Postcards from Jeju

 

Jeju Island

The ‘Hawaii’ of Korea. Jeju Island is distinctly different to the mainland. This goes beyond the obvious differences like the palm trees, beaches and volcanoes. The place just seems well…more relaxed. It’s no wonder why its a popular honeymoon destination. I visited Jeju over Chuseok, one of the busiest holidays in the calender. Because of this, I couldn’t book a flight so went with an organised ‘Enjoy Korea’ tour instead. Basically, it was English teachers on bus trip but was well organised and covered the main sites.

Day 1: Loveland & Hyupjae Beach
3am we boarded our bus to make sure we caught the ferry to the island. The first stop was Loveland. In-keeping with it’s romantic feel, Jeju has taken things one step further by offering couples a rique theme park. By theme park, I don’t mean rollercoasters. Loveland is an unusual place; an art exhibition meets park type-of-thing. I’ve heard that the megamind behind it, decided there needed to be a way to get couples horny in the hope of increasing Korea’s low birth rate. Whilst it’s quite an eye opener, I struggled to see how a giant green dong (that wasn’t the weirdest) is meant to get people turned on. Apart from making me feel very unflexible it was admittedly hilarious. For a country which appears to be quite conservative when it comes to sex, nothing is held back at Loveland. I haven’t posted any pictures because I feel it spoils the rather bizarre surprise which awaits, should you ever visit. The rest of the evening was spent chilling on Hyupjae Beach.

Day 2: Manjanggul Lava Cave & Seongsan Ilchublong
The trip was good in that it offered us a choice. This day you could either hike Mt. Hallasan or visit the Manjanggul Lava caves. As mentioned previously in my Sri Lanka post. I don’t do hiking so chose the latter. The lava caves are pretty when they’re lit with different colours. If you’re a geologist you’ll be in rock heaven. If not, its nice enough.

Next was Seongsan Ilchubong. When you type ‘Jeju’ into Google. This is the image you’ve seen. The big green volcanic mass in the water. It was mega and has beautiful views of the sea surrounding it. On the way down you can also catch the Haenyo diving women catching octopus and all sorts. I was really excited to see the Korean mermaids but they weren’t diving on that day! Instead I settled for watching an ajumma butcher an octopus and serving it on the spot. yummy.

Day 3: Cheonjaeyeon Falls, Jungmun Beach & Monkey Beach Bar
The morning was kicked off by visiting Cheonjaeyeon Falls. There are three beautiful waterfalls but to be honest once you’ve seen two.. well the last isn’t much different.

The rest of the afternoon was on Jungmun Beach. The sea was filled with surfers catching the best of Jeju’s waters. I went in, realised my swimwear wasn’t safe and sheepishly retreated to the beach to enjoy the sunshine. This was September in Korea and it was bikini weather! Later, the sunset over Jungmun was amazing. The silouhette of the palm trees highlighted by the red sky felt as though I could have been back in the Dominican Republic. The day was finished by blowing off steam in nearby Monkey Beach Bar. You can grab a bucket, get merry, go on a slide, climb a pole and play jump rope. Yay for Korea’s lack of health and safety.

Day 4: Gwakji Beach & back to Busan.
Most of the day was spent catching the last of the Summer weather. After resting on Gwakji Beach it was time to head back to The Bu. Everyone on this coach journey was subjected to the ferry from hell. I’ve never been on a journey quite like it. Luckily I don’t suffer too badly from motion sickness. However, I’d say around 80% of the passengers were ill, pale in the face or clutching onto a sickbag for caution. I’m sure the Dunkin’ Donuts that were consumed at the start of that journey were long gone after that experience for many on board.

Whilst a plane is always preferred it wasn’t a bad reflection on the time at Jeju. Jeju is beautiful, romantic even. There’s plenty to see and do for those with energy but also enough for those who want to relax. It has a different feel to the rest of Korea and it’s not difficult to see why people here are so proud of it.

