Breaksian Travel Blog Career break traveling in Asia

A week in Ko Lanta

My old LAMP hosting is about to expire and I’m using this account only to host the breaksian blog, so I decided to migrate all the contents to the modern node.js platform I have been using for all my tools including my personal blog.

While I was in the process of migrating the data, I realised there were some old dusty posts that have been hanging around in my drafts folders for a long time!. One of them was about the week I spent in Ko Lanta, Thailand. I just clean it up, finish it and publish it with this new migration. So years late but I hope you will enjoy it nevertheless… so let’s go back in time …


In my last entry I described the day spent in Krabi town, walking along the river and visiting the market. As I described there the people from my hotel helped me to arrange the ferry transport to Ko Lanta. It was very convenient because a minibus would pick me up at the hotel to bring me directly to the Ferry terminal.

After I woke up, I went to a restaurant nearby to grab a quick breakfast and afterward I went to a 7-11 to buy enough water for the boat trip. Then I came back to the hotel and waited patiently. There is only one ferry per day that leaves the Krabi Town pier at 11:00 am. The minibus was late and it swirled around the town picking up more travelers but fortunately we made it just in time for the ferry.

We queued for a little while and then we started to board. I noticed the vessel was getting very crowded so I secured a “seating” place in the outside deck and it turned out to be a good decision because the boat was completely packed when we left the port:

The boat trip from the pier in Krabi Town to the one in Ko Lanta (Baan Saladan) took around 2 hours. The ferry stopped a couple of times and small boats approached it to pick up or leave passengers from some of the resorts off the coast, but most of the people traveling went to the final destination.

Lanta Noi and Lanta Yai

An interesting fact learned once I started to browse the Island map is that Ko Lanta includes several islands, being the two largest Ko Lanta Noi and Ko Lanta Yai. Most of the people who visit “Ko Lanta” normally head to Ko Lanta Yai where most of the tourist infrastructure is located.

I found a very nice budget hotel located in around 100 meters from the Baan Saladan ferry pier and it was perfect because there were quite a few restaurants and markets around it and the place was a nice starting point to explore the island and do some tours. This was the nice view from the hotel pier where I used to get my breakfast every morning:

I used this pier to board the boat that took me to the four islands tour.

Exploring the island by Bike.

One of the activities I enjoyed the most during my career break was to bike and I wanted to investigate if it was possible to explore the island in a bicycle. I left the hotel and started to walk around the Saladan and in a small street I found small shop renting a couple of bikes. I found a clunky but decent one and I made a deal to rent it for the rest of the week:

Old lanta town.

The day after one of owners of the guesthouse asked me if I had plans for the day. I told her I was interested in making a bike ride and she recommended me to go to the Old Town in the south part of the Island. She told me the whole ride should be relatively straightforward with only a couple of small hills.

This is small village is located in the south-east coast of the island and it has very interesting history. It used to be an important commercial port and provided a stop over for Arabic and Chinese merchants traveling to the bigger ports in the region. They mingled with the local Thai fishing families and Sea Gypsy communities creating a very interesting place.

The distance between the Saladan Pier and the Old town is around 17 km. It took me around 45 minutes to get there stopping by a few times to take pictures and to drink some water. I was glad I brought a few bottles because even if the ride was not particularly hard, it was quite hot.

Once I arrived to the old town, I parked my bike at the entrance and I started to explore it by foot. I did a nice walk all the way to the end of the pier and from there I was able to get a nice view of the old town.

Then I came back and I walked through the main street of the Old Town. Even if it’s relatively small I was able to spot the Buddhist and the Chinese temples, plus some nice jetty houses. I also enjoyed some amazing coffee and a refreshing mango smoothie.

When I was about to leave the town I noticed there was a nice 2 floor wooden house and when I got closer this turned out to be the Old Lanta Community Museum. This place is dedicated to the history and legacy of the main 3 communities of the island: Chinese merchants, Thai fishermen and Sea Gipsies. The place had some cool objects and pictures:

Four Islands Tour

A couple of days after I booked a tour to visit four islands around the main Lanta Island. One of the advantages of the guesthouse where I was staying was that they had a small pier in the back of the house, so they could pick me up directly there. The boat arrived around 8am and I thought "wow I have this nice speedboat only for my own!", but very soon I realised that I was just the first passenger in series pickups around Ko Lanta that took another 45 minutes.

Once we got the last tourist from a nice resort in the southern part of Ko Lanta, we actually started the visit to the 4 islands. The first stop and probably the most interesting one was the Emerald Cave in Ko Mook. The guide in the boat explained us that the only way to get there was to swim through a narrow dark cave using a headlamp but he promised the beach on the other side was lovely.

We put our swim vest and started to swim in line following the guide toward the black narrow hole in the rock. And indeed after 10 meters the light was gone and were going through a pitch black cave following the light of the guide and after some 50 meters we arrived to the other side where we were welcomed by a stunning lake / beach what made the scary trip completely worth it. We were lucky because there were not too many tourist at that time, but when we left a big boat carrying a lot a people arrived in the entrance of the cave, so it probably got quite busy afterwards.

We visited another Island with a nice stripe of white sand beach where we stopped to have lunch and enjoy a swim in a relaxed blue water environment and then we moved to another island where we did some snorkelling. I have never seen on the water so many different shapes and colours of sea life in the same spot. We spend around one hour there snorkeling around and it was quite an experience. The Island per se was quite picturesque itself since it was composed by the limestones common in this area of Thailand:

When we were about to finish the tour, the driver from the boat approached to one of the walls of the Ko Ma island and say please look up. We all did it and there in the wall were hundreds of bats staying there and making noise. We even spotted one of them flying from one place to the other:

This was the last stop of our tour and we were all very happy with the results. It was definitely a day well spent.

