A Travellerspoint blog

August 2015

Seoul

sunny 30 °C
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On re-reading this, you might want to grab a cuppa before starting!

Well, it took 18 years but Ash finally made it back to Korea (he feels sooo old when we say that). He spent two and half months in Incheon city working at an Oil Terminal (dealing with 7-9 metre tides which drastically changed the ocean/land interface in a relatively short period of time). We were looking forward to coming because Ash had always wanted to come back and to also have the family here too. The new (and very nice) Incheon airport was being built when he was here last, he remembers taking a ferry boat cruise around Incheon Port and saw the ocean between two islands being reclaimed for what would eventually be a 4 runway airport.

We ended up booking 7 days in Korea and decided to base ourselves in Seoul to look around. As usual, the local underground railway system provided us with speedy and efficient travel to wherever we wanted to go.
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Ash has been pleasantly surprised at how much of the language he remembers, and loved trying a lot of the foods that he enjoyed previously. One dish dak galbi is a spicy chicken dish that we had on our first night and you can’t get this in Australia – but it was great to have it again.
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Our first day of sightseeing took us to the Gyeongbokgung Palace. There are numerous temple complexes to look at in and around Seoul, but after our trip to Japan and ‘Templing/Shrining’ the boys out, we decided to choose only one and make a day of it (even if you love temples it can get too much!). First stop was the Gwanghwamun Gate where we timed it well and saw the hourly changing of the guards.
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The grounds of the Gyeongbokgung Palace were huge and actually took us quite a while to walk around. It was pretty hot day but we managed to find shade in the gardens as we moved around. We also managed to find some more lovely ladies dressed in traditional Korean dresses, they looked stunning of course!
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The following day we visited Kukkiwon, the world headquarters of Taekwondo. This was too good an opportunity to miss, since Ash is now officially a green-with-blue-stripe belt in Taekwondo! Totally by chance, our visit timed with a grading of blackbelts which was pretty impressive to see.
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It also just happened to be located in the suburb of Gangnam, and we couldn’t pass the opportunity for some Gangnam Style action!
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Ash describes himself as a war history buff, and our trip through Asia so far has provided an amazing amount of war history. Korea was no exception. None of us knew very much about the Korean War but after Ash visited the Korean War Museum with Lachlan, we got a very good education in a relatively short period of time. We weren’t aware that this was a UN backed campaign (principally lead by the US) that had 15 other countries including Australia that supported it. Other UN member countries provided medical or logistics/financial support. Australia sent over 17,000 personnel and 332 died in the campaign, with around 1200 wounded. There are some moving displays and the South Koreans are extremely thankful for the support of the countries that helped them. Lachlan and Cameron (brought back on a subsequent day) walked around and climbed over the very impressive outdoor military equipment on display. The statues outside the museum were some of the best that we’ve seen, particularly that of the two brothers fighting for either side of the war that were reunited on the battlefield. The emotion was palpable.
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The highlight of the trip for Ash would have to be a visit to Panmanjun (or Joint Security Area) which straddles the North-South Demarcation line.
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The JSA area used to be open to both countries, however after the ‘tree chopping’ incident in 1976 where two US soldiers were attacked and killed while trying to remove a tree that was restricting the view from a lookout, the area has now been completely divided. As you could imagine, security was extremely tight here and the tour group had military guards everywhere we went. The tour group was limited in which direction and when they could take photos, but it was still great to see. The blue buildings are for the UN, non-blue buildings are the North Koreans.
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This is the 'Bridge of no return' where POWs of both sides were exchanged. Once you crossed, you could never go back.
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Ash entered the blue building used for meetings between the two countries chaired by a Swiss/Swedish neutral group. They could only stay within the boundary of accompanying guards and there were no photos allowed of the UN building infrastructure looking behind this point. Needless to say, they were very happy for photos of the North Koreans to be taken, unlike the North Korean soldiers who hid behind the building we were in to avoid having their photos taken!
Ash is actually standing on North Korean soil here, the guard is with him in the event that North Korean soldiers come through the door and try to pull the United Nations High Command Guests (aka tourists) through the door.
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Here’s Ash straddling the two Koreas (the conference table sits on the demarcation line) and you can see the Demarcation line out the window with the concrete step and different gravels either side.
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Here’s a few other shots where Ash tried to capture the soldiers. The blacked out windows of the North Korean building would no doubt have many soldiers with cameras capturing anyone’s movements.
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On the way to and from the JSA, you go under 12 of these structures on the highway.
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They are actually elevated concrete barriers rigged with explosives which would be detonated to slow a North Korean Army Tank advance by about an hour, should it occur.

