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Asian Persuasion - June 2012

a travel blog by blondie

We love Asia, the people the art, the architecture, everything! So when Kris had to travel to Seoul for work, we figured we'd make a vacation out of it and travel also to Thailand and Japan. Maybe I'll find a few limited edition Hello Kitty trinkets. Well at a minimum, I know we will find some fun!
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Seoul Searching

Seoul, South Korea

We took off at 8am on 2 June from Orlando to Seoul - too early! Pretty good flight though, not a long layover in Detroit, and then straight to Seoul. Delta lost one of Kris' bags so we got that a few hours later (not bad actually). The Grand Hyatt Seoul is pretty nice, there is a huge gym that we have already hit up twice over the last few mornings. Normally I don't have much jet lag, but for some reason, I just couldn't stay up on Sunday when we arrived and we ended up sleeping from 5pm - 1am. Soooo now I am way off! We've been going to the gym around 3am! Yesterday, we woke up (super-early yes) and had a great breakfast in the Hyatt (club floor :)) We headed to the concierge to get some city info (awesome girl named Sonnie). Ryan is on business travel with Kris, so he accompanied us on the first day's adventures.
Sporting our gym shoes, we took a cab to the bottom of the trail leading up to the Seoul Tower (Needle), and we hiked up the hill, maybe about a half hour to the base of the Tower. We were so early, we had to wait for them to open! Kris was going to show me the tile he made me a year or so ago, but they had taken it down apparently.

The Seoul Tower is pretty cool and the theme is all about love. Love for every culture and everyone.

I sent mom a postcard from the top :)

Keeping in tradition with our locks when we travel, we added a lock to the lock tree outside of the Needle. Kris insisted on climbing all the way to the top of the highest tree and 'installing' our lock there

After we left the Needle, we went to Itaewon by the hotel for some traditional Korean lunch, but we were so early that we had to grab a beer before any places opened for lunch! After a quick lunch, we headed to the art district,Insa-dong. There were tons of streets with handicrafts and hand made art, ranging from utensils to jewelry and herbs to candles. Everything is so colorful and 'happy' here in Korea. Tons of anime characters and tasteful graffiti is everywhere. People just love to write all over the walls on the streets and markets and even inside the restaurants. We grabbed a coffee and some cake at a coffee shop where Kris had written some graffiti himself last year. Check out the photo, we added another date to it :)

After leaving Insa-dong, we headed to the fashion district, Myeong-dong in search of my favorite Singapore store, bYSI. After searching where the concierge said it would be, we were informed that it had closed. BUMMER, because I love that store! Well maybe I'll come back to this section of town to check out some other things :).
We were pretty tired, so we headed back to the hotel for some shut eye at like 5pm! Damn jet-lag!

permalink written by  blondie on June 4, 2012 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: Asian Persuasion - June 2012
tagged Korea and SeoulTower

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DMZ = wid life sanctuary, hope, and unification - at least that's what I am told

Seoul, South Korea

Tuesday Kris and Ryan left for work early, and I headed on an early morning tour to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which is a 4km area surrounding the border between North and South Korea. I was a bit disappointed because I wanted to get on the Joint Security Area (JSA) tour where you can actually go to the boarder line in the conference room where the two sides meet, but I needed to reserve that tour a few days in Advance because of security concerns. Regardless, the tour I headed on was really very interesting and kind of creepy. We took a bus an hour North of Seoul, and as we got closer to the DMZ, there was very little traffic and a lot of barbed wire alongside the road. Our tour guide was really hard to understand, but very knowledgeable and very eager to explain all about the divide and how one day the two countries will reconcile again. I know this sounds awfully simplistic, but I couldn't help but think how the thought of a line drawn and a DMZ created reminded me of my two brothers sharing a room when they were younger. They would tape a line on the floor and tell each other they couldn't cross it! Anyways, yes that was much less drama I guess than this high tension area of the world.
We first went to this little tourist resort called Imjingak, which was supposed to symbolize unity. Located just South of the DMZ, I thought it was such an odd location to be housing a carnival/amusement park (which was strangely non-operational at the moment I was there, and I wondered if it ever operated). I couldn't imagine a family randomly going to this resort for the carnival located here. I think the pinwheels in this photo are to symbolize happiness, unity and hope.