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Postcards from Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Smells of freshly burned incense. Views of sunrises, sunsets, tea fields. The fresh taste of Ceylon. Sri Lanka is a country of vibrancy, a feast for the senses.

I only had 10 days to explore what Sri Lanka had to offer. Whilst I didn’t have time to explore the beaches (which I’ve heard are beautiful) the rest still had so much to see. The Lanka is far more scenic than I had ever imagined it to be and riding frequently on trains is a really great way of soaking in the place.  Sri Lanka only ended its civil war in 2009 and yet given such recent conflicts, it omits such a warm, friendly feeling.

Day 1: Arrive in Colombo
If I could sum up our journey from Korea to Sri Lanka it would go like this: bus (5 hrs), airport (3 hrs), plane one (3 hrs), layover (4 hrs), plane two (7 hrs), bus (1hr), hostel. Boy was it long, but we arrived safe in Colombo and were reunited with Dave’s sister Alex and her boyfriend, Hugh. The northern squad of England had landed.

Day 2: Colombo-Hatton-Dalhousie
We’d heard that Colombo is more of a transit place. Get in and get out, so we made our first train journey to Hatton.  Then, we grabbed a long ride (as far as tuk-tuks go) from Hatton to Dalhousie where we would be staying for a few hours sleep before our anticipated early wake up call to hike Adam’s Peak. This tuk-tuk ride was stunning. The lake, the tea fields, it really felt like a painting. I hadn’t realised how beautiful Sri Lanka would be.

Day 3: Adam’s Peak-Ohiya
1. Adam’s Peak
It was a 2am wake up call to start our hike to Adam’s Peak. This is a pilgrimage (some people even do it bare foot). Whilst the climb seemed like it would never end, do not lose hope, it is completely worth it. This is coming from someone who really does not like hiking. I have never enjoyed hiking, that is, unless there is something truly special at the top and Adam’s Peak delivered. It sounds like such a ‘gap yah’ moment but it was honestly quite moving. People were huddled together chanting, the temple perched on the mountain which paralleled with the sunrise, highlighted every shadow. It was very special.After, we retraced the scenic tuk-tuk journey back to Hatton station then it was off to Ohiya.

2. Ohiya
What’s in Ohiya I hear you say? Nothing. Nothing but a station and a miniscule shop. It reminded me of my village back home (we don’t even have a shop though). However, it was a nice base and our accomodation provided us with some incredible curry.

Day 4: World’s End, Horton Plains-Ella
1. World’s End, Horton Plains
It was another early start, we set off at 5:30am. I have to say I was not in the mood, or at least my legs basically couldn’t handle doing another walk after Adam’s Peak. World’s End is a pleasant enough walk with a waterfall. However, its forgettable. If you do Adam’s Peak first, you may want to re-think doing World’s End.

2. Ella
After seeing the stunning views online, I had been really looking forward to Ella.  When we arrived there were tourists everywhere. I had been so excited to visit and part of me was slightly worried. However, after shortly arriving and seeing the view from our hotel that was quickly laid to rest.

Day 5: Ella
It was our first full day in one place and what a morning it was! A great breakfast at hotel Laura which overlooked more mountains and a waterfall. It was serene. I doubt I’ll get to stay anywhere quite so fancy for a while.
1. Tea Factory
We visited a more secluded tea factory than the one in the guidebooks. I didn’t realise how much effort goes into making a cup of tea. As an avid tea enthusiast, the tea tasting session was a joy.

2. Nine Arch Bridge Walk
Its a prime location for taking photos because of its leafy and selcuded scenery. Pleasant walk with some good views walking over the wooden train tracks.

3. Sri Lankan Cooking Lesson
This was really fun. I’ve never done a cooking lesson before. The lesson covered all the main spices and how to make curries including dahl and garlic and potato curry. It was a successful and really enjoyable day.

Day 6: Ella-Kandy
We had heard lets say…bad reviews for Kandy. As one of Sri Lanka’s largest cities we’d heard it was chaotic, riddled with ongoing traffic and generally unplesant. It just shows how expectations can alter your experience because I enjoyed Kandy. I think partly because we spent just the right amount of time there.
1. Buddhist Centre Performance
After our journey we headed straight for a traditional Sri Lankan dance performance with fire walking!

