Thursday, December 15, 2011

Vietnam, Part One

Here we are in Thailand. In keeping with this blog's theme of being several weeks and at least one country behind schedule, here's an update on Vietnam.  We met up with Craig, Matt, and Dustin and travelled with them from Saigon to Hanoi. Saigon wasn't terribly exciting but did give us our first taste of Vietnamese street food.We tried some tasty steamed pork buns and banh mi, a Vietnamese baguette stuffed with veges and surprisingly delicious mystery meats.

Next we went to Mui Ne, home to a sandy beach full of kite boarders, a massive reclining Buddha, a nice little fishing village, and some huge sand dunes. We hired scooters and cruised around the sights. The fishing village was especially interesting, full of hundreds of small round boats that looked like big wicker baskets bobbing around on the water. We didn't actually find the big dunes, but settled for some deserted ones down a dirt rod that was interesting going on our city scooters.

After Mui Ne we went to Dalat, a small hill town on a lake. The highlight here was a game of soccer with some local kids. They were really good and ran circles around us, but 'm going to blame that on the altitude. Dalat also had a coffee house where we learnt to play Chinese chess. They also played pumping dance music at high volume, even at eight in the morning. 

Nha Trang is another beach town where we went on the standard tourist boat trip, visiting several small islands, snorkeling, and floating around in the ocean on tubes drinking mysterious orange cocktails. There are dozens of other boats doing the same thing but it was fun nonetheless. A rather festive night in Nha Trang was followed by an early morning ride in a ridiculously overloaded transit van up the coast to Hoi An.

Luckily Hoi An was worth the unpleasant ride for its spectacular scenery and cheap tailored clothes. The town is on a beautiful river full of boats and a lot of old buildings have been preserved. Anna bought some skirts and dresses and I got a custom made suit, extra trousers, and five shirts for NZ$260. Sweet!   

I have to go now and catch a train, more on Vietnam soon.    

Monday, November 14, 2011


We're leaving for Ho Chi Minh city tomorrow so I thought I'd write the Cambodia update while still actually in the country. I don't know that the rest of India will ever make an appearance here. Anna writes email updates which covered all of that so if anyone wants in on those just let one of us know.

We flew into Siem Reap where we spent about five days enjoying 50c beers and roti-style pancakes with banana and condensed milk. In between eating and drinking we managed to see Angkor Wot at sunrise, an amazing spectacle that was only slightly diminished by sharing it with thousands of other Western tourists. Even after the temple overload in south India, Angkor was stunning. I particularly liked the Bayon, a temple covered in hundreds of sculpted faces ostensibly of the god Avalokiteshvara, but looking suspiciously like Jayavarman VII, the Khmer king who ordered its construction. Even more amazing was Ta Prohm, an abandoned temple which is slowly being taken back by the forest. There are huge trees growing right out of its walls and pagodas, their roots reaching down like hands clasping the crumbling stone structures. 

From Siem Reap we took a day trip to a floating village called Kompong Phlukk. The houses here are built atop 5m high stilts which keep them from being submerged by the flood waters of the massive Tonle Sap lake. We went in the wet season, where all transport us by boat and the water comes right up to the floorboards. In the dry season the lake vanishes and there are roads between the houses which sit two stories above the ground. 

After Siem Reap we went to Phnom Penh where we spent my birthday visiting the killing fields and the former S-21 prison. We knew about the atrocities that happened at these places, but it was still overwhelmingly sad to be there and see the sites where such terrible things happened. I don't want to dwell on it here but it really was horrible.

Next stop was Kep, a small seaside town full of abandoned buildings from its former life as a resort town before the civil war. The main draw here is the crab market where we watched old women harvesting, cooking, and selling the crabs. I tried some crabs fried with fresh Kampot green pepper and they were delicious. 

After Kep we came to Kampot, a sleepy riverside town where we've done very little but sit around and soak up the relaxed atmosphere in anticipation of he chaos of Saigon. The highlight (and, judging by Trip Advisor, the town's main tourist attraction) has been the pork ribs at a local pub called the Rusty Keyhole.

