Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What makes you itch? What do you love?

A motivational and inspiring video by the late Alan Watts. If you need that extra push to do what you love to do, you must watch this video.

"If you say getting money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You will be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing what you don’t like doing. Which is stupid!
Better to have a short life, that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hitting the slopes in South Korea

Autumn/Fall is slowly closing its curtains and winters chill is pushing through more and more. It’s time to put away the hiking boots and bring out the skis and snowboards and enjoy what winter activities Korea has to offer.

South Korea has two mountain slopes that are perfect for beginners and advanced boarders or skiers. One located south in the Jeollabuk-do province and one north in the Gangwon-do province.

This is located in Jeollabuk-do province and is one of Korea's most famous peak ski resorts. There are six ski slopes ranging in level of difficulty. On-site they offer rental gear for clothes and equipment, as well as a top resort to stay in if you wanted something close by. 

Otherwise in the town of Muju (approximately a 20 minute drive away) there are pensions or motels you can stay in for a cheaper price. Also, there are many rental shops to chose from in the town area as well if you also wanted to save cost on this. 

While there are restaurants available at the resort, the prices are expensive so if you can I would try bring your own snacks and drinks.

View of two of the slopes at Muju.

Halfway up the bunny slopes.

They have a strange fashion here on the slopes.

View of the dining/rest area.

This resort is more for the advanced skiers or boarders, however they do have a couple of bunny slopes for those just starting out. This resort is located north in the Gangwon-do province.

This resort offers a premium dining experience with a revolving restaurant that is 1,340 meters above sea level. It gives you an incredible panoramic view of at least three different mountain ranges and after, you can try your hand at some blackjack or poker at their casino on-site.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

To insure or not to insure...

There is always a battle with whether or not to get travel insurance for your time away. You've already spent a lot of money on flights, accommodation, activities etc and this purchase just sometimes does not seem as important as the rest. But I've always lived by this quote "if you can't afford travel insurance you can't afford to travel".

It's one of those almost intangible purchases; a love/hate thing. It seems like a waste of money if you don't use it but a god-send in those times when you do. Either way, I'd rather be safe than sorry. Having worked in the travel industry I've heard too many horror stories of travelers getting caught up with having to deal with lost documents or luggage, or unexpected medical bills. For me, I'd rather travel stress free.

Either way, there are options where you can still get covered but not spend too much on something like this. You can either look at getting a full cover (health, luggage, delayed flights, threats, civil unrest to name a few) or there are some companies that allow you to just cover the basics such as luggage and some health benefits. So just really think about what you would like to be insured for and shop around to see what company suits what you need.

Here are a few that I've worked with and looked into. They range from "budget" to full cover policies. (These may be best for those living in New Zealand and Australia, sorry for those readers who are not from here but definitely shop around in your area). 

I recommend these companies because of their reliability, reputation and process speed. 

*QBE: QBE Insurance Group Limited is one of the top 25 Insurers and reinsurers worldwide with operations in all key global insurance markets.

*Travelsure / Covermore (AU): Great value travel insurance for your next holiday.

*Southern Cross: Best known for it's budget travel insurance with reliability.

*1Cover: For the budget-minded travelers. 

Happy hunting and safe traveling! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hiking and surfing in South Korea

During Korea's equivalent to Thanksgiving (Chuseok) I was able to spend my time up north in the Gangwon-do province, home to one of the country's favourite mountain ranges and also home to one of the very few surf beaches in the country.

Seoraksan National Park is famous for its hiking trails and its variety of flora. It is especially popular during Autumn as the beauty of the place just gets amplified as the leaves start to turn red and orange. This park is also home to the 3rd highest peak in Korea, Daechongbong, which is 1,708 metres tall.

Myself and a group of friends decided to do a three day, two night hiking and camping trip through the mountain ranges here. My excitement was a mix of knowing the scenery would be amazing and also this was my first time doing something like this. A couple of people in the group were quite experienced hikers and they did admit that this was one of the toughest hikes they had done yet. There was a lot of up-hill battling involved and while you're hating the strain it had on your body at the time, it was all worth it once you reached certain peaks along the way. As we got higher the surrounding views just got more breathtaking, and the higher you climbed the number of autumn-coloured leaves increased as well. We all couldn't stop saying how amazing/wonderful/beautiful everything was every five to ten minutes; so many ooh's and aah's along the exaggeration! This has got to be one of the most beautiful places I've been to  in Korea. It was also refreshing  and such a nice change from the concrete jungle most people know Korea to be.

