Boracay: The Definition of Paradise


Boracay. The name alone has an exotic ring to it and brings to mind images of pure paradise. I first heard the name of this small island about 6 years ago when I moved to Korea. Many Koreans talked about it as a top honeymoon destination and most of my foreign friends bragged about their cheap backpacking adventures there. Now it’s my turn to brag a little.

The first thing you need to know is that there are two main ways to get to Boracay. I always go for the cheapest but most complicated and time consuming route, (which I usually end up regretting.) We flew into Kalibo airport from Manila. The flight was only $35 USD so I couldn’t argue with that. From Kalibo airport you can take a 2 hour bus to the Caticlan ferry port and from there, Boracay is just a 15 minute ferry ride away. Island Star Ferry does a door-to-door service that includes the bus and ferry ticket, although you have to pay your own way to your hotel once you arrive in Boracay (Island Star Ferry). If you don’t mind spending a bit more, you can fly directly into the Caticlan airport and then hop right on the ferry.

Landing in Kalibo

The options for accommodations in Boracay are overwhelming, but when you see how small the island is, you really can’t go wrong. Boracay is basically a long strip of land with one main road going through the middle and a long beach on either side. White Beach is the most famous beach. During the day it’s popular for relaxing, swimming, or going out on a boat for some island hopping adventures. At night, White Beach is a hot spot for the nightlife. Restaurants, bars and clubs are lined up along the coast and they set up tables and chairs right on the beach.  Bulabog beach is on the other side and is mostly for windsurfing. We decided to stay at a hostel on Bulabog beach and we were both really happy with that decision. White Beach is a 5 minute walk across the main road from Bulabog beach and it’s also much quieter at night. We stayed at Jeepney Hostel and booked a private room for around $40 USD per night. Accommodations in Boracay can get really steep if you’re the resort type of traveler so hostels are great options. I would highly recommend Jeepney. There is a restaurant and three bars right at the hostel and it has a great vibe for solo travellers who want to meet people. It’s also right on Bulabog beach. Here are some pics of our private room:

We arrived at night and after a long day of travelling, I wanted our first full day in Boracay to be a relaxing beach day, but we were quickly persuaded by our hostel to join them the next day on a booze cruise and island hopping. Unlimited drinks included=not a difficult decision to make.

The next day we woke up early to get a few hours of beach time in before our booze cruise adventure. When we got back to the hostel, the staff started coming around putting glitter on everybody’s faces. Then a group of Boracay natives came to warm us up with some drumming. Soon after, we were armed with rum and cokes and on our way to the beach. The boozing was well on its way before the cruise even started. Little did I know of what was in store for the day ahead.

Glittered Up and Ready for the Booze Cruise!
Boracay Native Drummers

After some drinking and dancing on the boat, we arrived at Magic Island. I noticed right away signs that said “10 meter” “9 meter” and “7 meter.” Not more than a few minutes after we arrived, some of our new friends were diving and backflipping off of a 10 meter cliff. I barely had the chance to grab my camera, and my boyfriend did a daring dive off the highest cliff. I immediately knew that I would not be participating in this activity. It’s not so much that I am afraid of heights, but the idea of jumping off of something terrifies me. I watched everyone while sitting back enjoying my rum and coke. About 30 minutes later I realized that a bit further down were some “baby” jumps- a 3 meter and a 5 meter. I figured that I would be able to conquer the 3 meter. In my day, I have jumped off of some boats and small bridges so I figured, what the hell. But when I actually walked the plank and looked down, I couldn’t find the courage to do it. As I get older I seem to be getting less and less daring. When I first went over to the “baby” jumps nobody was there, but as I continued to hesitate, more people came over and jumped off. I think they were trying to encourage me, but instead I just became more nervous. I had a group of cheerleaders at one point and I knew I had to do it. So, if everyone is jumping off a cliff would you do it too? Well, in this case, yes! It took me an embarrassing amount of time to finally build up the courage, but I did! And to be honest, the worse part was getting a noseful of water. By the time I finally did it, we were getting ready for the next island. We went to one more spot to enjoy some swimming, snorkeling and a beautiful sunset.


The next day we took a short but steep morning hike up to the top of Mount Luho to check out the gorgeous views of Boracay. It’s only about a 20 minute hike from Jeepney hostel, but you can also take a tricycle or hop on a motor bike.

View from Mount Luho
View from Mount Luho

The rest of the week was mostly spent relaxing on the beach and trying out some restaurants in the evenings for dinner. We decided to save our activities and excursions for our last stop-Bohol Island. In hindsight, Boracay was the highlight of our trip and we wish we would have stayed an extra day or two there. It’s a place I would highly recommend and to which I would definitely consider traveling again someday.

