Tag Archives: adventure

Hitchhiking To Detroit – An Adventure Like No Other

9 Feb

You’re hitchhiking to DETROIT?” friends asked of me incredulously. “Are you mad?” they would enquire, ever before I even mentioned that I would also be couchsurfing there. i.e. staying on an absolute stranger’s couch for the weekend.

I never planned to go to Detroit, it all just seemed to fall into place. I was invited to attend the Detroit Couch Crash, a meeting organized by all the wonderful couchsurfers in Michigan to unite people from all over for the US for Memorial Day weekend. It also happened to take place during DEMF (Detroit Electronic Music Festival), an annual event attracting thousands of hard core music fans.

After standing awkwardly on the main highway out of Toronto, with my thumb stuck out and a strained smile on my face, I waited patiently for a kind stranger to pick me up. Many people pulled in, slowed down or stopped, before performing rude hand gestures or shouting obscenities in my direction and subsequently speeding off. The joys of traveling in a country not accustomed to hitchhikers!

Eventually I secured a ride with what seemed to be a very decent man travelling all the way to Windsor, a town on the Canadian/US border. However normal he appeared, his initial greeting once I sat into the car was anything but conventional.

“I hitchhiked myself once”, he said.  “All the way from LA to Montreal about fifteen years ago. Yup, and I got picked up by a mass murderer and all. You just ‘know’ when you have sat into a car with a mass murderer, don’t you.”

Words escaped me, but he continued.

“Lucky back then I was a lot bigger.” He flexes his now deflated ‘guns’. “We were driving through the corn fields of Iowa and BAM I knocked him out and threw him out of the car. You gotta do what you gotta do, right?”

Indeed, I thought, as I contemplated jumping out of the moving vehicle.

The four hour journey continued on a similar note with him telling me about how he asked God to find him a wife – he found one 2 weeks later and they have been married ever since, how he broke his crack cocaine habit in a bar days before ‘finding’ his wife, and of course all about his journey becoming a born again Christian and door-to-door salesman.

If having to listen to this mans slightly scary and equally bizarre life story for four hours wasn’t interesting enough material for a blog post or two, soon my worst nightmare was coming true. We were running out of petrol with not a gas station in sight. Hopping over the border for a weekend break to Detroit was proving to be more hassle than I ever could have anticipated!

Upon finally making it to the American border, alive and well, I was quizzed about where I was from, where I was living, and of course where I was going in a stuffy little immigration office and was once again questioned about my sanity.

How did you get here? the large, stern looking woman asked.

“I hitchhiked from Toronto”. Cue shocked, incredulous looks.

“Where are you staying in Detroit?”, she continued.

“Oh, I’m couchsurfing in Corktown with…”

‘You’re what??’ she interrupted.

‘I’m couchsurfing…it’s a website where you can stay on peoples couches for free all over the world’.

“So it’s (glances at her watch) nearly midnight on a Friday night and you are planning on meeting a total stranger in the ghetto, who you met off the internet and you’re going to sleep on their couch?! Are you crazy woman?!”

I was beginning to think she might have a point, but couldn’t help but laugh. As I get my visa approved and head for the exit, the woman’s colleague calls to me, ‘Have you got a gun with you?

Puzzled and thinking they are trying to catch me out and deport me from the US before I have even taken a step over the border, I immediately (and truthfully) reply ‘Of course not!’ to which the male immigration officer quickly responds,

“I would if I were you. This is Detroit.”

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Myanmar Travel Guide: Everything You Read Is Wrong

3 Feb

This is my third guest blog post of 2015, written by the brilliant Brian M. Williams who runs the excellent website NetSideBar.com. Be sure to check it out to read the rest of his brilliant travel diaries. His photographs are also incredible – all photos in this post were taken by him.

Where to begin when talking about how different Myanmar is from other countries in Southeast Asia, and, indeed, the world? I guess you can start with the fact that it has a half-hour timezone difference: when it’s 8 in Bangkok, it’s 8:30 in Myanmar. However, this is just the inconsequential-tip of the iceberg when it comes to how different Myanmar is.