There are many, many trails that this park offers whether you just want to do a day hike or do something like what we did and stay there for a few nights. If you are going to do just a day hike I would highly recommend doing the Ulsanbawi Trail. This trail is a challenging one but definitely worth the effort. Not only does the peak offer amazing views but the rock formations that this trail has is something extraordinary. Once you reach the peak there is a man there who sells hot chocolate or coffee if you planned to stay up there for a little while. There is a bit of chill at this peak so if you can I would bring something warm to wear once you get up there.

Hiking up to Ulsanbawi (photo compliments to Kat Yetka)

Ulsanbawi Rock

Many valleys and waterfalls along the hike.

Along all the trails there are shelters where there are bathrooms (as in long drops), a place to rest and sometimes a place to set up camp. They also have a tiny convenience store but it is only limited to mainly water, canned coffee and noodle packets. Note that they don't offer hot water so the noodle packets are best if you did bring your own cooking utensils. Also, no ATMs so cash only and make sure to bring your own toilet paper!

The colours changing

The gang at our first nights campsite. (Photo compliments to Kat Yetka)

Temple in the sky. Buddhist temple that gave us a free dinner.

View from Gueggangul. (Photo compliments to Kat Yetka)

View of Sokcho from Ulsanbawi

At Daechongbong Peak. (Photo compliments to Kat Yetka)

We ended our hike at the Osaek entrance as this was the best access point to get to Dongsan beach, one of the very few surf beaches that South Korea has to offer. This is in the town of Yangyang, which is also known as the 38th parallel. Dongsan beach has waves that are perfect for beginners or those that are wanting a bit more practice. While I never made my way to the 38th parallel, I was told that these waves were slightly bigger if this is what you were looking for.

There are a couple of surf shops that line the beach but the one I decided to rent from was called 911 Surf. This shop offered slightly cheaper rental cost, which was 25,000 won a day for a surfboard and wetsuit. With the boards he gave you the options between a foam or hard board, as well as whether you wanted a long or short board.  In terms of accommodation, this shop and the other one down the road had a guest house attached to it but there are also pensions you can rent from or for the cheap option a jjimjilbang not too far away, which is what I ended up doing. Or else, you are welcome to camp on the beach if you have the gear.

Unfortunately, I only found this place as the summer was ending but I know for sure that once the weather starts warming up again I'll be spending some of weekends up here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Jjimjilbang (찜질방)- South Korea's public bathhouse

If you want the quickest way to break the ice between new-found friends, I would suggest visiting a jjimjilbang. I guarantee having to be totally naked with someone you have just recently met will definitely allow you to pass into the other person's comfort zone in a very short amount of time!

I've been living in South Korea for nearly nine months now and it was only a month ago that  I finally managed to pluck up the courage to visit a jjimjilbang. I knew I would have to at some point if I really wanted to experience one of the aspects that makes the Korean culture unique.

A jjimjilbang is basicly a public bathhouse. It is often visited by those late night party-ers that just need a shower and a floor to sleep on, or travelers on a budget, or even by families as a bonding trip. They are open 24 hours and have hot tubs, showers, Finnish-style saunas and massage tables. Depending on the size and popularity of the jjimjilbang, as well as if you are just using the shower area or want to stay the night, the prices range from 4,000won to 10,000won per night (approximately $4 - $10 NZD).

My first experience was at Riverside Spa Land in Seoul. This is quite a big and well-known jjimjilbang, so I'm glad this was where I had my first taste at this sort of thing. Upon entry, you are given two Korean-sized towels (meaning the size of what we use as hand towels in western countries) and gym clothes to change into to sleep in for the night. As I had a hiking back-pack they allowed me to store this behind the desk overnight, but for smaller bags you can store these in your locker they provide for you in the changing area. Also, if you forgot any toiletries there is a mini convenience store in the changing areas for you to buy and they sell everything from underwear, clothes to shampoo and soap.

As soon as I enter the woman's area I am faced with ladies in their birthday suits casually walking around either getting ready to enter the sauna or having finished, and some even just sitting around socialising or watching a K-Drama on the TV that the little convenience store had playing. I found my locker number and after standing there awkwardly trying not to make eye contact, I decided that I stood out more being clothed so I took a deep breath and disrobed. Being a foreigner I immediately expected the not-so-subtle stares to come my way, but fortunately and surprisingly no one really paid any attention.

