A small taste of the photographs I took last weekend at the Gyeong-Ju Cherry Blossom Festival. No words can fully describe how beautiful spring is in South Korea…even if it only lasts a few weeks!
Last weekend my friend Sonja and I headed to Phoenix Park and Yongpyong resort for a mini vacation. It was so good to get away for a few days and the scenery up in the mountains was spectacular.
We spent all day saturday hitting the slopes in Phoenix Park ski resort which has a great variety of slopes to suit all levels. Everything was so easily accesible even the laziest skier in the world could not complain!
You could literally ski straight down any slope and into a Dunkin Donuts, Coffee shop or Apres Ski bar. The ski rental place was less than 5 minutes walk from the chair lifts and there is even a youth hostel overlooking the slopes.
As we went as part of a WinK tour group, we got amazing discounts on both ski rental and lift passes. The full day including skis, jacket and pants and lift pass was only 50,000 won (about 30 euro) which you really can’t beat. Even though it was very busy and there were groups of school kids and students everywhere, the queues remained pretty short throughout the day which I was very impressed by.
After a long days skiing on only about 2-3 hours sleep we were absolutely shattered come 6pm. Luckily all we had to do was sit on a bus and relax as we headed to our hostel which is part of the YongPyong ski resort. Following quick showers and naps, a big group of us all headed out for a delicious pork BBQ dinner.
Another relatively late night of bowling, arcade games, socializing and making new friends meant come 8am Sunday morning nothing (not even giant chocolate muffins and hot tea) were getting me out of bed. Maybe it was a waste, maybe it could be considered laziness, but in a move to help my aching muscles and tired body recover, I opted out of skiing at YongPyong and decided the spa and waterpark was more to my liking.
Again thanks to WinK we got an amazing discount price, and only ended up paying 10,000 won to enter. What we discovered inside…and more specifically outside…meant we knew within seconds we had made the right decision!
Outside the waterpark, was an assortment of hot tubs full of various colored, scented and therapeutic water. Oh, and thanks to the fact that it’s winter, all surrounded in snow!
Sitting in rose scented jacuzzi with the sun shining brightly while taking in the breathtaking, snow covered surroundings was an incredible experience. We literally sat outside, dashing through the snow from pool to pool, for about 2 hours. In fact we were enjoying ourselves so much we failed to realise how sunburned our faces were becoming. Small price to pay for a little taste of paradise in the mountains!
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 Weekly Photo Challenge is to take and post shots of the sea.
As I’m surrently living in the centre of Korea (I’m smack bang in the middle between North and South) I don’t have much access to the sea! However, I am extremely lucky that I come from an island totally surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea and thus I will use this post to look back on all the good times I have had there and portray how beautiful Ireland really is.
Sometimes you need to stop walking through life at such a fast pace, pause for a moment, and enjoy the little treasures that are right in front of you…treasures that are often only visible when you make the time to take a closer look.
I have many close up shots of beautiful and vibrantly colorful flowers and insects, but this is the only time that I managed to capture and focus both at the same time. A beautiful moment captured forever.
Below are a few more of my favorite shots with background defocus. Enjoy! :)
I love the theme of this weeks weekly photo challenge so much that I’m going to do it TWICE!!
A few months ago I visited Skellig Michael, an island off the West coast of Ireland, which is home to 1,000’s of beautiful Puffins. I made a blog post at the time, but there were many more great photos of the carefree Puffins which I didn’t post on my blog, so this seems like the perfect opportunity to share them with you.
When I saw the title of this weeks photo challenge I knew immediately which photos I wanted to use. It should be noted that one of the shots below was not actually taken by me…it was in fact taken by my camera as it floated away into the sky.
I’m guessing it was feeling pretty carefree at the time, as the timer worked its charm, snapping aerial photos of my house and farm every 2 seconds as it began its journey West with not a worry in the world….except for the pull of the 20 colorful helium balloons to which it was tied to.
Admittedly I’m sure my camera was feeling a lot more CAREFREE than I was! (To read more about the camera adventure, click HERE.)
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.
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!