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Frozen at the Sancheoneo Ice Festival

For those who enjoy the cold and freezing their bums off, why not check out the Hwacheon Sancheoneo (Mountain Trout) Ice Festival in the Gangwon-Do province of South Korea. While I wasn’t a fan of the sub-zero temperatures and my initial hours of bad luck, I did enjoy some success and loved the overall atmosphere of the festival. What’s more, there are numerous activities to do beyond the ice fishing these include snow sledding, ice sledding, ice football, curling, and polar plunges to name a few. If you’re interested in checking the festival out yourself, the 2017 Sancheoneo (Mountain Trout) Ice Festival is quickly approaching and will be held from Saturday, January 7th to Sunday, January 29th.

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During my trip to the festival, I remember standing and shivering, unable to move my extremities. I had never experienced cold like it before. All the while, I was trying to figure out what made me decide to spend my weekend in the region of Korea that is known as the first area to freeze over in the winter. I’m much more of a palm tree and beach kind of guy. I’ve never been a big enthusiast of the cold or even winter for that matter. It was something I was pushing off for a couple weeks, but since I was living in Korea, I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to check out the country’s biggest winter festival.

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After three hours of waiting for a bite, my anger and frustration grew as I watched all the giddy looking Koreans around me catching fish after fish as if it was the easiest thing in the world. In contrast, I wasn’t experiencing any success at all, even after receiving a few helpful pointers from some of the friendly fishermen (who were almost definitely laughing at me internally). While I was considering giving up, I was approached by an older lady who suggested I head to the “Foreigners Section” to give it a go.

I was highly doubtful that being along another part of the river would make any difference. Nonetheless, I took her advice and found the “Foreigners Section.” This area was less crowded and further away from the hustle and bustle of the main festival area. I still remained doubtful, but within two minutes of being there I finally caught my first trout of the day. I finally caught a freaking fish! Within thirty minutes I had another another six fish!

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I was a bit dumbfounded as to why it was so much easier to catch the trout in the “Foreigners Section.” Regardless, I was too relieved to question it for too long. One amazing aspect of the festival is that after all the hard work, fishermen can take their catches to a nearby grill and have the fish grilled and prepared on the spot. I ended up sharing my catch with a local family as we tried our best to converse with one another through my broken Korean and their limited English.

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Overall, it was a truly unique and enjoyable experience, and not to mention, the trout was the freshest fish I had ever had. If you happen to find yourself in Korea during the month January, I definitely recommend making your to the festival. For more information please visit the Sancheoneo Festival Website.

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Wander Pi Wednesdays: Dreaming of Someplace Warmer

Every Wednesday, I’ll be sharing one of my favorite photos from my travels.

This week, Hong Kong was hit by the coldest temperatures in nearly 60 years. Morning temperatures often dropped down to a bone-chilling 37 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s about 3 degrees Celsius) in most urban areas. While this may not seem very cold to most readers (especially those living in the North), I guess I must have acclimatized after living in Hong Kong for four years because it felt like the coldest days of my life and this is coming from a New Jerseyan. All the while, I couldn’t stop thinking about warmer weather and tropical beaches. So in honor of Hong Kong’s coldest day in nearly six decades, I thought it’d be appropriate to share one of my photos from the Philippines. Taken in the Palawan region during a five day expedition from Coron to El Nido, we stumbled upon this desolate island found between the South China and Sulu Seas.

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My Favorite Captures of 2015

With February 2016 nearly upon us, I wanted to take some time a reflect on the previous year and share some of my favorite photos of 2015. When it comes to photography, I consider myself to be much more an enthusiast than a professional. I thoroughly enjoy taking pictures just for fun of it. It’s definitely an added bonus when I capture a decent shot of something that means a lot to me.

2015 was one busy year, especially when it came to work. Holding down a full-time job while living in Hong Kong and finding the time to do extensive travel was pretty difficult. Nonetheless, I tried my best to plan my vacation days around public holidays in order to get more time to travel. As such, my travels in 2015 led me to Myanmar, China, Indonesia, and back home to the United States for an early Christmas. According to Adobe Lightroom, I snapped over 2,000 photos during this time so choosing my favorites certainly wasn’t an easy task, but I tried my best to narrow it down to a few from each country. Take a look!

Myanmar

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Reaching an impressive 325 feet into the sky, The Shwedagon Pagoda is Myanmar’s most sacred Buddhist pagoda. Containing various important relics related to the spiritual teachings, it is believed to be the oldest pagoda in Myanmar, dating back to the lifetime of the Buddha. As a result, thousands of pilgrims visit this site every day, making it a unique, lively and magical place to witness.

