Monthly Archives: January 2014

Photo: Waegook Comedy Night In Cheonan, South Korea

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When you’re in a homogeneous place like South Korea, where less than 1% of the population are foreigners more or less like you, sometimes you gotta band together to avoid feeling overwhelmed sometimes.

Don’t get me wrong, cultural immersion is rad and all, but sometimes you crave the company of people that share your collective societal experiences and that speak your language.  Cheonan, despite being a smaller city by Korea standards (600,000), has an expat community that is larger than normal, making for a lively community.

One thing that went on here during my time in Cheonan was a comedy night.  Apparently, if you are crazy enough to drop everything and move to a foreign country completely different from your own, it also engenders a wicked sense of humor within you!

Despite the thin pool to draw from, most of the guys you see above are from the area (a few parachuted in from Seoul), and did a bang up job bringing the house down with guffaws, snorts, and all-out barrages of belly laughter.

It was certainly one of my most memorable nights in Cheonan, as I also went bar crawling with most of these gents after the show (many bars stay open until the sun rises in Korea on the weekends!).

Live(d) in Korea? If so, how is (was) the expat social scene in your city/town?

Doing The Teahouse Circuit: Hiking In Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

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With the onset of winter rapidly approaching, I had not truly gotten out into the mountains that much.  Yes, I had gone out on a trip for Labour Day Weekend to see my friends, and I had done a whirlwind tour of Icefields Parkway attractions for you guys, but had not hoofed it through the wilds of the Canadian Rockies yet during that summer, which was a crime in and of itself!

Thus, there I was, standing on the platform of my C-Train at an even earlier hour than when I usually started my weekday commute, bleary eyed and jonesing for some breakfast to bring me out of my semi-comatose state (nothing is open in the suburbs at the hour you see above) before heading off on a weekend of hiking in Lake Louise.

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Eventually, I did get to the Greyhound Bus Station in Calgary that morning, but not without weaving about the streets of the Beltline during the later stages of the witching hour … kinda spooky down there when it is still dark and little activity from the general population.  Anyway, shortly after, our bus begins lurching towards the Rockies and the sun rose shortly thereafter, giving a rousing view that one can only enjoy in harvest season in Alberta!

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Upon arrival, the fresh, COLD mountain air (Lake Louise is the highest settled place in Canada at 1,750 metres above sea level (5,700 feet) granted an invigorating contrast to the air of the city.  Indeed, the overall atmosphere was as if one had stepped through a portal from a harried, loud and stressful realm to one of beauty and peace.

Clearly, I needed this getaway like a fish needs water!

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After paying a king’s ransom for a truck stop lunch ($20 for ordinary chicken fingers and fries) and a couple of 1.5 L bottles of water ($4 per bottle!!), and dropping my main bag off at HI – Lake Louise, I set off up the hill towards Lake Louise (the lake itself … as I was already in town).

I could have taken a cab up to the Teahouse Circuit trail head instead, but (a) fitness, (b) more time in nature (just look at that view above!) and (c) Lake Louise is quite the pricey place, as I’ve already shown in the previous paragraph!

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Upon reaching the lake shore, I briefly paused to take the artiest photos I could, mostly failing in the process. 😛 No matter though, as The Plain Of Six Glaciers and Lake Agnes were the goals on this day, not capturing an overdone portrait…

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The weather in Lake Louise can be fickle, and this day was no exception.  Strolling along Lake Louise saw a brief moment of pleasantness, but that wouldn’t last long…

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… because sure enough, it clouded over again, and a cold drizzle began to drift down from the moody clouds above.  The views more than made up for it though, as I pushed further into the sub-alpine.

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You can’t see it in this pic, but at this point, the drizzle had deteriorated into a full-on torrential downpour, soaking my clothes quite thoroughly.  Thankfully, I had dry clothes in my shielded day pack, but it just goes to show that you have to respect the weather whenever you are in the mountains.  I could have done much better by having rain gear or non-cotton clothes myself … live and learn!

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Completely numb at this point, the sight I had been waiting for appeared in a depression in the glacial plain ahead … the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse!  Here, I dried off and changed clothes, and claimed my hard-earned award … some of the richest chocolate cake you’ll ever eat!  Don’t be put off by the $6 price tag … it’s worth it.

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The Plain of Six Glaciers is located at a dead end in the established trail, making for a good bit of backtracking to get to the junction that would lead to objective #2 on the day: the Lake Agnes Teahouse.  The weather changed once again on the way back, allowing for a spectacular suspended view of Lake Louise from thousands of feet up!

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Along the way, there are innumerable classic views waiting to be captured by your camera.  This is just a taste (lots of standalone photo posts to come from this hike!)