Bike accident

As I mentioned earlier by bike was decent but a bit clunky. It had in particular a problem with the quick-release lever at the base of the seat: Sometimes it was moving in and out and sometimes it used to get blocked pointing out. This fact it’s important for the accident I will describe next.

The day after the 4 islands tour I decided to jump again on my bike and explore a different road on the island. Someone in town mentioned there was a nice place on top a hill with a pretty nice view of the rest of the island and the sea. I love panoramic views so I decided that’s what I wanted to do.

Everything was going smoothly in my bike ride. I even found a nice spot to make a quick swim and then when I continued my trip and I was going down hill, I faced a big pothole in the road just in front of me. In a split second I decide to jump it since I couldn’t dodge and did it! I flew over the pothole like a BMX rider, but when I landed in my rear tire, the loose lever I told you about before, hit me in the back of calf when of course the muscle was completely contracted. Ouuuchhhh. I hear a ‘pop’ sound and I experience a horrible pain.

I tried to get back on the bike but I realised I couldn’t really push with this leg. I couldn’t even stand. It was really painful. I was in the middle of nowhere with just vegetation around me and no-one was passing by … fuck!. Fortunately I still have some batteries in my phone and I saw that my destination was not really far away. I started walking really slowing limping on each step until I thought maybe it was better to pedal just with one leg. It took me a really long time but I managed to get to the restaurant.

I ordered something to drink and ask them if they could give some ice. They were helpful and provide plenty of ice that I put around my leg that was getting really swollen. I stayed there a long time, ordered something to eat as well and then I started to think how to go back to the hotel. Biking like this was not option. I ask the owners that they offered to call a "tuk-tuk taxi". By the way the view on this place was nice:

A couple of hours passed and nothing arrived. One of the sons of the owner offered me to carry me and my bike in his motorbike. He told me something along the lines of “You can extend your arms and carry the bike and hold to the bike with your legs” . I declined politely. A calf injury was bad enough, I didn’t want to add a brain injury to the mix.

Finally the tuk-tuk taxi arrived. We managed to tuck the bike into the passenger seat and we headed back to the hotel in Saladan. Once I got to the hotel I explained what happened to the owners and the pointed me in the map, the closest medical clinic.

I went there by tuk-tuk and the doctor on guard told me it was just some "sore muscle", put a bandage around my leg and prescribed me tons of pain killers:

When I came back to the hotel I checked on the web what he had prescribed me. Discarded half of it and spent a long night checking for signs of Compartment syndrome.

Fortunately that didn’t happen, but later on I found out I had a huge blood collection inside the muscle. In a way I was very lucky!

Last day

The after I could barely walk so I spend the day at the hotel just relaxing, taking care of my leg, reading and start writing this post that as I described earlier, it stayed on my drafts folder for a really long time.

Now I would definitely would go back to Ko Lanta!. It’s in my opinion one of the nicest places in the country.


Day trip to Nakhon Pathom

On my second day in Bangkok I decided to make a day trip and explore one of the cities located nearby. Last time I visited the capital I had the opportunity to see Ayutthaya and that was a very interesting place, but this time around I wanted to visit a different spot.

I read about the different alternatives and I chose Nakhon Pathom, a small city situated 56 km west from Bangkok. This place is not only one of Thailand’s oldest towns but according to some travel guides, Nakhon Pathom is considered the entry point of the Buddhism religion in the region.

The main attraction of this town is Phra Pathom Chedi, with its huge 120m high stuppa that dominates the landscape on the region. This place is very important for the Thais and there is constant flow of local visitor honoring Buddha.

I read on wikitravel that was possible to get there either by bus or by train. Since I had some good memories about my Thai trips by train I decided to use this transportation option.

Thonburi Train Station

The main train station in Bangkok is Hualamphong. Most of the trains going to the North and the South of the country depart from this station, but the one heading to Nakhon Pathom leaves from the Thonburi. This is a new station located on the west side of the Chaopraya river and it's accessible either by bus by or boat.

I checked the map and the easiest way to get from my hostel in Phaya Thai to Thonburi was by bus (Route 70). I boarded the bus and as soon as the lady with the metallic "clac clac clac" sound approached to charge me for the route I told her I was going to "Thonburi". She didn't get it, so I tried to show her on the map and she charged me something like 50 baths.

Looking at her face I guess she had no idea where I was going but still it was very cheap and she tried to help as much as possible saying "not here" once in awhile. Fortunately there was another helpful English speaking Thai lady on the bus and she told me where to get off.

Third class train to Nakhon Pathom

I crossed the Chaopraya river and then after a couple of kilometers I got off at the Charan Sanitwong Road. From there I walked to the Thonburi Train Station and quickly approached the ticket booth.

I asked the vendor I could get a return ticket to Nakhon Pathom and he told me the next one was in 30 minutes. The only problem was that the return train was relatively soon after arrival (I would have only 1.5h to explore the town). Since I was already there I decided to go anyway and enjoy the ride and the city as much as possible.

The only available type of tickets for this route are third class. This is the most basic ticket you can get so they are very cheap and the service is basic. Since it was going to be a short trip I didn't mind that and I thought it was fun to travel with the locals (I was the only foreigner in the wagon), feeling the breeze on my face.

After an hour or so we arrived to Nakhon Pathom and as soon as I left the train I started my flash tour to the city.

Phra Pathom Chedi

I scanned the map and I was very happy to see that the main attraction of the town, the Phra Pathom Chedi was very close to the train station. I started to walked into that direction and 10 minutes later I was in the main entrance.

As I was discussing before this place had a special significance to the Thai people and I was able to see it directly: As soon as I arrived there I saw many peligrims and hundreds of guys getting their hair cut to start their time as monks.

