48 Hours in Busan

Last, last weekend was Korea’s Memorial Day weekend and to celebrate my coworkers Will and David, our friend Amila and myself decided to venture south to the beaches of Busan to soak up the sunshine, dine on fresh seafood and splish-splash in the salty waters of the East Sea.


The journey began late on Saturday night as we took a 3-hour train ride from Seoul to Busan and since there were no seats left on the train we made ourselves comfortable in one of the standing cars. The trip itself went by fairly fast, no doubt with help from the service cart selling beer at the same cheap price as convenience stores (~2,000 won or $1.50). When we finally arrived in Busan, our first mission was to fill up our bellies and after a little bit of roaming around and swiftly moving out of the sketchy Russian quarter, we settled on a small Korean restaurant for some pretty standard grub; I had a bowl of some scrumptious bibimbap that included some raw fish. After having drinks in a different section of the city that kind of reminded us of Hongdae, we decided to make the trek to a nearby jjimjilbong (Korean spa/baths) to wash and sauna off the day and catch some zzz’s.This jjimjilbong was quite nice with multiple hot baths, a large pool and two saunas, and the common room for sleeping was rather large though a little on the discomforting side due to the extra hot temperature.


Waking up around 11 AM feeling fairly well-rested, we hit the sauna, showered and grabbed a quick bite to eat before catching the subway to Gwangalli Beach.

Group shot at Gwangalli Beach (left to right: me, Will, Amila and David)

This beach was absolutely gorgeous and not too overcrowded, which was rather nice. We basically spent the entire day laying on the beach sipping makguelli, taking dips in the ocean to cool-off and grabbing food, coffee and water just across the street whenever the need arose.

Salty East Sea waters

Amila gazing out at the sea and Gwangan Bridge

My sandy toes

On the boardwalk

After beach lounging for several hours, we had all worked up a mighty hunger, but David and I were specifically craving some spicy cold noodles which isn’t exactly everybody’s cup of tea, so we left Will and Amila on the beach to hold our spots and got ourselves some giant bowls of noodles!


All too quickly our day at the beach was turning into night and for the evening hours we made our way to Haeundae Beach, which though I haven’t ever been to Cancun, I feel confident in making the comparison deeming Haeundae essentially to be Korea’s Cancun. Though Haeundae isn’t the kind of beach I prefer, it made for an eventful and amusing night out, and the surrounding area/section of the city was actually a lot of fun for grabbing dinner, drinks and whatever other entertainment seemed necessary, like noraebonging!!

Haeundae Beach by night

For a few hours we sat on the beach near the water playing drinking games and chatting, listening to terrible bands performing on the giant stage that we couldn’t manage to get far away enough from to allow the sea to completely drown out the sound. One game we played was a number/counting game that sounded too easy at first, but surely enough after a few rounds we were all becoming sufficiently goofy off of our beach beverages of choice, especially Amila who had trouble remembering some of her times tables! With the beach growing chilly and our stomachs rumbling, we went inland to find a spot for dinner that we could all agree on, which took far longer than it should, but eventually we settled for a giant pot of seafood stew and it was thoroughly satisfying to say the least.

Remnants of a seafood devouring session

Will and I had been really aching for some singing time so our next destination was a noraebong (singing room). The first place we went to basically refused us, a sometimes occurrence for foreigners just about anywhere, but the woman was very kind and directed us to a different noraebong nearby. Though we were all in attendance, Will and I were total mic hogs, but Amila and David didn’t seem to mind too much! I wish I could remember the entire tracklist for the night, but of what I can recall I know Will and I did a spectacular job with Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson,” and Queen, Prince, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones and Rick Astley (yes, we rick-rolled ourselves) all happened at some point.

