.. // 12:10 minute video of our trip to Japan. .. // Thanks to Maida for being my partner in crime for this one. .. // My best editing yet but not quite as exciting as the Cambodia-Mongolia Videos. .. // Love Japan, such a great country; check it out! Recommended: Change setting to 1080p using the gear icon in the lower right corner. REPEAT: IMMEDIATELY CHANGE TO 1080p I can't wait to shoot at 4K. Please change to 1080p..
Lodged between the two tourist powerhouse countries of Southeast Asia is a land that still beams with brilliant purity. An entire region that, despite becoming more popular for backpackers in the past few decades, continues to feel greatly unscathed and genuine to the core of its being. A country that many consider as a layover or pit-stop travel point for other major destinations during their journeys propelled itself into my heart at such a high velocity that within a matter of days it had become my favorite place in the world. In 2013, Cambodia took me by storm during my first visit to Southeast Asia, and I doubted any place in the world would ever top it as a place where I feel most comfortable and charmed. And while it still holds a place in my heart and always will, Laos is now #1 for me and I can say that without any hesitation. Pure. Pure. Pure. This land is pure. Even in the areas where tourism is at its peak and tries to cater to foreigners, the country somehow remains untouched at heart. The amount of hustlers and scammers is unbelievably minimal. The prices are fair. The transportation methods and vehicles are legit and trustworthy. The bathrooms are completely spectacular; always clean, and I couldn't find a single toilet that didn't have a bidet spray nozzle attached. Clean! The country is so rustic, wooden, primal, yet so clean! The food, while not reaching the ultimate epic levels that are hit in the aforementioned powerhouses of Vietnam and Thailand, is quite tasty and varied. The rice is the most sticky in the entire world and you only eat it with your hands in a ball. The meat is safe and there are many kinds to choose from. The veggies are much better than in Vietnam and Cambodia. And the western food is done well, unlike in China and Korea. Earth unscorched by construction surrounds plentifully; up and over every hilltop and mountain. Rocky but well-trodden motorbike paths wind and curve adjacent to beautiful rivers and ponds, often dotted here and there by rural huts and an ancient way of living, still-present. And always a feeling of safety and well-being, emanating from the locals and even the police and military. Smiles, but no fakeness. Haggling and bartering always possible. Expats and hostels catering to new and experienced travelers alike, auras and vibes soaring above scales of positivity. Riding a motorbike through winding paved and dirt roads of Laos is the most free one can be. Driving through this land beats driving through Vietnam by a million. These are some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth and no one should miss the opportunity to visit Laos at least once in their life. Truly one of the best places in the world and now I wonder what will top my new #1 favorite country. 20 pics we enjoyed from this place...
Part 2: Cambodia, Second Visit Having been to Cambodia two years prior, I knew what to expect and how to handle certain situations before our arrival. The difference in my perception this time was that now I had another southeast Asia country to compare it to - the entirety of Vietnam. Within minutes of arriving in the capital of Phnom Penh, evolved realizations began to strike at me repeatedly and without doubt. The serenity of the country is immensely spectacular. Amidst what many populations would view as a sprawl of urban chaos, actually exists a land that is so laid-back and calm at the core of its interior, that the spontaneity of the pedestrian traffic and street shops is actually a reinforcement of its purity rather than a demerit. Street peddlers, tuk-tuk hustlers, and a million near lawless pharmacies and pseudo-doctor's offices line the streets, and in these cases, the haggling and bartering nature can be too intense for those who are not keen to this style of life. But the difference between Cambodia and other hustling countries akin to it is that almost nobody tries to actually cheat you or rip you off. Sure, you might pay a slightly higher foreigner fee for food and transportation, but this is a necessity for the Khmer people to survive, and the heart of their society is kind, just, and not suspicious of others as many other Asian countries have proven to be. The Khmer are truly a beautiful people and have not deserved the disasters, invasions, and self-genocide that has ravaged their existence in the previous few decades and centuries. Out in the country, there is even more to be discovered than in the capital. Oxens pull carts filled with wooden logs, topped with children dancing together dangerously on top. Barbecue grandmasters grill their exotic (or barbaric, depending on your stance) meats on the side of the highway. Helmetless teenagers redline their 125cc Honda Dreams up and down bustling hillside terraces. And in the middle of the mania, you find yourself calmly breathing in the clarity of nature, settling back for sunsets of epic proportions, and generally being at peace within and without. I loved Cambodia the second time as much as I loved it the first, and I will love it as much in the third. I left a piece of myself there in 2014 and immediately met back up with that piece two years later. I hope Maida has felt the love to it as well during our 2 weeks here. And now, we move onward to Laos. I never like to compare geography, but if I were to do so now, Laos has big shoes to fill in order to match up to my favorite place in the entire world. Here are 20 pics I enjoy from the 2nd leg of our journey.