To begin to understand what makes Myanmar different you have to know a little about its recent history. Burma, Myanmar’s name during colonial times, was controlled by the British starting in 1886. They would continue to rule the country up until World War II when much of the country was taken over by Japanese forces. After the war, in 1948, Burma became an independent country with an elected government. However, in 1962, the military took over the country, restricted rights, arrested opposition leaders, strictly controlled and centrally planned the country’s economy and simultaneously isolated it from the rest of the world. The end result of all of this was that Burma became one of the poorest countries on Earth. During the the military’s long rule, there were many civilian-led protests that were almost always put down with violent force by the military government.

However, starting in 2008, democratic reforms, which included having open elections and releasing political prisoners, have resulted in Myanmar being allowed to rejoin the world community. The country even hosted President Obama, the first American president to visit the country, in 2012 and again in 2014. Still, there are some who argue that the reforms have not gone far enough and that the government is continuing to persecute certain religious and ethnic minorities in the country. Therefore, they say that foreigners should not support such a government with their tourist dollars. While I can appreciate this point of view and can testify that there is still fighting going on in the country that can sometimes shut down tourist routes (more on that later), I do not support sanctioning and isolating the people of a country because of the actions of their government. If the idea is that punishing ordinary citizens will cause them to revolt against their government, there has been zero evidence in history to show it works (see Iraq, Iran, Cuba and North Korea, just to name a few). What does work is people from around the world interacting, learning and sharing ideas and views about things like freedom and human rights. So, yeah, I had no moral reservations about going to Myanmar.

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First Impression

Regardless of this debate, the result of Myanmar’s long isolation is that tourism has been slow to develop in the country. The country is full of old cars and old buildings and there are very few things that appear modern or 21st century at all.  There is also a lack of advertising and big name brand Western goods that makes it clear it has not been fully overrun by Western capitalism which is something very difficult to find these days. For these and other similar reasons, travelers, such as myself, have been drawn to this country despite it being more difficult to travel in than many other places.

In many parts of SE Asia, tourists are catered to to such a degree that all anyone has to do is just arrive at the airport and from there they can go anywhere on a VIP bus to any number of high-end resorts (or, more likely, party scenes) and spend weeks in the region without really seeing any of its culture or having to do any thinking or planning for themselves. The original or traditional culture in such places has bent so much to accommodate the wants and desires of tourists that much of it seems lost or at least hidden away very well. In its place has developed a feeding frenzy to get the most tourist dollars a person can which sometimes includes an endless deluge of people asking you to buy the same crappy items every three minutes, constantly being approached by beggars, and ripping people off and scamming tourists. Foreigners are seen as moneybags who are meant to be hit up like a pinata every chance a person has to see if some money will fall out.

My hope in going to Myanmar was that this aspect of “development” wouldn’t have reached the country, and I’m very glad to say it hadn’t. The people in Myanmar still have a friendliness, purity and sincerity that is hard to find in modern and big city cultures. Unlike many other parts of SE Asia, when people in Myanmar talk to you, the vast majority of the time it is without an agenda and someone saying “Hi,” and asking “Where are you from?” is not the opening of a sales pitch but just a reflection of their curiosity about who is coming to visit their country. Every where I went – big city or small town – children would regularly run up to me just to say, “Hi.” They would then, just as quickly, say, “Bye,” all while waving their hands furiously and smiling. While this can happen in other places in SE Asia, it is almost always in remote, small villages that don’t get a lot of tourists.

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Travel Tips: Everything You’ve Read Is Wrong

Traveling in Myanmar is more difficult than many other countries in the region. While the trains run on time, they bounce, sway and rock violently and often times give you the feeling they’re about to go off the tracks. I literally had to tie my bags down to keep them from falling off the overhead luggage-rack. At another time, a train I was on crossed over a large bridge so slowly I could have literally walked it faster. Still, it’s a great way to see the vast countryside and some very small villages and towns.

Buses there have very odd schedules. Most long distance buses are overnight, which wouldn’t be such a problem except they will do bizarre things like leave a place at 7 pm only to arrive at your destination around 3 or 4 in the morning. The roads can also be bumpy and very swervey. I personally suggest paying a bit more to get a VIP bus when you can just to get a better ride and better sleep on an overnight trip.