Will, Amila and David at the noraebong…I think the boys were doing “Kung-Fu Fighting”

This might have to be one of my profile pictures for life

The rest of the evening went as most Korean nights do, unpredictably predictable. We walked around exploring the city at night, laughing at the strange sights and generally causing mischief whenever we foreigners could. David and I “played” a little volleyball on the beach and Will and I dared drunk David to run to the top of a sand mountain, which he did. All was magically well until we made it to incredibly beautiful looking, both on the interior and exterior, jjimjilbong we planned to sleep in only to discover that it was full. I didn’t think this was possible and certainly doubted the front-desk women until she allowed me to take a peek at the sleeping area to see if we wanted to stay there still and it literally was the most packed sleeping quarters I’d ever seen in my life. Fortunately jjimjilbongs are a plenty and after a short cab ride we found a place to rest our weary limbs.


For me, Monday began all too abruptly as an adjumma (someday I will go into all that this single word encompasses and signifies, which is a surprising amount, but for now just know that this is the word used to describe a particular and common type of Korean woman, but literally translates to married woman) woke me by shaking and hitting me with a square brick pillow and in a whispered shout said something in Korean that my mind translated to “get up and move now!” This all happened at 9:30 AM, which maybe in my U.S. days would have been a normal waking hour for me, but in Korea I’m lucky if I’m out of bed before 11: 00 AM. Exhausted and off-kilter from waking in the middle of my sleep cycle, I presume, I headed for the sauna in hopes of sweating myself to a state somewhere closer to awake than I was; it half-worked, but I think the cold pool after is what really did the trick. Or maybe just being surrounded by a ton of naked Korean women starring at me is what did it.

Amila and I were ready to go before the boys had even gotten themselves off the floor (somehow they avoided being rudely awakened by some Korean woman), but we managed to all meet-up for some breakfast before returning to Gwangalli Beach to spend yet another day on its glorious sand. Unlike our lazy Sunday, much of Monday was spent in the ocean playing with the volleyball David brought along. It was super fun running around and hitting the volleyball in the salty water and just being in the ocean like that reminded me of how I used to spend my weekends on the Oregon Coast surfing when I was younger. I’m sure I’d be awful at it now as I was never even that good, but I’m actually looking forward to busting out my surfboard when I get back to America and seeing what I can do.

The day was winding down fast and all too soon it was approaching the hour for Amila to catch a train back to Seoul. For our final supper together we grabbed some Mexican food and mojitos at a restaurant with a patio right next to the beach and it was an excellent meal to bid farewell to one of our posse members.

Last supper all together in Busan

From that point, the weekend was already perfect and extremely memorable, definitely among my favorite weekends spent in Korea. I couldn’t really imagine at the time what would’ve made the trip significantly better, but sure enough we came up with something. While eating dinner, the next mission was determined to be to get onto the roof of a building, specifically with our eyes on the linked twin towers that were so intriguing and architecturally attractive in the skyline.

Before embarking on our rooftop adventure though, we checked out a beach carnival that was next to the buildings. It was a quaint operation when it comes to carnivals, but it certainly created some great photo opportunities. I especially loved the bright colors, neon lights and terribly reproduced popular images.

The Crazy Flip


Loving this DISCO light

The sun was destined to set soon and thus we made our attempt to get to the roof of a building near the sea. The first tower we went up to the fifteenth floor and had no luck–every door was locked despite the deserted appearance of the building. With our fingers crossed, we took the elevator to the top floor of the second tower and as the boys turned to head for the stairwell I felt compelled to at least try the doors to the empty office next to the elevator and to my complete shock the doors were unlocked, as were the doors to the balcony overlooking Gwangalli Beach. We were all so ecstatic and simply couldn’t believe that we had discovered a high up in the sky to call ours for a little while. There are few things in life that I call perfect, but that occurrence and our luck in that moment and watching the sunset over the sea and edge of the hills in the distance of the cityscape really was perfect. Spending whatever time we did up there really was the ideal way to end our trip to Busan.

