Monday 20 February 2012

Malaysia : Part 2 - Langkawi

        So our bus-ferry-taxi journey to Langkawi turned out to be faster and nicer than we expected but arriving after hours of travel we were wrecked none the less. We decided Langkawi was going to be a 'holiday'in the midst of our backpacker travels so we booked into the Aseania resort hotel. Our luxury after hostels. The Aseania was a beautiful resort with wave pool and slide into the main pool, pool bars etc. but you still got the feeling it was starting to slip. The rooms could do with fresh paint, the reception was starting to look tattered but all in all we were happy.
          Our first afternoon there we contented ourselves sitting by the pool relaxing in the sun and chilling. That night we made the 5minute walk towards the beautiful white sandy beach and ate in a lovely restaurant with our toes in the sand. Next morning we woke ourselves in time for breakfast (to save money) and wow we were glad we did. Far from the regular backpacker toast and tea they had an amazing spread. A huge breakfast buffet with as much food of all types as you could fit in your belly. Taking full advantage of the free food I went back for seconds and shamefully thirds. By the time I left the table I was waddling!! Dee and I headed down to the beach to sunbathe in our first attempt to turn our whiter than white skin to beige. Unfortunately despite the best efforts of a sun umbrella and sun cream all we managed to do was turn ourselves lobster pink. We were sorry we even tried to tan later that night when plenty of aloe vera lotion was being applied.
         Next day we decided to go island hopping so we booked a tour to leave at nine. By 9.40 we were beginning to give up hope of the tour even being in existence when a jeep pulled up and in we piled. He dropped us to the pier where we boarded a rickety boat and off we went (at very high speed). I thought it was fun but Dee was petrified as the boat bounced across the top of the water and over the waves. We just seemed to go faster and faster and soon enough even Kyle and Vanessa started to worry as with each wave we were thrown up off our seats before crashing back down. Despite our treacherous journey we arrived at each island safe and they were amazing. Our first stop was an island with a large monkey population who had become very bold so much so that at the pier they sold slingshots to keep them away. We saw one monkey steal a bottle of water from a guy and when he tried to take it back the monkey chased him along the path. That night we happily returned to the hotel, glad to be on dry land.
         Our next day on langkawi envolved a very lazy pool day and what a nice way to end our Malaysian adventure. I loved Malaysia and would definitely go back again someday.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Malaysia: Part 1.

