Laos

I decided to enter Laos through the northern border of Thailand on a slow boat. A decision that I would soon regret. The slow boat is…well, slow. Very slow. It takes two days from the Laos border to get to Luang Prabang. These boats used to be the sole method of traveling for Laotians but a few years ago, I think in 2008, they built a paved road through Laos cutting travel time drastically. The slow boat exists mainly for tourists who are willing to spend two days floating on the Mekong River as opposed to a few hours on a bus. Go figure!

Slooooooooow Boat

Laos/Thailand border…very official

Once you go through immigration in Thailand, you cross the river into Laos.

Kids would come on the boat along the way trying to sell beer and snacks. It's sad as they should be in school but they know that the kids are more likely to make a sale. It's hard to say no!

We stopped in a little town called Pak Beng for the night. There was no internet connection, one bar which advertises, "We're the only bar in town!" and electricity was only recently acquired. It really gave me insight as to how new Laos is on the SE Asia tourist bandwagon. That being said, I'll never ever visit this town again. The entire guesthouse I stayed in heard me scream because the hostel employee thought it was a good idea to step on a cockroach spreading its insides everywhere while both the head and backside ran in opposite directions. The entire town just seemed nuts and kept offering us opium. There was also a gecko skeleton in my room. Yea, never going back.

The village children come to watch the foreigners leave.

I was so bored on this boat.

Luang Prabang

I spent four days in this city and I could have spent longer! The food….so good. The prices…so right. The architecture…so French!

Kuang Si Falls

Traveling in style.

Typical street view.

Wat Xieng Thong

I woke up at dawn (ew) to watch Takuhatsu, the traditional form of alms where monks chant in excahnge for food and money.

The monks would walk along the streets to collect rice and other staples from locals.

We decided to take a boat to go the Paku Ou Caves.

Saw some elephants along the way!

Then the weather took a turn for the worse...we had to stop :(

But we found a way to have some fun in the storm :)

3 hours later, we finally made it to the caves. Hundreds and hundreds of Buddha statues. Everywhere. Some without heads...

I ran into Merrick! Just kidding, we planned it. After our crazy dinner with our new friends we went to the bowling alley. The only place open after the city's 11:00pm curfew!

Driving down Laos's sole paved road really gave me a great insight as to how the majority of the population lives. If you look closely you can see little huts on the mountain.

Vientianne

Vientianne was pretty boring but it did have the biggest French influence of any city that I visited in Laos. There were boulangeries, French restaurants, French signage, French-inspired architecture and some people spoke the language.

Patuxai, meaning Gate of Triumph, was built to celebrate the country's independence from France although it highly resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The major difference is that it's adorned with Buddhist mythological figurines.

The view from the top. C'est très français, non?

My gorgeous beef bourguignon before my 20-hour bus ride outta Laos! It made my tummy oh so happy all the way to Cambodia :D

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Thailand

Bangkok

Looking through my pictures I couldn’t find one that perfectly summed up Bangkok. I was basically looking for a picture that had the words ABSOLUTELY CRAZY in big neon flashing letters. Had my friend/host, Brandon not arranged to meet me in the afternoon I probably would have ran back to the train and gone back to Malaysia. It was loud, fast, smelled of gas and within a few hours I’d already been taken for a fool! Scam artists are so good at what they do…

Anywho, I did the normal Bangkok stuff. I went to the night market, the day market, ate street pad thai for a dollar, saw some ladyboys, went out on Khosan Rd. and went for a massage at 3a.m.

My favourite part of Bangkok was walking around and finding random wats (temples). I found solace in the gardens and amoung the beautiful statues.

Such a beautiful monster protecting the Wat (temple)

When entering any temple you have to take your shoes off. You often have to remove your shoes for many stores, restaurants, hostels and of course homes.

The Emerald Buddha was discovered by accident when workers dropped it. The ugly stucco covering the statue broke up into little pieces but revealed a beautiful green colour. Apparently the Thais covered it with stucco to prevent it from being stolen during an invasion. I wasn't allowed to take an actual picture of the Buddha so the sign will have to do.

