Monday, July 9, 2012

Goooooooooood Morning Vietnam! - Part I: Hanoi

Let's start this one off with an anecdote of my time in Hanoi so you can get a feel of what my trip was like!

It was late!  Most places in the Hanoi Old Quarter had already closed down for the night, which meant it was past midnight.  My friend Daniel and I had just left the drinking establishment we had been frequenting when we were approached by two Vietnamese guys and one girl on motorbikes.  They were inviting us to get on with them.  Although we didn't really know what was going on, somehow, we convinced ourselves that they wanted to take us to another bar or pub that was still open.  So, like any *slightly* intoxicated foreigners would do, we got on and didn't ask any questions (which is retrospect, was a very stupid decision and could have been more than slightly dangerous... as I write this, I still have both my kidneys though).  I was with one guy on one motorbike and Daniel was sandwiched between the other two on the other bike.  About 5 minutes into our "joyride", I could hear Daniel shouting that the girl behind him was grabbing his junk and was most likely a prostitute.  Thirty seconds later, they suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere, told us to get off and pointed towards an extremely shady-looking neighborhood before riding off into the night.  We immediately decided that we did not want to be here and started walking back from where we came from, hoping to find an open watering hole on the way.  It's only when Daniel reached into his pants pocket to grab his phone to check the time, that he realized it was missing.  Turns out it was no coincidence that the  girl had been sitting behind him and grabbing his junk with one hand, while, with the other, snagging his phone from his pocket.  The joke was on them though, cause Daniel's phone was an old piece of junk... and at least he got fondled for it!

That's just a glimpse into my time in Vietnam.... Now let's go back to the start:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Royal Visit


I successfully and officially completed both of my Spring online courses (both A plusses... oh yeah), and that means I can get back to living. I feel like this summer represents the 'beginning of the end' for Jason and I, in the sense that even though the glorious hot-weather season has just started, it also signifies the relative end of our contract, with less than two months to go. Of course this time of year is bittersweet: while we look forward to our return to Canada and normal work routines, we don't really want to start thinking about packing up our life here. We're perpetuating the denial stage just a tad longer. We're not done here just yet, and we're certainly not going to set ourselves up for regret by not fully taking advantage of every single weekend. And so we begin our Korean bucket list.

First up: A famous royal spot.

We toured Gyeongbok Palace in Northern Seoul on a beautiful June Saturday with Becky and Kyle, our American alter-egos (and friends of course) we had met on our Muui-do beach weekend. Having somewhat neglected our 'cultural' experience here since Spring made its appearance, in favour of more hot-weather-friendly activities involving water or beaches, we judged it was about time we got this major Korean tourist attraction out of the way.

Me in my Royal Gown
First constructed in 1394 and reconstructed in 1867 due to having been destroyed during the Japanese invasion, Gyeongbokgung, which means 'Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven', was the main and largest palace built by the Joseon Dynasty. That's about all we know from it, since we casually and not so subtly opted out of the extremely boring tour that we had initially joined. After passing through a few guarded gates, we made up our own walking tour, admiring beautiful ponds, gardens, and pagodas along the way. Most of the structures, foundations, building materials, designs, and colours were very similar, if not identical, to other Korean palaces and temples. Still, I was impressed with this particular palace because of its size (it covers a lot of gound), and its proximity to mountains. Easily accessible by subway, yet it certainly didn't feel like we were in an urban setting.
The photo op we encountered on our way in made for a more authentic atmophere and some good fun. We were dressed in traditionnal royal gowns (for free!) and encouraged to take souvenir photos (which we, of course, indulged in).
Jason getting crowned

The Gyeongbok Palace grounds were littered (bad choice of word here...) with foreigners of all nationalities, a usually rare occurence for Korea outside of Itaewon, which indicated that this site was probably listed as one of Seoul's 'must visits' on TripAdvisor.

Before we knew it, breakfast was a long time gone and our stomachs started demanding food. Cabbing to Itaewon (Seoul's international foods capital) set us back about 10,000W, and we soon found ourselves walking up and down food street searching for the perfect place to eat. Unable to settle on a single restaurant, we chose to ponder it over drinks and appetizers at Prost, a pub that, despite good food and atmosphere, lacked pathetically in the service department.

Upon further investigation, we found a Bulgarian place called Zelens and all agreed that it was 'it'. A half hour waiting list meant that we had just enough time to enjoy a beer at a nearby English pub before dinner. I ordered delicious spinach-stuffed chicken breast and mashed potatoes (the first ones I've had since moving to Korea), while Jason opted for risotto-stuffed squid and a salad. Even with some wine to top it all off, the bill was actually reasonable. Most importantly, the service was impeccable.

Before returning home, I made sure we stopped at What the Book (the English bookstore), where I succombed to the pressure and splurged on the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

But let's keep that for another time...