The view from our claimed balcony at Gwangalli Beach

Busan in the evening hours from up above

Well, that concludes the tale of my 48 hours in Busan. As I’ve already said, the trip was amazing and it was so wonderful to see another part of Korea. It’s finally setting in that I’m leaving soon and may or may not be back. It’s going to be difficult to bid this country farewell, it really is.

26 days and counting….

For more photos and higher quality images from my time in Busan as well as my travels throughout Asia, please visit my Flickr.


On My Odyssey….Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

To be honest, I’m not really sure how I want to relay the details of my recent journey, however I do know that I don’t simply want to recount the happenings of my days as that doesn’t seem to be all that productive or of great value to you, the reader of my rambling thoughts. So, I suppose I’ll share with you my impressions, the tales worth telling, expose the myths I uncovered, the tastes delighted upon and some of the snapshots that my memory will forever cling to.

Here’s the story of me, a traveler sparked with child-like wonder for the world, on my odyssey in Vietnam.

Before even stepping foot into Vietnam, I was feeling a bit wary as much of what I’d read and been told from fellow travelers was quite negative–basically I figured I was bound to be ripped off, likely to have something stolen, be significantly debilitated by a lack of Vietnamese language skills, probably experience a fair share of begging, poverty and filth, but at least I would see some pretty sights and eat delicious, cheap grub. This is incredibly important to note, everything I had been told and assumed about Vietnam was completely wrong with the exception of my friend Thai accurately deeming Ha Long Bay as one of the most beautiful sights on earth (see below).

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Rather than having money or valuables stolen, or being significantly ripped off when purchasing goods/services/hot stone massages/money exchanging/food binging, I was actually given money (5000 dong, roughly a quarter) while in Hanoi by the friendliest of women handing out (real) lucky money as part of the Tet holiday traditions. I should have known not to listen to pessimism I am apt to ignore, but given my plans to trek this trip alone, I mentally prepared myself for an array of worst case scenarios of which no part of my trip came even remotely near resembling.

The impressions I drew from Vietnam were inevitably and constantly being compared to Seoul as Korea is my only point of reference in Asia. Vietnam is certainly cheaper, quite a bit dirtier and less developed than Korea, but the places in Vietnam I was able to spend time in were so special and quite unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been.

One of the first things I noticed about Vietnam is the heavy reliance upon their most popular mode of transportation, the motorbike.

Motorbikes parked on a street in Hanoi

Motorbikes far outnumber cars and the non-existent traffic laws and road lanes (this is especially true of Hanoi, Saigon/HoChi Minh City was a bit more organized and people did actually obey the traffic lights, generally) made for a wild and mildly chaotic pedestrian experience, at least initially. Once I embraced the game of Frogger that was any attempt to cross the road, my walk about Hanoi became significantly easier.

Aside from the very apparent presence of motorbikes, much of my initial impressions of Hanoi were influenced by the architectural constructions strewn about the city, consisting mostly of fairly old, skinny, tall buildings that functioned as housing and businesses, and the faded–by dirt and years–pastel colors that coated them. This was something that really stuck with me because in Seoul I’m so accustomed to glass and concrete giants and neon lights whereas in Hanoi the colors were more natural and the city itself really wore its age, which I found strangely appealing perhaps only for it now being a ‘foreign’ sight compared to that of my home.

Street view in Hanoi…a “No Parking” sign of sorts

Pastel towers of Hanoi, the common architectural style

This is an odd place to diverge onto this thought, but while on this odyssey of mine I came to have a major shift of perspective as Korea was cemented in my mind as my home. It was an unexpected feeling as prior to this trip I was almost certain that I would be returning to the States to look for work this summer, but, as often happens with me, that plan has been significantly altered.

