Friday, September 18, 2009

On the Home Stretch

With two and a half months of traveling behind me I am looking forward to the cross into Thailand for our last 5 weeks of backpacking. Right now I am in Siem Reap in Northern Cambodia - I've spent the last couple of days exploring the ancient Angkor Temples that were once the epicenter of the Khmer Empire in Southeast Asia. I've been fortunate enough to sit in front of the great Angkor Wat at sunrise among many of my experiences here. With Laos and Vietnam behind us there is still much more that awaits - the monsoon rainforests of eastern Thailand, the lazy charm of Mekong River villages, the vibes of of Pai, Chaing Mei, Chaing Rei, crazyBangkok, and the white sand beaches of the south for some R&R (rock climbing and rest).

Here is the route we have taken so far through southeast Asia: starting in Hanoi south to Ninh Binh, back up to Halong Bay, north to Sapa, into Laos at Tay Trang, following the Nam river south to Muong Khua, Non Khiao, and onto Luang Prabang. From there it was 9 hours north to Luang Namtha for trekking then back down to LP before heading south to Vang Vieng, Vientiane, and Savannakhet. This was our last town before heading back into Vietnam at Hue. The road south took us to Danang, Hoi An, and Nha Trang before catching some cool highland climate in Dalat. Ho Chi Minh was our last destination in Vietnam before moving along into Cambodia as we didn't have the time to get to the Mekong Delta. In Cambodia we moved rather quickly stopping only in Phnom Penh, Battambang and here we are now in Siem Reap.

There has been alot of change in plans as you meet other travelers and things don't always go your way because of time, money, and illogical bus schedules. There are many ways to do the route, this was just our way. If youre not already traveling, I advise to get on the road - there are more people out here than you think. It's easy and undoubtedly inspiring.

Talk soon, justin

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

All is Well in Vietnam

It's been a while since updating anything on this blog but I'd like to just take the moment to catch up with the past few weeks. Caitlin and I have arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam on July 6th and we have been travelling around the area for the past two weeks.

So far, we have been to Ninh Binh where we explored Cuc Phuong National Park, Tam Coc Karsts, and some local temples. After that we headed back to Hanoi where we stopped momentarily before visiting our friends from Korea, Matt and Ashley. Matt works as a rockclimbing/adventure guide on Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay. We spent about four days there exploring the Island, the bay and getting to know the locals. We took a private boat out on the bay and did some kayaking under/around/through the giant karsts, tried my will at deep-water soloing on some gnarly cliff faces, learned how to ride a motorbike, and explored a Vietcong secret hospital that was built inside a hidden mountain.

Now we are in the town of Sapa, the northwestern region of Vietnam. Sitting beneath mighty Fansipan, the city is quaint and almost European. With french colonial architecture, a large town plaza, and walkable streets the local charm is attractive. We are enjoying a break from the unbearable weather up here in the mountains and making some good friends among fellow travelers.

We are doing things from early morning to early evening here - there is much to do, new food to be eaten, and great people to get all chummy with. The living is cheap and adventurous if you don't mind forgiving some modern conveniences (like cleanliness). All is well and I will be updating with pictures and stories to come.

Talk soon, Justin.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Today, Thursday, is my last day of work. After ten months of living and working in Gwangju, South Korea the time has arrived to move onto bigger and better things. For those of you wondering my plans for after SK, here they are:

After packing up my life and either donating it or shipping it home, Caitlin and I will be trekking around South Korea for one more week before departing. We are planning a week long camping trip with our friend Shane starting in the Southeastern islands of the peninsula. We will leave the city of Gwangju on Sunday and head for the island of Geoje-do, just south of Busan. From there we will seek out the private botanical island of Oeido and enjoy some beachfront camping. Next we will head of the eastern coast and to Seoraksan National Park in the Northeastern corner. Beyond some more camping and hiking through beautiful wilderness, we will make our way over to our final destination - Seoul. After saying goodbye to some friends and taking in the last waves of Korean culture over the July 4th weekend, we will depart Korea forever heading for the city of Hanoi in northern Vietnam on July 6th.

The next three months of the summer are still being hashed out but our basic scheme is a three month tour of the Southeast Asia Peninsula. Starting in the north we will do a loop through the uppermost mountain regions of Vietnam and Laos, stopping to checkout major (and not so major) cities along the way, climb Fansipan, explore tropical rainforests, and do a bit of volunteering along the way. From there we will return to Hanoi and head over the Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay to visit our friends Ashley and Matt, who are now living there and working as rockclimbing/adventure guides for a company called SloPony.

After a rendezvous with our good friends the route will continue down the eastern coast of Vietnam stoppig in the likes of Vinh, Hue, Hoi An, Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park before arrving in Da Lat and Saigon. From there the best way into Cambodia will be a ferry trip up the Mekong River Delta. Pnom Penh and Siem Reap will not be our only stops in the beautiful country of Cambodia as we are sure side trips and travel buddies will come with the wind.

