vacation

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Part Four: Birthday in Seoul!

If ever you feel sad about aging, just plan a really cool trip that will make you forget all about it! I turned the big 3-0 in Seoul this year and, up until my trip, I was a little sad. I was feeling very nostalgic and at a loss. Now that my birthday in Korea has come and gone I feel very happy and have nothing but good memories. What a great way to start a new decade!

On my birthday I decided that I wanted to catch the Seoul City Bus tour since we had been walking a lot. For about 24,000 won, which is around $20, Peter and I hopped on the bus tour. It was nice to be out of the cold for a little while.

First stop:

Deoksugung Palace

In the middle of the city lies Deoksugung Palace. We made it just in time to watch the changing of the guards.  As we entered the park, Peter spotted the gift shop where we rested and had some hot cocoa before exploring all the different buildings.

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We walked around the palace looking at all the beauty. We passed a gorgeous pond and fountain, though both were frozen, they were still pretty.

Yongsan – I Park Mall

We stopped at the I Park mall to grab a snack and buy some more winter clothes at UniQlo then caught the next bus.

Namsangol Hanok Village

By the time we arrived at this traditional Korean village, I was so sick from the bus ride. Driving in Korea is an experience all on its own. The blast of cold air was welcomed and made me feel a lot better.

We walked up a narrow street to the entrance of this village where we saw the restored homes.

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This photo shows traditional shoes warn by Koreans. There is usually someone making these shoes but I think we had arrived too late and missed the show.

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What I found most interesting were the fireplaces underneath the rooms. They were used to heat the floors and warm the room. Our hostel had heated floors; although, they weren’t heated by a fireplace.

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The village and frozen pond were lovely!

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From here we could see the N Seoul Tower, our next stop.

N Seoul Tower

The last stop on the bus tour for us was the N Seoul Tower. We made it just in time for sunset and a view of the whole city. It was amazing!

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We had a short hike from where the bus dropped us off and then a quick elevator ride up to the observation deck.

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There were TONS of people here. It was nice to see the city lights and read how far and in what direction different countries, cities, and continents are from the tower. We spent a couple of hours here and then back down to leave our lock of love on the Christmas tree.

Hongdae

Again, we ended another night in Hongdae. We found this cat café near Etude House. I was SO excited! This was on my list of things I MUST do while in Seoul.

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We took our shoes off, ordered a drink, and read the kitty rules!DSCN8017

I haven’t pet a cat in awhile and was so happy to finally get the chance. There were so many cute cats I didn’t know where to begin. I sat down on the ground and watched as the cats went about their business, which consisted of sleeping near the heater. Peter started to pet a cat when it attacked him! It was so funny and sort of sad. I guess if I were a cat in a room full of cats and people, I’d be grumpy too. I got attacked by another cat who was trying to get away from this kid who kept poking him. So I decided to just watch them and that was good enough for me!

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Next up: Goodbye Seoul!

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Part Two: Gangnam Style!

During our last trip to Boracay, PI locals would say to Peter, “Ahh Gangnam style!” We were so confused about what they meant. We found out that Gangnam is the fancy part of the city. There is a fashion district, something similar to Rodeo Drive, and tons of expensive cars. So it was a compliment, ha!

My whole Korean trip now seems to be like a dream, we did so much walking and sightseeing all while being cold. I’m pretty sure there were moments when I was near hypothermia.

The first day we had only been able to find cafés that served pastries, I wanted something a little more filling to get me through the day, so Peter found an American style diner called Travel Maker. We ate breakfast like true Americans. It was delicious!!!

I think this day was even colder than the previous. As we started walking, my sock fell off into my boot and then my boots started to go bad. In just the one day, I had walked the heels off my boots! They were now cutting into my feet and causing lots of pain. We went back to central Seoul in search of shoes at the Lotte Department store, found some, and went on about our day.

We headed to the Gangnam Tourist Center where we had just missed the tour bus. So instead we warmed up and explored the neighborhood. First stop (after tea) was Dosan Park. I can imagine during the springtime that this park is probably really beautiful, because even in the winter it was lovely.

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There were many people walking around for exercise AND there was this really cool area with gym equipment where people were working out. So, of course I had to give it a try. I wish all parks had these perks!

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I spotted a super chunky cat.

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Continued walking around the monument.

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And headed on to the next thing…

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Which was the Horim Museum.

