Saturday, February 20, 2010

We Love Lotte World!

Sorry its been so long since I've written...I was good about this, but I've definitely been slacking.

So things have been relatively normal around here since we got back from Thailand. Its cold (but getting warmer already!!). All of us have hardly been working. Its the end of the school year, so there's hardly any work to do (and by hardly any, I mean zero). It was the Chinese New Year a week ago, so we had some days off school for that. My schedule has consisted of working from 9-10:30 and then going home at 10:30. I only teach one class of about 3 students, and then I get to leave. The new school year starts here on March 2nd, so this is just sort of a review for the kids I'm teaching, and a chance for them to maybe get ahead. I like working with a small group of students because I can pretty much do anything I want - we watched a Simpsons episode on the Olympics, which was awesome because the show had all the neat Olympic vocabulary I taught them, plus they totally understood what was happening in the show and it was great.

To pass the work-free afternoons, we've sort of been on a rediscover Seoul kick. We're trying to do all the things that we sort of take for granted because we're here all the time. This past Thursday, I met up with Anna and Rebecca and we went to Lotte World in Seoul. Lotte is a company that owns....pretty much everything. There's Lotte Mart (like Home Plus or Super Target), Lotte brand foods, Lotte Super (simple grocery store), and of course...Lotte World! Its an indoor and outdoor amusement park right in the middle of the city. Since its still pretty cold outside, the outdoor part of the park was closed, but we decided to explore the indoor park. I suppose its most comparable to the indoor park at Mall of America, but a little bigger.

The whole thing is sort of kitschy and definitely targeted to a younger audience, but that didn't stop us from acting like 7 year olds for the day. We started off on a ride called "The Adventures of Sinbad" which was a themed water ride that took us through the story of Sinbad. It was pretty elaborate, but of course the dialogue in each of the scenarios was in Korean so we couldn't understand everything, but it was still cute. We also stopped to watch a little parade...

We spent the day going on all of the rides, including a ride really similar to the spinning teacups at Disney World...except these were called the "drunken baskets". Interesting name for a ride designed for children. We got a little over zealous with the spinning, and were all ready to throw up after getting off.

Lotte World also has a roller coaster. The ride lasts for about a minute, but it was still fun. We also went on a ride called Pharaoh's seemed like it would be a tame ride...but ended up being a little crazy, and was basically a small roller coaster in the dark. Definitely unexpected.

Lotte World at night

Reebs and me at Lotte World
Friday night I went with Sara, Rebecca, and Anna to the Seoul Museum of Art. I hadn't been back there since my first week in Korea, but we wanted to go because there was an Andy Warhol exhibit that we really wanted to see. It was really cool to see so many of his most famous works...the Marilyn Monroes and the Michael Jacksons, and his self portraits. We went to Hongdae after that and ate at a really great Indian restaurant. Korean food is great, but sometimes we just want some diversity!

Everyone watching the Olympics? Its become quite the rivalry between the U.S. and Korea in speed skating. Cheering for the U.S. obv, but definitely happy to see Korea doing well! I think Kim Yuna (or Yuna Kim) is going to be skating this week. There is some serious pressure on her over here to win hopefully she can pull it off or she's pretty much going to disappoint everyone in this country. Sort of sad. In the states we kind of take all of our medal winning for granted, but in a small country like Korea they're just so damn proud to win any medal that they replay it over and over and over....and over. I've seen each speed skating race where a Korean medaled about 5 times now. I get it. You got a medal. So did we. Relax. But it still doesn't stop them from replaying it, and its all my students can talk about. Speed skating! Figure skating! Kim Yuna! Lee Jung Soo!

So here's a K-Pop song for all of you...I know how much you missed it. Anna introduced me to this song, and now I think we're both wishing we had never heard it. Its definitely the strangest video and overall concept to a music video that I've seen. Its called Marshmallow...and we're pretty sure the girl is falling in love with the marshmallow, because its so plump like a jelly and soft like a cookie. Those are the actual lyrics (in translation). I don't get it. I'm guessing no one else does either, but it will make you laugh.