White Beach, Boracay
White Beach, Boracay


Sunset Panorama of White Beach
Boracay Sunset


I Love Olongapo


Before travelling to the Philippines, I didn’t know much more than the average person does. When you think of the Philippines, what is the first thing that comes to mind? For me, I imagined an exotic array of islands bordered with white sandy beaches and crystal clear water just like the images from the Travel Channel or National Geographic.  But what also came to mind was the darker side: the dangerous city of Manila corrupted with the drug and sex trade of which most tourists are warned to steer clear. I found both of these sides of the Philippines to be true, but I also learned so much more.

Did you know the Philippines is a chain of 7,107 islands? I found that every Filipino I came in contact with was eager to share this tid bit of information and they actually have a song about it that children memorize in elementary school. Now I will never forget this fact. I was also surprised to find that most Filipinos can speak at least 4-5 languages. Filipino (Tagalog) and English are their two official languages; however, most can also speak a combination of both called “Taglish.” They can also speak one or more of the dozens of indigenous languages from the various regions and some can even speak Spanish. Having English as an official language made the Philippines one of the easiest Asian countries for me to navigate. While listening to the radio, it was entertaining to hear the mesh of English, Tagalog, and Spanish blend together. Most TV channels are American and broadcast in English without subtitles or dubbing. Coming from Korea, it was quite a luxury to be able to use English freely. After spending just over 2 weeks in the Philippines and exploring a small fraction of the islands, I gained an appreciation for their history and culture.

It was early evening when my boyfriend and I landed in the Manila airport after a 4 hour flight from Incheon. Little did we know that we would not be meeting his brother until much later that evening. Everything seemed to be flowing smoothly. Our flight landed a bit early, we grabbed a taxi to the bus terminal, and we bought our tickets for the 4 hour bus to Olongapo City, which is where we would be meeting his brother and sister-in-law. Then we hit Manila traffic. I’ve been stuck in traffic in places like Los Angeles and Seoul and I thought that traffic could not get any worse. Manila traffic is a whole different animal. It took us 3 hours just to get through Manila. The infrastructure of the city is horrible! There seems to be one main highway that goes through the city and one main train, which looked so jam-packed that I would rather spend 3 hours on a bus than a minute on the train. After crawling out of the city (we literally could have walked faster) it took another 2 1/2 hours to get to Olongapo City. Traveling in the Philippines is not as glamorous as it sounds. You don’t just hop on a plane and hop off onto a luxurious island. Getting to these islands requires hours on buses, ferries, smaller boats, and finally the local form of transportation, “jeepneys” or tricycles.

When we finally arrived, it was almost midnight. I was so exhausted at that point that I just wanted to pass out, but I knew my boyfriend would want to spend some time catching up with his brother. We were warmly greeted by his brother and sister-in-law and quickly taken to his brother’s Korean restaurant, “Chinku,” which means friend in English. It was comforting to eat some familiar Korean food after our long journey. After that, we had a drink at nice bar right alongside the sea. Sitting outside and drinking beer without being layered up in my winter gear was so refreshing. That night we expected to stay with my boyfriend’s brother, but they surprised us by getting us a hotel room for the night. This was the first of many surprises throughout the week.

The Best Korean in Olongapo City- Chin Ku Korean Restaurant

Even though his brother and sister-in-law were busy running their restaurant, they still managed to take care of us and plan many exciting adventures for the week. They took us all around Olongapo City, a beautiful city surrounded by mountains and lined with beaches. The theme of Olongapo seems to be love. It may have been because Valentine’s Day was right around the corner, but there were scattered signs that read, “I Love Olongapo” and little heart decorations could be seen almost everywhere. Because Olongapo City is located on Subic Bay, which is home to a US Naval Base, there are many Americans living there. Also because of the Han Jin shipbuilding company, there are many Koreans living in Olongapo. At times it felt like I was right at home either in Korea or in America rather than on an exotic island. On a trip to the local grocery store, I was overwhelmed to find that the grocery stores are just like those back home complete with a wide variety of American brand-name products and even a deli!  I was a bit envious of this considering the grocery stores in Seoul are limited to Korean brands and overall are pretty pathetic. We loaded up on tropical fruit- mangos, mangosteen, papaya, dragonfruit, and more! My boyfriend and I ate more mangos in a week than most people eat in a year.

Subic Bay, Olongapo
Subic Bay, Olongapo
View from the apartment

On our second full day in Olongapo, we went island hopping and explored the deserted islands of Capones and the almost deserted island of Anawangin. These are islands that local Filipinos go to as a weekend getaway and are not popular for foreigners so it was pretty cool to have the chance to check them out.