The Stupa (dome-shaped structure erected as a Buddhist shrine) is huge. I had to take a panoramic picture in order to grab the whole structure in one single frame. Take a look at the following video I shot displaying the structure:

I walked around the temple grounds and I took my shoes off to climb and walk around the big dome.

I took a couple of pictures more and I observed the structure from different angles. But then I saw the time and I realized I had barely enough time to quickly get back to the station and take the train back to Bangkok.

The train was delayed 30 minutes so I had the chance to see a bit more the surroundings.

Even if this was a flash trip I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit this place.


Getting into Siem Reap

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Siem Reap and its amazing Angkor Wat complex in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I have plenty of good memories and pictures of every corner of this massive place, but before I start to talk about what was the actual visit to the monument I want to write about the process of getting in.

In my last post I described the interesting visit to Macau, the small chinese Special Administrative Region with a very rich Portuguese history. The next step on my itinerary was Siem Reap and I found a good flight connecting in the Don Muang airport.

Before I traveled to Cambodia I read it was possible to get the visa on arrival and the process appeared to be relatively straightforward: Fill out an application form, including a recent photograph and handover the form and the passport plus 30 USD to get the Visa stamped on it.

Just before we arrived to the country, the flight attendants distributed the visa on arrival form and a customs blue paper. I filled them out both and I thought I was ready to go. Nevertheless once we landed in Siam Reap the fun really started. Let me describe it step by step so I make sure I don't forget anything:

  1. Landing and getting to the terminal: Once they opened the doors of the plane, we descended and walked toward the door entrance.
  2. Fill quarantine form and get yellow paper: Before we were allowed to get in the building a guard stop the passengers in front of us and ask them to fill out a new "quarantine" form stating they haven't been in an African country and they were not experience any Ebola related symptoms. Ironically, the mosquitoes were having a feast while everyone was filing those forms outside.Quite a few clueless passengers were angrily stopped when they tried to flank the door without having this form completed and a yellow paper on their hands.
  3. Go to visa on arrival area:Once we finally moved to the main lobby some people try to go to the main immigration queue and were turned back. I saw some other people queuing somewhere else and paying money so I assume that was the visa on arrival desk.
  4. Get visa on arrival:I handed over there the completed form, a picture, my passport and 30 USD. I moved to another area where some tourists were waiting for their name to be called.
  5. Realise there is still another form and look for the guy distributing them: Around 15 minutes later I got the passport back with the visa issued on an empty pages of my passport and I started to queue in one of the immigration desks, but I noticed the people in front of me had an additional "Arrival / Departure Card" on their papers. I asked them "Where did you get that one?". They told me there was a short man walking around giving them away if you asked him nicely. so I started to scan around and spotted the guy on the other corner of the room.
  6. Beg for an arrival / departure form: I dashed to that area where the short officer was yelling at some tourists "Don speak ingliss! Don speek ingliss! Don speek ingliss!". I asked him nicely twice and finally he handed me over a card.
  7. Fill out arrival / departure card and mind your stuffI ran to another table to fill out this missing form and somewhere in the process I lost my passport cover (fortunately it wasn't the actual passport). I started to queue again in the immigration lines.
  8. Hand over your passport again: I handed over my passport on the immigration area, got a picture taken and got the passport stamped. I proceed to the customs area.
  9. Cross the customs area: I was expecting here another hassle, but actually there was no one checking. There was just a old wooden box where everybody was putting the customs form and moving on.

I'm wondering if this is the "normal" process to get into Siem Reap or if it were unlucky because ours was the last flight of the day. In any case it would nice to provide the arrival / departure cards on the plane before landing and to give general instructions about what are the steps to get into the country.

This was definitively the most chaotic arrivals area I have ever experienced, particularly because no one knew what to do :).

Once I left the arrivals area there was a transport from the hotel waiting for me. I boarded the TukTuk and 20 minutes later I was in Sok San Road, checking into the hotel. The owners kindly provided a map of the area so I started to get familiar with the layout of the city and the temple complex.

I finished the day getting a refreshing Anchor beer.


VideoFest on a rainy day.

As you can see from the previous picture today is quite a rainy day in Osaka. I decided to take the opportunity of such a bad day to grab a coffee, sit down, open my laptop and to connect my phone, to start downloading and publishing in the breaksian youtube channel some of the videos I have been taking during my Japanese trip.

I wanted to share those videos in this post, adding a couple of comments next to them.


Electring Run in the Osaka Castle Park

Yesterday I visited the Osaka Castle and on my way back to the train station I stumbled upon this "Electric Run". I was walking near the street and suddenly I saw the colorful lights from the distance and I heard the thumping bass, so I decided to get closer and I shot this video of the lights on the trees and a couple of runners passing by with their blinking outfits. In my opinion the music fit perfectly in the "electric" atmosphere. Really cool!


Monks walking in Nara near the five Story Pagoda

A couple of days ago I went to visit Nara. Amazing city with plenty of temples, deers and walking trails. One of favorite spots in Nara was the five story pagoda. I went there in the morning and took some pictures, but unfortunately the backlight was quite strong. I went back in the afternoon just before the sunset and the light was perfect to take pictures.

I also shot this video of the Kōfuku-ji temple and the five story pagoda while some monks were passing by. Click in the next hyperlink if you are curious and want to see more Nara pictures.

and I shot a video there while some monks were walking by.


Sunny day in Enoshima Island

I was lucky with the weather while visiting the Enoshima, a small offshore island very close to Kamakura. This was a perfect day trip from Tokyo to sea a beautiful spot on the sea side. The Island is quite small so it's possible to walk anywhere and it has a nice observatory on top of the hill where I shot this video facing the ocean.