Blend of old and new, modern and tradtional.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Korean Island Paradise: Our weekend in Jeju

The view from Ilchulbong
 "You can't come to Korea and not go to Jeju... You just can't!"  That was the first thing my co-teacher said to me shortly after I told her I wasn't planning on going to Jeju cause frankly, I had never really heard about it.  She urged me to reconsider, and finally, Jen and I caved and decided to look into going there for Buddha's birthday during the long weekend in May.  Having been on the peninsula for over 6 months, it was now hard to ignore Jeju's sexiness!  So we were sold!  Jeju, here we come!

Monday, June 25, 2012

I'm on the right track baby, I was born on this day!

So that title ^^ was my failed attempt at combining three events in one post. Why three events in the same post? First because I'm slightly lazy (only slightly), and second because I'm terribly behind in my blogging assignments. I am finding myself so incredibly behind on these posts, it's embarrassing. In my defense, though, I've been caught up, for the last couple of months, on real 'assignments' for my AQ and Masters' courses, and have not had much spare time to reminisce on recent Korean adventures. Of course, this doesn't mean I've been skipping out any fun, au contraire. So here goes...

Friday, June 22, 2012

Going down the world's best waterslide: Caribbean Bay

On May 19, we headed over to Caribbean Bay to celebrate our friend Briana's birthday. Jen had been wanting to go since last fall so we jumped on the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone! This day would also prove to be perfect since the park hadn't been yet open for a month and the weather was still somewhat too "cold" for most Koreans to get wet. But, we had ourselves a beautiful warm and sunny day to enjoy the festivities of Bri's birthday and the water park!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Beach Camping Korean Style!

On the weekend of May 12 & 13, we went to Muui-do (Muui island) for a relaxing beach camping getaway with some old and new friends!  Jen Pace, our resident Korean survival guide with a wealth of knowledge (who has sadly now left the peninsula), proposed this event via Facebook a few weeks and prior and since we were free that weekend we decided to tag along!  During the week leading up to it, we gathered all the necessities we would need from the local markets/shops in our area (lots and lots of food: wieners, hot dogs, chips, veggies, etc... even pizza)!  

Thursday, May 31, 2012

To the Top of the World! Hiking Jirisan, the second highest peak in Korea

Yup, I wasn't kidding...  I really did catch hiking fever!  So after our last hike in Gyeongju, I spent a good amount of time looking for some more challenging and upcoming hiking opportunities across Korea!  As it turned out, Seoul Hiking Group was organizing a trip to Jirisan for the first weekend in May.  Measuring in at 1915m, Jirisan is the second highest peak in the country and first on the mainland (the other is Hallasan in Jeju), not to mention a little intimidating.  Up to this point, the highest peak I had reached was under 1000m high, so signing up for this one was somewhat of a leap of faith, hoping I could complete the 16km course.  Unfortunately, the arrival of May also meant that Jen would be starting her Master's and her AQ courses, which meant I would have to do this one solo.  Although I felt selfish for leaving Jen alone at home with her books and boring assignments, curiosity and adventure got the best of me and I just had to do it.  Besides, after going to a Lady Gaga concert and celebrating her birthday, I needed a little bit of me time!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Traveling to the historic city of Gyeongju - Cherry Blossoms take 2

After our failed attempt at seeing the elusive Korean cherry blossoms a few weeks before and the discovery of our new hobby, we decided to give Seoul Hiking Group a try and signed up for their upcoming Gyeongju trip.  And boy are we glad we did!  Just like Adventure Korea and WINK, Seoul Hiking Group provides all sorts of weekend trips around Korea.  Unlike the other groups, however, they offer them at unbeatable prices.  Warren is not only the founder of SHG but he also organizes and goes on every single trip.  Equipped with a passion for hiking, traveling, and socializing he offers a unique opportunity for foreigners and Koreans alike to enjoy every aspect of Korea, with a special emphasis on hiking of course (as its name infers)!  Warren is also immensely friendly and flexible, accommodating guests needs on every voyage with tailor-made precision!  Unlike the other groups, I also discovered that SHG has its very own loyal base of travelers who swear by it and who will only travel with Warren and the SHG.  Obviously, I can't speak highly enough of both Warren and SHG, so I recommend that you discover how awesome they are by yourself and sign up for one of their upcoming trips (check out the link above).

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Party Rock in Korea... for real this time!

Party Rock!!!
On Saturday, April 7th, LMFAO came to Korea... well half of them did at least: Redfoo was here and rocked the house at Seoul Olympic Park (While Skyblue was nursing a "back" injury due to party rocking too much - cue rolling eyes).  Of course, Jen and I were there to partake in the festivities.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Discovering a new hobby: Hiking in Korea and the Jinhae Cherry (un)blossom Festival

After the questionably organized ski trip, we were a little weary to book plan another excursion with WINK.  But we really wanted to go to the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival and they were the only group organizing one for the opening weekend (March 31 - April 1st), so we decided to give them a second chance... and we are sure glad we did!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wearing Green and Pretending to be Irish... It must be St. Patty's in Korea!