That's all for now, see you in Vietnam!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Goa and Karnataka

From Jaipur we flew to Goa, then caught four buses to cover the 65Km from the airport to Palolem Beach. One of our guidebooks describes Goa as "culturally unchallenging" and we wallowed in this and the water for a few days, swimming, lying on the beach and eating almost exclusively at a British-run cafe called The Cheeky Chapati. The highlight was a whole kingfish roasted in the tandoor. And the postcard-perfect beach I guess.

Next stop (100 Km, five hours, and four buses away) was Gokarna, a temple town on the Karnataka coast. Most activity in the town is centred around two large temples which are closed to non-Hindus following some unpleasantness that the Rough Guide wouldn't elaborate on. We opted instead to walk the path along the coast and over a jungle-covered hill to Kudle Beach, then over another hill to Om Beach. Om is the more beautiful of the two beaches - it really does look like the Om symbol for which it's named - but it was crowded and sadly strewn with more litter than a Delhi side street. We decided to stay at Kudle instead, in a very basic concrete shack thing. The room was simple and full of mosquitoes, but it was also nestled into the base of the cliff at the north end of the beach, looking back over the sand and sea.

On our last night there was a huge storm, as powerful as the summer floods in Korea, that seemed to appear from nowhere. All the guests and staff huddled in the restaurant as the rain bucketed down and flashes of lightning lit up the whole kilometre-long beach. Next day everything was fine again and we wandered back along the path to Gokarna town where we caught a thoroughly unpleasant overnight bus to Hampi.

Hampi is a small village squatting in the crumbling remains of a great city. Vijayanagara was a city of over 500,000 people and the capital of a vast empire in southern India. "Modern" Hampi's main street occupies only part of one of Vijayanagar's several bazaars, souvenier shops and dosa joints shoved haphazardly into oppurtune gaps in half-collapsed stone walls.The ruins of temples, bazaars, and other buildings spread way out into what is now goat grazing land miles from town.   The whole thing is strewn with boulders that look as though they've been carefully balanced by some bored deity wanting to mess with people. We spent two days here exploring the ruins on foot and on hired bicycles before heading south to Bangalore.    

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Clever Title

The next town we visited was Jodhpur, home of the Mehrangarh Fort. The fort is perched on top of a craggy montain in the centre of town, making it look even more imposing. I still haven't managed to get any pictures off my camera, but here's one I stole from Wikipedia.

The fort was built to be confusing for invaders to navigate, something which it still succeeds at - in the palace areas inside it's easy to forget you're way up in the sky and to come out onto a balcony looking over the city and across the desert beyond was a bit of a shock. While in Jodhpur we also did a village safari in a jeep, visiting some of the Bishnoi people who live in the desert, watching them weave, cook, make pots, and drink opium tea.    

Next we went to Pushkar, a small lakeside town famous for having anywhere from 300 to 2000 temples, depending on who you ask. The lake is beautiful, but I really didn't like the town. There were so many people trying to scam, beg, or otherwise take money from us. This is a problem most places in India, but nowhere we've been is it anything like this bad. 

Luckily we were only there one night before going to Udaipur, also on a lake and also very beautiful, but without the hassle of Pushkar. We took a boat trip around the lake and got some great views of the amazing Lake Palace, a former royal residence turned hotel which seems to float in the middle of the lake. Also in Udaipur, though only glanced from afar on our boat trip, is the Monsoon Palace. This was the setting for Octopussy, a fact which is difficult to forget as every restaurant and guest house seems to be showing the film nightly.

According to my notebook Jaipur, our last stop in Rajasthan is "fucking disgusting, full of dogs and rats and horrible people running around in the rubbish." I think I was in a bit of a mood as we stumbled off a train in the wee hours and had to find somewhere to sleep, bu Jaipur should probably take some of the blame too. It's grotty and overcrowded and generally unpleasant. Fortunately on the outskirts are two very redeeming sights. One is Amber Palace and Fort, two very impressive old buildings which I can't show you the photos of. The other is the Monkey Temple - not its real name, but should be. This is a temple inhabited by thousands of monkeys. We went just before sunset: feeding time. Huge swarms of monkeys ran down the hill to the temple where they're fed. And we saw a monkey ride a pig.  

