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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Taiwan Railway to Hualien

For my two week winter vacation, I got a little ambitious and decided to visit three countries.  It took a lot of planning, a dose of frustration, and it was all worth it because I had a fantastic trip.  I went to Taiwan (I’ve been there before) and got to visit Vietnam and Laos for the first time.  I started my trip by taking a train to Hualien.

When I arrived in Taiwan from Korea, first I had to take a bus to Taipei from the airport.  I took a train from Taipei main station to Hualien.  It was trains, planes, and automobiles that day.

I ordered my train ticket online.  All I had to do was go up to the counter at Taipei station and show the ticket officer my online receipt and she printed out the ticket for me.  Taipei station is huge but everything I saw was marked in Chinese characters and English.

Hello kitty!

Hello kitty! Of course, she is holding a cup of bubble tea

I took the Taroko express, the quickest way to get to Hualien from Taipei by train.  Not all of the trains are decked out in Hello Kitty cuteness, but this one was.  It took about two hours to get to Hualien.  The train was clean, had nice bathrooms, plenty of chair space, and the station announcements were in Mandarin and English.

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Why did I choose to go to Hualien out of all the towns and cities in Taiwan?  I’ll explain in the next post.

Hualien is a beautiful place

Hualien is a beautiful place

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2016 Reflections

Happy New Year!  2016 was an even busier year for me than 2015 and I thought 2015 was pretty intense.

I got to go home and visit my family for a few weeks in February and go on vacation with my parents, aunt and cousins, and grandparents to New York City.  I had never been to New York City before but I didn’t end up taking many pictures.  I was soaking up family time.  It was also bitterly cold and I didn’t want to sacrifice my fingers to take a picture.

NYC

NYC

I had my first visitor to Korea this year.  My mom braved the long and uncomfortable overseas flight to spend 10 days with me.  We got to tour Seoul and explore Cheonan.  I think she enjoyed herself, and I was sad to see her go.  She also helped me clean my new apartment which is always a daunting task.

mom in the Seoul subway

mom in the Seoul subway

My big international trip this year was Tibet.  It was incredible.  I loved the mountains, the friendly people, my brief look at a field of yaks, the Buddhist history, and the blue skies.  I wish I could have had more time, but I have a feeling I will be back =D

overlooking the city of Lhasa

overlooking the city of Lhasa

I was able to move to Seoul this year and experience life in the big city.  While moving and adjusting was stressful, I look back at my time in Seoul fondly.  I didn’t stay in Seoul for very long though, I moved back to Cheonan this summer for a new job.  I would not recommend moving between cities twice in one year.

temple right outside Cheonan

temple right outside Cheonan

I visited several Korean cities this year and while it was hard to pick my favorite one, I will have to go with Andong.  I liked it so much, I changed the banner picture on my blog to the folk village of Andong.

Hahoe folk village

Hahoe folk village

2016 was nothing short of busy!  I feel more adjusted to living in Korea and I feel like I’ve come to appreciate my life here more during this year.  Even though living overseas has always been my dream, it is impossible to escape culture shock completely and the stress of full-time jobs.  I needed to learn some hard lessons this year and while I can’t get into the details on this blog, I think I came out a little wiser.  I think that’s all anyone can ask for when they look back on an entire year.

I am thinking about moving to a new country sometime later this year.  Korea has been good for me but there are some new job opportunities I would like to pursue outside of Korea.  In the immediate future, I have my winter vacation coming up.  I’ll be going to a few countries, most of which I have never visited before.  I am looking forward to whatever 2017 will bring.

 

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Merry Christmas 2016!

Another Christmas has come and gone.  I enjoyed a Christmas party, I had presents under my mini tree, and I ordered Chinese food for dinner, so I managed to fit in all the Christmas traditions.

Christmas in Korea isn’t the same as spending it with friends and family at home but we had a lot of snow this past weekend and Christmas music is played constantly around Cheonan.  I felt like I had a good dose of Christmas spirit.

