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Month: December 2016

Indonesia Recap

Indonesia Recap

Indonesia is a country comprised of 17,000 islands. We barely scratched the surface in our visit there, but we loved our time exploring as much as we possibly could. Scott and I flew into Bali where we spent a day or two before taking a boat to a little island called Gili Air. It was much needed time to relax and to try and get over the virus I had caught in Korea. After a few days we headed back to Bali (Ubud in particular) to meet up with one of my best friends, Lauren. We spent 3 nights in Ubud drinking fresh juice and doing yoga before heading off to a new island, Nusa Lembogan.dsc_0804

Our time in Indonesia was a great mix of relaxation and adventure. I also think that it might be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to and I am so thankful our travels took us to Indonesia. We found paradise!

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Places Visited

Kuta Beach, Gili Air, Ubud, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan (we took our bicycles over to this smaller island for a day trip)

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Things We Liked

Beautiful scenery, traveling with Lauren, surfing, seeing sea turtles (!), free breakfast everywhere, cheap, yoga, chill vibe, fresh juice, and biking. Also, the beach! The beaches were absolutely stunning.

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Things We Disliked

Trash everywhere, Kuta Beach, difficult transportation, aggressive vendors, no sidewalks, living in luxury when people have so little, bugs that bite (especially when they like to bite just me), lack of ATMs on islands, and uncomfortable/potentially unsafe boat rides to the islands.

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Highlights

1. Surfs Up!

Scott, Lauren and I decided to give surfing a try…we are so glad we did as it is so fun! We took a lesson with Newbro Surf School and our instructor Robot taught us the basics while we were still on land. We took a boat out to the break in the waves and rode the waves for the next few hours. We were all able to get the hang of it and we had so much fun! We all need some more practice, but we would all gladly get on a board again.

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2. All the Outdoor Activities

There was so much to do in Bali and the surrounding islands. In Gili Air, we went snorkeling where we saw beautiful reefs and even a sea turtle. We did a stand up paddle boarding tour at sunset. We met up with Lauren and the adventures just kept coming! We did yoga, we took a surf lesson, explored trails, and we went mountain biking a few times (a few of the times it was quite by accident, but awesome nonetheless).

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3. The Islands

We really liked Bali. It is a large island and it isn’t necessarily easy to get around from place to place. We only hit the usual places tourists hit, Ubud and Kuta. I would have liked to see more of Bali, but for me I loved all the smaller islands we visited on our trip in Indonesia.

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Gili Air is one of three islands that make up the Gili Islands (Gili Trawagaran is the largest, known for being a party island, Gili Meno is tiny and there is not much there, and Gili Air is supposed to be a perfect mix of these two islands…so Scott and I knew this was just where we wanted to be.) The only activities on the island are snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, diving, yoga, and walking around. The island was small enough where you could walk anywhere in about an hour and there were no motorized vehicles on the entire island. It was peaceful and was just what I was looking for at the time.

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dsc_0502Nusa Lembongan was totally opposite of Gili Air, but in the best way possible. There was so much to do there and you could stay there for a while and never get bored. The island is much bigger than Gili Air and most people get around by motorbike. All of us decided the safer, and maybe more fun option would be to rent bikes and explore the island. Everywhere we would go there would be another beautiful place and it never got old.  We even rode our bikes over to Nusa Ceningan which is much smaller, but equally beautiful.

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Lowlights

1. Getting Sick in Paradise

While I actually got sick in South Korea and traveled to Indonesia with a bad virus, I was sick for the first week of our time in Indonesia. Thankfully it was before Lauren arrived in Indonesia so I was able to rest and try to get completely better before she arrived, but really I would have preferred to have not been sick at all.

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View from our room in Gili Air

2. Presidential Election

I am not getting political here, but I will say it was a tough day for us. I will just leave it at that.