In my next post, we head South to Goa, where the blog will only be a month behind us!  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

More From India

After Haridwar we went to Agra for our mandatory Taj visit. I'm sure enough's been said and written about the Taj to make any further comment by me a bit redundant, but I'll just say that they weren't lying. It really is as stunning as everyone says it is. We also visited Agra Fort, which is remarkable in its own way and probably suffers a bit from being the second most popular tourist attraction in the city. This was one time when we hired a guide to take us around a monument and it was really worthwhile. I learned all sorts of stuff about the fort that I would've missed completely otherwise. The fact that I've forgotten almost all of it doesn't dull my enthusiasm.

After Agra we took a very long, very late train across the country to Bikaner in Rajasthan. The town is very pretty and made up of clusters of tumbledown brick and concrete buildings, most three or four stories high but only big enough for two small rooms on each floor. We stayed in one of these at a homestay. We later found out the owner had tricked us into buying some souvenirs at a store where he received a big chunk of their highly inflated prices as commission. Had to happen I guess, but it's a nasty feeling being scammed by someone who seemed very genuine.

After two nights in Bikaner we caught a train across the desert to Jaisalmer. We were dreading this train because we knew we would have to travel second class, which I've heard involves packing people in worse than the Seoul subway's green line (no NZ analogy exists for that much human density, sorry). I've heard people even climb in the windows at stations in a desperate attempt to get seats. Like most things relating to Indian train travel, the names of the different classes is something of a mystery: second class - and its dodgy mate second sleeper - are the lowest of at least six classes. Luckily the train wasn't crowded and we had an interesting time trying to learn some bizzare card game that some locals insisted on teaching us, trying to explain our ipods to them, and watching the desert roll by.

After a pleasant if sandy trip (the windows don't have glass, presumably to speed up boarding) we pulled into Jaisalmer with its stunning golden sandstone fort. The fort is perched on a hill in the centre of the city and is still home to a lot of people and businesses. The idea that historical monuments have people living in them is very strange to me, and Jaisalmer fort actually feels more authentic because of it. I've also seen this in Korean hannok villages, where the houses are both museums and homes. SD card readers are almost non-existent in internet cafes here so I can't upload any pictures, but here's one I put on facebook earlier.

  Next stop, Jodhpur. . .

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

India, Finally.

Sorry it's been so long between posts, not carrying a computer has made some things difficult, but it's also meant not carrying a computer. Here's a very brief account of our first few days in India. Right now we're in Mysore and heading to Kochi tonight on an overnight bus.

If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. We started our India trip in Delhi, where absolutely nothing happened, no-one tried to scam us every thirty seconds, and there definitely isn't shit all over the streets.

Next stop was Amritsar for the Golden Temple, an amazing building covered in 150 Kgs of gold surrounded by water. Even better than the temple itself is the food they serve free to anyone who shows up. Hundreds of people eat at a time in long rows on the floor of a huge dining hall. Temple attendants walk down the rows piling black dhal, chapattis, and rice pudding onto stainless steel plates that look suspiciously like those used for school lunches in Korea. While in Amritsar we made the trip out to Wagah for the border closing ceremony. Over the years this has developed into a huge ceremony with India and Pakistan trying to outdo each other by prancing around, stomping and doing crazy high-kicks.

After Amritsar we went to Rishikesh and Haridwar, two small pilgrimage cities on the Ganges. At Haridwar we saw the Ganga aarti ceremony, where pilgrims make offerings to the river at sunset. The place was packed and as the sun went down the riverside lit up with hundreds of burning offerings floating down the river. The Ganges is quite clean and peaceful up here, as much as either of those are possible in India, and the ceremony was beautiful.

