A bit of a history lesson…
March 16, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, sighted the island of Samar Island, a large island located in the Visayas. Then in 1565 European colonization began and they formed the first European settlements in Cebu. Colonization of course spread all over the archipelago. Today, many of these Spanish colonial are gone due to wars, revolution, and age. However, one still stands and that historical town is called Vigan City.
In 2007, Vigan City was listed by UNESCO as the best preserved example of Spanish colonial towns in Asia. Its architecture is the conglomeration of cultural elements from the Philippines, China, and Spain, making it unique to the rest of the world.
I hope to go back there someday and really experience it. We missed out on eating Empanadas and riding a kalesa which are both a must! We did go shopping in the little shops and bought some souvenirs and even some antiques. We also went to Vigan Cathedral and listen to mass.
During our trip, we took a long road trip to Northern Luzon.
The Philippines is an archipelago comprising 7,107 islands, the Philippines is categorized broadly into three main geographical divisions: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Manila the capital is located on the largest island Luzon. Luzon is the only island of the archipelago that I’ve been on. Until now I’ve only been around the Metro Manila area and CALABARZON Region (formerly a part of Southern Tagalog)
My mom’s friend took us on a three day adventure to the north. She hired a driver, which is the best idea to tour around the Philippines. You have the freedom like having your own car but you have your own personal tour guild. Many of these driver know the areas and can set up activities for you to do. They also give you a sense of security and help to make sure you don’t get a shady deal. If you’re think of going to the Philippines please look into this option! Also for bring cash, once you move away from the big cities, ATMs are rare and usually out of cash or offline.
Here are some of the highlights of our road trip:
Kabigan Falls (meaning friend) a 120 meters of crashing white water is worth the 30 minute hike through farmland and jungle. Located in the town of Pagudpud it’s part of the tricycle tour and only cost 20 pesos per person. You will be assigned a guide to walked you to the falls. They even stick around while you swim and walk back with you.
Blue Lagoon in Pagudpud is know as a part of the “Boracay of the North.” White sand and blue water, it’s beautiful! There are a few local land marks around the beach area like Dos Hermanos islands and Bantay Abot cave. There are a few beach resorts around and several houses and huts to rent.
As I said before, if you want a safe and easy trip around the Philippines I recommend hiring a private driver. You can search for one or here is the email of the driver we used Ricky Daymil. Kuya Ricky was so nice and takes people all over, not just Luzon. firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy Birthday Buddha! I know I’m a bit late for this post but I wanted to share some of these great photos of Jeondeungsa.
The temple is said to date back to 381, which would make it the oldest temple in Korea. It’s a beautiful place, especially with all the Buddha’s Birthday festivities.
The Korea Tourism site mention to check out the corners of the main hall Daeungbojeon—you’ll see little carved figures of what kinda looks like a naked women holding up the roof.
“According to legend, the engineer building the temple fell in love with a barmaid in town. Unfortunately for him, she absconded with all his money. In revenge, the engineer worked her image into the temple, where, at least figuratively, she would have to hold up the temple roof for all eternity.”
Wow Korea is so good at revenge.
There are several national treasure here too, such as: Yaksajeon (Treasure No. 179), Beomjong Bell (Treasure No. 393, constructed in China in the 11th century), and Yangheonsu Victory Monument (Tangible Cultural Treasure No. 26). There are also many ancient trees.
We had a long weekend back in May for Buddha’s birthday. So with some friends we went straight down line 1 and went to the last stop headed west: Incheon.
Cheomseongdae (meaning star-gazing tower) is the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia. The observatory was build during the reign of Queen Seondeok of the Silla Dynasty. It’s 9.4 meters tall and 5.17 meters in diameter. Built with square granite stones and filled with soil and pebbles to the 12th layer.
It’s one of Korea’s National Treasures and it’s only cost 500 won to enter the grounds. It’s easy to get to take buses 10, 11, or 70 and get off at Daereung-won Tumuli Park. There is tons to see and do in the area too.
Anapji (meaning goose and duck pond) is an artificial pond that was a part of a palace complex in the ancient Silla Dynasty. It went into disrepair, but during a renovation project in 1974 it was restored to it former flourishing glory. The complex is located in central Gyeongju and only a three minute walk from Gyeongju National Museum. You can take city bus number 11. It was highly recommended to visit at night.
