Kaiping, China

Kaiping is most known for its Diaolou (watchtowers). Constructed until the early 20th century, these watchtowers were built by the wealthy families in the area. Many were for protection, but some structures were also used as residences.

We coordinated our visit to the Guangdong countryside with the Kaiping Music and Arts Festival. This was a two day festival that was aimed at bringing tourists to the villages to stimulate the local economy. During the day, we took bike rides around the villages and explored the watchtowers and local architecture. At night, we feasted on delicious cuisine while listening to some great local bands.

The next day, we headed to Li Garden, a UNESCO heritage site. This garden was constructed by a Chinese family that moved to America to make money to send back to China. The gardens were really lovely to walk through. The houses were in some disrepair, but I think that gave them some character.

Kaiping is nice weekend away from the big city. The villages are beautiful and the locals were open and friendly toward having us in their space for the weekend.

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Seoul, South Korea

I think my vision of Seoul was much grander than it actually was. Seoul is your average major Asian city. Tall skyscrapers with a smattering of what is was like hundreds of years ago around the city. In Seoul’s case this included the Hanok villages and the many palaces. Overall, it is a nice, clean city that is easy to get around.  Lots of people spoke English and were more than happy to help us out. We were also surprised by the number of American food chains located in the city. Our hotel was in Myeongdong and within walking distance there was a Starbucks, Burger King, Papa John’s, Popeye’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. Seoul almost felt like we were back in America.

We purchased the Discovery Seoul Pass when we arrived at the airport, thinking that it was a great way to see some fun sights while saving some money. In hindsight, it was the worst decision we made on our trip. Most of the attractions were quite lame. The palaces and a few art museums were included, but you could easily just by the tickets individually. We were also interested in the city tour buses. We had such a good experience in Australia with the hop on/ hop off bus. That was not the case with the bus included in this package. It was much quicker and more convenient to just take the metro.

Historic areas to check out included the Fortress Wall and Namsangol Hanok Village. The Hanok village was quite gimmicky, but did give outsiders a glimpse into what historic Korean homes looked like. The fortress wall was a nice urban hike. We hiked up one of the hills and got a great view of the city of Seoul. Afterward we walked down through the Ihwa Mural Village. There were a lot of great pieces of art that lined the staircases and walls of the buildings.

The N. Seoul Tower Observatory and Namsen Park was our favorite site. The observatory had two floors to take in the view of Metro Seoul. We were a little early for the foliage, but caught glimpses of the leaves turning gold and red. Outside of the tower, a free music  and martial arts show took place on the plaza. The martial arts show consisted of the many ways to use swords and spears.

Other sights we took in included the Alive Museum, which is a cheesy place to take funny photos of yourself and friends. We also checked out the Seoullo 7071 Skygarden and Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). We forgot to return to the DDP for the LED rose garden, but we did get some shopping in on the Fashion street a block away.

Alive Museum

Seoullo 7071 Skypark

Dongdaemun Design Plaza

All and all Seoul is the type of city you check out for a couple of days and move on. It is a great place to shop and pick up beauty products (SOOOOOO many cheap beauty products), but I wouldn’t say it is the place to go to gain huge insights into life in South Korea, and what makes up their culture other than the foods and language differences. As a tourist, it was a little tough to get a sense of what is Korean. Unlike China, Seoul has opened its doors to Western culture and really embraced globalization. The benefits of this being South Korea’s ability to work with other nations and accept those nations’ cultures into South Korea. On the other hand, what makes South Korea special in this big world has the possibility of getting lost in the mix.

(Note: To see our photos of the Royal Places in Seoul please refer to our next post)

Busan, South Korea

Out of all the places we went in South Korea, Busan was one of our favorites. We stayed right in the Gwangalli Beach area, which was fairly bustling considering it was October. We had the chance to visit the Busan Tower, Jagalchi Fish Market, Gamecheon Culture Village, BIFF square, and Haeundae Beach.

Gyeongju, South Korea.