Capones Islands


Anawangin Island

My boyfriend’s sister-in-law comes from a big religious family and possibly one of the nicest families I have ever met. She is one of nine siblings. Her father is a pastor of a small Christian church located in the mountainous village of where she grew up. On Sunday we had the opportunity to visit the church and feed the village children who are very poor and often are unable to afford to eat. Every other Sunday this church provides the children with a meal. This experience became one of the most memorable and humbling moments of our trip. The children came excitedly to the church with their own bowls or containers in hand. One boy in particular, no older than 5 or 6 years old, walked barefoot 3 hours through the mountains by himself just to eat a meal. Hearing some of the stories of these children was touching, but seeing how grateful and gracious they were was unforgettable. These children literally have nothing, but if their friends needed more rice porridge or if they had an extra piece of candy, they shared. If they were given something, they said thank you and did not ask for more. Later, I talked to my boyfriend’s sister-in-law about the church and she explained that she used to be like one of the children. She grew up in the same village often only eating one meal a day. She sees herself in the children, which is why it is so meaningful for her to give back to this community.

That evening we were invited to enjoy a traditional Filipino meal. After eating mostly Korean food so far, I was excited to try some local cuisine. A Filipino meal mostly consists of fish, chicken or pork with vegetables and rice. Nothing too crazy, right? Well that was until after we had a few rounds of Filipino fruit wine and we started talking about some of the more interesting foods that they eat. One of which is called, Balut, which is basically a duck embryo. Upon hearing that we hadn’t tried Balut yet, one of the brothers ran out for a quick minute and came back with a bag of eggs. I was nervous to try them, but was curious enough to actually follow through with it. It wasn’t awful, but definitely not something I would be craving to try again anytime soon.


Skeptically trying Balut for the first time….

During the rest of our time in Olongapo we checked out some tourist spots such as the National Shrine at Mount Samat and a newer attraction, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.

Mount Samat
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar


We even had the chance to check out an exclusive resort for the day and have a taste of how the rich and famous live.

During my short time in Olongapo, I was able to experience a wide range of Filipino lifestyles. There is a lot more to the Philippines than their beautiful beaches. And this was just the beginning of our journey. Next stop- Boracay!

Hạ Long Bay & Cát Bà Island


Hạ Long Bay makes the list of top destinations in Vietnam for its scenic landscape made up of almost 2,000 limestone islets and turquoise-blue water.

There are countless tours of Ha Long Bay with various price ranges, which makes it difficult to decide on a company. We booked our 2 night 3 day tour through our hostel and selected a mid-range tour package with the Imperial cruise company. The package included all transportation, accommodations, and meals. One night was spent on the cruise and the second night was spent in a bungalow in Cát Bà Island. This part of the trip was definitely the most relaxing and a great way to end our three week adventure.



Vietnam: Hanoi

After an hour and a half flight from Siem Reap to Hanoi, we began the final leg of our three week journey. We planned to spend 4 days in Hanoi followed by a 3 day trip to Ha Long Bay.

In Hanoi we stayed at Tomodachi House Hostel, which is a new Japanese style hostel located in the Old Quarter opened only about four months prior to our stay. We arrived at night and the taxi from the airport to the hostel took a little less than an hour. The lobby of the hostel was very clean and the staff were extremely helpful and welcoming. We opened the door to our room and discovered that it was much smaller than expected. The double bed took up the entire room and there was no place to put our backpacks. We were welcomed with a cute little note on the bed (pictured) and to my horror….a giant cockroach (not pictured) ! Yes, the biggest cockroach I have ever seen was waiting for us right near my pillow. The hotel staff tried to catch him, but he scurried behind the bed. If you know me, you can guess what my reaction was, but because the hotel staff was with us, I tried to keep my cool. As soon as the staff left us, I made Tony rip apart the entire bed until he located the pest and killed it right before my eyes before flushing it down the toilet. For Tony, being a Buddhist, killing any living thing is unacceptable. This wasn’t the first time Tony had to kill an insect for me on this trip, but for Tony, this trip was the first time he has ever killed anything. (I neglected to write about the three huntsman spiders that I encountered in Vietnam…If you have a chance, google huntsman spider. They are no joke.) Throughout the duration of our stay we did not have any more chance encounters with cockroaches, and luckily, the free daily breakfast made up for it.