Tokyo Sky Tree tower

I was grabbing a coffee in a vending machine near the Tokyo Sky Tree and I made this short video to show the height of this tower. This is the second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa. As a random fact, the music they were playing in the loudspeaker is called "ça ira" from a french singer called Joyce Jonathan.

I also shot another video while I was visiting the tower where you can see the Sumida river and the bridges crossing it:


Tokyo view from the north observatory

The last video I want to share with you today was the one I shot my first day in Tokyo, visiting the Metropolitan Government Building North Observatory.



Busan - Taejongdae Resort Park

One of the first surprises I got when I started visiting Busan was to find out there was park called Taejongdae, offering majestic views and beautiful cliffs in the southernmost tip of one the islands facing the open sea.The park offers an observation deck where some of the Japanese islands can be observed. There is also a white lighthouse with a downward path where you either eat raw fish in next to the waves crashing into the cliffs or walk to otherside to step into a natural flat platform made of stone and get an amazing view on the cliffs. I took the picture you see above when I was walking towards the viewing platform.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • The fastest way to get there is to take the bus 101 close to busan station.
  • It's possible to walk all the way up to the observatory but it's relatively long. A good alternative is to get a ticket for a "mini train" that costs 2000 KRW.
  • It's a good idea to go in the afternoon just before sunset. You get an amazing view of the light on the cliffs and the sea.
  • I didn't try the fresh seafood because I was full already, but I looked at the people eating next to the cliffs and it looked like a unusual but cool plan.
  • If you enjoy cliffs in general, this is one of the attractions you shouldn't miss from Busan. Look at the following video to get a glimpse on the waves crashing into the rocks:
Pictures:

14-Oct-2014 13:24, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 13:33, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 13:34, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 125
 
14-Oct-2014 13:49, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 13:50, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 13:51, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.77mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
 
14-Oct-2014 13:53, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.77mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 13:58, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 14:02, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
 
14-Oct-2014 14:03, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 14:03, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 14:05, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
 
14-Oct-2014 14:06, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 14:10, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 14:11, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 12.32mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
 
14-Oct-2014 14:12, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 12.32mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 14:15, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 14:16, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 14.57mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
 

Busan - 10 Places to visit

Currently I'm sitting at the Busan Gimhae International Airport where I will take a flight to Jeju Island in a couple of hours. I'm reviewing the post I have been writing about the week I just spent in Busan. I have been looking back at the different spots I visited, to select my favorite ones, so I can blog about them.

It was not an easy task because Busan has a lot of different spots to enjoy the seaside and take nice pictures. There are many temples and naturals parks very close to the city and the place also offers some amazing seafood. Busan doesn’t feel like a single city but rather a collection of medium size cities glued together by bridges and surrounded by mountains.

My visit to Busan felt like a jigsaw puzzle: everyday I was taking the subway and / or the bus to visit a different area and bit by bit I was able to put all the pieces together and understand the layout of this second largest city in Korea.

There are the 10 places I liked the most:

  1. Taejongdae Resort Park.
  2. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.
  3. Yongdusan Park and Busan tower.
  4. Haeundae Beach.
  5. UN Memorial Cemetery.
  6. Gamcheon Culture Village.
  7. Beomeosa temple.
  8. Dongbaek Island.
  9. Jagalchi fish market.
  10. Busan Cinema Center and BIFF Square.

 

1. Taejongdae Resort Park.

One of the first surprises I got when I started visiting Busan was to find out there was park called Taejongdae, offering majestic views and beautiful cliffs in the southernmost tip of one the islands facing the open sea.The park offers an observation deck where some of the Japanese islands can be observed. There is also a white lighthouse with a downward path where you either eat raw fish in next to the waves crashing into the cliffs or walk to otherside to step into a natural flat platform made of stone and get an amazing view on the cliffs. I took the picture you see above when I was walking towards the viewing platform.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • The fastest way to get there is to take the bus 101 close to busan station.
  • It's possible to walk all the way up to the observatory but it's relatively long. A good alternative is to get a ticket for a "mini train" that costs 2000 KRW.
  • It's a good idea to go in the afternoon just before sunset. You get an amazing view of the light on the cliffs and the sea.
  • I didn't try the fresh seafood because I was full already, but I looked at the people eating next to the cliffs and it looked like a unusual but cool plan.
  • If you enjoy cliffs in general, this is one of the attractions you shouldn't miss from Busan. Look at the following video to get a glimpse on the waves crashing into the rocks:

2. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Most of the temples I have visited in my Korean trip are built up in the mountains, but this one is an exception. Haedong Yonggungsa is located next to the ocean in the north-eastern part of the city. The reason of this anomaly is because the temple was created by a great Buddhist teacher called Naong who apparently had a dream the Divine Sea god of the East Sea, commanding him to setup this temple on the seashore.At the entrance of the temple there are some statues of the twelve zodiac signs and a white big pagoda created for the safety of the drivers (yep, it has a tire on the bottom!). Once you go down the stairs and get into the actual temple, you realize that the location by the sea, creates a very special atmosphere, because you observe the traditional temple houses and statues and hear the traditional monk songs blended with the sound of the waves crashing into the stones.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • The easiest way to get there is by subway (line 2 to Haeundae Station) and from there the Bus 181.
  • The admission to the temple is free, but there is a parking fees.
  • There is a small store with benches where you can get an ice cream or a coffee and enjoy the view.