The four of us at the waterfall
        Our arrival in Malaysia via the night-train from Singapore began with panic as I woke at a strange station at 6.45am. We had been due to arrive in Kuala Lumpar at 6.30am and our alarm had never gone off to wake us. I leapt out of the bed woke Dee and we grabbed our belongings as quick as we could racing for the door of the train convinced we had slept through our stop. I asked the guy at the door had we passed KL and he said "yes, 10 minutes", with this confirmation we jumped off the train onto the platform and looked around lost wondering what our next move should be. Just as the train was due to pull off our ticket collector from earlier in the night spotted us and asked "Kuala Lumpar" we said yes and he said next stop so we even more urgency we jumped back on the train just in time. An exciting start to our Malaysian adventure but a lucky one so we took it as a good sign and it was.
        After actually arriving in Kuala Lumpar a few minutes later we got off the train (after double checking) and hopped on the subway to our stop. From there we made our way to the hostel (surprisingly remembering our way from our last short visit to KL in September). Unfortunately because of our early arrival our room wasn't ready yet but they allowed us to leave our bags and we spent our morning waiting in coffee shops until check-in. At that stage we showered after our long journey and fell straight to sleep. What a way to spend our only day in Kuala Lumpar. Later that evening Kyle and Vanessa arrived from Korea and after a quick catch up we got ready and went for dinner. After the expense of Singapore Malaysia seemed cheap and I "splashed out" on a steak dinner (7euro). After that we began our holiday together with a few cocktails. The Rogers were tired after their travels and left early but Dee and I had built up our energy from our mid-day power nap and so we stayed out a little longer! :)
         Next morning Kyle and Vanessa pulled us out of bed to catch the 10.30am bus to the Cameron Highlands (Malaysia's rainforest area) but in typical asian style the 10.30am bus was just not running that day (for no reason) and so we were stuck waiting until the 1.00pm bus. The drive was amazing curling our way up and deeper in the Malaysian forest covered Highlands. Arriving we checked into our hostel and signed ourselves up for the 8hour rainforest trek tour next day. After which we ate and had an early night for our 8am start. The tour began by our guide having to tow the other 4x4 out of a dike it had slipped into but thankfully no one in that jeep was seriously hurt and that was the only misfortune of the day.
The raffesia plant 
         We began by arriving at the rainforest and trekking uphill through muddy ground. I was panting and thinking to myself why did I agree to this but the ground levelled out soon enough and my regrets vanished. All around bamboo trees and vines surrounded us. We walked fast and then suddenly our guide stopped. We had reached the plot of the Raffesia flower, the world's largest flower (which is apparently technically a fungi). This huge red carniverous plant sat at the base of a tree and we all lined for our chance at a photo beside it. The Raffesia takes 2years to grow and only blooms for 7 days. Around the flower were "bulbs" of baby plants not yet mature. If one of those baby plants are cut all of the Raffesia in that plot will die which is why the number of Raffesia plots has declined in recent years. Following this we walked on to a waterfall and then we were brought to an indigenous tribe village. Where they gave us a blow dart demonstration. The people hunt using poison darts supposedly strong enough to kill an elephant in ten minutes. They also showed us the monkey they were fattening up to eat in a few months.
          Next stop on our tour was the BOH tea plantation owned by a scottish family and here we saw the tea fields and a tour of the factory and then the tea museum. It was amazing to sea the process that goes into our cups of tea every day. According to the workers there my auntie Eleanor (who uses tea leaves not tea bags) is the smart one because they said tea leaves are the best way to make tea.
The live scorpions
       The insect farm was next and it was my favourite stop on the tour. We weren't looking forward to it at first but it was excellent. After walking around and just looking at the various creatures in cases and cages around we thought we would leave but then the guide started opening the cases and taking out huge insects for us to hold. The first was a rhinoceros beetle (like Ringo in Korea) but bigger and he was huge. Then we held leaf insects and praying mantis etc. Last but not least a scorpion. Yep, I'm not joking. A live scorpion with his stinger still attached. Only about 4 of us on the tous actually held the scorpions after them assuring us the hospital was nearby if worse came to worse. I was scared but so happy I did it.
         The final stop was the strawberry farm which was lovely but didn't live up to the stop just before it. We went to bed early that night for our bus at 7am next morning to Langkawi.
The blow dart demonstration

Wednesday 11 January 2012


         On the 1st of January we put our backpacks on and said farewell to English village our home for the last year. We were off on the start of a two month adventure and what an appropriate day to begin, an excellent start to 2012.

         Our first destination was Singapore but our first stop was Shanghai China for 6hours so technically according to the stamps in my passport I have now been to China as well. We flew out of Korea at 4.20pm flying for just under 2hours before arriving in Shanghai then after a 6hour wait we left China at 11.55pm arriving in Singapore at 5am on the 2nd of January (Happy birthday Dad!). From the very beginning Singapore was one of the easiest places I have ever visited. Straight to the info counter they told us our best option to the hostel which was a shuttle bus that literally dropped us at the door. In to our room (a 6-bed female dorm) to get some sleep after a long day and night of traveling. Next morning we were woken by the 2 other girls in the dorm packing their things to leave. we got talking and the advised us on the sights and then gave us their subway cards to use for our stay as they still had remaining money on them (so nice)! After they left we dragged ourselves out of the beds and set of to find some food. We ate Hainanese Chicken Rice a local speciality and yum it was good. Roast chciken pieces served with rice cooked in chicken broth, so simple and so good. After lunch we got the subway to the Harbour front and walked along the boardwalk by the sea until we came to Sentosa, Singapore's tourist island. There we walked around just looking at most of the attractions as Singapore is very expensive. We found a beach on the island apparently the most southerly point of South East Asia and sat there for a few hours before going to a light, water and fire show on the beach called "Songs of the Sea". The show itself was a bit childish but the effects was amazing. Back at the Harbour front we treated ourselves to a sangria at a spanish restaurant and then home to bed.
          Next morning we woke late again (enjoying not having to get up for work) and got the subway to Little India for lunch. Again delicious. We walked around admiring the stalls and clothes and strange smells and bright colours before hopping on the subway again to Chinatown. There we wandered again through stalls and stalls wishing we had bigger bags to put things in so we could buy stuff! Singapore's population is 75% Chinese, 14% Indian, 7% Malay and the rest is made up of other ethnic groups. The main language is English though which made a holiday there so easy. Ask and you shall get an answer (something that hasn't happened up for a year)! That night to avoid the bars and save money we went to the cinema. Sherlock Holmes was surprisingly good.
          On our last day we decided to get the city bus tour around Singapore. Which compared to many of Singapore's attractions was good value for money. We bought one ticket which allowed us access to three tours: Original, City and Heritage and we made sure to go on them all. We say all the main sights that way and learned all the little pieces of info you never learn by walking around yourself.
          Singapore is a beautiful clean city known jokingly as the "Fine" city because of the fines imposed to keep it that way. Signs in the subway warn of a $500 fine for eating or drinking, a $1000 for smoking and $5000 for carrying flammable goods, trafficking drugs in Singapore results in the death penalty. Singapore is also one of the most expensive places in the world to own a car. The fines work though because I have never seen a city so clean.

