Sunday, November 8, 2015

Asia Overview

After spending the holidays with our family and welcoming another addition (baby Peter!), we set out on our South East Asia adventure! Here is a brief itinerary.

Travel Dates: January 8th - March 4th 2015
  • Hong Kong
  • Taipei, Taiwan 
  • Cebu, Philippines 
  • Boracay, Philippines 
  • Bali, Indonesia 
  • Yogyakarta, Indonesia
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 
  • Singapore, Singapore
  • Bangkok, Thailand 

Our budget for this trip was $14,000 broken down like this:
Flights: $4400
Accommodations: $5000
Food/Fun: $4600

After researching multiple airlines and ticket sites for cheap multi stop tickets, we slowly realized that our budget might not be appropriate. The cheapest tickets we found online were around $4000 per ticket, $8000 for two. Alan to the rescue! He found an awesome site, With airtreks we were able to cut our ticket prices in half to around $4400 total! That's for 12 flights! All you need to provide is your destinations and they will do the rest for no charge! Highly recommended.

For our accommodations, we relied on Airbnb and Agoda. We kept our budget tight and usually searched way under budget to splurge on areas we knew we wanted a nicer accommodation, specifically Bali and Singapore. 

We planned well in advance for our trip. Alan planned the sights and activities while I planned out what delicious and unusual things we had to try ;).

Our bumpy start

Departing from Orlando we were super excited for our adventures! Everything was prepared and ready, all bags were packed. On the ride to the airport we start listing off everything we packed, and eventually figured out that we didn't pack our GoPro!!!!!!!!!!! After making a few calls to the house to search for our GoPro, no one could find it in the house so there was not point in going back to get it. Solution... buy another GoPro (after Pear gave Alan the pissed off faced and the "I can't believe you forgot it" face).

Ok, everything was good, bought another GoPro, checked in, went through security, made our way to the gate, and.........our flight was delayed, for 2 hours! The first thing I did was calculate the time we would have landing in Chicago and transferring to our international flight, roughly one hour. Obviously airlines would be smart and check passengers with connecting flights make sure that they all go on their connecting flights smoothly especially when it is an international flight...WRONG!

We landed in Chicago and sped through the gates like our life depended on it. Seeing a bunch of people do the same thing we had in our minds "rest assured, they can't leave 20 plus people.. impossible. " POSSIBLE. We all lined up through security and by the time everyone was there, the officer stood up and said the flight had already departed. WHAT? Um... we had 20 minutes!

Everyone was dumbstruck and started questioning the officer and he said to go deal with your flight operator. The thing is... it was 1am, if this was an international/ non american airport, of course you would be able to find your airline counter open. But this was Chicago, in the middle of winter at 1am. We were told we were rebooked on the next flight going out to Hong Kong, and that luckily that flight was in 12 hours. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! After the crap you pulled, do you think any of us would believe that the airline was so kind to book all 20 plus passengers that they left behind on the next flight??? Without issuing us another ticket, just letting us sit on our asses until 7am until the airline counters open?

They were so kind as to give us a $50 hotel voucher but that was basically it. So we waited, slept in the airport, and were first in line when counters opened. After Alan told the officer what had happened, she was nice enough to upgrade us. Finally, we were on our way to Hong Kong, just twelve hours behind schedule. This is our reoccurring lesson from our trip as you will read on through our adventures, if something goes wrong, it will get fixed for the better.

Stay tuned for our first stop, HONG KONG! 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

We're Back!

After a long hiatus (nearly a year), we are back! YAY :). So for the first post from our overdue update, lets recap South Korea.

Korea conclusion
It was a bittersweet feeing as our days in Korea came to an end. We survived one year in a foreign country teaching English! We accomplished a lot in the year and time flew by fast. There were definitely highs and lows as the days went by, but overall it was a positive experience for the both of us. Would we teach again? Yes. Would we teach in Korea again? No. Let me explain. 

If it is your first English teaching position, then Korea is one of the best choices. Most positions will only require you to have a bachelor's degree, but your application would be greatly enhanced with a TEFL certification. Most positions will provide roundtrip plane tickets, accommodation, and health insurance. The salary you will earn will be around 2,000,000 won per month depending on your location. So the package was good, and since it was our first teaching gig, it was the route we chose. 