Other than that...things are pretty much back to normal around here. Sort of boring. BUT don't you worry. Yesterday we made a list of things that we want to do here in Korea...most of them need to wait until the weather is nicer because they're outside or involve taking a trip somewhere. But in a month the weather should be warming up, especially in the south, and we'll be able to start on our list. There's still so many things we haven't done here so we're going to make sure we make them happen this spring and summer. Lots to look forward to!

"Life is known only by those who have found a way to be comfortable with change and the unknown. Given the nature of life, there may be no security, but only adventure." --Rachel Naomi Remen.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

To Bangkok and back!

Hi everyone! I know its been awhile. We're all back from Thailand safely. Let me just was absolutely amazing.

So I was thinking about how to possibly write this entry...and its going to be impossible for me to sum up the past 2 weeks concisely, but I will try to only mention the stuff worth mentioning and do my best to remember the details of those things that are. we go:

On Friday (Jan 15th), me, Sara, Rebecca, and Anna all met at the airport. We took a shuttle bus to our hotel, and stayed the night out at the airport. We woke up bright and early for our 9am flight. Our flight stopped in Beijing, where we had to go through an international transfer with some not-so-friendly Chinese customs workers. Word of advice...if you can avoid a layover in China, do it. Its annoying. Once we got through their security checkpoints, we had some time to kill in Beijing (the largest airport in the world!). We found a restaurant and had a few beers. Our flight left Beijing around 2 that afternoon and we were off to Bangkok! Five hours later...we touched down in the gateway to Southeast Asia.

Bangkok: We arrived in Bangkok around 6pm. We took a taxi from the airport to Khao San Road - the backpackers' ghetto. In Thailand, they drive on the left side of the road, which was at first a little strange for all of us, but we got over it quickly (but not before Rebecca tried to climb in the driver's seat thinking it was the passenger side). We had no reservations, so it took us a few tries at several places before we found room for the 4 of us. After we were got settled in, we hit the streets! We ate dinner at a place near our hotel and ordered a tower of beer. Eventually we bought some grasshoppers from the bug cart guy, and enjoyed our snack.

The next day we took a tuk tuk (a little motorized scooter with a cart in the back for passengers) to the weekend market. Here they sold pretty much anything you can imagine. Little trinkets and toys, home decor, pets, food, and...well just everything.

We returned back to our hotel and then ate dinner at several of the street food vendor carts, which is always good. We also were somehow brave enough to attempt to eat a scorpion. I'm not sure what we were thinking, but we all somehow managed to do it.

The next day we took a tuk tuk to the big Standing Buddha, a monk hangout(?), and finally the Grand Palace. Unfortunately I don't know much about buddhism nor Thai history to fully understand what I was seeing, but either way, everything we saw was incredible. The Grand Palace contained several different areas, and we were able to see the Emerald Buddha, which is a small buddha carved entirely out of emerald. I couldn't take pictures actually in the temple, so I don't have a clear picture of it.

After stopping for lunch, our last stop of the day was Wat Pho, which is where the Temple of the Reclining Buddha is. The Buddha was enormous - he took up the entire length of the temple!

Reclining Buddha
After that, we headed back to Khao San Road and prepared for our last night out. Sara's friend Erin, who is teaching in China, met up with us that night and joined us for about a week of our trip. We went to a club in Bangkok where we met the top actress in Thailand. We didn't even realize it until someone pointed her out to us. She was incredibly friendly and from that point on we saw posters, ads, and billboards of her all around Thailand.

Tuesday we spent the morning and early afternoon on a long tail boat. Bangkok is kind of like Venice...its built on canals, and its sinking! We took the boat through several of the canals and were able to see an entirely different side of Bangkok. It was so interesting to see the houses and shacks built up on the water. Many of them were run down and it was strange to see such poverty among the high rise apartments and the growing modernity of Bangkok (a city of nearly 8 million people). It was also fascinating to see such strong tradition still holding its place in a city over run with tourists and westerners. We ate lunch at a restaurant on the river, and then went back to Khao San Road for a few last beers before we left. Anna's friend Casey, who is teaching in Korea also, met up with us, and stayed with us for the remainder of our time in Thailand.

Koh Tao: To get to Koh Tao we took an overnight bus to Chumphon where we took a 6:30am ferry out to the island. We were pretty tired when we arrived, but also super excited to finally be on beach and also having the knowledge that we still had a full week and a half left there, we let ourselves bake in the sun for the better part of the day on Wednesday. We had a bungalow right on the beach...the ocean was literally our front yard.

The view from our bungalow front porch

Enjoying my first day on the beach!

That night, sunburned and happy, we ate dinner on the beach. Every restaurant along the beach sets up a barbeque at night, where you are able to choose your own seafood or whatever you would like. All of the seafood is fresh from the ocean, and while I'm not much of a seafood eater, I did try some crab and prawn, and I admit, it wasn't too bad!

While we were eating, we were entertained by a little French kid playing with a Thai kid. It was actually so entertaining to watch their interactions because it was obvious that they didn't speak the same language, and neither of them had learned English (they were maybe 4 years old). In Thailand, nearly everyone speaks English - even more so than in Korea, because let's face it - people who "speak" English in Korea really suck at it. Thailand is so touristy that the only way to communicate is through English even though the majority of the tourists are European and don't speak English as a first language. There are also a lot of tourists from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but hardly any from America. I think over the duration of our trip we met maybe 2 other Americans. We were all actually ok with it though, because we figured that we're a pretty decent representation of America...we weren't doing anything that anybody should be ashamed of at least. And compared to the Aussies, we looked like angels :) Anyway, watching these kids play with each other was so hilarious because the only English the Thai boy knew was "hello" and so to get the French kid's attention he would scream "HELLLLOOOOO". Really interesting to watch.

The next day we went snorkeling. We hired a boat for the morning and afternoon and headed off to Shark Bay. Our boat driver snorkeled with us and pointed out sharks that were swimming right underneath us! I hadn't actually expected to see sharks, but there they were, swimming only a few meters below us.

Where are the sharks?


We also saw a bunch of beautiful fish! After snorkeling, we boated over to Koh Nangyuan. Koh Nangyuan is actually 3 islands all connected by sandbars. We were only allowed to be on the island until 5pm though, because then the tide comes in, and there's no way to get between the 3 little islands once the sandbars are submerged. This place was probably one of the most amazing and perfect places I have ever seen. We spent the afternoon there snorkeling, sunning ourselves, and finally ending with a quick hike to the top of one of the islands where we could look out and fully appreciate the place.

Heaven on Earth
The next morning we woke up early to do some more snorkeling and then went back to the ferry port to catch our next boat.

Koh Phangan: The site of the infamous Full/Half/Black Moon parties. We took a late afternoon catamaran over to Koh Phangan from Koh Tao. We checked into our bungalows and then ate dinner at the restaurant at our resort. We decided to go out on Haad Riin Beach, so we hopped in a cab and off we went. Haad Riin Beach is where the Full Moon Party usually is held. Even though it wasn't an official party night, the beach was still full of people selling buckets of booze and flame twirlers encouraging people to participate. Naturally quiet little Anna got sucked in...and she decided to blow fire?

We were all cheering her on though, and she did great! The next day we spent time just hanging out on the beach in preparation for the Half Moon Party that night.

Outside our hotel in Koh Phangan
Anna painted everyone's faces while I did everyone's makeup so we were all looking our best for the night! Its really common for people to get paint everywhere so we decided to paint our faces up nicely. The party was really crowded and was in the middle of the jungle? There were black lights everywhere which made our face paint glow in crazy ways, and pretty much the only way to get alcohol was in the form of a naturally we each got our own :)

Erin, Anna, and me at the Half Moon Party

Sunday was spent recovering from the chaos of the night before by laying out and eating cheeseburgers at the resort. Talk about Paradise...

Koh Samui: Monday morning we took an early ferry over to Koh Samui. Koh Samui is the biggest of the islands. We took a cab from the harbor to Chaweng Beach and checked a few hotels before deciding on one near the beach. We took moped taxis to a temple where we were blessed by monks.