There are also many slow boat options in the country. It can be expensive, but slow boats are a very relaxing and pleasant way to travel. However, the five day slow boat I was planning on taking had been closed to foreigners apparently due to fighting along the river banks. (I was lucky enough to find this out the day before I was going to head out to start that part of my trip.) Similar reports of random places, even by land, closing or reopening were frequent among travelers. Talk to your fellow travelers and always try to find people who have been to a place you want to go to make sure your travel plans are actionable.

Accommodations are not the cheapest in Myanmar. Hotels in Yangon start at 25$ which is a big jump up from the $10 a night you can easily find in the rest of SE Asia. While there are certainly places cheaper than 25$ in other parts of the country, they can be hard to find and are no where near as plentiful as Lonely Planet makes them out to be. I would suggest budgeting 15-20 dollars a night while there for rooms. Some days you’ll be under for sure, but some days you’ll be over. Hotel prices have gone up a lot in just the past two years and will likely continue to move that way. The best way to cut these costs is to find someone to share a room with. Also, with buses arriving at such odd times at night, this can create an extra problem: Some hotels will check you in right away if they have an open room and treat it all as one day. Others will, however, charge you for an extra half day. On the bright side though, every hotel, guest house and hostel offers breakfast but some places’ breakfasts are much better than others.

Another very important area where Lonely Planet is horribly outdated is that it is much easier to get money in Myanmar than it was just a few years ago. ATMs are everywhere and work just fine. You no longer need to bring in mint condition US 100 dollar bills which I broke my back trying to get in Bangkok just before my flight. However, if you do bring US cash, the banks and government exchanges offices give very fair rates and there is no need to go to the black-market anymore like LP suggests.

There also seems to be visas on arrival (VOA). I don’t know any details about this, but I did see a counter for it at the airport and several Westerners standing in line for it. Just Google it. If this is an option, it might be much easier than running back and forth to their embassy and might be cheaper than paying a travel agent to do it.

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Final Thoughts:

While I have no way to prove it, I personally believe that Myanmar is attempting to smartly develop their tourist industry and is trying to avoid becoming like certain other countries in SE Asia. To that end, the high cost of hotels, the complete lack of a party scene ( I averaged going to bed around 10-11 while there) and just the overall level of difficulty in traveling is all aimed at keeping out large numbers of tourists. There were plenty of wealthy tourists traveling or flying around the country to visit the ever-growing number of expensive resorts just like much of SE Asia. But gone were the budget accommodations, booze cruises and pub crawls that are common throughout the region.

Myanmar isn’t for flash packers, gap-year party kids or idiot travelers who can’t bother making any plans for themselves (save the very rich ones). The lack of these things showed in the quality of the travelers I met there. No one was there by accident or by way of lazy curiosity. No one was there because they had heard it was a “good party.” No one was there because it was effortless to get there. People where there with a real interest in seeing the country and the culture. They had detailed plans about where they wanted to go and what they wanted to see. And everyone really seemed grateful to being seeing this country before it gets further along on the path to integrating with the rest of the world.

Battling Rabies And Hanging Out With A UFO-Abductee

30 Jan

From riding in the back of an ex-army truck across Africa to battling rabies and drinking his own Urine, Irish travel writer and presenter Manchan Magan is not your regular D4 head!

He may have grown up in Donnybrook but he is living a life far removed from the world of Yummy Mummies. He could speak Irish before he could speak English and despite being the great-grandnephew of nationalist “The O Rahilly” he has always felt disconnected from Ireland.

“I never connected with the world I was brought up in and it left me feeling depressed in my teenage years”, he says.

He is talking to me via Skype from New Mexico, where he is currently helping with the Obama Campaign. Never a dull day I would say.

At the young age of 20 he embarked on a trip of a lifetime. He brings me back to a young, innocent Manchan Magan about to begin his first ever adventure; an epic six month trip from London to Nairobi in the back of an ex-army Truck with 18 unlikely adventurers from 2 privately educated schoolgirls to a locksmith who claims to be a UFO-abductee.

