Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Posts Tagged ‘adventure

Hiking tips for South Korea

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Some of the most enjoyable time we spent, during our month in South Korea was in some of the absolutely beautiful National Parks.  Not only were there some fantastic hiking trails, but invariably they were also a place to see some well preserved Korean temples.  Given that many of the mountains in South Korea are sacred, having a temple there dedicated to worshipping the mountain makes good sense.   It was a great way to get some cultural sightseeing done, while also enjoying Mother Nature’s wonderland.

South Korea surely must win the award for the most well maintained hiking trails in the world!   Wow.  We were sooo impressed!   But it kind of makes sense, when you see how wildly popular hiking is with the locals.  There are a LOT of people on the trails.

We weren’t the only ones on top of South Korea’s highest peak!

To help you out, here are a few tips which may assist in making the most of your hiking time in South Korea:

  • It is a bit difficulty to find details hiking info in English.  One place you can try is through the National Park site.
  • Whilst online information in English is a bit of a challenge, once you are at the trailheads, we (almost) always found signage in English.   So don’t worry!   (tip: take a photo with your phone of the map at the trailhead, as there is not often any other maps along the route, although there will be ample markers)
  • The trails are incredibly well maintained, and well signposted.  On steeper sections, the concept of switchbacks seems to be largely overlooked, but there are often steps put in.  Fantastic workout for the glutes and quads, that’s for sure!
  • Water is readily available on the trails (well, at least on all the trails we were on, and there were a few!).  Lots of the temples have water “fountains” which you can fill up at, as well.
  • Bring along some snacks to share.  South Koreans love to share some food at the top.  Sliced up apple, biscuits, chocolate or dried fruit are always a favourite.
  • Don’t be too put off by the level of difficulty of hikes.  We were originally quite intimidated by the hikers we saw coming down from trails, kitted out like they were ready for Everest!   Hiking poles, mountaineering boots, gaiters, quick dry from tip to tow, hats, the lot!   Then when we would actually get onto these incredibly well groomed trails, it was more than do-able.  But South Koreas take their hiking seriously, and need to look the part!
  • Per the above, we absolutely LOVED how colourful everyone is!  Because hiking is taken so seriously, even the casual day hiker has the full on gear.  We paled into insignificance with our drab greys, blacks and muted tones.  Bright yellow, pink, green and purple was definitely de rigueur, often worn all at once!
  • Some other blogs that have some good info on hikes can be found here and here.

Enjoy!

Written by Mar(k)

July 31, 2017 at 6:35 pm

Travel Tips for South Korea

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Many of the Travel Tips for Japan apply also to Korea. Some exceptions are:

• Buses rather than trains are generally the easiest way to get around the country. Buses are so frequent that it in many cases it is just a matter of turning up at the terminal and buying a ticket for the next bus. Note that “express buses” are the quickest and most comfortable. “Inter-city buses” stop along the route. There are usually tourist information bureaus at the bus terminals. On several occasions, we found it helpful to get them to write our destination in Korean. We could then show this to the person selling tickets (beware, place names are very similar and easily confused if you don’t have them written in Korean!).
• You can purchase sim cards for both data and phone calls. As wifi is readily available we didn’t find it necessary.
• Credit cards are accepted just about everywhere.
• Public transport in all major cities and even taxis use “T Money” cards. These work the same way as a Suica card (in Japan). We purchased ours at the airport on arrival for 50,000 Won and used it on the Airport Express bus which delivered us to within a few 100 metres of our Airbnb (they have a number of different routes). We could have caught the metro but this would have involved multiple transfers.
• All the hotels we stayed in and restaurants we ate at were non-smoking. Quite a different experience in Japan, where many noodle places were so smoky we could not eat there.
• Although 7/11’s had a withdrawal limit of 100,000 Won, CU (an equally ubiquitous convenience store) had a limit in excess of 200,000 (maybe 300,00 Won like the Standard Chartered bank). We found that most atm’s at local banks didn’t accept our debit card, even if the bank displayed an international logo.

We LOVED South Korea!   Once we were outside of Seoul and Busan, we really felt like we were off the (Western) tourist track, and loved the challenge.   Highly recommended as a destination for the well seasoned traveller.