People were dipping these flowers into what I assume is blessed water and dabbing the water on their heads.

Stray dogs hanging out with some Buddhas.

Coconut milk soup and holy basil chicken and rice. Thai food has by far been the best and the cheapest. I never ate a meal that cost more than a few dollars and the ingredients are fresh and delicious.

Chiang Mai

After only spending a couple of days in crazy Bangkok I made my way up to Chiang Mai via overnight train. Other than a little boy throwing his spiderman underwear at me and throwing up because he was laughing so hard, the ride was very pleasant. I had heard Chiang Mai was a great place to camp out for a few days and just chill, eat good food, meet nice people and of course, shop!

Beautiful fresh ingredients

Ingredients to cook dishes like pad thai are bundled so you don't have to waste extra food. I thought this was a great idea.

A make shift fan keeps the flies away from the meat. Clever!

I took a cooking course. My cooking instructor, named A, who was dressed head to toe in pastel pink and said the word sexxxxxy a lot, showed us to make pad thai, green curry from scratch, spring rolls and another thai dish that I can't remember!

I saw the tigers...and played with them. There is a lot of controversy whether or not the tigers are drugged. I'm guessing since the Tiger Kingdom is not openly promoted in animal-friendly travel books then it's likely that they're drugged. The company claims that tigers are naturally people-friendly until a certain age but I can't imagine that they would be people-friendly from the hours of 9am-6pm.

This guy nervously asked me to take a picture of him and his girlfriend. He then showed me an engagement ring and asked me to capture their moment on video. I think I teared up more than the girlfriend. She said yes!

Chiang Mai was more relaxing than the bustling streets of Bangkok...but I wanted more. So I went to Pai. Check out my peace sign in the mirror. I'm so...awesome.

Pai

Everywhere I went I heard people talking about his small hippy town called Pai, pronounced pie. Only 3000 people reside in this small town but there was not one uncool person there. Even the stray dogs were happily bouncing on the streets running up to strangers begging to be petted periodically stopping in restaurants to be fed. I spent four nights here but I easily could have spent more. The food was yummy, the people were so laid back and friendly. I had made a few friends on the bus ride from Chiang Mai. Nothing bonds 9 strangers like 762 curves (no joke) making everyone feel nauseous. That trip is famous for making stomachs of steel feel sick. I’m happy to announce that I did not throw up although everyone on the bus had placed bets that I was going to be the first one. Amatuers.

Trying to find a place at first was...messy

i was worried about crossing this bridge late at night after having a few drinks. Turns out the bridge was washed away by a storm not long after I took this pic. Problem solved.

Rock slide!

The pretty streets at night.

The best view in town :)

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Malaysia

I never felt a strong desire to go to Malaysia but when I saw the cheap airfares from my previous location, Hong Kong, I decided it was a natural monetary choice. Malaysia turned out to be one of my favourite countries thus far. The people are friendly, the prices are right, the food is abso-freaking-lutely delicious, everybody speaks English and the best part, the diversity. Having once been ruled by the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch and lastly the British from 1795 to 1957, the country has a melody of flavours and architecture that kept me interested. But wait! It does not stop there! Apparently in the early 20th century the country was having economical issues so they brought in neighbouring Indians and Chinese to inhabit the land. The British left with most of their people just over 50 years ago but left behind their language, buildings and influence. The majority of the population today speaks Enlgish, Malay and either a dialect of Chinese or Tamil. It was really cool to see a scandalously dressed Chinese woman talking to a Muslim woman covered from head to toe then walking down the street to little India where people are blasting bollywood music.

Anyways, I’m always impressed when I see a country develop and prosper in only a few decades. The English left the country an underdeveloped economic mess and walking down the streets of Kuala Lumpur you can clearly see that the country is now doing well for themselves. Some pics:

Petronas Towers. When in KL, do as the KLians do.

There were so many languages everywhere and their alphabets/characters are all so different from each other. Malay was written in Arabic characters but more often it was romanized which was interesting. Their transliterations made more sense though. For example, 'phone' is written as 'fone' and I'm sure you get the idea :)

This chicken tikki masala spread in Little India set me back $3. It was so delicious! It's been on my mind ever since.