Gyeongju is the former capital of the kingdom of Silla Dynasty that lasted for almost a thousand years. The city is rich with history and ancient treasures. One of the biggest and most famous spots is Bulguksa or Bulguk Temple.
The temple, along with Seokguram Grotto, was added to UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995. It’s also the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. The temple is classified as Historic and Scenic Site No. 1 by the South Korean government. With all that, you can see why it’s a big deal and a major tourist site in Gyeongju.
The most highly recommended thing to see at Bulguksa are the two stone pagodas. These pagodas were build in 751 and are prime works from the Silla Dynasty, which is considered the golden age of Buddhist art. One pagoda Dabotap (pagoda of many treasures) is elaborate, full of details and unique sculpting. In contrast, Seokgatap (pagoda of Sakyamuni) is a simple and basic design. Both compliment each other nicely in the courtyard of Bulguksa.
You see a lot of rock stacking in Korea, at temples and on hiking trails. Someone once told me that you add a rock to a stack and make a wish. If the stack stays the wish will come true, but if it falls then all the wish won’t come true. Some rock stack as a family, each rock for each member. Some use it as prayers. I have even seen rock stacking in the current video game I’m playing Skyrim. It’s a bit of an enchanting sight to see so many little stacks of rocks, it’s a peaceful feeling to gaze at all of the mementos of prayers and wishes of hundreds of people and families.
Here are some pictures of our DMZ trip. We took the USO tour which is by far the best tour available because it’s the only one that allows access to the Joint Security Area (JSA) in the Panmunjom area. KoriDoor is the company and the tour takes you to JSA, Third Infiltration Tunnel, Dora Observatory, and Dorasan Station. It cost a bit more but it’s worth it, about 92,000 won or 80 USD.
First we went to the Third Infiltration Tunnel. This is the third out of four official tunnels found that lead from North Korea to South Korea. Stooping all the way, we made it to the end of the tunnel where we could see the third concrete barricade. In that barricade you can see a tiny window where the second barricade is visible. The first barricade is not visible. Also taking photos is prohibited in the tunnel. There is a movie about the war visitors can watch and there is a small exhibit filled with items from the war and miniature models of the DMZ.
There was this amazingly campy tourist sign of the DMZ outside so of course we need a picture of that.
There were a couple of other cute things that you could take pictures next to.
After the tunnel, we drove to The Dora Observatory on the top of Mt. Dora. From there you can see into North Korea. We ate lunch at the Inter-Korean Transit Office. After that we were scheduled to go to Dorsan Station but we had to change plans and get to Camp Bonifas.
Camp Bonifas is a United Nations Command military post located 400 meters south of the southern boundary of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. There we received a briefing about the JSA and the DMZ. We got on a military bus and headed to the JSA.
We were not allowed to take photos of Camp Bonifas or the Freedom House in the JSA. But we could take photos inside the UN Command Conference Building and outside of the Freedom House that looks towards the North.
Inside the UN Command Conference Building there were two ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers. All ROK soldiers stand in a taekwondo stances wearing dark Ray-Ban sunglasses and helmets. They wear these to show no emotion to North Korea. While inside northern part of the UN Command Conference Building you are technically standing inside North Korea.
We walked back outside and stood on the edge of the top step of the Freedom House facing Panmungak the North Korean building. While there we could ask any questions to our US MP tour guide as long as you don’t point or gesture.
Finally we made our way to Dorasan Station, with it’s motto “Not the last station from the South, But the first station toward the North.” In hopes of reunification, the train tracks lay there new and quiet waiting for that day.
Day 8: A little trip to the DMZ. I’ll write more about it later when I have more time but for now enjoy this picture
Day 7: Visited Gyeongbok Palace today. We were suppose to tour the Blue House (Cheongwadae), which is the president’s house but we missed our tour because I got us lost. However, all was not lost we did get to see the changing of the Royal Guard ceremony and that was really cool. We also toured the rest of Gyeongbok Palace which was great and that was my last palace to see. Now I’ve been to all Five Grand Palaces!! Gyeongbok Palace was the largest of the 5 and with the most still standing or restored. It was the main palace and called “Palace of Shining Happiness.” Inwangsan stands in the background while looking west at the palace. It also has the National Folk Museum and Palace Museum on the grounds.
