A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about tourist sites

Things to do!

As many of my family and friends already know, I am going to be ending my time of teaching English abroad for something equally scary: starting over in America. It's coming up soon in March 2015. It is now September 2014. That's, like, 6 months.

Though I've lived in Korea for about 8 years, I have failed somewhat on the tourist attraction front. I mean, it's gotten a lot better over the past few years, but I have really missed seeing a lot of stuff. I'm going to try to jam-pack it into this fall because let me tell you, the winters here are awful. I mean, just terrible. They don't salt the sidewalks AT ALL, so walking anywhere is pretty hazardous. When I lived in Seoul, my entire street was covered in a thick sheet of ice for weeks at a time. Walking outside to let Kron do his business was a challenge every day. Fall here is beautiful and mild and lovely, so I'm going to force myself to do something every weekend (starting next weekend).

Over the Chuseok holiday, I finally made it to Namhansanseong, an old fortress that was just declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in June. It was a little too warm for my liking, but it was absolutely beautiful. Kron and I will definitely be going again at least one more time.

I also ventured to Everland. Too hot. Too many people. But cheap! And the T-Express wooden roller coaster was not too shabby. (This coming from someone who LOVES roller coasters.)

I need to make a to-do list for what I really want to do in Seoul before I leave (there is SO MUCH!):

  • Seoul Tower (Namsan Tower) - seriously, how have I never been here?
  • Bukcheon Hanok Village - traditional Korean homes! Near two palaces!

- BONUS! Gyeongbokgung! Changdeokgung!

  • National Museum of Contemporary and Modern Art - I LOVE modern art!
  • Hwarangdae (Gangneung) - burial mounds! Royals buried here!
  • Seonyudo - "Host to a water purification plant for decades, this island was recently turned into a park – but instead of dismantling the plant, it was incorporated into the park’s design: support columns are given over to ivy, chemical settling basins turned into lily ponds."
  • Jongmyo Shrine
  • The Blue House - like the White House, but blue.
  • Seodaemun Prison
  • Kimchi Museum - when I first moved here, I mocked the kimchi museum. Now I want to go.
  • kimchi-making class! Other cooking classes!

I also have one week of vacation in the winter, and I think I'll be heading to Hong Kong for that week. Stay tuned to see if I can complete my to-do list!

Posted by lrbergen 04:52 Archived in South Korea Tagged tourist_sites life_in_korea Comments (0)


chu seok at seoraksan in sokcho

So far, my get-everything-out-of-Korea-I-can attitude is off to a good start. For Chu Seok (Korean Thanksgiving) holiday this year, with only one day off of work, my friend Tina and I took a night bus to Korea's east coast. Our destination: Seoraksan, Korea's jewel of a mountain just outside of Sokcho, right on the Sea of Japan.

Sokcho is a sweet little town with beautiful clean beaches, reliable transportation (something very common here in Korea), and awesome seafood.

Our first destination was the Hwajinpo Aquarium, which the guidebook said was shaped like a whale. That is why we went...BUT! Unfortunately, the guidebook people can't tell the difference between a whale and a ship or they did a complete overhaul in the past two years. Both seem possible.

The first floor was full of dead things. Stuffed creepy seals that smelled awful, creepy mannequins with assorted limbs, and creepy stuffed and shellacked fish / aquatic life that had googly-eyes glued on in lieu of real ones. CREEPY.

Blowfish. That just ain't right.

When I said assorted limbs, I meant it.

We finally made it to the actual aquarium where there were fish that were...you know...ALIVE.
This fish was pretty cool. I can't remember the name of it though...

The boy wasn't part of the picture, but he was stunned at the sight of us, so he stayed. Yes, that is a fish tank. And yes...that is a dinner menu advertised right above it.

Some more Sokcho sights:
Hwajinpo (Hwajin Lake) from the beach.
Man fishing in the Sea of Japan.
A fish ...cannery? On the bus ride back to Sokcho proper.
Cute street lights!
Fresh fish market.
Dried...something-or-other. Some type of seafood.
There are eleventy billion kinds of kimchi. These are just some of them.
Making pajeon, Korean pancake.
Sang-tae chigae, fish stew. It was different...lots of bones, and not very filling.
Ojingeo sundae...squid stuffed with spices and other things that I don't really care to know about.

Saturday, Tina, Prut and I made it to Seoraksan for a day of hiking in the mountain air.
Jjambong, spicy seafood noodle soup. This was breakfast! (Note: it is as spicy as it looks.)
The marquee seemed out of place among the natural beauty.
The road to Biryeong Pokpo (Biryeong Waterfall), our first destination.
The natural springs are put to use to cool the canned and bottled drinks for sale.
We made it a bit too early for significant fall colors, but some of the trees were already starting to change.
It was an easy hike there. I look pretty pleased with myself.
We found a friend on the trail. One of my friends said it's like he was giving the typical Korean peace sign.
Gosh, it's beautiful here.