We then hopped back on our bus and headed to Dorasan Station. This station was build particularly to connect South Korea with Pyeongyang, but only operated once. It is a brand new train station that has been indefinitely closed. Again, hopes are that it will not stay this way. I never thought about it, but my tour guide asserted that South Korea is essentially an island. On a map it is a peninsula, but with the border to North Korea closed, he was correct, South Korea is essentially an island. You cannot reach any other country except by air. I thought this map of the would-be train routes was very interesting. This train station was supposed to connect South Korea with other parts of Asia and Europe.

Without getting into a history lesson, South Korea has discovered a number of tunnels built by North Korea in a probable attempt to attack Seoul from under ground. They believe that there are many more tunnels that have been built or are being built that they do not yet know about. The third tunnel that was discovered was opened for tourism, and part of our tour was this Third Tunnel. There was a very steep incline to get down to the tunnel and we were able to walk a fair way into the tunnel, which was very wet and only about 4 feet high in some places. I don't think I will ever forget the smell in the tunnel. The literature said that 30,000 North Korean troops could have fit through that tunnel in 1 hour. Most of the tour was limited photo-ops due to security concerns, so I don't have any photos.

We then headed to the Unification Observatory where I could actually see into North Korea. This photo here is the North Korean flag at the DMZ, which they built higher than South Korea's flag.

After the tour, I was glad to be back in Seoul. It's crazy to think that all of this is actually going on. But the most interesting part to me was how optimistic all of the South Korans were (at least on the tour) that one day very soon that the two countries would reunite or at least open the border back up. Everything about the DMZ was positive somehow in their eyes. The DMZ is a happy wild life sanctuary, nature preserve and all of the unification activities and tourism surrounding it were all just signs of a happy ending to come soon.

I had met a guy from New York and a girl from France on my DMZ tour, so we decided to grab some late lunch after we got dropped off. It was nice to meet a few new people since Kris had been at work the whole day and wasn't able to come with me. Once Kris got back from work, we headed out to eat at a Bulgarian place in Itaewon.

permalink written by  blondie on June 6, 2012 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: Asian Persuasion - June 2012
tagged Korea and DMZ

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Seoul Long Korea, Hello Thailand

Seoul, South Korea

Wednesday Kris had to do some work and decided to chill out at the hotel and go for a swim. We have been very good and have both hit the fabulous gym here every day so far! We were thinking of playing racquet ball or tennis but they wanted like $60 to rent the court and equipment so we passed on that. I decided to head out and do a little sight seeing and some shopping. I didn't buy anything, but I had fun people watching. Wednesday was South Korea's memorial day, so it was PACKED everywhere.
I checked out Gyeongbok Palace which was enormous and very cool. It is very typical construction of most palaces in Korea.

I also thought this photo of the 'shoe arcade' was worthy of posting. I saw this from the street corner and decided not to walk thru the mayhem. I also checked out Dotta in Dongdaemun and Myeong-dong.

We decided to head out that night and went to Hongdae area to find a bar. It was such a cool area, the University area, where lots of young people are hanging out. We grabbed a quick pizza there too. Then we ended up going to a bar underneath Mute in Itaewon. Wow so impressed with the 'mixologist' bar tenders there. They were lighting drinks on fire and making layered drinks and all kinds of interesting things.

Thursday we slept in a little (finally!), hit the gym and relaxed until our flight that early evening. Thailand here we come!

We landed in Thailand around 11pm and found a fixed price cab to take us on the hour trek to our hotel in Karon Beach Phuket. My first impression was that Thailand was a little sketchy, but hey it was late at night and the airport wasn't exactly state of the art. The people seem to be insanely hospitable, and the Hilton Arcadia hotel is insanely awesome! We got the hotel on Hilton points and a few extra dollars. I've never been much of a resort person or so I thought, but this is really a resort, and I definitely love it! Can't wait for Thailand adventure to start.

permalink written by  blondie on June 7, 2012 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: Asian Persuasion - June 2012
tagged Thailand and Seoul

