Tag Archives: UNESCO

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

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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The Magnificent Temples of Kyoto & Nara, Part 2

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Nara. Will had told me it had probably his favorite temple in Japan, ok. But I hadn’t heard much about this city, didn’t know much about it.

We woke to some spring showers that day, grabbed our umbrellas and headed off. Thankfully the rain made for fewer tourists out and about. As we walked toward Nara Park, Will started speaking cryptically:

“I wonder if they’ll still be there, with the rain….”

Me: “Who?”

Will: “They’re usually walking around….”

Me: “….Like, park rangers?”

Will: “Yeah … something like that. You’ll see.”

It didn’t take long to discover what he was talking about. As soon as we turned into the park…. Continue reading The Magnificent Temples of Kyoto & Nara, Part 2

The Magnificent Temples of Kyoto & Nara, Part 1

I didn’t know this until recently, but Kyoto is the former imperial capital of Japan (794-1868). Having been the country’s capital and the emperor’s home for more than 1,000 years, it is home to many important temples and shrines.

Our day in Kyoto was quite the adventure! Mainly trying to figure out which buses to take — it’s a fairly big city, roughly 1.5 million people, and the temples are spread out all over the city — but Will did a great job getting us where we needed to go. (Starting at the main bus depot at Kyoto Station, across from Kyoto Tower Hotel, which you can see below.)

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Train ride from Osaka to Kyoto, not bad at all.
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A Walk Among the Joseon Dynasty Royal Tombs

When I went to the National Museum of Korea last month, I remember reading about some of the excavation sites at the Goryeo Dynasty royal tombs in Gaeseong. Of course, because they had artifacts from those excavations on display. I saw a photo of these huge grassy mounds, and my guide kept telling me I needed to go see them in person.

It turns out, most of the 40 Joseon Dynasty royal tombs are located within 40 km of Gyeongbokgung Palace in the heart of Seoul. Nice! I didn’t know I had royal tombs so nearby.  So, I decided to visit the Seolleung and Jeongneung Royal Tomb site in Gangnam. I knew the grass wouldn’t be green yet — it is still March, and cold — but, why wait? I have so many things on my to-do list for when the weather warms up and trees and flowers bloom. Better check this one off my list now.

The Seolleung and Jeongneung Royal Tomb site (and all Joseon-era royal tombs, in fact) is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, like many of the palaces in Seoul.

It is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site

Fascinatingly enough, the entire lineage of the Joseon kingdom from 1392 to 1910 is accounted for among the tombs. This particular site in Gangnam houses the royal tombs of King Seongjong (9th ruler,1457-1494), his third wife Queen Jeonghyeon (1462-1530), and King Jungjong (11th ruler, 1488-1544). Continue reading A Walk Among the Joseon Dynasty Royal Tombs

Getting Artsy with some Traditional Korean Dance

There are many theaters and venues in Seoul where you can enjoy some traditional Korean performing arts — from plays to dance to non-verbal performances. We recently visited two of these, the Jeongdong Theater and the Korea House, and I’ll just go ahead and say it, I loved the shows at both places.

Jeongdong Theater could be considered your small, local theater. It’s tucked away in the historic Jeong-dong neighborhood of Seoul, near the Deoksugung Palace and Seoul Museum of Art. They do performances twice a night, every night except Mondays, and tickets aren’t too expensive (40,000-60,000 won). We went on a Saturday night to see “MISO: Baebijang-jeon,” based on a classical novel written by an unknown author during the Joseon dynasty. Continue reading Getting Artsy with some Traditional Korean Dance

Secret Garden Fit for a King

Many kings, actually. Yesterday we visited Changdeokgung Palace, built in 1405 and — second to the Gyeongbokgung Palace — the palace from which many Joseon dynasty emperors ruled, including the last reigning one, Emperor Sunjong, who ruled until 1910. Like the Jongmyo Shrine, this palace is also a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the way its buildings and design are integrated with nature. It was Will’s first palace visit in Seoul.

The palace grounds are immense, 110 acres if I remember correctly. Many different areas and so many buildings — whether housing quarters for queens, concubines, princes, or staff, or meeting halls, ceremonial halls, horse stables, storage rooms, etc. — it’s easy to get lost looking around. We were there for hours and I still don’t think we saw everything. Once you pay admission into the palace, you can explore freely. If you want to visit the palace’s Secret Garden, however, you need to pay a separate admission fee and go in with a guided tour group. They give the tours in various languages, several times daily.

The Secret Garden (aka Rear Garden) is even larger than the main palace grounds, taking up almost 60 percent of the entire area of the Changdeokgung Palace. Its acres and acres are filled with ponds, streams, gazebos, pavilions and many beautiful walking paths. The garden was meant as a place for the kings and their royal family members to relax, but also used for military exercises, archery contests, banquets and growing certain grains. Since it is also located next to the Changgyeonggung Palace, it was used by members of both palaces.

Continue reading Secret Garden Fit for a King

Indulging in Myeong-dong treats and visiting a Confucian shrine

Heading to Myeong-dong yesterday — a cold, cloudy day — was just right. We knew it was a popular area for shopping since you can find many major international brands there (Zara, H&M, etc.). People love their shopping here! And we’re not even past Thanksgiving yet. But I digress. There’s a main street, if you will, and it was packed with shoppers, tourists, and … street food vendors. YES! We warmed up at Hadongkwan restaurant with some gomtang, a traditional, rich beef soup with rice in it, which was served very simply with salt, pepper, green onions and kimchi, of course. Not bad. That triggered my sweet tooth, so I tracked down where all the people were getting their tall ice cream cones from, and we also indulged. My vote for best bang for your buck! Then we ventured into the Noon Square mall, eight levels of shopping with a food court and rooftop garden. Oh my gosh I forgot the cat cafe! You’ll just have to see the pics below. All in all, nice shopping area, plenty of restaurants, more variety of street food than I’ve seen in other areas, and there are also two movie theaters there. We both agreed we’d be back. It’s cleaner and less sketchy-feeling than other parts of town.

Continue reading Indulging in Myeong-dong treats and visiting a Confucian shrine