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During a two hour wait in the extremely busy Yangon Central Railway Station, I was approached by a big family who asked me to sit on their mat while I waited for my train. The mother, in broken English, told me all about her children and introduced me to her son who was more than excited to have a photo taken. You can see them here sporting thanaka, a natural paste made from ground bark that is used as a natural sun screen. These, among many others, were just a taste of the curiosity and hospitality that can be found in all corners of Myanmar.

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Bagan is Myanmar’s most famous destination and it’s easy to see why. This ancient city is home to thousands of Buddhist pagodas and temples dating back to the 11th and and 13th centuries making them nearly 2,000 years old. My friend and I spent the entire day exploring this vast landscape, wandering amongst the temples, and discovering the hidden statues found in the various temples. Bagan is truly magical and it was easily one of the most memorable places I traveled to in 2015.

China

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The Li River which traverses from Guilin to Yanhshuo is considered to be one of China’s most famous scenic areas. Surrounded by towering karst mountains, rollings hills, and hidden caves, it’s the perfect place to catch a bamboo raft and leisurely float down the river. Listed as one of the world’s top ten watery wonders by National Geographic Magazine, it’s a beautiful place to witness as it offers a quintessentially Chinese experience in a mostly natural and untouched setting.

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Named after its moon-shaped hole, Moon Hill is one of Yangshuo’s most iconic and scenic sights. Standing at over 1,200 feet high, Moon Hill offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area and valley below. The 800 step climb to the top is well worth the view and, for those seeking something a bit more adventurous, why not try one of the fourteen rock climbing routes up the the large rock. Whether you’re an amateur or a professional climber, this scenic destination offers the perfect backdrop for a challenging, yet fun adventure.

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There’s something about water buffalo that completely puts me at ease and sends me to my peaceful place. I could easily spend hours watching these majestic creatures wandering through the rice fields and munching on grass. An odd, the water buffalo have become my my favorite animals. I have witnessed these gentle giants in nearly every Asian country I have visited thus far and I have grown to really appreciate their gentle manner.

Indoenisa

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Bali was probably one of the most surprising places I visited. Due its touristy nature, I was expecting it be highly developed, but it’s actually quite easy to find peace and quiet throughout many parts of the island. Case in point, the Jatiluwih Rice Terrace; 700 meters above sea level, this beautiful rice terrace is considered to be Bali’s oldest and most complex agricultural system. Designated a UNESCO Cultural Landscape, Jatiluwih offers a breathtaking panorama and a tranquil retreat from the island’s more developed areas.

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From vast rice fields to relaxing beaches, Bali has a lot to offer as a travel destination. This is the Yellow Bridge which connects Nusa Lembongan to Nusa Ceningan. These two islands are only a short boat ride from the main island of Bali, yet it feels as if they are hundreds of miles away from the busy shores of nearby Kuta and Sanur. The quiet shores of Nusa Lembongan are the perfect place to unwind and relax and live life the way it was meant to be.

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And what is a place without its people? During a four day stay in the palatial Alam Puisi Villa I was invited to attend a New Year celebration which included four traditional Indonesian dances. The dancers were only too happy to be captured, in fact, spectators were invited to join the dancers on stage to welcome in the new year. It was the perfect way to ring in 2016.

The United States

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New York City is a truly unique and unrivaled destination. From the city’s Great White Way to its five distinct boroughs, there a few cities like it in the world. Not to mention, Gotham has one of the most iconic skylines around. There is no better place to catch a glimpse of this glistening skyline than the Top of the Rock. Whether you call it the Big Apple, the Capital of the World, or the City that Never Sleeps, you’ll certainly never run out of things to do.

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Christmas in New York City is a magical experience. From ice skating in Central Park, viewing the windows along 5th Avenue, or taking in the sights of the world’s most famous Christmas tree, the city certainly goes all out for the holidays as it transforms itself into a twinkling winter wonderland, making it one of the best of times to visit the Big Apple.

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The September 11th memorial is an unusual one for this list, it’s not exciting, it’s not a major tourist attraction but it is a picture I hold in high esteem. This image depicts the beauty of the memorial and the importance of such a space in the city of New York to both its citizens and its visitors. The tone of the memorial is hardly morose, but pensive, a reminder of what so many have lost and what we must never forget.

Wander Pi Wednesdays: Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour

Every Wednesday, I’ll be sharing one of my favorite photos from my travels.