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Monsoon Season in Phuket

Phuket, Thailand

We received our rental car bright and early this morning since we couldn't pick it up last night. Everyone is so friendly here so far - the culture is amazingly hospitable and sincere! Thailand, or at least Phuket, is nothing like I have ever experienced before. Kris and I are just baffled at all of the crazy things we have seen today. I think Kris said it best, it is a ghetto paradise. Unbelievably beautiful, but also almost third world looking.
Driving is definitely an interesting experience. First of all, yes, they drive on the left hand side of the road. And Kris has been challenged with not only that, but also driving a stick with his left hand. We keep making 'wind shield wiper' left had turns because the turn signal is also on the other side. Driving anywhere definitely takes a while because the roads are very narrow and we are sharing them with scooters, tuk-tuks (little taxi truck thingies), elephants, cars, buses, people, you name it. It's really not that crowded, it's just a lot of things going on, plus pouring down rain here and there. But without a car, it would be difficult to see a lot of things in the short time that we have here.

Since it is monsoon season, it has been rainy on and off all day - and like 100% humidity. This is truly a jungle!! But that didn't stop us from getting out today.
Here is a snapshot from our hotel room. It is so humid that the camera fogged up as soon as we stepped outside.

We headed to the Big Buddha, which everyone said we had to see. No matter where you go around Phuket, even out at sea, you can see the Big Buddha from high up on the hill. We got there in just enough time to see Big Buddha, make a tile donation since he is still in progress, and we even got some fresh made coconut ice cream, all before it started pouring down rain.

We drove a little farther on the east side of the Island to Phuket Town and walked around the town a bit. We grabbed lunch at the a place called Kopitiam where we got some tom yum soup, more coconut ice cream, and the best ever fresh almond milk.

To watch the sunset, we drove to the southern tip of Phuket to a vista point. We hiked to the bottom of the rocks, where we spent a few hours watching the sun set, even though it was very cloudy and ready to rain again!

There was also a Buddha shrine nearby. It's amazing how there are just random Buddhist displays everywhere with little trinkets, offerings and incense. Sometimes there are beautiful elaborate displays in front of the most run-down looking buildings.

We finished off the night eating pad thai at the Pad Thai Place for 120 Baht, which is $4 USD. The operation was totally outside, and very basic - eg the dishwasher was a person 30 feet away using a bucket and a sponge. Although the food was good, I truly wondered how in the world they weren't losing money on two pad thai dinners with two drinks all for that price... and then my mind started to wonder if we were going to have stomach or other issues in the morning :)
I guess we'll find out.

permalink written by  blondie on June 8, 2012 from Phuket, Thailand
from the travel blog: Asian Persuasion - June 2012
tagged Thailand and Phuket

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Ko Phi Phi Thailand

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

I've been so blessed to be able to travel to some beautiful places in the world, but I think yesterday's trip to the islands off of Phuket just took the cake for the most beautiful place. That combined with how genuinely friendly, nice and helpful the Thais are, makes Phuket one of the best places I've traveled to ever!

I thought I could navigate us to the port so we could take a ferry to Ko Phi Phi (Islands about 42km from Phuket's East coast), but I overestimated my capabilities to figure out just exactly which port we should be heading to, and what company's ferry we were looking for. I got the departure times from the hotel and I thought I had the ferry company's name, but we ended up just stopping and and asking someone directions. Luckily the locals are super helpful and we were up early, so we had some time to spare. We ended up following a woman on a moped to Chalong port, and after talking with some folks, we ended up settling on a speed boat tour of the islands (with Anda Varee tours) which included lunch and snorkeling for 1500 baht each (about $50 USD each).

A little more than I thought we would spend for our original plan to take a ferry to the islands, but this was an all day tour, and it was sooo worth it!

We left around 9:30, and it took about an hour to get to our first stop, Maya Bay, at Ko Phi Phi Lae. They filmed part of "The Beach" here, and you can see from the photos how beautiful this beach is!

Next stop was Loh Samah Bay for snorkeling. Kris went and said the water was a little cloudy and couldn't see much. I passed to stay with our belongings. We didn't plan to exactly do this tour, so we had a few cell phones we probably shouldn't have brought.