To enter this mosque you must be completely covered or they will provide you with a head shawl and/or cloak. It was too intimidating for me.

It rained sheets of water at some point everyday. I was stranded once or twice...or everyday.

You could buy bags of pre-cut fruit for about $.30 adding chilli sauce or other spices to jazz it up.

The Batu Caves were discovered quite recently in the 1800s. These caves became a place of worship and is now one of the most famous Hindu shrine outside of India. To get to the cave you have to climb many stairs that are crawling with mean monkeys!

These monkeys just lurked waiting for the opportune moment where they could snatch something from you. Why? Because they're mean and greedy. I wasn't the only one who was afraid of them. A little boy screamed and cried while he ran away from the circling scavengers.

Several shrines lined the inside of the caves in addition to the evil monkeys.

Penang

After a few days in Kuala Lumpur I decided to head north to the island of Penang. An old English port village with just as much diversity as KL but more charm.

A perfect snapshop depicting this town.

Unlike many other Chinese temples I've been to, you could enter the ones in this town and do whatever you want taking pictures or touching anything. Usually you're very restricted.

Whenever someone made a donation he'd ring the bell! This guy was quite the character actually.

You can see the colonial achitectural influence in this temple. Doesn't really suit it does it?

Signs in Tamil, English, Malay and Cantonese.

Off to bed I go in my little sleeper bunk on the overnight train. Tomorrow I’ll wake up in Thailand :)

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I’ve left Korea! First stop, Hong Kong!

After teaching for 17 months I decided to take a little retreat and travel around South East Asia. The plan is Hong Kong –> Malaysia –> Thailand –> Laos –> Cambodia –> Vietnam (maybe) –> Korea –> Canada!

Teaching in Korea was great. I already miss the kids and the easy lifestyle but I felt that I wasn’t getting anything out of it anymore. It was time to take on something new. I like to think it’s because I’m adventurous but I’m sure most of my friends and family would say it’s because I’m restless. Either way, I plan to make a blog post for every country. So here’s Hong Kong!

Hong Kong is bat$h!t crazy. It’s one of the most densely populated cities in the world and you could definitely tell. Over 7 million people live within 1, 104 km^2. That’s over 6000 people in every square kilometer. Again, bat$h!t! Every inch of space is utilized in someway. If you have personal bubble issues then this is not the city for you. Here’s what I liked the most:

A few years ago I saw a documentary about Hong Kong which showcased the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world  extending for 0.8 km!  I’ll admit, this is pretty much why I wanted to visit Hong Kong. I thought that if a city had 0.8km of escalators then it must be a cool city. Well, the escalators turned out to be really stupid. The original purpose was to decrease human traffic and general congestion but when building them, the city went 180% over budget and no improvement in traffic was noted. Oops!

People still maintained proper escalotor ettiquette like standing on the right and passing on the left. Oh and even though it's an outdoor escaltor, there's no smoking :)

I kept leaving the escalators in between levels because I just kept thinking I was wasting my time. Each time I turned back around and went up another flight because I just had to know what was at the top waiting for me. Unfortunately/fortunately, the end of the escalotor road occurred when I hit one under repair. I could've taken the stairs but who wants to take stairs when there's an escalator?

The Bruce Lee statue with the famous skyline in the background.

In the heart of the city lies Kowloon Park. It's a tropical paradise filled with so many plants, trees, animals and waterfalls that you can't even hear the bustling streets surrounding you. I wandered forever looking for these guys. Flamingos might be my new favourite animal. They're so weird just standing there on one foot curling their head around their body. And, they're pink!

I don't remember many details about this giant bronze Buddha, but it's one of the biggest in Asia and I had to take a cable car to go see it. No regrets...

The city is really conscious about the spread of germs. I saw these signs in every subway station, in many restaurants and bathrooms.

I liked how the pretty 10 dollar bill had a clear patch. I avoided spending them because I liked looking at them. If you look closely you can see my fingernail. Minutes and minutes of entertainment!

