I just got back from 4 days in beautiful Japan and have loads to write about…when I find the time. First of all, however, I just thought I would share a few of my photos with you. All photos were all taken on my smartphone.
There has been quite a lot of military activity over the past few days, especially in the air space between Seoul and the DMZ where I live, with many military helicopters flying the route daily.
I wasn’t sure what was happening until I was informed that today was the 65th anniversary of South Korea’s Army and a huge military parade took place in Seoul to mark the occasion.
Armed Forces Day is an annual celebration in South Korea, held on October 1st each year, the day that South-Korean forces broke through the 38th parallel in 1950 during the Korean War, and is held in honour of South Korea’s military forces.
Over 11,000 soldiers and 120 aircraft were involved in today’s Armed Forces Day Parade , which is said to have been South Korea’s largest military parade in over a decade. The parade also displayed many of South Korea’s top military weapons including a never before seen GPS-guided cruise missile capable of traveling over 1,000 km.
Let’s just hope that none of those extremely high tech weapons will ever need to be used, as they were when I was here back in 2010, when North Korea bombed Yeonpyeong Island and killed two South Korean Soldiers.
The Batu Caves are a firm favorite on many peoples list of things to do in Kuala Lumpur. As they are situated just 20 minutes outside of the city and are accessible via Metro for the bargain price of ONE Ringgit, it isn’t surprising that every traveler I met in Malaysia had also seen the caves, with all of them complaining about the never ending steps, warning me not to feed the monkeys and advising sensible footwear.
Personally I wore flip flops, gave the monkeys handfuls of peanuts and didn’t think the steps were THAT bad. No pain no gain, as they say, and the view from the top was pretty amazing!
If you have 2 hours to spare while in KL, this place is well worth a visit, as it is super cheap to get there and free to enter, very accessible from the city and is overflowing with wildlife ranging from bats and birds to monkeys, cockerels, and lizards. Plus, have you seen the SIZE of that Golden Buddha?! INCREDIBLE!
After a few days in KL I was running out of sights to see and activities to do. I had heard about the Bird Park but wasn’t sure if I was that bothered forking out 40 Rinngit to see some birds in cages. In the end I teamed up with another traveller from Prague and we set off to the Botanical Gardens. On arrival we decided we may as well see the Bird Park now that we were so close.
It was actually money really well spent. We wandered around the HUGE park for about 2 hours, and after a while we totally forgot we were actually in an enclosure. The area is so large and the nets are so high up, with trees and plants and flowers obscuring the view skywards, that it is actually quite easy to forget where you are. While some of the rarer birds, and the more aggressive ones, are kept in large cages, the majority appear to be walking, hopping and flying around at their leisure.
The tourists that we were, we decided to get our photo taken with some of these larger birds in the “photo booth”, of which you can see the results below. There is also a snack shop, a cafe and a large souvenir shop…but we didn’t waste much time or money in these.
If you have more than 3 days in Kuala Lumpur, or if you are there with Children, I would highly recommend a trip to the Bird Park. Pleasant way to kill an afternoon, only minutes from the city.
While in Kuala Lumpur last week I heard about an amazingly unique “pop up” bar, located on a helipad on the 36th floor of an office building in the centre of the city. Pretty cool, right?
Well I spent 2 days searching for the place and simply could not find it. I knew it was in an office tower called “Menara Kh” so I kept telling various taxi drivers that is where I wanted to go. I kept saying take me to the “menara” bar or to the “menara tower” but kept ending up at other tall random buildings. I later found out that “menara” means “tower” in Malay…no wonder the poor taxi driver was confused considering the 100′s of tower blocks dotted around the city!! Whoops!!
It wasn’t all wasted time though as I did come across another cool rooftop bar called “Luna” on the 34th floor of the Pacific Regency Hotel. It had amazing views of the KL skyline, an outdoor swimming pool, good tunes and excellent cocktails.
After 3 days searching for the mysterious Helipad , a kind local couchsurfer pointed out the building to me and I was able to re-trace the same route the following day and finally ascend to the 36 floors to the mesmerising Helipad Lounge!
First off, you go up to the 34th floor of a pretty deserted office building, where I continued to doubt if I was indeed in the right place. However after briefly wandering around the empty office block I found the bar and was pretty ecstatic! I ordered a Mojito and was told to head on up the stairs, a further 2 stories, to the Helipad.