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I finally reached Lake Agnes with a few short hours before sunset, with the climb down all the way to the town still to be completed.  Lake Agnes has no natural inlet, being a tarn lake formed by a melting glacier thousands of years ago and only being partially replenished by snow melt since the initial formation of the lake.  I did manage to get in just in time to buy a cookie before the tea house closed … also recommended!

Ever gone hiking in Lake Louise?  Share your experience below!

Photo: Chiang Mai From Above

Chiang Mai, Thailand as viewed from Doi Suthep

Sweeping views of Thailand’s second city are hard to come by, as much of the place is kept low-rise by the fact that most business headquarters are located in Bangkok, and due to the presence of an international airport well within city limits.

Fortunately for those that love these lofty vantage points, there is a mountain that abuts the western part of the metropolis.  Doi Suthep towers above this part of Chiang Mai, with views from Wat Phra That being suspended thousands of feet above the streets and buildings below.

When you head up to get that marvelous shot, be sure to dress conservatively (long pants/no exposed shoulders), as you will be on sacred ground.

How to get here: Take a red songthaew to the Chiang Mai Zoo.  A short way up the street from here are the gates of Doi Suthep National Park, where there will be more songthaews that will take you up and down the mountain for 50-80 baht, depending how many attractions (Phuping Palace and a a hilltribe village also can be visited up here) you want to see (Wat Phra That is the closest one, so it should be no more than 50 baht).

Head up the stairs past countless trinket vendors to the Wat, then head towards the ridge once on the grounds of the temple.  Enjoy! 

Lake Louise’s Other Body Of Water: Paying A Visit To Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, Canada

After years of working at Maligne Lake, and with the easy accessibility of Lake Louise, it was a shame that I hadn’t been to one of the Rockies’ most underappreciated bodies of water, Moraine Lake. It’s not that nobody knows about this place, as it was featured on the back of the Canadian dollar bill (before we switched to the less regal-sounding loonie coin), and there is a homely looking resort on the premises.

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It’s just that it languishes in the shadow of its more famous cousin Lake Louise, who has a much more glamorous resort on her shores, along with easier highway access. To get up to Moraine Lake, you have to drive up a winding, precarious (but breathtaking beautiful) mountain road that is only open in the summer time.  Not only that, but in the fall, there are needled trees called larches whose needles turn a golden yellow, drawing hordes of people from nearby Calgary, creating horrific traffic jams.

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So, needless to say, getting here is a matter of timing, patience, and willingness to get off the main track that time starved tourists seem to stay glued to, like a tongue on a icy flagpole. Despite these difficulties though, it is well worth to spend some time contemplating life on the shore here, as the clouds drift over the stalwart peaks, still laden with leftover snow from the previous winter (even though it’s early September), and as the icy cold but impeccably clean lake water laps on the shore, nibbling at your exposed toes.

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Or you can come here for the epic hiking opportunities, but don’t come in a party less than four, as the presence of grizzly bears in the valley where Moraine Lake is located has caused Parks Canada to ban groups smaller than that for safety reasons.

Traveling by your lonesome, or in a small group? Check in at the Lake Louise info centre and register with other randoms so that your party will meet the prescribed size.  It’s recommended that you take some bear spray in too, just in case of a hostile encounter (as long as you make enough noise on the trail though, this shouldn’t happen though).

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To register to hike at Moraine Lake, first head to the info centre, then…

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… head to Moraine Lake (not Lake Louise by accident) and enjoy some of Banff National Park’s most awe-inspiring scenery that you can see via automobile transport!

Ever been to Moraine Lake?

Choice Views From Thailand’s Hill Country

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As my time in Northern Thailand is winding its way to a close, I’d figure I’d share more pics to show you what the mountains up in this part of the country are like.  The highlands up here are (believe it or not) the furthest of the foothills that radiate out hundreds of kilometres from the main ranges of the Himalayas.  They don’t reach up high enough to get snow in the winter time, but they do provide a bit of novelty for the Thai population nonetheless, as the coldest nighttime lows in December/January get nippy enough to cause frost to form!

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Despite the fact that I described them as foothills, these mountains aren’t small exactly … you see that squiggley line in the side of the hill ahead?  That’s just two of over 1,800+ curves on the Mae Hong Son loop, a popular motorbiking route that includes the mountain valley paradise of Pai. This road is not so great if you’re stuck in a bus or minivan, but a pure joy to ride on a bike (word to the wise #1: don’t rent a Honda Click, as you will struggle to get up steep inclines … word to the wise #2: check your fuel often … it’s actually remote in this part of Thailand!)