3. Yongdusan Park and Busan tower

 

The Yongdusan Park itself is relatively small containing only a couple of walkways and some trees, but last saturday when I visited this place there was some type of show where different performers were doing acrobatics on the stage. I spent some time there and it was interesting, but what I enjoyed the most about the park was the Busan Tower, a 118 meter high structure with a small cafe and a observatory on the top.The views were absolutely amazing! I spent easily 3 hours there because I was able to get pictures from the port, the mountains, the fish market area, the buildings in the city center and the multiple bridges glueing the city together .I took pictures during the daylight and the sunset and in both lighting conditions the view was breathtaking.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can get to the park using the electric stair from the BIFF shopping area. Otherwise you can walk and enter from the other side.
  • The cost of the admission to the tower is 4000 KRW and you can stay there as much as you want (believe me).
  • I'm addicted to the panoramic views of the cities I the visit to this one was definitively not a disappointment!

4. Haeundae Beach.

The first recommendation I found in most of the travel guides and books about Busan was the Haeundae beach. Since I was staying at the other end of the city, near to the Busan station, this wasn't my first choice on the places to visit, but after a couple days I was curious and I went there by subway.Haeundae is indeed beautiful with its fine sandy beach, beautiful landscape and good facilities. At this time of the year the water is too cold to get into the water, so there were only two brave souls swimming. (I saw some pictures of this place in summer and it look completely packed). In any case, even now, it's a good place to walk around and nearby there is the Haeundae market, a narrow lane full of street food options.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • There are many hostels and hotels on this area.
  • You can get by subway (line 2) and get out at the Haeundae stop.
  • From this beach you can easily walk to the Dongbaek Island.

5. UN Memorial Cementery

There is only one cementary in the world administered and maintained by the United Nations and that is the UN Memorial Cementery of Korea. The Parliament of Korea offered this land for permanent use as a UN managed cemetery in 1955 and it has been in place since then.This cemetery contains a memorial for all the countries that provided foreign troops that were killed during the war. There are tombs, statues, flags and memorial plaques across this cemetery that is maintained in pristine condition. The design and the gardens of this memorial are beautiful The entrance is guarded by South Korean soldiers wearing the same uniforms I saw when I visited the DMZ Zone. They ask you what is your nationality before letting you in.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can get there by subway Line 2, Kyungsung University & Pukyong National University stop
  • The guards might deny the entry if you are not properly dressed.
  • It's a cemetery, but it's also a peaceful place with a beautiful design.

6. Gamcheon Culture Village.

The cultural village of Gamcheon is not only of the most picturesque area of Busan, but it's also an important part of the Korean history. Busan was the only city that was never captured by the north and therefore it served as a refugee for thousands of people fleeing the fighting and Gamcheon was one of the areas where they settled.This area used to be the home to the city’s poorest residents, but the area have been experiencing a lot of transformation since 2009 and now it contains a lot interesting street art, cafes, traditional snacks and small souvenir shops. In conclusion it's a beautiful place worth to visit.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can get there using the subway (line 1 to Toseong station) and then the bus or 2-2 to the Gamcheon Elementary School. The bus stop is in front of a hospital.
  • Bring some comfortable shoes to Gamcheon because if you really want to appreciate you need to walk up and down quite frequently.
  • The photo opportunities on this place are around every corner.
  • If you feel like doing some hiking there is a nice pathway surrounding the village on the tophill.

7. Beomeosa temple.

Beomeosa Temple is one of Korea's most important temples and it's located at the edge of Mt. Geumjeongsan. The originl temple was built by the monk Ui Sang in 678, during the Silla Kingdom, but it was destroyed during one the Japanese invasions (surprise!). Currently the temple has different Buddha halls and Pagodas.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can reach the temple by subway (line 1 Beomosa station) and bus (90).
  • The temple is relatively close to the city, but since it's up in the mountains, it feels more far away.
  • The complex is beautiful with many traditional houses, stones and pagodas, you can easily spent a couple of hours there.
  • I visited the temple in Autumn on a sunny and this probably the best time to go. The colors on the folliage next to the ancient structures and the blue sky create a perfect mix to get some really cool pictures.

8. Dongbaek Island.

Dongbaek used to be an island in ancient times, but nowadays is more a small peninsula coming out of the Haeundae Beach. The place is a nice area full of pine trees and can be visited relatively quickly since it's a short walk from the Westin hotel.From the tip of Dongbaek there is a small lighthouse and platform where you can get nice pictures of the Haeundae area and the Gwangan Bridge.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can get there with subway (line 2 Stop Dongbaek)
  • An interesting walk is to go by subway to Haeundae walk all the way towards the beach and then continue right toward the Westin hotel and then finally visit the Dongbaek Island.

9. Jagalchi fish market.

Tokyo has the Tsukiji market and Busan has the Jagalchi Market, the the largest seafood market in Korea. The origin of the name is interesting: Jagal (small rocks) and ch'i (villages next to the seashore), the small rocks are long gone and they have been replaced by a concrete building, but still it's a really interesting place to eat fresh seafood on the spot.In the first floor you find sellers offering any kind of live fish, mussels, squids, crabs, lobsters and octopus. On the second floor you get the chance to eat some of these fresh food on the spot.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can get there by subway (line 1). The stop is called Jagalchi as well
  • It's definitively worth to go to the second floor and grab some fresh sea food. I had in Jagalchi the biggest sashimi plate I had ever eaten in my life!

10. BIFF Square and Busan Cinema Center

Unfortunately I missed the 19th edition of the Busan International Film festiva l(2th - 11th October) just by one week. This festival is apparently one of most important ones in Asia, where they introduce new films and first-time directors, especially those from Asian nations. There are two different spots in the city related to the film festival and I had the opportunity to visit both.

On one hand there is the BIFF Square, the original venue of the film festival, offering a "Star Street" where you can find the hands printed of famous actors, actresses and directors (such as the Juliette Binoche in 2010). The place also offers many stalls for food, souvenirs and clothes. The BIFF square is just across the Jagalchi seafood market.