           That night Dee and I collected our bags from the hostel said goodbye to Singapore and hopped on the night train to Kuala Lumpar Malaysia, an 8 hour overnight train with our own little curtained off beds in a carriage of 20 beds. Not the best nights sleep I've ever gotten but definitely and experience and a cheaper way to travel. So long Singapore.. maybe we'll meet again (when I have the money I need to enjoy you to the full)!

Sunday 1 January 2012

Goodbye Korea!

          Happy new year everyone and goodbye Korea! 2011 was an amazing year full of adventure and wonderful friends and I hope that 2012 can live up to it! I have had such an amazing time in Korea for the past year but it's time to go and start my next adventure!! Korea it has been great and maybe we'll meet again. To all the friends I have made here thank you for everything and I hope we meet again soon! xXx

Jeju Island

           Jeju... Korea's Mediterranean paradise! So the promotions claimed and I have to agree. Back over a year ago when we first started researching Korea Jeju island often popped up as one of those "you have to see" places in Korea. Promoted as a summer destination with beautiful beaches, stunning waterfalls and as much fun tourist activities as you could possible fit into a trip. We promised ourselves we would go. Now as the year here in Korea rolled on the summer came and went without our trip to Jeju and soon we began thinking of leaving Korea all without having seen Jeju so we decided it was time. With little planning we booked off the Monday and Tuesday the 28th and 29th of November and bought flights to Jeju.
          Now in the few weeks before our trip winter had arrived in Korea, minus 5 was the coldest day up until then and it was only getting started! We had resigned ourselves to the fact that until we left for warmer climates on our travels we would be cold on any venture outside...not in Jeju! It was amazing! A little island just over an hours flight away and it was warm! Now we weren't jumping into the sea for swims to cool down but we were able to abandon our hats, scarves and coats. After arriving Saturday morning we found our hostel which was clean and quiet and we had the whole dorm room to just the three of us. We dumped our bags and made our way to loveland! Loveland was one of our main destinations to visit on the island and we weren't disappointed. It was set-up in 2004 by art graduates from a Seoul university. There aim: to create art entirely dedicated to love and sex. Needless to say a lot of laughing was done as the three of us strolled around the park for over an hour posing for pictures and recreating statue positions. We had a great day and it certainly started the holiday off well.      