The first country in a lengthy half-dozen region trip around an entire continent is bound to come with major expectations. Some sort of explosive launch into an immersive, alternatative culture; one that leaves the previous state of daily life feeling like a dimly lit candle in a receding past that seems like a lifetime prior. Vietnam accepted this challenge and blasted back with such a hard shot of culture that I have had to plant my feet on the tropical sidewalks and local noodle houses multiple times to ground myself and be reminded that there is a long way to go and a lot more culture to experience on this adjacent peninsula land. But wow, what a ride so far. 20 days, 8 cities, and handfuls of friends (both new and old) interspersed within the domain of our plentiful route. The amount of new food sampled has been palette-bending and the quality of the historical, hybridized architecture nothing less than eye-opening. I'll tell you one thing for sure: Vietnam is an underrated country full of underrated people. It gets a bad rap in a worldwide sense... Is it because it shares so closely a border with the beautiful tropics of Thailand, or the world-reknowned citizens of Cambodia? I'm not sure, but what I do know is that I found almost zero frowns and definitely zero scams abound in my 3 weeks in Vietnam. Motorbikes whirring past plastic street food tables with local denizens moving freely across roads; no traffic laws in sight or mind. Entire boulevards assigned to one specific item with nearby hotels so cheap you could live there for a few dollars a week. Those noodle dishes for breakfast so quantified that lunch becomes no longer a certainty. The unexpected quality of the buildings, homes, and businesses in what you previously imagined as a majority 3rd world country. No... Vietnam has it all in some regard, to some degree. It may not contain that absolute and overall high standard of daily structure that westerners are used to, but those who come in with low expectations of a nation are bound to be mentally blown away in an explosion of life and movement. The complexity of the food, the price of a good time for anyone of any status, and the kindness of the people in their chaotically beautiful existences within their varied cities around Vietnam's lengthy mass are all champion level aspects of a people that have their way of life set in stone, and are ready to move faster into the new century than adjacent neighbors. As we traverse over the border into the wonderful land of Cambodia, the sights and sounds of the Viet people and culture won't be forgotten, and the positive impact the west can make on this historically chaotic place (with no thanks to us in the past) can only move forward and up. Here are a few choice shots from the first leg of our journey.
Except for my computer and a few clothes sent home, I've left Korea and sold all my possessions and everything I own except for the items in my backpack here. It feels good to not have to worry about material possessions and their constant upkeep. Without these material burdens, I feel so free to move around the world as I please. Just left Hanoi, Vietnam and heading south along the country to wind up in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and finally Myanmar. I am so relieved to disconnect from American media and politics and I can't wait to not pay attention to world news a single time until I get back to civilization. Everyone have a good first half 2016! I will update here whenever wifi strikes the jungle.
Check out the first interview of many to come I've just posted about the most populated eastern coast beach city in Korea! Pohang is a place I have been to multiple times over the years, but I was never able to dig deep enough to get my own information and pictures to a sufficient level. So I decided to interview one of my friends who has lived there for 3 years. You can check out Rafiqua's pictures and website on the page as well.