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We walked to the Samsung building, admiring the amazing architecture along the way.

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And finally down the Rodeo Drive of Gangnam. Apparently this is where Korean movie stars come to shop; although, we didn’t see any (not that we would have recognized them) shopping in the cold!

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We stopped at a small stationary store and picked up a few Korean Christmas cards. We also went to a café called Jacob’s Ladder, which had a Christian themed menu. At the end of our Gangnam exploration, we were exhausted. We headed back to the hostel for rest.

Next Stop: Hongdae!

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There have been only a handful of times that I ever questioned my decision about moving to Guam. One of those times was the evening that I arrived on island. As the taxi pulled out of the airport and onto the road toward my new home of Tumon I noticed that most of the island was dark. I asked Peter where the city center/downtown was and he responded, “I don’t think there is one but I guess Tumon.” I looked out toward the bay, darkness, and in that moment I realized just how small Guam is.

People often ask me where the best place is to live in Guam. I have no idea. For the last three years, I’ve lived happily in Tumon. It was important that I live somewhere that was pedestrian friendly and near the beach, since I didn’t have a car. What’s the point of living on an island if I can’t walk to the beach! Although it is a little pricier than other villages, it can be done affordably. We chose to live a different lifestyle than the one we led in the states. We don’t want a car or smartphones (shock!), we rent furnished places, and try to live as minimalistic as possible. Even though we’ve lived on Guam for a few years now, we try to have fun and live like we might leave tomorrow; enjoying everything we possibly can.

If apartment hunting in Tumon, make sure that you aren’t fooled by the location of “upper Tumon.” People like to advertise as upper Tumon to charge more and make their place more appealing but, there isn’t an upper Tumon, there is just Tumon. If you can’t easily and quickly walk to the beach or you have to cross Marine Corps Drive to get to the beach, you’re not in Tumon. I consider Tumon to be From the Hilton Hotel all the way down San Vitores to Gun Beach/Fai Fai Beach and a little bit up the hill toward Tagada.

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Why I ❤ Tumon

  • Although I’m curious about life in other villages, I love Tumon because I feel like I’m on vacation. That’s partly due to all the tourists running around and having fun.
  • There’s always some form of entertainment available; whether it’s the beach, bars, coffee shops, dancing, restaurants, aquarium, parks, live bands, shopping; the list goes on and on.
  • Every hotel has different restaurants, bars, and cafes that are really good.
  • Driving down the hill after a long day at work and seeing the sparkling ocean is just another perk of living in Tumon.
  • And OH MY GOODNESS, cloudy or clear, the sunsets are ALWAYS amazing.

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  • There are so many fun and free things to do in Guam, especially Tumon, that we don’t have to spend a lot of money on entertainment if we don’t want to.
  • Any kind of food you want at all price ranges, you’ll find it in Tumon.
  • There are sidewalks up and down the main road that’s great for running or walking.
  • During my morning walk, I usually pass a foreign couple getting married at one of the many chapels that line the beach. I see them so often that I’ve noticed their weddings are all the same, but I’m sure to them it is a unique and memorable experience. Who wouldn’t want to get married in a chapel made of glass overlooking the ocean?

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  • Beach access is just a few minutes away…can’t beat that.
  • Tumon is the best place to live if you want to be in the center of all the activity and fun. There are festivals throughout the year at Ypao Beach Park and in the Pleasure Island district.

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  • It’s pretty safe and doesn’t take long for police officers to come when needed.
  • Most places have generators in case of power outages (which happen frequently).
  • Sometimes I stop to watch a fisherman throw his net to catch the really small fish near the shore. The beach is a great place for people watching.

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Things I Don’t

I wish though, that Tumon was either pedestrians only or that the weekends were, because the cars drive WAY too fast, don’t respect people walking or crossing the street, and tear up the road. During rush hour it’s really hard to get out of Tumon because of all the cars driving through trying to avoid the busy roads.

