#TRAVEL – SOUTH KOREA: THE DMZ

The North Korean way of life is perceived negatively throughout most of the western world, but many of us are equally fascinated by it. North Korea is located north of South Korea (SHOCK); the two countries have been separated since the 1950’s, and now a 150 mile long & 2 1/2 mile wide barrier runs between them. This barrier is known as the DMZ or the Demilitarized Zone.

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Anybody visiting or living in South Korea (it’s highly unlikely you’ll see many South Koreans there though) can visit the DMZ as part of a tour. The majority of the tours depart from Seoul and most companies offer both morning and afternoon options.

When I visited in 2015, I used a company called VIP Tours. They were very helpful and provided a great service. I’d recommend them!

You can check them out here VIP TRAVEL

VIP Tours and most other DMZ Tour operators offer several different options, two of the most popular being:

1) DMZ TOUR

The cheapest and most common option allows you to visit several interesting places –

The Bridge of Freedom – A park full of statues and monuments, built to console the families of both the North and South Korean people.

Dora Observatory – From here you can look into North Korea. On a clear day, it’s very impressive.

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Dorasan Station – A brand new railway station built to connect South Korea and North Korea. However, in 2008 the North Korean government stopped the service accusing South Korean government of a confrontational policy. So now it stands empty.

DMZ Theater & Exhibition Hall – Full of artifacts and information on the Korean war and the DMZ itself.

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The Third Infiltration Tunnel – My favourite part of the tour! In 1978 a tunnel was uncovered. The tunnel was built by North Koreans trying to pass under the border. The tour allows you to travel deep underground and see for yourself.

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2) DMZ & JSA TOUR

The second option allows you to visit all of the above AND the JSA or the Joint Security Area. The JSA is where North and South Koreans discuss diplomatic engagements and negotiate.  This option does cost a bit more and require a but more time, but a good experience for those who are interested.

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If you are interested in the Korean war and/or are curious about mysterious North Korea, or maybe you just have some time to kill in Seoul, I’d definitely recommend checking this tour out!

If you’re going to South Korea, make sure you take your guide to ensure you don’t miss anything –

#TRAVEL – Vietnam: Habitable Hoi An

If you only have the chance to visit one place in Vietnam, make it Hoi An!

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Hoi An is an ancient town, located on the coast in central Vietnam.

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It’s one of those places where you stay longer than initially intended. I think I ended up staying 3 days longer than planned. If it wasn’t for a flight booked to Singapore, I could have easily made it 30.

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Hoi An is a well-known hotspot on the Vietnam backpacker’s route that doesn’t shove the tourism down your throat like so many other places. However, it does have the perks of a popular place; a lot of things to do!

You can a bike (push or motor, depending on how lazy you feel) and ride around for hours absorbing the European style architecture and picturesque sights.

Bursting with nice restaurants and quirky bars, the streets are alive night and day!

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If you want a fun night and good music, don’t miss Why Not? bar

It also possesses a beach, which is a pretty nice place to lay with Mrs.Sunshine and drink a few beers in between cooling off in the blue ocean.

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Hoi An would be considered the ‘whole package’ to many backpackers. It has a lot of history, many activities to do and things to see, good nightlife and a beach!

It’s a winner!

Discover more of Vietnam, with this …

#TRAVEL – JAPAN: 3 Attractions of Arashiyama

Kyoto is well known in Japan for being an historical and picturesque part of the country, as many travel articles you read to encourage you to visit.

