Monthly Archives: October 2013

A Purrfect Afternoon In Seoul: Visiting A Cat Cafe In Hongdae

This Cat Cafe In Hongdae was heaven on Earth for me...

Seoul, Korea is known for many offbeat, quirky attractions in the expat community, but few places are quite as famous as the Cat Cafe. Located all over the city, with new similar businesses popping up all over the country (and internationally, I recently heard that there is at least one here in Bangkok), it exists as a place where urban dwellers that can’t afford or have a cat due to landlord restrictions can go for some feline de-stressing.

Or for cat obsessed people like myself, it’s a convenient place to surround oneself with the most awesome creature to ever walk the Earth … teh kittehs! (clearly, I’m a bit obsessed, but I don’t care ūüėõ )

To enter the Hongdae Cat Cafe, you need to buy a drink ... I got an iced chocolate

Upon entry, you remove your shoes and are presented with a menu and a list of rules to follow once inside. ¬†After ordering your drink for 7-8,000¬†‚ā© ($6.30 – $7.20 USD), you are admitted to the kitty wonderland, which boasts an assortment of feline subspecies to play with, feed, and to simply admire as they grace you with their awesomeness. ¬†In case you’re wondering, I ordered an¬†iced chocolate that was incredible, though it killed me to drink/eat the barista art on top of the whipping cream ūüėõ

A sleepy tabby rests on a window at a Cat Cafe in Hongdae

A fluffy white cat sleeps high on a ledge

This cat doesn't want to be touched

I could just end the post here, as the kitties showed above trump anything I could ever write, but I got something better: video footage! ¬†Enjoy ūüôā

Want to know how to get to this specific cat cafe that I visited in this post? Check the map below and have a happy afternoon of connecting with man’s favorite master!

Map to the Cat Cafe in Hongdae

Love cats? Think they leave dogs in the dust? Jive with me below!

Back To The Canadian Rockies – Part 1: Miette Hot Springs

My beasty rental: getting lunch in Hinton before heading to the Miette Hot Springs in my Jeep Grand Cherokee

After several months of working hard at my day job after having moved back to Calgary, I was overdue for a trip to the mountains to rest and relax.  Before my last trip overseas, I had ditched my terminally ill Cavalier (RIP Blue Rocket 1999-2012), so I was without wheels.  What to do?  Rent one, of course!

Except for one little problem … reserving a car online doesn’t guarantee you the car you select, it’s only a preferred vehicle. ¬†In other words, they give renters ahead of you whatever they request, and only hold what’s left over for you.

In my case, I wanted a Toyota Versa … I got a Dodge Grand Caravan. ¬†A turbocharged beast with tonnes of space I didn’t need, and extra girth I had to account for when making turns and parking and such.

Had I encountered a situation where I had to make a tight maneuver, I would have risked damaging my tires. At least in the United Kingdom, I would have been able to use Tyre-Shopper.co.uk tyres to replace them without the rental company being the wiser.

Failing that,  National.co.uk tyres would have had exactly what I was looking for.

But I digress.

Good thing I had experience driving giant tour boats at Maligne Lake prior to this ūüėõ

The Miette Hot Springs is is a pretty chill place

After dropping my bags at my friend Steph’s place and enjoying a wonderful evening catching up post-Maligne Lake (I was a tour guide there for three summers, hence the earlier remark about driving tour boats), I had a full day ahead of me. ¬†The first place decided to drop in on was the Miette Hot Springs area. ¬†Located an equal distance from the towns of Jasper and Hinton, it is a wonderful place to soak away an afternoon in 40c waters, all while admiring the scenery of the Front Ranges of the Canadian Rockies, soaring thousands of feet above you.

The old pool complex at Miette Hot Springs

On this day, though, I intended to earn my time in the hot springs, as I set out on a hike down the trail that led to the source of the Miette Hot Springs. ¬†The old bathhouse was in an even more starkly beautiful area than the current one, but overcrowding issues due to the popularity of the site, and natural erosion led to its closure in the mid-1980’s, and the opening of the current pools.