2. Kandy Lake
Its manmade but still pretty beautiful to walk around and near some Colonial buildings.

Day 7: Kandy-Dambulla
1. Temple of the Tooth.
It was a day of temples. The relic tooth of Buddha is a huge deal here. It’s history is explained within the temple but it’s a big thing. We headed there for 9:30am when the first ceremony of the day was happening. It was busy but the temple had a great atmosphere. Our time in Kandy was short but sweet.

2. Cave Temple
Dambulla is home to the cave temples and I have to admit our stay there was tainted by the douchebag of an owner at the accomodation but for the purposes of this blog, I will not go into that. The cave temples were fantastic! Buddha, after buddha, after buddha. Statues side by side dimly lit giving it an eerie feeling within hideaways. Perhaps the star of the show however was the sunset. It was a really great and unexpected way to end the day.

Day 8: Sigiriya-Polonnauruwa
1. Sigiriya
The weather was poor for us this day. Very poor. It was unfortunate for seeing Sigiriya. Its a giant rock with cave paintings. We felt it was dissapointing considering this is one of the top sights in Sri Lanka, but I’m sure the rain contributed to our dampened reaction.

2. Habanara Eco Park
Our original plan was go to hit up Minneriya safari park straight after to catch some wildlife. With the weather the way it was, the animals would be retreating. Instead, we opted for the closer Habanara Eco Park which is covered with elephants. Whilst the rain continued, we were in luck! It’s one thing to see an elephant in a zoo and another to see them roaming freely. On our way to Polonnauruwa we even saw one on the side of the road. We obviously overstayed our welcome when Nelly began to run toward us. It was actually pretty scary, we legged it to the car and it was off to the next destination.

Day 9: Polonnauruwa
 1. Ancient Ruins
It was another rainy day for us which wasn’t great for a day of biking. If the sun was shining, Polonnauruwa would be great. It’s what Dave called the ‘Gyeongju of Sri Lanka.’ The old capital ruins which once held the tooth relic (now in Kandy) is spread over an Inner City (Citadel) and Outer City. Whilst it relentlessly rained, it did add to the atmosphere. Sinking your feet into the sand and walking around ancient ruins in the rain is quite cathartic.

2. Fancy restaurant place
In the late afternoon we retreated into a rather fancy restaurant overlooking the lake. We were underdressed, blatantly out of place in our drenched clothes. After looking at the expensive menu we cowardly chose to stay for a spot of tea (in the hope it would look more polite than just leaving). I’m glad we stayed because the purple and blueish hues that set over the lake that evening were incredible.

Day 10: Polonnauruwa-Colombo
We missed our train. According to a source it was a different time. So our 6 hour journey back to Colombo was on a bus, packed like sardines. It wasn’t ideal but was a good way to see the city. Ironically, the rain which had followed us two days prior ceased until we reached Colombo. This was my last night before going home. Dave and I treated ourselves to one of the cities fancy restaurants. It was a fine way to end the trip. Eating great food, reflecting on how much we had done and spending it with the better half.

Whilst the weather hadn’t been kind to us in the latter half of the trip we crammed so much into so little time. This was my first time in this part of the world. There’s no feeling that beats landing somewhere completely different. The adrenaline, excited- nervous feeling of knowing you have a great adventure ahead. Enjoying the unfamiliar never gets boring. As soon as I left the airport on arrival and was huddled into a mini bus with blaring Bollywood music (some of which I recognised, which added to my excitement), I knew it was going to be different from anywhere I’d ever been before. Like any type of travelling, it gave me a taste. Sri Lanka was a good starter of what South Asia has to offer and now I want more.