Gyeongju is a smaller city located in the southeast region of South Korea. It was once the ancient capital of the Shilla Kingdom. Over time it has become an excellent location to learn more about the Korean culture of the past. Key features of the city include the Royal Tombs, the Woljeong Bridge, and the Gyochon Village. The area containing most of the touristic sights is very flat and walkable. There is also a great network of buses that cost about $2USD to ride.

The Royal Tombs are very interesting to see. Essentially, they are huge hills that have been well manicured and maintained. Inside though are remains and artifacts that are hundreds of years old. Archaeological digs are currently underway and during the early day time you may be able to see the archeologists at work.

Bulguska Temple is another major sight in the area. It is about 22 km outside of town, but very easy to get to on the public bus. The temple complex itself is beautiful and of the Buddhist faith. There are many buildings to explore and the Buddha statues were quite fascinating. After our visit we ended up at a local restaurant and enjoyed some awesome Kalguksu. Neither of us knew what we were ordering initially. Yet, when the non-English speaking owner gave her recommendation via pointing with a thumbs up, a head nod and smile, we figured it was the best option. It turned out to be delicious.

We ended our day visiting the gardens and oldest observatory in Eastern Asia as well as the Woljeong Bridge. The garden area was really spacious and a great place to walk and enjoy quality time. Even though it was October, there were still many flowers in bloom. We continued our walk out toward the Woljeong Bridge. Photos of the bridge at night are amazing. However, visiting it during the day was lovely too. This gorgeous covered bridge was originally created by the 35th king of Shilla. It was destroyed a long time ago, however, reconstruction has recently been completed. The Gyochon Village is also located right near the bridge. This village was made by the Choi Clan ( a wealthy family). There are a few museums you can visit, but we arrived too late. It was still nice to wander the streets and look at the historic houses.

The next morning, we took a stroll around Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond. The area was really peaceful and serene. Because we went so early, we had the park pretty much to ourselves. Afterward, we brunched at this amazing little restaurant near our hotel called Heester Piece. It was Devine! The brunch platter we got was almost too beautiful to eat.

Gyeongju is a place you visit when you want to delve into Korean history. The city is tourist friendly without being too claustrophobic. We enjoyed taking in some nature while also learning more about ancient culture.

Royal Palaces of Seoul

The palaces in Seoul have been restored quite a bit due to the damage that was inflicted on them in the 1590’s due to the Japanese invasion. Although the buildings are restored, they still capture the essence of Korean royal architecture. Unlike European palaces, Korean places are not very opulent. They are mostly green and red and feature tiled roofs with sparse furnishings. At Deoksugung Palace, we happened to be exiting the gates when the Changing of the Guards Ceremony was occurring. This was a really cool thing to watch as the costumes and customs were very different from anything I had seen before.

Gyeongbokgung Place

Changdeokgung and Changgyeonggung Palaces

Deoksugung Palace

Tongli, China

Just outside of Suzhou are a few famous ancient water towns. These towns give you a glimpse into what life was like in China a thousand years ago. We chose to visit Tongli because it was the closest and supposed to be quiet compared to the others. Unfortunately, all of China was on holiday, so it wasn’t exactly quiet. Instead there were hoards of families everywhere who were all trying to dodge electric scooters and bicycles. The sounds of horns/ bells, crying babies, and shop keepers yelling about their goods made it hard to picture historical life in China. Thankfully, we managed to find some quieter alleys that were much better for our eardrums.

Suzhou, China

We had a three day weekend for the Mid-Autumn Festival, so we decided to take advantage by flying up to Suzhou for the weekend. This city is about an hour east of Shanghai by train and is known as the “Venice of China” because of all the canals that run throughout the city. It is also known for its many beautiful gardens. Rather than describe the sights we enjoyed, we will share some pictures to give you a glimpse of what the city has to offer.

CANALS

Pingjiang Historical Area

Boat Cruise to Shan Street

GARDENS

Humble Administrator’s Garden

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Tiger Hill

Lingering Garden

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FOOD

Atherton Tablelands

The Atherton Tablelands is a wide area that features many small towns, outdoor adventure, and picturesque natural surroundings. We had read a lot about the waterfalls in the area so we devoted the day to waterfall hunting. With a list and a map we made it to 6 out of the top 9 waterfalls in the area.