"Teacher what does this word mean?" "Chaos? Oh, chaos means like, crazy confusion." "Teacher what does confusion mean?" "Confusion means like, when your brain can't figure it out." "Teacher what is figure it out?" "Uhh figure it out is like, you know, when you solve a puzzle." "Teacher what is solve?" "Solve is like, finding the answer." "Teacher what is the answer?" "Argh. Uhh, I dunno. 42. What's the question?" "Teacher bye"
I was in the line at the fast food burger place, getting a large coffee for after-school stimulation. I received my number and sat down near the front door. Some middle school kids came in and were bouncing around. Three of them went across the room to order, while one of them stood next to me. He immediately asked my name, so I told him. Then he asked me where I live, and I said Sineum-dong, which was where we were at. After a bit more banter, I decided to try some new Korean phrases I had learned earlier in the week that I hadn't said out loud to anyone yet except for my co-teachers who helped me with learning them. So I knew my pronunciation wasn't good, but it had to be passable. Kids are the best to practice on. I won't write the Korean here, but here is how the translated conversation went: Me: "Next year I'm switching to elementary school. Which elementary school did you go to?" Kid: ::Stares blankly:: Me: "Elementary school, which? Jungang... Dong-shin... Gimcheon...?" Kid: "... Eh?" Me: ... "Where did you go to school last year?" The kid looks straight at me in the eyes and says "I no speak English". I point at my mouth and say "I'm speaking Korean". He pauses, contemplates, then jumps "OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH Speaking Korean!". Then he literally answers every previous question I had asked him like a full minute before. My coffee came out right as his friends were returning to him, so I left the restaurant and headed home. The humor of the situation didn't dawn on me until I was halfway home. I put myself in his shoes. I put myself back in America. In a Starbucks. I'm in the Starbucks, and some Asian-American walks up to me and says in choppy but legible English, Asian: "Hello. How are you? Do you live around here?" Me: :: Stare blankly at the man :: Asian: "Umm... okay. I just graduated from UC Irvine and I moved here recently. Know anything fun to do?" Me: ".. hmmm..?" Asian: "Alright, uhh.." Me: "SORRY I DON'T SPEAK CHINESE." What a weird phenomenon.
(Originally Posted August 2014) One of the most profound aspects of working abroad in an environment that has a constantly fluctuating set of workers is how common it is to gain and lose friends within a short amount of time. To watch your community come together in harmonic assimilation, preserve itself with strong bonds and interests, and then shatter and fragment as important friends & acquaintances move away forever, is something that's impossibly hard to get used to and does not exist in most other non-abroad people's lives. The August intake/outtake cycle is happening right now in my small foreign Gimcheon community of ~30-40 people, and we just lost 4 people (two couples) who moved back home to the States, or to Vietnam, and it seems like just yesterday they had arrived in our town and quickly became part of the city friend circle. One year goes by so much faster than anyone can ever dream in Korea, and I've now lost daily friends to multiple of these intake/outtake "cycles". I know that I have to cherish my time as much as possible with the people who are still here that mean something to me. And it's always hard to tell when the next batch of peers close to me will decide to head out. So what happens to me when all of my best friends move away? I guess the easy answer is that I make new friends, as we all do (and must) throughout life. But in reality, the holes left in my psyche... in my existence, from some of the better friends who have left; they are holes that can't be patched up by anything except time, just like any other relationship. I suffer when I lose friends that I may not ever see again, despite our social savior that is Facebook and the internet. I'm sure I'll see most of them again, but the several dozens of them once my time here is complete? Not a chance. So the only thing to really do is to roll with it. That's one thing I've always been good at. Rolling with the good and rolling with the bad, and in my opinion, the waves of social change are more of a bad thing than a good one. They are good in the sense that the changes force you to get out there and stay active in your community if you want to have acquaintances. I've joined sports teams and language groups which have both helped tremendously. And I feel very lucky to still have my absolute top best friends here that have been with me since orientation. But when they leave, that's going to be a crippler. It's going to destroy me. I don't know if I can even handle that. But we have to and we will, because that's the life of adventure and travel that we've chosen. And it has always been that way, and it will never change in the future. As I sit here thinking about the major loss Gimcheon has recently taken simply by 4 single individuals leaving, I have hope that the changes that approach and the potential people that join our region will be positive and be able to fill needed gaps that all communities must have to thrive.
I finished the Changwon, South Korea page today, as last weekend I did my first half-marathon run there at the Korea Reunification Marathon. It was a great time and I enjoyed exploring the city the entire Saturday before the run by myself. I needed a break away from a social atmosphere and found that Changwon had the beauty and late-fall solitude that I was looking for. Check it out here!~ http://www.seoulhunter.com/korea/changwon/
I've converted my website into more of an information and picture based travel site, rather than simply just a blog. You can still view my blog posts and videos by clicking on the links, but the bulk of the site will be images and data about places around the world that I've been. Obviously most of it is Asia right now, but will be expanding in the future. Unless otherwise noted, all of the pictures were taken by me, so please tell me if you find an error or discrepancy. Only a few months in Korea left, going to gear up my exit with some incoming new videos. Thanks for checking this out! Newest Page: Suncheon
A four hour hike on a backwoods trail and mountain in rural Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea.