Watching the sunrise over the ancient temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia is something that sits firmly at the top of many seasoned travelers bucket lists.
I am lucky enough to be able to say that the first sunrise I saw in 2014, that big glowing ball of fire, slowly rising into the sky, was at Angkor Wat and it was one of the most incredible moments.
Sure I had to fight off a few 100 other people to get that ‘perfect picture’ and within moments of arriving at the temple grounds was pestered by coffee shop owners who go by the name of Harry Potter and Rambo(!!) to come to their cafe for breakfast “whenever Im ready” but nothing could take away the beauty and serenity of that perfect sunrise.
I will write later, in detail, about the best sights, smells and sticky situations we got ourselves into while traveling around Cambodia, but for now I leave you with these photos of a very special morning in Siem Reap.
Over the weekend, I went to a Soccer game in Seoul World Cup Stadium with a big group of friends. We had all had a very late night/early morning the night before so were a little worse for wear come Sunday afternoon. Lack of makeup and unwashed hair aside, we spent the day cheering on Seoul FC and feeling pretty proud of ourselves for opting to be productive rather than hibernating in out match box-sized apartments.
After the match we headed into the shopping centre to grab a coffee, relax and try to warm up having being outside in the almost freezing cold Korean winter for the last 2-3 hours. As we walked in a well dressed, perfectly manicured Korean lady approached me and my friend and asked if we would like to get our photo taken for free. It all looked professional with proper lighting, cameras and a “set” where we could sit and pose so without delay my friend and I signed up.
The photo shoot was organized my Korean Cosmetic brand “Skin Food” which specializes in all sorts of lotions, moisturizer and cosmetics for your face, body and hair to make you look both younger and “whiter”, two aspects of beauty which every Korean aspires to be. We answered a few questions which had been roughly translated from Korean to English with regards to our skin tone, how old we were, how old our skin looked, what we would like to change about our skin and other questions which I usually avoid/hate to answer.
After about 5 minutes we sat down and were asked to pose naturally, which we attempted to do. While they loved my dear friend Mandy (a 38-year-old with the skin of a 31-year-old, or so they said with much delight and awe), they kept telling me “smile bigger”, “smile with your eyes” “You’re too awkward” and “Still too awkward”. The 3 hours of sleep I had had the night before, many hours of dancing, cocktails, hours of shopping, match day pints and general tiredness was suddenly catching up with me and I simple did not have the energy to pose like a Korean. We gave our phone numbers and the woman said we would be sent 2 photos; the first one would be of us “au natural” and the second one would be photo-shopped by the “talented” photographers and would make us look younger and whiter, the look we should aspire to be.
Instead of writing any more, I’m simply going to post the ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots as I am still slightly frightened and slightly horrified at how they think I should look as opposed to how I look right now. I may look tired, I may look hung over, I may look “too dark”, but I still like the way I look “au natural” way, way more than their idea of “photoshopped perfection”.
I was excited about my 5 day vacation for Korean Thanksgiving (Chuseok), but more so about the fact that I wouldn’t have to work for 5 days than the destination in which I was set to spend my time in. Jeju – Do, an island off the South coast of Korea, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world with over 10 million people flying to the small island in 2012 alone. The whole island was recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the new 7 wonders of the natural world. Pretty impressive, I know.
Admittedly I knew none of this before my departure and thus why I was slightly worried about my decision to go on a ‘staycation’ in Korea rather than going abroad to Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong or one of Korea’s other neighboring countries. However, having just returned from 5 days on Jeju island, I say without a doubt in my mind that in was the most incredible short vacation of my life. And that’s saying something considering South Korea is the 43rd country in which I have had the pleasure to visit, and I could not even BEGIN to count how many mini vacations to amazing places I have been to over the last 10 years.
The trip was organized my WinK (when in Korea) a Korean travel group that organizes trips through it’s Facebook group. I have traveled with them before and have always had a blast so was excited to sign up for another one of their adventures. We left Seoul at 11am Tuesday night (this was to avoid the INSANE Chuseok traffic, in which 39 million people would be on the roads in Korea over a 3 days period to visit their ancestral homes). I spent the first 2 hours or so playing drinking games with newly made friends before realizing that drinking copious amounts of beer on a bus with no toilet is NEVER a good idea. After a few hours attempting to get some sleep, we finally arrived at the ferry terminal and were soon on our way to the magical island of Jeju.
Our accommodation was next to HamDeok beach, which was one the most picturesque and tropical looking beaches I have seen thus far in South Korea. Whether the palm trees were imported from abroad or not, it didn’t detract from the natural beauty of the area. Our motel was ondol style, typical in many places in Korea, and included a room void of furniture bar 4 pillows, 4 blankets, a mini fridge and a TV. The fridge got used, the TV most certainly did not.
The first day was spent lazing around by the beach, attempting to catch flying fish while swimming in the (almost) warm and crystal clear water and making new friends through absurd drinking games and impromptu sing songs. We also got treated to a delicious Black Pig BBQ in a nearby Korean restaurant which was beyond tasty and was accompanied by one to many shots of Soju!
The second day involved an early start and a wicked hangover but as I was on a bus of absolute troopers we all pushed through the impending tiredness and spent the morning hiking up Seongsan Ilchulbong aka Sunrise Peak, which is one of Jeju’s 3 UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites, and admiring the pretty spectacular view from the top. (That being said, I still think the view of the Mountain itself in the distance beats the view from the top thanks to it’s almost perfectly round shape and the fact that it is very nearly cut off from the rest of Jeju bar a tiny sliver of land.
After a quick bus ride followed by an even quicker ferry ride, the next stop on our tour was the pretty little island of Udo. I had so much fun whizzing around this magical island on a Quad bike and exploring all the natural beauty spots it had to offer that I have decided it will get a whole post of its own, to be written in the next day or two, (Watch this space!) Between the tropical beaches on one side and the black sand beach and purple caves on the other, amazing burgers, laughter, new friendships and delicious jeju orange ice-cream, the 4 hours spent on UDO island were 4 hours that will stay with me forever.
Our second last stop was at the pretty amazing Manjanggul Lava-tube (which is known to have the largest lava column in the world) and is another one of Jeju’s 3 UNESCO Natural World Heritage Sites. It took about 20 minutes to walk through the lava tube which was extremely cold and a little eery but also a nice relief from the hot sun in which we had been prancing around in all day. It was a cool experience but for me a prefer sites above ground!
Our last stop was just for fun, and involved the group running around a giant Hedge Maze in which some people got very very lost! As the coveted prize for the winner was an ice cold beer, the race was fairly competitive!
I don’t think I have ever been so glad to see my bed, or in this case ‘blanket on the ground’, than last Thursday evening. I was absolutely shattered and passed out pretty early after feeding on some fried chicken, the only restaurant we could find open as it was a Korean National holiday and everything seemed to be closed.
Friday we were up at the crack of dawn yet again and a little apprehensive about the day. Could anything really beat the awesomeness of the day before? Visiting 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and quad biking around a stunningly beautiful island in one day are pretty hard things to beat.
Most of Fridays activities involved water which was totally fine by me considering I believe I may have been a mermaid in another life! Our first stop was at a Natural Ocean Swimming Pool by the Olle Coast Trail in the South West of Jeju. It was the perfect spot for a bit of cliff jumping an ideal way to wake everyone up from their slumber and to clear the groups hangover en-masse. The water was a beautiful turquoise color, the sun was shining and after half an hour jumping in and out of the water and chilling out and laughing with new friends, we reluctantly got dressed again and continued along the Olle coastal trail where we got to see some pretty off rock formations and beautiful sea views.
The rest of the day consisted of stunning waterfalls, beautiful rock pools (where we were told no swimming allowed but accidentally ‘didn’t see’ the warning sign and later got given out to by the whistle blowing ‘owner of nature’), one of the biggest and most popular beaches on Jeju where me and 2 friends went Banana boating (which was WAY more fun than I ever remember it being!) and a couple of beers here there and everywhere.
We also made a quick stop at the Jusang Jeolli rock column formations which looked scarily like the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland and the beautiful San Bang San temple which included steps from hell (they went on FOREVER!!) that led to a small opening in the mountain rock face where a monk sat chanting and visitors could queue up to drink a sip of some sacred water, which was tripping from the roof of the cave, and is said to have healing properties to cleanse your body and soul. I drank a whole bowl full so I’m hoping for a delayed reaction.
The day was, in summary, magical. I don’t know if I could possible of had a better trip with cooler people. Then, to top it all off, we were dropped in Jeju city to grab some dinner and party the night away into the wee hours of Saturday morning. A nice sleep in followed by a bizarre few hours walking around a Korean Sex Park was the almost perfect way to end our incredible tour.
On leaving beautiful Jeju, everyone was in high spirits, sitting on the top deck of our “cruise ship” singing cheesy songs and again, sipping on cold beers ad enjoying the 360 degree view of the ocean. As if the week could have gotten any better, we were treated to THE most stunningly beautiful sunset I have ever seen in my life followed by the most incredible moon rise a few hours later. It will take a trip to heaven to beat the 5 days I just spent in Jeju.
This week’s photo challenge is to post a photo with an unusual point of view.
The below image was taken by putting my GoPro camera on timer and placing it at the bottom of a swimming pool! I then spent a few minutes swimming back and forth on the surface and the end result was some pretty cool silhouette images, one of which I have shared below. An interesting POV? I like to think so.
I was very sad to miss my Masters Graduation ceremony back home in Ireland this week, but as flying over 9,000km from Korea to Dublin for 1 day was definitely not an option, I just had to get on with my days work teaching cute little Korean kids their A,B,C’s!
I think the principal of the school felt a little sorry for me, so she spent the entire day today photo shopping my head onto other people graduation photos, then uploaded them into facebook. You can imagine my surprise and delight after a long days teaching, logging on to facebook to see these hilarious yet brilliantly photoshopped images of myself at my Graduation! She even got the colors right and somehow added the University crest to one of the photos too!
I may have missed the actual graduation ceremony, but at least I have some photos from the occasion!