Magan holds back nothing when describing some of the hilarious, eccentric, and shady characters he travelled with, which he explains is why he waited nearly 20 years to publish it.

“When I was younger I preferred reading books that were honest so I like to be brutally honest about everything, whether I am writing about the terrible things I did in South America or the terrible things people did to me in Africa”.

On this first trip across the Dark Continent he encountered witch doctors, drug runners and missionaries. He talks about hitching with dessert nomads in Morocco to being stranded in the middle of the Congo with no food and no money. He was looking for some romance and compassion but all he got was an infectious disease.

“When I returned home with Bilharzia, the doctors here had never seen it before and were entranced by he tests”, Manchan recalls.

“The doctors in the tropical medical bureau out in Dun Laoghaire couldn’t hide their excitement. They seemed to forget my life was in their hands! A new cure had just been released and the Irish government was obliged to use me as a guinea pig to try in out and I was cured within days.”

As I listen to Manchan talk about his travels I can’t help but smile. I can immediately sense his passion and love for the places he has been. That is until I get him talking about his years at a student in UCD, where he studied Arts for 3 years.

“I promised my mum I would go back to College so it was only for her. I was disgusted by how little I had learnt in 3 years in UCD compared with everything I had picked up in Africa. It was my travel experience that created me!”

“The trip I enjoyed the most though was my time in Ecuador”, he tells me. As he reached the Valley of Longevity he realises he had reached a place he could call home. Here he settled down for 7 months where he worked at an organic health spa.

“I also had no choice but to stay put as the Doctors there were treating me for Rabies”. Honest as always.

From running a spa in Ecuador to living in a cave and befriending a gay Leper up in the Himalayas, Manchan has had no shortage of diversity in his life. It was here, high up in the mountains, that Magans brother Ruan came to rescue him.

“I was living the life of a Hermit and had lost all communication with the outside world. I had become delirious living on my own Urine so when Ruan came along with the camera it was the only thing I could talk to.” It was from here that Manchan Magan became the renowned travel presenter he is today.

Now a full-time writer, broadcaster and TV presenter he has a travel column in the Irish Times, regular slots on RTE radio and has made over 50 documentaries worldwide. Yet Magan says he is sticking to his Idealistic ways. He lives in a house made entirely of straw surrounded by his self planted forest in Co. Westmeath.

“I got the idea when I was living out in British Colombia for a few years. I needed to find what I connected with in life and ended up living in a hippie commune where everything was environmentally sustainable.”

I ask him his plans for the future, and he tells me he plans on following his heart…right back to Africa, where all this madness began over 20 years ago. Another crazy adventure awaits for Manchan Magan.

2015 Travel Bucket List

15 Jan

Quick post to share with you some of the destinations I hope to travel to this year. It has always been my goal to visit 50 countries before my 30th birthday, which means I need to visit a minimum of 5 countries this year. Considering it’s January 15th and I have one ticked off already, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Being back this side of the globe (Europe, that is) I would like to make the most of cheap Ryanair flights so I have set myself a goal of visiting 1 new country every month for 12 months! I really want one of those trips to be to the states as I have so many friends I want to visit there. Ideally I want to go to Burning Man Festival this summer…but that depends if I can find people to go with and can get my hands on a ticket!

I plan to stay away from Asia this year, as I covered so much of it over the last 2 years. Time to look in a new direction, and make the most of the amazing destinations closer to home!

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On the list so far….

Czech Republic (Just spend the weekend in Prague!)

England (London mainly!)

Germany (Berlin for a Eurocamp Reunion)

Croatia (A lovely sun holiday)

Greece (More sun…lots of islands)

Iceland (direct flights from Ireland start this summer – yay!)

Denmark (Copenhagen to visit friends)

Sweden (plan to drive over form Denmark!)

Norway (hiking, lakes, glaciers…such beauty!)

South Africa (It has been 10 years since my last visit – my heart is still there!)

That leaves 2 countries yet to be decided…any good suggestions?

Visas in South East Asia – The Lowdown

7 Jan

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One of the most stressful things for many people when planning a big trip is working out which countries require a visa, which don’t, how much they cost, where to apply, when to apply and a million other visa related questions. I will try, as best I can, to answer these questions in this blog post but as visa requirements differ depending on what nationality you are, I HIGHLY recommend you check each countries embassy  site before embarking on a trip.

