Wulingyuan, China

Our adventure began by flying into the city of Zhangjiajie and getting a 40 minute ride to our hostel in Wulingyuan. Wulingyuan is one of the town areas that borders the National Park. We spent our first evening walking around by the river, through Xibu Street (tourist area) and then went to the Chang Xiang Xi show. The show was spectacular. Although parts of it were in Chinese, it was filled with quality costumes, scenery, dance and music and topped with some incredible feats of inhuman skills.

The next morning we woke up early to head to the park. Our hostel was about a 5 minute walk from the entrance. At 7:30 (when the park opened) there were tons of people headed toward the entrance. Thankfully, we had already purchased our tickets and moved onto the shuttle bus quickly. The bus was a pretty smooth ride to the Tianzi Cableway. After the cableway, we hopped on another bus to He Long Park. Here there were many viewpoints to take in the beauty of the sandstone quartz rock columns. We told our hotel receptionist we wanted to do a moderate amount of walking so she recommended that we skip the 10-mile Gallery and ride another bus down to the Yuanjiajie section of the park.

Yuanjiajie includes the Great Wall of Natural as well as the Tianbo Mansion. The trek to the Tianbo Mansion was a little perilous in parts. You hike up some stone steps and squeeze yourself between some narrow rock alleys. Just when you think you are there you must climb up and down some pretty rickety metal steps to reach the viewing platform. In my personal opinion the view wasn’t worth it. It was nice, but there were many other viewpoints that showed off the sandstone pillars in a much more spectacular fashion.

One of our last buses took us to see the Hallelujah Mountains (aka Avatar Mountains) and other sights. Now these were outstanding. The formations were unlike anything we have ever seen. They looked liked pieces of earth had be plucked and sculpted into a series of rock towers.

This area was really crowded and full of people taking photos. Instead of heading to the famous elevator we decided to head down toward the valley of the park. The Luancuan Slope was a leg breaker. We walked down about 2000+ steps. Luckily at the end there was a lovely flat walking path along the Golden Whip Stream. We meandered along the base of the rock columns and took in their insane height and width. We also spotted 5 monkeys hanging. By 4:00 we had logged almost 13 miles. We were exhausted! We headed to the hotel for a rest and then out for some Hunan cuisine for dinner.

Day 2:

Again we woke up early and headed to one of the local bus stations to head toward the “Grand Canyon” and glass bridge. Thanks to our map the locals were super nice and showed us the way to the mini bus. The scenery along the ride was lovely. Picture mountains towering over a wooded area with a river running through it. The ride on the bus was quite Chinese. Our driver weaved the bus through traffic like a pro while honking his horn about 90% of the ride.

The Glass Bridge was interesting. There was a bit of scenery to see from the bridge but mostly it was a key location for selfies. Watch your step as there were many tourist lying on the glass to get that perfect shot. I had to give it a try.

We made it over the bridge and then took a long walk down to the base of the “Grand Canyon.” The walk was lovely. The lush mountain cliffs surrounded us as we walked along a bubbling brook. There was one point the water changed to an aqua color that was just stunning. At the end of the walking section, there was a boat waiting to take us to the exit. The boat ride was quite peaceful and a nice finale to the hike. Our total walking distance clocked in at about 6 miles.

Overall, our trip was one of the best we have taken in China. We were definitely sore the next few days, but it was all worth it.

Notes:

1) Zhangjiajie National Park is NOT in Zhangjiajie. You can take a bus or DiDi (Chinese Uber) to the park or stay in a neighboring town such as Wulingyuan.

2)Make sure you have a English and Chinese Map. If you don’t know how to speak Chinese you can always point to the words and the staff were more than happy to show you the way.

3) There are A LOT of food options in Zhangjiajie National Park. They have Chinese snacks, fruit, veggies, McDonald’s and KFC. Unless you have a pretty restrictive diet we recommend bringing a few snack and water.