Welcome note from Tomodachi House

On our first full day in Hanoi we were up early and went on a free half day tour of the city with Hanoi Kids, which is a voluntary English club where university students give tours to foreigners in English. I would highly recommend doing a tour with this group, but I would advise to book early. I tried booking a full day tour two weeks in advance and they were booked solid so I put my name on a waiting list. Luckily a half day tour opened up last minute. Since it was last minute, I had no idea what was on the itinerary, but we ended up having a great day. We went to the Temple of Literature and the Hoa Lo prison aka the Hanoi Hilton (the site where John McCain was held as a POW.) We also tried egg coffee (surprisingly sweet and creamy) and a jackfruit yogurt dish. Our tour guides were very friendly and informative.

HanoiKids University Students

The second day we ventured out to the Bat Trang Pottery Village by city bus. The village is quite far from Hanoi, but the city bus is a great deal, costing less than $1 USD roundtrip versus $20 USD for a round trip cab. The mid-July heat made our visit quite unbearable and unfortunately there weren’t any air conditioned restaurants or coffee shops to escape to in the pottery village. We persevered through the heat and tried to make the most of the day by making our own clay pots.


In the early evening we walked around Hoàn Kiếm Lake, which is probably the most scenic part of Hanoi. We had a nice meal nearby and checked out the night market. After coming from Cambodia, where the vendors are very aggressive, walking through the bustling night market in Hanoi was actually somewhat peaceful.

On our last full day in Hanoi I decided to get a spa treatment. At this point in the trip, Tony and I had been together without a break for almost 3 weeks. I also had a lot of Vietnamese dong still since I exchanged way too much money. So I ended up treating myself to a 3 hour massage and facial treatment at Mido Spa for less than $40 USD. The treatment started with a 20 minute sauna, followed by an hour full body massage, a moisturizing wrap, a facial, and finished with a mandi susu milk bath. I left the spa feeling more relaxed than I have ever felt in my life. Of course I couldn’t stay too relaxed because crossing the street in Hanoi is far from a stress-free experience. When crossing the street, you are better off not looking both ways. I learned to not hesitate or make any sudden movements. Just walk in a straight path and the mopeds will miraculously move around you.

In the evening we booked a street food tour on mopeds. We were picked up at our hostel with two girls. Each girl looked about 15 years old and weighed no more than 80 lbs. but we soon found out they were able to handle the mopeds with no problem. They took us to six different places to sample some of Hanoi’s authentic flavor. They took us to seemingly hole-in-the-wall places, but each place had delicious food with a story behind it. Our tour guides were very informative and funny too!


Hanoi street food tour
Famous Mint Lemon Popsicles
Egg Coffee

Ending our time in Hanoi was bittersweet. We were filled with anticipation for the next three days in Ha Long Bay, but our final day in Hanoi meant the end of the trip was near.


Cambodia: Siem Reap

The ruins of ancient Angkor were the main motivation behind my desire to travel to Cambodia and they exceeded my expectations. I planned a three night and four day stay in Siem Reap and quickly discovered this would only be enough time to scratch the surface of exploring the ruins. If I could do it again I would definitely scrap a day from Phnom Penh and take at least an extra day or two to visit Angkor.

In Siem Reap we stayed at the Golden Mango, which we absolutely loved! Although the location is more than a walk from the central area, they provide free tuk tuk rides into the downtown where you will find pub street and the night market. It was a quiet guesthouse with enormous private rooms, a beautiful pool, and the most delicious free breakfast I’ve ever had.

Each day we hired a tuk tuk driver to take us around the the ruins and we ended up sticking with the same guy throughout the duration of our stay. He even took us to the airport at the end of our stay for only $5 USD. He was great because he told us what we should pay for tuk tuk prices so we wouldn’t be scammed. For example, he warned us that when coming back from downtown to the hotel we should only pay $2 USD, but of course all the tuk tuk drivers downtown would push for $4 USD.



When you think of Cambodia the first thing that probably comes to mind is Angkor Wat, but Angkor Wat, although beautiful, is only one of over forty different ruin sites. Each site has its unique charm and is distinguished by the time period it was constructed. All of the ruins were originally built as temples for the gods as early as the 7th century. Exploring the ruins at early morning or late afternoon/early evening is the best way to beat the heat and the crowds.

Angkor Wat

On our first full day we woke up bright and early around 4:30 am to get our tickets for the ruins and head to Angkor Wat to see the famous site at sunrise. Basically you can buy a one day ($20 USD), three day ($40 USD), or seven day ($60 USD) pass and you see as many ruins as you want each day using the same ticket. We were lucky enough to get a nice breakfast to-go packed by our hotel. Since we were there during the rainy season, our sunrises and sunsets weren’t as good as the picturesque postcards we expected, but we still had some amazing views. Upon arrival at Angkor Wat, I was filled with emotion. The feeling of finally being somewhere for which I had built up so much anticipation combined with the overwhelming feeling of being in such a special place like Angkor. It was indescribable but unforgettable.

