What To Do When in Asia


Although we can divide our trip thus far into roughly four parts (Europe, South Asia, South East Asia, and East Asia), we’ve spent the vast majority of our time in Asia. We’ve had the time of our lives and I think everyone should visit Asia (if not travel it extensively). It truly has something to offer everyone, so I’ve made the following guide and tribute to the great continent.

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India: just show up and something exciting WILL happen

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Maldives: go sailing and snorkeling on remote atolls

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Nepal: go trekking

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Thailand: explore the entire country

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Laos: travel and live on the Mekong

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Cambodia: yes its cliche, but you HAVE to explore Angkor

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Malaysia: take in the diverse cultures and food

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Brunei: meet characters at the Pusat Belia (not pictured)

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Singapore: visit the Botanical Gardens

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Indonesia: DIVE!!!

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Vietnam: eat!

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China: meet the friendliest people on earth

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Korea: go to a baseball game

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Japan: once again, EAT! (especially the seafood :) )

Korea Recap

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matt 120pxWe were stamped out of Korea a few hours ago and are now on a ferry headed for Japan. But before looking forward, I’ll write a little on our last eleven days. Some things about Korea really surprised me. It was way more developed than I had anticipated. As much as the US, but everything is a lot newer. So it actually seems more developed than the US in many ways. As Anderson said earlier today, the US had new and state-of-the-art stuff twenty years ago, but now it’s old. And that really goes along with my observations while at home; things in the US seemed old, run down, and inefficient. The other major thing that really surprised me was the food. While still not my favorite, it was better than I expected. Perhaps a better indication of my taste for the food is that I have gained weight while in Korea, or perhaps that’s more of a tribute to the Muth’s hospitality and good food sense. Some things were as I expected though. I had not expected Korea to be super interesting or have anything spectacular to see- it didn’t surprise me on either account. Not that it was bad, but just kind of bland. It was an enjoyable country, but in the sense that a Western European country would be. That is, developed but with a unique culture, good food, some history, and some sights. But nothing totally different and no adventure. The best feature of our trip, though, was the people. Koreans are some of the nicest, friendliest, most helpful people we’ve met. I’d say that was the best surprise and the best thing about Korea.
Seoul was okay, Seorak-san was nice, but hanging out with the Muths in Busan was the highlight of our time in Korea. Firstly, they were so hospitable in offering their place for us to stay and then showing us a really good time every single day we were there- from good restaurants to the baseball game to bars/clubs to an awesome hike. Not only those things, but they’re fun to hang with and we had plenty of fun and good conversations the whole time we were there. I felt really blessed by our time with them in Busan. So thanks Muths, thanks Korea, and annyeonghi gyeseyo!

Beomeosa

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matt 120pxAfter a late night last night, we all slept in pretty late this morning. Liz and Anderson cooked up a nice big Saturday morning breakfast, which filled us all up. By about 2, we were fed, showered, and clothed, so we decided to head out for a hike at nearby Beomeosa. The skies were ominously dark as we departed the Muth’s apartment. By the time we reached Beomeosa, it was coming down lightly but steadily. Not enough to stop four world traveler-adventurers though :) There were a couple of temples/Buddhist sights to see along the way, but I know Joylani has more to write about those. I just enjoyed hiking up the rocky trail to the sound of the trickling stream and rain in the trees. The trail definitely got slippery and muddy, but it was fun. We walked a total of 5km over the course of about 3 hours, bisected by our reaching of the so-called North Gate. It was a just a stone gate on a windblown hill, set in a surreal location below the mountains. There’s really not much else to say about the hike, other than that we talked quite a bit and got a little wet. But it was a fun double-date if you will. Actually, I guess it kind of capped off a week-long double date.

