decided to stop there. The truck was located right in front of the ocean and had these picnic tables surrounding them. The tables were filled with older locals who were obviously about to partake in a round of golf at the course nearby. One man asked us in English where we were from after cajoling from his friend. We had a short nice conversation while our drinks were being made and as we attempted to the pay, our new friends said no repeatedly and said they would cover our drinks as we were guests in the country. This surprisingly generousity was much appreciated we thanked them profusely and waved goodbye. The rest of the morning was spent exploring the rocky beaches of Jeju and frolicking in the waters beneath Cheonjiyeon Waterfall.

We returned to our hostel to collect our bags and took the bus back to the airport to take the hour flight back to our Korean home city, Cheongju.

 

 

 

 

 

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SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA

 

DAY 1:

We arrived in Siem Reap via the mini bus company by the name of Larryta. It was a smooth ride and I slept most of the way there. We used the service for our return trip back to Phnom Penh. What can I tell you about the company? The minibus holds up to 15 people but we were never at full capacity on either trip. From what we could tell from the schedule, buses leave about every 30 minutes starting from 6AM to 10PM.

Upon arrival we contacted our amazing Airbnb host, Sovong. He sent Pish, his friend and buisness partner who drives all of Sovong’s Airbnbs guests around in his very swanky tuk tuk. No lie, Pish’s tuk tuk was the first one we had ever taken and comparing it the ones we later took in Phnom Penh, Pish’s vehicle was by far more comfortable and well decorated. Not only that but Pish was such a safe driver! He was cautious and alert at all times and he was just a nice guy. Sovong and him both were just kind guys who were happy to talk to us and answer any questions we had during our stay and were a part of the why we enjoyed Siem Reap as much as we did.

Upon arrival, Sovong met with us on the balcony and helped us plan a lot of day to day excursions which isn’t something that had ever happened before with a host but Sovong had so much information and was just so happy to help us truly enjoy Siem Reap. We had kind of splurged on this listing because we had been pretty budget conscious in our other Cambodian accommodations and we were really happy with our choice. The place was beauitful and massive! We were so surprised by the spaciousness of it and there was a hammock in our bedroom, so how could we not be delighted. The balcony was also another added luxury we had not expected. We spent many of our nights out on the balcony with drinks in our hand.

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After relaxing for a bit in the apartment we spent a bit of time wandering the streets. The beauty and tranquility of Siem Reap was immediately obvious just from our quick wanderings. We had to be back at our apartment by 4:30. Pish met us there and drove us straight to Angkor Wat to see the sunset from atop Phnom Bakheng. It did feel like the majority of tourists decided to come for sunset at the exact same time which at first distracted me but then the beauty was still captivating once the sun started its slow descent downward. The ruins upon first sight are impactful. It feels insane that with a measly 20 dollar pass humans, mere humans, are able to climb all over these precious pieces of the past. Especially coming from an archiving background in university libraries where I constantly making sure I had gloves on when handling delicate material. Gah, I mean what can I do? I walked and climbed carefully.

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Sunset
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Sunset

We had dinner per the request of Sovong and Pish at a local place called Lillypop. It was damn delicous. It was also just so well priced which made us crazy delighted. Feeling as though you can order whatever you want and not break the bank is intoxicating. And then you literally become intoxicated because drinks are costing you a dollar a pop. Everyday of our vacation I had a fruity drink with alcohol in it but the ones at Lillypop might have been my favorite because you could really taste the fruit and you could really taste the alcohol. Yum. We ordered so much that we had to takeaway some boxes but the beautiful thing about Airbnb is you got a kitchen to warm up your treats for later.

DAY 2:
The bed was so comfortable we slept like babies! Unfortunately/Fortunately, Pish was scheduled to pick us up at 4:30AM to see the sunrise and enjoy a full day exploring the temples of Angkor Archaeological Park. By golly gee, it truly was a full day of exploring. We started out at the Angkor Wat temple gathered around the lake directly beneath the temple with about 100 other individuals. The sunrise was just as beautiful as the sunset. We left directly after the sunset to explore more. Pish met us at his tuk tuk with breakfast ready for us. It was such a kind gesture. It was a simple but delicious egg sandwich reminiscent of a banh mi.