St. Patrick's Day is a big deal back home... and, as I found out, also in Korea.  For twelve years, the Irish Association of Korea has been organizing and hosting the free St. Patrick's Day Festival in Seoul to celebrate Ireland's patron saint... and to give everyone an opportunity to wear green and get uncontrollably intoxicated.  So we decided to partake in this year's festivities with a beer in one hand and soju in the other!
I'm actually just posing with Chris' beer to "look" cool.. I started drinking much later!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"Can you make me one with everything": Our Temple Stay story

Just before retiring back to our sleeping quarters after a full day temple stay program, we sat down for a chat with the Buddhist monk who was in charge of our Adventure Korea group.  He wanted to know if we had any questions about the Buddhist religion and his own path to enlightenment or if we wanted to share some "funny stories" since he loved to laugh.  As I sat there, listening to the thoughtful and meaningful questions of my peers and the sage answers of our leader, I couldn't help remembering a funny story I had once come across while surfing YouTube for no particular reason.  (Actually, you can find here).  After running it through my friend Chris, I decided to go ahead and share this "witty" joke with our humble monk.  It goes something like this:  

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Adventures in an Adventure Park

I have to be honest. I've somewhat lost interest in blogging. I'm not a natural writer, nor do I enjoy it particularly. Besides, lately I've been more than filling my quota of it, helping Jason with his scholarship and bursary application letters for Law School. Still, I know that, if for no other purpose than to document our travel memories for years to come, to come back and read about our adventures in fifty years when we're old and have nothing better to do, then I should do it. With my first Master's and AQ courses starting up in a few weeks, I know I'll have my hands full. So it's now or never. Here's my first attempt at attacking the backlog of posts Jason and I are faced with due to our excessive procrastination. Let me take you back to a warmer than average mid-February Saturday...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Just keep skiing!

I'm slightly excited to be blogging about our February 25-26th weekend ski trip to Korea's Yong Pyong Resort, for two reasons:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tantalizing Thailand: Part deux

When the sun rose the next morning, we were in a completely different part of the country.  Outside our cabin window, fields and trees replaced the urban jungle that had been Bangkok, the hustle and bustle replaced with serene picturesque countryside beauty.  It was promising and getting there was half the adventure!
Just arriving near the water... this is what we are greeted with...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tantalizing Thailand! Where beauty meets gastronomy and adventure!

Forgive me readers for I have procrastinated.  It's been over two months since my last blog rendition.  In my defense, I have been pretty busy with the new school year and getting back to the grind (although it's hardly a grind at all).  But I confess that in my free time, I haven't had the blog much in mind.  Instead, I've been reading, endlessly surfing the web for travel deals, and working out.  (Yes, I finally decided to start getting back in shape through "Insanity"... literally) But now that I've accepted that I've let you and myself down, I will try and get back on the wagon and catch up the last couple of months of our lives.  We've been pretty active, doing a lot of things, seeing a lot of places and enjoying every minute of it!  So here is the final installment of our Winter vacation trip:  Thailand!  Enjoy!

It was just past noon when we set foot aground on Thai soil for the first time.  After an unusually long wait to get past immigration, we hopped on a train headed toward the famous backpacker/tourist spot, Khao San Road.  Since the train doesn't reach our destination, we hired a Tuk Tuk (a mini taxi) to take us the rest of the way.  As we weaved through the busy streets of Bangkok at incredible speeds, the wind cooling us from the scorching heat, we felt alive and excited.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Tragic Love Story That Would Never Be...

Poor Quasimodo. The deformed hunchbacked bell ringer of Paris' Notre-Dame Cathedral, whose heart is captured by a beautiful and kind-hearted gypsy, was sentenced early to a life of confinement inside the walls of the church. Shunned and despised by all for his deformities, he experiences only a brief moment of human kindness from the compassionate young Esmeralda, who offers him a drink of water while he is being whipped for punishment. Even she, though, is too disgusted by his ugliness to let him kiss her hand. He falls in love with her despite this and hopes to eventually win her heart. Alas, the young woman is tortured and sentenced to death by hanging for attempted murder. A tragic and moving scene featuring the broken-hearted Quasimodo singing to his beloved ensues and, watching it unfold before my eyes, I can't help but fight back a few tears. This is the original 'Danse, mon Esmeralda' performance by Garou in the French Canadian version of Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame), based on French author Victor Hugo's 1831 play published under the same name.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Winning this contest would be AWESOME

Share Your Link to Get More Points!