Cloudy sunrise at Angkor Wat:

Beware of the monkeys! (They are lazy and sleep in until around 8am, but this one stole an entire bag of bread out of a tourist’s hands)


Angkor Thom 

Angkor Thom was my personal favorite, but go early because by 10:30/11am it is filled with tourists.




Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm is where the movie Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie was filmed. This was definitely a highlight.

Ta Prohm



Our days in Siem Reap were filled with visits to temple after temple usually getting a head start early in the morning and feeling wiped out by noon. In the afternoon we would take a much needed break by the pool. At sunset we attempted to do some sightseeing, but on most days that’s when it started to rain so we didn’t have much luck. At night we ventured down to the night market and pub street, which was a small area filled with western style bars and restaurants. Siem Reap is definitely a place I would love to visit again someday.

Cambodia: Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia and a city I still have trouble spelling and have no idea how to pronounce. This was not originally a destination for me, but there were no direct buses from Ho Chi Minh to Siem Reap, so alas, we decided to stay in Phnom Penh for two nights and three days. It probably ended up being my least favorite city in Southeast Asia, but I ended up learning and appreciating a lot of Cambodian history and culture.

Phnom Penh is a 6 hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City. If you opt to take this route, I would definitely recommend Giant Ibis bus company, which for about $16 includes an air conditioned bus with wifi and snacks (a luxury that is hard to come by in the US).

During our time in Phnom Penh we stayed at a hostel called Base Villa. Air conditioning…check! Pool….check! Bar/restaurant….check! Nice common area….check! For less than $25 a night for a private room with a balcony, it was perfect. Before traveling to Cambodia I was given some advice and after traveling there I would pass along the same advice:

  1. Be sure to book accommodations with a pool and air conditioning. Due to the heat and humidity, you will do most of your site-seeing in the early morning and late afternoon/evening. During the day you need a cool place to chill out. Base Villa was the perfect oasis and the somehow the shaded and open air layout of the hostel kept the bar and common area refreshingly cool during the day.
.75 cent beers
Balcony overlooking the pool area at Base Villa

2. Eat western food. Cambodia has a huge ex-pat population so it’s a great spot if you’re traveling through Southeast Asia to grab some western food that may be hard to come by. Cambodian or Khmer food seemed to be a mix of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai, but I wasn’t really able to pinpoint a true staple of Khmer cuisine.

3. Bring US dollars. Cambodian currency can never be exchanged back for any other currency so unless you know exactly how much Cambodian money you will use, it’s probably best to use US dollars. If you want to use the local currency I would advise not to exchange too much. As a warning, even when using US currency, they tend to give change in Cambodian currency. Also, they are very picky about their money. They refused any US dollars with the tiniest tear.

As far as what to do in Phnom Penh, you really only need two days or less to do the two main tourist attractions-The Killing Fields and a tour of the city highlights such as the Royal Palace. In order to choose which to do first, it was basically a decision of when would you rather be depressed-at the beginning or end of your trip? We decided to get the depressing part over with and do the Killing Fields on our second full day.

The Killing Fields

A major event in recent world history and one that is often neglected to be taught in schools is the mass genocide of over a million people in Cambodia that took place between 1975-1979. The details of how and why this atrocity happened are gruesome and horrifying. This was an event about which I was previously uneducated, but after having a tour of one of the killing fields and learning about the disturbing facts of this event that happened just before I was born, I was intrigued to learn more. If you wish to learn more about this historic tragedy, I would suggest reading up about it. I recently finished this book, Survival in the Killing Fields (, which is a survivor’s account of what it was like to live during the Khmer Rouge regime. Some parts were extremely graphic and difficult to read, but I think more Americans need to be aware of what happened at that time since we played a role.

About a 40 minute tuk tuk ride outside of Phnom Penh, there is a site called Cheong Ek, which is an extermination camp where thousands of people were killed in the most inhumane ways imaginable. We went through the site with an audio tour in English and learned about the history of this time period and even heard from the accounts of the survivors. Going to the site had a strong impact on me and left a lasting impression that I will never forget.

Memorial that contains the skulls of victims at the Killing Field of Choeung Ek


After the Killing Field we also went to The Killing Fields Museum ( to learn more about how and why such an event could happen. Visiting these two sites is a lot to digest and leaves you feeling very depressed so it’s important to plan your trip accordingly.