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Nusa Islands, Indonesia

Our arrival back in the Bali airport was welcomed with a rush and anxiety. Due to a canceled flight, we were arriving to Bali a day later than planned. We had a fantastic hotel reserved in Nusa Lembongan for that evening. The only problem was that Nusa Lembongan is a different island, and the last boat was at 5:30PM. Standing in the customs line, I looked at the time…4:00PM. We still had a chance. After making it through customs we rushed through a seemingly never ending crowed of tourists. 
“Taxi?”
“Yes, we need to go to Sanur beach, how much?”
“300,000” (This price can certainly be negotiated, and is equal to about 20USD). We had no time to negotiate, so I quickly accepted and briskly walked to a nearby car. When we told our driver we needed to get to Nusa Lembongan, he showed us the time, 4:30. “Too late,” he said. “Let’s just try.” was my response.
Our driver certainly earned a solid tip as he weaved through motorbikes and cars to get us the the “port” as quickly as possible. Upon arrival in Sanur Beach, we found a parking lot near the boats, and our driver helped us carry our bags to where we could buy tickets. The last moments were a rushed blur as we bouught our tickets for the boat, tipped our driver for his excellent efforts and trudge through water onto our boat. We were off with only moments to spare. Deep calming breaths filled our lungs with relief as we looked at each other and smiled.

About 30 minutes later we arrived on the island and were given a ride to our wonderful D’ Nusa Hotel. 
After a quick moment to settle into our room we headed down to the pool and private beach to watch the sunset. Words, and even the photos, can’t possibly do justice to the beauty of this sunset as it reflected hues from gold to purple of the water and wet sand. 
The next day we hired a scooter for the morning and explored Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan. First, we visited the Blue Lagoon on Nusa Ceningan, which also involved a beatiful drive across the yellow bridge and nearby beaches.  Next stop was Devil’s Tears and Dream Beach. Both of which were popular tourist attractions. We managed to beat some of the crowds by relaxing at the double infinity pools overlooking the beach at Dream Beach Bungalows for only 50,000IDR per person.
Finally, we had lunch at Mushroom Beach before heading back to our hotel to check out and move onto our next destination.
A simple hotel shuttle, and short boat ride later and we arrived in Nusa Penida. We got a taxi driver to our hotel at Crystal Bay Bungalows. On our ride to the hotel, the driver warned us about hiring a scooter because of the poor condition of the roads and offered to be our driver. We took his card for future reference. 
Whitney’s first reaction when we arrived (I had planned all of this) was, “We are in the middle of nowhere.” This was correct, and intentionally planned. We were in a small village about a 10 minute walk from Crystal Bay Beach. Walking to the beach that afternoon we passed by locals living their daily lives, surrounded by chickens, roosters, pigs, cows and kids riding scooters around the dirt roads. 
To me, the only downside of staying in such an isolated place was the fact that the small restaurant at our hotel was the only eating option in the evening. Well that and the roosters had no idea what was an appropriate time to be crowing. (3:00am is way to early.)
The next day we hired a scooter from one of the people working at our hotel for 75,000IDR (5USD) for the day and rode to the other side of the island to see Atuh Beach and Diamond Beach for some great views, and a cooling dip in the sea.
When we got back to our place we had just enough time to head to Crystal Bay Beach again for the sunset.
One of the main reasons I chose to stay in this location was because it was close to Manta Bay, where you could go snorkeling with Manta Rays. The following morning, we took a small outrigger through some rough seas to do just that. After snorkeling around for 20 minutes we had success. A manta ray swam right below us. Seeing it’s two meter wide wingspan as it glided below was unreal. 
On our last day on the island we went to explore the best sights the island has to offer. We had a driver take us to Kelingking Beach, and Broken Beach to take in some glorious views before we headed the port to return to the main island of Bali.
Overall, the islands were well worth the visit. If you would like a taste of Indonesian island life with less tourist congestion Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida are certainly worth consideration.