After our trip we went to Chad’s school to meet his kinders and older students. They were great. One even wrote my mom a letter, it was so sweet.
Now the big adventure tomorrow, the DMZ.
Day 6: Toured the Five Grand Palaces and the Secret Garden of Changdeok Palace today. The Secret Garden was so beautiful. It’s a giant rear garden that was a relaxing place for the king and queen. They would partake in several outdoor activities such as military exercises and archery. The king would even raise grain and the queen would engage in sericulture, the rearing of silkworms for raw silk. It was a little bit of a up and downhill walk at times but completely worth it. I’d love to go again in autumn and spring. Tickets were 8,000 won per person that was to go around Changdeok Palace and The Secret Garden guided tour. You can only enter the Secret Garden with a tour group. They have tours in Korean, English and Japanese.
Day 4: Namsan! My favorite place in Seoul. We went to N Seoul Tower and the Teddy Bear Museum.
Day 3: Happy Chuseok!! Today lots of things were closed due to the holiday but one place that wasn’t close was EVERLAND!! So we took the subway to Gangnam Station on line 2 then we took bus number 5002 to Everland. On the way there the bus was standing room only. At the bus stop we took a free shuttle to EVERLAND. At first Everland pissed us off because the ticket booth lady was an idiot and when Chad tried to buy tickets she was just not getting it. He even said it in Korean. So Chad and I got super discounts, Kyle and Jamie got the foreigner discount and mom had to pay full price, because I guess she looks Korean…. Yeah ticket booth lady=stupid.
Once inside the place was great! Really crowded with all the other Asians in Korea besides Koreans. It was the Halloween Festival so everything was themed Halloween, which was amazing!! Then we went to this area that had birds you can feed, I’m terrified of birds but I tried it out.
Then was so much to do and see. In Everland, you have rides, a zoo and shows. Here are some highlights.
This is Seoul Forest. It’s a forest in the middle of Seoul one of the largest cities in the world. Korea’s ambition is to grow it into a premium city park like Central Park in New York City or Hyde Park in London. In the times of the Joseon dynasty it was a royal hunting ground. This is all according to the official Korea tourism site. I had a fun time with Kyle and Brooke walking around the park. Sorry I posted this kinda late. We did this a few weeks ago.
Buddha’s Birthday is a national holiday here in Korea. So we have to go to work on Monday but we get Tuesday off, go figure….
Buddha’s birthday is the birthday of the Prince Siddhartha Gautama, who founded Buddhism and is considered Buddha because “Buddha” meaning “awakened one” or “the enlightened one” found enlightenment. It’s held on the 8th day of the 4th month in the Chinese lunar calendar.
This year makes it May 10th.
We took the hotel manager’s advice and head towards Biseondael Rock. Once there we figured let’s go to Geumganggul Cave and drink from the spring how hard can it be. Well turns out it’s one of the hardest paths in the area!! And here we are, no hiking gear, lugging our overnight bags the whole way and unprepared as ever. We have never hiked like that before. But we made it. And what a sight.
Geumganggul Cave was inhabited by a Buddhist monk who wanted seclusion. His shine is still there. It’s a holy place and it was so surreal being there, it was out of a kung-fu movie. You look out from the cave and all you can see are clouds. There is a mountain spring there and it’s said that if you drink from it you’ll have a long life. There was even a monk living there in this tiny shack no bigger than a car build on the opening of the cave. They had pile rocks to the opening of the cave and built this little shack on it.
Once back down you could look up at what you accomplished. There are 3 peaks: Mirukbong, Hyungiaebong and Sunnyobong. According to a legend, a nymph cam down from heaven and was facinated by its scenic beauty. She had a good time and went back to her home. We had a good time and went back home too.