#TRAVEL - JAPAN: 3 Attractions of Arashiyama


Arashiyama is located in western Kyoto, and it is everything you want from Japan: it’s breathtakingly beautiful and the tranquility is gladly welcomed if you have just spent a few days in bustling Tokyo, or Osaka

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嵐山モンキーパーク


Probably the main attraction of Arashiyama is Iwatayama Monkey Park, which is located on Mt. Arashiyama. The climb to the park itself isn’t the easiest, especially when the powerful Japanese summer heat is suffocating you, but the view and the experience at the top are worth the slog. Random electric fans are strategically placed along the inclining pathway to provide some relief—just don’t forget to take water.
The park itself is a quirky little place, inhabited by hundreds of macaque monkeys who are on a mission to eat. Snacks for the monkeys can be purchased from an attendant, but feeding them is only allowed through a metal fence.
Even if adorable little monkeys aren’t your thing, then the gorgeous scenery and the panoramic view is still worth the mini-hike!

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The second biggest attraction in Arashiyama is the bamboo forest. A google search will bring up unspoiled images of gorgeous greenery and thousands of shooting stalks—unfortunately, that isn’t the reality. Like most tourist attractions, I personally found the bamboo forest overrun with people and I didn’t find the whole experience that interesting. But, as I was already in the area, I don’t regret checking it out.

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保津川下り


Whilst strolling around Arashiyama it is impossible not to notice the winding banks of the Hozugawa Kudari river. A trip down the river by boat looks quite appealing, but expensive. Due to the fact I am a poor backpacker, I didn’t splash the cash, however, If I returned I would make sure I had enough money to experience the entrancing opportunity. I did find walking along the river banks enjoyable and relaxing!


I think it is worth noting that aside from these 3 main attractions, Arashiyama is crammed with local shops, restaurants and coffee shops, that are worth checking out!

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Don’t forget your TRAVEL GUIDE –

Getting the MOST out of Angkor

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I’ve seen a lot of Angkor Guides out there that insist on providing you with an in-depth history of each temple. The thing is, you’ll see and learn as you go so there’s no need to have encyclopedic knowledge of the whole park before you get there. It can be a pain sifting through the vast amount information for the tidbits you need, so I’ve compiled a bare-bones guide on how to get the most out of the Angkor Archeological Park:

COST

1 Day Pass: $20

3 Day Pass: $40 (any 3 days within one week)

7 Day Pass: $60 (any 7 days within one month)

WHAT TO BRING

I’ve seen some extensive packing lists for exploring the Angkor complex—flashlights, compasses, maps, you name it. Honestly though, my own advice (especially for those going in the summer months) is to pack as light as possible.

-> Wear light, loose-fitting clothes in bright colors to deflect sunlight.

-> Comfortable shoes are a must—you’ll be going up and down hundreds of steep, uneven steps as you explore and you’ll be walking on rocky terrain.

-> Summer temperatures hover in the mid-90’s at best, so start each day with at least 2 large bottles of water. You can always leave one (or more) in the Tuk Tuk while you explore.

-> Sunscreen: If you tend to burn, make sure to layer it on.

DRIVER

The best way to fit in the most sights in the least time is to hire a Tuk Tuk for the day. There are countless available on the street and most hostels are more than happy to arrange one for you. Typically costing $10-$12 a day, the drive can act as your tour guide.

Believe me, they do way more than just drive—they help you with obtaining your tickets and if youget a multi-day pass they will pick you up at your hostel each morning. Many have guide books with them and will try to teach you a bit about the temples as you go and wait patiently while you explore.

-> An important side note is to LISTEN CAREFULLY. They will often tell you what entrance to meet them at and where you can find them.

FOOD

Again, this is where your driver will be a great resource. While there are plenty of carts selling drinks near the temples, food is harder to come by. Your driver will know nearby areas full of restaurants or street food, depending on your preference, and will wait while you have a lunch break (or take the opportunity to grab some food himself).

SCHEDULE

For those who are budget-conscious but still want to see the majority of temples, I’d best recommend the 3-day pass. Most drivers will have suggestions on how to spend that time, but in general:

Day 1: Use this day to do the minor outlying temples—they take longer to drive between and are harder to cram in at the end if you haven’t gotten to them yet. This is a great way to get acclimated so you can be better prepared for a more strenuous Day 2 & 3, while also seeing some more remote temples many tourists tend to miss.