I kind of knew there was a big giant Buddha somewhere in Seoraksan, but it was a real surprise when we came upon it.
This couple was posing in front of the statue.
I'm not sure what these tablets were on the left...I think it was some sort of donation system. If you gave some money, you got to write a message on them.
How is this rock stack still staying up? MAGIC!
The temple of Sinheungsa / Seoraksan in the background.
Reeeeally nice.
Some lanterns. You know...no biggie.
We saw some more foliage.

The second trek we took was to Heundalbalwi, a giant 16-ton boulder near a Buddhist hermitage.
This is the view when we finally reached it.
One of the little Buddha statues on a rock.
Inside one of its temples.
Supposedly, the way it's positioned, you only need a few people to rock it back and forth. We were not those people.
As we climbed back down, we stopped and saw this amazing view.

Our last day, Tina and I tried to soak up the beach as much as possible before our 12:00 bus left for Seoul.
Matching outfits!
There were fences with barbed wire all along the beaches to keep out North Korean spies.

It was really sad to leave Sokcho...the air, the friendly people...just like with most small towns, it was hard to return to the big city.

Posted by lrbergen 05:25 Archived in South Korea Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Phnom Penh Killing Fields

one last hurrah in asia...

This, my friends, will be my very last post from Asia (even though I'm not there anymore). That's right, I've moved on to Mexico. And with another continent comes another blog. Check it: http://awsnapmexico.travellerspoint.com Familiar, eh?

For my last trip, I decided to continue through Cambodia, past Siem Reap and onto Phnom Penh. It seemed appropriate; I generally enjoyed Cambodia and felt an excitement about it that I hadn't felt about a country in a long time. So we hopped on the bus where we were the only foreigners, and in about 5 hours made it to the capital. I had bought a plane ticket to Bangkok for $100 and was all set to go.

Phnom Penh is a hustling, bustling city, with motos honking and vendors haggling; there is no stopping to think, there is only living in the moment. I loved it; in some ways, it reminded me of HCMC, but since I hadn't been traveling for a month, I could appreciate it more. We of course went to a hostel recommended by Lonely Planet right on Lake Boeng Kak. The price was right, so we dropped our bags and went to sit on the beautiful lake and watch the sunset with a couple of BeerLaos.

The second day we got right into the profound sadness that still surrounds much of Cambodia: we went to the Killing Fields outside of the city, at Choeung Ek. During the late 70's, the Khmer Rouge Communist regime, led by the dictator Pol Pot, killed some 200,000 Khmer people (some estimates put the toll up to the millions) for suspected connections with former governments, or any foreign person in any regard. They were taken to death camps such as these and tortured and eventually executed.

Choeung Ek is surprisingly a peaceful place today. Most of the old buildings have been torn down, with only signs written in Khmer and English to remind visitors. There is a commemorative stupa that holds the bones, skulls and clothes of the people who were killed there. The mass graves are now empty of course, having been disinterred over the years since the Khmer Rouge fell. The site was once an orchard and has regained some of that serenity. There is a school close by and you can hear the children playing during recess.

The commemorative stupa, where a sign asks visitors to take a moment a silence for the men, women, and children who were killed there.

The now-empty mass graves.

One of the signs in Khmer, marking a spot where a building once stood.

One of the trees around the grounds.

Around the grounds, agriculture goes on.

When we left the Killing Fields, we thought it only proper to visit Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, a former high school that was used as a prison camp by the Khmer Rouge. Here, the "dissidents" (from other countries as well) were photographed and forced to write their life stories. They were imprisoned for potentially planning a coup against Pol Pot, or for merely being friends or family of these "dissidents." Forbidden to talk, they were held in individual cells as well as mass cells, shackled to the floor and not allowed to move. There were very strict rules and at the slightest hint of disobedience, prisoners were beaten. It is estimated that 17,000 prisoners were held there and out of those, only 12 survived.

Today, it is preserved almost exactly as it was found and is the "Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum."

It was extremely overwhelming to first go to Choeung Ek and then Tuol Sleng.

The first thing you see when walking around is these tombs.

One of the individual holding cells.

The gallows, where prisoners were held upside down to torture information out of them.

There are several rooms with boards full of pictures of the victims. The most heartbreaking were the ones who smiled for their pictures.

These are busts of Pol Pot, preserved next to shackles.

Visitors are encouraged to maintain the proper respect by not laughing or smiling.

Many of the big rooms (once classrooms) were crudely sectioned off into individual cells, using wood or concrete as walls.

Hastily-made corridors between rooms.

There was barbed wire everywhere.

It's impossible to walk these hallways and not feel the overwhelming sense of injustice and sorrow that Cambodians still carry with them today. It is important, however, to remember what happened (just as with any great tragedy of mankind) and to help the people mourn their loss.