That's all for now, I'll do my best to post soon about Agra, Rajasthan, and all the other places we've been.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


This is where we are and where we've been, and where we are going:

(it's a google map!) Right now we're in Gokarna (L) and we're going to Hampi (M) overnight on a bus. India has been difficult, amazing, delicious, disgusting, beautiful... and a few more adjectives. 

If you want to receive my travel emails then send me an email or a message on Facebook. Or comment here!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

KTK on Tour: Malaysia and Nepal

A few photo highlights from the trip so far. We had two days in Kuala Lumpur before coming to Nepal for a week. We've been sightseeing in Kathmandu and visited the amazing Chitwan National Park and the lake city of Pokhara.

Delicious roti in KL. Too delicious to take a photo of before eating, apparently. The big one one the left is an incredible banana roti.
Frangipani growng outside KL's main railway station.
The entrance to Batu Caves, a Hindu shrine near KL.
It's Domo-kun, Asia's favourite screaming rectangle.
Bhudhanath, Kathmandu.

Buddhist painting from a school near Boudhanath.


Durbar Square in Pathan, Nepal.

Bathing an elephant at Chitwan National Park.

We saw a mother and baby rhino in the wild on our elephant safari in Chitwan National Park. Baby rhino not pictured due to shoddy photography skills.
Sunset at Chitwan National Park.
Rush hour Nepal style. The roads are very narrow here and the traffic is nuts.
The Himalayas from the air.
The tall one at the back is Everest.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

3 days, 10 rotis

I'm writing this from an internet cafe in Kuala Lumpur, and you wouldn't believe the security measures I've had to go through to log into Gmail, Facebook et al. There's also no SD card slot or active USB port on either of the computers we're using, so my photographs are stuck on my camera for the time being. Damn.
KL has been a great stopover stay, although we feel like we've done everything on offer here. Except for eat enough roti cenai. Like the green backpackers we are, we paid waaaaay too much for our first meal before finding a couple of roadside stalls selling roti in many variations for 1 ringgit (40c).

And because this is a blog about Korea, here's what I miss already:

My students
The public transport
No touts

More blogs when we can. Off to Kathmandu via New Delhi later on this evening. No big deal.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jeju Randomness - Photo Post

Deliciousness at Bagdad Cafe, Jeju-si
Creeping cloud near Seongsan Ilchulbong, the crater/peak we climbed on our last day. 

Particularly disturbing art at Love Land.
This girl was cowering as her parents had sex in the same room.
Trying to escape 'The Kiss'
Jangmun Beach. 70% empty. Despite beaches on all sides, most Korean people can't swim.
Beaches here are heavily guarded and there's even a net keeping people in the right place.

Troublesome art in Seogwipo
It's troublesome this passes as art. Chocolate Land, Seogwipo. (Save your 2k won, it SUCKS.)

Making faces in the Ripleys Believe It Or Not mirror...
... the other side of the mirror! Spent 10 minutes here laughing our asses off!

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Sorry for the lack of updates from me lately. We've both been really busy and I haven't really had time to write anything. At the moment we're at Incheon airport in Seoul about to fly to Kuala Lumpur. We'll be there for two nights before going to Nepal for a week and then India.

I'll post about leaving Korea a bit later on, but in the meantime I thought I'd share an email one of my students sent me. Their summer holiday homework was some written assignments that they emailed to me for checking, stuff like thier favourite movie or describing Korean food. This assignment was to write about their hero. Here it is. . .

"Hello, Thomas.
I'll send my last e-mail to you.
This e-mail is about my hero, Adolf Hitler.
He was born in Austria.
He was a German  politician.
Although he caused the Second World War, he killed jews and he was a dictator, he made Germany to rich.
He constructed expressway.
And he worked for German.
So I admire him and my hero is Adolf Hitler.
And I think that he is the real man and real hero.
Don't you think so?

I want to see you soon.
Good Bye."

I don't actually work for the school any more so I think I might "forget" to reply to that one.

My 'Hawaiian' Birthday

Continuing my posts about Jeju.... I don't care if you're sick of them! My birthday fell smack bang in the middle of our Jeju trip and I spent the day being badass (like every other day.) It started with cake in bed. 

