Three Things Thursday; ancient things of Oman

Q: What do you do if you’re a fast-developing oil economy with outrageously beautiful natural resources caught in a slowdown ?

A: Turn to tourism and hope you can successfully diversify in time to stop it all going down the pan.

Winter Is Coming. And in Oman this is time for great celebration. We can finally venture out of the house during daylight hours without the fear of being burned up like vampires. The Eid holiday at the start of September gave me an opportunity to take advantage of this and head through the Hajjar mountains and into the Interior for a couple of days. In my inimitable “explore-by-random-accident-rather-than-any-conspicuous-planning”style, what I encountered was glorious and wholly unexpected. Wonderful for me, problematic for the country unless it seeks to dramatically expand its capacity and infrastructure for tourism.

With few road signs and little in the way of a comprehensive guide to reaching and enjoying the best of Oman, I cobbled together a great couple of days’ of exploring. In the spirit of sharing, here are three…

… wonderful ancient sights in Oman. More

Stop all the the Locks!

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Love locks at Namsan

When did fences become a magnet for juvenile declarations of love? Is there a moment in recent history when a film depicted someone visiting a hardware store in search of the perfect vehicle for their declaration of undying devotion, coming across a padlock, and thinking, “At last! I’ve found the messenger I’ve been searching for! Now, where’s my damn engraving pen?”

Well apparently yes, there is. More

Three Things Thursday

This month for your added-value delight I present…

…three more great museums in Seoul.

After a period on peculiar working hours in my last job, I found myself with three months of Friday afternoons going spare and undertook to visit a different museum every week. My top three museums were wrapped up in a Three Things post that proved enduringly popular, but there were other, equally interesting and beautifully put-together museums, three of which I’m sharing here.

This time, it’s a combination of ancient and modern history which, taken together, furnished me with some invaluable cultural reference points and a much greater appreciation for a number of aspects of the national psyche. It also gave me a lot to talk about with Korean friends and students who appreciated the interest in their history, culture, and language. More

Three Things Thursday; places to see in Da Lat

I recently got to spend an unexpected bonus six weeks travelling around Vietnam – o happy days – so this month I share with you three lovely places…

Da Lat market

Da Lat market

…you can visit in Da Lat, southern Vietnam.

The name Da Lat may ring unhappy bells for news followers. Several days after I was there in February the town hit international headlines for all the wrong reasons when a group of adventure-seekers encountered tragedy at a waterfall. This mountain idyll is a feature on the backpacker circuit of Vietnam because of its adventure sports opportunities, which include waterfall treks, zip lining and biking. Its mountain climate also makes it an attractive getaway for those based in HCMC, following in a long tradition set by the colonial French, who built their summer house getaways there.

Ensconced in the hilly Lam Dong province at 1500 metres, Da Lat is an 8 hour bus ride or one hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City. I picked up a $20 flight with JetStar, having read scare stories online about the bus journey. I later discovered that the people writing the scare stories were probably just unlucky as the bus journey is fine. Not being much of a one for adventure sports, I stuck to pootling around by rented pushbike, and found the town had plenty of more sedate sights to offer.

Thing 1 ~ the Crazy House More

Seven days in Tokyo

What to do when you finish one of the best paid gigs in the stressful world of English teaching in one of the furthest corners of the globe from your home in order to move to a much lower paying area of the world?

The answer is of course go on a holiday you’re not going to be able to afford again in the foreseeable future! Thus I found myself in mid-September enjoying the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, the most populous city in the world. And the view was peachy.

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Three Things Thursday

It’s less than a fortnight until I depart Korea and my wonderful home in Seoul for good, so this month I present for you my Top Three Things…

…to get up to in Korea.

Thing 1 ~ cross country cycling

I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of amazing holidays in the last few years, but my cross-country bikeride from Seoul to Busan in June this year was one of my favourite holidays ever. I finally completed the Seoul to Ara Hangang West Sea Lock just last weekend when, after days of frustrating packing and paperwork preparing for the move, we decided to blow off some steam by jumping on the bikes for the 40km ride west towards Incheon and the beginning / end of the full 4 Rivers trail. It gave a nice sense of closure both to our summer adventure and to the wonderful and incredibly active life we’ve enjoyed for our two years here.

The full, day-by-day account of my June bike-venture has all the gory details, which I won’t go into again here. Suffice to say that everyone I have read about or spoken to who has tackled this momentous journey concurs – it is one of the greatest adventures they’ve ever had, inside or outside of Korea. And I think there are several good reasons why, many of which are reasons I’ll really miss this place when I leave.

Firstly, a reason many Koreans give when describing why they’d never move to another country on a permanent basis: More

Three Things Thursday

For your reading and viewing pleasure, here are three …

…museums that are worth a visit in Seoul.

Thing 1 ~ War Memorial of Korea

I’m not a fan of war. Aside from Hannibal and his elephants, great feats of military prowess are lost on me. Weapons, tanks and guns just make me sadder the older I get and the more I see them used around the world, so I wasn’t going to bother visiting the War Memorial of Korea. However, then I remembered that I had been similarly dubious about the Imperial War Museum North before I visited, and that in fact, museums with war featuring conspicuously in their titles are often more of an educational experience to highlight why we should All Just Stop Fighting.

War Memorial of Korea

War Memorial of Korea

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Three Things Thursday

Its the first Thursday of the month, so it’s time for three things…

…that light up, play music, and get you wet.

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Lost in Laos: Vientiane

Our Laotian adventure began inauspiciously with four weeks of tussles over a flight change. To get through the three months of work between Christmas and now, we had booked our flights to Laos during our first week back at work in January, plumping for Korean Airlines budget company, Jin Air. What can go wrong when you fly with such an internationally well-reputed organisation, other than a brief set-to about nuts? But then, if you choose to fly budget, who expects nuts anyway?

A last minute dash to their HQ and some, “Angry, of Seoul” conversations later, and we had the correct flights in our in-box with a little over 24 hours to go before check-in. We’d also been switched to Thai Airlines A380 with all mod-cons. Fate appeared to have finally started smiling upon us, especially after we lucked-out during our Bangkok transfer with a free Starbucks as their card machine wasn’t working! More

Seoraksan – not a baaaahd day’s hike

To celebrate Seollal – the lunar new year and the start of the year of the sheep (hence the baahd title joke) – I packed up and shipped out to the port town of Sokcho on the East sea. As Seollal is one of the two big annual holidays, it was me and 22 million Koreans on the move for the three day holiday, so the going was not fast. However, Sokcho isn’t too far from Seoul, and a four hour bus ride across the country and around the entrancing Seoraksan national park later, I arrived at the express bus terminal, directly in front of my glorious, hot-pink, turret-sprouting motel.

Barbie-meets-Blofeld

Barbie-meets-Blofeld

The Rocustel Motel, despite looking like something Disney’s Snow White vomited after a night out on raspberry vodka shots, is an amazingly comfy, cheap n’ cheerful motel, with impressive Barbie-meets-Blofeld interior and underfloor heating to die for. It was the perfect place to use as a base in Sokcho: behind the express bus terminal, a ten minute walk from tourist hotspot and food heaven Abai village, two minutes walk from the beach, and over the road from the number 7 bus stop, which provides a direct service to Seoraksan National Park ticket office in one direction and ‘Rodeo Street,’ the shopping centre of Sokcho, in the other. Things couldn’t have been any easier.
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