Timor- Leste 🇹🇱

Timor Leste : Land of Adventure

If you are wondering where this place is or if it is even a country, chances are you are not alone. It became an independent nation in 2002, so it is one of the world’s newest countries. It is also one of the 25 least visited nations, so of course we needed to see it for ourselves.

Upon arrival in Timor Leste, aka East Timor, we were picked up by our complementary hotel driver who greeted us with cold, damp towels to cool off and some treats. At the hotel we learned that our AC was being fixed, so we needed to wait for our room. To make up for this inconvenience we were served a complimentary lunch and drinks. This sort of experience became the theme of our stay here. Things often didn’t go as planned, but the accomodating hospitality of the people helped make up for it in every way possible. Eventually, we were able to drop off our bags in our room and walk around town. We walked to the nearby waterfront park, and around the capitol building. 

Being that there are very few tourists, this walk was also accompanied by every mikrolet (small bus/vans) and taxi honking at us to see if we needed a ride. Throughout our stay we were stared at, waved at, and greeted by people pointing out that we were tourists and curious about where we were from. We later took one of these taxis to the Christo del Rei statue just outside of the city. This is basically the number one landmark in Dili and the symbol of the city. Sitting atop a hill overlooking the sea it can be seen from all over the city. Fun fact: It is the second largest statue of Jesus after the one in Rio. 

There were also some beautiful beaches to admire from the hilltop. We heard there were sometimes crocodiles in the water so we decided not to swim here. 

We then walked along the beaches back into town hoping to catch a taxi or mikrolet along the way. Unfortunately, we saw none, so after an unexpected 6km walk in the rain we made it back to our hotel. On the bright side, we got to see some very cute pigs on the beach.

The next day we planned to take a boat to nearby Arturo Island to stay there for the next two nights. However, upon checking email we learned that boats could not go to the island that day due to weather. So instead we found a new hotel and later did more walking around town. We had lunch overlooking the beach and watched a man and his son net some fish while a goat had his fill of greens.

On the way back we got lost and ended up strolling through some very local dwelling communities.

When we regained our bearings we went to the Tais Market for some souveneirs. Tais is a locally made weaving that is popular all over the country, with each area having their own unique pattern.

We arranged a driver and a guide from Island Discovery to take us to the mountain town of Maubisse the next day. We saw old forts, beautiful green mountain views, a market and traditional ”holy houses”. The holy house is a room on stilts with a thatched cone shaped roof. It is used to make sacrifices to the ancestors and every community in the district of Maubisse has their own. 

The highlight of the whole day was simply driving through the countryside and seeing a glimpse of how the people live their lives. 

Our tour guide was amazing! As we approached our hotel, he asked about our plans for the next day and helped us arrange a scooter rental. Actually, he did more than that. He recommended where we should go on the scooter, and when we got back to our hotel from dinner that night, he was there waiting with a scooter. It was $30 for the day and all we needed to do was call him to let him know when we were done with it.

After a nice morning of sleeping in we hit the road on the scooter. The excitment of maneuvering traffic through the city with a serious lack of traffic lights and meaningless stop signs was a great thrill. However, it didn’t compare to the fist clenching muddy, pothole filled roads we had to overcome as we exited the city. I couldn’t help but imagine how one of us would have reacted if the scooter slid out leaving us in a thick puddle of mud. Needless to say we made it through the mud safely with only muddy tires.

Along our way we saw an altar with a traditional Timorese architectural design made for Pope John Paul’s visit in 1989.

We also stopped to see another sight called Ai Pelo Prison. The only English information that was written had faded away. We could tell it used to be a prison because of the name, and it looked pretty old cause it was in ruins. Cool ruins none the less and the goats all around added something special to the atmosphere. 

A little bit further down the road was a small fishing town called Likisa. Here is where we found our final destination, Black Rock Restaurant. It is part of a large ”resort” on the beach, and I assume it is named for the black rock filled beach. We had a nice meal here and  brief swim before heading back to Dili.

On the way back we made one more stop at a large statue of Pope John Paul II.

After some much needed rest at the hotel, we went out for one more sight before dinner, the Santa Cruz cemetary. Here are buried many of the victims of the Indonesian massacres between 1979 and 2002.

That day we also discovered that our flight to Bali the next day had been canceled. Fortunately, we were able to reserve seats on a flight for the following day, which meant we had one more day to explore Timor Leste. We decided to take a day trip to Arturo Island since the weather was better. Yeah, this is the place we originally planned to spend most of our time. Through all of this last minute planning our hotel, The Plaza Hotel, was more than accomodating and helpful. They let us add a night to our stay and provided a car to the boat in the morning. Our driver even helped us buy the tickets.

After a long boat ride we arrived in Atauro. We walked through the nearby markets where plenty of fresh and dried fish were hanging alongside a variety of handicrafts on the beach The air was filled with the strong smell of smoke and fish to help greet us to the island. It was glorious!

We then had a leisurely walk down an isolated beach and took a nice dip in the crystal clear cool water to escape the heat.

As we awaited our flight to Bali the following day we reflected on our time here. Here are some of our impressions and tips if you are interested in visiting this country.

1. Planning in advance is not easy. There is little information online and most of it is out of date. My main suggestion for anyone considering a visit is don’t waste too much time planning the details. If you know us, then you know we live to plan and like to have everything organised in advance. While we were here we had a hotel, boat, and even our flight to Bali cancelled leaving us to do make some last plans. You just need to ask the locals for information and they are more than happy to share. 

2. Though it is a poor country, things are not cheap, especially when compared to neighboring Indonesia. Of course there are cheaper options if you can find them. For example a taxi accross town is up to $20, but you could also hire a scooter for the entire day for only $25.

3. Tourism is in its infancy. If you are looking for a nice beach side resort, beautiful beaches, and lots of tourist sights and activities, there are numerous countries nearby that offer all the above. However, if you are looking for something different with few tourists, you may wan to consider seeing this new nation for yourself.

4. Banks and credit cards are not reliable. While there are ATMs around Dili, they are usually out of order. Visa is accept at larger hotels in Dili if the machines happen to be working. Mastercard will not work anywhere in the country. The point here is, make sure you come in with plenty of cash. Their paper currency is USD, so plan on having about $100USD per day plus your $30 fee (per person) for the entry visa and you should be good to go.

Yogyakarta, Indonesia

After navigating through the tiny airport we had arrived in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. We decided on this location as it has a lot of Indonesian history to see without being overly tourist ridden. Yogyakarta is a busy place. There is traffic everywhere and shops and restaurants crammed in every spot there isn’t a house.

We stayed at the Phoenix Hotel, which was spectacular with a colonial flare. The staff were lovely, the rooms comfortable, and the pool and spa did not disappoint.

Our first day we hung out near the pool and then walked to the House of Ramitan for dinner. This spot felt so authentic. It was set up like a house with straw chairs sitting on the floor. The plates were meant to share and with about 6 selections we ate a tasty dinner for two for under $7USD!

The next day we hired a car to take us to the two famous temples Borobudur and Prambanan. Both were pretty far outside of our hotel area (1 hour +) so we hired a driver to take care of the navigating. Borobudur is a beautiful temple set in a picturesque background. It was built in the 9th century and is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. There is lush foliage all around and looming in the background is Mount Merapi. This volcano is still active and from the distance looked like it was smoking. Borobudur temple has many levels that you can climb and explore. We definitely suggest walk around all of the levels as the relief sculptures are quite interesting. Each stone is intricately carved and fitted without mortar. The sad part is that many of the sculptures are missing their heads. We were told that in past decades people would cut off the heads to sell them to European collectors. During our visit we were bombarded by students who were studying English. They wanted to practice speaking and asking questions. One of us attracted a lot of attention and was interviewed many times. We were also asked to take pictures with many families. We were happy to help, but by the 7th group of students we were ready to move on to the next sight.