Walking out onto the roof, 36 floors up, was pretty amazing. There were 360 degree views of the city skyline unobstructed by fences or barricades or netting or windows, from the Patronas towers, to the Kl Tower, it was really a spectacular sight. I arrived just as the sun was setting, which meant the sky was turning a moody pink and the 10 or so other adventurists who had made it to the top were all snapping away getting once in a lifetime shots of themselves drinking cocktails on a Helipad.
The drinks were only 20 Ringgit, so around 5 euro, the service was great and the views were sensational. I highly recommend going to this bar if you are in Kuala Lumpur. (The bar is only open from 7pm until 9pm (perfect for sunset cocktails) so make sure to get their early.)
I arrived here by accident, which I must admit, is how many of best experiences happen. I hopped off the boat from the beautiful Perhentian Islands (which I will write about in another post as believe me paradise has its downfalls!), and decided I would get the next bus to Kuala Lumpur. It turned out that bus would not be departing for 6 hours, and in 34′c heat that was not an ideal situation for me. It was an overnight bus that would arrive in the capital at 5 in the morning which was also not-so-ideal!
Opting out of that, I asked where I could do within the next hour. There was a tour bus going to the Cameron Highlands at 2pm, so I decided that would be my next destination. What I didn’t know was that I would be the only passenger on the bus! Not that I cared, it meant I could tilt my seat back, stretch my legs and sleep for 6 hours. Pretty perfect really. Except for the crazy driver who decided to beat his personal record and to try to cover the 400+ Km distance over mountainous roads in 4 hours instead of 6. This made for QUITE the bumpy ride, which was not great for my already dodgy stomach.
Travelling Asia for a a few months or even a few weeks, you simply cannot escape getting “delhi belly”. This is even more so in Malaysia, which has a huge Indian population and an even bigger love for Indian Curries! In places like Penang it would be almost blasphemous to eat anything but local cuisine, and in places on the east coast like the perhentians you wouldn’t even have the choice.
The journey to the Cameron Highlands, apart from the bumpy roads, crazy driver and me almost going taking a pee in a prayer room instead of a bathroom, was pretty uneventful. The scenery was pretty amazing though, driving for hours through palm tree forrests, jungles and eventually up and down and over all the hundreds of acres of beautiful tea plantations.
On arrival I checked into Kangs Travellers Lodge, where I bagged a private room for just 7 Euro. Bargain! Today I went on their ‘Mossy Forrest walk’ which was way more interesting and entertaining than your average ‘Forrest walk’. Our guide was extremely knowledgable and seemed to know the name, the age and the healing properties on virtually every plant in the Forrest!
He showed us a tree that has leaves that are used to make citronella, which can protect you against mosquitos. However he pointed out that the one place it grows, is probably the one place you won’t ever find mosquitos! He casually picked a berry off another plant squished it between his fingers and showed us the purple colour that seeped out, a colour that turns black after oxidation and is then used to make mascara. Another plant smelled like spearmint or vicks, while another turned out to be wild ginger. We discovered some leaves, that take decades to grow, and looked like long hanging cups, and had this sort of sticky water in them that some how captured insects…it was like an insect eating leaf, very strange!
Our awesome guide also taught us about leeches and their healing properties to help thin the blood and clear blood clots, but also showed us leafs to help heal the wound after a leech had pierced you! He showed us which leaves/plants were poisonous and which weren’t and how we could test them (put a bit of the sap under you armpit and if it is itchy then the sap is poisonous, if not, then you’re good to go).
One of the most fascinating things I learned, however, was about the life of the Cicada bug. This guy, the male in particular, has such a sad life. He is one of the loudest and most annoying and creepy looking bugs I have ever come across with a buzzing song that could pierce your ears and give you a headache if you are too close, but after hearing his “life story” I can’t help but feel bad for the little critter. They live underground for 17 years (which in itself is pretty insane!!) then they come up above ground as a fully grown adult buzzing around the place looking for a female to mate with. They only have 2 weeks to do this before they will fall to the ground and die. And to make this task even more difficult…there are 100 males for every 1 female so competition is FIERCE!! In the world of the cicada there simply AREN’T enough fish in the sea!
