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Thailand 1/2


Monday: March 16th – From Seoul to Bangkok

After a brief two hours of sleep in a Korean Jjimjilbang (overnight bathhouse), Jessy and I caught the earliest train to the Incheon airport. At 8:50 a.m. we boarded our flight on Cathay Pacific for Hong Kong. I was sad – didn’t want to leave this beautiful country. Still so much to explore and I was already missing the many friendships that had been formed. I told myself I would return.

Our plane arrived at the Hong Kong International airport around 11:45 a.m.. During our layover we wandered around the shops, sampled some chocolates and cookies, and enjoyed a walkthrough history of Bruce Lee. While we took a lunch break, the new currency and exchange rate was the first dose of a new culture shock. The overall vibe of customer treatment seemed less friendly as well. We paid with our USAA credit cards (which have a low foreign transaction fee of 1%) to avoid withdrawing cash. Before long it was 4:05pm and we boarded our next flight for Bangkok, Thailand!Thailand Travel Map

Atlas we arrived in Bangkok around 6:50 p.m.. After getting through customs we headed to Baggage Claim 20 and found some chairs to setup camp for the next 4 hours while we waited for Jessy’s best friend, Elysia, to fly in from America. During this time I was trying to connect to some sort of free Internet. Finally, I had something to go off of and used the LINE App (Offers free text and calls in App) to connect with our host family. My dear friend, Pook, from a small town in Kansas connected me with her family in Thailand. We’d be staying with her brother and sister-in-law. It was a huge blessing.

They let me know they had a sign with my name and we decided on a place to meet up once Elysia arrived. When she did, we headed out the airport doors. There were people everywhere; people with all kinds of signs looking for whomever or offering a ride. It was very hectic and slightly overwhelming when I couldn’t locate them and had lost my Internet connection. Heading back inside the airport and reconnecting with the host family, they assured me they were outside waiting for us near gate 4. I headed back out and looked around. We were at the right gate and there was no sight of them. Making my way back into the airport for Internet, I was stopped by security and they refused my reentrance. We were tired as it was already around 1:30 a.m.. I felt bad not being able to locate our new friends. Leaving Jessy and Elysia to their chatting, I left and searched different nooks down the long pick-up stretch and finally to my delight, there the couple was with my name on a sign. We all greeted and loaded up in their truck to go home. Sleepy and with a slight language barrier, we connected humming/singing some classic American songs playing on the radio (John Denver’s Country Roads is a favorite across Asia). We arrived to their beautiful home and our housemother, named Gai (which means chicken in Thai), took us to the neighboring open-air restaurant and bought us delicious Tom Kah. A quick walk home and fueled with bottled water, we said goodnight and fell into heavenly sleep.

Tuesday: March 17th – First Day in Bangkok

Morning came so sweetly. It had been over a month since I stayed in an American-sized bedroom with a large comfortable bed all to myself. I even had a nice bathroom. We stayed on the second floor of this nice home and below I could hear the voices of our new family and the clanking pots in the kitchen. Something smelt very delicious. Gai and her husband, Pui, greeted us downstairs. She looped her arm through mine grabbing my hand and led us through the house to her neighboring mother-in-law’s kitchen. Here she had prepared a beautiful pad Thai dish. It was such a big batch! We waited for her family to join us, but she insisted with broken English that they already ate and this food was only for us… so we just helped ourselves.ThailandBlogPhotos-01

We took a quick trip to the bank to withdraw some cash. Jessy’s credit card wasn’t working so she couldn’t access her funds. So until she figured things out, I’d be “mother”. The exchange rate was around 31.37% in favor of the American dollar. For $100 would get you a little over 3,000 Bhat. A freshly squeezed juice could range from 12-50 bhat depending on which area or city you’re in. A nice meal ranged from about 50-120 baht.

Gai and Pui drove us to a mall to search for silk materials (Jessy wanted to have silk pillow cases made). On our way there, we had to drive up a spiral dive for several stories. I was getting carsick but closed my eyes and breathed steadily. While walking around, Elysia was acting dazed too. After eating something it went away. It just so happened that taking malaria pills in the morning with just water made us nauseous.  No success in finding silk, but we got some sunglasses and bought more malaria pills.

Wednesday: March 18th – Ayothaya Floating Market

Greeted with a wakeup call, we enjoyed another breakfast and got in the truck to explore the Ayothaya Floating Market. There was a petting zoo and elephant rides. We didn’t ride an elephant, but did feed and kiss a sweet old elephant on her trunk. We took a little boat tour around the market and enjoyed fresh coconut ice cream that Gai and Pui bought us to stay refreshed in the day’s heat. We shopped around for a few hours buying some T-shirts, cute owls charms, and I also got a little red dress. It was a charming market, with lots of culture and goodies to offer. I was a bit curious of where all the ivory jewelry came from though.ThailandBlogPhotos-02

On the way home, Pui let us ladies out and Gai waved a taxi down so we could take it to the tailor’s to have custom suits made for Jessy and Elysia’s mom. It cost around 2,000 baht per clothing item. It was my first time seeing this processes. The shop was attached to the owner’s home and his little girls would come in and stare at us. The apprentice was taking measurements and sewing away on other orders. It’s quite an impressive skill to have. With the orders in, we left and walked home through the different street markets. There were so many motorcyclists!

Thursday: March 19th – A Final Day in Bangkok

Getting an early start to the day, Bangkok’s China Town was the next destination. The goal was finding genuine gold jewelry and essential oils. The outcome was a new leather travel purse, jewelry (couldn’t find gold) and lots of exotic essential oils. It was early morning so we didn’t see all the fun streetlights, but it was a good experience.

That evening, Gai took us to the subway station where we then said goodbye before heading on our journey to take the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. We got to the train station and found our car. The assigned sections were stacked with the top section as a bed and the bottom section as two seats. Sheets and pillows were provided. Having a bottom section, it took a little while to figure out how I’d comfortably sleep overnight on two chairs with a gap between them. The task of figuring out the chair mechanics was slightly amusing and I finally got them to fold down into a comfortable bed. The train made several long stops throughout the night but was a comfortable ride and I was excited to wake up to a new city.