As the ladies at the entrance counter didn't really do any run down on what the rules or procedures were, I ended up aimlessly walking around the lockers, nude, for a few minutes trying to figure out what the next step was and hoping I wasn't infringing on the social etiquette of this place. After observing for a little bit and feeling anxious to do something else other than walk around in a bright lit place naked, I finally entered the sauna area. Straight to the left and the right are the showers with standing or sitting options. Ladies of all ages are sitting there with their traditional Korean hand scrubs giving themselves a full rub down before entering a sauna. The number one rule of the sauna is that you MUST  shower before you enter a spa. If anyone catches you not doing so, be ready to suffer the wrath of an ajumma (middle-aged or older Korean woman).

There are different baths to choose with differing temperatures. There is also a sauna and if you want, a massage table where an ajumma is waiting to give you a full body scrub. This is not for woman who are feint of heart or shy about their body because they will get into nearly every nook and cranny! I opted to sit in the mid-temperature spa.Though, after about 10 minutes I almost forgot I was completely naked and just began to relax and enjoy the moment.

Hot baths
Once you have finished with the hot baths, sauna and showers you go back into the lockers and change into the shorts and t-shirt they provided for you. You go up one level and this is the unisex area where there is a variety of facilities to enjoy: aeorbics room, fitness room, movie room, arcarde, comic book room, eating and restaurant area and more. There are also themed rooms which you can either relax in or sleep in. For example they have the oxygen room, cold room, hot room, salt room, iron room etc.  In terms of sleeping, it ranges with each jjimjilbang. Some may have some bunk beds, some will have mats that you can take and put on the floor and some will just have pillow-like blocks and you just pick a spot on the floor and this is your area for the night. For this particular jjimjilbang, it was more a first in first served for the good, dark areas and sleeping mats and just pick an area to lay down
Sleeping caves
To be honest, unless you can sleep easy or are a deep sleeper don't expect a good night sleep here as most lights are on during the whole night and you will hear some loud snorers you can't block out. Although, it is definitely a great experience, one you have to do when you are in Korea. I would definitely go back again if there is ever a night I just need a quick and cheap place to sleep. Also, as much as I dread being naked infront of complete strangers I must say that I found it to be very invigorating and refreshing. It definitely makes you appreciate your body more.

Common area / sleeping area
So if you ever head this way and want to do something a lil different, how about staying at a jjimjilbang for a night.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dive Sites and Snorkeling Spots

I am still working towards getting my PADI certification, but until I have the time to be able to do this course properly I'll just keep on doing the introduction dives for now.

Introduction dives are a good way to start off if you're nervous about jumping into a full course straight away. It'll give you the basic instructions on buoyancy, air control and the underwater hand signals you need.

I've been to five spots so far and hope to add more to this as time goes. Although, the few spots I have been to have been amazing diving and snorkeling sites with abundant underwater life.

All these dive shops were PADI members and rated with 5 stars.

* FIJI - Mantaray Island
When I went here, this was operated by Reef Safari. Now the island runs their own dive shop called Mantaray Dive-

This has been my favorite spot so far. So, so, so many different types of fish and it was at its best at about 830 in the morning. If you remember that scene from Finding Nemo where he takes his son to school and there are just schools and schools of fish swimming was exactly like that but more! (Sorry, that was the best way of describing how it was!)

*SAMOA- Aqua Samoa at Aggie Greys Hotel and Resort
This was in their dive site called the 'Fish Bowl', about a 20 minute boat ride from the harbour.

*NORTHLAND, NEW ZEALAND- Poor Knights Island
This site was named by Jacques-Yves Cousteau as one of the top-ten dive sites in the world. Not too shabby for lil 'ol NZ.

If you can, definitely do a sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands and tell your captain that he MUST stop at Whitehaven Beach. This is only THE BEST beach I have ever been to yet (you can read a little more on my post about Adventure Tours Australia). Powder, white sand and baby reef sharks and stingrays in the shallower waters. It takes about a half hour hike to get from the beach entrance to where this beach is located (nearly on opposites sides of the island).

While I only snorkeled here, this island and Gili Air are well known for its coral reefs right off the coast which will be perfect for diving as well. Each time I entered the water, I was lucky enough to be able to swim with a big sea turtle which made my stay here even more special. The currents here are a little strong so you do have to be a little careful and wary of being taken with the tide.