Thailand will be one of our final destinations and we will try to explore as much into the vast country as we can. If time and budget permit, we would like to adventure south towards the Malaysian end of the peninsula. There is still much to figure out along the way but as budget travel permits itself to living by whats cheapest, safest, and most convenient at the time - plans will change. In our experience with traveling the good nature of local people always help guide you in the right direction.

Our departure plans are set for either Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, depending on which country we are in at the end of our travels. From there I hope to fly into the west coast of the United States, visiting university friends in L.A. then heading up to the Pacific Northwest to see Ryan and Jen, little Jenny, and maybe even baby RJ. If it is possible I would like to check out Vancouver and Portland as possbile places to live and work while I am in the area.

Everyone take a deep breath.

Then its finally back to home. Where I hope to be greeted by family, friends, and mounds of assorted cheeses.

I won't have a computer on the road but there will be many PC Rooms that I will be able to drop a line every now and again to update everyone with progress and pictures. I hope to keep in touch with everyone near and far so I will be using my email more frequently. You can reach me at

So long for now and take care, Justin

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Enjoy some photos from our weekend on Bogil-do, one of the southernmost islands stemming from the Korean peninsula.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jirisan National Park

Caitlin and I took a weekend trip to Jirisan National Park. The park is absolutely gorgeous, you could spend an entire week there trekking up mountain and through valleys. We did not have the leisure to do the longest walk in the park (65km from western to eastern end) but we did a fair amount of hiking. We covered about 8-9 hours of wilderness hiking in total by the end of the weekend.

We started at Hwaesom-sa temple, worked our way up to Nogodan Peak where we stayed for the night. The following day we took a valley trail down the mountain and ended our day in the little riverside village of Banseon.

Before embarking on the mountain, we were bombarded by a hordette of snacking Korean children at least 20 deep. They spotted us entering the park and were quick to try their "hellos" on us. As soon as one child discovered that we really did speak English and that we really were not form Korea, it wasn't long before we became the new attraction for the entire field trip.

It was their lunchtime so if you can imagine being surrounded by a group of kids all snacking on big, dirty bags of chips and bugles while sucking down pints of sugary red juices you can't help but feel like a sideshow to them. We fielded all types of questions from their little-kid, crumb-encrusted mouths. "Where are you from? Who is your favorite baseball player? Do you like Kimchi? Are you married? Do you like bananas? Is your hair real? " and others...

(there are oranges in my backpack)

Little Kid: "Do you like oranges?"
Me: "Are you going through my backpack?"
Little Kid: (motions away from backpack)

One little girl made Caitlin move her cell phone off of the bench to make room enough to sit next to her. We were being inspected, analyzed by their little Korean minds and their grubby little cheetoh fingers. They left us with the premonition, "you will see a bear today!"

...and up we went.

The mountain was foggy the entire weekend so we weren't fortunate enough to take in the full vistas of Jirisan but we were still gifted with beautiful virgin forests, peculiar natural oddities, and cascading rivers. The variety of trails and maturity of wilderness in this area has made it one of my favorite hiking spots in South Korea.

Upon arrival at Nogodan mountain hut after a somewhat empty hike up we were surprised to see that there were crowds of people at the top that had driven to the peak to spend the night with their families. A wonderful location indeed to do so, but we felt they had cheated the grueling demands of the mountain. Not only that, but we were late to claim a room for the night and didn't have a plan B.

On top of the mountain at 6pm with minimal food and no place to sleep: "So, Mr. Mountain Man Sir, what happens if no room opens up - where can we go?" He replies in broken Konglish, ", uh, must...go down." Ok? We ended up waiting for an hour and a half and a couple slots opened up for us to stay the night, thankfully.

The mountain hut is an interesting experience. There are basically two bunked up platforms, the lower one for men and the upper for women. Visitors sleep side by side beneath the number that you are designated. I was given number "73."

I slept next to an elderly Korean man whom I'd repeatedly wake up with his hand on my face. On the other side, a bulbous rolly-polly whom wreaked of Korean plum wine and couldn't keep his farts to himself. Not to add that you wake up delirious from the piping heat...a wonderful place to sleep. Seriously though, at W7,000 a night - you cannot find a cheaper sleep in Korea.

From Nogodan Peak hiking down the valley the next day was wonderful. The trail down Baemsagol Valley runs almost entirely alongside a cascading river. There are so many places to stop and eat lunch on the middle of a warm, flat rock surrounding yourself with gushing whitewater. This 5 hour hike allows plenty of time to make friends with the teams of Korean hikers. One group of fellow hikers shared with us their lunch of freshly-sliced squid, totori (acorn tofu), sticky bean rice, fish salad, and various types of Kimchi. We left them with a bag of trail mix as thanks.

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." -John Muir

If you are planning a trip to Jirisan yourself from Gwangju the bus runs to Gurye about every 30-40 minutes from U-Station, costs about W7,000, and takes 1.5 hours. From Gurye we took a 20 minute shuttle to Hwaeom-sa temple for W1,000. We entered the park from the Southwestern corner of the park at Hwaeom-Sa Temple.