Located between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula, Victoria Harbour is one of the largest harbours in the world and is considered to be the lifeline of Hong Kong. Home to the historic Star Ferries, various cruise liners, cargo ships, and wooden junk boats, the port is always bustling with life and is never still. Literally known as the ‘fragrant harbour,’ the harbour is the pulsing heart of this vibrant city and has long played an intricate role in the development of Hong Kong. From here, the famous skyline can be witnessed in all its beauty and grandeur.

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Falling for Seoraksan National Park

With Autumn upon us and the lack of changing leaves here in Hong Kong, I’m beginning to long for the fall colors that can be experienced in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere. While living in South Korea, my friend and I ventured the 6 hour bus ride from our home town of Daegu to Sokcho for some fall foliage. Sokcho is a city located on the northeastern coast of Korea, not far from the North Korean border. The city is known as a gateway to nearby Seoraksan National Park, where we spent most of our weekend.

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Seoraksan is one of Korea’s most popular National Parks and is listed as a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is known for its stunning natural beauty, rare flora and fauna, and Buddhist temples. From the park’s main entrance there are many trails, with some peaks measuring over 1,200 meters above sea level, as well as access to a cable car. We decided to hike the Biryong Falls and Ulsanbawi courses.

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The Biryong Falls course is a short hike from the main entrance of the park. “Biryong” which literally means flying dragon is an easy hike which leads visitors to a serene waterfall that is hidden deep within the forest. As with most things in Korea, Biryong has a unique back story. It is believed that “long ago, the villagers suffered from a dire drought. The villagers found that a dragon had stopped the flow of the stream from the fall. They offered a maid as a sacrifice and the dragon disappeared into the sky, thus letting the stream flow once again.”

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This is great trail for anyone who wants a simple and easy hike. The course is quite flat and well maintained except for a bit at the end that involves some rock scrambling. The trail passes a thick bamboo forest, various sheer cliffs, and three waterfalls, making it a unique trekking experience. I really enjoyed taking in all the fall foliage along the path. The leaves here appeared to be deeper and brighter in color as the trail wandered along the lower elevations of the park.

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The Ulsanbawi course is a longer hike and known as one of the park’s more difficult hikes. The top is 876 meters above sea level, here you can enjoy panoramic views of Daecheongbong (the highest peak), Sokcho, and the East Sea. According to legend, Ulsanbawi comes from the city of Ulsan in South-Eastern Korea. It is said that on its way to the making of Kumgangsan (one of the best-known mountains in North Korea), the rock fell in love with Seorak and decided to stay here for good.

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The fairly arduous 4km hike takes roughly two hours to reach the peak is well worth the effort. The views from the top are simply breathtaking. I really enjoyed all the rock scrambling and climbing the 888 steps to the top. Although it was a bit crowded, it was still a peaceful experience. It’s easy to see why Ulsanbawi is one of park’s most popular hikes.

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If you have the time, I highly recommend adding Seoraksan National Park to your Korean itinerary. Only two and half hours by bus from Seoul, the park can be easily visited in one day. It’s a beautiful place to explore during any season and the nearby city of Sokcho is a quaint little coastal town that is an added bonus.

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For more information be sure to visit the Korea National Park Service Website.

Wander Pi Wednesdays: Creatures of the Night

Every Wednesday, I’ll be sharing one of my favorite photos from my travels.

Night hiking through the jungles of Borneo, I happened upon this fuzzy caterpillar going on his way through the jungle. While not a rarity, I found it somewhat humbling to see the sheer amount of wildlife that comes alive during the night, just going about its business. The antithesis of insect sounds of the night to the bird and monkey calls of the day time is truly a wonderful experience. After just moments of trekking, I truly saw how the jungle is an enormous living entity.

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I’ve Been Nominated for the Liebster Award!

Thanks to my dear friend Erin over at Quarter Life Wanderings, I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award. Thanks Erin, it’s greatly appreciated! You should definitely check out her site when you get a chance, her stories and photos are amazing!

So what exactly is the Liebster Award? The Liebster Award is an opportunity for bloggers with less than 200 followers to get discovered and promote other bloggers in the blogosphere. While not an award in the literal sense, the Liebster is a great way for up and coming bloggers to interact and promote each other while meeting like minded people online. I personally find idea to be genius!

First, I’ll answer 11 questions that were given to me by Erin. Then, I’ll create a new list of questions for my own nominees to answer. So here we go:

1. What was the first place you visited and why?

After graduating university, I decided to treat myself to a holiday outside of the States. Like most graduates, I was pretty strapped for cash so my options were quite limited. Thankfully, Mexicana Airlines was still operational at the time and I scored myself a cheap ticket to Costa Rica. It was my first major trip aboard and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. From learning how to surf to hiking an active volcano, I was living la pura vida and didn’t ever want to leave.