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Just in case you think North Americans have the market on tacky tourist stuff cornered, think again!  In addition to all the Coffee In Love attractions in nearby Pai, at the mountaintop viewpoint between Pai and Sappong, you can pretend to be a Karen tribesperson! Not my cup of tea, but I did find it amusing on this day in Thailand’s hill country!

Have you done the Mae Hong Son Loop in Northern Thailand?  What did you think about it?

Photo: Peyto Lake’s Unearthly Blue Hue, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Peyto Lake, Banff National Park

The Canadian Rockies boasts many gorgeous lakes.  Of them all, perhaps Peyto Lake, located in Banff National Park, is the most brilliant.  Coloured by glacial sediment that has tinged the lake a delightful shade of baby blue, it is a sight that gets the shutters clicking the second you step on the viewpoint from where this photo was taken.

There is a path that will take you down to the lake shore, and I had photos of it that I lost, but I didn’t have time to re-do my trek on this day, as my rental car was due to be returned in mere hours … I’ll have to plan it out better next time I am in Banff National Park!

To reach this beautiful place, head north on the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise until you reach the Bow Summit area.  In this region, there will be signs indicating that you have reached Peyto Lake … follow the signs to the parking lot, then trek up the paths, and you’re there!  Just be sure to pack a sweater, as it can be quite chilly up there even in the peak of summer!

My 2013 In Pictures: A Tumultuous Year In Review

Christmas in Calgary 2012Christmas 2012 in Calgary … my holiday season had a much lower profile this year, but I had a lot to reflect and grateful for over the past 365+ days!

It’s amazing what can happen in the span of 365 short days.  This time last year, I was freezing in the depths of yet another Alberta winter, yet I had a renewed spring in my step, despite the darkness that early January brings with it.

I had hatched plans to dump my day job as a warehouseman (which I had never planned to be a permanent arrangement), as I had committed in my mind to pursue the next great adventure in my life … to teach English as a Second Language in South Korea.  I couldn’t head over straight away, though, as I needed to go through a Byzantine process to qualify and then, get hired.

Well, that’s cool.  But what was I doing in Calgary in the dead of winter anyway?  On that note, let’s get this party rolling, starting below!

January 2013 – Family Time in Calgary

My nephew Owen about to shoot off a rocket

One of my original motivations to seek a job in Calgary, Alberta’s largest city, was to enable myself to spend more family time with my nephew and niece, who are very rapidly growing up as I type this.  Owen (pictured above) just entered elementary school this fall, and Lauren at 3 years old isn’t that far behind. And as of this September, there was a new addition to my sister’s family, little Aaron.

As much of a globetrotter as I am, I am endeavoring to be there for them in the years ahead.  All the more reason to continue pursuing my efforts to fuel my life via the internet, a task now half completed, as I will reveal later on in this piece!

February 2013 – Just Quit Your Warehouse Job?  Time To Go Skiing!

After making the decision to go splitskis with my employer in my mind late last year, I began furiously saving for a period of unemployment, in much the same way I have saved for my travels in the past.  While there were many things related to the ESL application process that took up my time, as well as working away at causal web work and preparing to launch this standalone site, it left me a lot of idle time.

Calgary isn’t the most exciting place in the world during the winter, especially during the work week, so what to do?  Well, I heard that my former home Jasper, tucked well away in the Canadian Rockies to the northwest, was about to get pummeled with a massive snowstorm. With nothing holding me back, I hopped aboard a Greyhound Bus and an overnight ride and nine hours later, I was in Jasper on the eve of one of the heaviest storms to hit the area in a long time!

Powder day at Marmot Basin, outside of Jasper, Alberta, Canada

Over the course of three days, Marmot Basin, the local ski resort in Jasper (best kept secret in the Canadian Rockies!) got hammered with over 71 centimetres of snow (29 inches for our American friends), enabling those lucky enough to be snowed in to this friendly town to have virtually unlimited lines of knee to waist deep powder for the entire weekend I was there!  Sick times.  Want to see more?  Stay tuned for the post on this weekend that will live in snowhound history…!

March 2013 – House Sitting, Getting Hired For Korea, and Ramping Up My Online Presence

Nose Hill Park in winter, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

As March dawned and I went through random walks through parks in an effort to stave off boredom (my camera lens broke after this pic, hence the thin bench for images in March), I finally got enough of my documents together that I could finally post my application for employment on the web’s biggest ESL job site, Dave’s ESL Cafe.  Nothing could prepare me for what would happen next.

An avalanche of e-mails and phone calls from anxious and enthusiastic recruiters wanting to link me up with “the job of my dreams”.  While some disqualified themselves by barely being able to speak the language (oh, the irony), I eventually settled on a recruiter and so the process began.