My friend (I better not name her as she might kill me haha) actually got DEPORTED from Vietnam because she didn’t have her visa on arrival. She got sent to Thailand, and then as she had no visa for Thailand they tried to deport her from there too. It really was the stuff of nightmares and like a clip from the movie ‘the Terminal’. Thankfully due to some quick thinking and the ability to apply for visas online (while stuck in limbo!) she got sorted and was back on Vietnamese soil within 24 hours. It was a lesson for her, and a lesson for me. ALWAYS do your own research!! 

I essentially did TWO South East Asia trips within 1 year, one in Summer 2013 and one in summer 2014 so I will include all the countries I went to during this time which include; Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. 

Indonesia – Easy Peasy. Just remember you $$$.

Tourist and Transit Visas on Arrival are available for nationals of these 52 countries and territories. A tourist visa for up to 30 days costs US $35.00. (This seems to increase every few years!) Visa Free Entry on arrival for 30 days free of charge is available for nationals of the following 11 countries and territories: Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Morocco, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Overstay visitors incur a penalty of US$20 per day for under 60 days over-stay. Stay any longer and you could end up in an Indonesian prison!! These penalties can add up quickly so it might be better option to fly out on a cheap AirAsia flight then re-enter the country for another month. 

**Personal experience** I did not have US dollars on arrival in Bali and this caused A LOT of hassle as there is no ATM inside the customs area. I had to beg them to let me outside to get the money, then come back inside to pay for the visa then exit again. I am now always sure to travel with at least 100 US dollars in my wallet for times like this!

Singapore – Most peeps don’t need a visa.

Most nationalities (North Americans, South Americans, most of Southern Africa, Europeans, and Australians) do not need a visa for Singapore for the first 30 days and in some cases 90 days. (You would want to have A LOT of money to be a tourist in Singapore for longer than that!)

You simply need proof of onward travel, proof that you have sufficient funds (print out a bank statement before you travel), and a passport valid for at least 6 months. If you are from North Africa, the Middles East and few other destinations you will probably need a visa and can find more information HERE.

Malaysia – Free and easy for 30 days.

Similar to Singapore, many nationalities (most European countries, North Americans, South Africans, Australians etc) do not require a visa for Malaysia. You are permitted to stay within Malaysia for 90 days (although this differs depending on nationality.)

Thailand – Best to enter by air.

As one of the most popular tourist destinations in South East Asia, you will be happy to know that things *should* be pretty hassle free for you here when it comes to visas. Most of the Western world can enter without a visa for a stay of up to 30 days.

If you wish to stay in Thailand for MORE than 30 days, you can apply for a 60 day visa in a Thai embassy before you arrive. If you are already in Thailand and need an extension, you can go to the nearest immigration office, pay the 1,900 baht fee and have your visa extended by 30 days in a few short hours.

**Personal experience** I arrived in Thailand overland by bus from Cambodia and they only gave me a 15 day visa. I am unsure if this is still the case but it was as of August 2014 (15 day visas if you arrive overland, 30 if you arrive by air). This meant I had to go to the immigration office in Koh Samui (I was in Koh Tao when I decided to stay longer) and it cost me quite a lot extra to get this sorted out.

Cambodia – E-Visa with ease.

I went to Cambodia twice last year and both were relatively hassle-free. Relatively!! Nearly all visitors to Cambodia require a visa. Unless you are from South East Asia, you will probably need one. I found the e-visa process pretty straight forward. You just apply online, pay the 30 dollar fee, and your visa is emailed to you. You then print this out and give it to immigration on arrival.  In Phnom Penh, tourist visas can be extended (only once), giving you an additional 30 days at a cost of around 30 dollars.

**Personal experience** Whatever you do, make sure you print TWO COPIES of your e-visa and keep them in a very safe place where they won’t get damp or torn (yes, this is exactly what happened to me – and could happen to you if travelling during the monsoon season!!) When you exit the country, they won’t let you leave until you hand then the second copy of your e-visa. I literally nearly got stranded at a dodgy border post thanks to this slip up.I eventually handed them a ball of wet paper that they could (just about) verify was a copy of my e-visa!! Lesson learned!!