Phnom Penh City Highlights

On our last full day in Phnom Penh we decided to explore the city. Here are some pictures of the main attractions:

Riverfront Promenade
American flag on the Riverfront Promenade
Tony playing shuttlecock with the locals
The Royal Palace
Tony teaching the Europeans how to play beer bong at the hostel (definitely a highlight)

Vietnam Part 2: More Off the Beaten Path

I’d like to preface by saying writing is hard. In the last couple weeks I was encouraged to write again by a couple of readers who said they really enjoyed reading my blog. That small feedback helped kickstart me back into action. So thank you to the two or three people (including my mom) who actually read my stuff.

Good-bye to Long Khanh family!

After a tearful goodbye to Tony’s family in Long Khanh, we headed to meet other members of his family in Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu, where we would stay for the next four days. Our first day was spent mostly relaxing at his aunt’s house. Tony and I were told (or I should say Tony was told and then he translated) that we would be going to a beach before having dinner later. To westerners, going to the beach has a much different meaning and expectation than what it does to Asians, and I should have expected as much. Tony and I wore casual shorts and tank tops and were expecting to spend at least a couple hours hanging out at the beach. We soon found out that we would be driving for the next hour only to hop out and spend approximately 15 minutes at the beach before driving off to dinner. No wonder why the rest of Tony’s family was dressed in nice dinner clothes. This became the first of many language/cultural barriers that we would encounter in this part of the trip.

Western-style beachwear


Crab for Dinner

The next day we set off bright and early on a 6 hour long journey to spend 2 nights in Đà Lạt. (FYI I was not aware that the trip would be 6 hours until getting into the car. I feel like that is something for which you need to mentally prepare yourself).  Đà Lạt is a popular tourist destination due to its incredibly temperate climate in contrast to the tropical climate typical to Vietnam. It is located at a very high elevation which makes the average temperature between 60-70 degrees. After constantly sweating for the last five days, I was ready for a break from the humidity. When we arrived it was around 70 degrees. While Tony and I were still sporting T-shirts and shorts, the locals were decked out in winter gear complete with wool hats and puffy jackets. It was comical to say the least. I did end up buying a sweater to be safe during the nights, but probably could have survived without one.

Before arriving at our hotel we made a quick stop at a tourist spot with a waterfall. Again, Tony’s family seemed to be on a tight schedule and it was a quick 15 minute stop before we were on the road. The rest of our trip with his family would proceed in this way-a long car ride to get somewhere and only about 10-15 minutes to stop and take a picture of the scenery before rushing off. Tony and I were a bit perplexed by this, but again, we learned just to go with the flow.


Most of our time in Đà Lạt was spent eating delicious food and bouncing from one tourist spot to the next including the Flower Park and the Valley of Love.

Amazing spread of food
Soup from a famous restaurant
I was significantly taller than all of his family members


Valley of Love
Cloudy View of Đà Lạt

After a 3 day whirlwind trip around Đà Lạt we were back in the car and headed for a six hour trip back to his family’s house. At this point in the trip my stomach was not holding up well and let’s just say the last thing you want to do is get sick in a roadside or public toilet in rural Vietnam. I would have preferred to just do my thing outside. On the way home his family decided to make a stop for lunch. Of course the place we stopped only had one thing on the menu, fish stew, which at the time did not sound the least bit appealing. All I wanted was some white rice, but for the first time in my life in Asia I could not get any. That road trip back was not my favorite part of the trip, but it was a memorable experience.

Back at Tony’s family home, I ate some amazing home-cooked meals. One of the meals was unexpectedly delicious for me. I must have been hungry enough to start digging right in before questioning what I was eating. It tasted like some sort of poultry so I assumed it was a very small bird or pigeon. Halfway through I asked, what was this deliciousness? and it turned out I was eating frog leg curry! This was a dish that I was skeptical to try with the previous family, but here I was eating frog legs without any qualms. Sometimes it’s better just not to ask. Unfortunately I don’t have pictures of the frog legs or some of the other interesting things I ate because his family started to think I was crazy for taking pictures of every bit of food I ate.

Home-cooked Vietnamese Sandwiches for Breakfast!

After a final meal of home-cooked Vietnamese sandwiches for breakfast, we were on our way to the bus station in Ho Chi Minh City to take off on our next part of the journey to Cambodia. My eight day stay with Vietnamese families was an invaluable experience. It was an experience that tested my resilience and ability to adapt to an unfamiliar culture despite language and cultural barriers. It was an experience that opened my mind to simpler ways of life focused on family rather than on materialistic objects and superficial worries. 