Why Korea wasn't for us
Let us start with stating that this is solely based on our own experiences. We know many people who have enjoyed their stay and others who have continued teaching in Korea since we left. A large factor for us were the people, both Korean and Foreigners. The majority of expats living in Korea were straight out of college, single, and younger than us. We were the old married couple, so interests and experiences were obviously different. For Koreans, it was a lot harder for us to make relationships outside of our coworkers mainly due to language barriers. Even with our coworkers, there was a separation between the Koreans and non Koreans, so it felt very forced.

Another factor was the food, and this definitely was in relation to where we were located. If you were located in a bigger city, then your experiences might be different. As you know, I am a huge foodie and Korean food although good, was somewhat repetitive. I missed the depth of flavors of spices and herbs found in other types of cuisines. 

Some awesome things about Korea
Korea is a beautiful country. We started exploring the southern and eastern parts of Korea but unfortunately never made it up north pass Seoul. Public transportation is on time, comfortable, and clean. It is one of things we miss dearly from Korea. Another is their infrastructure. Korea has one of the fastest internet speeds in the world and you can have internet basically anywhere. 

Goodbye Korea hello SE Asia! 
After our one year contracts ended in Korea we headed back to USA for the holidays. Our plan from the moment we started our Korean adventure was saving enough money for our south east Asia trip. Stay tuned for our SE Asia adventures!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Jeju Day 5

Jeju Day 5
Our last day in Jeju was a relaxing one. We checked out of our hotel and went to breakfast at the Hyatt. It was small but nice buffet selection compared to the gigantic array at the Shilla, but it had a nice view and the food was quite tasty (and not as expensive). For the itinerary today we had 2 beaches and the rest of the time we planned on going to the Shilla duty free! We visted Gimnyeong Beach first. This beach having the bluest waters and nicest sand, was very dirty in comparison with the other beaches. Facilitites were not upkept and everything looked run down. Such a shame because it could've arguably been the best beach. 

Gimnyeong Beach

After the quick visit we made out way to our last beach on Jeju, Hamdeok. Alan and I both agreed that this would be the beach to visit if you only had to choose one, maybe a toss up between Hyeopjae. Although smaller in size it was fairly clean and had great views and blue waters.

Hamdeok Beach

After that we had a relaxing stroll at the Shilla Duty Free. It was a little too congested with tourists for our liking so we returned our car to the rental center and off on board our ferry back to Mokpo! All in all it was a great trip and mini vacation.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jeju Day 4: Manjanggul Cave and Sunrise Peak

Jeju Day 4 

It was our last full day on the island and boy did our bodies ache from the previous day's hike. As I woke up and tried to get out of bed, my legs felt like jello. It was impossible to walk without wincing at the pain! On our itinerary today we had one beach, Manjanggul cave, and Sunrise peak. We decided to try out the Shilla brunch buffet. After all the hype and about 50,000 won person, I would have to say it was worth it! Walking very slowly around the restaurant, I tasted all kinds of foods. There was the usual brunch options like waffles, pancakes, and breads, but surprisingly no egg station. In addition to the norm there was a salad bar, sushi, dim sum including xiao long bao, noodle station, a meat station with sausages, teriyaki chicken, and steak. After brunch we got in the car and drove about 30 minutes to Pyoseon beach. This beach is known to be very long. The water was not as blue as the other beaches, but if you are looking for sand this one is it. We didn't stay long since we weren't able to walk and going up and down stairs felt like torture. 

Pyoseon Beach

Next stop on our trip was Manjanggul cave. This cave is a famous lava tube and it stretches 13,522m. Only 1km of the tunnels are actually open for tourist. As we walked from the parking lot to the entrance of the cave, I was already tempted to turn back to the car. More flights of stairs to get down to the cave itself, I didn't know how long I would be able to last. Alas, we only lasted about half way when we decided to turn back. The caves themselves were very interesting. It was like going into Jurassic park. There's a definite temperature drop as you walk underground so bring a light jacket if you get cold easily. It is also quite damp so make sure you wear slip proof shoes and watch where you're going.

Manjanggul Cave

Sunrise Peak

After the caves we headed to Sunrise peak. Obviously we weren't going to make it for the sunrise, but we opted for the sunset instead. To get to the peak however it was another hike up a small mountain. Both Alan and I were in pain so we decided to just take the view in from afar and watch the sunset. It was pretty cloudy, but we had some nice break throughs. Unless you go on a super clear day, I heard that the sunrise is also hit and miss with the clouds obscuring the views. 