I got out my mini tree

I got out my mini tree

I made Christmas cookies.  As you can tell it's not one of my talents XD

I made Christmas cookies. As you can tell it’s not one of my talents XD

We even had Christmas cake at school for lunch

We even had Christmas cake at school for lunch

the kids became maniacs when they saw the snow

the kids became maniacs when they saw the snow

Merry Christmas!

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Gyeongju at night

The city of Gyeongju itself is not all that large, making it easy for me to walk from one end of town to the other.  One of the city’s biggest attractions are the burial mounds of Silla Dynasty royalty.  Many of them aren’t closed off from people passing by so hopefully no one tries to take a climb.

I was heading to a palace to see it lit up at night, and on the way there I came across an observatory tower.  If the Korean tourism website is correct, the Cheomseongdae Observatory is the oldest observatory in Asia.  It was constructed in the mid 600’s.

those grass mounds are ancient tombs

those grass mounds are ancient tombs

There were a ton of lanterns on display around the observatory.

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The Cheomseongdae Observatory

The Cheomseongdae Observatory

I went to see Donggung Palace, which they light up during the night.  Cue the hordes of couples taking romantic selfies in front of the pond and the glowing palace.

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I barely scratched the surface of Gyeongju and had a great time.  I’m sure a week in town would be even better 🙂

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The temples of Gyeongju

I probably could have spent a week in Gyeongju and still not seen every temple, museum, or palace in the city.  Looking at a tourism map of Gyeongju made my head spin, there were countless places to see.  When it came to temples, I chose Bulguksa Temple and the Seokguram grotto.  Seokguram is a temple where a Buddha figure is carved into the rock of the grotto.

I took the KTX train to Gyeongju from Cheonan-Asan station.  I only had a regular weekend to see the city and I didn’t want to spend an extra five hours on a bus that would probably get stuck in traffic on the way there.

Gyeongju really goes out of its way to make it easy for tourists to get around.  A lot of the bus stops had maps in English and many of the buses announced their stops in Korean and English.  It took about 45 minutes to get to Bulguksa from Gyeongju by bus.

walking to the temple

walking to Bulguksa

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I love the colors

I love the colors

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After I left Bulguksa, it was another short bus ride up a mountain to Seokguram.  Even though it was short, it was also…thrilling?  It was a good thing I don’t get car sick easily.  The bus driver actually yelled at some loud people talking at the front of the bus and told them to be quiet so he could concentrate.

Once you arrive at the top of the mountain, you walk along a trail to the tiny temple by the grotto.  Inside the building is a huge Buddha carved into the rocks.  There was an old security man sitting inside the temple sitting next to a huge sign that said “no pictures”.  It would be hard to sneak one in while security is sitting right there.

the little temple by the grotto

the little temple by the grotto

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You could see the ocean from the top of the mountain.  I’m so glad I visited during the picture perfect Fall weather.

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quick trip to Jeonju

Jeonju is only an hour away by bus from Cheonan but I still never managed to visit until this year.  According to my co-workers, it used to be a quiet place to enjoy a day trip looking at old hanoks (traditional Korean houses) and sitting in cafes.  They said in more recent years it’s been crowded with people wanting to take selfies while dressing up in Korean traditional clothing.

It was certainly crowded, partly because I chose to go on a Sunday, and just about everybody was indeed taking selfies.  Most of the hanoks have been turned into cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops, and clothing boutiques.  It wasn’t a museum or a recreation of Korea in years past.

I thought it was a pretty place to look at, especially from the top of the hill next to the hanok village but I also underestimated how hot and humid it was going to be.  I figured it would have the same weather as Cheonan, after all it’s only an hour away.  Cheonan had cooled down and started to feel like Fall but Jeonju felt like a jungle.

I also wore long black pants and didn’t bring any shorts.  It was a bad idea.

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the police mascot wearing traditional Korean clothing

the police mascot wearing traditional Korean clothing

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hanboks (traditional Korean clothing) for rent

hanboks (traditional Korean clothing) for rent

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going up the hill...

going up the hill…

...for a great view

…for a great view

Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson and next time I’ll check the weather before I go.

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