Bucket List: My Travel Hit List

These places have always been my dream travel hot spots; places I'd love to hit before I turn 30 (will try to) or else I know I'll get there at some point in my life.

How does it compare to your travel hit list?

In no particular order:

*Machu Picchu (Cusco, Peru)

*Christ the Redeemer / Cristo Redentor (Rio De Janeiro, Brazil)

*Rio Carnival (Rio De Janeiro, Brazil)

*Tango and steaks in Buenos Aires, Argentina

*Diving in the Blue Hole, Belize

*Chichen Itza (Yucatan, Mexico)

*Sunrise at Angkor Wat and Prasat Kraven, Ta Prohm (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

*Petra, Jordan (grew up loving Indiana Jones and this is part of where The Last Crusade was filmed) 

*Santorini, Greece

*Sagrada Familia (Barcelona, Spain)

*See a silverback gorilla in its natural environment (Africa)

(Images have been taken from Google and other sites. These will be used until I am able to take pictures of my own =) )


Something just off topic a little bit....but I guess this also explains why I love to travel so much. Stepping foot on new grounds and seeking adventure is like living out a fantasy or stepping into another persons shoes; another version of me that only comes out when I'm consumed by wanderlust.



I love being a true embodiment of a Pisces being: ambitious, impulsive, enthusiastic, full of energy; pioneers both in thought and action, a lover of freedom. Albeit, it does get me into trouble. Pisces are over-emotional, sensitive, dreamers and will lose themselves in a relationship or their passion. I’m an escapist. I like the little fantasies that play in my mind. If only I could project that into real life and let everyone else watch with me. More so, I wish it was real life. But there I go again, wishing fantasy into reality. It’s not always healthy to be a true Pisces.


Thailand Tips

Just some things I would advise for Thailand:

- Accommodation: There are many, many different hostels/hotels you can book with. Don't be afraid to shop around if you aren't planning on pre-booking and don't be afraid to ask to see the room before paying.

- TukTuks: They will try to rip you off! Don't be afraid to barter and if you can, somehow try find out how far away your destination is. Jump on a computer and try google map it. I stupidly paid nearly 200 THB to just go around the corner. It is only $7NZD equivalent but when you can get it for only half the price or less, it's worth it!

Also, they'll try take you on a 'tour' of Bangkok and will take you to visit their friends jewellery shops etc, where they get a commission if you purchase something. So if you don't want to go, you can say no. Don't be afraid to stand your ground even though some can get quite pushy.

- Airport shuttle bus: Most accommodation will offer taxi or coach services to and from the airport. You can do this, or for a cheaper option (from memory only 100THB) you can take the airport shuttle bus. I took one by Khao Sann Road and took about an hour or hour half  to get to the airport from there, depending on traffic. They leave pretty frequently and is the most convenient and cheapest way to get to and from the airport.

- DIY vs Packaged tours: There are many tour companies that run through out Thailand, either locally or bigger companies like G Adventures or Intrepid. While these are good if you are on a limited time frame or want the ease and security of having an itinerary already, but if you are planning on doing this yourself Thailand makes it very easy to do so. Buses and trains go to nearly every town in Thailand and are very affordable. From what I saw, train and bus stations do have an English speaking guard or helper that will pick out tourists and ask if they need help so it is quite easy to book as you go.

Enjoy your Thai adventure ;)


Northern Thailand has been one of my favourite destinations so far... and this is why:

Before heading north, I'll just start with BANGKOK- the capital and the heart of Thailand. This city is full of hustle and bustle. Personally, as much as it has a lot of history and famous temples I would only stay here for 2 or 3 nights at the most.

There are many different hostels and hotels all around this area and nearby. The good thing about Thailand is that for a good 3 or 4 star hotel, the price is considerably cheap (about $40NZD per night for a decent place).

If you just want a place to lay your head and are not fussed about spending too much I would recommend either the Sawadee Khao Sann Inn or Sawadee Bangkok Inn. Both are around the corner from the infamous Khao Sann Road Markets, and offer dormitory rooms or private rooms. They are both clean with basic necessities and offer breakfast included as part of the nightly rate. You might also recognise Sawadee Bangkok Inn from the movie 'The Beach'. Or else for something a little further out, Lub D Bangkok Hostel comes highly recommend from friends who have stayed here. Great atmosphere and service.