Friday: March 20th – First Day in Chiang Mai

I awoke with morning sun shining through my window. The train was still moving. Breakfast was being served to those who ordered-in last night. Later in the morning we arrived in Chiang Mai. Upon exiting the train, we were excited to venture out. Using our Lonely Planet travel book, we searched for recommended Guesthouses. It took a long while to get anywhere because we were street shopping the whole way. There were lots of very detailed temples and and beautiful sights! I don’t think we bought anymore than 1 or 2 things each, but it was fun to look around!

ThailandBlogPhotos-04On our way, we met Paige and her friend who were teachers in Korea. They were kind enough to lead us to our JJ Guesthouse. It’s always a great feeling to have a place to stash our packs. We relaxed a bit and then went out on the town again. By a water way, there was a beautiful girl in a red dress feeding pigeons. A young man (I assume her husband?) was photographing her. It was such a lovely sight that I had to capture her also.

That night we went out to dance. The music was American, but not very interesting… so we left fairly soon. After stopping by a convenient store for water and snacks, we returned to our room. I messaged our childhood friend, Phong, who first came to America 15 years prior at the age of 25 and learned English with my family for 3 months. God gifted him as he became fluent in that short time and returned to his village to teach English and be a pastor. He was coming in the morning to pick us up. Back at our room, we got comfortable and went to sleep. We chose the cheaper non air-conditioned room, but the rotating fan on the wall was enough to keep us well.


Saturday: March 21st – A Reunion in the North

Morning came and Jessy and Elysia went to a nearby café while I checked out of and watched our luggage back at the hostel. I was on the lookout for our friend. In time heard a truck approaching on the narrow alley. There he was; hadn’t aged a day in 15 years it seemed! Some neighbors came out and scolded him for driving in the alley where cars weren’t allowed, but his charming and ornery personality made friends out of anyone and so he was given the OK to pick us up and be out of there.

His village is in Mae Cheam of northern Chiang Mai (About a 3-hour drive from where we were). On the way he stopped at a shopping center to get a new room fan. It was our treat to him. Continuing on the road, he stopped at a small street vendor to grab food for our next stop at the lovely Wachirathan Waterfall and then continued on to the highest mountain in Thailand to see the Inthanon Royal Project: a lovely garden area with the King and Queen’s temples (While this may seem like a royal splurge, the wise king had cleverly developed this attraction to bring money into the country. He is very well educated and takes care of his people and they respect him). Afterwards we then walked the Ang Ka Nature Trail with a memorial site where a helicopter had crashed. These areas were relatively close to each other (by vehicle) and I highly recommend a trip to this area.

ThailandBlogPhotos-06Elysia and I rode the rest of the trip in the truck bed. It was a beautiful ride through the forests and along the hillsides. Excited about his village and not sure what to expect, we kept guessing which one was his and were always wrong. Finally we arrived to his village and home in Mae Cheam, Chaing Mai. We had our own guesthouse and bathroom! It was mostly sealed off to nature with a boarded ceiling and concrete walls and floors with mats. The bathroom was perhaps the most exposed with the walls not quite reaching the roof. I was excited! Phong showed us a picture album he had kept of his time in America and with us. For the first time we met his sweet wife, Sara, and later that night we went to a local home and had a church meeting session. We introduced ourselves to the villagers and Phong translated.

Turning in for the night, we made up our sleeping arrangements with some nice plushy blankets the family provided us. Jessy slept on the floor mats and Elysia and I shared the bed. We had a gecko hiding somewhere in the ceiling boards repeating it’s sound and experienced our first giant spider intruder! Actually it was three of them similar to a tarantula! I hate spiders. Jessy hit them with a broom and swept them out the doorway. I checked the bed sheets from then on.

Update: Here’s a video of our trip in Southeast Asia!

South Korea 4/4

SeongsanIlchulbong,JejuSat: March 7th – Exploring Eastern Jeju  I woke up to an upfront and center view of the famous Sunrise Peak, Seongsan Ilchulbong! It was early morning and many visitors were already hiking the 20 minute trek to the top. As time passed, it was getting busier and busier. We packed up our bags and headed out to eat something. Lexy and I tried abalone porridge for the first time and Jessy had pajeon (Korean vegetable pancake). The porridge was a bit lacking on flavor… but it was filling. We then headed up hill and hiked to the top of the mountainous crater. The view was magnificent, and the crater itself was cool, but not as awesome as it would be in spring or summer. The grass was dead and the more interesting sight was the panorama view of the landscape below. As we headed back down we went to the House of Women Divers. These ladies were impressive. They had on their wetsuits and would embrace the cold water to search for abalone, octopus, clams, etc… They would come back with their catch, display them and go back in after a little rest.

After our fill in this area, we caught a bus to take us to our next destination, Cheonjyeon-Jo. Along the way we stopped in Pyoseon-Meyon to eat Korean pizza on the beach and continued to Seogwipo where we saw the Worldcup Stadium and a team of really tall Chinese soccer players in the E-Mart grocery store. Finally we came to Jungmun-dong were we walked around to discover the jjimjilbang we planned to stay in was shut down. After walking the same stretch of street multiple times, we finally found a great hotel that would give us a discount for 2 nights at $15 a person per night.

Sun: March 8th – Explorations in Jungmun We decided to pay for a another night so we could leave our bags in the room and just relax and explore the beach and town. It had a bit more to offer than I had expected when arriving at night. Many tourist attractions and lovely waterfalls, beaches, fancy hotels and so on.

There was a lovely park where we saw the Cheonjeyeon Waterfalls which were within a mile of each other. The water was a beautiful combo of blues and greens. Seonim gyo Bridge arched over the flowing stream and as we were crossing over, there was an older man struggling to guide his wife’s wheel chair backwards down the steep arch. We assisted them and I could feel how it was hard to maneuver without slipping. It felt really good to assist them and they were so grateful. There were fresh Jeju oranges and other citrus fruits being sold. I had to get some. In fact, there were orchards everywhere we went in Jeju. Quite often there were trees full of oranges right by the street or outside of restaurants and other buildings. I noticed some small bridges had concrete railings with decor of orange slice. It was lovely.