What remains today of the old bathhouse at the Miette Hot Springs

Still, it’s quite cool to have ruins of this nature in the middle of a narrow mountain valley!

Mountain stream, Miette Hot Springs

Mountain stream, Miette Hot Springs

The natural beauty of my surroundings just improved from there on, a glacially cold creek tumbling down the hanging valley from where it spawned, overlaying a source of water almost hot enough to scald at first touch.

Natural source of the Miette Hot Springs

You know when you’ve reached the source of the Miette Hot Springs. ¬†Depending on the prevailing winds on the day that you stroll down the trail, you can smell it many hundreds of metres away. ¬†The sulphur and calcium laced waters deposit their solid particles on the rocks over which it flows, creating a stone known as tufa. ¬†Underground pipes carry the waters from this aquifer to the hot pools themselves back near the parking lot, which is where I headed with great anticipation, shortly after the shot I took above! ūüôā

Bonfire with friends outside Hinton Alberta

After the day’s tramping and soaking had run their course, there was only one proper way to end an active day in the Canadian Rocky Mountains … have a bonfire and beers! ¬†Heading out to a campsite with friends, meeting interesting new people and sitting by a bonfire that offset the chill of a high country evening was the perfect way to cap off my first day back in the mountains since I had lived there!

What would your perfect day in the Canadian Rockies look like?  Hash it out for us below!

Photo: Deserted Waterfall At The Top Of A Mountain Trail In Northern Thailand

This waterfall greeting me at the top of a Mountain Trail In Northern ThailandA deserted waterfall at the end of a hike up a small mountain 40km south of Sukhothai, Thailand … a worthwhile payoff to a morning of hard effort

After receiving a tip from some local Thais at the resort where we were staying in Sukhothai, my travel mates and I rented bikes and set off south of the city, in search of a remote waterfall in a small national park, virtually unvisited by fellow foreigners.  Not thinking it to be much more than a walk in the woods, I threw a bottle of water in my day pack, slipped on my well-worn sandals, and set off on the road with my trusty Honda Click.

After paying the entrance fee to disinterested gatekeepers, who were more wrapped up in the Thai soap opera playing out on their fuzzy TV in the corner, we set off in search of our secret chute in the wilderness.  Shortly after, it became apparent that sandals were woefully inadequate footwear for this trail, as it ascended 20-30 degree grades at the worst of it, and towards the end, we had to scramble over granite boulders.

We survived, though, and our reward was 100+ foot high waterfall, a delightfully chilly plunge pool (which required sandals to walk in without hurting your feet) with a¬†cloud of dainty yellow butterflies hovering overhead … and not another soul to be seen.

When you push through hell, or any other less than ideal circumstance, take heart: most of the time, an incredible reward awaits you at the top.

Instant Korean Foodgasm: A Mandu Feast In Hongdae, Seoul, Korea

The perfect place for a Mandu Feast In Hongdae, a hip neighborhood in SeoulSteam escaping from pressure cookers make this mandu shop in Hongdae easy to find

Prior to arriving in Korea, I had heard many great things about the food, so I was eagerly awaiting my arrival in Seoul to wander through an infinite selection of Korea’s culinary offerings. ¬†A particular restaurant in Hongdae had my rapt attention, after being featured in a video on the K-Pop and culture blog, Eat Your Kimchi.

Map to super secret Mandu shop

The restaurant can be found by taking line 2 of the Seoul Subway system to Hongik University Station.  Leave the station through exit 9, and after making a hard left, walk on the street you emerge at for about 200 metres until you reach the end of that laneway.  Turn left again, and continue past the first roundabout you encounter, and keep going until to reach the second roundabout.  Turn right on to Wasuwan-ro 29 gil, and stick to the right side of the street until you see steam billowing into the air from one of the shops.  This is the restaurant in question, my friends!

Mandu in Seoul Korea

After arriving, I promptly ordered a platter of modeum mandu (combination plate of Korean dumplings), which came with a whole assortment of mandus, which are ably described in a video by Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchi (I had attempted to do my own video, but I botched it badly … leave it to the pros, I guess ūüėõ ) in the video embedded below!

