Pete and Sam’s excellent S.E. Asia adventures!

Pete and I spent most of 2013 traveling around Asia.  I didn’t get a chance to tell many people about all of our adventures because we were only back in Canada for a short time.  So I have decided to make a break down on what we did, where we went and how much we spent to give some people an idea. So here it goes!

Our main goal behind coming to Korea was to travel. Having already seen a lot of Europe while living in France, we moved on to the next continent, Asia.  Pete and I took every Chance we had while working in Korea to travel, but seeing as though our time off was extremely limited we started planning a large backpacking trip for the end of our contacts. My obsessive nature to plan consumed all of my breaks between classes and drove me to do more overtime than I could handle.  For the first 6 months I worked from 10 am till 10 pm with a 2 hour break where I usually laid in bed trying not to think of how tired I was. But it was all going to be worth it…

Pete and I managed to pay off roughly $20 000 in debt, and save $21,000 for our trip/move back to Canada. We both worked extremely hard and even extended our contacts for an extra 4 months to save every penny possible.  We managed to do all this while still exploring almost every corner of Korea.

To start telling you about our trip I’ll answer the most common questions asked to us.

1. “How many countries did you make it too?”

From December 2012 to May 2013, we made it to 11 different countries/special administrative regions not including Korea.

trip map

We started our trip in the south of Thailand so we could enjoy the beaches and relax for Christmas. We slowly made our way up to the North and then booked a $17 flight to Malaysia to attend Swedish House Mafia’s One Last Tour. After our quick stop over in Malaysia we headed back up to Laos, over to Vietnam, down the coast of Vietnam and boated into Cambodia. We then decided we needed more beach time! So we hopped on a flight to the Philippines and visited one of the most popular holiday Islands, Boracay. After paying way too much for hotels and beer we decided to head below the equator (our first adventure there)! Bali here we come! Side note: at this point in time I was expecting to get an email from my prospective school saying “come and join us for an interview in April!” any day now, but seeing as though a slightly different email came “Sorry, but don’t rush home” we decided to blow our budget and keep traveling.  From Bali we intended on making our way over to Java, but we stumbled upon these three little islands called The Gillis and decided we have seen enough temples in the past 2 years to justify skipping Java. We laid on a beach and snorkeled with sea turtles for the remainder of our visa.   Where to next? We didn’t really decide this until we found a cheap flight to Hong Kong, with a few days in Singapore in between. We went from Hong Kong (to obtain our Chinese visa), to Macau then up to China on a $25 dollar flight. We spent a few weeks there, checking off some bucket list items, before we decided that it was time to head back to Canada.

2. “What was your favourite country?

This was probably one of the most common questions asked and the most difficult to answer. We had so many great experiences in every country.  They were all so different and amazing, how could we possibly pick!? So we have composed a list of “favourites”.

Phad Thai in Thailand

Favourite country to eat: Thailand! We both love Thai food and it was so cheap and delicious! They cater to vegetarians and people who love spice!  We ate more Phad thai, curry and mango smoothies in one month then most people eat in their life!

Favourite country to relax: Laos. We loved, loved, loved Laos. Some people say the acronym PDR (people’s democratic republic of Laos) actually stands for Please Don’t Rush.  The people here are so kind, always smiling and super chill. So chill that at the airport, after having our visas officially canceled to leave the country, we freely walked in and out of security, across the street and around the corner to get some snacks… which they didn’t even check while walking back into the boarding area.  A little more relaxed than what we are used to flying through North America.

Vang Vieng, Laos Tubing in Laos

Favourite country for Beaches: Although Thailand and Philippines are both well known for beaches, Pete and I would have to say our favourite beach location was Vietnam.  We spent a week in Nha Trang and never wanted to leave.  The beach was clean, and not over crowded like Thailand’s.  The waves were HUGE (borderline dangerous) and it made swimming more enjoyable, especially for Pete. And one last thing that puts Nha Trang on the top of our list, the hawkers were not nearly as intrusive and pushy.  They didn’t stand at your towel insisting you needed a second pair of sunglasses.

My Birthday in Vietnam Pete on the Beach in Nha Trang

Favourite country for Snorkeling: Indonesia! On Gili T we intended on staying 5 days and ended up staying 3 weeks. The first time you see a sea turtle is magical.  It looks as though it soars through the water effortlessly and what seems like snorkeling for a few minutes is really hours.  We swam with turtles every day while on Gili T and it has left us with dreams of retiring there.  We also loved snorkeling in Tulamben, Bali.  There is a sunken ship right off the coast that is home to thousands of fish and black tip reef sharks, but it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.