Back on topic, I mentioned before that Vietnam is quite inexpensive and this in part makes traveling there rather attractive. Beer costs about 18,000-30,000 dong most places (just under $1-$1.50; the exchange rate is pretty steadily at 20,000 dong= $1) and a filling meal at most sit-down street vendors can be had for anywhere from 30,000 dong for pho to 80,000 for a skewer feast (see below). Being a pescetarian (essentially a vegetarian that consumes fish and fish products), I stray away from most meats, however I couldn’t resist the urge to taste frog as the opportunity likely wouldn’t come again and the frog I had in front of me actually looked quite delicious (and it was, the little bit that I had).

My favorite dining experience in Hanoi–skewers of all kinds

When it came to food in Vietnam, everything tasted amazing. The flavor combinations in every dish I had was so complex and layered with tastes spicy, sweet and sometimes sour and textures ranging all over the place. All of the produce was incredibly flavorful and fresh and at the peek of ripeness. Again, comparing my experience in Vietnam to Korea, I was really impressed with the variety of options in Hanoi (Saigon as well, but I’ll say more about that later). Koreans are a rather nationalistic bunch and they adore their food, as they should. With that said, sometimes a girl craves a little something other than the flavors of Korea (also known as kimchi, jk jk) and in Vietnam I was pleasantly surprised by the wealth of options for dining and the broad range they took on.

Should you ever find yourself in Vietnam, Hanoi specifically, you must (seriously, I’m not joking around about this) plan a trip to Ha Long Bay. I only spent a day at the bay, but there were many packages and options to stay overnight or even for many days on a boat or in a hotel nearby. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ha Long Bay is an absolute wonder for the eyes and simply something I found to be so unique and lovely. During my time spent in Hanoi, I joined some fellow Drake grads that have been teaching English in China and it was quite nice to have some company on the start of my trip and especially wonderful to share in the Ha Long Bay experience with them. As part of our day trip we walked through a cave and spent an hour kayaking around the Bay, which for me was probably the highlight of the day, particularly when we came across a giant specimen of jellyfish and later paddled up to a water market to purchase beers. The latter experience was so funny and perfect really, as the four of us in two kayaks took forever to maneuver our kayaks properly to pay, get hold and partake in our Vietnamese beers. We also became pieces of entertainment for passing boats filled with tourists amused by the sight of us imbibing in the Bay. It was a little bit silly, but still one of those oddly magical moments that I’ll never forget–it was a tiny window of pure bliss.

The home and business (kayak rental) of a family in the Bay

Drake alumni romping about Ha Long Bay for the day

In total, I spent four days in Hanoi (including my day in Ha Long Bay) and found it to be a small, friendly city that was very much alive in its bold people and colors surprising me the entire time. Below are some of my favorite sights in Hanoi that I came upon while walking around with my band of cohorts from Drake/China.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Walking around Hoan Kiem Lake and spotted this adorable little man

Tran Quoc Pagoda

As previously mentioned, this was the only portion of my trip with planned company by my side and the rest of my adventure was one of solo traveling that in the end turned into having very little alone time and making a mass of fast friends and meeting like-minded travelers from all around the world with stories I peeled apart over meals, drinks and days out exploring. Strangers aren’t ever so strange when you realize how similar they are to yourself–except I suppose I’m a weird one, so there’s always that to consider. Anyhow, more stories from these untamed waters are soon to come.

For more photographs from my trip to Vietnam, take a peek at my album on Flickr…. On My Odyssey (pt. 1) : : Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.


Daily Vanity : : December 2010

This project has me feeling weary towards as I’ve come to be both bored and exhausted by the prospect of taking even one more photo of myself. I won’t retire this photo jaunt for good as I am still narcissistically intrigued by the idea of viewing various angles of myself captured semi-consistently over the course of a year, however this is likely to morph into something more closely resembling a weekly vanity. With that said, here’s some of my Daily Vanity from December.

