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.