Postcards from Osaka

Osaka, Japan

I didn’t really know what to expect from Osaka. I thought it may be a chilled out version of Tokyo. In a sense it was, but the layout of Osaka’s sights are far more spread out. Whilst at times it may feel like Osaka is made up mainly of concrete, there are some great areas. Not to mention, this is the true place of Japanese cuisine. Home to conveyer-belt sushi and okonomiyaki, taking a stroll past these restaurants at night is where Osaka really comes to life. Dotonburi is the epicenter of this city’s hustle and bustle. Lit by shops, arcades and restaurants, the atmosphere presents a snapshot of buzzing, young Japan.

Day 1: Arrived in Osaka at our hostel.

Day 2: Osaka Castle, Aquarium Kaiyukan and Beer Festival. 
It was a cram-packed day hitting up three major sites as our time was limited. Since we’d already come from Kyoto (Japan’s traditional hub), we decided to give another temple a miss after seeing the incredible Osaka Castle. Instead, we headed to Osaka’s Aquarium Kaiyukan. It’s one of the most impressive Aquariums I’ve visited. A giant tank is in the centre of the building and gradually you spiral down the different levels. I was shocked by how fascinated I was with the jellyfish which were the most fun to photograph. On the evening, we stumbled onto a Japanese-German Beer Festival under the Umeda Sky Building. With a full band, bratwurst and lederhosen, it was quite a surreal combination. Europe had arrived in Asia for just an hour or two. Just before catching the train back to our hostel, we stumbled upon the Pokemon Centre. That’s right. A shop entirely dedicated to Pokemon. From soft toys, to cards, from the original 150 I grew up with, to Pokemon I didn’t even recognise, it had everything. Of course, with no money I still had to treat myself to something. Allison told me ‘getting a mug is lame’, which I think is a fair point. So, now when you enter my room you see my huge Pikachu pillow. No regrets.

Day 3: Universal Studios Japan
Today was a big day. The thought of Universal Studios Japan; a theme park centered around films combined with Japanese quirks, was far too exciting a thought for me. I’d been looking forward to this one for weeks. I have been to Orlando and would say that the park here is smaller with less rollercoasters, but it still boasted top rides including Harry Potter and Spiderman along with old classics like Back to the Future and Jaws.  It was a non- stop, high energy day.

Day 4: Onsen, Umeda Sky Building & Dotonburi
After two intense days we decided to give ourselves a little rest. The main part of the day was spent in an Onsen (Japanese spa). It was bliss. The onsen was really tiny, very different to the mega spas I’ve visited in Korea. There was an outside and an inside part. I was quite happy to spend the afternoon lazing in hot bath outside whilst it rained. In the evening we headed up to the Umeda Sky Building’s ‘Floating Gardens.’ This is not a garden but a viewing deck of Osaka’s cityscape which was great to see at sunset. Finally, what better to finish Osaka than to head to it’s hub, Dotonburi. We met with a friend whom I went to University with. The phrase ‘It’s a small world’ really hits home when you can meet someone you know on the other side of the world. Although brief, we finished our trips together wondering through it’s chaotic streets.

Osaka offers a true taste of Japan. It’s lively and friendly atmosphere makes Japan’s third largest city certainly a fun place to visit.

 

 

Postcards from Kyoto

Kyoto, Japan

There are many who become fascinated with Japan, whether its through music, fashion, anime, or the language. Japan retains a distinct cultural identity, a vibrancy in which tradition and modernity co-exist. Since first visiting Korea back in 2005, Japan was top of my bucket list. It was a dream to see it and in 2012 I visited with my good friend from home, Binks. In just 10 days, we rapidly explored Tokyo and Kyoto.

Since moving to Busan, I’ve been lucky to be placed somewhere so close to Japan and so this time, I revisited Kyoto with Allison…and a camera! My experience in Japan had lived up to my high expectations and going a  second time, I was aware that revisiting could be different. Would it be as exciting? Can revisiting somewhere take away something from the previous experience? I think that for many places, it can. However, revisiting Kyoto only solidified my love for this special city. Kyoto is still as exciting, still just as magical and still makes me feel as though I’ve stepped back in time to traditional Japan. I’d never dreamt that I’d ever have the opportunity to visit again.

