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

VisitorDeclaration

Ise

This is my last post from my trip to Asia, where we took a day trip from Nagoya to a town, known for its Shinto shrines, called Ise.

Unlike Shinto shrines in other places, these ones are quite simple in their architecture.

These people were trying to “listen” to the tree. I thought stethoscopes were needed to do that. Anyway, that tree trunk was huge.

Random chicken on the road. Doesn’t seem to be afraid of people.

And of course, lunch! Ise is famous for its udon, so that’s what we had at a restaurant called Ise Udon Okunoya. My lunch also came with a rice bowl with sashimi from local fish.

And I also had one piece of sushi that costed ¥1,000 (~$10). The main ingredient: Matsuzaka beef, a kind of beef that rivals even Kobe beef in quality. The beef is very soft and tender. When I put it in my mouth, I felt it melting apart by itself. $10 well spent.

Oharaimachi is a street with many traditional buildings and restaurants. There also lots of shops that sell different types of sake, and local foods for tourists.

Played this game where I shot a gun that shot out a small cork at towers of candies. Whatever I knocked down, I got to keep. Went home with a bag of candy 🙂

Links to photo albums: here

Nagoya

Next stop, Nagoya! Or as the train announcer says, “次は名古屋です!”

As usual, food was the goal. Miso-Katsu, a kind of Japanese schnitzel with with miso sauce, is a specialty of Nagoya. Yabaton was the name of the restaurant and it is one of the most famous places in Nagoya for Miso-Katsu.

Nagoya also has the largest planetarium in the world at the Nagoya City Science Museum. And they have palm trees! We went to the planetarium show too, and they showed us how various constellations and planets looked in space, but unforunately, all the explanations were in Japanese. Still, it is worth a visit for those who enjoy stargazing.

Some crazy stuff they were able to do with bubbles too.

And I found the dome and helix fossils. I just need to go to the lab in Cinnarbar Island… Now I am wondering if the museum people put those two fossils together on purpose.

I wanted to walk inside this tornado so badly.

Another specialty of Nagoya is Hitsumabushi, which is grilled eel on rice. Probably many non-Asians may think that this is weird to eat, but regardless it is very very good, but expensive. According to the local culture, there is a “standard” way to eat this. First is to eat a quarter of it as is. Second, is to add various spices like green onion, and wasabi to it and eat another quarter. Third is to mix it with the given broth and eat another quarter of it. Lastly, it is to eat the last quarter with the favoured method of the three.

In the downtown district of Sakae, I saw a Ferris wheel attached to the side of the building. I should get one for my house too.

Not sure if this is a thing in Nagoya, but someone had the great idea of mixing melon in their spaghetti batter. Step 1: Make spaghetti with melon batter. Step 2: Add whipped cream. Step 3: ???. Step 4: Profit! Apparently, the kiwi one was better, according to a friend.

Another speciality of Nagoya is Tebasaki, Nagoya-style fried chicken wings. I believe it is deep fried with a coating of sweet soy sauce. It tasted okay, I guess.

Not exactly a specialty of Nagoya, but this is raspberry Kit Kat. It is not good. Don’t try it.

As expected, epic food often makes appearances in my travelling 🙂

Links to photo albums:

Universal Studios Japan

The last time I went to Universal Studios was in California when I was 12. It was nice coming back years later and seeing the same rides that I had such fond memories of as a child. Even though this one is in Osaka, it felt like it took the best rides from the one in California (at least from 10 years ago) and put them in Japan. Warning: lot’s of spoilers for the rides!

Back to the Future is definitely one of my favourite movies and since USJ had this ride there, I had to go (even if I saw it as a kid). It was a motion simulator ride where everyone sat in a Delorean that shook as the car traveled through time to places like Hill Valley in 2015 and eras like the time of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately, the dialogue was all in Japanese!

The Delorean outside the ride definitely attracted a lot of attention too.

Parts of the park was designed to look like an American city, but with one big difference: the streets are much cleaner in Japan. Part of this pseudo-American town was a recreation of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

The big gate into Jurassic park with the vegetation was a really nice touch too.

They really did a good job in making people feel like they were actually there – complete with a 10,000V electric fence, a broken jeep and raptors.

The Jurassic Park ride was really awesome too. As the roller coaster passes the destroyed gate and electric fence, dinosaurs begin to appear, and they are screaming and roaring. The acid spraying dinosaurs spray water at the visitors, and of course at the end, the almighty T-Rex appears as the roller coaster goes through a steep drop into the water, making a huge splash. I was soaked at the end of the ride.