Making our way to the beach, we found some interesting stairs that led into the forest and high up the hillside. We worked our way up and eventually entered into a beautifully landscaped area that was in fact the Lotte Hotel property. Talk about fancy! We could have easily enjoyed the spas and swimming pools… but continued exploring and taking pictures. We ventured inside the hotel and felt right at home. We worked the idea that we are “rich” Americans and no one would suspect us as a bunch of cheap travelers. It worked! We got a brief glimpse of what a glamorous stay on Jeju would be like. The staff greeted us kindly and we eventually made our exit out the front doors across the driveway and cut through the hedges to the nearby 7-Eleven for an inexpensive kim bop (sushi roll) and ice cream bar. Not the most glamorous exit, I’m sure. Night was approaching and the day was turning cloudy and cold. We turned in for the night doing laundry and buying our flights back to Busan online for $15!! With taxes and gas fees it was $20. So be sure to purchase your flights a few days in advance to get them cheaper. We paid $80 buying them the day of on the way here.

Mon: March 9th – Cave and Maze Exploration We packed our things to leave this lovely little town. We got on a bus to go north to Jeju City. Originally we planned to hike around South Korea’s highest mountain at Jeju’s center, Hallasan. As our bus (3,300 won) climbed towards the center of Jeju, the temperature dropped and snow was on the ground. It was highly overcast so that we could not see beyond the trees next to the street. With this being our last day, we decided to skip the mountain trek and instead take the bus back to where we flew in at the central north of Jeju. We will be staying in this town later tonight. We continued on the next bus to go east to see a lava tube and maze. The bus ride was 2,300 won one way.

IMG_6737IMG_6764edSomewhere I heard that it is worth spending the money on the opportunity for experiences, because even though the time comes and goes, you are left with the memories. Quite frequently I don’t spend money unless it’s for items that are functional and will last a good while. But I agree that nothing can replace the precious unique memories of an adventure. In saying this, the extra bucks to enter the Manjanggul Lava Tube and Kimnong Maze Park were well worth it. Only about a mile of the lava tube was open to the public, but it was a very nicely setup to accent its unique properties. At first I thought the maze would be a simple child’s game, but after seeing the hedges were at least 10 feet tall, I changed my mind. If I hadn’t solved the map before entering or keep track of where I was, it would have taken a long time to get out. Perhaps to the point of frustration. I loved the whole experience!

Returning back to nearby the airport, we found another jjimjilbang. In the bathhouse, I made a new friend by the name of Sarah. She approached me during my ice water bath. Her English skills were very good and after talking, she offered to maybe meet up with her Sunday in Gangnam. Perhaps a teaching connection? Anyways, she was a sweetheart and gave me a a chocolate ice cream bar when she left.

Busan-08Tue: March 10th – Goodbye Jeju and Back to Busan We didn’t want to pay for a taxi to the airport, so we wandered around early in the morning and after several miles with out packs, we found it! We flew back to Busan and saw the Jagalchi and Nampo (fish market). We also explored the beach and Gwangan which was a very pretty location on the beach and near our next Jjimjilbang.

Wed: March 11th – Into the West and to Seoul We woke up with scratchy throats and the sent of cigarets. Not very pleasant, but it got us out of bed and off to an early start for the day. We stayed on the beach for the morning collecting shells and eating breakfast. Afterwards we headed out to catch an express bus to Namhae. When we got there, we wanted to buy our next ticket to Jeonju (The birthplace of bibimbap). Sadly there was no bus for this destination and we settled for Hadong at 4,700 won. Hopefully from there we can continue forward. The people in Namhae were not very helpful.

When we arrived in Hadong, it ended up being a very pleasant experience. We had about two hours there before we would leave to go back to Seoul. While walking the street, a sweet lady waved to us and we ended up talking. She asked if we had eaten and we hadn’t. We asked for a good restaurant that served dishes with vegetables. She took us to her friend’s restaurant and we ask for bibimbap. It wasn’t on the menu, but they made us a special one. And it was special. Easily the best I have had in Korea. The owner even gave us dried persimmons and lots of side dishes.

Very near by, there was a little market which we browsed and bought some dried persimmons. There was one stall we were at where a lady was helping us. Her little boy was walking around and then sprinkles on Jessy’s leg when he decided to pee on the street. Quite funny! Anyways, we made it back to Seoul and decided to sleep at Lexy’s apartment for the remainder of our stay before leaving Sunday night. We traded off sleeping on the floor this time.

BlueMoon-09Thur: March 13th – Exploring Gangnam I’m not sure where time has run off to, but we hadn’t even been to Gangnam yet! The buildings were all beautiful with fancy lighting and interesting architecture. Perhaps more lovely than any I’ve seen in Japan or New York. Designer brands were everywhere and the shops were mostly empty. I was happy just taking photos of the outside.

Today was the day. We were going to visit the prestigious Once in a Blue Moon Jazz Club. I’ve seen this in multiple K-dramas, and now was my time. There was a definite vibe here. We made it to the jazz club and took a seat. The music was very lively and soothing. There was some slight miscommunication, but the waiter said there was a minimum entry fee of spending at least $20. We ordered a drink and desert to split between us to cover it. However, the manager came over and explained we had to buy more since it was a $20 cover per person. That pooped on our parade, but we went with it and felt like skipping dinner to make up for the loss.

Later in the evening we met up with some friends for a fun norebong session. Some of my favorite songs are in Korean, but I couldn’t read the Hangul fast enough to properly partake in singing them… besides the obvious parts. So I must work on my language skills. Thank goodness there was plenty of English songs to go around.

SwimTeamFri: March 14th – Club Day and Meeting the Swim Team Today we met Lexy’s swim team during Hanyang’s club member recruiting day. I think they were surprised how similar she and I looked. What a great group of people. Many of them could speak basic English and we got along very well. I think swimmers are really great people in general. The president bought us lunch at the school cafeteria and later I helped walk around and recruit people. It was fun to feel this side of college life. My years of college were not involved in clubs. Too busy in the graphics lab. Afterwards, we ate dinner with the group and experienced another two rounds afterwards. It was a very nice evening and lots of new friendships were formed. I know I’ll miss these people even after such a brief encounter. I think it’ll be so hard when Lexy has to move back to America. At the end, one of the guys bought us girls a White Day candy gift. On Valentine’s Day, girls usually give a gift to their loved ones. On White Day, guys show their affection in return. So sweet!

