I moved to Taiwan!

Because I never seem to stay in one country for long, I am now in Taiwan!

I’m studying Chinese in the southern city of Tainan. It feels weird to be a student again after teaching for so long but I’m enjoying myself!

I’ve been busy studying but I’ve done a little exploring around Tainan. The best thing about my school is all the field trips and activities they arrange for the students.

Here are some pictures of Anping, the historic downtown of Tainan. Stay tuned for more adventures!

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a weekend in Singapore

I am posting this embarrassingly late! I went to Singapore for a weekend LAST YEAR! It was a quick trip so I’m not pretending that I got an in-depth look at the country but I did get a glimpse of all the different cultures that make up Singapore.

Singapore is made up of various cultures from all over Asia who brought their food and traditions to the island state. If you walk down a street, you can see signs in Malay, Chinese, Tamil, English and countless other languages. The city is modern and has great public transportation but there is still plenty of greenery.

A good number of people in Singapore are bilingual. It surprised me to have everyone speak English to me as their first language after never having experienced that while I’ve lived in Asia.

Since Singapore is so close to the equator, it is pretty much always hot. I noticed everyone hides in the shade before they walk into the crosswalk. It makes sense, the city is usually boiling. Do Singaporeans have any idea what it’s like to be cold? I mean Antarctica in your bones cold, not the fake manufactured cold they get from air conditioning.

Everything does come with a price. The impeccably clean and orderly city is very expensive. A small bottle of water from 7/11 is 2 Singapore dollars. In Thailand, it would be 20 cents.

Fines for littering, eating food on the metro, and prohibited smoking are steep. The government is also extremely authoritarian from my perspective. If you would like more details, I would suggest you research the politics of Singapore because I won’t be able to explain it well in a blog.

This is a short summary of what I did every day.

Day 1: I walked around Chinatown and Little India. I didn’t do much because I didn’t get to the hostel until 2 am and the heat was making me even more tired. I did enjoy drinking a whole coconut.

this was right by the hostel

a colorful mural in little India

Day 2: The highlight of the day was going to the gardens by the bay. The pictures I took don’t do the gardens justice. They are truly impressive. I went to Arab street and had some amazing ramen and I peaked in on the mosque. I fought through the crowds at Bugis outdoor shopping street to browse souvenirs, knick-knacks, and cheap clothes I could get for a lot less in Bangkok.

gardens by the bay

me and all the other tourists taking photos of the garden

huge plant tower

outdoor garden area

arab street mosque at night

Day 3: I walked around Pagoda street and went to the Chinatown hawker center. How can food that’s so cheap taste so good?! Laksa is the kind of spicy food I love because I can still taste all the other flavors involved. Some spicy food is so strong, I can only taste pain.

delicious laksa and watermelon juice

the hawker center where I had the amazing laksa

a Hindu temple

Chinatown

I feel like this picture sums up Singapore better than I can. There is a Hindu temple, traditional Singapore housing, and a huge skyscraper all in view on a pristine street. If you want to imagine Singapore, just think of this picture

a Singapore street

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A short holiday in Guangxi

China is an enormous country with countless, beautiful sights to visit, but I’ve wanted to see the karst mountains in Guangxi for many years. It was cloudy and rainy for the majority of the time I was there but I think that just added to the mystical feel of the area.

I flew into Nanning and took a train to Guilin the next day. I didn’t see much in Nanning as I was just there to stay in a hotel for one evening. I did eat at McDonalds though which I’m sure doesn’t count as the most authentic Nanning experience.

The city of Guilin itself is beautiful with its surrounding mountains, rivers, lakes, and temples. While Guilin is home to over 4 million people and a popular tourist sight, I felt pretty relaxed while walking and taking in all the scenery.

Sun and Moon pagoda

I took a tour boat down the Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo county. We floated down the river for a few hours, walked around Yangshuo, and took a bus back to Guilin. There were several different tour boats and I can’t imagine how many tourists would be in Yangshuo if the weather was better.

floating down the Li River

Yangshuo

There were lots of tourists in Yangshuo even though the weather was gloomy

Yangshuo is a lot smaller than Guilin but there are some familiar chain restaurants, cute cafes, souvenir shops, clothing stores, and everything else you could need to be entertained for the day. Since the town caters to tourists, I might not recommend it to someone who hates crowds and tour buses. However, I am easily impressed by mountains and I’m generally not bothered by how “popular” a place is.

and why wouldn’t you want this view?

I did meet several incredibly kind people on this trip. That’s a common occurrence when I travel but it seemed like I got extra lucky this vacation. The tour guide on the Li River spoke Mandarin and English but I was the only person in the group that didn’t speak Mandarin. She would come over after every speech she gave and said it all again in English. I felt bad!

I also could not find my hotel in Nanning. I got to the right street but could not see the right sign. After wandering around looking like a lost and sad tourist, a security guard at an apartment complex and a woman who lived in the building tried to help me. She called her son who was living in America and had him talk to me in English to ask what I was looking for. Once we knew what I was looking for, they led me to the hotel.