DSCN0665 Sunken ship on Bali

Favourite country for drinking: This one’s a tie! Cambodia because the beers are less than 50 cents and after a long day of cycling the temples it’s exactly what you need! And Laos because nothing is more relaxing then tubing down a river for 4 hours with a bag of beer chilling in the water.

I could go on forever with favorite lists but I think I’ll save some of those for another post.

3. “How much did you spend?”

Since we were on such a tight budget and didn’t want to blow all of our savings, we did things as cheap as possible.

Our total trip expenses were: $14,236.32. That is about $7,120 each for 5 months of travel including all flights.

Here is a little breakdown of where that money went.

trip ex

Some factors that affected our budget

  • Developed cities like Singapore, Kula Lumpar, Hong Kong and Macau. We would only stay a few days here because they were just too expensive yet we were not willing to cut them out of our trip.
  • Traveling during Christmas and Lunar New Year. This drove up the prices for everything!!
  • We tried to avoid guided tours as much as possible because they were extremely pricey but we did splurge a few times and it was worth every penny! Halong Bay cruise set us back about $500 but it was so effortless which allowed us to really enjoy its beauty.
  • Getting sick.  Although the doctors are reasonably priced (and internationally trained… I added this for you mom), it’s still an added expense that was not budgeted for.  My least favorite way to spend money.
  • Broken Camera.  We broke our underwater camera a day before we were snorkeling with whale sharks and it was absolutely mandatory we bought a new one! This set us back about another $150.

4. “Which countries were the cheapest?”

As you can see from question 3 we kept very good records of how much we spent.  Here is an overview of how much we spent each day per person.  This includes hotels, meals, admissions, transport (excluding air) and other misc. expenses like souvenirs. We did sometimes stay in nicer hotels because we were tired of  counting every penny for the sake of comfort.  We opted for a 5 star sweet over looking the Petronas towers when we went to Malaysia for the Sweetish House Mafia concert.  This cost us roughly $60 rather than the usual $20-30 we spend on accomodations.

daily spending

5.  “What country would you want to go back to?”

If you were reading question 2 carefully you’ll already know that Pete and I plan on moving to Indonesia and retiring there forever! But all jokes aside, we would go back to almost all of them! We feel like although we spent a good chunk of time in each but there are so many things to see and do in that we didn’t have time or money for.   I guess you’ll just have to stay tuned to see where we are off to next!

Professional Beach Bums

These were the 5 main questions we got asked most often about our trip! I hope you have a better idea as to where we went and what we enjoyed.  If you have any more questions feel free to ask, we love talking about our trip and hope to start planning another one soon!

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Korea Take 2

Since Pete and I have decided to return to Korea I have started to start blogging again! It’s a great way to stay in contact will all my friends and family and let them know what we’re up to!

fall in Korea

fall in Korea

I’ll start with the million dollar question which we got asked numerous of times “why are you going back there again?” Well the short version is that there are not that many jobs* for University grads in Canada at the moment. And the long version that risks me getting into some hot water with my family is that there isn’t much there for us back home.

Being two young and adventurous people with little responsibilities it was incredibly hard being back in Canada for the summer.  We found jobs after a few weeks and we gave it an honest chance, but as the weeks passed our savings dwindled, our happiness went out the door and we quickly realized something had to change in order to maintain our sanity.  I feel bad for having put my best friend, Alaina, through those times.  Sure, she was glad to see us after being gone for 2 years and would never admit we were Debby downers but… we were.  We didn’t adjust very well, we started fighting and bickering and I would have to go to the gym in the middle of the night just to escape my thoughts of how sad we actually were.  It was nothing short of a miracle when our directors emailed us and asked us to come back to Korea.

Pete’s family was ecstatic for us, my grandmother insisted I could “find full time work at Tim Hortans and make decent money to live off of” and Alaina gave me the silent treatment for a few days. We love our family (please note that I am including Alaina in this section because she truly is my family) so much but if it’s one thing we learned while being away is that you can love people from a far.  Love does cross oceans and seas, it flies over mountains and swims through rivers.  I may not be there when Alaina’s little boy goes to sleep every night, but my love is always there.