Written by Mar(k)

July 3, 2017 at 9:07 pm

Travel Tips for Japan

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Konnichiwa! 

We loved the month we recently spent in Japan.  It is a fascinating culture, with some customs that are very different to our own. We are passing these tips on, in the hopes that they may help you, if you are planning a trip to this magnificent country any time soon. Please feel free to share, and ask any questions you might have in the comments!

Trains
• Use http://www.hyperdia.com/en/ to research train travel. Gives times, fares, platforms etc.   The bullet trains are called “Shinkansen” trains.
• You must first book/purchase a ticket to travel on the train. If it is a busy season you should then book a reserved seat, which costs about 50% more. You will then have 2 tickets. If you are changing trains, which is often the case, you may have more than 2 tickets, which are all fed through the turnstile together. The ticket for that particular journey is removed. Trains generally have about 1/3 of the carriages for unreserved travel, with seats occupied on a first come basis.
Japan Rail passes cover various parts of the country – depending on where you are travelling it may not be worth getting one. These must be purchased outside the country. In Perth they can be purchased at Travel Japan, in Irwin St, next to the Mercure Hotel. If you purchase a Japan East Rail Pass, you can reserve your seats online no more than 30 days ahead of your date of travel. For most other travel passes, you cannot book online in advance.

• For travel on public transport in Tokyo and a number of other cities, get a Suica or Pasco card. These can be easily topped up at the station and save the significant hassle of trying to work out what priced ticket you need to purchase. The Suica card can also be used to make purchases at 7/11 and some vending machines. If you don’t have a Suica or Pasco card, you can purchase the cheapest ticket and when you get to your destination, use the top-up facility to pay the correct amount before you pass through the turnstile.

Navigation
• We found Google maps invaluable, as addresses are not necessarily logical. Prior to going to a new place I saved the destination. As the last map area is saved in the cache, you don’t have to be online to find your way around.

Mobile Phones
• You can only buy a local sim card for data – not for making and receiving calls or texts. As all the places we stayed at, whether hotels or Airbnb, had free wifi, we didn’t find it necessary to purchase a sim card.

Google translate
• The Google translate app was handy, particularly to translate instructions on electrical appliances in hotel rooms. Voice recognition and using the camera on the app only works if you have wifi. Otherwise, the text feature is the only one that works.
Money
• Surprisingly, Japan is largely a cash economy. Only big hotels and department stores accept credit cards.
• Bank atm’s don’t accept foreign cards. Use the ubiquitous convenience stores like 7/11, which have a a Y100,000 limit. Note that you may have to insert the card before getting the option of choosing the menu in English.
• We used a pre-loaded cash card which worked without fail at 7/11’s and wasn’t subject to the Y100,000 limit.

Lonely Planet
• We borrowed an electronic copy from the library

Hotels / Airbnb
• We had no problems with Airbnb bookings. Some of the apartments were very small and the mattress was on the floor, but still comfortable. We also stayed in a few traditional ryokans, which was fun. In these you need to unravel your mattress on the tatami matting. Seating is on the floor.
• Most places had sandals just inside the door where you removed your footwear, leaving it facing outwards and slipped on the sandals. Note that you remove the sandals before stepping on tatami matting (ie: socks or bare feet only on tatami).
• Some hotels had onsen (communal hot baths) where you could relax if you so choose. Make sure you read up on the etiquette (see link below) and scrub yourself thoroughly before entering the bath. I saw people spending over 10 minutes washing before getting in the bath! Onsens are single sex only, as you are not clothed. There are a few exceptions, but expect to be starkers, and bathing / soaking with your gender only.
• Most hotels had umbrellas in the foyer to borrow.
• Most hotels had a room with a microwave and vending machine on each floor.
• Make sure you book a no smoking room!

Tokyo
• If you want to visit the Imperial Palace (apparently it’s worth it), you need to book online a month before, as numbers are very limited.

Links on etiquette:

http://www.onsenjapan.net/onsenbasics.php

https://www.jref.com/articles/japanese-manners-and-etiquette.89/

http://www.wikihow.com/Blow-Your-Nose-in-Japan

Written by Mar(k)

June 21, 2017 at 9:19 pm