Our last big day was at the Seoul Children’s Grand Park, which was, as the name suggests, very large and which included a fantastic range of things to do. One of these was an amusement park where we enjoyed rides for the entire afternoon. With not many people around, we managed to get on every ride with little to no wait. The rollercoaster got quite a work out this time and with Cameron’s growth spurt over the last few months (he’s now 123cm) he could go on a lot of the rides with us much to his delight. He’s an adrenaline junkie!
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Being totally honest, we came to Korea because of Ash previously working here, but also because we didn’t consider it to be a holiday destination on its own and that if we didn’t visit as part of this trip then we most likely never would. We were wrong. In hindsight we should have stayed for longer, and we’d recommend it to anyone as a destination to consider. A couple of weeks could easily be spent in Seoul and beyond, the food is great and the people are lovely.

As we type this, we are at 40,000 feet cruising back to Kuala Lumpur. Our four week Japan-Korea trip has been brilliant but has resulted in minimal schoolwork being done. We always knew this would be the case but we will be spending our next 3 weeks doing some catch-up! It will be good to “settle” for a little while and get ourselves sorted before we board our flight to Frankfurt on 2 September and begin our European leg of the adventure.
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Posted by tollidaytravels 06:57 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Tokyo x 2

sunny 35 °C
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Before we get started, how much would you expect to pay for a hot café latte in downtown Tokyo? See answer below.

After a fairly seamless 6 hours of train travel from Hiroshima, with a train change at Shin Osaka, we arrived in Tokyo. After some Tokyo city train action, we managed to find our hostel just to the north of Tokyo city centre in Ueno.
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We managed to spend a bit of time on the train network the following day. Here is our train map to help us get around.....
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and, we didn’t need to go underground to negotiate the Subway the first time, but we did when we returned from Nozawa Onsen.
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The whole train network can be a bit confusing even for the locals, but we managed to find our way around pretty well. The trick is to find the most efficient way and internet is a big help for that. The JR Pass is also a plus as we passed through numerous train barriers without having to pay for individual tickets.

Our first port of call was the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices to get a view of the city - we did this on two different days and the photos show the contrast pretty well with pollution evident on the first visit.
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We also wanted to see Mt Fuji but not today. Here is what we saw..
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and it should look like this.
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Our next stop was "Thomas Town" for Cameron. The boys managed a ride on Thomas (more for Cameron than Lachlan!). Certainly not as big as some of the other places around however it certainly did the trick. We even managed to find a Diesel 10 to take away as a momento.
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Back from our Nozawa Onsen adventure and we find ourselves in a hostel not far from where we were. Tania and Cameron headed off to the local supermarket to get supplies while Lachlan and I visited the local temple (Senso-ji) to check out the sites. This temple is surrounded by tall city buildings, not that you feel it when you are there.
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The following day we headed off to the Imperial Palace to take in the sights. We ended up checking out the east side but decided to seek some shelter as it was a really hot and humid day and the sun was very strong. We also got some good photos of downtown Tokyo city skyline - the streets are so clean and there is minimal traffic around (due to the awesome train and subway system).
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Lachlan found a Pokémon activity (for the school holidays) where you go to various train stations to pick up ink stamps in a book - which we ended up doing.
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The boys then picked up a Pokémon book and a Pikachu hat prize once all the stamps had been collected.
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The following day we checked out the National Museum of Nature and Science - the boys had a great time learning about everything from dinosaurs to space. There were also animal exhibits and very cool but simple physics displays. The lack of English explanations made things a bit challenging, but it was still fun.
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After an ice cream special treat from Shizu and Erina at our hostel, we headed off to Shibuya to visit Shibuya crossing, supposedly one of the busiest streets in the world and also to see the Tokyo city lights.
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It doesn't look that busy in the photo, however this street can have 100,000 people cross it every hour. Photos taken from Starbucks - apparently it's the highest grossing Starbucks in the world.
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Tan and I found an unbelievable sushi restaurant where you can order your meal on computer and it comes out on a little table via automatic conveyor. So cool, so the future, just so Japanese!
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Anyway, back to that coffee. We bought a Starbucks coffee large size for 370 yen, which is about $4.10, on par or cheaper than in Melbourne I think.
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Although accommodation has been expensive, we can dispel the myths of Japan being ridiculously expensive. I would put it on par with any Australian capital and in fact we have been able to get meals for the four of us for between $15-25.