So we decided to accept the offer to go back and give Korea another go around.  After all the hard good-byes, we made our way back to what we now consider “home”. It is the one place we have spent the longest in the 4 years we have been dating, it’s the place we are most comfortable, have the most freedom and have a life.  We are extremely happy here and love our lives. Pete and I joke that Korea would be perfect for us is we could just uproot all our friends and family and bring them here.  The stress free life and the decent wages have allowed us to travel and accomplish some of our goals that would never have been possible back in Canada.

We know that we won’t be here forever and that one day Canada will offer us more than Korea but for now Korea offers us everything we need and although our friends and family miss us, I hope they are happy for us.

Pete and I rocking traditional Korean Clothes

Pete and I rocking traditional Korean Clothes

Vegetarian sabotage

Ok so I admit it, being a vegetarian in Korea is definitely not as easy as i thought it would be!  Having been here for almost 2 months, I have eaten noodles roughly about 5 out of the 7 days a week… making a grand total of 45 bowls of noodles.  For those of you who know me, and my slight insanity about fitness, eating right and my love for all things veggie, than you might find this blog a bit of a shock. “what! Sam eating carbs every day of the week!!!”, ya I know, crazy eh! but hey, when in…Korea do as the Koreans??

bowl of noodles

I knew full well that with my dietary restrictions that my travels are slightly less adventurous in the food area then most.  But that being said Pete and I are avid cooks and enjoy cooking just as much as going out to a restaurant. Coming to Korea I assumed that living in an Asian country, the birth place of tofu and soy milk, both staples in almost all vegetarian diets, that there would be new awe inspiring vegetarian options! But it seems as though they have not moved passed those two items.  And on top of that, their selection of soymilk doesn’t have the delicious flavors like chocolate or strawberry…its just plain old soymilk.  Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a nice glass, but even France, the country that puts ham on EVERYTHING, had countless more varieties, including banana!

So in spirit of not starving, I have dialed down my vegetarianism a tad…as sad as that sounds.  Previously, I would not have eaten anything with an animal by-product in it… For example; gelatin, chicken/beef/fish stock,anything that was cooked with meat, and so on.  But now, with the language barrier and the fact everything is written in Korean on ingredients lists I find this ever so difficult. Simple grocery store visits have turned into day trips where i bring the words “pork”, “beef”, “chicken” and “fish” written out in Korean.  Besides one questionable dumpling, I think I have done an OK job with avoiding meat all together.

Making a spider pinata for Halloween

The only real trouble I have got myself into is with  a devilish 6 year old who takes pleasure in trying to trick me into eating meat. For those of you who do not know, I work one-on-one with the directors son, MuBon, from 10 am until noon.  After which we go out for lunch with his 2 year old brother June-Young and his auntie. This one particular afternoon we were going out for noodles at a restaurant.  They ordered kong gook su (cold noodles), kal gook su (hot noodles) and dumplings. The only time I had eaten dumplings before were when they were kimchi on the first night in Korea.  But here sat in front of me were the most deliciously smelling, soft gooy dumplings that made my mouth water just by looking at them.  Oh how I craved something other then noodles! I asked MuBon, who acted as my translator to his non English auntie, if they had meat in them.  He mumbled a few Korean words to his auntie, looked back at me with a smile and said “she says no”.  So, I pick up my chop sticks, grab one of these enormous dumplings and stuff it into my mouth with excitement. Yummy, you ask? Well not quite. The first bite into the dumpling I chomped down on what was unmistakably pork.  The tough, chewy texture made me slightly gag and look around for a napkin.  There were none to be found. So in spirit of not being rude, I chewed, and chewed, and chewed some more (I forgot how tough meat was!).  Finally I built up the courage to swallow the lump of doughy pork and washed it down with copious amounts of water. MuBon, who watched me eat the entire thing, was quick to ask “did you like it!”.  I replied neutrally, not wanting to offend the cook, saying “there was meat in it MuBon! I don’t eat meat”. He persistently asked again “ya! But did you like it Samantha teacher!? Did you? You like meat! I knew you liked meat! Here have another one!”… and thus began the struggle between a persistent little boy who fails to understand vegetarianism (who actually thought I was a veterinarian at one point) and my wish to maintain a meat free lifestyle.

