Archive | January 2015

The Long Neck Karen in Thailand

One of the main reasons why I love traveling is to learn and experience different cultures. I am simply fascinated by how different cultures view the world through their own unique lens. For example, the notion of beauty usually varies throughout cultures. For the Long Neck Karen people, the ideal of beauty is an elongated neck.

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Traditionally, from an early age of 2 to 5, young girls will begin wearing brass rings around their necks. Every 5 years, more rings are added. The weight of the rings pushes the collar bone down and compresses the rib cage making the neck appear longer. It is believed that women with long necks are more beautiful and thus likely to attract husbands.

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The Long Neck Karen, who are also known as the Padaung, belong to a sub-group of the Karen people. Although their home is Myanmar, many have left their villages in hopes of finding a better life in Thailand.

For over a decade, I have wanted to meet the Long Necks. I had been extremely intrigued by their culture after watching a documentary about them on National Geographic. This dream came true recently, when Jason and I decided to visit the Long Neck Karen village near Chiang Mai, Thailand. Watch this video to follow our journey into the Long Neck Karen village. It was a truly memorable experience!

South Korea: Our Golden Ticket to Traveling

I had always had a keen desire to travel since I was a teenager. I was curious to know what lay beyond this small circle which I had called my world. I would wonder, what life was like in other countries. I wanted to experience different cultures, meet interesting people, try unique foods, and see the incredible places the world had to offer.

But, I was only a teenager without any money. I told myself that after I completed my undergraduate degree, I would travel the world. However, the next thing I knew I was enrolled in graduate school. It was the next step, right? At least that’s what I thought at the time. I promised myself that some way or another, I had to travel after I completed my graduate work. By the time I graduated with my Masters degree, I had a huge debt to pay the university and of course no job or money! How was I supposed to travel?

I know it will sound ridiculous, considering I had debts and no money, but I ended up getting a loan from the bank just so I could travel. You see, my desire to travel was so strong that getting into more debt was not a problem for me. I just needed to travel. Luckily Jason, my boyfriend at the time, also had a strong urge to travel. And so, together we began our journey into an unknown world–the world of travel.

For our very first trip, Jason and I grabbed our new backpacks and flew to London, England. We ended up spending the next 4 weeks, traveling through France, Italy and Greece.

The trip was incredible! It was more than we ever imagined. We were both in love with traveling.
But sadly, we were back to our ordinary lives again. We continued to work odd jobs to make money for the next two years.

However, my urge to travel never left me. It continued to grow stronger with time. I eventually began applying to jobs in the travel industry just so I could travel. After working as a travel agent, I became a flight attendant. I had the opportunity to visit England and Scotland a few times as a flight attendant. But overall, I remained very unsatisfied.

I was beginning to feel very bored with my life. Really bored. I had heard tales from other lucky travelers about their wonderful travel experiences. I heard a lot of stories about Thailand. Travelers’ eyes would light up as they told me about this exotic country.

For hours sometimes, I would just daydream about traveling to Thailand. Just the mere thought of visiting this country would put a smile on my face. Even though I had heard about traveling in other countries too, it was Thailand that fascinated me. I knew deep down, I had to go there. Why? It didn’t really matter. What mattered was, how? How would I ever get across the world to Thailand? Even after two years, we still had debts and hardly any money saved up for traveling. This dream seemed so absurd to think about, but yet I knew I would make it somehow. How though? That question haunted me for months…

Until finally, Jason and I got that call in May, 2006. We were finally being offered to work as English teachers abroad. Within 2 weeks, we had quit our jobs, packed up our lives in Canada, and were on a plane to a foreign country called South Korea. This whole adventure ignited a spark that would change our lives forever. Little did I know at that time, but South Korea would be our golden ticket to the world of traveling and happiness. Within 2 months of being in South Korea, we had our first vacation. And, you may have guessed it. We were on a flight to Thailand!
(Read about our first trip to Thailand.)

Since then, we have been to Thailand 7 times and traveled to about 30 countries!! Dreams can come true, you only need to believe and then find a way!

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On my way to Thailand for the very first time in my life!

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While in Canada, Jason surprised me with this Thailand guidebook. He gave it to me as a reminder that one day we would travel to Thailand. Smart, man!

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Relaxing at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.