Vietnam Part 1: Off the Beaten Path

One of the many perks of my job in Seoul is the vacation time between semesters. After living in the states for the past 4 years with little opportunity or means to travel I was ready to take full advantage of the break. Almost 2 months ago (yes, I’ve been super lazy about blogging) I had the chance to visit my friend, Tony’s, family in a southern part of Vietnam called Long Khanh, Dong Nai. This would be the first leg of a three week trip through Vietnam and Cambodia.  I knew little to nothing about this area before I agreed to go, but I knew that my friend grew up on a cashew and coffee farm sprinkled with tropical fruits with names unfamiliar to me. My expectations were that it was a very rural part of Vietnam and I was informed there would be no air conditioning or hot water. Coming from the concrete jungle of Seoul this was going to be quite the adventure.

Luckily, a fellow co-worker, who is also a new professor at the university, was able to join us for the beginning of our trip. We left Seoul to go to Incheon airport before the sun came up and embarked on an early morning flight to Ho Chi Minh City.

Incheon -> Ho Chi Minh

After a 5 hour flight we landed and were greeted with a warm welcome from an entourage of Tony’s family members. Feeling a bit sleepy from the flight compounded with the blast of tropical heat upon exiting the airport, I was a bit dazed and overwhelmed by the amount of people embracing us. At this moment I was thankful that my co-worker, Sarah, had joined us and I took a step back to appreciate the moment where Tony reunited with his extended family.

Tony’s family lives approximately 1 hour from the airport so we stopped for our first Vietnamese meal at a restaurant along the way. This was the first of many delicious meals, each better than the last, that I would experience during my time with his family.

First Meal in Vietnam

When we arrived at his family’s house I was surprised to see that it was located in a village smaller than I expected. I soon found out that even though the open air layout of the concrete house was new to me, it was a typical style of Vietnamese homes in the countryside. After putting our luggage away, Sarah and I were quickly ushered to sit at a table in the garage/patio and we were soon given a lesson in tropical fruits. In front of us were baskets of fruit fresh from the farm including rambutan, lychee, mangosteen, and a fruit no one knew the English name for called “bong bong.” We also tried durian, which is a popular fruit grown at their farm, but not my personal favorite.

Sampling some of the fruits
Lychee, rambutan, mangosteen, and “bong bong”

Little did we know this was just the start of the next four days of endless fruit. By the end of the trip we had eaten our weight in fruit including other fruits such as dragon fruit and jackfruit.

Basket of Dragon Fruit

The next morning we woke up early (by our lazy western standards at least), but late according to life on the farm. Quickly we realized that if we weren’t awake between 6am and 7am, there would be a strong knock on our door rushing us to get up and eat breakfast. We went to the local market to buy fresh ingredients for spring rolls. The traditional market is at its liveliest in the early morning. It was a small market bustling with people and mopeds weaving through the crowds.


Spring Rolls

Sarah and I decided to get some Vietnamese traditional straw hats at the market. This was the first time we learned that we would not be allowed to spend a penny of our own money during this part of the trip. Tony’s family insisted on buying everything for us and by the end of the trip I still found it difficult to accept their gifts without protest.

Sporting the Straw Hats

Our first day started off without plans, but ended up being an eventful day filled with a visit to the farm as well as buying fabric and getting fitted for Vietnamese long dresses. Sarah and I learned that due to the language barrier and Tony’s spotty translations, we would never know the itinerary for each day and we would have to learn to go with the flow. Our days would start out without plans and within a moment’s notice we would be ushered on the back of a moped to go somewhere.

Picking out fabric for our long dresses was exciting, but getting measured wasn’t my favorite part. Sarah and I attracted the attention of the locals wherever we went, and two western girls being fitted for long dresses was quite the highlight for the locals.

Picking out fabric for our long dresses
Getting measured in front of the whole village

Some pictures from the farm:


Life on the farm was pretty low-key. Coming from fast-paced city life in Seoul accompanied with the oppressive heat, Sarah and I were happy to slow down and enjoy the scenery. Most days we stayed at the house during the day and enjoyed home cooked meals. In the mornings we would venture to the local convenience store to get some iced Vietnamese coffee, to which Sarah and I quickly took a liking. These mornings became a source of entertainment for us. The convenience store was on the side of a main road and we noticed that everyone that passed on mopeds, buses, or trucks rubbernecked to catch a glimpse of the foreigners on the side of the road. It was almost if they had radar that we were sitting there and would automatically turn their heads to stare. We started to make a game out of it and would wave or smile back at the locals. In turn we received the biggest smiles or waves. It was definitely a celebrity moment for us.