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Since I’m on the topic, I’ll use the rest of this post to delve into the Korean passion for hiking. We first began to notice hikers and outdoorsmen in Seoul. On the subways bound for the surrounding hills, middle age men and couples were decked out in outdoor apparel (North Face, LaFuma, Nike to name a few common brands), carrying packs and telescopic walking sticks. Then we saw quite a few of them in Seorak-san, walking in the rain like us, but much better prepared and geared up. And its impossible not to notice the millions of high-end outdoors shops around Busan. With all the latest clothes and gear, Koreans definitely look the part of serious hikers. And living in such a mountainous country, its not at all surprising. While I think perhaps they go a little overboard on the gear and clothes, they are serious hikers and nice to be in a place where outdoor/naturey pursuits are the norm.

Beachin’ and Clubbin’

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matt 120pxJoylani says we have bad luck with museums, which I guess has some truth to it. Even if it didn稚, we had bad luck today. We set off for the Busan Museum of Modern Art in the early afternoon, hoping to see one of the few things that Joylani really wanted to see while in Busan. There was a lot of construction going on when we arrived and, upon trying to enter, were told that it was closed until Sunday. I think they were renovating and preparing for a new exhibit. A little disappointed and frustrated that we hadn稚 known this ahead of time, we decided to head to the beach in the nearby Haeundai district. The beach was just a wide strip of sand dividing the city from the ocean. There weren’t too many people at the beach, perhaps because it was a weekday and even fewer people in the water. It wasn’t frigid, but it was pretty cold. About as cold as on California’s Central Coast. We sat and talked for a little bit and then just fell asleep on the beach for I don’t know how long. But when we did eventually wake up, it was late-afternoon/early evening and we decided to head back.

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We’re gone out nearly every night here in Busan, but tonight we were going to the club where Anderson DJs every Friday. We started off at a sushi restaurant where we scarfed tons of nigiri and maki. Then we stopped by a bar that looked like a bus, which specialized in bamboo liquor. It tasted a lot like sweet juice and was served out of a bamboo stalk. Afterwards we headed off to The Basement. It was an interesting experience, with a mix of foreigners and Koreans. I guess we caught it on one of its deadest nights in awhile. So we mostly played cards and drank beer. Anderson said he was a bit relieved it was dead because then he could just chill more instead of work and I was a bit relieved because I was dead tired by the time we got back home, which was earlier than usual. But it was definitely cool to glimpse another facet of the Muths weekly life here in Busan.

Korean Baseball

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matt 120pxWithout a doubt, a highlight of our time in Korea is going to be experiencing a Korean baseball game. When Anderson first asked via email if we would be interested in going to a game during our visit, I was stoked. Not only is it my sport, so to speak, but we haven been in any baseball countries during our travels yet. So today we not only saw baseball, but a sporting event unlike any I’ve ever seen  While my brother and I would routinely show up to baseball games hours before the first pitch when we were younger (to watch batting practice, get balls and autographs), today was the first time in awhile I’ve arrived at a game two hours early. The Muths told us that the early arrival was key, since everyone got to games early to reserve their seats. With open seating, it was a free for all・ell, almost. Besides sitting in the seats they wanted, many people just use sheets of newspaper to reserve a seat for friends or family. Apparently, the newspaper reservations go unquestioned. If a seat is newspapered, you’re out of luck. Perhaps that’s why there were tables outside of the stadium selling newspapers. I later learned that the newspapers were not to read, but indeed to save seats and make pom-poms, as Liz and Joylani masterfully created. Once inside the stadium, the hunt for seats began. There was only one deck, split into two levels. The top deck was packed with people. The only seats that were unoccupied were a few with food on them, but Anderson said people would sit on steps before people would move their food. The funny thing, though, was that although the top deck was packed, the lower deck was nearly empty. Apparently nobody likes to sit in the good seats closest to the field, because the cheerleaders do their thing on a platform between the upper section and the lower section. Which was fine by me, because it meant that we had our pick of first, second, third, fourth, and so on, rows from the field. So with some of the best seats I致e ever had at a game, we sat down (roughly an hour and a half before the game was to begin).

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You’d think that it’d get a little boring sitting there for that long before game time, but another unique feature of Korean baseball is that you can bring your own food in. We had quite a few rolls of kim-bap, some bags of chips and other snacks, plus beer. I saw some guys bringing whole cases of beer in. Forget American baseball games with their four dollar sodas, six dollar hot dogs, and eight dollar beers. Even if we did have to buy things, there were dozens of little old ladies in 7-Eleven vests selling water, sodas, beer, cuttlefish, kim-bap, you name it. There is a reason that Korea baseball is cheaper though and that’s because you get what you pay for.