The Stats

Total Number of Nights: 13

Languages: Bahasa Indonesian and Balinese

Currency: $1 USD = 13,375 Indonesian Rupiah (IDR)

Number of Miles Traveled:  4,275 (including our flight from South Korea)

Number of Miles Walked:  83.8 miles (average of 6 miles per day)

Steps Taken:  180,246 steps (average of about 12,875 per day)

Transportation Used: boat, taxi, and van

Type of Accommodations: Hotel (3), guesthouse (1), plane — overnight flight (1)

Number of Beds: 5

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South Korea Recap

South Korea Recap

I am hopelessly behind on recaps and blogging in general. We spend the end of October and beginning of November in South Korea. It is now Christmas time….woops. Better late than never I think!

Arriving in South Korea we were tired. A quick-paced trip through Japan and our inability to rest while in exciting cities finally caught up with us. I had hit a wall.

I have learned that sometimes it has nothing to do with a place, but about what you need in a place at the moment. Seoul is everything I love about a city, but I just needed something else at the moment. I was craving nature, small towns, and somewhere away from Asia. Scott didn’t share my sentiments and Korea was one of his favorite places.

We met up with my cousin, Tara, on this leg of the trip! It was awesome to spend some time with her, push her out of her comfort zone (she tried so many strange foods and we were so proud!), and to learn about Korean culture from our resident expert on all things Korean. We had a great time and it made me so happy that she loved Korea so much that she extended her stay an additional two weeks after we left.

We know we will be back one day with our full energy and excitement because we really, really enjoyed this country. We liked the historic sites, the food, the culture, and all that soju.

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Places Visited
 

Seoul, Jeju Island

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Things We Liked

Kimchi, ease of transportation, traveling with family, craft beer scene, seeing friends, banchan (free sides with every meal), Korean BBQ, renting cars, HAIRCUTS, cheap booze, and seafood.

A side note – it was fall in South Korea and it was amazing to see the trees change colors, celebrate Halloween, and feel crispness in the air. We loved having a bit of fall to break up our perpetual summer.

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Stumbled upon some K-Pop concerts in Seoul

Things We Disliked

Expensive food, political unrest, cold soup (I make an exception only for gazpacho), cancelled DMZ tours, cold weather (although refreshing at times), and getting sick.

So tasty, but why does everything cost so much??
So tasty, but why does everything cost so much??

Highlights

1. Noryanjin Fish Market

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We love fish markets. If a city has a fish market you can bet we will make an appearance. The Noryanjin Fish Market in Seoul is our favorite so far. The market is open 24 hours a day and has endless types of seafood for sale. Hidden restaurants also surround the market. None of these restaurants serve their own food…they just cook what you purchase at the market and serve it to you with the appropriate sides (kimchi obviously). We decided to go to the market for dinner and pick out our own food. It was totally overwhelming and we never quite knew what was happening (knowing how to speak Korean would have been super helpful).

Here is how it works:

-You walk around from stall to stall scoping what type of seafood looks good

-You haggle for a price you are happy with or you go to another stall

-Purchase your seafood

-If you bought a live fish or sashimi they may grab the fish from the tank and kill it right in front of you before chopping it up….I passed on that and chose sashimi that was already cut (this might have not been as fresh but I was willing to take my chances)

-They put whatever you purchased in a bag (potentially still living depending on what you bought)

-A runner walks you up to a nearby restaurant where they cook your food for you and provide you with sides (for free) and alcohol for purchase

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Our restaurant was located down this alley and through some empty hallways.

We settled on some shrimp, abalone, live octopus sashimi (it wiggles as it sits on the plate and as you put it in your mouth), and a huge plate of assorted fish sashimi. It was a one of a kind dining experience and we would go back in a heartbeat!
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 2. Road Trippin’ Jeju Island

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Our GPS was entirely in Korean, but we made it work

We forgot how much freedom there is to have your own set of wheels. We rented a car in Jeju Island, as it is really the only way to see the sites on the island (and my American friend living in Seoul assured me we could handle driving). It was refreshing not to take a bus, taxi, or metro for a while! My cousin probably thought we were strange by how excited we were to have our own transportation, but after months of relying on public transportation it was AWESOME. We just couldn’t shut up about how cool it was to have so much freedom.