How it all began

As some of you already know, I am spending the next 365 days working and living in Ulsan, South Korea!  Traveling is probably my biggest passion in life. Having been to over 17 countries, I think I have some experience under my belt, but never have I spent a full year abroad.  I will take you through some of my ups and my downs of living in an Asian country for a year and hopefully for some of my friends and family this provides them with a window into my worldly travels!

Some of you may think that this story began when Pete and I stepped on to the plane to Korea, but it began far before that. It was January 1st, 2011, wait no the 2nd… clearly the 1st we were in no state to make life altering plans. I, being the plan maker of this duo, asked repeatedly “what are your new years resolutions!” and after Pete answering “I don’t make plans” a few too many times I guess it clued in that I wasn’t going to give up any time soon.  So we made plans! Our first was to be nicer to each other, our second was not to say the “f” word (and for you potty mouths out there I don’t mean the word you are thinking of! F as in fat… we were forbidden to say “fat”)… that one lasted until dinner that night, where I proclaimed how “fat” I felt. And our last and final one was to be on three continents by the end of 2011. Me, being an avid traveler, got out my European traveling books and started mapping out dates and times and countries and so on and so forth… as Pete rolled his eyes, what had he gotten himself into?

So as the story begins, Pete and I recently graduated from University of Waterloo after which we spent a few months living in France as Pete lived out his dream of playing football overseas. Or, as I like to think about it, actually got to call him self a “professional football player”.  Isn’t that the dream of most athletes? His season was short-lived, but the friends and the experiences had will live on for years to come. We (and I say “we” because clearly, without me by his side he wouldn’t have had such a fantastic cheering section, even if I’d never watched a full football game ever before in my life) ended up making enough money to spend the last month overseas traveling around Europe. We each got to pick a country we were dying to going to.  Having always wanted to go to Greece and not making it there my first time backpacking Europe in 2006, the choice was clear.  Pete’s choice was opening week in Ibiza.  Having only 2 days to pack up our “closet” in Nancy , we quickly made plans, booked numerous train tickets, hotels, flights and ferries and managed to come out with a whopping 20 euro a day budget. We met up with my good friend Alex in the south of France, and then carried on our journey to Pisa, Rome, Athens, Santorini, Carcassonne, Barcelona, Ibiza and making our way back to Paris for one last baguette picnic under the Eiffel tower.  Two thoughts crossed my mind at this point.  The first being “don’t make me leave!!!!!” and the second being “two continents downs and one to go”.

Having jobs already lined up in Korea, the summer months flew by very quickly.  We spent the time not only with friends and family but also acquiring the “necessities” we were told to bring.  Twenty sticks of deodorant,  four pounds of TVP, spices, bed sheets, three costco size boxes of Tampons and a whole punch of Canadian paraphernalia….. we were set.

The only thing that stood between us and completing our final part to our new years resolution was a 20 hour plane ride.

Sounds simple, eh?

We made it to the airport with more than enough time to hang out, collect ourselves and say goodbye to my mom.  But, fate had a slightly different plan for us.  While checking in, two of our bags were sent into the wrong baggage system. If you are connecting in the states you’re required to take your bags through American customs and then have them checked.  Pete was rushed off past security to see if they could locate them.  Normally this only takes 10 min, but today, of all days, the entire computer system was down.  Not sure whether Pete was coming back out or not, I said my goodbyes alone, scared, and slightly unsure.  What was i doing?  Having dropped me off at that exact same airport numerous times before, my mom just smiled at me and I knew everything was going to be OK.  So I whipped away my tears, and wheeled past security.

The plane ride to California went without a hiccup.  We arrived later than scheduled, with about 40 min to make our connecting flight, which was of course on the other side of the airport. So the flight attendants made an announcement to let the people with the close connections get off first.  The people in front of us had 15 min to catch their plane to Hawaii. Slightly jealous, I found myself secretly hoping they would miss it.  Pete and I were one of the last ones to make it to the gate, but not without hearing our names paged a few times.  We were quickly rushed past and greeted by flight attendants fitted in traditional Singapore dresses.  As i sat down and scanned the menu card that was handed to me; beef, fish, Indian…. SINGAPORE SLING! This was going to be a good flight.

Twelve hours, five movies, and four Singapore slings later we made it to Seoul, South Korea. New years resolution completed with 4  months to spare!