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As much as I think tourists make Guam a better place, living in Tumon has made me appreciate the towns and cities that aren’t tourist attractions. It is definitely more expensive, crowded, and fast-paced and I can see why someone might choose a different village. Although generally the tourists are fun and friendly, they seem fascinated with Peter’s and my hair. I didn’t think my hair was out-of-the-ordinary and at first I didn’t mind when they’d point at me and squeal, “kawaii, kawaii!!” and sometimes they’d ask to take pictures with me. Then one day my family and I were having a picnic when a tourist came over and pointed to Peter’s hair and then to her camera. I suddenly felt really offended like, “We’re not part of your vacation package nor are we animals in a zoo!!” I kindly said no and from that point on I decided not to let people take pictures of us anymore and to be more mindful of things that I might do when visiting foreign countries. If you can afford to visit Guam, then you probably have a T.V./internet where you can see people with curly hair.

The beaches are gorgeous, with white sand and blue water. Unfortunately there are so many hotels that have monopolized the shores, filling them with large water toys and beach chairs under umbrellas, that it’s hard to find a nice shady place to set up your own beach towel and swim.

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And of course after a busy weekend of BBQ’s there’s the garbage problem.

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There is more good to Tumon than bad and living here has allowed me to lead a completely different lifestyle than I could have in Oregon. I feel like a beach bum half of the time! I truly am lucky to have such a wonderful life, to have had many of my dreams come true, and to be able to experience life on an island. I’m glad that we chose to live this way. I feel so free and never tied down by having too much stuff. It is a great feeling and on top of that I can’t complain about the beauty that I get to see everyday by living in Tumon.

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Boracay

Philippine Vacation Video  (click the link to watch the video)-edited by Petey.

Possibly the smallest airport I’ve ever been to in the world, the flight from Manila to Kalibo airport was about 45 minutes.  As we descended toward Aklan, I could see Boracay from the plane. Boracay is famous for it’s beautiful White Beach. From the airport, we got on a bus that took us on a two hour ride across the island so that we could board a boat to Boracay. I loved the island of Aklan. It was very crowded like Manila, but much more authentic and less influenced by the world. Children walk around barefoot, people live in bamboo huts with roofs made out of leaves. It’s so peaceful and everyone seemed to be busy doing something. When we finally made it to the port to board a boat that would take us to the next island, Boracay, it was late afternoon.

I’d expected Boracay to be very laid back, quiet and a hidden gem. To my surprise, the beach was packed with tourists from all over the world. It looked as if the Las Vegas strip had moved to a tropical island! We stayed at Boracay Beach Club, located in Station 1, because of the reviews and the good deal we got. Included in our resort stay we had a daily breakfast,  free drinks, full body massage, a banana boat ride and a sunset cruise on a sailboat. Our stay at BBC was wonderful! I strongly recommend staying here. The people are very friendly, it’s across the street from White Beach, very quiet and secure. White Beach, I’ve heard, is the world’s #2 most beautiful beach. As you can see in the pictures, the sand really is white which makes the water look even prettier. The first day we arrived, we watched the sunset as we had our dinner. It wasn’t until the next morning that we were really able to appreciate the beauty of White Beach. Almost too bright to look at! We also visited Puka Beach, which is a beach made up of broken puka shells. It isn’t as busy as White Beach and the water is a bit rougher. To get there we took a motorized tricycle. This is the most commonly used way to get around the island.

Boracay’s White Beach is separated into three stations. Each station appeals to a different crowd. I think Stations 2 & 3 are the party stations, while station 1 was more for families and couples.

D Mall was about a 10 minute walk from BBC and that’s where you can find a maze of shops, vendors and restaurants. Along the way I took pictures of the radio station, school and other random things I thought were interesting. The nightlife is good, any day of the week and all night long. Lots of techno/electronic music!

In Boracay things are more expensive than Manila, but still affordable for anyone coming from a country with a good exchange rate. We had dinner at a different place each night. Around D Mall you can find ANY kind of food you want. In addition, you eat your dinner on the beach and there’s always a live band playing. It just makes the experience so much more magical! Even in Boracay there are kids that line the walk way trying to sell you things, usually beads or laser lights. I had a conversation with one of the kids who wore a feather in his hair. He said, “Here touch the beads.” As I reached my hand out to look at the necklace he was trying to sell but stopped quick when he added, “but you touch, you buy!”

The banana boat ride was fun and exciting, the sailboat cruise was beautiful but the massage was horrible. I’d never had one before and I’m not a fan of having strangers touch me so I did not enjoy this. That would be the only downside to my whole time in Boracay.

Every night at sunset, a group of birds (never figured out if they were bats or not) swarm the trees for about 10 minutes and then disappear. Every sunset was even more beautiful than the previous. The weather is less humid than Guam, but still incredibly hot!