Apart from our amazing nature lesson, we saw some spectacular views over the surounding highlands, tasting tea in a huge 600 acre tea plantation and even got to go to a strawberry farm to pick our own strawberries, which although very overprices were delicious none-the-less! Day one in the Cameron Highlands has barely finished and I’m loving the experience already!
I’m heading off to Georgia (the one next to Russia, Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan and NOT the state in the US!) tomorrow morning on a field trip as part of my Masters in Humanitarian Action programme. We have a tight packed schedule which includes visiting state media, United Nations Offices, the European Commission, the Dutch Embassy and visits to many international NGOs such as Oxfam, the Norwegian and Dutch Refugee Councils, Action Against Hunger and many more. I’m seriously excited and think it’s going to be a pretty amazing and eye-opening view into what could well be my future career!
We won’t have internet access so this blog will be pretty quiet over the next 10 days! Come back then for my trip review, photos and what I hope will be an interesting insight into a country not a lot of people know much about!
Thanks for stopping by!
Janet …AKA Journalist on The Run
Thanks to Samy Amanatullah, for this great guest post!
“How much does your life weigh?” is the staple question of George Clooney’s motivational speech in Up in the Air. It’s a springboard for inviting his audience of slack-jawed hangers-on to try and fit all their STUFF–their possessions, their fixtures, their relationships—into a backpack. And its end result is the condemnation of long-term relationships (girlfriends, mortgages) and, for our purposes, STUFF.
Go look in the mirror, take a look that can be short but make it hard. There is either some part of you that agrees with this statement, that has contemplated dumping everything, walking away, or you just don’t dig it. Anyone who’s been backpacking has answered this question at some point, even if they don’t realize it. STUFF, if we’re being honest, is a pain in the ass. When I said goodbye to South Korea (as well as the lovely and gorgeous host of this blog) to travel around Southeast Asia, everything I thought I’d need had been (over)stuffed into a bag.
My plan was to travel for a little, celebrate the solar new year, then look for work in Cambodia, maybe Thailand, possibly Laos—someplace where snow wouldn’t be an issue and I could get a decent sandwich (Full disclosure: this plan was amended from an earlier plan). Everything went into that travel bag—warm weather clothes, two sweatshirts, two flasks, underwear abundant, socks, clothes that could be worn for job business, a pair of sports shoes—clunky clunky sports shoes. This thing was overpacked, bursting. I got it closed, but opening it again, as the dicks at airport security made me do was the least pleasant thing in the world. Turning up nothing of concern and seeing that they’d opened a storm, security personnel pushed the bag towards me and looked towards the line that wasn’t behind me or anywhere. Deal with it.
The next day, I bought a $7 backpack off the street to split the load. I still felt conspicuous. Jam-packed, but with what? I described my load earlier, and I’m still not sure. So it was that as I got further from my plan, I shed.
In Up in the Air, Clooney is a frequent flying loaner, gleefully forsaking conventional relationships to jet set around America, proudly living out of a backpack the whole while. Desert island questions (as in, If you were stuck on a desert island and could only take 5 books/items/etc…) are designed to gauge one’s personality via their possessions. Forsaking the comfort of STUFF, paring down your possessions, evokes a simplicity associated with Buddhism or Zen.
At the very least, it impresses people. “I quite admirable that he travel with simple luggage,” my couchsurfing host in Taipei wrote of me (this was much later). A Swedish guy I met in Myanmar remarked at how little my friend and I were carrying. His pack had room for a midget and a half, and when it unzipped, spilling out over the usual suspects was the useless—a mug, a cup, a bottle of whiskey nearly empty but tiny enough to leave a titmouse or Mormon sober, a sleeping bag and a hammock, a drum, a book (Burmese Days) among many others that he bought not out of interest but because that’s what people read when they go to the country formerly known as Burma. It sometimes becomes a thing to judge people by what they’re unwilling to do without. We are what we think we need.
It was before dawn on the Mekong. At one of those stops that exist only to sell foreigners crap breakfast while the border opens, the bus from Bangkok to Vientiane unloaded its cargo (older men getting away from their Thai “wives”, itinerant trekkers going north, farangs working in Thailand on visa runs, backpackers, tubers-in-waiting and a small group looking for work at the tubing bars, Travelers i.e. people for whom travel has ceased to be a vacation and is now a way of life) who then lined up for coffee and toast.