We went through Pilleh Cove, where the water got very shallow and was a beautiful blue green turquoise color, and then we went on to Viking cave. There is a type of bird that makes these nests I think from saliva? They are thought to have medicinal properties by the Chinese, and they are expensive. Because of this, the nests are protected, and in this Viking cave where they are plentiful, they have security guards on watch, and no tourists are allowed to visit the cave.

Monkey beach was the next stop. I really liked our guide because he was so in touch with the nature. He disapproved of feeding the Monkeys on Monkey island, because they are starting to rely only on human tourists for their food. They now bite tourists and now after generations of tourists feeding them, they are starting to have a have a hard time finding their own food. He also disapproved of feeding the fish bread, because the bread gets caught in the corals and then the fish start to attack the corals to get the bread, destroying the reefs.

We took a lunch break at Ton sai Bay on Ko Phi Phi Don, which is the largest of the Phi Phi Island group.

Then we traveled about a half hour to Ko Khai Nai, which was a tiny little island. Kris grabbed a beer and I had a coconut cocktail (fresh pineapple and coconut cut up with a machete right there!) and we swam for a while in the beautiful water. The beach had some large rocks in some places, and Kris decided to climb one in particular, and was met with the force of mother nature. The rock was sharp, and Kris had a few gashes, one in particular that was gushing blood all over. Luckily our guide had some bandages and there was another person on the trip with a similar rock cut that had to be attended to. When we got back to the hotel, we got Kris fixed up a little better by the resort nurse.

Somehow we picked the perfect day to go on the island tour. It was sunny the whole time except for about 15 minutes of rain. I did get a tid bit of sunburn on my shoulders despite my SPF 30. I think I should have reapplied after all the swimming.

So today, between my slight sunburn and Kris now impaired foot, we decided to lay low. We checked out Patong beach area where we got a few souvenirs and met an Australian couple, and I had time to hit the gym. And yes, mom, another post card for you that we mailed out today :) We also met another interesting few people in the Hyatt club where we turned the hours-devours into dinner. I also finally learned how to say hello and thank-you in Thai a bit more properly.

Tonight we took delivery of the 45kg big Buddha that Kris liked at the shop in Phuket Town called Hi.So. It's too heavy, so we'll need to figure out how to ship it tomorrow before we leave for Bangkok.

permalink written by  blondie on June 10, 2012 from Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
from the travel blog: Asian Persuasion - June 2012
tagged Thailand and Phuket

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To Bangkok or Bust...and we Busted

Bangkok, Thailand

The hour leading up to us missing our flight on Monday from Phuket to Bangkok should have been the worst part of this trip so far, but somehow we were able to turn it into something (kind of) fun!

We started the day figuring out the best way to ship our new 45kg Buddha statue that was delivered to us the night before. We knew that we would have to spend a little time figuring this out, so we had the woman at the Hilton business center help us out. Around 9:30am we popped down to the business center and she had gotten us several quotes from FedEx, All Freight, and Thai Airways. Turns out 'All Frieght' was the cheapest, so we went with them. I wrote up a good comment card for the woman's manager because she was so helpful. Kris added some additional packing materials to secure Buddha, and All Freight came to take him away. The entourage that came to pick him up was quite interesting; two little guys, a girl, and a 'Lady-man' who was extravagantly waving his hands around and thanking us profusely for coming to Phuket and Welcome to Phuket (uh even though we told him we were on our way out of Phuket). They put it in the truck and we bid farewell. It should take 20 days to get Buddha at home. I think it was around noon at that point, and we already had our stuff packed and in the car ready to go, so we took off.

For as great as i am with directions (for those of you that don't know, i am damn near a human compass and I am always our navigator) I am just as fully aware that for whatever reason I suck at military time. If I had blogged at the time of our honeymoon, i would have written about the time we missed our ferry from Ibiza to Mallorca because I bought us two tickets for 01:00 (1AM) but I had Kris and I trekking to the ferry with all of our luggage that same day at 1PM (13:00) only to find out we had missed our ferry by 12 hours. I then proceeded to lose our first class tickets so we had to sit in the lower ferry deck with no a/c and Kris almost passed out and puked. Way to go Elaine. Ok so here is lesson #2 (I'm sure there have been more incidents in between here, but none as significant as these two).

