Categoryasia

Seoul

My flight back happened to have a 12-hour layover in Seoul, so I got the chance to check out Seoul again. If I had more time, I would have ventured out a bit further. Instead, I just stayed around Myeongdong and got to eat all kinds of street food.

Coming from Hanoi and their warm weather, I walked around in shorts in Seoul even in the cold while everyone was out with their winter clothes. People must’ve thought I was crazy. My flight landed early in the morning too, so I had to kill 2 hours before shops actually opened.

At the time, I had not realized that a massive protest against the government had been happening in Seoul (wiki). If I had known, I would have totally gone there instead!

Myeongdong looking quite festive this time of year!

LINE Friends! This place attracted so much attention from people wanting to take pictures, they they set up a queue for people to line up for photos.

This is Budae Jjigae. It is probably my favourite kind of Korean food. It’s got a spicy soup base, meat, mushrooms, and other things with instant noodles. It’s so simple, but so good.

Street food stand with bacon wrapped sausages, and skewers? How could I say no?

I should have tried these lobster tails. They look so good.

Not a huge fan of dessert, but it looked really cool.

Myeongdong was bustling that day.

The thing I realized that day is that the street market people can haggle in at least 3 languages: Korean, English, and Chinese, as opposed to just the native language, and English like a lot of other places. Good on them for learning all these numbers in different languages!

Link to photo album: here

Halong Bay

Another excursion from Hanoi – 2-day-1-night cruise in Halong Bay! The tour bus picked us up in the morning and we drove for a few hours to our destination. Along the way, we stopped at this sculpture making place. The garden outside was full of marble sculptures that people could buy for some thousands of dollars and get them shipped back to their home country.

After we arrived in Halong Bay, we set sail!

We got to kayak around some of the islands and visit a giant cave in one of them! Apparently my camera was so bad that all my cave pictures were blurry =/

The chefs on the boat crafted this masterpiece.

At night, we just chilled with the other travellers while looking at the night sky. It had been a while since I’d been anywhere remote enough to actually see a starry night.

The next morning, we were taken a fishing village on the water. They had a fishing boat on display and were explaining the various features of it. The fisherman can even sleep in the boat and has a way to cook on it. He can basically live out on the water.

Next, we went on a boat ride to an oyster farm.

At the oyster farm, the guide explained the process of how pearls were farmed. As a demonstration, the guide asked one of the travelers to randomly pick an oyster out of the tank. The guide took it out and immediately killed it and extracted the pearl and the rest of us immediately wondered, “did she just murder that oyster just to show us there was a pearl inside?” Kind of a waste of an oyster, but okay.

That night after the tour ended and we were all back in Hanoi, we randomly bumped into some of the British travellers that we went on the cruise with. We all went barhopping and bonded over our mutual dislike of the Trump presidency and Brexit. It was real fun!

Link to photo album: here

Perfume Pagoda

From Hanoi, we made a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda, a complex of Buddhist temples. The temples were in quite a remote area and it would have been really hard to get to these places without an organized tour. The tour bus first took us to a pier where we all got on small six person boats. Each boat was paddled by a lady, and they each paddled for an hour to go 4km. It was kind of nice to get away from the city a little bit – no more smelling exhaust and bad air.

Interesting way to paddle a barge…

Outside the Thien Tru Pagoda in the rain.

I think this was the first time I ever went to a Buddhist temple in Asia.

I think this was the place where the monks are buried.

Next, we hiked up a mountain to get to Huong Tich Cave. The cave itself is also a religious site.

Pretty amazing how the cave formed naturally over time.

Outside the entrance to the cave.

To go back, we took the same boat paddled by the same lady. Along the way, we came across a man fishing in the river. It’s just so different here compared to the lives we are used to in North America.

Link to photo album: here

Hanoi

With one week of vacation left at my job for this year, I decided to go to Hanoi, Vietnam! I chose Hanoi for a couple reasons: somewhere I’d never been, somewhere I’d like to go, and I can get cheap airfare. My plane tickets there and back only costed $630 USD through Asiana Airlines.