Wedding-07Sat: March 15th – Korean Wedding We were blessed to be invited to the wedding of one of Lexy’s friends from church. We arrived and I’ll say it was the fanciest wedding I’ve ever been to. We even were asked to join the church group and sing in front of hundreds of people. For not practicing, it went rather well. The decor, the food, the couple…. everything was so perfect. But, it went much later then expected and our plans to meet up with the swim team later after swim practice fell through. We did show up but most everyone had left except a few familiar faces. It was nice (Songhei) 성희 was still there. We went out for round 3.

Sun: March 15th – Our Final Day We went to church and had invited Lexy’s friend, 성희. Jessy and I were sitting near a lake by the church and decided to walk around it. On our walk we met our friend and he had brought us a bag of Jeju oranges. There were two different kinds and all of them so delicious! We were very thankful. Afterwards he had a meeting so we said our goodbyes and he left. We then joined the church for dinner and afterwards we went back to Lexy’s and packed to fly the next day. There was a feeling this whole day of sadness because I didn’t want to say goodbye and I didn’t want to leave. I tried to not think of it, but then the day got later and time was still running out.

LastDays-09Our flight was early the next day and it was going to take almost 1.5 hours of travel time to get to the airport. Because the trains would not open early enough, we decided to catch the last train of the night and stay the early morning hours at a jjimjilbang. Lexy saw us off and it was so hard to turn away. Jessy and I were on our own from here on out. We reached the station and ventured out to find a jjimjilbang. Lexy had one mapped out for us. We hiked a ways… further then what we had planned. Eventually we came to a place that look like it. A British man walked out with a confused look. He asked us for directions to a different place and said this location was nothing that he expected. We didn’t know the area well, but wished him the best. As we proceeded to enter, a man approached us and showed us back out. Apparently it was only for men and yea, we’ll leave it at that. He did direct us in the correct direction.

Finally we arrived and it ended up being a very nice place. I had a fun time exploring all the floors and the interesting spa rooms. There was a freezing blue room I peeked in, but didn’t actually enter cause a guy was in there. I walked around checking out the other places and then sat by a column so Jessy could easily spot me when she showed up. I then noticed the guy coming out of the freezing room was a tall attractive lad. He walked passed me then proceeded to sit on the other side of the column. I began to think that Jessy probably would have a hard time finding me, so I ventured to find her. Searching all the floors, I would occasionally run into the guy I noticed early. I went back to sit at the column. He later came in and bought two juices and sat at the column again. Was he following me? Maybe, I should talk to him? I was too shy this second time around. After some time passed, he got up and left. Perhaps he would be back? Third time’s the charm. Jessy then found me and we decided on a room to sleep in. Part of me wanted to stay up and see if the lad would appear again, but with only 2 hours left to sleep, I gave in.

Mon: March 16th – Goodbye Korea, Hello Thailand
Made it to the Incheon airport and flew to Hongkong, then to Bangkok. Elysia flew in 4 hours later and we met up with family of one of my university friends… to be continued


South Korea 3/4

Tue: March 3rd – On to Sokcho Last night I set my alarm for 7:30 am. Using the Korean App: Kakao Talk; I messaged Lexy about our plans to head out of Seoul to the far east coast. Not really sure of how or where the bus system was at, I leaned on Lexy for her help. We all had a vague idea of what our destinations would be but no experience in traveling out side of Seoul by bus.

As morning arrived, we just took everything as it came. First off, morning came too soon and it was far too cold to get up when the alarm went off. The original plan was to leave the hostel by 8:00am and meet up at Lexy’s and get to the Express Bus Terminal station by 9:00am.
We ended up spending the morning blogging and most of the day in Lexy’s room prepping and figuring out how much money we were in debt to each other. Jessy and I lightened our packs leaving unnecessary items on Lexy’s bed and making room for her things in our backpacks. Eventually we left and found the way to the bus terminal. Lexy is so cool with her Korean language skills. I’m envious! We hopped aboard the 4:30pm bus and were to arrive in Sokcho at approximately 7:00pm. Our plans for sleeping was to find our first jimjilbang (Korean Bathhouse). Which one? We had no plan, but would find out shortly.

How cool is this? A Korean lady sitting behind us started a conversation with Lexy and could speak English. She asked about us and where we were staying. Finding that we had no place to stay yet, she shared her travel plans and offered us to stay at the condo she was going to. Plus, she was going to a temple and to Seoraksan National Park to hike a similar route we would. It’s great to now know someone familiar with this place. As a member, she was able to get us a $50 room at the Hyundai Sool Condominium.

NaksanTemple-01Wed: March 4th – Naksansa and Mt. Seoraksan Morning came and we awoke and met up at 6 am in the lobby. Our new friend, Myoung-Soon, paid for a taxi ride to Naksansa. The temple grounds stand on the slopes of Naskan Mountain and is one of a few temples that offer a rare opportunity to face the East Sea of Japan. We hurried to a point over looking the ocean in hopes of seeing the sunrise, but to our dismay it was too overcast. Towering over us was a marble sculpture of the Bodhisattva of Mercy, known as the goddess Gwanseeum-Bosal. She could be seen from miles away on the Naksan hillside. The hour for free breakfast at the temple was almost up, so we hurried over and enjoyed a delicious vegetarian breakfast made by volunteering ajummas.

While our friend was showing us around, I fell behind taking pictures. The craftsmanship and hand painted temples were so beautiful. I could tell the color palette was inspired by the surrounding nature. The ocean was a major element that made this place so peaceful. The girls made their way up to a temple porch and were taking off their shoes and heading inside. I hurried up the nearest stairs to join them. Shortly after my sisters got after me and relayed that not even the highest of monks was worthy enough to climb the stairs I just sprinted up. I didn’t mean to disrespect, but I didn’t know!