During this time, I housesat for my sister, who was headed off on a well-deserved vacation to Mexico.  During the two weeks that I was caring for Autumn and the house, I went through about three interviews, the last of which was done over my cell phone with a Korean principal that spoke broken English with a thick accent.

In spite of all the frustrations, I got the JOB!  I was headed off to a place called Baebang 2 hours south of Seoul.  WHOO-HOO!

April 2013 – Korea Work Visa Run to Vancouver, The Best City on Earth

Skyline, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Before I could get on a plane though I had to do a bunch of document mailing and FEDEX-ing, which eventually turned into an old-fashioned visa run, as time was running too short to risk trusting my passport to the mail system.  As such, I hopped another Greyhound bus bound for Vancouver, leaving winter behind and landing squarely in the midst of spring…

Spring in Vancouver, BC, Canada

Yes, those palm trees are real, those blossoms really are breaking out in the middle of April, and the temperature in Van City really was 18 degrees Celsius (65 degrees Fahrenheit) when it was -6 degrees Celsius (20 degrees Fahrenheit) back in Calgary on the same day.

Granville Market, Vancouver, BC, Canada

I spent an entire week going on tours through Vancouver’s urban and natural attractions, such as the foodie paradise that is Granville Market, shown above, while my passport was being “processed”.  There was a bit of background tension, as the consular official that took my passport on the first day scolded me for the weathered state of my travel document, warning me that I might get refused my visa due to its condition (didn’t stop her from taking my money, though!).

Fortunately, all was well, so with my documents all straightened out, I headed back to Calgary to await my departure to South Korea!

May 2013 – Starting My ESL Career In South Korea

Rooftop view, Baebang, Korea

After arriving in Korea, the first few days involved random document signing and other matters too boring to comment on here.  The view you see above was from the first morning I was here … sick view, eh? While many parts of Korea don’t resemble Coruscant like this picture suggests, many built up places in the country do look this way due to a lack of suitable land, due to the mountainous nature of the land mass Korea occupies.

For those thinking that English teaching involves walking into a school for four hours, talking English to the kids, then leaving to party like a rock star, put down that application form right now … I’m going to break your little hearts (sorry).

Lesson planning, homework marking, and other admin tasks will grow to take up much of your “free” time at home, even parts of your weekend.  Being a good teacher (I tried my hardest, and despite what happened to me, I felt I did a great job) takes tonnes of planning, passion, and giving a $#!t.  So don’t waste your kid’s time, and your employer’s time and money if you’re planning to go over and just party the whole time! </rant>

Whew… I’m almost never like that.  Sorry guys.  Just know that this isn’t a vacation when you go, and you’ll be fine.  And go public, not private.  More on that in a second…!

June 2013 – The Sands of Daecheon Beach and Samgyeopsal BBQ’s

Daecheon Beach, Korea

OK … so like, summer is Korea is hot, right?  I mean, HOTTER than you’ve ever imagined it could ever get, anywhere in the world.  Unless you’re from the American South/Midwest/Ontario in Canada, you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.

So, be sure that your A/C works before mid-June swings around, and when it does … go to the beach!  Now, Korea may not strike you as a beach destination, and I won’t try to get you to come from halfway around the world to experience it.

If you find yourself in Korea come summer, though, Korea has some beaches that more than suffice for your cooling needs.  Daecheon Beach is Korea’s best west coast getaway, with tonnes of fine white sand, cool West Sea water, and oodles of fresh seafood cooked up K-style!  I’ll be writing a guest post on this subject very soon, so stay alert for when it comes out … it’ll be a dandy!

Korean BBQ in Korea

Ever since I started watching Youtube videos about Korean cuisine, I had always wanted to have some juicy Samgyeopsal (aka Korean pork BBQ).  I have affectionately referred to it as mutant Korean bacon, and late in the month, Sonya, one of my co-teachers, took me out for a family BBQ.

Hanging out with them outside of work was so cool, and it was one of those rare authentic cultural exchanges that we all crave as travelers.  When you stumble upon such an opportunity … seize it!

July 2013 – My Big Fat Busan Vacation

Haeundae Beach, Busan, Korea

Working in a private English institute (aka a hagwon) affords few chances for vacations in the traditional sense (you know, when you put in for days off, and you get 1-2 weeks off consecutively). You are on duty the vast majority of the year, but during the peak heat of the summer, even the most workaholic directors break down and schedule downtime to get out of the sweaty office.

