Category Archives: asia

An invitation to Vietnam

Have you ever fallen in love with a place at first sight? I know that I have.

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To say the least it was enchanting to be given the chance to take tours in new countries and see things that were brand new to me as my contract got extended for a month in Asia while working on a cruise ship. There are definitely worse things that can happen in life.  We docked in Da Nang, Vietnam which was about thirty minutes from the popular tourist areas along the beach. En route to Hoi An for some free time in the town and lunch at one of the best Vietnamese restaurants I really didn’t know what to expect. Before reaching Hoi An we stopped in the outskirts for a small town walk visiting a temple and a local neighborhood. Following my group from the back of the line I just soaked up everything. How people live. What their houses look like. What people wore. Listening to their language. We reached a huge space of what seemed to be rice paddies. Well this view was not so foreign to me because I once lived in the countryside of Korea and this was all that I saw!
Finally reaching Hoi An my mind was playing tricks on me. Wait, was I back in Bali again? Am I in Ubud? As both Hoi An and Ubud appeared to have many similarities I knew that I was in Vietnam. Hoi An reminded me so much of the heart of Bali; Ubud. With small art shops, beautiful pottery shops, locally made arts and crafts, colorful and exotic fruits on the side streets, small local venders cooking up noodles and dumplings I felt like a spell was put on me. I was truly in love all over again. With exquisite colors of fabrics, paintings, lanterns flowing down the street I felt helplessly in love. There was no turning back at this point. I was completely, magically, and helplessly in love with Hoi An. Walking past me was an older woman carrying large fruit baskets hooked onto a long rod that she held over her shoulder. Colorful dragon fruits, snake fruits, and star fruits jiggled in the basket as she walked past me. Lunch time was around the corner.

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As I thought that Pho and spring rolls filled with shrimps and basil were all that Vietnamese cuisine was all about, I was completely wrong. Reaching our restaurant the chefs were preparing the dumplings, soups, and fresh salads in the entrance. As I made a special request for a vegetarian meal I was hesitant what I was going to be fed. As the other guests in my tour had the same meal I was the special case and I was hoping that I would get just as delicious food as them. Soon, warm dumplings filled with veggies and shrimp with a dipping sauce was placed in front of me. It looked too beautiful to eat at first then I slowly took my first bite. Then a big bowl of soup that looked like a combo of curry and pho was delicately placed on my table. Have you ever eaten a meal so delicious, ingredients so fresh, that you almost feel sad to finish your food? Each bite I took was small as I soaked in all of the flavors from this soup. I was sad to see it go.

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When I fall in love with a place sometimes I fall in love with every bit. The cafes, the people, the smells, the sights, the pace, and the nature. This happened to me once when I visited Bali and now I was experiencing falling in love immediately with Hoi An. Why? Because there is no place quite like it that I have ever been to. Korea doesn’t look like Hoi An. Singapore doesn’t have a small town like this that offers you everything to fall in love with.

I found Hoi An an enchanting town with the river that flows through the city with small fishing boats locals sail on and the yellow and red lanterns that line the town. The little touches the locals put into your experience. With my last thirty minutes of free time I sat and enjoyed what was the largest and most delicious coconut I ever drank out of. With that came a full bladder where I had to find a bathroom immediately for the bus ride back.

Hoi An is a place that made me fall for it all. It’s a place that I always recommend. It’s a place that when I think of it, it brings me peace and a smile on my face. There was so much solitude and joy I experienced by walking around just on my own, just as I like to. There is something to be said about places that immediately make you feel like you’re invited even though you never received an invitation. I think that is called grace.

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Have you ever traveled to a place that you fell in love with at first sight? I’d love to know. Share your comments below to get this conversation started!

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How I fell in love with Singapore

So I am a self-proclaimed Singapore junkie. I love many things about Singapore. Starting with the food. Food always seems to fascinate me especially when it is delicious and available for vegetarians. I love the vibrancy of colors at night in Chinatown. I love testing my taste buds in Little India trying new Indian dishes. I love getting  lost inside the Mustafa Centre with all the latest electronics, clothing, shoes, and wellness products at the best prices. Don’t believe me? Check out my video on Youtube where I explain a bit more.

 

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As one of the busiest city-states left in the world Singapore (located in southeast Asia) has many things to offer to a hungry traveler. With a little over five million people living on this multicultural island Singapore marks itself as “The Lion City.” Rest assure as there are no lions roaming the city however at the Promenade you will be sure to see the Merlion fountain spitting water into the bay. With many waiting in a que for a selfie with it.