I was sure that our flight was at 2:40pm, so on our hour drive to the airport, we decided to stop at the beach for a few minutes and get a bite to eat.
We got to a cool beachside restaurant when Kris decided to double check our flight time, and we discovered our flight was at 1:40pm (13:40), which was in an hour at that point! We were still at least half hour's drive drom the airport at that point. So we quickly got up and ran back to the car and took off as fast as we (safely) could. We pulled up to arrivals and I took our bags to the counter and checked in while Kris tried to return the rental car. Well Avis proved to be extremely difficult to find and we ended up leaving the car in the arrivals lane and pleading with them to get it for us! When it was all said and done, the Avis folks seemed to be in no hurry despite our time constraint and I think we missed our flight probably by about 4 minutes. We rallied pretty quickly and were able to get another ticket on a different airline that left in a half hour. I got my bag back, but Kris' was already on its way to Bangkok.Our original flight cost us $40 per ticket and our new flight cost $80, but I guess it could have been worse. We arrived in Bangkok to find Kris' lonely bag on the belt. The 30 minute cab ride cost us all of $9. I sure love how cheap this place is!!
At least we were in good spirits when we arrived and we got to the hotel just in time to still get some snack on the club floor :)

Our hotel, Hyatt Erawan, was in a pretty good central location within the city. The Erawan shrine was also right outside of our hotel. Tuesday we headed out to see a few of the famous 'wats', Buddhist temples. We really didn't take the time in Phuket to check any out from the inside, but that's probably just as well since we enjoyed the beach and water more and there is none of that in Bangkok.

First was the Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew, which houses the Emerald Buddha. The Buddha statue fell sometime in the 15th century, and its plaster cover cracked to reveal that it was made of solid jade. It was subsequently stolen by Laos invaders in the 16th and the Thais invaded Laos 200 years later to retrieve it back. The palace was built later to house the Buddha, and it's considered the country's most revered Buddha image. This was the largest wat and very impressive! To get into this wat and some others, men need to wear pants and t-shirt at least, and women need to wear pants or a skirt and cover their shoulders. We got stopped by some scammers telling us that we could not go in because we had shorts on, and that at noon, it would be open for us to wear shorts. He offered us a tuk tuk (little motorcycle taxi thingy) ride to the nearby tourist destinations and he had a Pitt hat on and wanted to talk about Pitt. Luckily I remembered reading in my Lonelyplanet book about this scam and we declined. Apparently they try to take you to all the fake gem places and other garbage. I told Kris I wanted some street credit ha! So the Grand Palace was in fact open and I had a scarf for my shorts and Kris got the 'loaner' pants they have there onsite (you can see our awesome clothes in the photos). So the guy's 'noontime shorts are ok' scam was a load of crap.

The second wat we visited was Wat Pho, home of the reclining Buddha. This represents Buddha's passing into nirvana. It's the longest Buddha at 46 meters long and 15 meters high! Huge!

The third wat we went to was Wat Saket, the Golden Mount. This wat was up on a hill so that you could see around the city which was cool. By this third wat, Kris was starting to pass out from heat exhaustion, so we went back to the hotel to rest up a little.

Kris' foot was still hurting him, so we got the hotel's mini medical office to fix it back up again with some more steri-strips which seemed to be working well. Then we headed to the mall across the street from us to get some air conditioned food. Kris says he had his best Tom Yum soup there. I got radish cake which I loved when I was in Taiwan but somehow this wasn't as good. We've also been eating a lot of raw Thai coconuts from the street vendors and we've gotten better at bargaining for them. We were paying up to 40 Baht and we ended up with getting them for 20 Baht.
I had always wanted to try a Thai yoga massage, so I later in the day, I looked up some reputable places to get a massage. A Thai massage is a little different, where it is like a passive yoga stretching with massage and you wear clothes. We picked Health Land and Kris got a regular massage for 90 mins at 850 Baht or 28USD and I got a 2 hour Thai yoga massage for only 450Baht or only 15USD! Kris didn't like his massage much and I couldn't tell if my massage was energizing, or if I got hit by a Mac truck. It was a bit intense and I think I may have bruised a muscle or two. I woke up Wednesday morning a little sore.

permalink written by  blondie on June 14, 2012 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: Asian Persuasion - June 2012
tagged Thailand and Phuket

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