On the other hand there is the Busan Cinema Center, located on the other end of the city, in centum city. This is the current venue of the film festival where its opening and closing ceremonies take place. This Cinema Center offers a huge open air theater covered by a large ceiling constantly displaying LED animations:

Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can get to both places by Subway BIFF Square (Line 1. Stop Jagalchi) and Busan Cineman Center (Line 2. Stop Centum city)
  • I would recommend going to the Busan Cinema Center at night so you can appreciate the LED animations in the roof.

I'm leaving Busan now, but as you can see from the previous post, I bring with me a lot of nice memories from this city.


Exploring Gyeongju in 2 days - Day 1


When I was planning to visit Korea I started to investigate what cities and towns would the most interesting ones besides the obvious Seoul. I picked Busan and Jeju Island, but when I was talking to J., the former flatmate of my Brazilian friend, she suggested to visit Gyeongju as well. In her words Gyeongju is as a small city full of historical spots to visit.

I decided to follow her advice so before coming to Busan, I made a short stopover in Gyeongju where I spent the last couple of days. I'm happy I did it because it was definitively worth it. I took a bus from the bus terminal in Moran and it perfect great because I also had the opportunity to visit the largest traditional market in South Korea, Seongnam Moran.


Going back to the trip story, the bus from this terminal costs about 15000 KRW and it takes around 4 hours to get to Gyeongju, stopping for 15 minutes halfway through. Now I must admit I almost missed my stop at Gyeongju because it was not the final one and the bus terminal is relatively small.

A couple of passengers had left the bus already and when the bus about to leave the stop I went to the front part, asked "Gyeongju?" with a clueless face and the driver a bit annoyed say something like "ye", "ne" or "de", but his bodylanguage was clear, so I quickly descended the stairs and there I was in Gyeongju … pheeew, I almost missed it altogether!


1. Cultural Capital of Korea.

Gyeongju is described in some guides as the cultural capital of modern Korea. This city used to be the center of the Silla Kingdom, that ruled an important part of the Korean peninsula for almost 1000 years!

They developed a well organized society in a city of around 1 million inhabitants and adopted Buddhism as the religion of the state. Based on the number of palaces, tombs, ponds, pagodas, statues and astronomical constructions I saw in the last 2 days, it's don't doubt this used to be a very important place at the height of their kingdom.


2. Day 1: Bulguksa Temple and hike to Seokguram Grotto

On the first day, just after breakfast, I talked to the host of the guesthouse where I was staying and she recommended me to visit the Bulguksa Temple and the Seokguram Grotto. The temple is accessible by bus from the city center (the number 11 I think) and you can pay either in cash or using a Seoul T-Money card (I'm happy I got one of those),

It takes 30 minutes to get to the slopes of mount Toham where the temple is located and the bus stop is very close to Bulguksa. The place is beautiful containing ponds, pagodas, ancient stairs and of course Buddha statues. It's considered one of the masterpieces of the Buddhist art during the Silla kingdom.





Even if the place was extremely crowded last Friday when I visited the temple, on the positive side, I had the opportunity to experience a traditional Buddhist celebration as you see in the following video:



I spent an hour and a half walking around the temple, reading the history about Bulguksa and the Buddhism in the Silla era. I also took some pictures making most of the beautiful sunny day. I left the temple and I continued to the next stop for the day: The Seokguram Grotto.

I was reading in the tourist map that I could either take another bus or I could walk through the Tohamsan Mountain hiking trail all the way up to Seokguram. I chose the latter option.


I started to hike and found out the whole path is made out of white stones like the ones you see the in the previous picture. The hike is not really hard but bear in mind you will be going uphill for 1 hour and some of the steps are steep, particularly at the end.

When I began to climb I could hear a bell sound in the distance that turned out to be my constant companion during the whole trip, but the rhythm was quite irregular so I was curious about what it was. When I got to the top I understood the mystery: There is a huge bell that the visitors can play after paying 1000 KRW. Now the view the there was amazing! It felt like a nice reward for the hiking effort.


After I sip some water and grabbed a deserved ice cream, I continued the visit paying the entrance fee for the grotto. Unfortunately the site was under renovation covered by scaffolds and other construction materials, so the view was not an amazing as it could be. Nevertheless I was able to admire the Buddha statue in detail.

I finished my visit by hiking down the same path (way easier) and taking the bus to the city. When I was walking back to the guesthouse I passed by one of the royal tombs and there was a huge gathering around it with a traditional dancing and singing show.

It was a very nice way to wrap up the first day of my visit to this ancient Korean city. I will describe in a separate post my second day, hiring a bike and wondering around the different ancient temples and constructions around the core center of Gyeongju.


Going back to HCMC. Black and White

Black

if you read the wiki travel section on how to get to the city center in HCMC there is a note "Caution: some travelers have reported that taxi scams at the airport are rife” and yesterday we experienced this first hand.

piratetaxiWe took a taxi from the official taxi stand and the guy seemed to be friendly welcoming us to the city, talking about the size of the city, the attractions, etc, but I noticed the meter was running quite fast and of course when we got to the city the price of the trip was almost double compared to what we paid the last time.

When I picked my GF from the airport I paid around 180K, and this time around the meter went up to 370k! So clearly the guy was tampering with it. Additionally he wanted to short change us 30k but at least we fought that one. On the other hand I believe someone pickpocketed me a 500k note when we were going to get our dinner. grrrrrr!

Vietnam is a beautiful country and we met very nice people in the last days, but unfortunately we already experienced what I read in some travel guides and blogs: Some people think of tourists as cash cows and they are not shy in milking them in any possible way. Still if you are careful with those unscrupulous characters, it's a very enjoyable country.

White

On a more positive note yesterday we did some nice walking in the evening around the Phạm Ngũ Lão and it was very nice! There was a lot of activity around the park. Some people were playing music and some others were playing some unusual game: it looks like badminton with a similar Shuttlecockbut but instead of using a racket the players use their feet to kick it. I was just reading this sport is called Jianzi. Very entertaining.