This was a vacation I will never forget and I plan on going back. During our last day in the Philippines we found a little post office and mailed out post cards that took about a month and a half to reach their destination. It’s amazing how Boracay’s people mix with the tourists. On one side of the street you find tourists, boats, jet skis, half nude beach goers and on the other you find locals selling a bottle of Coke for 17 pesos ($0.25!) catching rides from motortrikes and going about their business. There are so many amazing things that happened, not just in Boracay but all of my Philippines vacation, that I’m probably forgetting to share. I had a great time, learned so much and can’t wait to go back. And next time…I won’t pay $25 for a cab ride!

Philippines Vacation: Manila

As I stated in a previous blog post, I took a trip to the Philippines in February for a week. One of the great things about living way out here are all the amazing islands nearby that I can visit.

Day one of the trip seemed like a week long trip itself. I’d been a little weary of this vacation because of the negative things I’d heard about the Philippines. I was trying to be open minded about everything, but the first day seemed to agree with those negative comments. The airport was very nice and the airport workers were accommodating. One of the first mistakes we made was agreeing to any price for a taxi. We paid about 1125 Philippine Pesos, which is roughly $25, to take us from the airport to Mall of Asia. DO NOT pay THAT much. We’d made this poor decision in a rush, later we found out that 275 Pesos was a good deal.

We arrived, with our luggage, at the Mall of Asia before opening time. Luckily, the mall has areas where you can leave your luggage for free and pick them up before 10pm. Once the mall opened we ate, shopped a bit and headed out to our hotel. The shopping at the Mall of Asia is OKAY. There are lots of nice stores but the prices are relatively equivalent to those in the States. If you’re not really into shopping, I say skip this. We did however watch an IMAX movie for about $10 per person! Our lunch was also about $10. The only store we spent time in was the SM department store. If you enjoy salespeople bombarding you with service, then you will like this store. I on the other hand, nearly had a panic attack. The amount of salespeople vs. the amount of customers was about 10:2. They especially like to sell to anyone who looks American. Although the prices were very good in the SM store, I couldn’t wait to get out. One interesting thing about the Philippines is that there are MANY police and security officers everywhere. So, any store or shopping center you go into you have to go through security. There are two lines, one for women and one for men where they check all bags for weapons.

After that disaster, I felt overwhelmed and had a headache. We decided to take something called a Jeepney to catch the LRT (public transportation train).  Jeepney’s are old, abandoned US Military Jeeps from WWII turned into taxi-like vehicles. The Jeepney was about 7 Pesos and was jammed packed with people. We were left near the LRT station, which we took to downtown Manila. Once you leave the nice area of the mall, everything turns out to be just as you had seen on TV. A lot of poverty, small streets, thick city life.  The LRT was also split into two sections. One for women only and one for men and women. Philippine driving is ridiculous! I don’t know how to explain it…it seemed like they had no driving rules.

We had printed a map of downtown Manila and thought we could walk to our hotel. We ended up walking through some really bad parts of the city (luggage in hand) where people were sleeping in the middle of the sidewalk, some were urinating in the open, kids asking for money, people trying to sell us mystery meat and others who looked like they were on some serious drugs. Finally, a guy driving a horse-drawn carriage came by and said it would cost 50 Pesos and he’d take us to our hotel. So we got in. He ended up taking us on an unneeded tour of downtown Manila, going through red lights and oncoming traffic with his poor, broken-looking horse. When we finally arrived at our hotel he decided to charge us 250 Pesos. At this point were were tired, grumpy and hungry and we paid it. BEWARE of that…it happened to us more than once. It was also nearly dark and our driver had advised us not to leave our hotel after dark.

We stayed in Hotel H2O merely for the in-room aquarium. The hotel’s public aquariums are a big attraction among school children and we arrived when a few schools were holding field trips. Overall, I enjoyed the hotel but it was not in a very nice part of the city and I will skip it during my next trip (yes I plan on going back!). We paid a little extra to have breakfast included in our hotel price. The breakfast was very interesting…it included normal breakfast food plus potato wedges, pasta, french fries and other random stuff. All very delicious! Our dinner there wasn’t so good though 😦 There is also a very small shopping area where you can barter with the salespeople.

We had a good laugh at the Do Not Disturb sign which read, “Disturb me not, please.” 😀

End of Day One!

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