Vietnam – Get it before you arrive – or be deported!

Pretty much EVERYONE needs a visa for Vietnam unless you are lucky enough to be from one of its neighboring countries…or Russia. Pretty random, I know.

Vietnam is definitely the country that causes the most hassle when it comes to getting the visa. The first thing you should know is that they DO NOT issue a visa on arrival unless you have an invitation letter from a travel agency. 

It is very important to decide what type of visa you need as this also happens to be the most expensive visa in South East Asia. The stamping fee for a visa on arrival at the airport is fixed: US$45 per person for single entry and US$ 65-95 per person for multiple entry visa. This fee is paid in cash, USD or VND, at the visa-on-arrival counter. You can only get this Visa-On-Arrival stamp if you already have your visa invitation letter which you get from a travel agency online for about 20 dollars before arrival. So you are talking about 65 dollars minimum if you do it yourself, more if you do it all through a  travel agency and get your visa stamp before arrival.

I hope this was helpful, let me know if I can answer any more of your questions regarding visas in any of these countries! Please, please, PLEASE leave a comment below if you feel my information is wrong or outdated. :-)

Cheesetastic – Acting out for a Korean TV show

29 Oct

For any of you that read this blog regularly you’ll know that there is never a dull moment in my life in Korea. This week, yet again, has so far proved to be eventful…and it’s only Tuesday!! So yesterday evening my boss came bursting into the staff room and asked me and my colleagues if we would like to have a free traditional Korean meal in return for starring in a Korean TV programme. Of course we agreed immediately, without knowing any further details! Who are we to turn down a free meal.

An hour later we were informed it would be filmed the following evening in a 5 star restaurant in Incheon and that ideally they wanted 7 other foreigners to join us. Within an hour I had rounded up 7 friends who also work as English teachers in Paju, and we were all excited about our mini adventure the following evening.

Now, having just returned from Incheon minutes ago, I shall fill you in on what it’s like to be a “real life” actor! We all gathered outside my school at 8pm, and after some last-minute panic about not having a Korean translator with us, my boss managed to persuade 3 of my higher level students to join us. The fact that they would not have to attend their maths class that evening, would have an excuse not to do their homework, and would potentially get home after midnight was enough incentive for them to be our translators for the night!

The restaurant where our night of acting took place!

The restaurant where our night of acting took place!

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Top marks for presentation!

After a 40 minute ride to Incheon we arrived at the restaurant and I must say we were all VERY impressed at the sight of it. It looked more like a traditional Korean temple than a restaurant and we were all very excited to go inside. We were greeted by lots of traditionally dressed servers and from the MINUTE we entered the restaurant, the cameras were pointed at us, the fake smiles were put on standby and nervous laughter filled the air. This was a first for everyone and we really had no idea what was going on!!

We were led upstairs into a really beautiful traditional Honuk building where we were seated on the floor around beautifully laid tables of 4. Within minutes plate after plate  of carefully prepared  dishes arrived ranging from salads, spicy vegetable appetizers to whole fried fish, steak, grilled galbi meat, raw fish salad, seafood soup, noodles, flavoured rice, sweet rice cakes, and everything in between. It was a meal fit for royalty and as we were all starving we tucked in without delay. As we picked at and tried out all the various delicious spread out before us, a staff member approached us and put beautiful wooden necklaces around our necks as a “welcome gift”.

There wasn’t much time for relaxing though because soon we had an oversized camera shoved in our face, as the producer asked us to perform various tasks in front of the camera including; eat large chunks of meat and telling him how delicious it was; picking up over-sized portions of noodles with our chopsticks and making various sounds conveying pleasure; laughing and smiling at each other like we were having the time of our lives and repeatedly saying how delicious the food was and beautiful the restaurant was!

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The lovely man who gave us all a welcome gift!

Delicious Korean Food.

Delicious Korean Food.

He interviewed each of us individually asking what we thought of the restaurant, what we thought of the staff, if we liked the food, what was our favourite dish and much MUCH more…all of which had to be translated by our poor students as the producer didn’t speak a word of English!