We left Myoung-Soon for about an hour to let her pray and then met up in a little gift shop for some delicious tea. We tried both Uza cha and Dechu cha. Two amazing teas!!! The place we were in didn’t sell the tea to make but we were told what to look for in the markets. Browsing the items in this shop, I came across a pretty pink glass ring decorated with a floral painting and some diamonds and silver balls. In a rush and feeling discouraged after trying one ring on that didn’t fit, I was about to walk away with my experience of rings never fitting besides my pinky and ring finger. But the lady quickly handed me another size. To my great surprise, it fit! I was very happy and paid about $8.


We left the temple grounds before noon and caught two buses to Seoraksan National Park. Here we would part ways with our friend as we were taking separate paths. My sisters and I took the cable car up to the point of the mountain. I recommend this if your short on time. An amazing view awaited us at the top and on the way back down I made friends with the cutest little boy and girl. In Korean I asked what their names were and Lexy taught me how to ask for their age. They were four years old and twins. On exiting the cable car, Lexy heard the cable car driver say he was so impressed with my Korean skills. Thank you Lexy for being a great teacher!

MtSeoraksan-02After reaching base, we had four hours to hike the Ulsan path. About 3/4 up the mountain is a famous bolder that can be tipped with the effort of a group of people. Many Korean game shows or team bonding experiences have been filmed here. The total hike was about  3.8 km to the top. We had rented a locker to lighten our packs a bit and therefore we had to be back by closing time at five. It was a hustle on the way down to make it in time (plus having to pee ridiculously bad). Tired and happy, we now needed to make it back to town. Waiting for the bus was getting cold but we got to witness the glorious sunset behind the mountains.

No bus was to be seen and we didn’t know the schedule, but a nice car pulled up to us and the couple inside offered a ride. We were so excited. Speaking no English, Lexy was under pressure to translate. With Jessy and I continuously asking for what they were saying, she tried to make sense of it all (Also she had to try and translate the different dialects of Korean). Lexy told us they asked where we wanted to go. She told them a jimjilbang would be fine. They asked if we were hungry. She let them know we wanted to try the fresh sea food. Picking up words here and there, she came to the conclusion they must want to have dinner with us. They took us to a really fresh fish market where we got out and then realized we would be saying our goodbyes and eating dinner alone.

IMG_6046ed SokchoSeafood-03

We did try some fresh seafood. There was an alleyway full of all sorts of fish tanks and tubs. The variety of sea creatures was amazing and ranged from all kinds of crabs, clams, fish, squid, octopus, eels, sea slugs and the unknown. Many of the vendors had similar creatures, so we didn’t know who to go with. But we started a conversation with one man and inquired what some of the unknown was and decided to go with a crab and fish stew. He and his wife prepared our meal on the spot with some Korean service (on the house). They had cut up some of the unknown species into sashimi for us. I enjoyed the stew and crab, but the unknown sashimi was very weird in texture and the flavor was… ehhh. Usually I love sashimi – perhaps when it is fish and not some kind of slug.

For the night we stayed in our first jjimjilbang (Korean bath house) called Fantasia. What an experience! Yes, the name sounded like a creepy place, but for $8 it was a good deal. We had access to showers, saunas, and spas ranging from hot, super hot scalding hot, and ice cold. Now, it did require some extra confidence to walk around in nothing but our skin. Poor Jessy was nearly raped by an ajumma who wanted to make sure she had a proper scrub-down. The women are more blunt in speech and manner the further we travel from Seoul. It is slightly entertaining. Many of them work hard in the fish markets or farming and for them, the jimjilbang is a place to escape, hangout and relax. There was also some saunas, little personal stools for toosh warming, and showers. After getting dressed in our provided garments, we headed out into the coed area were sleeping mats and pillows were provided. There were some very interesting sleeping rooms that resembled caves with pretty gems and stones covering all the walls and heated floors. We grabbed a few mats and pillows and called it a night in the woman’s private room. Overall, it was a good experience and we would do it again. Yes, there are occasional creepy old men, but we could play smart and avoid them.

Fri: March 4th – Off to Daegu The following morning we traveled around town for a bit and eventually found our way to the express bus terminal. We bought our tickets for about $25 and would arrive in Daegu in the evening. The bus was very comfortable and took about 3.5 hours. When we arrived, we hiked around looking and thinking of where to stay for the night. For the lack of WiFi and seemingly walking away from where we should have been headed, we took a taxi to the subway station and found a Sol Bing to use their WiFi and have an excuse to eat more patbingsu. After a bit of research we found not too far was the cheap Royal Hotel. It was about $50 that we would split three ways.

IMG_6237ed IMG_6259edSat: March 5th – Daegu and Busan In the morning, we had to adjust our plans to hangout with friends around the town. We would not be spending another night here, but would catch a bus to Busan. So we ventured around the area and bought different teas such as the ones we had at the temple in Naksan. While browsing the different shops, we came to one were we met the sweetest old man who invited us in to have some tea in his store. Somehow understanding each other, he gestured for us to follow him upstairs. After climbing the stairwell to the 4th or 5th level, we came to a closed door. He then entered and to our wonderful surprise, he had brought us up to his calligraphy room. Here there were several older men practicing lovely calligraphy and mixing their own ink. The kind man painted each of us a scroll and took pictures with us. He showed a book he was published in and his certificates and awards. After receiving his business card, I learned he was the President of the Bium Calligraphy Forum Association. A very kind and talented man; what a treat it was for him to share his time with us. After saying farewell, we then headed to the Seosam Market where we shopped around, ate snacks and later headed to the bus terminal to catch the next one to Busan.

We arrived in Busan late at night but were too excited to see the beach to wait for morning. We rode the subway and took the exit to Haeundae Beach. We walked a few blocks and enjoyed the colorful town lights and finally the ocean view. A huge bond fire was near the end of it’s life and we drew nearer to check it out. A Korean lady approached us and explained that this festival happened once a year during a full moon at this season. It was custom to bow three times to the moon and pray for the health and good fortune for family and friends. Walking on the boardwalk we sat and listened to two musicians. So much talent and handsome. My inner fan-girl took over and I had to get a picture!