Look at this short video I shot with some really good players in action:



We kept walking and we stumbled on a deserted cafe that looked very nice from the outside, playing some nice music so we decided to get in. We got a couple of coffee cups and the taste was just amazing! If you know me. you know how much I like coffee, so this was the perfect treat to me. K. even bought a bag of this nice coffee to bring back home.



Today we will head to Hanoi switching to the North Vietnamese part of our trip and I think we will get an Uber instead of a shady taxi!



Sunsets in Phu Quoc

Please find below some pictures of the amazing sunsets we experienced in Phu Quoc during the last couple of days:


And a short timelapse video of one of those sunsets:


This is the end of the Phu Quoc phase of this trip. Despite the bad weather at the beginning, overall it was a great experience.



Here comes the sun to Phu Quoc.

The sunny day in the video above looks very nice and peaceful, but during this trip to Vietnam we learned the hard way that the southern islands have a sub-equatorial climate and there is a reason why september is considered part of the low season: The "Wet Climate" is a reality. We arrived last Sunday and from Monday to Wednesday it rained non-stop.

You might be thinking how a refreshing shower is nice on a warm weather and I agree, but here we were experiencing torrential rainshowers with strong winds, so no chance of enjoying a "tropical shower".

We are staying in a very nice hotel close the beach but it was hard to enjoy it because of this climate conditions. When it was not raining, we had an overcast sky like this one:

Some of the brochures explain this is the monsoon season therefore it can get wet "at times". We experienced those "times" with a vengeance: On Monday we were saying "let's wait, probably it is going to get better", on Tuesday we changed to "come on, it has to get better" and then on Wednesday with some resignation and somber mood we switched to "let's go to town to do something different because it's not getting any better!".

Later on we found out on the internet that we were dealing with the tail end of the Typhoon Kalmaegi that was hitting hard china and the north part of Vietnam.

But then on Wednesday after dinner, when we came back to our room, it was dry and I noticed a clear starry sky. I told my girlfriend "look up in the sky. it's full of stars. Maybe we will be lucky with the weather on my birthday!". And indeed yesterday we had an amazing sunny day that really made a difference. Everything was nicer:

 


1. Watching the fishermen work at dawn


2. Having a nice breakfast on a table with a sea view


3. Chilling out and reading in a sunny beach


4. Grabbing a cocktail on a sofa next to the beach


5. Getting a nice dinner next to the sea, including a yummy b-day dessert :).


6. The luxury to enjoy an amazing sunset:


Today we had a second sunny day in a row so we can't complain. This was the type of vacation we were expecting when we read the information about this island and we booked the hotel for a week.


On a separate note today we found out this "Eco Resort" comes with a "Geckoland" incorporated :), plus a nasty spider that reminded me my days in southern France. Judge it for yourself:


1. Blackish gecko on the toilet next to the swimming trunks:


2. Colorful gecko inside our mosquito net covering the bed:

Getting him out of the bed / bedroom without causing him any harm was quite a story. It required: a torch, an umbrella, an empty glass and a broom. Proudly no gecko was harmed during this operation.


3. Giant gecko (~30cm) we found next to the roof.

This one was a bit scary because we found it as soon as we entered the room and turned on the lights!!


We are crossing our fingers for another sunny day tomorrow. We would settle for a cloudy but dry day.



Visiting the Saigon Opera and the amazing À Ố Show.

On the first day when I arrived to Ho Chi Minh city and I was wandering around, I stumbled on a theater that looked very European. Checking on my offline map I discovered this structure was the municipal theater known also as the "Saigon Opera".

The french architectural influence on this building is undeniable and when I came back to the hotel I read on the internet, this building was designed by French architect Ferret Eugene at the end of the 19th century when the city became the center of the Conchinchine colony.

I also read that one of the most interesting ways to visit the building was to attend one of the shows presented there and many visitors recommended in particular the “À Ố Show”.

Since it was my GF b-day and we wanted to celebrate, we decided to buy tickets for the show and were very lucky because they had a deal in place that allowed us not only to attend the show but also to get a nice dinner at a restaurant nearby for the same price. It was perfect for our celebration!

So we left the hotel, tried Uber for the first time (they are now available in HCM), went to the restaurant and ordered a set of different Vietnamese dishes and enjoyed a very nice dinner.

Then we walked to the Opera house to see the show. We didn't know what to expect. I mean, we knew it was a mixture of music, arts and acrobatics, but the description was quite generic so it could have been a kitschy tourist trap or … it was an amazing show! We were both amazed by not only the physical aspect of the acrobatics they were performing, but also by the whole artistic concept behind it.

The show doesn't have a straight storyline, but it's more like a collage of different sketches tied together with fade out and fade it effects. Each one of them is full of physical stunts, choreographies, light, traditional music and humor. So it was nice to see the opera house inside, but I completely forgot about the building once the show started.

Filming or taking pictures is forbidden (thankfully so, because it would kill the atmosphere), but they have an official video in youtube that shows an appetizer of the show:

So we had a great time and it was a very nice way to say goodbye to Saigon. Yesterday we arrived to the Island Phu Quoc.



Panoramic view of Kuala Lumpur

panoramaKL

Yesterday evening I arrived to Kuala Lumpur after an almost 3 hours bus ride from Malacca. I don't know if it was because I traveled on a Sunday but the traffic near Senawagan was pretty bad. We rode at 5 - 10 km for almost an hour so the trip was longer than expected.

Luckily I found a guesthouse close to the Kuala Lumpur train station so once I got into the Kommuter train from the Terminal Bersepadu Selatan I was here rather quickly. The first impression I have from the city while I was riding the train was that it is a huge city!.

