Category Archives: History

From a Grand Palace to Grand Reptiles in Bangkok

The Grand Palace in Bangkok is the very definition of opulence. It has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam since 1782 and is only partially open to the public as a museum, since it still houses several royal offices. The large complex also features other buildings and pavilions, including Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). Everywhere you turn, you see some amazing building or detail, it’s almost overwhelming. Everywhere you turn, you also see droves of fellow tourists … and their parasols.

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Seriously,though, what an incredible place. Again, you have to cover up before going in. If you don’t have a wrap, they provide you an outfit.

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Southeast Asia Vacation Part 2: Bangkok’s Ornate Temples & Bustling Streets

Bangkok, Thailand, seems to be a popular destination among people who travel to Southeast Asia. Personally, I think we could’ve skipped it. That’s not to say we didn’t have fun there or that the city doesn’t have anything worthwhile to offer, but we could’ve happily gone without a big-city experience during our vacation.

We were surprised during the drive to our hotel to see such a sprawling city with so many high-rises and skyscrapers — wow! I’d argue there are way more high-rises in Bangkok than in L.A. We also spotted numerous mosques and halal-friendly hotels and buildings, which was a first for us (we’d never seen entire hotels with a golden dome on top).

From humongous billboards along the highway and super luxurious shopping malls to crowded markets and dilapidated homes along the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok was a hodgepodge of sceneries. Here’s the view from our hotel, the Hotel Icon Bangkok. It was nice, our room was spacious and clean, and the hotel provides free shuttle service to the main avenue where you can catch the train.

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Our favorite Siem Reap temple & the Cambodian Circus

I mentioned in my previous post that Cambodia wasn’t what we expected. It’s a very poor country. At least in Siem Reap, we saw many dirt roads and wooden shacks on stilts. If you’re one of the tourists who stay in a hotel in the center of town, you may not really notice the level of poverty. The area by the Angkor Night Market and Pub Street is littered with restaurants, shops and hotels.

Our hotel, however, was quite removed from the center of town. We had to drive over many dirt roads, huge potholes, past dozens of stray dogs, past many bareboned homes where residents killed time outside watching a small TV set or lying in their hammocks, past many hole-in-the-wall local businesses — hair salons, barber shops, massage parlors, seamstresses, mechanics, laundromats — to get to our resort. It was one of those experiences that just puts life into perspective. Especially the night we were riding back in the tuk tuk and a roach flew smack dab onto my chest! Will came to my rescue. But seriously. Our hotel even had literature warning against giving money to child beggars (or buying things from them), as it encourages the cycle of begging and keeps them from seeking a proper education. We had to turn down many children during our visits to the temples.

So, on to our favorite day in Cambodia. To visit Banteay Srei, we had to take the tuk tuk about an hour outside of Siem Reap. This ride gave us the chance to see the Cambodian countryside. We drove past many rice paddies (dried up, as the dry season had just ended) and lots of farmland, skinny cows and chickens, past kids playing in the dirt pushing soda cans with sticks, past locals relaxing next to their cows outside. There was a curious sensation of being near the ocean and feeling the ocean breeze, even though we were nowhere near the ocean. Beautiful, lush, serene. Take a look:

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Banteay Srei is unique in that it’s built out of red sandstone and it’s of a much smaller scale than many of the other temples in the Angkor area. Continue reading Our favorite Siem Reap temple & the Cambodian Circus

Southeast Asia vacation Part 1: The Ancient Ruins of Siem Reap

Living in South Korea presented us the perfect opportunity to travel around Southeast Asia. It’s one of those parts of the world that’s just so far from California, that we’d likely never visit it otherwise, I’m kind of ashamed to admit. (Unless Will had to go there for work, which is very possible.) So, we decided to vacation across Cambodia and Thailand on our way back to the states.

Why Cambodia and Thailand? We didn’t know much about either country until we started to research and plan our trip. In the end, the many ruins, temples and paradise-like beaches lured us there.

Our two glorious weeks of vacation kicked off in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Tip #1 when traveling to Cambodia — bring U.S. dollars! You’ll need them for everything, most importantly, to pay for your tourist visa (they don’t accept credit card) and then for pretty much anything else in-country. Let’s just say we learned this the hard way, having flown in straight from Seoul with only South Korean Won in our wallets. Continue reading Southeast Asia vacation Part 1: The Ancient Ruins of Siem Reap

Crossing the Border: Our Tour of the DMZ & JSA

You often hear news of foreigners being imprisoned by North Korea. But did you know there’s a place where you can safely cross the border? (Mostly safely.) I’ll get to that later.

After months of living in Seoul, I finally got to visit the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) and JSA (Joint Security Area) in Panmunjom. I shouldn’t be surprised that Koreans have made the DMZ a tourist attraction, but it’s still amusing to me that they allow steady streams of tourists into such a highly sensitive and politically charged area. In fact, our tour guide noted that, despite its name, the DMZ is the most militarized area in the country.

We booked a full-day tour that took us to the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, the Dora Observatory, the Dorasan Station, the Freedom Bridge, the JSA and famous MAC Conference Room, and the Bridge of No Return. (Will had already been to the DMZ, but he hadn’t done the full tour, so some of this was new to him, too.) Here’s our spiffy tour bus.

Tour bus FTW!

The DMZ is only about an hour away from Seoul. At a certain point during the drive up, I started noticing barbed wire fencing and guard posts along the Hangang (Han) River. If you look across the river, you can see the mountains in North Korea, which our tour guide said are bare because they still use wood for a lot of construction. She also said they believe the dark green patches are places where the North Koreans are hiding weapons.

Barbed wire fencing and guard houses along the Han River

First views of North Korea

Another guard house Continue reading Crossing the Border: Our Tour of the DMZ & JSA

Hiking in Style at Namhansanseong Fortress

To clarify, Will and I were not the ones hiking in style! But as soon as you reach Sanseong Station and get on the bus, you feel like you didn’t get the memo on what to wear. It’s quite the sight. Everyone around us was dressed head to toe in bright, colorful hiking gear. The pants, jackets, boots, hats, walking poles, backpacks, canteens — the whole works! (If you look closely, you can kind of see what I’m talking about in the photos.) You’d think you’re going to hike Mount Kilimanjaro, not Namhansanseong Fortress.

Namhansanseong Fortress is located southeast of Seoul, took us about an hour, hour and a half to get there via train and bus. Its miles and miles of walls and gates were built in the 17th century in response to the introduction of gunpowder weapons to East Asia, according to my guide book. It was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site just last year. There are various shrines, temples and pavilions you can explore in the area, but we mainly wanted to walk along the wall, so we didn’t check out any of those. Keep in mind, it’s a large place — it takes 3-4 hours to walk the entire wall, roughly 12km.

We started at the South Fortress Gate, or Nammun Gate, and walked east from there. I wouldn’t call this an arduous hike, but be prepared to go up many steps and, well, do a lot of walking. The weather was nice when we went, but the views could’ve been better. It was just a lot of brown hillside. I didn’t mind too much, since it was cool just to see the wall, to see it stretching and winding for miles and miles over the mountains. Here are some photo highlights below, or you can visit my full gallery here.

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Candid shots of Seoul this week

Having a relative visit us here in Seoul has (thankfully) forced me out of the apartment this week. Here are a few candid shots from the last few days I thought you might enjoy:

Hadn’t seen this part of Incheon International Airport before. Pretty futuristic looking. 

Incheon International Airport

Came across this demonstration on the one-year anniversary of the deadly Sewol ferry disaster (must watch video — so many people!).

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Continue reading Candid shots of Seoul this week