Cambodia is a beautiful country and it's important to always keep in mind what the people have gone through in the past 30 years. To be understanding, empathetic, and always considerate is important while traveling through any country; I believe it is especially appreciated by a country that has suffered so much and yet goes on.

And on that note, I conclude my Asia blog...

Posted by lrbergen 23:19 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Ta Prohm

nature taking over!

One of the temples of Angkor Wat that I knew I HAD to experience was Ta Prohm. Famous for its infestation (a WONDERFUL infestation) of trees, Ta Prohm seems to be the temple that time forgot. Stones that used to be walls litter the ground in massive, dangerous piles. Trees seem to grow out of the walls. Ta Prohm's mystery was featured in the movie Tomb Raider and one can't help but feel a sense of eeriness while walking through the almost-always silent temple. Even after the exhausting visit to Angkor Wat, Kathryn and I KNEW that Ta Prohm was a must.

We were not disappointed.

On our way there, our tuk-tuk driver had to dodge several cows.

We passed some happy children. That's the thing about Cambodia: the classic Thai smile extends to the Cambodian people as well.

This kid was having a good time.


This cow was wandering through the market. No one seemed to care.

The stones seem to be barely hanging on.

Detail...some of this stuff was pretty well-preserved.

Side shot of a tree reclaiming its place.



The tree follows the path of the building.

One of the walls' color after some time.

A long shot of some ruins.

These trees were really amazing.

Really...you wouldn't want to climb through the rubble anyway.


Fallen arches...a different kind.



Impressive, eh?

Posted by lrbergen 18:16 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Angkor Wat!

the pinnacle of khmer culture

(This post is half old / half new...I started it in April...it is now mid-May. Forgive me, reader!)

As I might have mentioned before, being situated in Korea, one is positioned to see many other beautiful countries and sights. Some of these seem to be tourist traps (and I'm not naming any names), but some are so spectacular that they must be visited and never forgotten. Out of the things I've seen, this list includes the Great Wall in Beijing, the Golden Temple in Kyoto, the Alhambra in Granada, any Gaudi architecture in Barcelona, Halong Bay in Vietnam, and Hoi An (also in Vietnam).

And, as with any of these, I highly HIGHLY recommend going to see Angkor Wat of Siem Reap, Cambodia. With each of these sights or places, I have always felt a sense of awe. Angkor Wat was no different. And as with these other magnificent structures, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.


The road to Siem Reap was long, bumpy, and dusty. This is what it looked like about everywhere...

Some locals waiting around.

Women sellers with their wares.

The road to Angkor Wat.
This was either a wedding party or a television show shoot. It was hard to tell.


People lunching, horse tied up.

Dust that plagues Siem Reap.


Lots of balusters (columns) and bas-reliefs (stone wall etchings).


In addition to the tourists, there were lots of Cambodian people.



Before the Khmer Rouge took over, much of Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples were disassembled by foreign architects in order to preserve the structures and make them stronger. They were driven out of the country before they could finish. They had kept records of the location of each individual stone; these records were also destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. This is how many of the temples look...there are ruins all over the grounds.


Some fellow tourists take a rest in the heat.

Holy crap. Seriously? Ajummas? In Angkor Wat?! I could spot them a mile away.
I haven't seen as many signs in Korean outside of Korea as I did in Siem Reap. They were everywhere...I felt like I was in some sort of Twilight Zone...

It was impossible to capture just how steep these steps were. Impossible!

Some of the statues were amazingly well-preserved.




These deities are still actively worshiped. In fact, Angkor Wat is still an active temple. Most of the deities are headless; during the Khmer Rouge period, thieves plundered the temples and removed the heads to sell them to foreign art collectors. Most of them have never been returned.

All the good stuff all together.

Groundskeepers taking a nap at the hottest part of the day. It was ridiculously hot...all of us stupid tourists were walking around in the sun. These guys were smart.

A man leading his horse...but not to drink.


After this, my travel companion and I went to have lunch and a hot-air balloon ride.
A chick welcomes us.

Some of the flowering trees.

With the visit to this temple, I saw a lifelong (well...not really lifelong...more like since-I'd-been-in-Korea-long) desire fulfilled. It was totally worth the $20.
Then we went to see Ta Prohm...coming up!

Posted by lrbergen 03:34 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Wat Phra Kaew

finally...some sights from bangkok

My first time in Thailand, I had literally one night in Bangkok.

This time I took at least a full day. Heeding the suggestion of the lovely Thai lady I met on the plane, I decided to go to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Wat Phra Kaew, considered the most sacred temple in Thailand. With this significance comes measures to keep it that way. One must wear long pants and have his or her shoulders covered properly, a fact I learned the hard way. There are long skirts and uniform-looking shirts for rent.