From there, the hike to Nogodan Peak takes about 3.5 hours. If you are planning on staying in one of the Jirisan mountain huts be sure to have a reservation in advance, bring sleeping gear, and any food or cooking equipment you might want. Most information says they provide cooking equipment, but they don't. We had to ask the hut staff to boil us some water just so we could cook noodles. You can rent warm blankets for a chun each, which I recommend - they are very warm. The rooms are also pumped full of heat and the number of sleeping bodies crowded together can make for a sweaty night.

You can hike north through the park and come out the other side at Banseon, where you can catch a shuttle bus to Namwon (about an hour ride, W6,000). From there you can catch a bus back to U-Station. Here is a map of Jirisan:

Trail map of Jirisan National Park. Click on it for a larger view.

More Jirisan Pictures

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Green Update

The sunnier days have made my plants grow at a faster rate than ever before. My large succulent is sprouting all kinds of limbs and the base of the trunk is hardening even more. You can see in just a month's time that the upper limbs are multiplying rapidly and more leaves are appearing with each day.

The avocado below is maturing quickly and the leaves have finally unfolded. They double in size within a week and the stem has quadrupled in size within a fortnight's time.

Sinji-do Beach

This past weekend a group of us ten large went to the southern coast of the Korean peninsula to enjoy a beach weekend at Sinji-do. The land mass breaks up into a cluster of hundreds of islands in the south so it is simple to find adventure within a couple hours' travel. From Gwangju, you can take a 2 hour bus ride to Wando [W14,000] and then get on a shuttle bus to Sinji-do (Sin-jee-do Beach-ee) for W1,100.

There is a small town that hosts beach goers mostly through the summer but its nicer to get here earlier in the season before the organized hordes of Koreans arrive and take over the coast. It was clear that this beach gets packed as there was a public restroom every 100m down the entire boardwalk. You can camp here if you like but there were so many of us that we rented out two minbaks and spread out on the floor. They only cost W30,000 per night so its the best bet if you have a large group of people without tents.

We brought with us a slew of vegetables, weiners, fruit, and homemade dips to chow on. The minbaks provide mini ranges and refrigerators so its best to bring your own food because the coast towns don't have much but ramen and snacks in their bodegas.

It was cloudy at first but the sky cleared up and we got the best of the beach weather. We met a trio of Italians - Alissio, Fabio, and ???? - that work for a boat engine manufacturer in Mokpo and miss cheese as much as we do. Also, we witnessed a series of Korean families participating in over-organized beach games. This included relay races up and down the beach amongst 50-60 year old Korean men and women dressed in hiking gear. They also played a game in a circle where you hold one leg up in the air and attempt to knock others down with your remaining balance. Quite the show.

Of course we played some of our own games too. Matt devised the literary version of the popular Korean wrestling game, his rendition included a Venn Diagram that each player was required to stay within without being forced out by your opponent. You will get the gist from the pictures.

One of our friends also broke/sprained her ankle going up the stairs and since there were no hospitals open within a 50 mile radius we succumbed to our better resources. She was up and running again with an ankle support made of fishing net and twine. Later I fashioned a crutch from a pine limb and leftover twine.

This upcoming weekend we are saying goodbye to our friends Matt and Ashley as they finish up their year in Gwangju and head to Halong Bay in Vietnam. Matt will be working as a rock climbing guide and Ashley is transforming herself into a an avid adventurer...I mean she's already got the gear for it.

The Italians, Jess Lewis, and a bunch of our other friends will be descending on Gwangju to join in on the festvities...which include a group campfire at the secret pagoda up on our ridge, an international food and talent festival at Honnam University, a Korean body-building competition, final group bike rides along the stream, and a JoEun Villa rooftop yard sale.

One month left on the contract and every weekend is booked.

Sinji-do pictures

Friday, May 22, 2009


This is my first attempt at an HDR Image. The construction site you see in the foreground is a luxury apartment complex that they began putting up around the time I arrived in Korea. You can see that they have no problem putting a couple buildings up at a time, adding to the already-clustered valley of high-rise apartments. I took [then later altered] this picture from the 24th floor of an adjacent complex right across the street.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Miniature Korea

Here are some photos that I have been working on. I have been experimenting with tilt-shift effects and I think the results are rather enjoyable. Tilt-shift is another way to make it appear that you are taking photos of a small model. If you want to try for yourself, here is a tutorial on how to do it.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

This Kid's Name is Tobias

Alot of the kids that attend Avalon have never had an English name before so there has become the interesting ritual of "naming" our children. In my one elementary class most of the kids are first-time Hogwon students and have yet to be given an English name. There is a traditional name list and a creative name list that you can pass around to the kids and let them pick one. Some of the kids, like Tobias, don't even know where to start when picking an English name so I usually have to choose one for them. There tend to be some unusually named children at our school given the satirical attitude of the foreign teaching staff.

This is Bear. However, the other kids made fun of his name so I took the privilege of changing it to Noah. I think he will grow up to be a virtuous young man.

The kids pictured above are name Tom (green), Steel (back left), and Kyd. Some of the more peculiar names I've come across have been:

D (like the letter)

If any of you are planning to have kids anytime soon...gimme a call. I've got experience identifying children with a proper name.