Markets and markets everywhere! So many weird fruits, colorful vegetables and cheap yummy street snacks that I seem to never get enough of. I thought it was interesting how the butchers butchered their meat right out in the open. I'm pretty sure I felt flying bits of meat on my arm a few times. So much for sanitation.

At one point I was contemplating on applying for jobs in Hong Kong because I thought I’d love it but I ended up only liking it. It was really cool but a little too crowded for my liking and the air felt really thick and polluted. Ah well, the search continues! Malaysia is next!

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Trick Art

An unusual art exhibit that I’ve been trying to see in various cities in Korea finally came to Daegu! I present you with, Trick Art.


And off we go into the real world once again.

 

*This post is more so for the folks back home as I think everybody in Korea has been to this exhibit or seen pics of it :)

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I went to Shanghai…it was pretty cool.

My 2nd visit to the highest populated country in the world was very different from the first. Shanghai was vibrant, animated, sexy, modern, dynamic, very integrated and accepting of western culture. It was everything a vacation should be including visits to small Chinese villages, massages, food, sights, lights, fancy drinks, more food, lucky money and so much more.

A feast such as this one was eaten every lunch and dinner with different family members. I’ve never tried so many different foods in my life! All of the food was prepared fresh by the host family and placed on a lazy susan (rotating tray) allowing you to grab whatever you want with your chopsticks. The older generation also gives the younger generation lucky money which is money stuffed into a pretty red envelop meant to bring you luck in the following year. Even though this was the first time anyone in Tracy’s family had met me, I was still given lucky money like I was already apart of the family

Tracy's dad gave me the name, Mudan. China's national flower.

Kung fu tea helps digestion after the meal.

Toilet in a small Chinese Village. No I didn’t try it out.

I also…

posed for a pic by the famous Shanghai skyline.

ate some fresh sugarcane!

ate fresh dumplings.

consumed some eggs benedict (not Chinese at all but it's been over a year!)

indulged in some street food. Pretty sure this was pork. Sometimes I just didn’t want to know.

drank some traditional Chinese alcohol and nearly died. I kept arguing that they were giving me 53% proof oven cleaner but I was assured that I was drinking China's liquid pride.

ate some more dumplings!

saw how pearl farmers keep track of their oysters by using old bottles.

went to a water town.

saw these guys!

…captured this video of the amazing fireworks put on by locals! I was surprised that these fireworks were legal for purchase, but then again that’s China.

took my favourite picture of the trip.

watched people release wish lanterns into the night sky...

so many wishes. It was so beautiful!

Finally, when it came time to leave Shanghai, I was running late so I had to take the Maglev Train (magnetic levitation train) to the airport. I was so excited as I saw a documentary on this train. At certain times of the day the train reaches 431 km/hour taking a whole 7:20 minutes to get from downtown Shanghai to Pudong Airport. Amazing insanity!

In conclusion, if Shanghai wasn’t “foggy” everyday due to pollution, I could totally see myself camping out there for awhile. For now, Korea is still home.

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Shanghai for New Year!

 

1990 to 2010

Korean New Year, or Seolnal, is the most traditional holiday in Korea. Having spent last Seolnal in Seoul I decided to go elsewhere this time around. Shanghai is only a 1.5 hour flight away and despite the $70 visa fee it was the cheapest international destination. My old London roomie, Shumiao/Tracy is picking me up from the airport and taking me to her hometown to experience a traditional Chinese New Year. For the weekend I’ll be heading back to check out Shanghai. I’m very excited to see Shanghai as I hear it’s incredibly sexy, modern and completely different from Beijing. I’ll let you know how it goes!

 

On a bit of a side note, I got a box of noodles as my New Year present from my school. Considering other holiday gifts included, dried mushrooms, dried persimmons (which went moldy) and dried fish, this is a major score. Also, the servings are individually wrapped, perfect for my mild OCD.

Happy New Year! ~ 새해 복 많이! ~ 新年快樂!