          Back to our hostel we got changed and out for a meal at an Indian restaurant we had heard many recommendations for. It was a cosy little restaurant with a wonderful relaxing and welcoming vibe and we happily sat at a table while they brought us menus. Opening the menus we were a bit dubious though as they only offered maybe 4 choices, we decided its about quality not quantity though and ordered. I'm glad we stayed because it was delicious. We had a few glasses of wine with our meal and felt that holiday feeling wash over us! After dinner we decided to have a few drinks before going to bed to be up bright and early. We headed to another recommended bar (which was almost empty-apparently because it was thanksgiving weekend) and sat down with some cocktails. One drink turned into two and let's just say next morning we didn't wake as early as planned! In fact poor Helena was confined to the bed the entire day so Dee and myself set off without her to explore the Mangul caves.
The lava caves
          Jeju island is a volcanic island and volcanic rocks can be seen all over the island with some of the islands beaches even being covered in black sand. Well this is what makes Jeju's caves interesting they are volcanic caves formed as lava flooded through them years ago. They are the  longest lava tube cave system in the world and it was beautiful. Being budget concious and in preparation for our travels Dee and I used the local bus service to get as close as possible to the caves as possible which still left us with a 2km walk from the main road. In the sunshine and lovely surrounding the walk passed quickly but by the time we reached the caves Dee and I had both stripped down to our t-shirts and we were eating ice-creams bought along the way.   The caves were beautiful and we walked about another 2km inside the caves themselves before making the  trip back down the hill towards the bus again. On our walk back down though we came across a maze park set up my an american guy who had been living in Korea 50years. While paying our entrance they asked us how we had gotten there and when we said we walked we were given a discount on our entrance fee for being "green". I really liked that idea and thought that if more businesses had incentives like that walking would be a lot more popular. Dee and I were both given a map which we were told to not look at until 30mins were up. We then split up and the aim was to race each other to a bell which was hidden in the centre of the maze. I was walking around trying to figure out which direction was the centre when Dee came running at high speed from the opposite direction. This happened a few more times in the next few minutes and then at one final chance meeting a korean woman pointed us in a direction and the final race was on. The bell was on a raised wooden platform and we were neck in neck at the base but I got on the step first and despite Dee trying her best to hold me back I rang the bell first! After a minutes rest we continued on our walk back to the bus stop and headed back to Jeju city to wake Helena. After a quick talk we changed and got ready for dinner and we decided on Mexican food. Just down the road from our hostel a lovely Mexican restaurant and we all sat for yet another enjoyable meal in Jeju. We had learned our lesson from the night before so we decided to skip the alcohol and went to the cinema instead. Going to the cinema in Korea is always an experience as you settle for whatever movie is playing in English at the time.That night the next English movie was 'Real Steel'. We had about an hour wait before it began so Dee went shopping and Helena and I went to get our nails done (another interesting experience with our (lack-of) Korean skills). We had not heard much about the movie and resigned ourselves to it just passing time but we were surprised. 'Real Steel' was such a feel good movie. At one point in the movie Dee was actually cheering and clapping out loud! We all laughed and cheered and had that happy feeling in our stomachs and left praising it completely and so to bed we went then contently and with smiles on our faces.
          Next morning bright and early we headed to the bus terminal to catch a bus to the east side of the island. The bus journey took over an hour and cut through the island. We arrived at the ferry port and caught the next ferry over to Udo island, a smaller island off the coast of Jeju. Now one of our main reasons for going here was to quad bike around the island but on arriving it turned out you needed an international licence which only I had (and luckily I had brought with me). Unfortunately one licence wasn't enough to rent three golf carts so our next best option: a golf cart. Yep, Dee, Helena and I rented a golf cart and leisurely drove the ring of the island stopping at the various sights and for walks on the beaches, etc.
After making a full ring of the island we hopped on the next ferry back to Jeju and from there headed to the famous Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak), it is one of the main reasons that Jeju is the Cliffs of Mohers competition to be one of the next wonders of the world! It was gorgeous alright. The remnants of a volcano leaving behind a peak rising over the waters edge with a bowl like top. It is famous for how beautiful the sunrise looks from it's peak (but we decided sunrise was a little earlier than we would like to get outta bed on holidays so daytime did us just fine).

          For our last our last night we went for dinner and then had a stroll around Jeju city stopping for hot chocolates in a little shop..yum! Then off to bed early ready for our flight home the next day. We went shopping our last morning and caught the bus to the airport to go back to reality! Jeju was wonderful and I really enjoyed our little trip to Korea's Mediterranean.

Thursday 15 December 2011

My pet!