Tuesday we took a "safari" where we got to ride elephants, feed baby tigers, and experience the scariest trek through the jungle ever. After the animal portion of the day was done, we were supposed to go to the top of some mountain in the jungle that had a great view of Koh Samui and the ocean around it. was rainy time (i.e. it was pouring out) in the jungle and our 4x4 driver didn't seem to care. He was flying up and down the eroding clay paths that were supposed to pass for roads, taking turns too sharply and too quickly. We were in the back screaming for our lives as he calmly chatted on his cell phone and all the while a 3 year old French boy was sitting on TOP of the jeep with his parents giggling. Eventually, the rain subsided and we were able to return back safely. We never did get to the see that "great" view though...

Chaweng Beach on Koh Samui
Wednesday we had planned to leave for Phuket. This is when not having plans becomes incredibly awesome. Everyone we had talked to that had been to Phuket had nothing but bad things to say about it. But we had heard amazing things about the island of Koh Phi Phi. SO. We decided to stay another full day in Koh Samui to soak up the sun, bypass Phuket completely, and stay for 2 nights on Koh Phi Phi. Probably the best decision we made on the trip.

So Thursday we had booked tickets to get us from Koh Samui to Koh Phi Phi. And what an adventure it was. The day began at about 5:30am when we woke up. We packed up our stuff, checked out of our hotel, and were picked up by a van around 6am. From there we were taken to a ferry port, where we got a bus, which took us to another ferry port maybe only a few kilometers away (why we weren't just dropped at that one to begin with, we'll never know). We got on a ferry for about an hour and a half that took us to Surat Thani on the mainland. From there, we got back on the bus which was randomly letting people off. Eventually, we were made to get off the bus in the middle of a random town (still Surat Thani we're guessing), and made to get in the back of a giant tuk tuk with our luggage strapped on. We figured we were being brought to another bus station, but no. We were dropped off on some back road at an abandoned restaurant sort of place. We had no idea what was going on. After about 45 minutes of waiting, another bus came. We took that bus to yet another little restaurant place, where we were made to get off the bus, only to get back on 30 minutes later. This bus finally took us to the port on the other side of the mainland in Krabi, where we were able to catch our ferry to Koh Phi Phi. All in all, we had about 8 transfers, but we arrived on Koh Phi Phi at the time we had expected. Crazy. We found a place to stay on Koh Phi Phi and headed out for the night.

Koh Phi Phi: Koh Phi Phi is the island that was hit the hardest by the tsunami on December 26, 2004. Most of the footage from the tsunami you may have seen from Thailand was taken from this island. Basically, the island lost everything. Everything was flattened. As a result, much of the central town area is brand new and looks really nice. However, even 5 years later, they are still rebuilding and debris is still visible throughout the island. Its soo beautiful though. It was probably my favorite place along with Koh Tao.

Friday we spent the morning and early part of the afternoon soaking up our last day of sun on the beach. The beach was amazing and perfect and beautiful and I really can't even explain how great it was. Around 2, we got on a longtail boat that we hired for the afternoon, which took us out to Maya Bay. Maya Bay is a totally uninhabited island, where the movie "The Beach" was filmed in 2000. The tide was out when we got there, but when we left around 5, it was slowly coming back in. We watched the sunset from the boat after a quick stop on Monkey Beach. We got off the boat as the sun set on our last real day in Thailand.

Maya Bay - Where "The Beach" was filmed

Rebecca and me goofing around on Monkey Beach

Last sunset
Saturday we woke up early to catch the 11am ferry over to Phuket. We went straight from the port to the airport where we caught our flight to Bangkok. We had about 6 hours in Bangkok so we left the airport and went back to Khao San Road for some last minute shopping and a few drinks before we caught our 1am flight to Beijing. After transferring in Beijing, we arrived in Korea around noon on Sunday.

Overall, it was an unbelievable vacation with amazing people and I could not have asked for a better time. We joked the entire time that we were on the dream vacation people win in contests, and we talked about how lucky we were that not even a year out of college we were able to take and plan this vacation. Every place I go inspires me to go somewhere else. I feel like I need to see it all. Who knows where our next adventure will be...we still have some places in Korea we need to explore, and then we can begin planning our trip for this summer. Some places on the idea list...Indonesia (Bali), Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Exciting!

View of the beach on Koh Phi Phi

"I know, I know for sure that life is beautiful around the world." -- Red Hot Chili Peppers