 

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Food…nom nom nom

Since I’ve been here over a year and eating in one of my favorite pastimes, I thought a detailed blog post about what I eat everyday was in order. The Korean diet really hasn’t changed much since the beginning of Korea. There has been a major Japanese (ramen) and Chinese (dumpling) influence but they have definitely maintained their own style as well. Rice is a major staple here and is eaten about 2-3 times a day in every Korean household. The soil here is excellent for rice harvesting so it’s a natural progression. Eating a Korean diet is the cheapest option but really it’s not a sacrifice. Take a look for yourself.

 

 

 

Kimbop is a seaweed rice roll filled with various vegetables. It’s similar to a Japanese maki roll but there is no raw fish. This is my favourite kind, Cham-chee or tuna salad, which I often eat for lunch. For about $2.00 with a side of kimchi, you can’t go wrong.

I'd have to say bibimbop is my favourite Korean dish. It's a heap of rice topped with vegetables, an egg, and seaweed mixed with chili pepper paste. In Korean households, bibimbop is a way to get rid of extra veggies. I've been told the way it is served at home doesn't look as nice as when it's served in restaurants. ($3.50)

 

Chicken rice omelett. Korean fried rice wrapped in thin omelett topped with chicken, onions and glass noodles all in a savory brown sauce. ($5)

 

Meet jap-chae. Chicken and glass noodles simmered in  soy sauce with onions, carrots and potatoes. It takes some getting to used to eating with metal chopsticks as everything is so slippery but oh so worth it! ($12 for 2 ppl)

 

This is just one of several kinds of Korean BBQ. This particular selection is called samgyeopsal or pork belly meat. They bring it to the table raw leaving you in charge to cook it. You eat it anyway you like dipping it soybean puree, wrapped up in a lettuce leaf or with rice. There are always several sides including kimchi, bean sprouts, salad and soup to nosh on while you cook.

 

Koreans love chicken. Chicken and beer are readily available at sport games, concerts, street vendors and especially restaurants. This particular restaurant bakes their chicken and it is amazing! I always order this dish because it is boneless and it also comes with a salad.  It also happens to come with two scoops of ice cream…no idea as to why.

 

Kimchi pajeon often referred to as Korean pizza or Korean pancake because it’s made with egg and flour. It is custom to always order some kind of food when at a HOF (Korean-style bar) and in this case we ordered pajeon. Another popular pajoen is seafood pajeon with squid and tons of green onions. The star of the night was definitely the honey makgeolli, fermented rice wine.

Bundaegi, roasted silk worms, is a common snack purchased from street vendors or in this case a lovely nibbler to accompany a few beers. I’ve eaten one and I’ll never eat one again. They aren’t horrible but the texture is something I can’t get over. Next to the bundaegi is a ‘call button’. Whenever you need something you just press the button and a server comes over in a flash. Speaking as a retired server, this thing rocks!

 

There is nothing like steaming mandu (Korean dumplings) at 6am after a big night out. One plate of these freshly made beauties cost about $4.00. Delish!

 

Sometimes a girl just needs a burger. Burgers are widely available but they are usually smaller and prettier looking. At Gorilla Burger you can order the Bomb which has a krispy kreme donut, bacon, cheese, chocolate and of course a burger patty. One day…maybe.

 

Dunkin Donuts always has fresh bagels and scones. Here I ordered a chocolate scone that is generously heated upon serving. The jam packets are designed in a way where you don’t have to use a knife but rather squeeze the packet in half so the jam comes out a little hole. No more sticky fingers :)

Street Food

Street vendors are open rain or shine, day or night. The food is inexpensive and easy to eat on the go.  You can get it wrapped up or spend some time standing at the stall eating whatever and paying for it when you’re done.  What’s unique about Korean street vendors is that everything is made on site and they use fresh ingredients. It was so odd at first to walk by and see an ajumma chopping up heaping piles of veggies. Most vendors that I’ve seen are family operated and always recognize their regulars.

The vendor right outside my school. When it gets really cold they have electric heaters and enclose the area with tarps. 

 

One of the popular choices, dokbokki, which is rice cake simmered in red pepper sauce. It is so incredibly spicy so naturally I chugged some for a scavenger hunt. That was fun. ($0.50 for snack size)

 

 

 

 

This is hoddeok, my favourite snack! For $0.50 you can get this delicious pancake like delicacy stuffed with brown sugar, honey and peanuts. I made it once at home but it involves yeast and letting the dough rise…lame! Plus I ate about 5 just because I could so now I leave it to my local vendor. :)

Free Food!