To end our somewhat relaxing day, we of course had to try the local delicacy, Jeju black pork! This restaurant was recommended by our hotel and it was just up the street. It was a small restaurant just on the side of the road. Regardless of its location it was jam packed with people so we had about a 20 minute wait. It was totally worth it. This restaurant specializes in the neck part of the pig called moksal. Other places will have the belly of the pig or samgyeopsal if you prefer that part. We prefer the neck since it has less fat and more meat. Plus it usually comes with a great dipping sauce. Yum!

Stay tuned for the last day in Jeju!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Jeju Day 3: Hallasan Hike

Hallasan Info Center

Jeju Day 3

The day we have been waiting for! We have been checking the weather the entire week to decide what was the best day to spend hiking Hallasan. Hallasan is the highest peak in Korea at almost 2000m (that's 6500ft). It is located smack dab in the middle of Jeju island and is a volcanic mountain. There are multiple trails around the mountain but only two trails go all the way up to the peak, Seongpanak and Gwaneumsa. Seongpanak is the easier of the two but it is longer. We decided to hike up this one with the plan of going down the harder, shorter trail and taking a cab back to where we left our car. We started early, leaving our hotel at 7am and making the hour journey to the start of the trail. We arrived at around 8am. There is a convenience store and restaurant around the parking lot area so we grabbed snacks, water, and kimbap. 

Don't we look so happy!? Wait till you see the after picture hahahha! Ok so here is the break down of the hike. 

The first 4.5km is rated C (easy) this leads to a resting area and bathroom -> B trail starts (medium), after 3km you get to the shelter/food stop -> Finally, the A trail starts (hard) and with another 2km finished you reach the peak.

Not gonna lie, Alan and I both fall in the "normal" BMI range, but are not in the best shape and we exercise only every once in a while, so you can use that as a measure of your own fitness. For us, the first section of the trail went well, it was tiring of course, but nothing strenuous and we felt fine when we reached the first rest area. We had made great time doing 4.5km in less than 2 hours. 

After the rest area, the trail becomes a lot more rocky, with little pebbles and larger stones. I felt like I was playing stepping stones all the way up. This wouldn't be too hard if you had your time, but we constantly had a trail of people either following us or in front of us so you had to go at a quicker pace. Some of these hikers were just gliding up and down the mountain! I don't know how they do it, maybe its better footwear, the walking sticks they were using or just from previous experience. Before reaching the shelter, there is a fork in the trail that leads up to another observatory, Saraoreum. We did no take it since it would have added another 2 km roundtrip to our hike. After what felt like forever, we reached the shelter! Here we took a break and had some food. They sell ramen, snacks, and drinks at the shelter. I opted for the kimbap I had purchased at the base and Alan had ramen and choco pies.

We reached the shelter by 11:30, giving us some time before the ascent closed. It depends on the season, but for us we had to start the ascent to the peak by 12:30pm. Once you get to the peak, you must descend by 2:00pm. Don't worry, multiple announcements will be given at the shelter and peak when it's time to move (but they are all in Korean)! After eating and stretching we were off on the last leg of the hike before the peak. The start of the hard trails is pretty deceiving since you start with some sets of stairs. Not before long you will be back to stepping stones of the larger variety. 

As the trails started to get steeper, I was having second thoughts about going down the harder trail. Clouds were also moving very fast above us so we didn't know if it would be clear at the top. We saw the light at the end of the tunnel of forest when we climbed the last set of stairs and the sun finally broke through the greenery. By this time we felt very excited since we thought we were very close! Close as in a few more sets of stairs, bouldering and more stairs lol. 

Once we finally made it to the top, it was AWESOME. Pictures will not do it justice and you are literally in the clouds. We reached the summit by 1pm, meaning we had an hour to relax and replenish before the decent down. We took a lot of pictures and sat down for our mini picnic and gave our legs a rest.

And now for the worst part of the hike, the decent. No joke, we were tired, our legs were starting to feel the strain and our water supply was running low. Going up the mountain requires more energy from your body, but going down requires more effort from your mind (balance, perseverance, cautiousness) as every step is a potential twisted ankle or fall. Weighing the pros and cons we decided to head back down the way we came since we already knew the trail and there were places to restock on water for sure. This was my least favorite part of the whole hike. The hard part was excruciating, the medium part was were I began to feel my knee giving way, and the last 4km felt like it was never going to end. My adrenaline kicked in the last 30 minutes trying my best to get to the end of trail. Finally we made it to the base at around 6:30pm. Boy were we exhausted! All in all Hallasan is definitely worth the exhaustion, but make sure you check the weather and check your fitness level!

