Tag Archives: Culture

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

Jet lag = vacation teaser

Up since 3am or so — can you say jet lagged?

Perfect time to post some teaser photos of our vacation to Siem Reap, Bangkok and the Phi Phi islands. I can’t wait to share with you all about our trip, from exploring ancient ruins of Buddhist temples, riding tuk tuks and hanging with monitor lizards at the park, to kayaking and getting attacked by monkeys, scuba diving and swimming in some of the world’s most amazing beaches.  I have so many videos and photos! Here’s a sneak peek:

Siem Reap traffic
Siem Reap traffic
Bayon temple in Siem Reap
Bayon temple in Siem Reap

Continue reading Jet lag = vacation teaser

Hiking Under Surveillance along Seoul Fortress Wall

Trekking the Seoul Fortress Wall is one of those “naturey” things you can do without leaving the city. The stone wall goes in a large loop and connects the four mountains surrounding the center of Seoul: Bugak-san to the north, Nak-san to the east, Nam-san to the south, and Inwang-san to the west. It was built back in 1396 and runs for more than 18km. We hiked the stretch from Waryong Park to Changuimun Gate, heading westward for probably 3km.

If you remember, we hiked another wall back in April, at Namhansanseong Fortress. Aside from the fact that they’re both fortress walls, I wouldn’t even compare the two experiences.

Seoul Fortress Wall, for one thing, offers really great views of the city. The weather was perfect that day, sunny and clear skies. Everything was green now, too. This path is also better maintained and mostly paved. Sure, there are some stretches of dirt you can walk along if you prefer, but if your goal is to walk along the wall itself, you’ll mainly be climbing concrete and wooden steps. Namhansanseong felt more woodsy and natural.

Probably the biggest difference is that this particular stretch of the hike took us “behind” — north of — the presidential Blue House of South Korea, located at the base of Bugak-san (as you can see below).

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Celebrating Buddha’s Birthday with the Lotus Lantern Festival

The Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul was quite the celebration. For more than one week leading up to Buddha’s Birthday, which is a national holiday in Korea, the city hosted numerous Buddhist events and decorated its sidewalks with bright, colorful lanterns. The traditional lanterns are made with hanji, a tough, Korean paper made out of the inner bark or fiber of mulberry trees.

First, we witnessed the massive gathering in Gwanghwamun Square for the Conference for World Peace and the Reunification of Korea. It was organized by the Great Equal Assembly of Ganhwa Seon — part of the Jogye Order, the country’s largest Buddhist sect, which practices Seon (aka Zen) buddhism. If you look closely in one of the photos, you can see the large group of monks sitting right in front of the stage.

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Discovering Busan’s beaches and local eats

As our time in Seoul winds down, I find myself busier than ever! I’ve been meaning to blog about our trip to Busan for a couple weeks now. But, I’m thankful we’re still getting to explore new places and see new things, six months in.

Busan is the second largest city in South Korea, as well as a major port city. We took the KTX high-speed train down there, about a three-hour journey, and got to see just how green and mountainous this country is.

View of the Korean countryside from the train

Countryside views on our way back to Seoul

Inside the KTX high-speed train

Busan Station Continue reading Discovering Busan’s beaches and local eats

The Natural Wonders of Jeju Island

Mandarin oranges, Jeju black pig, Hallasan Mountain, huge lava tubes, majestic waterfalls, beautiful beaches…. Those are just some of the things I’ll remember Jeju for.

For those of you who’ve never heard of Jeju (I hadn’t heard of it until we came to Korea), it’s a volcanic island off the southern coast of Korea. It’s fairly small, oval-shaped, with a population of roughly 600,000, the dormant Hallasan Mountain volcano rising at its center and hundreds of “oreums,” or volcanic cones, scattered all over the island that basically look like small mountains.

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It rained for half of our time on the island, but I have to say, it didn’t ruin things one bit. In fact, the rain somewhat added to the “tropical” feel of the island (and kept away many tourists).

First, we checked out Jeongbang Waterfall, one of the three major falls on the island. Continue reading The Natural Wonders of Jeju Island

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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