What attracted me to want to explore Singapore started over six years ago when I settled into my new job in South Korea. Many of my  expat friends were visiting Singapore on short layovers with AirAsia on their way to and from Bali or Malaysia. But for me I wanted to dig a bit deeper to really get the full picture of what Singapore is really like. With mentions of great foods at the hawker stalls, the pristine flora inside Gardens by the Bay, and enjoying the views of the city from the top floor of the Marina Bay Sands I was hooked.

The organization and system that this country follows was very apparent to be when riding the MRT. Singaporeans que up in the proper lines when getting on and off the trains. There are some interesting rules that people must follow in order to not pay a heavy fine. Take for example the exotic fruit, the durian. As this prickly fruit is compared to eating ice cream out of a toilet bowl, the smell in fact is atrocious (to me). With strict fines of up to $500 SD people are banned from carrying this fruit with them onto public transportation, into hotels, and restaurants. There is a reason why nobody wants to smell this fruit! Gum chewing is another rule that you really don’t want to be caught partaking in.

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As our ship was preparing to dock in Singapore our HR team on board trained us the rules of the land. Starting in the early 90’s bans on gum chewing were enforced because of the vandalism it created around the city with people sticking their used gum in many places.  With that said, “No gum chewing!” If you are caught chewing gum anywhere in Singapore you can be charged a hefty fine.  I found the sidewalks so pristine with zero garbage anywhere. The ques that people follow an the organization of the city really drew me into immediately falling in love with Singapore. People really care about keeping it clean!
With the convenience of cheap and accessible trains you can literally visit the most popular destinations without paying more for taxis. Gardens by the Bay located near the Promenade and Marina by Sands at MRT Bayfront. It is a place that I highly recommend to travelers because the exotic flora from all corners of the world is so magnificent. To keep cool you can browse and check out the flora inside the domes for a small fee ($12 for one conservatory)  for the day or you can check out the gardens outside free of admission. Either the early morning or later in the evening is the best time to go to beat the sun and heat midday.
Chinatown was quite impressive with a monstrous food scene. Whether you like noodles, laksa, Chili crabs, soups, Chinese food, Malay, or Indian fare you are sure to find it all in Chinatown. As a multicultural island-state with four distinct languages (English, Malay, Mandarin, and Indian) you are sure to find all the foods that represent these languages: Western foods, rice, spicy dishes, meats, dumplings, ramen, fried rice, curry, lassis, briyani, and the list will go on and on.
As a lover of international cuisines I was in food heaven (soon to be food coma). Once I arrived at the MRT in Chinatown there huge food stalls everywhere. From specialty Chinese dishes, to fresh juices, to sliced fruits, to noodles, I had so many choices of delicious things to eat. From there I did some souvenir shopping, sampled Chinese teas, ate some dumplings, watched monks pray in a Buddhist temple, and people watched by snacking at Maxwell Food Court with a cold local Tiger beer.

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Inside Gardens by the Bay

Singapore is highly user friendly. I find it super easy and accessible to find my way around the island and it can all be done by the MRT. As a traveler who loves creative cuisines, night markets, hawker stalls, and ease with getting around Singapore is a touchdown for me.

ACCOMMODATION:

I booked with Agoda to sort through the best deals in Singapore. I stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel in Bugis and it was beyond awesome. The breakfasts that were included in my room rate each morning were exceptional.  Starting with the fresh pressed juices of my choices (beets, orange, watermelon, ginger), an array of Indian fare, omlettes, and fresh fruits, it was excellent. The staff were great and it was very luxurious. I would gladly stay at the Intercontinental in Bugis (MRT) because of the location (very close to the Sultan Mosque) and the proximity to shops, dining, and entertainment.

Have you ever been to Singapore before? What did you think?

Volunteering in Taiwan: Dada School

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Interested in getting out and seeing a new country but wanting to volunteer and get involved in local culture and community at the same time? Do you like children? Are you interested in teaching English learning activities? Have you been to Asia yet? Not yet? How about Taiwan?

If you’re still reading this then I’m assuming you are looking for the nitty gritty behind getting here. Let me explain.Named by the Portuguese, Island Formusa, Taiwan lives up to it’s name with sensational landscapes, colorful and lively night markets filled with exotic treats, and very friendly people. A nation very different from mainland China and a place unlike any other Asian nation Taiwan is known for stinky tofu, the bettle nut beauties, it’s gorgeous eastern coastline, and the mighty gorges of Taroko National Park in Hualien. Taiwan has so much to offer the curious traveler whether it’s explores the concrete jungle capital of Taipei, getting lost in the night markets, or tasting the blends of tea that Taiwan is known for.