Tips and Recommendations:
* Make sure you are both physically and mentally up for the challenge - there were times when I felt like I couldn't walk any more and wanted to break down. 

* If you are inexperienced, do not go hiking alone. Your companion can help you in more than one way, whether it be going up or down a steep incline or to give you encouraging words.

* Check the season peak times and be sure to plan your hike accordingly, start your hike early making sure you have enough time to rest and relax at the summit before descending. I would recommend starting no later than 8:30am.

* Check the weather! You do not want to be stuck in a rainstorm or go on a cloudy day where the clouds will block your view.

* Wear sunscreen and hiking shoes (no sandals!)

* Water and snacks!

* Bring bug repellent and reapply accordingly.

*If you are physically fit, try going up Gwaneomsa, the views are suppose to be better than Seongpanak. Descend via Seongpanak so you can experience both trails!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Jeju Day 2: Seogwipo and Jungman Resort area

Jeongbang Falls

Jeju Day 2 

After a goodnight sleep and no longer hungover, we headed off to explore the Seogwipo area. Our itinerary consisted of a bunch of waterfalls, a temple, and a big rock. First on the list was Jeongbang Falls. This one was farthest away from where we were and took about 45 minutes to get to. It was definatenly worth the trip and in our opinion it is the best waterfall. Had we known this before we would've saved it for last as it slightly diminished the experience of the other ones to come. The water flows off the cliff and directly into the ocean. Prepare to get a little wet the closer you get to the waterfall from the mist. Our entire backs were soaked after the pictures below!

Cheonjiyeon Falls

About fifteen minutes away from Jeongbang Falls is Cheonjiyeon. This one is smaller in size but is surrounded by a little nature park. It was a good little stroll to get to the falls but a very nice scenic walk. 

Oedolgae Rock

After Cheonjiyeon Falls, Oedolgae Rock was next on our list. This rock, nicknamed the lonely rock was formed naturally and is famous for its phallic shape. We considered taking some pictures with crewed poses, but felt the ajummas nearby wouldn't have approved. It is also part of Olle trails number 6 and 7. 

Yakcheonsa Temple

We were getting pretty hungry so our last stop before finding food was this gorgeous temple. Vibrant and calm, it was a great place to relax after driving around. There is only one main building but the interior is gorgeously lit up with little LED tea lights. You can explore the three floors freely. There is a beautiful sand painting on the second floor that should be visited up close. So detailed!

Lotte Jeju

It was around 3pm, and our tummys were in desperate need of food. We decided to try one of the restaurants in the Jungman area. We picked the Lotte hotel. Our plan was to visit the Duty Free shops after the meal. The only restaurant that was open was the Italian one, expensive but worth every bite. We ordered the margarita pizza and lasagna. After our late lunch, we walked down to the Duty Free shops. There was a wide variety of shops in the compacted space, and alot of tourist as well. Quite hectic and not my cup of tea. 

Seonimgyo bridge

Next on our list was Cheonjeyeon Falls, not to be confused with Cheonjiyeon. This one is located within the Jungman resort area and is well known for the red bridge. If you choose to cross the bridge it will take you into a botanical garden as well. After visiting two additional falls earlier in the day, we were quite tired, so we decided to skip the gardens and save our energy for Hallasan the following day. This one is the largest in area, consisting of three different falls. The most impressive one is the second one before the bridge. The Seonimgyo bridge is a sight on its own. Carved onto the bridge are seven nymphs. Cheonjeyeon is nicknamed the "pond of God" and legends say that seven nymphs would come down from the heavens and bathe in the water. 

Cheonjeyeon Falls

Jusangjeolli Cliff

The last stop of the day was Jusangjeolli cliff. The cliff is famous for its hexagonal shaped pillars, similar to Giant's Causeway in Ireland. It was quite interesting to see such sharp angles carved into the side of the cliff. We reached the cliff by sunset so we enjoyed a a nice view. 

Part 3 of our Jeju trip is the hike up Hallasan! Stay tuned ;)