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Jeju Island is a popular vacation spot for South Koreans and I can totally see why. First, with $15 round trip flights it is affordable to fly there for the weekend. The island is fairly big and there are a lot of beautiful places to explore such as waterfalls, cliffs, lava tube caves and volcanoes. We checked out as many spots as we could and braved the cold for a few mini-hikes. In addition, themed museums are big on the island (Teddy Bear Museum, Puzzle Museum, Sex Museum to name a few). We stuck to exploring the outdoors mostly, although we did make a pit stop at the Haeoyeo Museum to learn about the female divers of Jeju Island.

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Lowlights

1. My Birthday

I hesitated to include this bullet point for fear of making anybody feel bad. Scott and Tara did everything perfectly on my birthday…they treated me well, took me bowling (my game has gone downhill), found Korean craft brew, and best of all found some delicious tacos and margaritas to drink! It was a perfect day with some of my favorite people!

Margaritas! They are hard to come by in Asia :)
Margaritas! They are hard to come by in Asia :)

During my birthday I may have received 3 “happy birthday!” messages because when you are in a time zone that is 15 hours ahead your birthday happens at a different time than it does in the USA. Travel can be really isolating at times and a birthday makes that perfectly clear since they are a day usually spent surrounding by friends and family.

I woke up the day after my birthday with my inbox flooding with birthday greetings. It was awesome! Thanks for the love. It was a tough day for me and it was great to have a reminder of how many people care about me.

2. Getting Sick

The entire time I was in Korea I felt slightly under the weather. It was not until the last day or two in Korea that I was full-blown sick. This came at the worst time as we also had one of the longest travel days clocking in around 30 hours to get to Bali, Indonesia. Obviously the perfect cure for a bad virus is to sleep on an airport couch in between two 5.5 hour flights!

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My airport home (this was after getting kicked out of two WAY worse setups — this couch was a serious upgrade)

3. Cancelled DMZ Tour

We (Scott and I — my cousin opted out of this tour for the record) signed up to tour the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the democratic buffer zone between North and South Korea. The DMZ is the most fortified border in the entire world. We wanted to take a tour of the DMZ, but also the Joint Security Area where negotiations between the two nations take place. It might sound unwise to go here, but it is actually a huge tourist destination and is relatively safe (as long as you follow all the instructions and don’t do anything really stupid). We were very picky with our tour operator and chose the one that works with the USO because the US Military makes us feel safer.

A few days before our scheduled tour we received an email saying that our tour was cancelled, but they could waitlist us for the tours in the next few days. We put our name on the list and hoped for the best, but no dice. We hope we get the chance one day to go to the DMZ, but for now my parents can rest easy that there are no journeys to North Korea in our future.img_7265

Matching Couples

Side note: We have noticed a trend sweeping Asia….to wear the exact same outfit as your significant other. Some couples go so far as wearing the same exact shoes. How romantic! I have loved spotting all the couples in their matching outfits and I get a big kick out of it.

I can’t tell you that Scott and I jumped on board (yet), but I did finally got photo proof of this trend. I present you with the following couple:

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The Stats

Total Number of Nights: 14

Languages: Korean

Currency: $1 USD = 1,136 South Korean Won

Number of Miles Traveled:  1,700 miles (including our flight from Japan)

Number of Miles Walked:  93.6 miles (average of 6.7 miles per day)

Steps Taken:  201,314 steps (average of about 14,280 per day)

Transportation Used: subway, airport train, plane (Seoul to Jeju Island), rental car (!)

Type of Accommodations: Hotel (1), Apartment (2), airport couch (1)

Number of Beds: 4

 

So good seeing Meredith! Although we were the kids who didn't wear a costume to the Halloween party (how embarrassing...)
So good seeing my college friend, Meredith! Although we were the kids who didn’t wear a costume to the Halloween party (how embarrassing…) she still welcomed us into her group with wide open arms!

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Angkor What?

Angkor What?

After China, we headed to Thailand to spend some quality time seeing temples and enjoying the beach. While this did happen, it did not happen quite as we thought. We spend 12 nights in Chiang Mai and decided to leave Thailand for a 9-day adventure in Cambodia. Our main purpose of coming to Cambodia was to check out Angkor Wat, a temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. We arrived in Siem Reap (by plane skipping the long journey by train/bus from Chiang Mai as it really was not that much more expensive) with only one purpose: to check out the temples!