When I woke up this morning I decided to visit the landmark that appears everywhere in the Malaysian travel guides: The Petronas Twin towers. I used the wiki from the guesthouse to find out the easiest way to get there and there was a cool budget finding: The city offers free buses between the old town and the Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC) where the towers are located. I got there, I admired the huge structures and took a couple of pictures before entering the complex:

petronas2

petronas3

petronas4

They are impressive!. But when I went to buy the tickets to get in … sad trombone … the towers are closed on Monday, so of course there was not queue to get in. It was a pity because I really wanted to get an aerial view from the city. When I got out of the ticketing kiosk I saw in the distance another very tall tower, so I made the decision to walk there and give it a try:

It turned out to be "Menara Kuala Lumpur" or "Kuala Lumpur Tower". A 421 meters high communications tower built in 1995. It's possible to visit the observation deck and the roof of the tower (where once a year they hold a BASE jump event). I visited both and you get an amazing view of the city:

aerial4

aerial2

aerial1

Before I visited KL I read it as was a huge sprawling city with "its residential suburbs seem to go on forever" and when you see it from the air you see it's indeed massive. The observation deck has signals with the different districts and wherever you look north, south, east and west, the city goes as far as you can see.

I like that the observation deck offers free field glass panels that you can use to spot different landmarks of the city. I was able to identify:


1. Petronas Towers Pinnacles:

pinnacles1


2. Sultan Abdul Samad Clock Tower

sultansamadclock


3. Huge Malaysian Flag in the Independence Square

malaysianflag

In the afternoon I visited this square and chinatown (I will post some pictures later on) and I think tomorrow I will head to the Batu caves.


Jonker Walk Night Market

Today I travelled from Singapore to Malacca using a coach service. One of the first recommendations from my host in the guesthouse where I'm staying was to visit the Jonker walk night market. She told me they close the motor traffic on the Jonker street so it becomes an open market with buzzing crowds and a variety stalls offering antiques, crafts, clothing and food of all kinds.

FridayMarket

In the afternoon I passed by the street but I didn't recognize it because its current name is different (Jalan Hang Jebat) and it was relatively quiet at that time. When I crossed the street again during the evening I couldn't miss it:

JonkerStreetStart

There was some tasty food as you can see from the gallery below, but I want to highlight is the "The coconut master": I observed at the main entrance there were many people around a stall selling coconuts and there was even some clapping once in a while, so that caught my attention. When I came closer I found out that they were staring at a skillful vendor who was hacking and peeling a coconut in such a way so he could get the whole coconut in one piece! I have never seen something like that. I couldn't resist to record a video and show the guy in action:



And afterwards I bought one of those coconuts. Here is the yummy result of his work that I enjoyed very much:


CoconutDesert


That was an amazing desert!.


 

MalaccaNightJonkerMarket
MalaccaNightJonkerMarketSep 5, 2014Photos: 13
 

 

 

 


Laundry kit completed

 

laundryready

In the picture above you can see the laundry kit I will be using during my Asian trip. It contains 2 elements:

  • A Scrubba wash bag.
  • An elastic line to hang the clothes either with a hook or a sucker.

I have to confess I was not thinking about this topic when I was preparing my trip, but a couple of months ago my brother asked me if I could give him my address because he wanted to give me a birthday gift in advance. I was really curious so when the package finally arrived here, it turned out to be a plastic bag with some scrub surface to wash clothes on the go called Scrubba. I thought it was a brilliant idea!. I was checking on youtube a couple of videos about how it should be used such as:

On the other hand last week I met a friend in Dublin and while I was discussing with her my travel preparation, she told me a friend of hers bought a portable clothes hanger line to use outdoors, so the day before I flew back to Switzerland I passed by a travel store and I got a handy elastic line for a couple of euros to complete my laundry kit.

My girlfriend is skeptic about the usefulness of this washing solution but I feel confident it is going to do the job. I hope I will save time and money. I will definitely update this post once I give it the first test drive.

 


It begins here.

Today I was grabbing lunch with a couple of former colleagues from Google and I briefly explained them my plans for the next months: I'm taking a career break and I’m traveling to Asia: I will start my trip flying to Singapore, I will then go by train to Kuala Lumpur and I will fly to Ho chi minh city to meet my dear girlfriend to start a small trip in Vietnam.

I will continue the trip on my own going to different countries and cities I always wanted to visit. I have a list of places that I would really like to see but I don't have a strict plan to follow. I want to make sure I will have enough time to enjoy the places I like the most.

MapSEA

I always loved to travel! It's extremely rewarding to treat your senses with a broad array of fresh experiences: To see different art expressions, to hear new types of music and novel sounds, to taste unique meals prepared with exotic ingredients and to see some beautiful landscapes, gives an overall rejuvenating feeling. I have been fortunate enough to visit different parts of the world but I have never embarked before on a long trip, so when I decided to take the plunge and take a career break, traveling was definitely my first option.

Every person has its own reasons to make a decision and I always thought a career break would be an interesting experience, but some of the online resources that encourage me even more to take mine were:

  • Stefan Sagmeister has a very interesting TED talk where he discusses the power of taking time off. The Austrian designer takes a sabbatical period every 7 years in order to refresh himself and get a new perspective that translates back to his work. It was very interesting to see the outcome of his Bali trip in the different projects he worked in afterwards.
  • I'm not an Apple fanboy and I would have hated to work for someone like Steve Jobs. Still I agree 100% with the message he delivered in his 2005 Standford commencement speech: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life… have the courage to follow your heart and intuition". I know too well this lesson.

So it begins here. I will update this blog before and during my trip in Asia. It's going to be an exciting adventure and I'm looking forward to it!