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Malanda Falls- This waterfall is on the smaller side, but it was an easy walk from the car park.

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Milla Milla Falls has been featured in several commercials including an Herbal Essence commercial. We could definitely see why. The rock forms a curved shape with the waterfall in the center. Around the fall is an array of ferns and other tropical foliage that make it a photographer’s dream.

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Zillie Falls has a lookout platform that is a short walk from the car park. However, you can only really see the top of the waterfall. If you are feeling more adventurous we suggest hiking down toward rock pools. It is a little tricky to navigate the rocks, but the view is worth it.

Ellinjaa Falls was very lovely. There is a sizable pool at the bottom that looked nice for swimming. Watch out for the roosters and bush turkeys in the picnic area. They want your lunch!

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Mungalli Falls has two sections. The first section is right near the car park. Take an approximately 10 minute walk down the hill and you can view the lower portion of the waterfall. Again a lovely scene among the tropical landscape.

Nandroya Falls was really spectacular. It can be a little tricky to find from the road as the signage is within a camping ground. Nevertheless, the 4-6 km hike (depending on what trail you take) is worth it. Along the hike there was another little waterfall called Silver Falls. The hike isn’t too strenuous and you are rewarded greatly with a really tall waterfall that made for gorgeous scenery.

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Atherton Tablelands was a really nice day trip from Cairns. There is a lot to see and explore in the area. We highly suggest renting a car and seeing where the wind take you.

North Queensland, Australia

Cairns is a great spot to stop for several days on any east coast Australia trip. It has an international airport, and is a central point to a lot of Northern Queensland sites. Within a 3 hour driving radius there is Fitzroy Island, the Great Barrier Reef, Mossman Gorge, Atherton Tablelands, Palm Cove, and Cape Tribulation/ Daintree Rainforest. Cairns itself has a nice Esplanade, a Night Market, and several nice restaurants such as Salt House, Tandoori Oven, and Outback Jack’s Bar and Grill. If you are into the bar/ party scene there is Gilligan’s and Woolshed where there is generally a party every night of the week.

About 30 minutes from Cairns you can visit Fitzroy Island (to the east) as well as Kuranda (to the west) and Palm Cove (to the north). All are pretty touristy areas that cater to families. Fitzroy has some nice hiking as well as basic water sports.

Kuranda was known as artist/ hippie area, but now has several outdoor markets as well as a Butterfly Sanctuary and places to encounter wildlife. A short 10 minutes ride out of the central area allows you to see the lovely Barron Falls.

Palm Cove is a super cute boutique area that has a variety of accommodations (camping to luxury hotels) along a palm tree lined road that overlooks the beach. We enjoyed strolling along the main drag, grabbing a cup of coffee, and poking our head into the shops.

If you drive north 45-60 minutes you will arrive at Mossman Gorge. This area is very pretty. Sadly, we couldn’t swim in the gorge that day, but the shuttle bus still took you up to the hiking trails. The trees were unbelievable. Unlike the Redwoods, the trees here had huge buttress roots and vines that twisted and turned in every direction. We didn’t spot too much wildlife, however, there were many plants that were very unique looking.

In 60+ minutes (by boat) we arrived at the Great Barrier Reef. This was one of the highlights of our trip. We started our adventure with Reef Quest. We got on a big boat (with about 50 other people) and set out for the reef. The boat had several levels to enjoy the sea views. Our trip included two snorkel sights, snacks, lunch, and our equipment. I opted to just snorkel, while the husband tried out an introductory scuba dive. The snorkeling was unbelievable! We saw so many beautiful fish, sea turtles, giant clams, sea cucumbers, and so much coral.

The Atherton Tablelands and Cape Tribulation are about 60+ minutes to the west and north or Cairns. Both areas were so alluring that they each deserve a separate post.

All and all Cairns might not be THE target destination on your adventures, but it sure is a great jumping off point.