Sun: March 6th – A Dinglebong Experience At 2 am, we checked into our jjimjilbang for the night at the Haeundae Spa Center. Jessy discovered an interesting sign at the front entrance, we laughed and went in. This place was quite a step up from the last one for just $2 more ($10 entrance fee). Tired from our travels and excited to get some shuteye, we hurried through the bathing procedure, got dressed and headed to the sleeping quarters. Lights were dim and pink and blue clothed bodies were sprawled around on the floor. Feeling slightly awkward while we looked for a place for the three of us, a young man came over and lead us to a decent location. We laid out our mats out sticking close together while he whispered something Lexy could respond to. A little time passed and the time for sleep had been neglected due to this guy still wanting to still talk. We let him know it was time to sleep, so he agreed and all was perfect… until he moved his mat perpendicular to our feet. It sparked a red flag. We three got the vibes he had the hots for Lexy. Feeling responsible to protect her, I quietly switched places with her to sleep on the outside with her in the middle. It was an interesting long night, as I stayed on guard and did not sleep a wink.

Never have I experienced someone so… invasive of personal space! The term, dinglebong, was developed by Jessy to describe a jjimjilbang with creepy guys. It was very fitting for this occasion which ruined the whole experience. Multiple times throughout the night, he was awake and up to something. Curiosity got the best of me. I played “sleep” to see what exactly he would do. If he wasn’t staring, he was busy making sure our blankets covered our feet. He tried to be quick not to awake us. Actually, this was kind of helpful because between us three sisters, our little blankets did get disheveled; he was there to fix it. Then, there are these foam bricks used for head rests. They are too high for me to use comfortably as a pillow, but I tried and then chose to use the floor instead. Well, pretty soon this thing is under my head again. I didn’t put it there. I’m getting the creeps just writing this. He was like a little mother… but not a mother, so it’s weird. Anyways, morning finally came and I was tired of being tired and waiting for my sisters to wake up. I wanted to leave, but I was on guard and he found me awake and decided to try and converse. We made sense out of motions and words. He offered me some Alvera juice he had bought for us. He seemed normal at times but I’m not quite sure what his deal was, perhaps he wasn’t all mentally there. Eventually I just woke the girls up so we could leave.

We left for the beach and spent some time exploring the area. We came upon a pathway that was part of the Dongbaek Park. This was a very pretty area, perhaps one of the prettiest places I’ve seen along the coast. In the mid afternoon, we headed to the Busan airport. Once we got there, we bought tickets for the next flight to Jeju Island. The tickets were around $80 but if we were smart and bought them a few days earlier, they could have been as cheap as $15 + $5 gas fee. Traveling day by day – it’s a little hard to know what’s going to happen when and where. It did feel like the movies/dramas when the main actor/actress pulls the stunt of requesting the next flight out for whatever reason.

It was a beautiful flight overlooking the fishing boats and neatly placed nets across the water’s surface. When we arrived in the small Jeju airport, we had planned a basic route that we wanted to take, beginning on the far eastern shore with Seongsan Ilchulbong. We made reservations at a convenient guesthouse that was very near by. Night had approached and hid the view out our window, so we slept with great anticipation for tomorrow.

South Korea 2/4


Dongdaemun Tue: Feb 24th – Shopping and Cats The day started off with Jessy and I exploring Seoul without our guide. It’s sort of like a scavenger hunt at first using the train lines, but now I’d say we got the system down. We took a trip to go shopping in Dongdaemun to buy fabrics Jessy can use for her Candy Lagoon business. This is on the Green Line to the History and Cultural Park. I recommend checking this area out as it was very interesting with a lot of art and unique architecture. We went inside the main building outside of the station and learned it was a museum (This explains why it was so curvacious and spaceship looking)! At the top floor there was a very interesting gallery of chairs and benches. One in particular really caught my eye as it was so colorful and completely made of paper! Going out some doors, we were now on a rooftop park which gracefully curved down to the main street level. Here we came across some fun sculptures including a very  groovy party bus!  Lexy was currently in class but met up with us later in the evening were we explored the night streets of Meyongdong. This area was super lit up! There was a high energy and we didn’t really shop much in stores mainly due to being distracted outdoors with all the entertainment and shopping booths.

And let’s talk about cats…. well, Lexy had always wanted to be a Kitty Girl when she was little. Today, the cat chose her. Handing its tail over, she followed closely behind smiling to passers by. Of course people were staring, it was entertaining – and worth it cause you get a buy 1 get 1 free drink at the Cat Cafe. And my goodness there was a lot of cats and a lot of catnip. It was just like fairy dust. The kitties were on cloud nine and ruling the roost. It was pretty cute. There was one tiny little Chihuahua dog that was literally a quarter the size of some of these cats. Definitely the underdog in this scene. If you visit, I recommend using the slippers they provide that I some how missed. After walking around in my socks, I could feel they had accumulated some things I didn’t want to put in my shoes. The damp sticky feeling as I walked around was enough to make me decide to toss them upon exit.

Wed: Feb 25th – Hanok Village Today we took a fun trip to Euljiro: Hanok Village. It’s named after general Eulji Mundeok who saved Korea from the invading Sui Dynasty Chinese. This town is so peaceful today and there were many beautifully designed homes with intricate details. After wondering around this neighborhood, we found some stairs that led downhill into the town below. We crossed by a cute coffee and beer cafe and decided to go in to warm up and get a drink. The decor was lovely and a fun surprise was the pillows in a seating area. They are illustrated by a famous Korean artist, Youk Shim Won, who’s art was featured in the K-drama, Fated to Love You. I was encouraged as an artist to keep pushing forward with my own work. Afterwards we went to the Express Bus Terminal for a huge underground shopping center experience.

Euljiro_HanokVillageThur: Feb 26th – Language and Social We returned to Dongdaemun to buy some fabrics and other materials. This time we had our translator, and she sure did a good job! I did feel like a proud sister – Proud of how far Lexy has come and grown in her language skills and her ability to haggle down those prices!