It is custom to always have something to eat while drinking. Most often you’ll get variations of pretzels, crackers and the like but sometimes you get a little more.

Wow, a bad picture of Nic! Sorry Nic but I needed to showcase this beautiful chicken salad that the owner of Snow Bar generously gave to us because she LOVES us! Salad ingredients are not cheap in Korea as it’s a western thing and neither are corn chips and salsa which can be seen next to the salad. Snow bar always treats us well bringing strawberries, cherry tomatoes, plates of smiley fries and much more!

 

Caramel  cheeto-type snacks, seaweed with soy sauce and fresh Jeju-island oranges :)

I’m hungry now! The end!

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North Korea sucks.

Since the North’s attack on November 23rd several people back home have voiced concern about my well-being. I just want to say to everyone I am not worried and I don’t think you should be either.

Last time an event similar to Tuesday’s occurred, I was scared. There were 46 casualties, it was an obvious deliberate attack from North Korea and there was no motive behind it. I thought I was going home and I thought a war was going to break out. I did some homework and I asked various Koreans their point of view. As it turns out everybody thinks Kim-Jong-il is a crazy son a bitch who acts like a child. His leadership style remind me of Hitler. South Koreans want him to die a brutal death but not one person wanted war and I completely respect that. Why would anyone want war? War is not the answer. War would cost a lot of money and more lives on both sides of the border. Even my students wish that someday the Koreas will once again be reunited even though it may have “negative effect on the economy” as 12 year-old Owen put it.

Kim-Jong-il is sick and is believed to die any day now. His near death is thought to be the reason of recent attacks on South Korea to show he is still strong and able to conduct a war. Instead of biting the bait, South Korea chooses to withhold fire instead hitting them where it really hurts, pulling trade. North Korea does not have many friends and few countries want to trade with them resulting in food shortages. On my recent trip to the DMZ I saw that many trees were stripped of their bark as North Koreans have been using bark for food. Many are starving and South Korea has been helping them by sending truck loads of rice and corn despite the attacks because South Koreans are not evil and do not want their cousins of the North to starve.

Many people think China is North Korea’s friend. It’s not 1950 anymore and in present day China is set to be the strongest economy in the world by 2020. Why would they want to help a friendless country like North Korea who has nothing to offer them? According to the facebook movie I saw last night, there are more people in China with high IQs then there are people in the United States. I don’t know if this is true or not but it’s safe to say that the Chinese are not idiots. They have shown no support for war but have repeatedly tried to calm the heated waters.

At the end of the day, nobody wants a war.  One thing that does majorly suck because of all of this is that my visitor who was set to come next week has postponed her trip due to recent events. In the meantime I’m going to live my normal everyday life…I’ve got to prepare deviled eggs for my birthday lunch tomorrow and get ready to visit the animal shelter to walk some dogs.

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Happy 빼빼로 Day!

Pepero Day is one the holidays I’ve been most looking forward to while in Korea. It’s a day devoted to giving/receiving long thin cookie sticks dipped in delicious chocolate. It’s comparable to Valentine’s day back home because you’re exchanging candies and little gifts but also because it’s a holiday manifested and commercialized by companies. I am not complaining tho…I openly love them both!

Pepero Day is held on November 11th because when you hold up four Pepero sticks it resembles 11/11. It started in 1994 when some school girls brought them to school giving them away wishing their friends height and slenderness just like a Pepero. Lotte, a major company in Korea, pushed the idea to make it a national holiday and BAM, Pepero Day is born!

Pepero display at the grocery store.

Decorated aisle at the grocery store.

Display at a convientant store

This is exactly how I would imagine how Pepero men look like.

Some of my Pepero loot. All consumed within 24 hours.

One bad point to mention of the Pepero madness was the over excitement of the students caused by a overdose of sugar and general excitement for the holiday…enough to make me wish the next Pepero Day falls on a weekend ;)

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