A Day To Remember: Trekking in India’s Periyar National Park

When you are on the road for a year, every single day is different.  Some days however, become permanently imprinted into your memory forever.  One those days for me was when we went to Periyar National Park. This could have been our last adventure! I am not exaggerating, keep reading.

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It was a beautiful sunny day in South India, and we had signed up for an all day trekking tour at Periyar National Park. This is one of Kerala’s most popular national parks due to its beautiful nature and wildlife. People flock to this amazing park, lured by the possibility of spotting wild elephants, deer, boar, and perhaps even tigers!

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At 8:00 am sharp we met our guides and the rest of the trekkers. After some brief introductions, we were sitting on a bamboo raft ready to paddle across the gorgeous lake.

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Jason worked very hard to paddle us across this huge artificial lake that lies within the national park. Riding the bamboo raft was an incredible way to enjoy the beauty of the forest. It was both peaceful and fun.

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While on the bamboo raft we were very lucky to spot some wildlife. In the far distance we noticed a group of water buffalo.

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Due to the distance, it is extremely difficult to see but we also saw boar.

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Once we reached land, we trekked for several hours hoping to encounter some wildlife up close. Aside from a few deer, we didn’t really see too much. But, I did hold these super heavy antlers that were found in the wild.

Our tour was almost coming to an end. We had been out all day and now it was almost 4:30 pm, and everyone was feeling a bit disappointed since we never saw an elephant. When the group was pretty much convinced we were not going to spot an elephant, an incredible thing happened. Are you thinking, we saw a wild elephant? Yes, you are partially right. Let me explain.

We were hiking in a straight line, and I happened to be near the front. We were about to turn the corner, when our guide told us to immediately stop. Through the bushes we could see some gray and hear some rustling noises. Yes! It was definitely an elephant! Carefully following our guide’s instructions we all moved away from the elephant. Soon we were in an open field about 50 meters away from that grayish wild animal we had spotted seconds before. We had a clear sight of the elephant and other elephants too!! What? There wasn’t just one elephant, or two, or three, there were seven elephants!! Unbelievable!!

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Now, this is where things got really crazy. The elephants immediately noticed our presence and began kicking the earth with their legs and trumpeting! Then the 6 adult elephants encircled the small baby elephant. What were they doing? Trying to protect their baby or discussing politics? I don’t know! But, the next thing they did was stand in a line facing us with the baby elephant behind them. I think they were telling us to move away. I turned toward my guide, who was holding a rifle in his hand. He looked terrified. There was so much fear in his eyes! My heart skipped a beat. Seriously, it did. The guide was yelling at everyone to run as fast as they could away from the elephants or else they may attack!

I was starting to feel nervous; after all I was wearing orange. I would definitely be an easy target if those elephants started a stampede. So naturally, it would be wise for me to run for my life, but I didn’t. Why?

This was the part that made me the most petrified. Jason was so thrilled about the seeing the wild elephants, he kept taking their pictures despite the fact the guide had told us to run. Everyone had already left except him and of course me. I couldn’t just leave him behind. I kept yelling at him to run as my stress level continued to increase at the speed of light. Finally, he ran! In fact, he ran pretty fast! Yup, I was the last one to enter the safe zone! What can I say, I am just a slow runner!

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Oh, the adrenaline rush. I was terrified and excited simultaneously. Check out our video below, if you don’t believe me!

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These were our wonderful guides, who succeeded to keep everyone safe!

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So what happened with the elephants? They were probably laughing at us. No, seriously they realized we weren’t a threat and went about their merry day.

Any words of wisdom from me? Yes. Don’t wear orange when you go trekking in the wild.

Hiking 3776 m up Mount Fuji

The image of Mount Fuji comes to my mind when I think of Japan. It is Japan’s highest mountain towering at 3 667 m. For centuries this mountain has been a sacred site for pilgrims and a source of inspiration for many artists as well as poets. For me, it is a reminder of how perseverance and determination can help conquer what seems impossible.

When I decided to climb to the summit of Mount Fuji, I was a very inexperienced hiker. I had never before climbed to such a high altitude.

Mount Fuji has 10 stations along the route to the top. The majority of tourists or sightseers ride a bus to Station 5 and then climb to the peak. However, Jason and I were motivated to climb all of Mount Fuji starting from the foot of the mountain.

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We began our journey at the northern base of the mountain, near the Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine. This holy shrine is dedicated to Princess Konohanasakuya, the Shinto deity identified with Mount Fuji. The path to the shrine is lined up with stone lanterns and tall cedar trees.