I will say that they were every bit as flavorful and enrapturing as I had hoped they would be.  The fried mandus were especially satisfying, with the ball dumplings and steamed ones following closely behind in the pecking order.

Simply put: you gotta check this place out, guys … it’ll make full-blown mandu addicts for life, and that’s not a bad thing, as there are a lot worse things to be hooked on out there!

Ever tried mandu?  Share your experience with us all below!

Chill Out And Go Rafting In Calgary, Canada Next Summer!

The Elbow River is a great place to Go Rafting In CalgaryRafters float down the Elbow River in Calgary, with nary a care in the world…

In Calgary, summer is a short season. In a part of the world where snow has fallen on the city in August, a warm day is not wasted, nor taken for granted. With its close proximity to the Canadian Rockies, interest in outdoor recreation is much higher than many other urban centres in Canada. As such, one of the favorite activities of locals over the years has been to take a raft, blow it up, and set sail one one of two rivers that flow through the metropolitan area (The Bow and Elbow Rivers) and float along for several hours with friends and family, eventually arriving in the downtown area, where drinks and food are had before packing up and heading home.

If you want to go rafting in Calgary next summer, while making new local friends in the process, follow the steps below, and hopefully, we’ll see you join the Pirates of the Bow/Elbow next season!

1) Tell Your Friends – If you are living in the area and you want to go rafting in Calgary, let your friends know that you are interested in doing this. Usually, many people wait for someone to assume the mantle of organizer, rather than try to take the “responsibility” of doing it themselves. If they don’t glom on like you hoped, or if you are traveling in the area and don’t know anybody, and your hostel mates barely look up from their phone/laptop, then it’s time to get on the internet. Fire up meetup.com and search for groups that get together regularly to go on river rafting trips, like this one. Alternatively, you could also head over to Craigslist Calgary and post an inquiry on the community¬†forum. ¬†Yeah!

poe_rafonsho

2) Get The Gear – Next, you need a raft (probably bigger than the one pictured above if you got friends with you ūüôā ). ¬†To fix this essential problem, there are many sports gear shops in Calgary that rent out rafts and associated gear for the day. ¬†The times I have gone on the river, I didn’t deal directly with the retailer, but this Google search should get you started ūüėČ

3) Get The Raft To The River – This is a two parter if you can swing it. ¬†Ideally, get a friend to park a car at your take out point (a popular place is Prince’s Island Park downtown) so you can have easy transit back to where you started your adventure. ¬†DON’T INFLATE THE RAFT UNTIL YOU GET THERE. ¬†Seems obvious in retrospect, but it makes things easier, trust me! ūüôā If you don’t have two cars, a taxi will suffice, despite the added cost.

poe_parrafcalcanCredit: cuppojoe_trips (flickr.com)

4) Blow Up The Raft, And Go Rafting In Calgary – Get out on the river and have fun! ¬†Just don’t be stupid like the folks above and forget to bring or wear life jackets! ¬†The water of the Bow can be shallow in places, leading to a false sense of security. ¬†It is always ice-cold, so if you get swept away by the current and can’t swim, you’ll be in serious danger of either drowning or succumbing to hypothermia. ¬†Bear in mind that alcohol is also officially banned (as is all open alcohol in public) on the river, and police boats actively patrol looking for lawbreakers. ¬†If you decide to bring some adult pops with you, exercise discretion and don’t draw attention to yourself, again, like these guys (I’m sure they are awesome people otherwise ūüôā )

Calgary is a city that worships the summer when it arrives, as the other 8 months of the year often feature winter weather in part or full effect.  If you want to go rafting in Calgary, just do it Рjoin the locals in making the most of the bright and warm days out on the waters of the Bow and Elbow Rivers!

Have you ever rafted some awesome rivers in your neck of the woods?  Do they have the scene that Calgary does?  Let us know about it all below!