Korea does AWESOME cakes and they're usually less than $20 NZ, just pop into one of the many 'French'-named bakeries and take your pick. This little number is from Paris Baguette.

Hidden in that stack of fruit is TOMATOES. 
Between the four of us we managed to polish off most of the cake before taking a bus to take a ferry to U-do, or Cow Island. Udo is on the east coast of Jeju, and the bus to there from Seogwipo takes years. It's only 40 or so kilometres, but as we stopped at every. single. town. on the way, it took an hour and a half to get there. Korea has rad public transport so I was surprised at how much the transport on Jeju sucked. Get on to it, Jeju!

Anyway, we caught the ferry to the island which was a 4,500 won round trip - cheap as chips! Somewhere online it says the trip to Udo is an hour by boat, but that somewhere is a dirty lie, it took 15 minutes max. It did however take about 30 minutes for the local bus to leave and take us to the nearest swimming beach. The wait was worth it though - the beach was the prettiest I've seen in Korea.

We spent an hour or so there swimming and watching the large group of people in white shirts do various team-building exercises. You can see them crowding around the boat in the picture above.

It was a bit of a mission getting the bus back to the port from the beach - I think there's only one bus and it does a full circuit around Udo and then stops for 30 minutes at a time to let the driver have a smoke and chat with the fishermen at the port. Fortunately the island is only 17 kilometres in diameter so the circuit doesn't take long.

When we got to the port we checked the only thing off our to-do list for the day - hiring motorised vehicles! For 60,000 won ($67) we got a quad bike and a golf cart and two hours to hoon around! It was amazeballs.

Bangin' rides

After very reluctantly returning our awesome rides we headed back to the mainland and got some dinner. Amazing food, fantastic company, wonderful birthday.

Aaaand.... matching couples!

Friday, August 26, 2011

More Jeju: Waterfalls Galore

We spent almost an entire day of our 5-day stay in Jeju looking at waterfalls. And fair enough, they're super pretty! Two of our four nights on the island were spent in Seogwipo Harbour, which occupies a good part of the southern coast. We stayed at the excellent Jeju Hiking Inn which is super cheap, super comfortable, and has super WiFi and a superb roof to drink on in the evenings (I should know.)

A short walk from the Hiking Inn is the first of three Jeju Waterfalls we visited - Cheonjiyeon. Like almost all of the natural attractions on Jeju there's a fee (2,000 won) and then a short walk to the falls alongside the river. The falls are beautiful, and there's a large, clear pool beneath them writhing with freshwater eels. 

Also writhing were the tourists. 

This is the least tourist infested shot I got.
 The next stop on our waterfall tour was Jeongbang Falls. These falls are unique in that they cascade right into the ocean. It's a pleasant 20 minute walk from Cheonjiyeon to Jeongbang, around the coastline. 

If I thought the first falls were crowded, it was nothing compared to these ones. The crush of people started at the top, amongst traders hawking everything from chocolate to coconuts.

From the top, it's a steep walk downhill to the falls themselves (after handing over your ticket, of course.) While impressive and beautiful, the hordes of people are somewhat distracting. Tom and I picked through the crowd and were drenched by the spray of the waterfall - no pics unfortunately, didn't want to bust my camera.

The masses clambering over the rocks.
Spot the daring waygook!
The last falls we visited are apparently Jeju's most famous but were the least crowded. Cheonjeyeon Falls are close to Jeju's Jangmun Beach - a popular tourist spot - but I didn't feel the press of people as much as I had at the previous two locations. Perhaps because it was a bit overcast that day.

The beautiful carved bridge to the falls.
Reminds me of home!
It's about a 10 minute walk from the gate to the falls themselves, and at the top of the walk is a deep, clear, cold pool of water. The day we went there was a fine mist rising from the pool itself which made everything feel kinda eerie.
OK, it was still pretty crowded.

The main falls are downstream from the pool, and for a few minutes there were only 8 people on the viewing platform. An impressive feat, considering the business of all of the other falls we'd been to.