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Korean baseball is different. As for the rules, fences are about 10 meters closer than most American fields and designated hitters are used universally. These two things contribute to many high scoring games, but the sloppy playing is equally a factor. While pitching velocities are comparable to American ones, skill (notably control) is lacking in Korean pitching. Korean line scores go R, H, E, and B for walks, because there are so many. Anderson said that our game was pretty typical with tons of errors and retarded mistakes. Perhaps that’s why foreigners who cannot make the American or Japanese major leagues come here. For instance, the Busan Giants have two Mexican players, the most famous being the former Major Leaguer, Garcia, which the Koreans pronounce Gaar-oo-sia. Oh yea, another thing is that its each team is owned by a large corporation, so the Busan Giants are actually the Lotte Giants of Busan (and we played the LG Twins of Seoul). Consequently, we were chanting Lotte to a myriad of American songs. Also, each player had his own song which the whole stadium chanted at every at-bat. The newspaper pom-poms were everywhere the entire game and then in the late-innings, orange plastic bags were passed out. Instead of rally-caps, Koreans fill the bags with air and wear them on their heads. It was a completely crazy night, but equally interesting as an ethnographical baseball experience.

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Busan Tower and Jagalchi Fish Market

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matt 120pxWith the Muths at work all day, Joylani and I went out to explore Busan on our own today. We headed down to Nampo-dong, where there were a couple of sights that sounded pretty interesting. The first was Yongdu-san Park and Busan Tower, which sat atop of its hills. Rather than hike up hill, there was a series of covered escalators leading up, which was nice given that it was pretty hot out. The main park area was small, but pretty interesting. The first group of people we came across was old men. Dozens of old men filled the shaded area of the park, talking in pairs, playing board games, or huddled over watching one. Then there were the families out for a stroll. We also passed a group of Mormons talking and preparing to go out to hassle people- I’ve seen them all over the country. And then on our walk towards Busan Tower, a huge field trip of school children crossed our path. Perhaps it wasn’t the park that was that interesting, just the cross-section of the Busan population that we glimpsed.

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Busan Tower was nothing more than a caf and observation deck balanced on a really, really tall tower. Although simple, I quite enjoyed being up there, if not just for the surrounding views of the city. The observation deck was cylindrical and thus we could walk all the way around and, on a clear day like today, have unlimited visibility in every direction. Well not the parts of the city that were bound in by mountains, but we could see the sprawling city rolling over the nearby hills and extending right up to the ocean and harbor. Busan is a crowded and compact city, for buildings are all tall and packed together, but its orderly and clean. The grid of streets and blocks was clear from up there and things below looked orderly. I’ve said it a couple times in this blog, but I feel like you can really learn a lot about city by viewing it from above.

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After Busan tower, we headed to the waterfront to check out the several-blocks-long Jagalchi Fish Market. One section was super busy and crowded, which was outdoors in some back alleys. Old ladies had tables full of fish, octopus, rays, sharks, you name it. Beyond the delicious-looking tables piled high with fish, this part of the market was most interesting because of its people. The peddlers yelling and bargaining, constantly shifting their umbrellas to adjust to the moving sun, and the descaling, gutting, and chopping of fish. The second part of the market was indoors and pretty mellow, but there were way more interesting seafoods; plenty of eels and worms, all kinds of shellfish, huge cuts of sashimi-grade meat, and the biggest crabs I’ve ever seen in my life. Between Busan Tower and the fish market, I think we saw two of Busan’s best sights. Although I’m a bit biased because I love seafood and seafood markets and Joylani says I’m a nerd for going up tall towers. One last thing to mention and will hopefully get a gasp or chuckle from our readers is this: I woke up with a mosquito bite on my eyelid which swelled my eye shut.