Ringo and my first meeting....
          I have a pet... no I'm not talking about one of my students. I mean a living, breathing, moving pet that I keep in my house. Now I've had my pet for quite a while by now but I have only just got around to writing a post now... and I think he deserves it.
         Any guesses as to what it is? Nope, not a dog. No, not a cat. Rabbit? No. Hamster? Wrong again. It's a .......... wait for it........ Beetle (with two ees not the ea musical variety)! Yep, a beetle. A rhinoceros beetle to be precise or at least he will be...
The three stages of Ringo (he is still number 1).
         Ok, so on one of our Friday field trips a few weeks ago we went to an insect farm (museum). It was another very Korean cultural experience and despite a few squeamish moments I enjoyed it. We all held silk-worms in our hand and then spun real silk by hand from their cocoons etc. as well as seeing many more animals and insects. One of the final parts of the tour though was to look at rhinoceros beetles and their larvae. They are renowned for their long lifespan in the insect world. Reaching 3years in age before they even change from larvae to a beetle and this is where the story gets interesting. So after looking at them and staring in amazement we were all told that each person on the tour, including the teachers, would be given a free rhinoceros beetle as a pet. They are apparently very popular pets all over Asia. Now you can imagine my first thoughts... but then my curiosity got the better of me and I followed the kids as they each filled a specialised plastic jar three quarters fill with compost and then lined up to be given their larvae. Don't fool yourself into imagining a little caterpillar. This thing was much thicker and also longer than a thumb. It had a creepy black "face" and little hairs all over its body. They don't enjoy light so it was quickly worming it's way deep into the compost. Now luckily the instructions were easy. 1. Keep it in dark places. 2. Keep the soil moist (Not wet, we were wanred NOT to water it). 3. When it changes to a beetle feed it fruit jellys etc. All our larvae are approx. 3yrs old so close to morphing apparently. After one look at my new housemate I knew his name... "Ringo"! (Get it??)
Ringo a few weeks ago
          So Ringo and I have happily shared an apartment since... I admit I occasional check to make sure he is still in his container but he is a very easy flatmate to have indeed. Now soon after our trip Vanessa's beetle,  named George Harrison (she liked my beetle's name), began to darken in colour and then cocooned and last week emerged as a big, sturdy, 'don't mess with me' rhinoceros beetle. Jannel's beetle has also emerged. Not Ringo though.... in fact he is still white and worming around and munching through the compost he lives in. It seems that Ringo and I might just have to part ways never having met beetle to face if he doesn't get cocooning fast.
         So having a pet, soon-to-be, beetle is another 'only in Korea' experience which has slightly creeped me out and yet woken my curiosity.

Ringo today!

Sunday 11 December 2011

Dog cafe

A collection of photos from the dog cafe.

          Now before anyone gets confused yes Koreans do eat dog meat but that is not the kind of dog cafe I am about to write about. This cafe was inhabited by living, breathing dogs of different ages and breeds.

The dogs just climb into your lap.
          Sounds unusual right? Well welcome to Korea were unusual is usual. Unlike Ireland and many other countries pet dogs are not that common in Korea, maybe it is due to so many people living in apartments with no space for dogs, or maybe it is because dogs are were viewed as a source of food by many during and after the Korean war (the Korean war left the Korean people with nothing to eat and Koreans resorted to eating anything  at all edible in those years, from animals typically viewed as pets to roots dug out of the ground). Regardless of the cause many people do not keep pet dogs but do like dogs, therefore the dog cafes.
          Dog cafes are as the sound a cafe serving hot drinks such as teas and coffees which you can sit and drink as dogs run around your feet and jump on the couches beside you. Entrance into the dog cafe we visited cost 8,000won (5euro) with our drink included. There were dogs everywhere, bulldogs, shitzhus, dalmatians, jack russells, pugs, Scottish terriers, labradors, etc. They all just walked around happily until the found a person who they liked and then maybe settled down for a rub and a cuddle.
         We quickly abandoned our drinks on our table as our real reason for being there was of course the dogs and we realised that sitting on the floor was the best place to get their attention. We sat crossed legged on the floor and within seconds Vanessa, Kyle, Helena and I all had little dogs come over walk onto our laps and curl up as if they did this every day. Vanessa, Helena and I all had small dogs who cosily fit in the space on our laps. Kyle, hilariously, was approached by the fat bull dog who tried his best to curl up on Kyle which resulted with the front half of his body on Kyle's lap as his back legs dangles over onto the floor. We all sat happily there as other dogs came to say hello or our ones decided to move off and new ones came along. We basked in the happy feeling of being around dogs which none of us had felt since leaving our home countries.
My boldie little Jack Russell..
          Now after a while a little Jack Russell came and curled into my lap and I rubbed him as he fell asleep. I had been watching him every now and again during our visit up until then and as he was not the cutest dog to put it gentle he was largely ignored by the customers. Well it seems that the little guy wasn't used to so much attention and didn't want to give it up because after a few minutes of resting in my lap while being rubbed another dog walked by me and my little Jack Russell started to growl at it. I laughed and passed it off. Until shortly after another dog came close to me and he had the same reaction. I told Helena who was sitting beside me and we both listened to him growl as soon as any other dog approached me. It was funny because if I gave out to him for it he would stop and look up at me with the saddest "I'm sorry, please don't stop rubbing me!" eyes!
          We spent over an hour in the cafe and it was so nice being surrounded by dogs. It was a very strange experience at the same time making it so typically Korean. All in all something I would recommend though on a whole.

The very bold pugs...