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After visiting the holy shrine, we tried to use our map to find the entrance to the Yoshidaguchi Trail. However, we had great difficulties finding it. It was early afternoon and about 1.5 hours later once we finally discovered the right way!

After overcoming our initial frustrations, we spent the next few hours enjoying ourselves. The landscape was very green and scenic with plenty of vegetation. The hike itself was very pleasant and relaxing.

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We eventually came across this sign, warning us how we would be taking a risk by hiking this trail. We read it, took a photo, and kept moving along the trail.

Every time we passed a station, we would get excited since we were getting closer to our goal. We had been hiking for a few hours and were beginning to grow weary and cold. By the time we reached Station 5, it was extremely dark and cold. We decided to take a four hour rest break inside a small hut.

The Japanese treated us with great hospitality. I remember feeling so cold and hungry, when an elderly Japanese woman brought me a hot bowl of udon. That was one of the best udon meals I have ever had in my life. It was made with fresh mushrooms that were grown on Mount Fuji itself! (Now every time I have udon, I always recall this beautiful memory of Mount Fuji!) In addition to serving us a delicious hot meal, the Japanese gave us some cozy blankets for our nap.

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Despite our desire to sleep a bit longer, we woke up around midnight. It was terribly cold. But we were determined. We wanted to reach the summit before sunrise.

Besides overcoming the lack of sleep and intense cold, the other major challenge I encountered was breathing problems. Between Station 9 and the peak, it was becoming very difficult to breathe at such a high altitude. I slowed my pace and simply took it as easy as I could until I finally reached the summit.

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This is a view of the gorgeous sunrise from Mount Fuji.

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It took us about 10 hours altogether of climbing to reach the summit of Mount Fuji. It was definitely an accomplishment. Quite honestly, I never imagined that one day I would be sitting at the top of Japan’s tallest mountain with my best friend! We both felt incredibly awesome!

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The first snow of the year began falling while we were walking around the crater of this volcanic cone.

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Throughout our journey we experienced all kinds of weather (sunny, snowy, cloudy, rainy, windy, foggy) on Mount Fuji. That was pretty awesome!

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For me, descending the steep slopes of Mt. Fuji was definitely more challenging than climbing to the top. It was difficult to get a good footing on the ground since the steep paths consisted of tiny rocks that slid easily. Most Japanese hikers were simply running down these slopes, which of course was actually easier than taking steady short steps. However, I was too cautious and nervous to be running down Mount Fuji!

Despite all my challenges, my experience on Mount Fuji was very rewarding and fun. I learned with perseverance and determination I can accomplish a lot.

Korea’s Sex Park!

Throughout my travels I have seen numerous parks. However, Korea’s Sex Park definitely tops my chart for its uniqueness. This interesting park, which is also named Jeju Loveland, is home to 140 erotic statues that express the theme of sexuality. It was built in 2004 by students from Seoul’s Hongik University. Now, it has become a very popular attraction for both locals and tourists. Considering that sex is not openly talked about in Korean society, this park is indeed very unique to Korea!

Watch this short video and get a glimpse into this sex park!

What has been the most unique park that you have visited?

Related: Korea’s Penis Park

Cuddling Koalas and Feeding Kangaroos!

While traveling in Queensland, Australia, we made a stopover in Brisbane. We specifically went to Brisbane to visit the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. It is the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary. It serves as a habitat for at least 130 koalas.

At the sanctuary, observing and learning about the koalas was very educational. However, I was mostly eager to cuddle a koala.

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This rare opportunity to hold and cuddle a koala was very special. Surprisingly, I felt very comfortable holding the koala, even though I could feel its tiny claws.

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Within the sanctuary, there was also a 5-acre kangaroo reserve, where over 130 kangaroos roamed around freely. It was possible to both pet and feed these animals.

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Even though I love animals, I was particularly nervous about feeding this kangaroo!

Besides, the koalas and kangaroos, the sanctuary was also home to various colourful Australian parrots and cockatoos, as well as Tasmanian devils. Our trip to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary was very lovely and memorable. I would highly recommend it!

Why is this Korean Park full of Penises?

In South Korea, sexuality is a topic that is not openly expressed. Thus, it might be quite alarming to learn that Korea has an entire park consisting of about 50 phallic statues. Situated along Korea’s east coast, approxiately 20 km south from Samcheok, lies a Penis Park. This unique park also known as Haesindang Park belongs to a small town called Sinnam.