We made it to Prambanan in the late afternoon. It was pouring rain. Our driver had some ponchos so we popped those on and moved through the downpour. Lucky for us it lightened up and we were able to enjoy the temple. This one, unlike Borobudur, was a complex of structures and other smaller temples. Prambanan is a Hindu temple, while Sewu Temple and the other smaller temples are Buddhist. Again the relief sculptures and architecture were amazing. The secret is to take the “train,” or in our case a tandem bike, and visit the smaller temples. We had Sewu completely to ourselves! It was great walking thorough the rubble and structures completely alone.

Our last day in Yogyakarta was a relaxing one. We slept in a little bit and then headed out to see the sites around the city. We visited the Water Palace, Underground Mosque, the Sultan’s Palace, and Marliboro Street. The Sultan’s Palace was probably the most interesting out of all of the sites. Although your movements were restricted, there was a nice museum section to look at all of the Royal artifacts. They also had live music playing for you to sit and enjoy during your visit. In the afternoon, we headed back to our hotel for one last lounge by the pool.

Later that night we went to Roaster & Bear for dinner. The food was great. They had a nice selection of Indonesian and western options as well as fabulous desserts.

Yogyakarta is a very interesting place to visit. It gives you a good peek into Javanese culture. If you aren’t into mountain climbing then we suggest 2-3 days tops in the area. The one thing we didn’t get to do was see the Ramayana Ballet perform. Sadly they didn’t have a show on any of the days in which we were in town.Check back for more of our holiday adventures! Our next stop is Timor-Leste (East Timor).

Mauritius: Week 2

If there are two things to describe Mauritius as a whole I would say breathtaking sea views and sugar cane. All over the island there are rolling hills and expansive fields filled with sugar cane. The long leaves follow the breeze as cars and motorcycles zip along the winding roads. This foliage gives the island an extremely lush look and is something that you rarely see in China. Between the sugar cane fields, town centers pop up. The houses were generally one to two floors and were made mostly of cement. Like most tropical islands, they were an array of colors from neon yellow to cobalt blue. The town centers were often congested as shoppers, cars, stray dogs, and motorcycles competed for space along the narrow streets. To an outsider it looked like mayhem.

Visiting the South

Rochester Fall is a lovely waterfall nestled in the forest. A short hike through some sugarcane fields leads you to the rushing water in about 5 minutes. If you are lucky you will meet a local man selling coconuts and the sweetest pineapple. Find a spot on the rocks and then look up. You are most likely to see some of the local teens jumping from the rock edge and/or trees. The water in the swimming hole is pretty clean and feels super refreshing on a hot day.

Chamarel Park contains Chamarel Waterfall and the 7 Colored Earths. Both sights are very intrigiung  and worth a visit if you are in the area.

Natural Beauty

In our opinion, Blue Bay had some of the better beaches and snorkeling in Mauritius. We took a glass boat ride over the coral and saw a greater variety of fish, coral, and sea life. There were small and medium fish of varying colors darting in and out of the coral. Although the coral didn’t look very healthy there was still a lot of activity. Our boat dropped us off on a semi-private beach. The sand was a beautiful white color and over looked calm aqua colored waters. Ahh paradise!

Grand Bassin is a crater lake in the interior of Mauritius. This place is a scared place to the Hindu religion. Although it was pouring rain when we visited it still was a beautiful visit. There were many worshippers visiting making their offerings for the new year.

Trou aux Cerfs is another crater area in Mauritius. The volcano is dormant and much of the crater is overgrown with foliage, but you can still see down to the bottom where there is a small lake. It was a great area to take a view of the surrounding area as well as get some exercise in.