Later we met up with Lexy’s friend from swim club. What a great guy! We had a good time talking and learning about Korean culture. He introduced Jessy and I to the standard three rounds of Korean social life. You can mix and match whatever you do. But do at least three things. We began round one with a lovely traditional Korean dinner in which he offered to buy us Chicken Shit… saying it was really good. None of us had the courage (I later found out it is the chicken gizzard). Otherwise we had mokoli (traditional rice wine), side dishes, a main course and pajeon (Korean seafood and veggie pancake). Round two lead us to the norabang (Karaoke). For round three, Jessy treated us all to ice cream. And for round four he treated us to some drinks with more dinner. I tried duck for the first time which was surprisingly good. We were also served yoghurt which is suppose to prevent indigestion and drunkenness. It was a great evening and I’d say Korea has the social scene down.

FriendsFri: Feb 27th – Too Close For Comfort Jessy and I had a sleep over at Lexy’s dorm due to staying out past 11:30 pm when the trains shut down and we become helplessly stranded. That was a funny night trying to sneak in without getting caught by security guards and not waking up her roommate. This was probably the most uncomfortable sleeping experience I’ve ever had in a bed. Sharing a twin sized bed between three 6′ girls… somehow I was stuck in the middle with no room but to stay on my side. While this was OK at first, my shoulder began to ache and I couldn’t even move to adjust myself. My only escape was to flip around with my head at the foot-end of the bed. My new neighbors kept kicking me in the arms and snuggling up too close to my face. Even so, somehow the little extra room was worth it.

Sat: Feb 28th – Nigh Out in Hongdae
We met up with one of Jessy’s friends who had been teaching in Busan, South Korea for the past year. He met us where we were staying in Hongdae. We had samgeyopsal (Korean BBQ) for the first time and of course our favorite, patbingsu. Afterwards we headed out to a Thursday Party Draft House to play some darts and meet other people. Who says you need to drink to have a good time? It’s not true! And thank goodness I had my wits about me. The only scare was when a bunch of our personal belongings had disappeared in a flash from a stash at our table. After a brief panic attack and talking with a gal at our table, she had mistakenly thought our items were her friend’s and delivered them. She quickly ran out the door and came back with everything returned. What a relief and thank you, Jesus. Having enough of that, we left. Lexy and I stayed out a bit later with the mission to experience a place where the Koreans go. I think we were successful in that we saw no other foreigners. The music and lighting was amazing… meaning it was K-pop. Everyone was very excepting and we got some good dancing exercise. In all it was a good experience and there was no hangover the next day.

Sun: March 1st – Needed Sleep Today was a recovery day spent mostly in and around the hostel doing laundry and catching up on sleep after the late night before.

Mon: March 2nd – On to Sokcho Leaving Seoul to head out on an adventure all around the coast South Korea. Until next time, Cheers!

South Korea 1/4


Right now I’m cozily under the blankets of my top bunk bed at the Kimchee Hongdae Guesthouse. It’s a chill 27 degrees F this morning. Not too bad except for the very limited amount of heavy clothes packed for the sake of traveling light when in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Much has happened in the early stages of this adventure.

Wednesday: Feb 18th – Goodbye America This journey has got off on a great start. PDX to LA was the first connection. Followed by our longest flight from LA to Tokyo. The sweet Japanese lady at the check in counter couldn’t locate Jessy’s seating and with the manager’s permission she had us seated together in a spot with more leg room. AKA: Business Class. As we waited at the counter, we noticed a large group of around 100 Japanese high school students. They were all in uniform and sitting in a dense circle on the floor- quite entertaining to watch. Once we finished at the counter, our stomachs started talking to us. We still needed to go through security but debated on grabbing a snack first. While deciding, the huge group of students got on their feet and began heading towards security. My goodness I didn’t want to wait in that line! Jess and I booked it and made headway halfway through the group. Making some friends along the way, I tried to remember any Japanese from my stay in Japan four years ago. Maybe not that successful, but a valiant effort. We all were on the same flight in the end.

That was the shortest 13 hr flight I’d  ever experienced. Accommodations included: comfy slippers (actually fit), comfy headphones, toothbrush, eye mask, hot face towels, several tasty meals and dessert including Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and a variety of other goods including alcoholic beverages. The chairs were big and slid down to a comfy angle. There was also a long list of free movies and shows on my personal tv screen. I got through 3 or 4 movies.

The last flight from Tokyo to Seoul was a quick one of about 2 hours. I wasn’t too hungry but they served a sandwich, bento box and drinks. Finally we arrived. It was quite sometime before we made it through the long customs’ line. But once we did we were home free and set out to find our sister, Lexy, who was eagerly waiting at the exit.

What a treat it’s been to see Lexy after a long 6 months. She’s so full of life and joy. It’s addicting and contagious. Having arrived and met up round 10pm, our next destination was the Kimchee Hongdae Guesthouse. We didn’t have Wifi access and if it wasn’t already, it turned into a late night adventure. We took the Incheon International Airport Railroad to Hongik University Station. Still without WiFi nor a proper map nor working phone, we made due with what we had: a screen shot of the map without street names and an address. After walking around in circles (literally did that) we caved in to a taxi driver. We were so close to our destination that the driver chuckled. We turned in for the night and with the trains shut down for the evening, Lexy had to take a taxi back to her dorm at Hangyang University.

imageThursday: Feb 19th – Awesome People and Adventures Lexy came by and we headed out to explore. Right around the corner of our guesthouse is the You Are Here Cafe. This is owned by Youtubers Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchee. There is a video recording booth all guests can use. So of course we wanted to test it out – so much pressure. I’m not sure what we did, but it was definitely awkward. Haha, oh well. Upon our exit, we met some lovely ladies who were English teachers.  Of course when one visits the You Are Here Cafe, it is primarily to have a chance at meeting the creative couple. Sadly they weren’t present this day, so we continued onwards.