It is indeed impressive...there are mosaics made of mirrored glass adorning most buildings, gold sparkling stupas (also known as chedis). There are guardians and Thai mythological statues scattered throughout. There is even a scaled model of Angkor Wat. Most importantly, there is the Emerald Buddha (actually made of jade). It has a long history, originating in Cambodia, given as a gift to a Thai king, robbed by Burmese invaders, resurfaced in Thailand and moved from Thai city to Thai city, seized by the King of Siam, returned to Thailand, and is still claimed by many Laotians to have its proper place in Vientiane. It's actually quite tiny (between 60 and 75cm, or 23-29in) and hard to see...

Less talk, more pictures...



And some pictures from around Bangkok....

Posted by lrbergen 16:18 Archived in Thailand Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

Buddha's Birthday Blog Extravaganza! (Part 1)

it's a two-parter!

Sometimes I forget I'm in Asia.

No, really. I've grown so accustomed to being around and working with foreigners, having access to imported foreign foods (can we say cheese?), and being able to get around Korea with only a basic knowledge of Hangul and the Korean language, that I begin to overlook the fact that I am a minority, that this country's history is about eleventy billion times longer than America's, and that Buddhism is actually widely practiced.

Last night, my obliviousness to Asian culture was thankfully denied at the Buddha's Birthday celebration in Jongno. Jongno-Gu is full of really cool attractions, like Gyeongbukgung, Insadong (my favorite!), and Jogyesa. There was lotus-making, a street festival and to top it off, a big 2.5 hour parade down the main drag.

Then I remembered: hey! I'm in Korea!
Note: you are about to see lots of lotus flowers. The lotus flower is a very auspicious symbol in Buddhism. According to several sources, it is a symbol for purity of the soul, resurrection in a material world. The layman description is here.


Making lotus flowers. From children to the elderly, everybody was crowded around to make some.

Traditional dancers in the parade.

Lotus ladies.

Traditional soldier. Or I suppose.

Buddhist monks....

More monks...

Hanbok ladies.

Children in the parade.

Children carrying lotuses.

More lotuses.

Dancer with....lotuses!

Neo-traditional hanbok.

Lots of lanterns.

To be continued with floats...

Posted by lrbergen 20:20 Archived in South Korea Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

My Fake Honeymoon

day 6-8: halong bay

So what is up with me being in the most beautiful scenery ever and paying only $50 (US)? This includes transportation from Ha Noi (about a 3 hour trip), a night on a boat, a night in a hotel, all meals included, trekking, kayaking, swimming, and transportation back. Yes, folks, it is truly ridiculous.

Mikey and I left early Sunday morning and got on a boat in Halong Bay. Our meals were delicious. Our room on the boat was boat-y and comfortable. We stopped at one of the sets of caves, the third of which looked strangely like something out of the Goonies. We stopped and went swimming in very questionable water. All the while, we were surrounded by over 2,000 islands and islets that are made of limestone and the most ridiculous sunset I've seen in a long time. To sleep at night? We went into the middle of a ring of these islands and dropped anchor. The sunset was incredible and the stars at night were plentiful.

The next day we came to Cat Ba Island, one of the most developed of Halong Bay. Despite the thunderstorm raging (not really RAGING, per se, but I can't think of a better word), Mikey and I and a family of Spanish tourists went on a trek through the mountain. This was on a very narrow path with tons of brush, wet brush, while wearing shorts and sandals. The views were great and we ate guavas right off the tree and disturbed a huge spider spinning its web.

After the two-hour trek, we went back to our hotel for lunch then onto a bus to a boat to a floating island to go kayaking. We followed our guide and passed floating villages (pet dogs included...or maybe they're being fattened for a feast) and ladies in small rowboats selling snacks of oreos, pringles, and other assorted junk food. We stopped in a little cove and went swimming, where the water was much less polluted and very very shallow. Then we made our way back to the floating village, hopped on the boat again, and stopped at Monkey Island. Even though there are only 30 monkeys, and there are other islands with larger populations, this one holds the name. We did see two monkeys fighting in a tree. The little Spanish boys kept yelling "Monkey! Monkeyyyyy!!!" in that cute little Spanish accent. Then the older one told me I was a monkey. Ha. Ha.

Then we came back and I took the first shower I've had since Saturday. It is now Monday. Lots of polluted-water swimming and sweating in the meantime. Mikey and I are staying another night to hang out on the beach and maybe do the waterpark. Our hotel will cost us a hefty $12 for the two of us. To be fair, they have three Vietnamese channels.

  • A note about the title of this blog: people refuse to believe that Mikey and I are just friends, so we have taken to telling them that yes, we're on our honeymoon. Always a bridesmaid but never a bride, I guess.

Posted by lrbergen 06:21 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

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