December 12 : : 2010


December 20 : : 2010


December 26 : : 2010


December 29 : : 2010


December 30 : : 2010

Tale of two mountains: Dobongsan (pt. 1)

I’ve spent the last two weekends teaching my legs a thing or two about hard work and pain by climbing a few of Korea’s voluptuous mountains. Both have teased and tempted me with their treacherous paths and tricky rock formations, but eventually Dobongsan and Naejangsan shared with me their many treasures of hues, views and fresh air feelings not often experienced. I can’t quite tell you what it feels like to conquer a mountain peak, to breath in that untainted, crisp air, to look down or across a ridge and see just how far you’ve come. It’s a feeling of success, glee, exhaustion and peace all combined and streaming fast through your veins; something like adrenaline, but more unique.  It’s a wonderfully addicting thing, this feeling, hence my tale containing not one, but two mountains. And, hopefully, many, many more of the mountains Korea holds upon its land.

First came Dobongsan, one of the closest mountains to Seoul itself, a mere 90 minute subway ride from my home in Anyang. Though my Halloween weekends are typically spent fiending on candy and recovering from previous evening shenanigans, this October 31st was spent not in costume, but rather in gear that made it clear to all of the appropriately attired Korean hikers that I was not a usual to the sport.  I should mention that Koreans take hiking very seriously. They also take their hiking clothes very seriously, always prepared with their brand-name gear: brightly colored hiking shirts, pants, sturdy boots, long hiking poles, heavy packs (filled with plenty of delicacies to create a feast at the peak), etc..

Though I was originally supposed to hike Dobongsan with my friend Spenser and the S.H.I.T.Y. hiking group, Spenser was late to our meeting spot and after some waiting, I decided to head to the mountain for a solo adventure. Upon my arrival at the base of Dobongsan, I got a taste of just how popular a hobby this is in Korea.

Flood of hikers crossing the street from the subway to the trail leading to Dobongsan

Aside from the many vendors selling hiking gear, tools and trinkets, there were a great many restaurants and tables splayed with snacks, including what could only be considered the hiking essentials: makguelli (Korean rice wine), soju (Korean vodka), ramen bowls and water. They might even be displayed in order of importance.


Fishy snacks!

When I finally came to the hiking trail, I almost immediately fell under a trance from the fall nature show of leaves making like acrobats, transforming their colors. Living among buildings and cement sometimes makes you forget just how magical nature can be.

Though there were innumerable options of routes and trails to go on as well as destinations, I decided to make Uiam Rock my first point. Being a novice at this whole hiking thing, I stopped frequently along the way and spent some quality time taking in the little things. I noticed on my hike to the top many rock stacks lining the trail, or placed atop boulders, and later discovered that “rock stacking” is a practice of meditation, and that each layer is supposed to represent a family member you’re praying for or a wish that the individual has.

A rather impressive rock stack

After a few hours I finally made it to the top of Uiam Rock and of all the people in all of Seoul, I found Spenser at the top the rock!! Well, technically he found me when he saw a view that looked like a mighty fine photo op and, of course, there I was with my fancy cam getting busy.


Views from the top

For the not so novice

After snacking on some kimbap (literal translation is “roll rice”) and mixed nuts, Spenser and I felt rejuvenated and continued along the ridge line to Jaunbong Peak. About halfway along we came across this amazing viewpoint:

What you can’t see is the Koran women insisting we pose with peace signs!

A few hours of hiking the ridge line brought us to a busy Jaunbong Peak:

And just over a few steep steps later, we made it!

“We were just down there!!!”

When we did finally make it to the top, Spenser disclosed that he has a slight fear of heights (surprise!!) and after taking in the chilly breeze and beauty at the top, we decided to make the trek to the bottom for a hot meal (my favorite kimchicheegae, aka kimchi stew) and some celebratory makguelli and cider (best drink in all of Asia, I swear to you)!

And, of course, we couldn’t make it to the bottom without making a temple pit-stop:

There are so many wonders hidden in this mountain and I’m sure there are just as many in every other Korean san. In a few days I’ll give a play by play of my conquering Naejangsan, but until then, enjoy the tale of one mountain and the many photos that come with it.