(Update: My persistence paid off! Ok, so maybe I only came into the cafe 3 out of 15 days we were staying in Hongdae, but one lucky Friday late morning I got to meet Simon and Martina!!!! Imagine waking up and waiting for your sibling to do the same. Being bored, you decide to venture around the block to You Are Here Cafe for a change of scenery and breakfast. Sitting alone at a stool table examining the decor and the usual routine of checking emails and social media. My peripheral vision caught a figure messing with the display besides me. I looked up and to my almost disbelief I asked, “Simon?” He turned around with a smile and raised eyebrows. I reassured he didn’t know me, but what a friendly guy. We took pictures and then Martina walks into the room and we had to include her! What an awesome couple (I rate them 5/5 stars). They were very down to earth and engaging. Totally made my day! I learned Martina does a few illustrations but they have one gal hired on the team to design most their stuff. How fun –  I wish I could too!

IMG_5465ed1We found our way to Gwanghwamun Square where we saw the statues of Admiral Yi Sun Shin and King Sejong. Very nearby was the Geyongbokgung Palace and National Palace Museam of Korea. Also nearby was Cheonggye Plaza with it’s tall sea shell sculpture and Moreongyo water way. Earlier on, two little women approached us. The younger spoke English and told us her mom wanted to say hello and ask where we were from. They were so darling and we took pictures and exchanged emails. The mother had in her purse a soft scarf she hand knit. She liked to make and give scarves to kind strangers on her outings. She gave one to us. Soooo sweet!

IMG_5520edFri-Sat: Feb 20/21 – Hanyang University Jess and I took the subway to Wangsimni Station to meet Lexy and see Hangyang University. It was great to roam her territory and get a feel of the campus life. There is a large staircase that the university students are superstitious about. From what I can remember, if you use the left side you’ll either Ace a test or more predominately fail. Use the right side and you’ll pass just fine. I only saw one or two people use the left side and many students use the right side. After exploring and a visit to her dorm, we had dinner and went to Sul Bing for Korean shaved ice cream, patbingsu!

Sunday: Feb 22 – Church and Friends Jess and I made our way to Konkuk University to meet up with Lexy for English church service. Everyone was very welcoming. One of the best surprises was a dear friend who I hadn’t seen since Japan four years ago, had come to church to see us. I’ve missed this girl so much. Jessy was able to meet her and we went out for coffee to catch up. Returning to the church, we listened to Lexy playing piano on the worship team and enjoyed the sermon. Afterwards a very kind man took us all out (20+ people) to eat Chinese black noodles. (I had seen this in K-dramas and finally got to try it. The verdict? It was good, but not my favorite dish – too much corn syrup). We parted ways and enjoyed the evening with patbingsu and meeting more friends.

IMG_4306edMon: Feb 23rd –  A Chilling Climb We hiked Bukhansan mountain with our new French friend, Julien. That was a fun adventure leading us past beautiful temples, icy ridges, frozen waterfalls and high above the city. Pushing past sunset, we reached a large gate. We met some ajummas (spunky middle aged women) here with heavy hiking equipment (We were only in hiking boots and a light layer of clothes). They were going to spend the night at a temple further over the mountain nested in the hillside. We started off first and day light was quickly vanishing. The path had become a climb over icy bolders and frozen ground. There was a single rope leading us up (definitely used it as an aid and guide in the dark climbing down. I was very impressed as the ajummas made head way with their ice picks and spiked shoes. I hope they made.

Finally we reached the top for a gorgeous view! We could see the lights of the city and Buddhist temple. After climbing around on the rocks for good photo opportunities, my fingers and body were numb from the continuous blowing wind and the single digit temperatures. We still had to head down a hike that took 3 hours coming up. I couldn’t move my fingers to grab anything – thankfully Julien had some gloves he lent me! Coming down was a slippery experience that made the heart race. But once we past the gate, we had the protection of the trees and through the darkness, we trekked. Having been following Julien, he suddenly was out of sight. Jess was trailing behind and I picked up my pace and passed between two boulders.  Completely caught off guard, I heard a terrifying ROARRR over my left shoulder! I screamed in response and maneuvered myself when I then heard the sound of laughter now taking over. I’ll admit, he scared me pretty good. The rest of the trip down went by rather quickly. We felt very accomplished and thankful when we reached the bottom. What would have felt really good was a jimjilbang (Korean bathhouse). It will happen. Stay tuned!

The Beginnings of an Adventure

Kawagoe, Japan 2010The travel bug hit ever since the approach of graduation in 2014. With graduation over, I can’t help but believe now is the time. So here it is. This is going to be an exciting adventure to embark upon with my sister, Jessy, and our friend, Elysia. We will start off by visiting our sister in South Korea for 3.5 weeks. From there, we’ll fly into Bangkok, Thailand and venture north of Chiang Mai to visit a friend and his village and then head south to the tropical beaches of Phuket. Arriving back in Bangkok, we will then head east through Cambodia and into Vietnam. In total this trip will be slightly over 2 months. Note: Past international travel experience: Ecuador 1.5 months and Japan 2.5 months.

Now, none of us have much money to work off of. But with stashed up frequent-flyer miles, some friendly connections, lots of travel research and a sense for adventure, I have a feeling this trip should be a good one. I’m not certain how often I’ll be able to post, but hopefully there will be frequent enough places with free WiFi.

Right now is the prep stage. I got updated on my vaccination shots. Which included tetanus, Hepatitis A, Typhoid and Malaria pills. I was so proud I didn’t feel faint after the shots. Did I finally overcome this obstacle in life? Sadly, no. From past experiences, I could make it as far as the waiting room before I started blacking out with sweat, ringing ears and the desire to lay down on the dirty scuffed-up vinyl floor. This round I just sat on a seat in the back room. Five minutes in, I told the nurse I felt great. She insisted I sit for a little while longer. Not even a minute later, I told her I had to lay down – making my way to the bed like a drunkard.

So far I’ve got my passport in hand and a new 65L Osprey backpack. No visa needed for South Korea or Japan since it’s a visit less than 30 days. As for South East Asia, it could be a different story – research in progress. (Update: Vietnam requires a Visa. We can get these at the boarder Update Post Trip: We were turned away at the border! Get ahead of schedule) . Now it’s buying necessities and the skill of packing light. Certainly should be interesting since it’ll be quite cold in Japan and Korea while tropical in SE Asia. It would be nice not to have to huff along a coat. However, I am one who always gets cold.

Stay tuned as the adventure unfolds. And please keep us in your prayers. Cheers!