Click on the link if you want to enter a chance to get a trip to Koh Samui in Thailand. I don't know all the details, but it looks sweet and I figured I had nothing to lose. Every time someone clicks on my link and registers, I get more entries!! So check it out and register!!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Singapore Slingin'

Singapore by night
Rucksack Inn
We arrived at night.  As our plane was flying over the harbour, the city was a beautifully illuminated backdrop to the lit-up ships interspersed across the water.  The view from my plane window was absolutely lovely to behold. A few minutes later, we touched down, deplaned, grabbed our luggage, booked an airport shuttle and were on our way to the Rucksack Inn, the hostel where we would spend our nights while in Singapore.  Unfortunately, I don't have as high a praise for this place as I did for the other two we'd stayed at so far.  Other than the cleanliness, the price (which was decent considering it was in Singapore) and the friendly staff, Rucksack Inn left much to be desired.  Firstly, we were stacked in a 28 bed dorm room, which as you can probably imagine, can get quite interesting.  Between, the snoring, burping, farting and constant noise outside, getting a full night's sleep could be a challenge (although I slept like a baby, Jen did not find sleep on the first night).  To make matters worse, some of her underwear went "missing" (she didn't realize it until we were in Thailand) and she was forced to buy new ones.  Fortunately though, the hostel would only be our base and we wouldn't spend too much time there.  It served perfectly for our needs though, and that's what counts.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monkeying in Malaysia.... just what the doctor ordered

As I write this, exactly one month has passed since we left for what would prove to be the most wonderful trip of my life thus far.  But leaving had been the easy part, as the whole voyage had taken quite a bit of preparation.  The process started with booking the plane tickets which finalized in late November: We would start by flying to Malaysia, spend a few days in Singapore and end with a stay in Thailand.  Then came the reading and planning bit. The better part of December was spent researching about things to do in each country and how to get there as well as finding accommodations.  Buses, trains, ferries, hostels, excursions, scooters would all have to somehow fit into our two week getaway.  How would it be possible to do and see everything we wanted to in such a short time?  Indeed, much planning was required.  I found that, the Lonely planet guides and of course, the Internet were huge helps figuring out all the details.  By the time January rolled around, we just had a few last puzzle pieces left to put in place.  So after finishing up our two week winter camps at school, we were finally ready to embark on this amazing journey.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Let's start 2012 with a bang!

And a bang it was... With a few weeks to digest everything that we've had the chance to do over the last month and a half, I can confidently say that I have never had such a eventful start to any year thus far in my life.  Maybe it stems from the fact that the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world, or maybe the stars aligned for us to kick off the new year with a shot of awesomeness.  I like to think it has more to do with the fact that I am finally taking ownership of my life and pursuing the things that I want to do instead of what I am expected to do.  Coming to Korea has undoubtedly been a catalyst for discovering the real me and an opportunity to test what I am made of.  Along with Jennifer, we've embarked on adventure after adventure, each time learning about ourselves and each time leaving us wanting more.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

South-East Asia Extravaganza!

I've been pondering over this for a few days now... How can I successfully recount three weeks of travel through South East Asia without:
a) wasting an entire day writing about it;
b) boring our readers to death with every detail;
c) boring myself to death writing all day about every detail?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

COSTCO... Where are you?

One upon a time in Korea, Jason and Jen set out to find the nearest Costco to replenish their lives with some western things such as cheese, frozen veggies, chips and, of course, ranch sauce/dressing.  Since arriving in Korea, Jason had been looking everywhere for ranch sauce.  In Canada, it had been an integral part of his "healthy" diet but he couldn't seem to find it anywhere now that he had left his motherland.  Even Subway did not offer ranch dressing as an option for their sandwiches.  They had been hoping to go for a while now, but had been busy on most weekends and just could not find the time.  On November 19th, 2011, the stars were finally aligned as they set out on their adventure through the mysterious land of Korean public transportation with the goal of consumerism on their mind.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Party Rockin' Korean style!!!!!!!!!! Shots! Shots! Shots!

As the temperature was slowly dropping in November, the party scene in Korea was just warming up!  After our incredible trip to Seoraksan, we decided to embrace the Korean nightlife and give it a go.  The month of November felt like we were back in University; drinking excessively, going out all night and having so much fun it felt as though it was illegal.  Our first of many nights out was on November 11, or Peppero Day, which is a big deal in Korea.  Unlike in Canada where we reserve this day for remembrance, Korea celebrates November with a much commercialized "festival" (I use the term loosely since Koreans have a festival for everything).  For this particular event, stores sell chocolate covered candy sticks, called peppero sticks, which you are supposed to give to the ones you love and care about.  Good thing nobody told me about this before I got to school...  I was flooded with peppero sticks from my students and the staff.  Of course, being completely oblivious to this peculiar holiday, I had none to give back.. Oops.  Ah well, scratch that as another foreigner fail moment (which I seem to be having a lot of lately).