Some older passengers on the train shared their snacks with me. The man sitting next to me on the train translated the conversations our fellow passengers were having and said if I was ever in his hometown of Xian, I could message him and he would point me to the best sights of the city.

This comment sounds unbelievably corny but I think it applies: the people were the most memorable part of the trip.

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Day Trip to Ayutthaya

I picked a good first day trip out of Bangkok. Ayutthaya was the old capital city of the Kingdom of Siam. It was built around 1350 and destroyed by the Burmese army in the 1700s. It’s now an incredibly popular tourist site and it’s easy to see why. I visited the beautiful site with my friend, her cousin, and my cousin who was on a trip from America. While there are ruins all over the area, we stayed and took pictures in one site. It would take several trips if you wanted to see every ruin that made up the city.

I felt really relaxed because I planned none of the trip. I just had to get in the lovely air conditioned car, be driven by my friend’s cousin out of Bangkok, eat delicious food, and wander around. It was clear and sunny, but not deathly hot. I would imagine walking around for hours in the Thai summer would be brutal.

The Burmese army decided to chop off some statue heads

Since I didn’t participate in the logistics of the trip, I don’t have any good advice on the best way to get there or approximate prices. But if you are ever in Bangkok, take a minute to get out of the city and see this place!

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Hello from Thailand

I promise I have a good reason why I haven’t updated my blog in a thousand years.  I moved to Bangkok, Thailand to work at a local secondary school!

I’ve actually been here for a month already, but I’ve been swamped with figuring out lesson plans, finding an apartment, navigating the buses, and trying all kinds of wonderful food.

I don’t know what this is called…all I can say is it was spicy and delicious!

Noodles and Thai milk tea at a food court

Erawan Shrine, it is very close to Central World Mall

I’ve gotten to visit a few shopping centers.  Central World Mall is enormous and reminds me of an American shopping center, only with very different food court options (less hot dogs and hamburgers and more rice and curry).  Chatuchak Market is an endless sea of humanity, Thai souvenirs, cheap clothing, and tasty snacks.  Don’t go in the afternoon if you can’t stand the heat.

Central World Mall

Chatuchak Market

Everyone smiles when I make eye contact with them.  That didn’t happen often in Korea, and it’s not that Korean people are rude, you just don’t tend to look at other people when you walk through the streets of Seoul or Cheonan.  Bangkok feels more like the Midwest to me in that sense.

All of the food has been amazingly delicious.  It’s criminal that food can taste so good and be so cheap, that shouldn’t be possible.

There are motorbike taxis.  They have their license number on the back of their orange vests.  It’s a lot harder for them to get stuck in traffic as they can zoom around cars and buses.  I’ve seen some passengers decline to wear helmets, making me nervous for them whenever I see one pass.  I feel like this would never fly in America.

I’ve seen many Buddhist monks out in the morning collecting alms in my neighborhood.  It’s been nice to start the day seeing something simple and positive on my way to the bus stop.

I can’t wait to post more, but it might not be very often yet.  Bear with me while I get adjusted to a new country =D

Victory Monument during slow traffic, it’s nuts during rush hour

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Kouang Si Waterfall in Luang Prabang

First of all, this post is my 100th post on my blog! Yay!  I couldn’t think of a better subject than the beautiful waterfall near Luang Prabang.

Even though Luang Prabang a smaller town without public transportation, it was easy to explore the surrounding areas on a day trip without the headaches of transferring buses and ever-changing time tables.

There are plenty of travel agencies near the major tourist sites that can set you up on a mini tour of the waterfalls.  I just picked the first one I saw, walked in, and said I wanted to see the waterfall the next day.  I gave them the money, they told me what time to show up.  Simple.

I signed up for a shared minivan with several other tourists from around the world and we arrived at our destination after an hour of bumpy roads and beautiful scenery.

We had a few hours at the waterfall and while there were plenty of people, I wasn’t bumped or shoved and people were on the best behavior, for the most part.  I did see some gentlemen smoking cigarettes.  Thanks a lot guys for ruining the beautiful nature with your huffing and puffing.  Now instead of flowers and trees, I only smell ashtrays.

The area was clean as far as I could see.  There were food stalls and small restaurants in the parking area, but I think people did their best not to litter.

I would definitely recommend going if you find yourself in Luang Prabang.  There’s a good reason why it’s on every postcard from Laos.

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The Perfect View of Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is a sleepy city tucked away in the gorgeous mountains of Laos.  When I arrived at my guesthouse for the week, the gentleman working there said if I wanted the best view of the entire city, I needed to climb to the top of Phousi hill.

And he was right.

I can’t wait to share everything I loved about Laos.
Continue reading

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Teacher Trip to Yeongin Mountain 영인산

It feels like it’s been a million years since I updated this blog!  I haven’t been particularly busy but I keep meaning to update on the weekends and then I completely forget, but not today!!!