The day was incredibly long but filled with beauty, calmness, and awe. I felt so honored to walk through the temples of Angkor. The history is palpable, so much change has occurred over the centuries it has stood. The art and design of the temples are memerizing. It is hard to deem favorites because all of the temples are truly beautiful but we admired the Hindu temples to a greater extent than the Buddhist temples. Among our favorites were…

We ended the night eating at one of the fancy upscale resturants in Siem Reap but wished we would have just returned to Lillypop because food was much more flavorful there.

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Sunrise

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DAY 3:
We gave ourselves the luxury of sleeping in a bit after our 12 hours of exploring but were picked up at 9:30AM by Pish because we were headed over to the Cambodian Cooking Cottage to take the Champey Cooking class. Unlike the class we took in Hanoi, we weren’t the only people who came to take the class. In total 5 others came and once we all had gathered we left to tour the food markets. Honestly, we didn’t learn as much we did about the local produce and meat as we did in Hanoi. The chef leading the tour wasn’t speaking at a volume level at which many us in the back could here. The whole experience of touring the market was uncomfortable, frankly. A woman on the tour with us from Belgium spent much of the tour talking very invasive up close pictures of women working in the market. It didn’t sit well with me at all and I kick myself now for not saying anything. In my opinion, as a tourist you must ask for permission before you invade someones personal space to take a photograph and it would be kind to offer them compensation for their time.

Returning to the cooking class venue was a welcome relief. We all donned aprons and hat caps which I thought were unneccesary but whatever. We started cooking right away and the set up was actually really nice. Every person had an individual cooking station and all materials were laid out in a really convinent way. And instead of holding our hand through the process the chef would demonstrate all the steps and complete the steps and then let us have at it. Pretty cool.

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Cooking Class
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Cooking Class
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Cooking Class

Our last night in Siem Reap was spent restuarant hopping and bar hopping in and around Pub Street. We also hit up the night market which had some really gorgeous products. We bought some really detailed carved magnets for ourselves and some friends actually. Buying souvenirs isn’t really something that we do. When contemplating what to buy I feel like a small war erupts in my head. Do I want it? Can you carry it? Too much money? Blah…blah…blah. Back to Pub Street, we found some really great food spots but we also found the pit of hell called YOLO bar where we sat for about 30 minutes doing anthropologic research. Eventually we found a very cute little reggae spot nearby that played really good songs and made really great drinks and we relaxed there for a couple of hours. It was a great way to end our time in Siem Reap.

MUI NE, VIETNAM

DAY 1:

A four hour train ride from Ho Chi Minh took us to Mui Ne, an isolated beach town. Upon arrival at the train station there is a barrage of taxi drivers waiting to take you to the plentiful resort destinations that most tourists descend upon. We are new to the idea of resort stays but found the idea of ours to be too tempting to avoid. While there are indoor beds available at this particular place we opted for the option to sleep in a tent under the stars on the beach.

Long Son Mui Ne Resort is beautiful. The common area is a space set up to accommodate large groups of people lounging. Soft couches and massive pillows sit under a canopy roof. The restaurant and bar provide many delectable treats to appeal to the weary and budget conscious traveler. There was never a time we ever felt limited by the price of any item, a privilege we aren’t afforded often. Long Son has  daily dollar deals from their menu. Grilled sea scallops, roughly 10 per order, butter basted herb topped scallops were ordered by us at least 3 times our first day.

Once arriving we plopped our stuff down into the tents, changed clothes, and started an aimless walk down the beach. In the distance we could see the red sand dunes, another distinct attraction Mui Ne boasts. Our walk ended back in front of the resort’s stretch of land on the swing sets. Yes, they have swing sets. Tis’ an ideal way to revert back to your younger self.

DAY 2:

Sleeping on the beach is similar to sleeping on a boat. You hear the water and feel movement. The ocean rocks you to sleep. Our first night we awoke feeling completely refreshed. Seeing the sun rise above the ocean wasn’t a bad sight either. Breakfast consisted of fresh fruit juice, fresh fruit and pho with plenty of peppers.