Between wafts of cigarette smoke, steam pouring off coffee, and the hazing pre-dawn, they compared bags. An older English guy who’d traveled Laos before and with whom I’d end up spending much of my time there carried with him a square pack, adorned with patches of countries visited, consisting of about four shirts, two shorts, a pair of trousers, underwear (‘pants’ as the English say,), and shoes on his feet. Books weren’t an issue because he had an iphone with the Millennium Trilogy on audio. No jacket. No sweatshirt taking up half his bag. When people asked what he did on bus rides when the air-condition blasted, his response was, “Oh, it’s not that cold.” His country count was in the fifties.
A middle-aged Irishman showed off his bag, also with flag patches and not much bigger than my laptop. By his standards, that bag was large. His friend, he said, who’d made a mission of going to every country or territory and had pretty much succeeded had two shirts, two pants, a pair of shoes, socks, and no underwear. Later, when I told a travel companion about that last bit, he took it to heart and went commando, an unfortunate move as the waistband to his shorts bulged in the back, leaving a view to his crack. I was taller than he, so I made a point of not walking behind him.
As they talked, I thought of my bags. I was glad that they weren’t with me at the time, but I didn’t feel self-conscious anymore. Yeah, they were clunky mothers—the red mingled with dirt that would cling to my black, the strip of blue drooped over my shoulder making every narrow crossing a bit awkward. They were more than I needed. But I wondered why it was that these older people could get by with less while these teenagers and twentysomethings lug 50 or 70 pounds behind them. What’s the point? What’re we preparing for? When we think travel, we tend to think of freedom, the open road, adventure, but when I see travelers I think turtle, snail, crustacean laboring over the dunes, trying in vain to keep its home on its back. We are what we think we need? Maybe.
“It’s hard for girls. Girls are expected to dress for every occasion,” says a Belgian woman as we discussed this very topic at a bar overlooking the river. And it’s true, especially in the age of social networking, traveling is so many things—tourism, party, adventure, cultural exchange, culture shock, status update, profile picture—that we get caught up in being prepared for anything instead of what we’re facing.
No one wants to find themselves at the top of the mountain with a dead camera, or in an excrement-floored squat bursting out the behind and suddenly without toilet paper. On the other end, you don’t need a cocktail dress to go out for drinks. A hammock and a sleeping bag is probably over-doing it. It’s easy to judge, so I had to wise up. That’s why in some bungalow on the 4,000 Islands, there’s a blue travel bag filled with all the STUFF (shoes, socks, pants, dead camera, wires, water bottles warm and plastic-tasting) I didn’t need.
That’s why 2 months later wandering round Taipei, my STUFF collection was a passport, carton of Bamar (i.e. Burmese) cigarettes, a fifth of apple vodka, two MP3 players, 4 books (3 for trading, 1 used tour guide), three pairs of pants (one of which was always worn), 5 shirts doing double duty as towels, board shorts, a lucky pair of Obama socks that I’d kept because they were a gift (from the lovely and gorgeous host of this blog) and because wearing them at night stopped me from scratching the mosquito feeding farm, and sweatshirt that took up half my bag, because my Southern Californian ass doesn’t handle the cold well. Also, toilet paper, though that had also been a gift from a Bamar guesthouse. My STUFF was like my trip—random, disorganized, endearingly chaotic, and indulgent.
But most importantly, my STUFF was disposable. I could dump it wherever. I’ve left and lost and broke things in every country to which I’ve been. If you look in Janet’s apartment, you’ll find the random remainders of my life in Korea. Some Thai guesthouse has that lime orange sweatshirt that made me stick out wherever I went. In Laos, there’s a pair of shoes that climbed mountains, hiked jungles, forests, and walked through some of the biggest cities on either side of the world. The time came for my grey cargo pants twice burnt-on-the-crotch and mysteriously stained with Full Moon party paint to make someone else look like a chic hobo.