Photo: The Ancient Ruins Of Sukhothai, Thailand

The Ancient Ruins Of Sukhothai don't see as many visitors as other sites in Thailand ... their loss is your gain¬†The main ruins complex at Sukhothai, Thailand, as seen at High Noon…

Passed over by many travellers and tourists that have already seen the ancient Thai ruins at the more conveniently situated site in Ayutthaya, the remains of the medieval period capital of Siam in Sukhothai can come as a complete surprise to people with no idea what to expect.

In many respects, the ruins in Sukhothai are in better shape and are far more accessible to visitors.

Upon arriving in the Old Town via songthaew from the New Town (20 baht as of 2010, which was when the above picture was taken), guests can rent bicycles for 50 baht/day.

This makes cruising around the ruins a breeze and enables shots like the one seen above.

Ever been to the Ancient Ruins Of Sukhothai?

A Taste Of Home In The Middle Of Korea: MOOSEHEAD!

A refreshing taste of home in the middle of Korea ... ahhh!
Guess what I found in Seoul?

Just a short post today, as I’m writing this from a remote tropical island with creaky internet. When you’re in a foreign country (especially when you are living there full-time), you are constantly surrounded with new things to try and sample.

Sometimes, though, you crave a taste of things you know and love from back home. In Korea, not being a major tourist destination on the level of SE Asia, and only opening up majorly to international influences about a decade ago, it can be hard to find things that you take for granted in the West.

In Seoul, the capital city, it’s easier to find these products, but even I was surprised to find what I found when visiting an international self-serve beer bar … MOOSEHEAD BEER, from my neck of the woods (Atlantic Canada), repping my home nation, among the likes of Guinness, Heineken, Stella, Tiger, etc.

It was truly a nostalgic moment, and I enjoyed downing the ol’ Moose Green just as I had back in my college days (10+ long years ago!)

A full post on my first excursion to Seoul should be on the blog next week, so stay tuned!

Have you made any surprising finds when you were travelling/living overseas? Share your discovery in the comments!

A Must For Sports Enthusiasts In Calgary: Canada Olympic Park

Canada Olympic Park, Calgary, Alberta, CanadaCalgary’s Canada Olympic Park – a place of celebration of Canada’s first Winter Olympics. 2013 marked the 25th anniversary of the 1988 Games.

25 years ago, Calgary hosted the first Winter Olympic Games in Canadian history. It seems so long ago, when as a seven-year-old, I watched the world’s best athletes compete against each other in a sporting and competitive manner … in my pajamas, seated on the floor of my living room. It was to ignite a nascent interest in sport for me, which was vital to an adulthood filled with physical activity, seeing how I was raised in a household where athletic activity wasn’t emphasized.

Fast forward almost a generation later, after Canada hosted one of the most successful Olympics ever in Vancouver, and seeing how I was currently living in Calgary, it would be a travesty to leave this city in the future with seeing one of my countries’ most prized pieces of sports history.

After a scramble down a ravine, crossing the Bow River on a pedestrian bridge and a wander through the neighbourhood of Bowness, there I was on the doorstep of Canada Olympic Park. Let’s take a look around, shall we?

Canada Olympic Park, Calgary, Alberta, CanadaThe slopes of Canada Olympic Park, used then and now for skiing events (not the downhill alpine races, though, those were held in the Rockies, 1 hour to the West). Nowadays, in the summertime, mountain bikers tear down the steep pistes of the Bow River Valley.

Trampolines, Canada Olympic Park, Calgary, Alberta, CanadaGot kids? Set’em loose on the bungee trampolines. Kids love trampolines!

Ski Jumps, Canada Olympic Park, Calgary, Alberta, CanadaA close-up shot of the ski jumps, which can be seen at many points throughout Calgary’s NW. Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, a British skier became known forever for his heroic, yet very short jumps here, becoming a legend and inspiration to underdogs the world over!