Day 1: Arrival at the hostel in Gion
After arriving in Gion (Geisha District), we met others who were doing meditation at a temple in the North of the city. We were pretty knackered so it was a chilled evening spent in Downtown Kyoto.

Day 2: Arashiyama
1. Monkey Park
An area where wild monkeys roam. They all gather on top of the hill freely and you can even feed them!

2. Bamboo Grove 
The film set of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It may be smaller than you expect but its really cool.

3. Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion).
This temple is covered in gold leaf set across a lake. It’s absolutely stunning and definitely one of Kyoto’s most well known temples.

4. Ukai
Perhaps the best surprise of the day. On the evening we came back to Arashiyama to experience Ukai. This is a traditional form of fishing where fishermen use heron to catch their meal. You get in a boat and watch the process lit by firelight.

Day 3: Kiyomizu -dera & Kyoto International Manga Museum
1. Kiyomizu-dera
After a long day at Arashiyama we decided to stay pretty close to our hostel and see one of Kyoto’s largest attractions. There are pagodas, a main temple and you can even enter ‘the womb’, a dark cave like walk underground.

2. International Manga Museum
Looking for something more modern in the afternoon we headed to International Manga Museum; a must see for manga fans. It’s more like a library than a museum and although I haven’t touched manga before, I still enjoyed it.

Day 4: Nara & Fushimi Inari Taisha
I’d heard great things about Nara. A place where deer wander freely and are so tame that you can feed them. It’s all true. I even managed to grab a selfie with one of them and if that’s not enough, there’s also a cracking big temple (Todaiji)

1. Todai-ji
Another temple which has a huge bronze buddha. We were approached by some lovely older ladies who took us around the temple for free. The hospitality of Japanese people is incredible.

2. Fushimi Inari Taisha
From there we caught a train back to Kyoto Central and stopped off at Fushimi Inari Taisha on the way. The winding red posts are never ending up this stunning trail.

Day 5: Gion and Osaka
1. Wearing a yukata
Our last day in Kyoto we were transformed, changing into yukatas (summer kimono) for the day. So elegant, classic and feminine, I felt like a massive kid as wearing a kimono in Japan is really too good to be true. There was no better way to end this part of our trip before moving to the bustling city of Osaka.

Kyoto is truly a special place. This is the traditional Japan you’ve imagined. There’s a song I remember, a one-hit wonder called ‘I left my heart in Tokyo.’ All I can say is, they musn’t have visited Kyoto.

Postcards from Gyeongju

Gyeongju, Korea

Gyeongju: the old capital. When in search of a more traditional Korea, Gyeongju is clearly the place to be. It’s a temple hoppers dream, cycling about gleefully from sight to sight. Having now lived in Korea for 9 months and having visited Japan and China, I understand that it is possible to get ‘templed out.’ However, Gyeongju has a historic charm and resting only an hour away on the bus from Busan, it made me realise I should explore the rest of Korea more frequently!

Day 1: Cheomseongdae & Anapji Pond
Dave and I arrived at our Hanok (Korean traditional housing). I was a little over enthusiastic at the prospect of sleeping on a floor with just a bit of padding and a duvet but it beat having to stay in a Love Motel.  We had beautiful sunshine, so much so that cycling proved a bit of a task. Whilst the city centre has little to offer, once on the main tourist track there is plenty to see. The lily pad pond area is stunning, adorned with stepping stones, it’s a nice find on the way to Cheomseongdae. In the evening, we visited Anapji Pond which in the dark is brought to life with lights which illuminate the temple’s rich colours.

Day 2: Bulguksa
We decided to visit Gyeongju’s main temple, Bulguksa. If day one was defined by heat, day two proved to be the other extreme. The rain was so heavy that one resorted to buying a plastic poncho, you know the types you get at the theme park, when that idiot decides to ride the water flume. Although I had to stroll around in a green bin bag, Bulguksa is a site worth seeing. Yes, it has the same features of any temple, but it’s in Korea’s cultural capital which gives it a charm that no other can have.