I was really interested in exploring more of Asia while volunteering in an Asian country.Taiwan had been on my mind for some time because I had a guide book sitting on my night stand for months just looking back at me. With the deep interest to explore exotic night markets, go hiking, and immerse myself in everything Taiwanese I knew I had to find a way to plan my trip there. Then I stumbled upon Dada School in Chungli, Taiwan online.

From the summer of 2011 through the fall of 2013 I have participated in their lovely program for students while also taking trips with them. I have assisted in their summer camps to the east coast of Taiwan all the way to Hualien down to camping in the southeast region of the island near Taitung. With three separate volunteer experiences here I want to share with you all that you need to know and why I love John and Ching and they teaching assistant Sonny, who brings the sunshine everyday. By the way, you can find more about Dada School from helpx.org.
WHAT: John and Ching operate an after school program (similar to Buxiban but better) where students from elementary to high school level come to learn and practice their English with international volunteers. Dinner is prepared at the school every evening by Chef Sonny and Ching with the help of volunteers to assist in cutting and preparing the meal. The food is seriously a delight, trust me on this one. With Ching’s high ability to prepare delicious meals without a recipe with your personal dietary needs in mind I don’t see how you could be disappointed with her cooking.

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Road trip down the east coast with the kids

WHERE: Located next to Linsen Elementary School in Chungli and a ten minute walk from Chungli Train Station, Dada School is in convenient and central location in Chungli. A two minute walk away is 7-11, a handful of tea shops, and a few sandwich breakfast shops that offer soya milk. The fresh market with local fruits and vegetables is less than a five minutes walk. Also there is a Watsons drug store where you can find all of your every day beauty and hygiene products that is less than a eight minute walk. In terms of finding snacks and every day needs, it is all a stones throw away.

ACCOMMODATION: An apartment located less than a five minutes walk from Dada School is provided for volunteers ( no cost). The apartment is two floors with four bedrooms and two bathrooms and a large open space living room. Please leave the apartment in the same way when you arrived. Trash can be taken to Dada School for disposal
VOLUNTEER: Some students are paired with volunteers for conversation class. Ching might ask you to help correct essays and homework. Helping clean up the kitchen area and preparation of meals may be asked. However, if you enjoy food prep and cleanup this may be up your alley.
EXPECT: Expect enriching life experiences that will change the way you view learning. Expect to assist helping children learn, delectable meals, and Taiwanese culture combined into a combination of experiences that will shape your life and change you forever (in a good way).

Tsushima, Japan

Out of all of the trips I have taken around Asia and Africa   I have only been on one trip with a group of friends. It was during Chuseok holiday (Korean Thanksgiving) and it was early September. The leaves were slowly starting to change to luscious red, oranges, and yellows. The air was beginning to feel much cooler after such a humid summer in Korea. Autumn in Korea has always been my favorite season and two girlfriends of mine had agreed with me to go on a three day cycling and camping trip in Tsushima, Japan with a small group of expats. The weather would be the same as Korea and the best part was that we didn’t have to plan a thing!

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After taking a quick ferry from Busan our days consisted of dreamily cycling the rolling hills heading northbound along beautiful and isolated island called Tsushima. My body was in complete peace and tenderness as I soaked in the small traditional simple living of Japan. The nostalgia of crisp apples in the market and the deliciousness of fresh sushi being rolled along with bento boxes took my sense to a whole new place.All of the newness of our first day was extremely comforting if that makes any sense.  In fact, many Japanese travelers who I have met in my travelers have never even heard of this island. What made this trip so enjoyable was that there was such little planning and decision making for us girls to make together. I think our biggest group decisions were: where we were going to pitch our tent, which Japanese grocery store we would park our bikes to pick up some food, and at what time we would take short water breaks to stop and take pictures.

I enjoyed this kind of travel because at the time this trip was so low key! It was almost too good to be true. We woke up at the break of dawn to watch the sun rise over the scenic waters with cascading hills and mountains in clear sight. As we cycled we contemplated our life goals, dreams, and ideas. This was the kind of trip that for the rest of my life I will carry with me the smells, sights, surroundings, and feelings. I will carry with me the glorious smell of autumn in Japan as we cycled along the sea watching local fisherman catch their daily supply. I will hold with me my appreciation of warmth and togetherness as we all huddled together around the warm campfire in the cold evenings with warm mugs of hot drinks under the stars with the campfire roaring in front of us.

 

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I will forever be in love with this weekend jaunt on the quiet and quaint island of Tsushima. Cycling the countryside of Japan on Chuseok weekend was one of those experiences you have that when you retell small pieces of the story all of the fine details are still fresh in your mind. Thank you Savannah and Adina for a trip that I certainly have not forgotten.