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Waffle Stop


joylani 130pxEn route to Busan (aka Pusan), our bus stopped for a short break.  While the driver took his lunch, the other passengers milled about the rest stop, buying snack and chatting on their phones.  Matt bought an ice-cream cone, and I found a bag of Sun Chips.  We noticed a group of travelers milling about the parking lot, each with a waffle in hand.  I could see the nun through the bus window, and she had one.  Matt and I decided to get one as well.  The closer we stepped toward the waffle booth, the stronger we could smell its toasty malted waffle goodness.  Matt handed over a thousand won and the woman pulled a fresh waffle off the iron.  She smothered it in butter, then drizzled amber colored honey over the whole thing before folding it in half, wrapping it in paper and handing it to Matt.  He took a bite and smiled.  I took one too and savored the warm and crispy flavor of the waffle, complemented by the sweetness of the honey and butter, now dripping onto the paper.  We ended up getting two.

I didn’t get a shot of the waffles (they were eaten too fast), but here is another snack we had one day—a corndog and French fries all in one.

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Meet the Muth’s

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matt 120pxAfter yesterday’s rain-soaked hike and the forecast unlikely to change for at least a day or two, we decided to head down to Busan today. We caught the 10:30 bus for the seven-hour journey. Although longish, the ride was really cool. Although it was raining and the visibility was poor for the first part of the ride, the rain eventually let up. Under the grey skies, we were able to see Korea’s beautiful mountain landscape. While not very tall, the green mountain ranges were steep and many had sharp ridges. Small villages and rice paddies vied for space on the valley bottoms. The road also wound curvily along the coast, which reminded me a lot of the Northern Californian coastline- steep mountains/cliffs, rocky, and rough. The coastal drive here had nicer colors though, as the water was shallower and had a light blue hue and the mountains were noticeably more verdant than anywhere in California. All in all, it was great seven hour drive with scenic rest stops and everything.

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As for Busan, we had three reasons to visit. One reason was utilitarian, as ferries to Japan leave from Busan. Secondly, it is Korea痴 second largest city and we figured it has a good amount of things to see. And thirdly, but most importantly, we were going to see our friends the Muths. Longtime readers of this blog may recall the story of our long jeep journey from Manali to Leh, Ladakh. Well, its such a trying experience that it really bonds people together. Maybe not, but we did hang out with the Muths a couple more times in Leh and have corresponded a bit by e-mail since. At the time of our meeting, they had been traveling for a year already. A few months after we met, they headed to Busan to teach English for a while. Stories of their travel and teaching adventures can be found at their very cool blog at www.themuths.blogspot.com. Enough background for now. After the bus ride, a subway ride, and a taxi ride, we found Liz waiting for us outside a McDonalds close to their apartment.
They each had to work a couple more hours, so Joylani and showered off and rested at their apartment before they came home and we all went out to eat and catch up. They took us to a nice place with excellent food, I think we got something called pork spine in English, although none of us knows the Korean name. It was really good and they also ordered a bottle of Soju, a Korean sweet-potato liquor. While Joylani is pretty good about having us try new things and everything, nothing’s better than going out with locals who already know the good dishes and places. But better than the food, of course, was seeing the Muths again and catching up with them. I’m glad we enjoy their company and have fun with them, because we’re gonna be staying with them for a few days. It should be good.

A Walk in the Park


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joylani 130pxYesterday was bright and sunny.  But since we arrived mid-afternoon, I reasoned with Matt to forget going into the park yesterday in favor of exploring Sokcho, the northern-most town in South Korea, and where we are staying.  So we wandered around for a few hours, nothing too exciting.  Then today we woke up early to head out to Seorak-san National Park in hopes of fitting in lots of hiking and nature.  On our way out down the dimly lit hall I remembered seeing a few clouds around the mountains yesterday.  “Let’s get the rain cover for the pack, just in case.”  We turned around and headed back to the room.