After stuffing ourselves we considered a run but with the ocean winking at us and batting its eyelashes we couldn’t refuse but to flirt back by flinging our bodies into the waves for the majority of the day. Of course we took breaks and sat under thatched roofs on large pillows while reading and eating and drinking those fruity drinks you always must consume while you exist in a tropical setting.

The day felt like it lasted forever. Yet, the night came and with it came a special dinner deal. For roughly 5USD, a meal was made hot and fresh in the open pavilion in the resorts common area. The meal consisted of spring rolls, grilled scallops, kebab skewers, green papaya salad, grilled tilapia fish, fresh fruit and a Saigon beer. Obviously, we were beyond pleased with the menu.

Later that evening, the resort hosted a pub quiz. The quiz master attempted to count people off into groups to help diversify the pre established groups of friends. We still ended up in the same group because other people refused to section themselves off from the mates which seemed to be expected by the quiz master, puzzling. Why go through the work if adults who have been drinking are the worse listeners? We still ended up meeting some chaps in our group from the U.K., France, Belgium, and the states by way of Portland. Everyone was friendly and not crazy competitive. It was the first pub quiz we had ever played and are surprisingly good.  Our weaknesses are the others strengths. Our team came in second place but our group suspected some illegal phone consultation occurring on the winning team mostly because we saw several of them pull out their phones, completely defeating the point! Imagined daggers were thrown their way aimed for the eyes and hands and hearts. Leave no stone unturned, right?

DAY 3:

Waking up this morning was vastly different from the previous day. It was the morning a horrible man ascended to the U.S. presidency. We both had woken up several times in the night and even the ocean was restless, the waves were crashing with sounds similar to a storm. Who knew how much of a storm this idiot would stir up in the first two weeks of his already abysmal presidency. Ugh.

This was the day we were set to return to Ho Chi Minh City. The resort has a bus stop directly outside of its entrance. They get a phone call when a bus is approaching and round up everyone who is heading somewhere new. The morning was spent charging electronics while reading in the common space. We headed out fairly early and surprise, surprise upon entering the bus we were instructed to take off our shoes…proceeding into the bus we were met with three rows of bunk beds basically. Never had we travelled in this way but were not disappointed with the mode of transportation at all!

HANOI, VIETNAM

DAY 1:
Walking the perimeter of Hoàn Kiếm Lake was first on the agenda upon arriving and plopping our bags down at our Airbnb. Cloudy’s homestay with its beautiful exotic plant themed mural is a difficult place to vacate but the alure of the bustling, crowded and loud streets beckoned to us. Walking the streets of Hanoi assault your senses…in the best way possible. The walk to the lake kept my eyes open in awe. The city moves at a quick clip and the hundreds of scooters that ride along side of your walking keep you on your toes. Reaching the lake you are given a relative reprise from the chaos. After walking the bridge of Welcoming Morning you enter the island holding the Temple of Golden Jade. It is simply gorgeous and holds history and mystery amongst its walls. You can meander along and sit on steps that face the tiny Turtle Temple. The sight of Hanoi from the short distance the temple provides is breathtaking. Watching the city we were filled with a calmness and desire to trade our city in S. Korea for this one in Vietnam.

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DAY 2:
We let our stomachs lead the way this morning and they took us to the highly rated and Banh Mi 25. This spot is adorable! The food and decor is even better than the reviews on the interwebs boast. They have a pleathora of banh mi options to choose from. Vegetarians, this place has got you covered. There is a decent sized veg menu to satisfy anyone – carnivore or not. We started with the mixed meat and lemon grass chicken options and fell head over heels in love with the meat mix. We made our way back to this place three separate times over the five days we spent in Hanoi. We love this place and loved that fact they were willing to pile on the veggies and extra cilantro once we asked for a bit more.