The food really was some of the tastiest traditional Korean food I have ever tasted and I was proud of myself for trying everything even though I would not normally go near fish or seafood soup. We even tried dishes that were totally new to us and were oblivious to what on earth was inside them.

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Fighting over the mouth watering fish!

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Being interviewed while eating!

Once the meal was over we were ushered downstairs where the group was dressed up in traditional Korean Hanbok, asked to parade around in a mini fashion show, while the producer recorded us taking pictures of each other, laughing hysterically, jumping and prancing around like idiots and again saying how wonderful the experience was and how we LOVED Korea so much. Don’t get me wrong…it was an amazing experience but it was SO tiring having to keep repeating things for the camera and to keep a smile on our faces for over 2 hours!

It really was one of the most bizarre Tuesday nights I have had in quite some time. The TV programme will be aired on KBS at 6pm this Friday, and I personally am going to be mortified to see my face on camera. Oh well, no regrets eh?! 

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Samsung SOS Island – Win a private island!

2 Sep SAMSUNG SOS ISLAND

Fancy winning your own private island in the Carribean? Fancy spending a few weeks in paradise, battling it out with 16 other contestants and learning survival techniques from ‘SurvivorMan Les Stroud? Oh, and you also get a Samsung Galaxy S4 and and an amazing Samsung Zoom Camera!

Below is my somewhat rushed attempt to put together a video for the second round of the competition, and while I do cringe a little seeing myself on camera, and wish it wasn’t so dark at times, I think it’s not a bad entry at the end of the day! You can view my competitors by searching “Samsung SOS island” in YouTube!

What are you waiting for?? This is the LAST day you can enter. GO, GO , GO!!


Races to Remember – Music, Glow Sticks and Color Bombs

27 Aug

I have been trying to think of fun things to fill up my free time while living in Korea and I think I have finally found the answer! I am gong to make the most of all the wacky short distance runs that this wonderful country has to offer, 3 of these wonderful races I have detailed in this post. If I come across more, I promise to post information about them too…and of course lots of great photos from the event!

First on my schedule of fun is the Color Me Rad 5km run in Ilsan on September 14th. These have been happening all over the world over the summer and everyone that I know that has participated has had a fantastic time. The race involves running a 5km fun course while spectators or volunteers throw packets of colored powder at you until you look like a multi-colored ball of fun!

Entry is 40,000 Won,which while a little steep, is still affordable and includes a pair of funky neon sunglasses, a Color Me Rad t-shirt and color bombs. I am doing this race with a group of other English teachers in my area and we have come up with the wonderful team name of “Paju Prancers”. As long as we finish the race before sunset we will be happy, no sprinting to the finish line for us!! If you would like to sign up just click HERE.

Next up is the Puma Night Run in Seoul Grand Park. What makes this fun? Well, it’s a 7km run at night! Which in Korea means A LOT considering how hot and sweaty it can be in the day time with temperatures reaching 35 degrees celsius. What makes it even better?? It’s in a ZOO!! That’s right, this 7km night run is in Seoul Zoo so you will have all the night owls, curious cats (ahem lions) and many other exotic animals to keep you company and cheer you on!

The race starts at 7pm on September 29th so it’s not at a totally ridiculous hour.  It seems pretty well-organized and there and 4 different stages of the course including a Glow Course, a cheering course and an energy course so it’s set to be a great, alcohol-free night out with the animals! You can find more information HERE.

Third up is a race I just found out about yesterday called the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) 5km Run. To me, this looks like the most fun out of all 3 races, probably thanks to my love of glow sticks, silent discos and the fact that dancing my way around a 5km course sounds WAY better than running! While they have yet to set a date or a time (simply ‘Fall 2013′) they have sent this message out to attract people to the race, a message which I think is pretty darn awesome!

“Dear Foreigners living in Korea,
You’ve lived in Korea for how long now? Been out to karaoke bars, clubs, and bars…doesn’t it just seem like every night event requires a drink or one or two or three??
Yes! This is the country that brought you Gangnam Style…but where’s your music video, your fun, your night to remember? I’ll tell you where, It’s at the EDM 5K RUN, and it’s happening this fall!
Come party with us and 10,000 other EDM lovers and lose your mind without one drop of alcohol!”