Hockey Canada training centre, Canada Olympic Park, Calgary, Alberta, CanadaNew construction has popped up at Canada Olympic Park since the conclusion of the 1988 Olympics, as a new arena complex was constructed to play host to Team Canada’s operations in hockey. Here, a practice session for elite girl hockey players is in session on the ice below.

Hockey Canada training centre, Canada Olympic Park, Calgary, Alberta, CanadaThe view of the new arena complex from the outside, as the afternoon wears on, evidenced by the lowering sun.

Canada Olympic Park, Calgary, Alberta, CanadaIn 1988, we hosted the world. What I would have given to have been there!

After remembering the excitement that unfolded 25 years ago, and seeing the tremendous Games put on in Vancouver just 3 1/2 short years ago, it stokes my fire to attend at least one Olympic Games in my lifetime.

What about you? Have you ever attended an Olympic Games in person? If you have, tell us all about in the comments, will ya?

Photo: Monkey Business In Lopburi Thailand

Get up to some monkey business In Lopburi Thailand during your Southeast Asian backpacking tripA new simian friend hangs out with me on the bars of the Monkey Temple, in the centre of the Old City in Lopburi, Thailand

It’s easy to breeze past all of North Central Thailand if you don’t have an interest in ruins/temples. Between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, there are a few cities that have ruins that will interest the archaeology buffs among us, but for those looking for highlights in other areas, inquiries into the area comes up pretty thin.

This is when it pays to take a leap of faith and get off the beaten track. Textbook example: Lopburi, Thailand. Hands up if you ever heard of this place before. Unless you’ve scoured the internet for every bit of info on Thailand, or read your Lonely Planet guide from cover to cover, chances are you haven’t.

It does help to try and find whatever information you can about these places, though. Hmmm, Lopburi? A city overrun by monkeys? They’ll steal food and other objects (like your camera) right out of your hands? Sounds like a time! Off to Monkeytown we go!

As it turns out, unless you’re remarkably unaware of your surroundings, you’ll be fine here. Walk among them and they won’t swarm you (unless you have food obviously). Except for a few aggressive alpha males, they are largely harmless, and even in the case of those guys, just keep your distance and they won’t bother you. As you will find out, the monkey business in Lopburi Thailand is a totally cool thing to witness.

Their antics are adorable, and the babies are oooh, so cute!

Any monkey tales to share from the road? Tell us about our encounter with your genetic cousins below!

Cure For A Korean Hangover: Kimchi Jjigae. With Spam. It Works!

Kimchi Jigae is the cure for a Korean hangoverTruly, a sight for sore, hungover eyes: a pot of bubbling Kinchi Jjigae, with accompanying side dishes (banchan) about to will me out of my moribund state.

Drinking features heavily in Korean culture. There’s no escaping it, anywhere you go. Hofs/Pochas (Korean pubs) are on every corner. Bottles of expensive spirits are on the convenience store shelves next to the potato chips. On the way to school, one has to be careful, lest you step in Kimchi blossoms (that is, red hued vomit, made so by the famous Korean side dish).

The work culture here has a lot to do with it. Competition for promotions, acceptance, and even to get into valued jobs in the first place is insanely intense. Many people work 12-15 hours a day, and the stress placed on them to “do their job perfectly” leads people to this outlet in order to release their stress.

Along with heavy drinking comes the dreaded hangover. Koreans have developed fixes for this, as you might expect. The 7/11 and GS 25’s have coolers packed with remedies such as Morning Care. They don’t taste very good.

One thing that DOES taste very good, and chases away your self-induced, throbbing headache, is a steaming pot of Kimchi Jjigae. Kimchi has been purported to heal or prevent many things, such as the Common Cold, for example. I can’t say whether it does that for sure, but I CAN verify that it heals the aftereffects of drinking WAY too much Cass.

After taking that in virtually, does it make you want to cook some up in advance of the next big night out on the town? Find a recipe for Kimchi Jjigae, or just stumble into your local Korean restaurant, where an expat Ajumma will be more than happy to cook some up for your throbbing head!

Optimized-IMG_0583The aftermath of a Korean food massacre…

What is your favorite cure for a Korean hangover?