2. What is your worst/funniest travel experience?  

If you’re a reader of my blog, you’re probably quite aware that I’m a big fan of the Philippines. I love it so much that I have visited the country on four separate occasions. The Palawan region is a place that is particularly untouched and dear to me. Unfortunately, there is one place in the Philippines that I won’t ever return to and it’s called Puerto Galera. Just the name of it alone brings a plethora of emotions, all of which are negative. I won’t get into too many details, but let’s just say my friends and I had our belongings stolen, were overcharged, and pretty much lost our dignity for reasons that probably shouldn’t be shared. It was one island I couldn’t wait to leave.

3. What is/was your dream trip and why?

My current dream destination is Nepal. I hope to explore it sometime soon especially after the devastating earthquakes to help give back. I’m a big fan of the outdoors and Buddhist culture and I think Nepal will offer the perfect mix of my two favorite things. From Annapurna Circuit to the Everest Base Camp hike, I hope to fully explore and enjoy Nepal’s grand landscape.

4. If you could retire in a country other than your own, what would it be?

This is a tough one as there so many places that come to mind, but if I had to just choose one I’d probably pick Costa Rica. It offers a bit of everything that I enjoy the most, rainforests, beaches, volcanoes, wildlife, good food and a laid back atmosphere. Not to mention, Costa Rica is an environmentally friendly country with more than 25% of its land either a National Park or a protected area.

5. Have you ever lived in another country or wanted to? Where?

Before coming to Hong Kong, I lived in South Korea for a year where I spent the weekends exploring as much of the country as I could. Living in Korea made me realize that it is easily one of the most underrated countries in East Asia.

6. Why did you start a travel blog?

I’ve been living in Asia for more than four years now and I’ve been loving every minute of it. I started this blog in order to have an avenue to write about the amazing places I’ve been to and to share my own thoughts and insights about them

7. What is the weirdest thing you have eaten during your travels?

While I try to immerse myself in the local culture as much as I can, I’m not that adventurous when it comes to outrageous eats. I’ve passed on opportunities to eat scorpion, silk worms, and fried bugs in the past, but I have tried chicken feet. While it’s not that extreme, that’s about the weirdest thing I have eaten so far.

8. How many countries have you visited so far?  

So far I have traveled to a total of 17 countries, most of which lie in Asia. Here’s the list in order of when I visited them, Poland, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, South Korea, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Macua, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, and Myanmar.

9. Name your three top destinations you’ve been to.  

Another tough one, but I’d have to say my top destinations (in no particular order) are Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam. I found Indonesia to be quite magical, from the rice fields of Bali to the temples of Borobudur, there is something unique in the air that is hard to describe. I think the Philippines is easily one of the most beautiful and friendliest countries I have visited. The Palawan region is so stunning and untouched, it’s one of the few remaining unspoiled tropical paradises left on Earth. Finally, Vietnam was the most surprising destination I visited. It’s super cheap, the people are gracious, the food is amazing, and the landscapes are unique.

10. What are your top five things you never travel without?  

I often travel light, but the first thing I can’t ever travel without is my Nikon D7000. While it usually takes up the most room in my bag, it’s often the first thing I think of and the one item I use the most. And of course, I never travel without my pad and pen, Kindle, passport, and wallet!

11. Is there a place you would never go back to and why?  

I’m a big believer in second chances. While I wasn’t a very big fan of Singapore, I hope to return sometime soon and give it a second chance. However, as explained earlier, Puerto Galera is one place that I definitely won’t go back to.

Here are my 11 questions:  

1.What was the hardest adjustment you had to make while traveling or living aboard?

2. What was one of your best moments traveling or living aboard?

3. Has anything gone wrong while traveling that seems funny now?

4. What’s the best meal you’ve ever had traveling?

5. What’s the one thing you cannot travel without?

6. What artists or songs would you include on your ideal playlist for a trip?

7. When traveling do your prefer city life or being in nature?

8. How do you afford to travel?

9. If you could move anywhere in the world where would it be?

10. What’s your favorite city?

11. What is your favorite travel quote and why?

Now, for my nominees!

1. Liam & Tyler at Translated Tourist

2. Liam at L.A. Murphy

3. Atreyee & Jesse at Bespoketraveler.com

4. Albatz at Elizabatz.com

5. Belle at Thattravelingnurse.com

6. Kirk at Theworldisnotthatbig.com

7. John at Pursuitoflife.net

8. Constance at Foreignsanctuary.com

Sorry if any of you have done this before, you don’t have to do it again! Make sure you comment the link to your answers in my blog so we can read it!