The other source of entertainment for us during the day was Karaoke. Another surprising fact is that almost every Vietnamese household has Karaoke set up complete with a sound system and microphones. While trying to take a mid-day nap one afternoon, I was awoken by music blasting and Tony’s family singing songs both in English and Vietnamese. Sarah and I hesitantly started to join in and after a few Tiger beers we were singing our hearts out.


About 2 days after we were fitted for our long dresses, they were ready to be picked up. Both of our dresses fit perfectly and it was such a special experience to wear them. We tried them on at the shop and then later had a photoshoot with them on around the village. An interesting fact about the long dresses is that Vietnamese teachers wear them to work everyday. Since Sarah and I are both teachers, it was fitting that we got them. We both plan on wearing them to teach someday!



My four day stay with a Vietnamese family in a rural village taught me a lot. I learned that people who live a simple life are sometimes the happiest people. I also greatly appreciated the importance that Vietnamese people place on family rather than on money. Lastly, since I did not plan this leg of the trip, I learned how to let go and go with the flow. This was only the beginning of my three week adventure. Soon I would be spending another eventful four days with other members of Tony’s family.

Seoul Rose Festival


Seoul Rose Festival


Seoul does a lot of things well, and as you can see from my blog posts and pictures, spring is one them. Seoul puts on a performance of flower exhibitions throughout the spring season. April opens with bright yellow forsythias that make way for the favorite, but short-lived cherry blossoms. May showcased a variety of flowers in full bloom- lilacs, peonies, pansies, hydrangeas, and tulips (just to name a few). But the highlight of this season were the roses. Less than a 5 minute walk across the street from my apartment is a fabulous rose garden that stretches for miles along the Jungrang Cheon (Jung Rang Stream). The roses started to bloom in early May and peaked around the middle of the month. Some of them are still going strong. At the beginning of the month I started to take a walk through this park once or twice a week and soon found out that there was a full blown rose festival.

This year the Seoul Rose Festival took place from May 20th-May 22nd and it was a much bigger deal than I expected. See here for info. and directions:

My friend and fellow co-worker decided to go to the park on one of the festival days to take photos. The park was jam-packed and it felt like everyone in Seoul was there. We were lucky to get a few photos not surrounded by other spectators. I even ran into a couple of my foreign friends there. Fighting through the crowds was worth it for a few nice photos though!



Practicing my Korean poses….



Dance Class in Seoul (Update!)

This post is a much needed update from my previous blog posts on dance classes in Seoul circa 2010-2012. I still get quite a few questions and comments on those older posts so I thought I would update you on some current info.

1.) JK Dance Studio (Hapjeong, Cheonho, & Busan)



JK Dance has expanded since my previous post about their studio in Hapjeong. They are famous for their pole dance classes, but also offer K-pop, Zumba, Jumping, Aerial Silk, and Belly. They have monthly deals on classes or you can pay to drop-in classes. I am currently teaching Zumba and now Jumping at JK Studio in Cheonho.

Directions to Cheonho location: Cheonho station (line 5 & 8) exit 6. Walk straight until you get to KB bank. Take a right at the cell phone shop right across from KB bank. Walk straight for about 200 meters. You will see the Lotte Cinema with the “Someone Like You Cafe” on your right. Turn right and walk about 50 meters. On your left you will see a Nail Art shop on the corner. There is a small sign that says: “JK Aerial Art.” The studio is in the basement of that building.

Jumping Class at JK Pole Cheonho


2.) Seoul Tanz Station (Sinchon)



Haven’t taken a class since I’ve been back, but would love to take a ballet or contemporary class here. See my previous post on this studio:

3.) PAS Dance Movement Center (Itaewon)


PAS Dance Movement Center just opened a studio in Itaewon and it is on my list of things to try in Seoul. They offer a wide variety of classes including ballet, jazz, lyrical, contemporary, pilates, and more!

4.) Swing Pop at The Holic (Nonhyeon Station)


Even though I have danced my entire life, I have recently added a new genre to my repertoire- Swing Dance! I have just completed my first 6 weeks of Jitterbug and just started the next level-Lindy Hop beginner. I never had much interest in Swing dancing, but a friend of mine persuaded me to try it and now I’m hooked. Seoul has the largest population of swing dancers so there are a lot of options for classes and social dancing, but I have personally enjoyed my experience at Swing Pop and wanted to spread the word. They have classes starting at 4:30 and social dance time at 7:30pm on Saturdays and Sundays.


Jitterbug Graduation Performance
Graduation Performance Afterparty
Practicing Before Graduation
Just One of the Few Cool Swing Moves I’ve Learned 🙂