Northern Excursion

Port Louis is the capital of Mauritius and a hub for transportation. We started the day at the waterfront area. There are lovely cafes, restaurant, and shops. We ventured to the Craft Market, which was a great place to pick up souvenirs of all types. We then proceeded to the Central Market. This bustling market is a maze of beautiful fruits, veggies, and dry goods. There were so many options to choose from. There weren’t many stalls selling cooked food that we saw (we got to the market around 11:00) so we walked outside of the market and settled on some Mauritian curry and jasmine rice. A short ride from the city center lead us to the Citadel. It was not open, but we could walk around the grounds to get a birds eye view of Port Louis.

SSR Botanical Garden is an excellent spot to cool off a little from the Mauritian sun. Well shaded, we strolled through the paths checking out the varieties of trees and flowers. There is also an old plantation style house that you can enter toward the exit of the park.

Notre Dame Auxiliatrice Church in Cap Malheureux, or the Red Roof Church, is a spectacular church located on the waterfront north of Grand Bay. The location is perfection. The small and simple church overlooks the water and the five northern islets. Walking to the back of the church many folks were lying in the sun enjoying the scenery. The combination of black volcanic rocks, blue waters, and green trees made for a perfect hour or so of relaxing.

We are so glad that we decided on taking this trip. We got in some much needed relaxing while also having the chance to explore a new area. We didn’t find the language barrier to be a problem and the food was devine. In general, the Mauritian people were very hospitable and really wanted us to enjoy the island. And that we did!

Mauritius: Week 1

In the Indian Ocean, about 2,264 miles off the coast of South Africa, lies Mauritius. This volcanic island is a country of lush green plants, turquoise waters, and a delicious mix of cuisine. For two weeks, beauty surrounded us and we soaked it up.

A good friend of ours in China is from Mauritius. About a year ago we joked that we were going to invade his homeland and just party till our feet fell off. Little did he know we were serious about heading to his gorgeous oasis. A group of us started plotting. When should we go? It just so happened that three birthdays, Christmas, and New Year’s fell over our winter holiday. What a perfect way to celebrate! Flights and villas were promptly booked.

Now Mauritius is NOT close to China at all. Think a 13-15 hour flight from Guangzhou. But, when you have a local willing to show you around you kinda have to suck it up and know that it will be totally worth it. And my goodness it was. We stayed in a rented villa in Flic-en-Flac. We were walking distance from the beach, restaurants, and bars. Flic-en-Flac isn’t a sleepy town per say, but the people often operate on island time. For many days we sat pool or ocean side and enjoyed the sun and each other’s company.

Taxi van rentals are pretty affordable so we often took them to see the sites around the island. One such adventure was to Grand Bay beach. Unlike Flic- en-Flac, the beach did not have any coral, rocks or shells posing a danger to our feet. The water was very calm and there were a number of water sports to enjoy. We took a glass bottom boat out to the coral reef. Our group snorkeled and saw a variety of fish and sea turtles. The sea turtles were a crowd favorite. It was mesmerizing watching them glide through the water like planes through the air. I think I must have took 40 photos of one turtle. The fish variety was a little subpar. There were maybe two or three types and the coral was pretty dead. Later on we went tubing, which was super entertaining. Nothing like riding around on an inflatable bed at high speed while being bounced around.

On another day we headed out on a Catamaran on the west coast of the island. We first took a small boat to see some waterfalls. The waters were strong (which made for a great waterfall) as it had been stormy during the previous week. We then took our boat to the Catamaran to enjoy some fun in the sun. And fun is what was had! The rum was flowing and the Sega music was reverberating through the air. We stopped for some snorkeling as well as at the Île aux Cerfs. The island had gorgeous sand, but was too over run by tourists.

As I mentioned, there were several people on our trip who were having birthdays. We celebrate one great occasion at Buddha-Bar Beach at the Sugar Beach Resort. The restaurant sits on the beach and had great views of the ocean and surrounding mountains. We enjoyed the delicious seafood and the excellent service.

Check back for more updates about our second week on Mauritius 🇲🇺!

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.

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.