My relationship with STUFF has always been strained as an adult. Moving from house to house every year in university, I came to hate it. STUFF was a symbol of oppression, of being unable to just get up and go, of being tied to one place or thing. The people I lived with swore by STUFF in one way or another. But it’s different when you’re traveling, the temptation for STUFF comes in many forms, but souvenirs are the best way to hemorrhage space and money. Obviously, what we need is defined by where we’re to end up and how long we have till we get there, but souvenirs are for Mantle Place People, folk who have a mantle on which to put their souvenirs. I met one person whose philosophy towards souvenirs was the most agreeable I’d heard. He went by a get one/toss one rule. Every time he bought a t-shirt, he threw one out.
“How did you know you didn’t need a bigger bag?” a travel companion asked me. He wasn’t a Mantle Place Person either, maybe less of one than I am. When we met up in Bangkok, he looked at my knock-off Lowe Alpine bag, limit 50 pounds. How did I know? I didn’t. I assumed my life would shrink or grow with the backpack, kind of like a goldfish. How much does your life weigh? It doesn’t. It depends.
In Ireland making tea is pretty simple. Boil water. Put Barry’s tea bag in cup. Pour water. Pour milk. Drink tea. Mmmm the sweet sweet, sweet taste of a cup of Barrys Tea…
On my trip to Taiwan last weekend, I discovered a whole new side to tea-drinking. In a city, and country, where tea drinking is more of a tradition or ritual than a, dare I say “drink”, the whole process takes a lot longer.
First off, we took a Gondola up into the Maokong hills the skirt the sprawling city of Taipei, where our eyes were treated to panoramic views of the city skyline including the mesmerizing 101 story skyscraper; Taipei 101.
As the sun set on the city, nightfall brought with it a strong breeze which sent shivers down my spine as, at a height of 2,000 meters above ground level, out gondola began to shake as the wind whistled through the cracks which sounded like lost souls.
Happy to back on safe ground, we went in search of our first tea house, not really sure what to expect. We found a cute little tea house with a pretty amazing view down through the valley and sat down at some cute hand carved stools outside to taking full advantage of the warm spring breeze.
We were given a menu and decided on the “perfumed floral tea with reddish brown color”! Next thing we know we are confronted with a kettle, a tea pot, a strainer, a small serving pitcher, a bowl, a metal pan, 2 stirrers and 2 tiny tea cups. What to do, what to do. Well, as my Dad always says, if all else fails read the instructions! Well in this case, easier said than done Dad!
How to make Tea in Taiwan…(as far as I remember so bear with me guys!)
1.Heat water but don’t quite let it boil…when you see the big bubbles take it off the heat!
2.Pour hot water into tea-pot then into the tea pitcher. Pour tea into each cup then empty straight away. (This is just to warm the pots)
3. Fill tea-pot 1/3 full with tea leaves. Pour hot water in and leave for a few seconds then pour into pitcher and pour into cups but DO NOT DRINK! This is just to “awaken” the tea and unfurl the leaves!
4. (….can we drink some tea yet?? Nearly, nearly.) Re-fill pot with water and let steep for 30 seconds. Pour through strainer into pitcher then pour into doll sized cups. Sniff and enjoy the floral aroma and….enjoy the taste!
Then after only 2 sips you will discover your miniature cup is empty! Repeat step 4 a few more time over what will probably be an hour long period and you will be an expert at the fine art of tea- drinking in no time at all!
It may sound complicated but its the process that makes the whole experience well worth the trouble and perhaps the equally high price but sitting up in the Maokong hills looking down over beautiful Taipei drinking some of the most delicious and sensual tea that has ever touched my lips and I knew it was totally worth it!
While I myself had not had the opportunity yet to experience Doctor Fish (despite there being at least 2 in Seoul), both my parents and many of my close friends have tried it. People mainly go for the giggles (it tickles…a lot!) and the experience but it is also supposed to be a great alternative to conventional pedicures!
Doctor Fish, originating in Turkey and the Middle East and now very popular around Asia, involves dipping your twinkly toes into a tank full of flesh eating fish. Sounds attractive, right? Well basically you put your feet into a tank and these little, toothless “Garra Rufa” fish nibble away at your dead skin giving you a perfect pedicure in minutes.
But hold on, don’t run off to your nearest spa just yet. The BBC released this article yesterday questioning the safety of these “Doctor fish”. The main issue is the while the little nibblers munch on hundreds of feet they may also be spreading infection and disease from foot to foot. Although no official complaints have been filed in the UK yet, many states in the US have already banner their use.
Maybe think twice before giving your feet, and the fish, a little treat.