For updates keep an eye on their wik\cked facebook page - HERE.

If you know of any other fun runs coming to Korea…PLEASE leave a comment! Thank You and happy running! :)

Royal Tombs of Joseon Dynasty

16 Aug

While exploring Paju yesterday, we came across s sign in Korean that pointed us in the direction of some the Samneung Royal Tombs. We had already admired views of North Korea from the Odusan Unification Observatory, payed our respects at the tomb of Jeong Yeon, and enjoyed a delicious Dak-Galbi lunch so we were up for some more adventure!

On arrival we were impressed to see a stone plaque that revealed the tombs as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and were keen to explore this somewhat secluded and rarely visited tourist location. However as we tried to enter we discovered the entrance gate was closed and there was pad lock hanging from it. Perseverance can go a long way sometimes, so I check to see if the lock was in fact LOCKED. Much to our delight it wan’t so we decided there would be no harm opening the gate and taking a stroll through the wooden farm land that lay ahead.

The first thing that hit us was how beautiful this whole area was. There were fields or incredible green rice paddies to our left and dense forrest to our right. There was no traffic, no multi story apartment buildings and no noise to interrupt the peace bar the incessant buzzing of hundreds of Cicadas.

Stop 1: Tomb of Jeong Yeon

Stop 1: Tomb of Jeong Yeon

royal tombs of joseon dynasty

UNESCO World Heritage Site

After a 5-10 minute walk we turned to the right and saw what looked like the Samneung tombs. However it was lear they were all under construction and there really wasn’t a whole lot to see. As we were aware that we were not really supposed to be in here, and the construction workers were giving us funny looks, we turned back a little disappointed. However just around the corner, less than a 5 minute walk, we discovered something 10 times better than the Samneung Tombs!

We had stumbled across something truly amazing…. Royal Tombs from the Joseon Dynasty! The whole area was immaculate, with an area the size of a football pitch covered in perfectly manicured grass. In the middle stood a tall, red, spiked entrance arch, the same arch which Royalty on horseback would have walked through 100’s of years ago! At the end of the “worship road” there was a T-shaped Shrine surrounded by some other huts which would have been the royal kitchen and a guard house.

Walking to the Tombs

Walking to the Tombs

Doorway at Samneung Tombs, Paju

Doorway at Samneung Tombs, Paju

Excited to get a little closer to take some photographs, we stepped on to the grass and took a few steps forward until suddenly loads of alarm bells starting ringing, scaring the life out of us. It wasn’t until we back tracked a few steps that the alarms stopped and we caught our breath. We looked around the perimeter to discover cameras everywhere. Every entrance, exit, tunnel, grass, tree and archway was covered by CCTV.

We couldn’t understand why a top tourist attraction would want to detract attention and visitors but not wanting to get in trouble we took some pictures from a distance and headed back to the car, making sure to leave the gate closed behind us.

The ALARMED archway to the tombs

The ALARMED archway to the tombs

Jangneung Fish Eye Lense

Jangneung Tombs (Fish Eye Lens)

Jangneung Tombs, Paju

Jangneung Tombs, Paju

When I get home I did a little research on the tombs and and came across this notice, “For preservation reasons, this royal tomb is not open to the general public. This is the mausoleum of King Injo (1595-1649, reign 1623-1649), the 16th ruler of the Joseon Dynasty, and Queen Illyeol. “

Whoops…breaking and entering into a tourist site is one thing but breaking and entering into  site of the Mausoleum of King Injo is something else! I’m looking forward to where my next Korean adventure will take me. 

Finding Nemo – The Life Aquatic

5 Aug

Some of my favorite photos from my snorkeling trips in Bali and Malaysia. (All taken on my GoPro camera!)

snorkeling gopro

finding nemo

 

turtle snorkeling malaysia

turtle

 

turtle photo

clown fish nemo

clown fish nemo

trigger fish malaysia

food time fish

look up fish

DCIM103GOPRO

snorkeling gopro

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