“Should we bring the raincoats too?” Matt asked.  I opened the [frosted] window in our room to get a look at the weather.  It was pouring rain.  The jump in our step came to a halt as we both stood in front of the window looking at the rain, which showed no sign of letting up.  I regretted not going to the park the day before, but there was nothing that could be done now except to carry on as planned.  Matt traded his sneakers for sandals, I rolled up my pants, and we both grabbed our rain jackets.  Heading out to the street, we quickly realized this was a cold rain and not one of the tropical storms we’d grown accustomed to.

After watching cars slide through puddles on the road for 10 minutes, bus number seven came, and we climbed aboard the fogged up bus for the half-hour drive into the park.  We passed by rice paddies and small towns on the way, picking up drenched passengers along the way.  Each closed umbrella dripped its dewy contents onto the floor of the bus, creating tiny streams that led to a wide puddle in the middle of the vehicle.  The last passengers on the bus, we were the only ones who got off as the bus reached its terminus at the Seorak-san National Park entrance.

Rain was falling down steadily, and I knew that we would soon be soaked.  The temperature was actually a little chilly; it felt strange to be in cold rain again.  We huddled under our one small but trusty umbrella and began walking towards the entrance.  I tried my best to avoid deep puddles, my efforts proved unnecessary as soon my shoes were soaked from the water coming from above.  Matt purchased our entry tickets while I contemplated buying a hot coffee from a vending machine, then we walked through the entrance gate and into the park.  The place was practically void of people.  In fact, we probably saw just as many if not more park employees than visitors throughout the day (which I preferred).  The surrounding mountains seemed beautiful, from what I could see.  However, much of the view was blocked by misty rain clouds hugging the hills.

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Already soggy, Matt and I trudged along the path toward the start of our desired trail.  Along the way we passed a great Buddha.  It stood about three-stories high, and sat solemnly in the rain.  For a few minutes we watched as water streamed down the Buddah’s face before gathering in streams at the base of its feet.  Not having achieved the same state of contentment as the Buddah, we continued on to our destination: a rock named Heundeul-Bawi, or “rocking boulder.”  This large boulder sits atop an even grander rock, surrounded by many other huge boulders and the Gyejo-am hermitage (a place used by monks for meditation and study for the last 1000+ years).  This particular rock stands out from the rest by its ability to be rocked by visitors without being rolled from its perch near the ledge of the larger stone.  Many puddles and stairs later we realized that we’d actually passed the rock in our hurry to get to it, and not wanting to hike further than we needed, promptly turned back around to head back.  Luckily it was easy to spot coming from the opposite direction.  Matt and I climbed up the first boulder and admired the carvings on the rock before I tried (unsuccessfully) to move Heundeul-Bawi.  It wouldn’t budge.

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Happy to have reached our desired objective, Matt and I continued back down the trail to our new destination: our hotel.  It was a soggy but good day.

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eves of a temple inside the park

Love Hotel

joylani 130pxWe took a cross-country bus today from Seoul to Sokcho. It took about 3.5 hours to reach our destination; a large portion of the drive seemed to be on bridges and tunnels as we made our way across the mountainous country. The first thing we did when we arrived was make a quick stop at the tourism desk to pick up a map, then we went off in search for a hotel. Passing by the one that looked like a castle, we followed the waving lady wearing a white bucket hat into the hotel across the street. She took us up a flight of stairs, down a hallway past a Shawshank Redemption movie poster, and into room 207. A quick look at the wallpaper and circular bed was all it took. “We’ll take it!” Matt told the lady in not so few words via the help of a translator over the lady’s phone. And so we plopped down our packs and settled into our room for the next couple nights. It is reminiscent of the Darjeeling Limited, minus color-coordinated bathrobes, guys in turbans, and then there’s our luggage, which sadly does not match. Matt asked me, “Have you ever slept on a circle bed before?” “When would I have had a circle bed to sleep on?” I asked back. Matt shrugged and responded, ”It’s like Austin Powers. This,” laying on the bed and demonstrating, “is a circle: you can sleep any direction on this bed and it wouldn’t matter.” So you can. And the hairdryer is pink too. Upon further reflection later in the day, we came to the conclusion that this is not some take-off of the Madonna Inn (San Luis Obispo) but rather most likely a “Love hotel.” Oh well. What’s not to love about this:

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