Otherwise, for a slightly longer walk away (slightly longer meaning 5 minutes instead of 2) I did stay a night at the Royal Hotel. Open air swimming pool, two restaurants inside, storage for bags (cost about 10,000THB per day, per bag), taxi service and a travel desk.

If you limited on time and want to see temples there is one that is a must see and that is the Wat Pho Temple. This is home to the infamous reclining buddha. It is 46 metres long and 15 metres high and was designed to illustrate the passing of the buddha into nirvana. The feet and the eyes are engraved with  mother-of-pearl and the decorations at the feet are to represent 108 auspicious characteristics of a true buddha.

*Khao Sann Road -  Test out your bargaining skills or enjoy some tasty street food, or pop into one of the local restaurants for a cold Singha beer.

*Chao Phraya River - Here you can feed catfish, see the river houses on stilts and even see some floating markets.
Khao Sann Road Market

Chao Phraya River 
Wat Pho Temple

The feet of the Reclining Buddha

At Wat Pho Temple

This is easily one of my favourite places in the world so far, and in Thailand. This was known as Sukhothai Kingdom, which existed from 1238 to 1438. This is Old Sukhothai, which is where I stayed and ventured around. About 12km outside of this is New Sukhothai.

The old capital (Old Sukothai) is now in ruins and has been labelled as a UNESCO World Heritage Historical Park. It has so much character and history. Such a beautiful place to get lost in. I was lucky enough to arrive when the lotus flowers were blooming in the river, as well.

The best way to get around the park is if you hire a bicycle. 

One of my favorite temples in the park.

A seated Buddha

Phra Achana in Wat Si Chum Chapel

The hand of the buddha above. You can buy gold painted paper to stick onto the buddhas hand as an offering after a prayer.

A local cooling down in the river after a days work.

Le Charme Sukothai Resort. 

Local transport. 

There are many different elephant conservation centres in Thailand, however, some don't have the best resources or staff to properly manage and run a massive operation like this. Also, a lot of ethics and animal welfare come into play as well especially from tourists unconsciously keeping an eye out on how the animals are treated in places like this.

When I came here I was very impressed by how the centre was managed and built. You could tell the staff really did care for the elephants well-being and were not just used as a showcase for tourists that visit. The animals were almost given free reign at certain points of the day, were also well fed, had large enclosures and adequate health care facilities. If there is a centre I would recommend for people to keep coming and feeding money into to help sustain, it would be this one.

Not only can you witness these magnificent animals at play and in their almost natural habitat, but you can also volunteer here for a period of time to become a 'mahout' (elephant trainer/caregiver). Depending on the length of time you decide to do this you can get very close and personal with your elephant and while there I met a couple volunteers who had been back twice to which their same elephant remembered them.

For more information about this place:

I went here en-route to Chiang Mai.

The nursery

Paintings done by some of the elephants themselves. These are sold off and money goes towards the center

Mahouts giving their elephants a bath / a time to cool off.

Chiang Mai is my second favourite place in Northern Thailand. The city is surrounded by hillsides and although is still a busy city, it feels less stressful than Bangkok. The night markets here are infamous and while I think Khao Sann has better selection of clothes, here you can find more handicrafts and souvenirs.

While in Chiang Mai, don't forget to try your hand at a traditional Thai cooking class. Delicious value for money.

Chiang Rai (about an hour or two out from Chiang Mai) also holds one of the most interesting temples I've seen so far. It's not the typical temple you see in Thailand but the designer made it with a 'heaven and hell' theme in mind, something that is usually not seen in Buddhist thinking. A definite must-see if you are up this way.

The temple is called Wat Rong Khun (White Temple of Northern Thailand), an unconventional Buddhist and Hindu Temple. Construction began in 1997 and is supposed to end by 2070.

Night markets at Chiang Mai.

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep- 309 steps up to the temple.

Cooking class- traditional Chicken and cashew nut stirfry.

Monks at the white temple.

From Chiang Mai you can head towards the Golden Triangle, which is where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet. Historically this area is known for the trading and growing of Opium. From the Thailand side, Chiang Rai province, they have an Opium museum if you wanted to know more about this history.

From here, I was able to get across to a part of Laos via long boat. Here we spent a couple hours meeting locals and shopping around the local markets.

Entering Laos

Some snakes and reptiles soaked in very strong Vodka like alcohol.