My three days off (yes *3* days) plus the weekend saw me escape to Busan to see Korea’s second city.  From the Jagalchi Fish Market to the claustrophobic beach destination of Haeundae Beach and everything in between, Busan impressed me, even if the weather was typical for the monsoon season (humid and wet).  As with many other events that occurred this past year, posts are forthcoming, so be patient, my children 🙂

August 2013 – Leaving Korea for Thailand and the Unknown…

Word of wisdom, Korea

I won’t get into the dirty details of it, but effectively, months of confrontation over my bosses non-payment of health insurance and pension, ridiculous accusations concerning my teaching, and all the stress that comes with that all came to a head in August.  After the final straw was broken after a meeting filled with finger-pointing, innuendo, and raised voices, I had finally had enough.

With an orphan day off in the middle of the week for Independence Day, I made my move.  After eight hours of furious cleaning, packing, ticket booking, and creeping about Baebang surreptitiously in a manner that would have made Jason Bourne proud, I leapt aboard the 6:30pm bullet train bound for Seoul, the first leg on my journey to Bangkok, my selected place of refuge from the duress I was suffering.

Lonely Beach, Koh Chang, Thailand

I’ll be honest: I had no idea what I was going to do when I got to Thailand.  For the foreseeable future, I was done with teaching.  Totally burnt out.  I wasn’t exactly relishing returning to Canada so soon either, so I figured I’d take a month in the Land of Smiles to clear my head.

As it happens, the Universe had my back, as the web work I had been doing on the side presented me with a huge opportunity.  A friend of mine offered me the chance to do some writing for him for money, and so I ran with it.  At this point, I had no idea it would lead to me being able to support myself via the interwebs…

September 2013 – Finding my way in Malaysia

Butter Chicken and Naan, Penang, Malaysia

After getting kicked in the face by the death flu in Koh Samui, I continued down the Malay Peninsula to Penang in Malaysia.  I may have mentioned it before, but this country is the place where all the good foodies go when they die.  If you’re not dead yet, the flavors of the dishes here will send you to Heaven, if only temporarily.  It’s that good guys, for serious!

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From Indian to Chinese to Malay food, you could spend your entire holiday going from one foodgasm to the next.  Mom’s cooking just won’t taste the same when you head home, that’s for sure!

October 2013 – Exotic Islands and Subtropical Highlands

Tioman Islands, Malaysia

I spent a good portion of my time in Malaysia (5 weeks) in Kuala Lumpur getting the hang of working for myself (finding a balance is NOT easy … work too little and you hemorrhage cash, work too much and you feel like you’re not living the dream), but I also found time to do a little sightseeing and exercise my travel blogging muscles while I was here.  Above, the diving paradise of the Tioman Islands will tantalize you with its beauty when I get around to posting about it, while…

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

… the lofty heights of the Cameron Highlands will refresh you like a strong fan on a stinkin’ hot day. Only this fan comes with a cup of Boh Tea and a slice of strawberry shortcake, ’cause that’s how they do it in Tanah Rata!

November 2013 – Moving to Chiang Mai to Make Bank

Pool at Huay Kaew Residence, Chiang Mai, Thailand

While I definitely did enjoy my time farting around the Malay Peninsula, it was time to get serious.  Off to Chiang Mai I went, securing an apartment (sick pool above included in the package!) for the princely sum of 4,500 baht, internet included.  Taken together with my utilities usage, my monthly living costs came to 5,500 baht, which equates to the budget-busting figure of … $185 USD a month.  Ohhh my God, I can’t afford that!  On another note, this was the first month that I turned a profit running my own multi-dollar corporation. Yayyyy! 🙂

Lantern art, Yee Peng Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand

It wasn’t all dull stuff that month though, as the famous Loy Krathong festival went on, fancy lanterns and all.  Not all of them were meant to fly, as the dragon one attest to … if you’re looking for a time to start your Thailand holiday, plan it so that you can take in this event!

December 2013 – Catching Fire

Thai Meal, Tops supermarket food court, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Despite it being the holiday season, I really put my nose to the grindstone this month.  Picking up two more clients and having a tonne of priority work hit your virtual desk can do that.  I did get out around the holidays with all the other fabulous travel bloggerati, but for the most part, the inside of my favourite restaurants/cafes, my room, and the Thai food court at TOPS supermarket (so good for so cheap!) was all that I saw this month.

All in all though, when you’re laying the foundation for a virtual life you can take anywhere in the world, sacrifices in the early stages have to be made before you can get the passive income stuff set up later.  I’m not sure how I’ll do that, but then again, I wasn’t sure what I would do after Korea, and yet here I am 🙂

How did the past year treat you?  Regale us with your tales in the comments!