We are off to Seoul tomorrow for a week, stay tuned for our next instalment.

Posted by tollidaytravels 05:02 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Nagano (Nozawa Onsen)

sunny 32 °C
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We have taken a temporary break from Tokyo after spending two nights there. We come back to Tokyo after our weekend stay in Nozawa Onsen for three nights so we will publish our Tokyo blog after that.

So come Saturday morning we made our way to the station, hopped on the Shinkansen and travelled north west to the Japanese Alps to Nagano, home of the 1998 Winter Olympics.
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We put our bags in lockers and headed off to see the Zenko-ji temple while we waited for our next train. It was actually built in the 7th century (yeah, only the 7th century) and was actually nice to walk around. Here’s a few more temple happy snaps to soak in.

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As I am sure a lot of people can appreciate, once you have a visited a place you can always think of better ways that you could have got around or done it in a smarter way. That is certainly the way with us after discovering Nozawa Onsen.

We booked three nights at a lodge in Nozawa Onsen which we thought was very close to Nagano. We discovered was that it was actually another 12 minutes on the Shinkansen (just opened), or 1 hour on local train, followed by a 30 minute bus ride up the mountain. No problems, the directions provided by the hostel smoothed our way! In fact, there is an Aussie guy (Luke) with a Japanese wife (Mariko) who manage the lodge, owned by more Aussies who live on the Gold Coast. This place would be flat out in Winter, especially with Australians coming to ski in December and January (it’s actually cheaper to come here for a longer ski trip than to stay in Australia!).
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On the night we arrived, Luke and Mariko invited us out to fireworks at the local lake. The fireworks aren’t like what we have back in Australia, in that they would announce the sponsors and then have a brief fireworks session, followed by another announcement. This went on for about an hour and half and was pretty impressive. Summer is fireworks season in Japan, no particular festival, they just like to have fireworks!

There were a lot of resort towns upgraded for the 1998 Winter Olympics. We discovered that Nozawa Onsen was used for the Biathlon and for Ski jump, we could still see the runs and the infrastructure used. There are local ski champions and gold medal winners all over the village!

It’s a beautiful town to walk around with a lot of buildings having quite a European feel to them. There’s water running everywhere, springs flowing all around the houses, and veggie patches in every bit of available space (growing veggies and rice for the Winter).
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On our must do list was a visit to an Onsen, which is a public bathing house. Everyone in the town goes to the public Onsen (or they pay to go private) for their bathing each day. You walk in, strip off (no point being self-conscious!), wash yourself and you can jump into a very warm 42 degree bath for a soak; better in the cooler months than in on a warm 32 degree day. They are heated by mineral springs and some have a sulphurous smell – the boys weren’t too keen on that! A very common sight is to see villagers in their kimonos with a towel over their shoulders sauntering down to the local onsen!
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On our second day, we caught the Gondala to the top of Mt Kokenashi. It was a bit hazy but the views were impressive. The boys managed to play some mallet croquet, summer toboggan and there was a playground there too. It was really nice just to walk around and enjoy the scenery. Plus it was cooler!
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We stopped by the Ogama Hot springs where the villagers come to cook their eggs and veggies. Yes, the water comes out hot enough to cook food, about 70 or 80 degrees!
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Our our way we passed Henmei-ji temple and Yuzawa Shrine. Set in the old forest, with water flowing in streams, beautiful!
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We met an American family who have been living in Japan for 8 years. We ended up having dinner with them for two nights and having some great chats about their adventures.

We really enjoyed Nozawa Onsen and none of us wanted to leave. We would definitely come back here during the autumn months for the colours and winter for the fresh powder snow. Lachie has been wanting to go to the snow for a long time, a good excuse to come back we think!

Posted by tollidaytravels 00:25 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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