Day 2: Now that you’re into the swing of things, make this your most adventurous day by getting through the largest complex, Angkor Thom, and its surrounding structures. Angkor Thom covers more than 5 square miles, at the center of which is the Bayon, recognized by its 216 stone faces.

This will also keep you close to Phnom Bakheng, the famed sunset point. It’s a must-see, but remember that it is best to get in line quickly, as it fills up long before sunset commences. Also, keep in mind that while you’ll be climbing up in the daylight, you will be descending in the dark which will indeed be more difficult.

Day 3: Angkor Wat—saving the most famous/recognizable for last is a great way to make sure you stay motivated, because by day three you may be sunburned, achey, and a little worn-out. At the same time, Angkor Wat itself is smaller compared to all you may have seen on Day 2, so you can either get a later start or an early finish to get in some much-needed relaxation.

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-Ashley

#TRAVEL: Thailand – The Charm of Chiang Mai!

Chiang Mai is a city brimming with adventure. On the outskirts of town you can ride elephants, pet tigers, or go zip lining, while in the city you can take in historical landmarks deeply sewn with Buddhist culture, sample the cuisine, or even get a Thai massage from a prison inmate (how many of your friends can say they’ve done that?).

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The most discernable aspect of Chiang Mai is clear on any tourist map—a giant square moat that previously encompassed the entire city. The moat and the city wall were originally built as defense against possible Burmese invasions, but have since become a serene aspect of the cityscape and an easy touchstone for navigation while exploring the old city.

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If you’re looking for living history, Wat Doi Suthep is by far the best recommendation I can give. Located a few miles outside the city, the temple is atop a mountain and visitors must climb 309 steps to reach the top (no worries, they sell icecream on the landing!). On the path up you’ll pass through a makeshift market of some of the best street food available—believe me, the climb is much more pleasant with a baggie of fried bananas. The temple itself is a fairly massive complex of glistening gold, with monks going about their duties while tourists and worshippers alike take in the breathtaking views of the city below.

If pressed for time, there are well over 100 temples within city limits as well, the best known of which is Wat Chedi Luang. Located near the center of the city and partially destroyed by an earthquake centuries ago, the temple grounds also house the city pillar and the most overwhelming sermon hall I’ve seen.

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So now you’ve spent your day wandering the moat and taking in temples, when evening rolls around. You’re in Southeast Asia, my friend, there’s only one thing to do—hit up the biggest night market around at Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar. With a massive array of handicrafts and every food imaginable conveniently served on skewers, the streets are so crowded you’ll feel as if you’re floating in a sea of people. Of course, even when you’re done shopping it doesn’t mean the night is over…

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One thing you’ll learn quickly in Thailand is that when someone invites you to the “disco”, don’t expect bellbottoms and the Bee Gees—turns out nightclubs are still called discotheques by the locals. Nightlife in Chiang Mai is definitely for the younger crowd, with more than a handful of clubs catering to different tastes. The biggest expat magnet by far is Zoe In Yellow, which combines a jam-packed club, low-key garden bar, and great food all at cheap prices. They hold epic parties with live music, frequent fire shows, plus they celebrate most western holidays in their own unique way.

Of course, if you’re looking for straight-up all night dancing in an all-out rave atmosphere, Bubbles should be your destination of choice. It can be a bit seedy and definitely attracts more tourists than backpackers, but still makes for a great night out.

If you plan to spend an extended amount of time in Thailand, it’s good to know that Western style places are never out of reach. John’s Place is still my favorite haunt in the city—a sports bar that perpetually plays soccer and football games while offering a variety of comfort foods and a soundtrack of classic rock. If it’s Mexican food you’re craving, Loco Elvis is the best spot to hit, directly next to Fat Elvis which serves up amazing American-style burgers with bottomless lemonade.

Chiang Mai possesses the mystical ability to provide amusement for every mood and personality—a city not to be missed!

– Ashley

If you’re heading to Thailand, don’t forget your travel guide –