Seoraksan National Park is located in the northeastern part of Korea. It’s close to Sokcho Gangwon-do which is just south of the 38th parallel. We started our trip at Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal right off line 3. We took a bus from there and it only cost 17,000 won per person one way. So it’s about 34,000 won round trip. It’s a 3 hour bus ride and you go up into the mountain because my ears were popping like crazy. They take one 15 minute rest stop along the way and we almost missed the bus! It was a scary moment but the bus stop as we were running towards it! Once in Sokcho we wandered around looking for a city bus stop that would take us in the direction of Seoraksan. We finally found it after some walking and it was just across the street from the bus terminal so I felt really dumb. It’s a 30 min bus ride (taking city bus no. 7 or 7-1) the last stop is Seoraksan National Park.
There is an ATM just outside the entrance and I recommend getting some cash before going in the park because most little vendors in the park don’t take card. We paid the around 3,000 won each to enter the park and started the search for our hotel. I booked us a room at the Seoraksan Tourist Hotel. The hotel is actually located in the park which was pretty cool. The hotel is easy to find once you walk into the park and it’s right next to the cable cars that take you up to Gwongeumseong Fortress. Every room has a great view from the balcony of the cable car and the top of the Buddha statue. Manager of the hotel was super nice and spoke great English. He gave us a map and a run down of the Sinheungsa Temple Area.
Here is a picture of the National Assembly during the Cherry Blossom Festival. It took me a second to realize the flower patterns are the Taegeuk the symbol of Korea.
Anyway spring is here and so are the flowers. So here’s a picture of my best buddy Jamie at Ilsan Lake Park. This park has the largest man made lake in Korea. I know all about man made lakes because that’s all Oklahoma has and we have the largest number of them. I got my dates mix up and was hoping to see another flower festival in Ilsan but we show up a weekend too early. So some of the flowers haven’t even bloomed yet.
I love messing with Photoshop so I hope you enjoy this creation! Not one of my best photoshopping pictures, a bit sloppy in places but oh well I’m too lazy right now to go into perfection mode.
We went to the cherry blossom festival here in Seoul and it was pretty fun. There are several festivals around Korea and even Seoul itself, but the Yeouido Festival is the biggest in Seoul. The weather was a let down because all week long it was sunny and warm and of course the first time in a couple of months we get an extra day off, overcast and windy. But we went with our co-teacher friends and the streets were filled with beautiful pink/white blossoms. The streets were also filled with performers and vendors. The big excitement was Saturday but we wanted to go on our day off and beat the big crowd so we went on Friday. The street behind the National Assembly was filled with people a couple of stages for Saturday’s events and several flower displays. There were also a row of artist that would draw your portrait. Probably not as much festivities but enough to be enjoyable. One of my co-teacher friends Moriah got pulled into a clowning act and Chad made a friend with a musical comedian. We got to see the National Assembly too. So over all it was a fun-flower-filled day!
Oh PS I got my hair cut. I hope you like it.
Gyeonghuigung or Gyeonghui Palace is one of the “Five Grand Palaces” of Seoul built by the Joseon Dynasty. It was built as a detached royal villa where the kings would stay during daily excursions and emergencies. Construction began in 1617 and finished in 1623. It was large enough that it connected to Deoksu Palace. Sadly, Gyeonghui Palace was destroyed during Japanese occupation of the early 20th century. In the 1980s the site was designated as Historical Site 271 and parts of the main palaces were rebuilt from historical descriptions, tablets and sketches; that’s what stands today.
Admission is free and it’s a great place to wander around. The recreated buildings are full of vibrant colors and beautiful Asian architecture. Right next to the palace park is an art museum and the Seoul Museum of History. There is also a walking tour between Gyeonghuigung and Deoksugung that I accidentally took that’s a beautiful little walk that parts don’t feel like you’re in present day Seoul.
N Seoul Tower is a communication and observation tower.
The tower has been a symbol of Seoul and measures 236.7 m (777 ft)
Seoul Tower or Namsan Tower was build at the peak of Namsan Mountain in 1969 the tops reaches 479.7 m (1,574 ft) above sea level. It was open to the public in 1980. In 2005 it was renovated with new high-tech multi media and reopened as N Seoul Tower.
It has restaurants, shops, an observatory and is one of the most romantic places in Seoul. Right outside the tower are fences and “trees” covered in love locks.
I get super excited every time I can see in it the city. I could go there every weekend and never get tired of it.