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According to legend, a fisherman took a maid out to the sea and left her on a rock to harvest some seaweed. He promised he would return later and bring her back to shore. Tragically however, there was a very heavy rainstorm and the woman eventually drowned and died in the sea. After her death, the villagers were unable to catch fish. Many believed this was due to the dead virgin’s ill spirit. To please her spirit, the villagers decided to erect wooden phallic statues and hold a religious ceremony. After that, it was not long before the villagers were catching fish again.

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Interestingly, the religious ceremony for this maid still continues to be held twice a year. In this photo, the rock on which the maid was left can be seen in the far distance.

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The penis sculptures peppered throughout the park were of various sizes and shapes. Most of the penises were carved with facial expressions or unique patterns.

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Some penis statues were fairly simple.

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Others were more creative, like this fish penis.

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I found this phallic statue very interesting due to its facial expression.

Personally, I thought it was worth a trip to the Penis Park. If erect penis statues don’t make you uncomfortable, then this park is a great place to have a few laughs!

Surfing at Kuta Beach, Indonesia

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Kuta beach in Bali, Indonesia, is extremely touristy and crowded. The beach is teeming with locals and tourists, who are relaxing on the beach or most likely surfing.

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When we arrived at Kuta beach, we immediately decided to take a surfing lesson. Our surfing instructor taught us the basics of surfing and handed us both a surfboard.

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So, with my surfboard in hand, I walked into the water not knowing how this experience would turn out. I had no idea if I would like surfing, but I had to try. I was in the water for an hour, before I decided I was done with surfing.

Let me say it loud and clear, surfing is hard, extremely hard. It was exhausting for me to even stand on my surfboard in order to ride the waves. At one point, the wave, which was at least a 1.5 meters high, totally took me under. For a short moment, which actually felt really long and slow to me, I was struggling to surface after being hit by my surfboard in the head. It was scary.

Instead of feeling frustrated with trying to surf, I decided to exchange my surfboard for a bodyboard. In no time, I was riding the waves and having an awesome time. It was so much easier and a lot more fun with the bodyboard.

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From this experience, I learned that surfing isn’t for me. However, I do still have a deep appreciation and admiration for all those surfers, who can ride the waves so gracefully.

Wadi Rum: Jordan’s Red Desert

Some places are just so beautiful that words and pictures don’t do them justice. The desert of Wadi Rum is a perfect example.

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As we were riding the jeep through this Jordanian desert, I couldn’t help but feel capitivated by the red sand. This was the first time I had ever seen a desert with red sand. I felt incredibly happy!

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The tall cliffs scattered throughout the red desert, definitely added character to the landscape.

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Wadi Rum is a fairly isolated place. The only inhabitants, who permanently live here are Bedouin nomads and villagers. We stayed in this tent overnight, accompanied by Bedouins. We had a fun evening of listening to their songs and stories as well sharing a meal together.

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We spent the day, exploring the desert on foot. We climbed several cliffs and then sat back to enjoy the view. We also challenged ourselves to climb up the steep sand dunes.

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Climbing the sand dunes was so much fun! We did finally make it to the top.

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It was a really great feeling to be surrounded by so much space and natural beauty. Wadi Rum is a beautiful desert; one of the best I have seen.

Is it Worth Climbing the Syndey Habour Bridge?

The Syndey Habour Bridge, is one of Australia’s most famous landmarks. It is nicknamed “The Coathanger” due to its arch-based design. It stands 134 metres above the Syndey harbour, and is the world’s largest (but not the longest) steel arch bridge. Tourists and locals have the opportunity to climb to the top of this bridge with an organization named Bridge Climb.

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We had only one day left in Australia and we were still on the fence of whether we should climb the bridge. It was a rainy day, and this adventure was extremely costly. It was about $220 per person for the climb. After some contemplating, we finally decided perhaps it would be worth the experience. We had never before climbed to the top of a bridge. Thus, although we were not absolutely confident about our decision, we figured it might be fun to climb such an incredible bridge and see the city from a different perspective.

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It was a poor decision. Our climbing experience was mediocre. It was a very slow and uneventful climb, not very thrilling. Of course the weather really didn’t help much either. Even though the views of Syndey from the iconic bridge were interesting, the cost of this adventure was definitely not worth it.