I forgot how awesome Terminator 3D was when I was a kid. It was cool to see Terminators at the side of the theatre light up and start shooting things. Even cooler was when the screen showed Arnold riding a motorcycle and then having a real motorcycle come out of the screen and appear on stage fighting another actor playing T-1000.

At the Jaws ride, naturally there’d be a large shark on display right outside of it. The ride took visitors on a boat ride as the shark attacks. The boat driver, wielding a shotgun, begins to defend the passengers. Lots of splashing, with a fiery ending.

Because it is Japan, there has to be cute stuff and that is Snoopy. There aren’t many things cooler than flying Snoopy’s.

If people like old school American-style diners, they have that here too!

Definitely worth a visit if one is willing to spend 7000 yen. I certainly enjoyed reliving the same things I saw when I was a kid as an adult and it gave me quite a huge feeling of nostalgia.

Links to more photos: here

Osaka

In Osaka, we began by visiting the famous shopping and food areas like Shinsaibashi, Dotonbori, and Namba. I wasn’t really there to shop so we mostly walked through the shopping streets. I’m also told that at night it is not very enjoyable walking through this area alone as there are many shady characters trying to get “business”.

The best food we ate in Osaka was definitely Yakiniku at a place called Sora (空), which means “sky”. Pieces of pre-marinated meats are cooked on the grill, and everything was delicious.

Even though we were not in Hiroshima, we got to eat Okonomiyaki again. This time, there was a grill at our table and a server at the restaurant cooked it for us while we watched.

Osaka is also famous for deep fried skewers using different foods like chicken, squid, and veggies. The skewers are served with a special sauce and according to the local culture, double-dipping is highly frowned upon. We at this at a famous Japanese skewer restaurant called Daruma (だるま) with some friends in Osaka. My personal favourite was the kind with intestines.

Osaka Castle is another well known landmark in the city. Since the many wars that the castle has been involved in since its construction in the 16th century, the castle has now been restored and the inside has been converted into a museum with a rooftop observation deck.

We also visited the Osaka Science Museum. It was full of interactive exhibits that taught various concepts in the natural sciences, like magnetism, sound, air drag, and chemical reactions. The best exhibit was definitely the one on nuclear fission.

Takoyaki, another one of Osaka’s local delicacies, was also something we had to try. The ball is made of a batter and inside it, there are bits of octopus meat, and the entire thing is cooked in a special Takoyaki grill. After it is cooked, Takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise is added. It is interesting to eat since the outer shell is quite soft, but the octopus is not. The sauce also adds some sweetness to the flavour.

While I was no stranger to Takoyaki since I have had it previously, we got to try a kind that used egg for the outer shell rather than the batter. It was definitely new and special, but I have to say the regular kind was way better.

We also stumbled onto a restaurant called the “International Beer Museum” that had different beers from around the world on tap. It had been a long time since I had a Helles, so that’s what I got. I also realized that I haven’t been posting much about Japanese beer and the reason is that it is quite easy to get the same name brands in Vancouver (with the exception of Suntory Premium Malt’s) and they taste the same too!

I also didn’t think I’d be able to eat Currywurst in Japan either. Needed way more sauce though, but I understand that kind of sauce is probably hard to come by in Japan.

And I also didn’t think I’d see an Asian person wearing Lederhosen either.

Links to photo albums:

Kyoto and Arashiyama/Sagano

Arashiyama and Sagano

Visiting Arashiyama and Sagano just outside of Kyoto was probably one of the best parts of the trip. We rented bikes and leisurely biked around the area looking at the natural scenery.

And biked through a forest of bamboo.

Passing by ponds with water lilies.

And hiked up a mountain while listening with Pokemon walking music.

To see monkeys at the top.

And also to be rewarded with a mountain-top view of Kyoto.

Kyoto

In Kyoto, our trip was much more cultural, when we visited the Kinkakuji (金閣寺), a temple with gold-plated exterior walls. It is by a small lake, so one can see a clear reflection of the temple in the water.

In downtown Kyoto, we stumbled upon the Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine. The entrance was illuminated by beautifully lit lanterns.

In the Higashiyama District (if I recall correctly), we saw more of the traditional architecture. Many shops here sell small trinket items and ceramics for tourists and was definitely a huge shift from the modern Japanese metropolis.

Our accommodations was quite traditional as well, complete with sliding doors, floor mats made of bamboo and futons.

Links to more photos:

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