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Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Any amount of research about Angkor Wat leads you to believe that sunrise cannot be missed. We have not come all this way to miss out on something so iconic, so we dragged our sleepy selves out of bed and our cheery tuk-tuk driver was waiting for us at our hotel at 4:45 am sharp. If you know us at all you would know that we are not huge fans of being woken up before the sun rises, ever. After a brief stop at the ticket office (and $40 later) our driver pulled up at Angkor Wat. Following the mass amounts of people (in complete darkness) we found the temple and found our spot at the reflection pool to watch the sunrise. There were crowds of people and every second there was another person asking, “Lady, breakfast for you? Coffee for you? Lady, what do you need?” It was hard to even get a picture without someone’s head or arm in it. The clouds blocked a view of the sun coming up and we were not even sure when the sun rose. It just happened…this experience was far from magical to us.

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It was incredible to see Angkor Wat and the temple itself is absolutely stunning and impressive. I would say Angkor Wat and the other surrounding temples are worth a trip to Cambodia alone. For us, the sunrise there was overrated. If I were to do it over, I would find a temple nobody goes to at sunrise and enjoy the solitude (even if this meant giving up the iconic sunrise at Angkor photo). Maybe we were just grumpy from waking up so early. Maybe it was the fact it was so cloudy you could not see the sunrise well. Maybe it was that we had a downpour 1 minute after the sun rose and got soaked (we thought we could ride it out under a tree because we were smart and brought rain jackets…we couldn’t and we stayed under that tree about 10 minutes too long. Lesson learned!). Whatever the reason was we would have chosen to either sleep in or go see sunrise somewhere peaceful.

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Tomb Raiding at Ta Phrom

Our favorite temple was also the most crowded (and the only temple we ran into tour groups everywhere). Ta Phrom is famous for being in Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. While we have never seen the movie we get why they used this temple! We thought it was stunning. The trees growing out of the ruins and the temple itself seems as if it is being swallowed by the jungle. There is moss on everything and portions of the temple were left unrestored making for some stunning visuals. There are corridors that remain impassable due to carved stones laying in the middle of them. It adds to the mysterious feel to this temple. This was the most crowded place we went to all day (well, besides the sunrise at Angkor Wat) and we still loved it. Usually crowds make us grumpy so that is saying a lot!

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Templed Out

We only spent one day at Angkor Wat exploring the temples. Although you can buy a 1-day, 3-day, or 7-day pass we settled on just the 1-day pass hoping that would be enough. One full day was enough for us to see everything we wanted to see and any more than that it might have started to feel like we were seeing the same thing over and over again. We saw enough temples that we could not remember all their names and we started to confuse everything. I would say that we could have done two days, but only if we would have seen half the number of temples we did per day. We were templed out after one day and glad we could just explore Siem Reap the next day instead of touring more temples.

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The look of someone who woke up too early, saw too many temples and had no patience for any more pictures being taken of her latte :)

Temples by Tuk-Tuk

The best way to get around Angkor Wat is to hire a tuk-tuk driver for the day. We had read that for between $15-$20 USD you could hire a tuk-tuk driver and they would stay with you the whole day. After reading some really negative experiences about hiring tuk-tuks (crazy drivers, drivers who did not show up…) we were nervous we would not have a good experience. One of the travel blogs I read occasionally posted about the best tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap and how to get a hold of hire for hire. We thought, why not? We sent an email and he got back to us almost immediately.

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We had such an awesome day getting to know Sok and learning about his life in Cambodia. Sometimes as you travel it is hard to have genuine interactions and learn about what normal life is like in a place, but we were able to learn so much from Sok! There are thousands of registered tuk-tuk drivers in Siem Reap alone and competition is fierce for work. We had such a positive experience at Angkor Wat and we can attribute some of that to our awesome tuk-tuk driver. If you are ever going to Siem Reap we would highly recommend reaching out to Sok (his contact info can be found at this link).

Temple Photos

Scott has been taking awesome pictures on this trip and we are both doing a terrible job of sharing them. So in addition to the ones from above (minus the selfies and the few of both of us taken by a bystander) here are a few more:

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