As we sat in the tropical oasis that is the dining area of Banh Mi 25 we spied a cozy little pho bo place across the street that was brimming with locals. When I said brimming I mean it was filled to the max with people who looked so content with what they were devouring we could not help but dart across the street to join the party. It was worth it. We ordered one meal to share and it was more than enough for both of us. This place like most street food in Hanoi specialize in their one main dish and make it super duper delectable. The food also comes faster than a fast food joint because employees only have to think about the one item. The table was filled with large bowls of chilis, minced garlic and herbs galore to make your individual pho to your liking. We stuffed ourselves quickly and were in and out in less than 15 minutes. Grand total for both meals, two coffees and a pineapple juice was 5 bucks, usd. If I could give that meal and that price a standing ovation then I would…actually what’s stopping me! I just stood up and clapped while yelling encore, encore.

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DAY 3:
If you love yourself and you love books then make your way to The Bookworm. For years upon years I preferred books over people so this used bookstore that proclaims itself to be the best bookstore in all of Southeast Asia was right up my alley…it was also literally right up an alley so there you go. This place was an excellent escape from the hectic world outside its walls. The prices are great, the little bench/couches comfortable and no one bothers you if you curl up with a book and read it for 20 minutes to make sure you want to buy it. Kole bought several phrase books all for the grand total of 11 dollars. He collects these books and loves that the lonely planet brand fits so easily into his pockets. Lucky him, being a man and all. Truly, my phone doesn’t even fit in my panta pocket.

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While leaving the bookstore we realized the front building that shares a beautiful courtyard with The bookworm was actually a cooking centre by the very straightfoward name, the Hanoi Cooking Centre. We walked inside and a lovely woman, Nguyen, told us everything we needed to hear to schedule a class right then and there for the following day. We were excited to learn how to make more Vietnamese dishes and food culture in Vietnam.

Everywhere we travel we almost always find a pub that we watch a game or two in. In Hanoi that night we found Prague Pub. It is located in the Old Quarter down the street from our apartment and nothing in the pub reminds me of the city of Prague at all. There is African inspired art adorning the walls, multiple foriegners strewn about, and a large screen where we were able to see the Tottenham game with comfort. The employees were nice and the mozzerella sticks the biggest and best I have ever had.

DAY 4:
The best experience was our time spent at Hanoi Cooking Centre! We set two alarms to make sure we wouldnt miss our 9 o’clock appointment time. We also made sure to get there a bit early to enjoy the complimentary tea that provides every lesson. Upon arrival we were lead up the beautiful spiral stairs to a beautiful dining area overlooking the busy street below. The bartender, a real nice fellow, came over with two lychee teas and one dried lychee from which the tea is made from. He educated us about the fruit, the tea and the medicinal uses of tea. Soon afterward, we were met by chef, Nguyen. With a bright smile on her face she informed us that we were the only couple confirmed for the class and that we would have her all to ourselves. Together, we left for the market. Learning about all the different produce unique to Vietnam was such a special experience. Nguyen walked through the market with confidence explaining how to pick the best fish sauce, the differences between rice noodles and glass noodles, etc. It was information overload in the best way possible. We gathered some treasures but many things were already at the cooking centre prepped and ready for us. After, walking back into the professional kitchen we learned all about tue procedural requirements to make the best pho possible! It includes 6 hours of prework! Nguyen continued to cook and explain her steps all at the same time while I freaked out trying to grab a pen to write verbatim what flew from her month but she reassured me everything she was saying was already in a recipe booklet that would be given to us. I calmed down a bit and let her instuctions sink into my brain. As the hours passed we were able to create beautiful dishes with her guidance leading us. Our time there was cherished.

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DAY 5:
The last day in Hanoi consisted of a mad dash to see everything we had yet to see before our early morning departure. We hit up Banh Mi 25 once more for a quick brekky and continued onward to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. Working our way through the several floors of the museum was a delight. Never before had we visited a museum so intent on celebrating the contributions and achievements of the nations women. A particularly fascinating permanent exhibit was “Women in History”. The exhibit highlighted the scarifices made by Vietnamese women during the countries wars.
Afterwards, we headed to the Temple of Literature. The grounds of the temple are tranquil and a sweet escape from the busy streets of Hanoi. Immediately after entering it is like the volume from the ouside the temple walls gets turned down and you are alone to explore Vietnam’s oldest university in peace for a few hours.

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