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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If you’re in Taipei…

You should drink bubble tea.  You should drink bubble tea every day you’re in Taipei.  In fact, you could have bubble tea with every meal if you really wanted to.  If it costs you less than a dollar, why not?

Chiang Kai Shek memorial

You should take the subway.  The map is easy to understand.  The trains and train stations are clean.  Trains are rarely behind schedule.  The signs are clearly marked and are in English and Chinese.  The people working at the stations are helpful when clueless visitors like me get lost.

You should eat.  You should eat more than you thought was humanly possible.  You should eat at a night market.  You should eat a fancy restaurant.  You should eat at a hole-in-the-wall where two dogs are lazing by the door.  You should eat noodles.  You should eat dumplings. You should eat braised pork and rice.  You should eat dumplings.  You should try different types of hot pot.  Did I mention you should eat dumplings?

downtown Taipei

You should climb up Elephant Hill.  You will be rewarded with an amazing view of the city.  It will be worth your angry calf muscles screaming at you.

the map for Elephant Hill

Taipei 101

You should also have a pleasant conversation with Taiwanese people.  That’s the easiest and probably most fun thing to do.

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Does Taiwan have the best hostels?

Traveling is by far my favorite hobby, but it’s definitely not the cheapest.  I try to save money by staying in hostels instead of hotels.  Some are cozy, bright, and clean with friendly owners and some are…the opposite.

I’ve had nothing but good luck with hostels in Taiwan.  All the ones I’ve stayed at serve simple breakfasts, have clean rooms and bathrooms, arrange group activities for the guests, and are happy to answer questions about local attractions and foods.  And they also hand out cards with the address of the hostel written on it in Chinese so you never have to worry about miscommunication with taxi drivers.

When I was in Taipei, I stayed at Formosa 101.  The hostel is only a few blocks away from the famous Taipei 101 building.  There were plenty of convenience stores, restaurants, coffee shops, and even a night market close by.  The hostel is split between several floors, some with dorm rooms, private rooms, a communal kitchen, bathrooms, a few washing machines and dryers, and a common room where all the guests can hang out.  I’ve been in hostels where the decorations were pretty sparse but this place was full of cute trinkets.

lobby of the dormitory floor

lobby of the dormitory floor

hallway to different rooms

hallway to different rooms

they even made the door button cute

they even made the door button cute

The bunk beds were comfortable, and every guest has their own locker to store their valuables.  Oddly enough, the bed sheets had the exact same pattern as the backpack I took with me.

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Obviously, I haven’t stayed in every hostel in Taiwan.  I have no idea if they’re all nice, but if you’re nervous about trying out hostels, I would suggest starting in Taiwan.

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Is Busan fun in February?

Through a series of computer and phone problems, I managed to delete all of my pictures I took after the beginning of January.  Every single picture I took on my winter vacation vanished.

To say I was disappointed is an understatement.

I normally don’t buy a lot of souvenirs when I travel, so the pictures I take are my only mementos.  I’m no photographer, but it’s nice to actually show people where you’ve been as well as telling them about the trip.  Luckily I always send pictures to my mom while I am traveling and she hadn’t deleted the pictures I sent her.

So please bare with me while I sort through the few vacation pictures I managed to retrieve and enjoy the photos from my spontaneous trip to Busan.

Busan, Korea's second largest city

Busan, Korea’s second largest city

South Korea is not a physically large country but the winter in Busan is still more mild than in Cheonan.  Most people crowd Busan during the summer time when they want to head to a great beach, but I still enjoyed walking by the ocean even though it was chilly.

I only went to Busan for one weekend but you can get there from Cheonan by KTX in just two hours.  I’ve heard of brave souls who take the bus, but that can take five or more hours.

I didn’t plan anything in advance, I just wanted to be able to walk outside without turning into a popsicle.  I don’t mind winter but I can only tolerate cold for a short time, so I feel like I’ve been hiding out indoors too much lately.

I walked along the ocean, ate street food, went to Haeundae beach, found some tasty seafood, and hiked up a hill in the middle of the city.  I really wanted to get a view of the entire city by going up to the top of Busan tower but it was undergoing repairs.

Busan tower

Busan tower

shrimp and octopus stir fry

shrimp and octopus stir fry

Haeundae beach during the winter-everyone is wearing coats

Haeundae beach during the winter-everyone is wearing coats

Is Busan still fun, even in February?  Yes, yes it is.

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Out and about in Hualien

Why Hualien?  I pretty much googled “pretty places in Taiwan” and Hualien kept popping up.  Am I a little impulsive?  Probably.

Hualien is nestled between the ocean and the mountains of Taroko National Park.  It only took a two hour train ride to get to Hualien from Taipei.

The air in Hualien is clear, it is surrounded by mountains and the ocean, the people are relaxed, and the seafood is plentiful.  Air pollution is pretty serious in Korea and it gets even worse during the winter time.  Also, all the greenery dies and the temperatures drop.  I could walk around without a coat or scarf, all the trees still had their leaves, and I wasn’t coughing.

Hualien is a beautiful place

Hualien is a beautiful place

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random street

random street

I could walk from one end of town to the other in about 30 or 40 minutes.

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Delicious hot pot, this one came with thin slices of beef, fish cakes, mushrooms, tofu, cabbage, and I think a kind of blood sausage?, I'm not quite sure

Delicious hot pot, this one came with thin slices of beef, fish cakes, mushrooms, tofu, cabbage, and I think a kind of blood sausage?, I’m not quite sure

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I pretty much spent all my time there walking.  I love walking but not when it’s 20 degrees Fahrenheit like Korea is right now.  It was cloudy a lot of the time but it didn’t rain and it wasn’t hot.  I’m sure it would be even more beautiful during a sunny day.  Maybe I’ll go back for beach season???

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