The weirdest part about boarding the plane: all the flight attendants just assumed I was Korean and spoke Korean to me, but changed to English for anyone that didn’t look Chinese/Japanese/Korean. I guess better to do that than to wrongly assume and speak English to actual Koreans. What’s cool about a Korean airline is that they serve Korean food like Bibimbap too. Oh, and they also asked me if I had a Samsung Galaxy Note 7. I guess that makes sense. Exploding plane… not good…

I arrived in Hanoi at night, and after a terrible night of jet lagged sleep, my adventure began.

Crossing the street on busy streets without traffic lights

Probably the biggest WTF moment I had was when I noticed that there are exactly zero traffic lights at intersections and there’s like a hundred people on mopeds crossing these intersections. People here are somehow magically able to weave through each other while crossing the intersection. People crossing the street just walk at a constant pace and just let the drivers drive around them.

The first time I crossed the street, it was like a giant leap of faith. As I’m crossing the street, I’m thinking “I wonder if this is what it feels like to know your life is about to end”. After I crossed, I thought, “Oh that wasn’t so bad”. But then there are like a dozen more intersections to cross before getting to the destination. After a while though, it definitely got easier.

There’s so many people here and the air pollution is epic

I thought I was used to large Asian cities (e.g. Hong Kong, Tokyo, etc.), but Hanoi is on a different level. The average population density of Hong Kong is about 6000 people/square km, but in Hanoi, it’s about 15000. For some reason though, it doesn’t seem like there are as many people walking around as in Hong Kong or Tokyo. Maybe it’s because they’re all driving their mopeds. It’s so crowded here that some people live in front of an unused railway track.

The streets are way less spacious too. People are always selling stuff on the side of the street, or people are parking their mopeds everywhere, so it makes it really hard to just walk in a straight line along the sidewalk. And as you’re walking, you’re constantly smelling exhaust.

Lots of cheap stuff

The street markets are often selling cheap knockoffs of things. People on the street were selling tons of North Face jackets. Apparently, they are made in Vietnam, but I have no idea whether or not the jackets here are real though, but they sure felt real. And they only cost $35 USD. I picked up two football jerseys for Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund for about $5 USD each. Dong Xuan market is another place selling tons of cheap stuff. Stores are tiny, but full of merchandise stacked up and the walkways are super narrow, but to our western standards, everything is super cheap. This is a city where a regular guy like me can walk into a Louis Vuitton store without being judged by all the people working there.

I almost bought this “Lepin” Millenium Falcon for $40 USD. The lady wouldn’t budge on her price =/.

On weekends, there’s a night market selling more cheap stuff.

They’ve got a really cool lake in the middle of the city

It was definitely the most scenic part of Hanoi that I went to.

On weekends afternoons and nights, everybody is going to Hoan Kiem Lake to hang out with their family and friends.

I wanted one of these electric cars as a kid…

Literally everybody came out to hang out that night.

At night, the lake lights up real good.

Of course, there’s the food

A while ago, there was a story about Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain eating dinner in Hanoi. Since that happened, the restaurant they went to, Bún chả Hương Liên, became famous and tons of people went there to eat the “Obama Special” – Bún chả and spring rolls. A local guide we met later in the trip told us that this restaurant is overrated, but I thought it was good. Thanks Obama!

There was also this barbecue place. There’s a giant selection of meats with different cuts and you pick which ones you want and it all gets cooked on a giant barbecue platter. Aside from the usual beef, chicken, pork, they had an entire frog. Looking back, I should have ordered it. Frog is definitely up there on my list of delicious exotic meats. If I knew Vietnamese, I would have asked them if they had dog meat because I would have ordered that for sure. We ended up picking up a few things that looked good, but had no idea what they were. One of them tasted like beef and was kind of chewy and reminded me of beef intestines that I ate in Osaka.

At one point in the trip, we got a volunteer tour guide to take us around the city to eat stuff. We help them practice their English and pay for their food, and they show us around – it’s a pretty cool idea (Hanoikids). Our guide took us to try some fried eel in a salad and some eel soup.

Our guide also took us to eat this Vietnamese version of a steamed rice roll. Not as good as the kind I eat at Dim Sum.