A few weeks ago, all the teachers at one of my schools took a hike up Yeongin mountain in Asan to celebrate the end of mid-term exams.  We got to prance around the beautiful nature and feast on delicious grilled duck.  I also got to go out with some of the younger teachers to a bar afterwards.  It was a wonderful bonding experience.

it’s me again

it’s hard to describe in words how delicious this duck was

fruit and dried squid: quintessential Korean bar snacks

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Ha Long Bay

The main reason I chose to stay in Hanoi was because most boats giving tours of Ha Long Bay had pickup and drop-ff points in the city.  I ended up loving Hanoi, but the convenience was definitely what drove me to stay there in the first place.  I used best price travel to pick out a Ha Long Bay cruise because there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of tour companies in Vietnam and I saw this website on a Youtube video.  I really don’t like spending a lot of time comparing countless websites for prices, I’m pretty impatient.

I got picked up from my hotel in Hanoi and rode in a van with my fellow cruise mates.  Most of the people were older couples from Europe and Australia, although there were two Korean public school teachers on their winter vacation.  We drove for a few hours, we had just one brief pit stop along the way, and arrived at a dock with a dozen cruise boats.  As soon as we got on our boat, we were fed and we headed out into the bay.  The view on the boat did not disappoint!

In the afternoon, we headed out on a smaller boat to see a cave and the beach on one of the islands.  The cave got really crowded really quickly because all the boats dropped their people off at the island at the same time.

inside the cave

After we left the cave, everyone was free to walk around the beach.  Some crazy people decided to go swimming, I think they were impervious to the cold temperature of the water.

We headed back to our main boat and relaxed in the dining room and had dinner.  I dozed off fairly early.  There’s something being on a boat that sends me off into a pleasant sleep.  Maybe I should live on a houseboat.

my room

In the morning we got back on our mini boat to head to a lagoon.  We circled around to get some nice pictures, and we even got to see a glimpse of monkeys running around at the very top of the hills.  That was final excursion of the trip and we headed back to the dock, ready to be driven back to Hanoi.

we rocked our bright orange life vests

The scenery is stunning and it’s hard to feel any stress when you’re on a comfortable boat.  All the people who worked on the tour and the cruise were fantastic, especially when they were asked insensitive questions by nosy travelers.  One man just asked the tour guide after knowing him for all of five minutes “so was your dad in the Vietcong”?  If anyone heading on a trip to Vietnam reads this, please don’t be an obnoxious tourist.

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5 reasons to love Hanoi (besides pho)

I know what you are thinking.  How can you talk about Vietnam without mentioning pho?  I feel like pho has already been mentioned a thousand times and there is a lot more to Vietnamese cuisine than one dish.

There are a lot of beautiful and serene places to see in Vietnam but I chose Hanoi because I actually love exploring crowded cities (I think I’m in the minority) and it is close to Ha Long Bay.  The city is made up of more than 7 million people, delicious food, scooters, temples, museums, and hundreds if not thousands of cafes.  Now I’ve never been to Paris, but I can’t imagine any other city in the world would so many cafes.

Reason #1 The cafes

I’m not that into coffee.  I start each day with a hot cup of tea but I do enjoy an occasional latte that’s been doctored up with a lot of milk and sugar.  I did want to try what all the Vietnamese people were drinking though.  Vietnamese coffee is powerful!  That tiny cup was the strongest coffee I’ve ever tasted and it already had milk mixed into it.  If you like sipping on real coffee while watching the world go by, this is the city for you.

the coffee is strong!

Reason #2 Amazing food for cheap

When you travel you definitely want to indulge.  All nutrition and diet concerns go out the window and you convince yourself that you’re walking so much anyway so you should go ahead and eat another scoop of ice cream.  But eating while traveling usually means eating out and your wallet runs dry real fast.  Food in Hanoi is fresh and magical but definitely not expensive.  Do you want a giant bowl of noodles for two bucks?  How about amazing fried rice or spring rolls for less than a dollar?  Just skip going to your local Vietnamese restaurant and fly straight to Hanoi.  You’ll make up the travel costs with your food budget.

catfish, rice noodles, salad

Reason #3 Architecture in the old quarter

Vietnam was a colony under French rule starting in the 1800s until 1954.  While colonization was obviously not a great time for the Vietnamese people, the French did leave lovely architecture in the old quarter of Hanoi.  The weather worn houses mix beautifully with the temples and modern buildings.

Reason #4 the dance between scooters and pedestrians

It seems like everyone in Hanoi has a scooter.  There are cars on the road too, but you could probably save a lot of time in traffic by weaving around everyone with a speedy motorbike.  Of course there are traffic laws and crosswalks but the rule of the road seems to be “every man for himself”.  However, Hanoi’s residents are used to the chaos and have perfected the art of  traffic.  I thought it was amazing that all the people on the scooters just glided around the people walking.  Once I saw my first crosswalk, I knew an accident was imminent. But once I stepped out onto the pavement, trying to fake my confidence, all the scooters dodged me gracefully and I survived crossing the street.  I’m sure the terrified look on my face was quite comical.  By the end of my trip, I loved strolling around the city with the millions of scooters.

Reason #5 the lake

I love taking walks.  It relaxes my mind and it doesn’t require any athletic skills.  Hanoi is a busy, crowded, and slightly chaotic city but all of that melts away when you take a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Don’t you want to visit Hanoi now?  I’ll go with you =D

St. Joseph’s Cathedral

Ngoc Son Temple

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