Everybody knows Pho. It’s a lot different than the ones I eat in Vancouver and not very comparable. The ones I ate in Hanoi were generally plainer and was less savoury. It also costs about $2.50 USD. Some people prefer this taste over the kind we get in the western world, but I would disagree.

By far the best meal of the whole trip was at “The Hung Snake Restaurant“. Yep, I got to eat an entire snake – a bamboo snake. A guy came with a sack with a snake inside. He took it out and let me hold onto it to “play” with it before eating. Sure, okay, playing with a snake is great and all, but that thing was frickin poisonous and the entire time, I was just kind of freaked out and hoped that thing didn’t bite me.

The next thing you know, the guy takes out a platter with scissors and knives like in a surgery and cuts open the snake. As it bleeds to death, he drains its blood into a glass, THEN takes out its beating heart and puts it into another glass. FINALLY, he cuts out part of the stomach and drains its stomach bile into another glass. He hands me the glass with the still beating heart and tells me to eat it. It was exactly what I came here for and it was amazing. I only wish I had chewed the heart before swallowing it instead of swallowing it whole like he told me to.

The blood and bile were mixed with some sort of alcohol and I drank those too. My friend on the other hand, could not bear to watch the snake get murdered like that and barely ate any of it when the food actually came. More for me :). All sorts of snake bits were used with different cooking styles: grilled meat, deep fried bones, deep fried skin, snake tail boiled into a soup, sauteed meat, spring rolls, steamed meat, the stomach, etc. Everything was GREAT. A++, would eat again – the king cobra next time.

In addition to snake, I also wanted to try cat meat. I asked the staff at our hostel and he told me that he knew that people did eat that sort of stuff, but wasn’t able to tell me where. Too bad. I also missed out on this silkworm omelette that they only serve in the mornings. Everywhere I saw a cat or a dog, I’d wonder if people would kidnap them and cook them =/

As usual, I drank the local beer. The Beer Corner is a popular place. It was weird to see a kid who looked about 12 pour my beer. Apparently that’s allowed around here.

Their way of life can be very simple

Just some kids playing Tug of War.

Let’s cut some hair on the side of the street.

Unique history and culture

This is a country where for so much of their history, they were conquered by someone: China, France, Japan, etc. The French left behind some of their architecture too.

Since Vietnam is a communist country, of course there has to be a statue of Lenin.

There was also an influence from Confucianism here. Enough for there to be a Confucian temple, which is also the site of the Imperial Academy, the first national university of Vietnam.

How fitting that when we were there, there were groups of students posing for pictures for graduation.

They’re really proud about going up against their enemies and winning

From going to museums there, they are really happy about finally having their own country back again. There were so many exhibits about their triumphs against the colonialists, against the Japanese, and eventually against the Americans. They even claim that the Americans fabricated the Gulf of Tonkin Incident as an excuse to fight in Vietnam. That could very well have been true, but everything just seemed super biased. During the war, the North Vietnamese shot down a B-52, which they proudly display.

There’s even a bit of a B-52 in the water where it crashed. The buidings in the back are also super narrow, which was because buildings were taxed on their width (not sure if this is still the case though).

They also like to point out all the terrible things that their French conquerors did to them at the Prison Museum.

The body of Ho Chi Minh is preserved and displayed in the mausoleum. When we were there though, his body had been transported to Russia for some work, and so it wasn’t on display.

At their military museum, they went on about how they fought a war against American imperialism and showed off the weapons they used. And of course, every time I see a tank, I think “cuz baby you’re a firreeeworkkkkk” and drinking margaritas.

I think that sums up the visit to Hanoi real good!

Link to photo album: here

Not your typical “sign your life away” kind of waiver

I stumbled upon this when I was rummaging through some of my things.  It’s a waiver for visiting the Demilitarized Zone on the border of North and South Korea.  It pretty much says that my safety is not guaranteed if the North decides to attack.

The United Nations Command, the United States of America, and the Republic of Korea cannot guarantee the safety of visitors and may not be held accountable in the event of a hostile enemy act.

There’s even a section about not interacting with the soldiers on the other side too.

Fraternization, including speaking, making gestures or associating with personnel from the Korea People’s Army/Chinese People’s Volunteers (KPA/CPV) side, is strictly prohibited

Anyway, the full text is here for people who are curious

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