Controlled Chaos- 8 Days in Vietnam

A Traveler’s Guide

Vespa, Honda, and Yamaha scooters pulse through the streets in a perfectly orchestrated buzz. Seamlessly intersecting, the Old world peacefully collides with present day in a frenzied explosion of food, culture, customs, and nature. At first glance, one might find it hard to believe that all of these things can co-exist with such fluidity in one space at the same time, but then you consume the controlled chaos that is Vietnam. Recently opened to the outside world after two years of being walled off from the pandemic, Vietnam breathes life back into travelers seeking the thrill of new experiences.


The long stretch of land that laces around the Southeast corner of Asia, offers bountiful options for visitors. Although there has been some fluctuation with requirements to enter the country, things seem to have settled since Vietnam was hit with the Omicron variant. We traveled there during the first week of May and only needed a visa obtained through this Government Site (Google). Coming from Seoul, we had a direct 4.5 hr flight to Hanoi. We went with a budget airline called Viet Jet and we even had to pay for water. The screens and power outlets that we also have come accustomed to were also absent but we definitely had an authentic ticket to travel. Over an 8 day span we wandered the streets of Hanoi, soaked in the sights of Cat Ba Island, and explored the countryside around Nin Binh.


Walk without a destination, get lost, stumble through an alley, catch a whiff of some steamy broth and simply stop wherever your soul leads you. To create an itinerary in Hanoi would take away from the adventure of weaving through the city’s intricate maze. The energy that vibrates through the streets of Hanoi is electric and had us wanting to absorb as many experiences as possible.


AIRA Boutique Hanoi Hotel and Spa (Google Maps)- During our time in Hanoi we stayed in the Old Town which is crammed with vendors, coffee shops, bars, and cafe. When we visited, AIRA had opened up that week for the first time in two years. The staff were eager to make sure we had an amazing stay and with a spa in the basement and a rooftop bar/restaurant made for the ideal establishment. Our incredibly spacious and classy room, at $85/night, came with a balcony where we spent the mornings sipping coffee and the evenings taking in the hum of the street below.

Places to Eat, Drink, and See

We were powered by foot during our two days in Hanoi and there is no way to do justice to the abundance of breathtaking food, quaint cafes, and historic temples that flood the streets.

Railway Cafe (Google Maps)- Residences turned to cafes create an amazing atmosphere along an active railway line.

Pho 10 (Google Maps)- The reputation for serving up the best Pho ($3/bowl) in Hanoi is well deserved.

Banh Mi 25 (Google Maps)- Fresh ingredients make for an explosion of flavors packed into the National sando.

Gat Tan Coffee (Google Maps)- Whether drinking a Saigon out of the bottle or an iced coffee with condensed milk, this is a great spot on the corner to watch the world fly by.

Ma Xo Cafe (Google Maps)- Tables Overlooking the lake and the coconut coffee drink is a blend of absolutely icey goodness.

Hanoi Cider House Brewery and Grill (Google Maps)- More western styled food with an American brewery feel. Dank beers and crisp ciders brewed on site.

Tran Quoc Pagoda (Google Maps)- Built in the 6th century by Buddhist Monks this structure is perched on a small island on Lake Ho Tay.

Nogoc Son Temple (Google Maps)- Cross the bridge to the island on Ho Hoan Kiem to reach this Confucian Temple.

Chua Kim Liên (Google Maps)- Intricate Buddhist statues highlight this temple that sits between several lakes.

Quan Thanh Temple (Google Maps)- This temple was constructed in the 11th century and features glorious bronze statues.

Cat Ba Island

Getting to the Eastside of Cat Ba Island is an adventure in itself as we took a 2 hour bus ride from Hanoi to Haiphong, a short boat ride over to the island, followed by another bus combo cab ride to Ben Ben pier, capped with a spectacular speed boat through the majestic isles of La Han Bay. Not as busy as the well renowned Halong Bay, La Han still has floating dwellings on the water. Although the government currently plans to restrict the majority of houseboats for environmental reasons, they give a glimpse to a traditional fishing village.


Lan Homestay (Google Maps)- All of the logistics to arrive to the remote side of the island were set-up by our gracious hosts. I can honestly say that I have never experienced such a hassle free experience due to the coordinated efforts of Lan Homestay to secure our arrival and design an incredible 3 day itinerary. Our A/C and private bath cabin ($40/night) was only occupied when we slept as we were either enjoying the serenity of the grounds or on adventures during the day. Breakfast is included with all other meals provided upon request and any item that you take from the refrigerator you simply write down on your tab (honor system). The food is all harvested on site or from the local farms in the village and was prepared to perfection. On our final night, the family who runs the homestay had us into their home and we had an absolute feast of Vietnamese cuisine.


Day 1 (Biking and Evening Paddle): We arrived in the afternoon and after a lunch of sizzling rice, we rented vintage bicycles to pedal around the village. The paddocks are mixed with crops of rice and corn with water buffalo and cattle grazing in the pastures. Spires and tightly clumped hillsides loom over the lush fields and cast shadows over the valley making for a dramatic setting. In the evening, we took a boat out into the bay and cruised around on kayaks with the bioluminescent plankton dripping from our paddles. To bring the night to a close we fished for squid that we would eat the following day with dinner.

Day 2 (Boat tour and Kayak): Weaving through La Han Bay provides surreal scenery as limestone peaks shrouded in dense vegetation burst through the emerald bay. Pinnacles and pillars sculpted from time form a tapestry of islands splashing across the sea. The kayaks were pulled behind our boat and we used them to explore the abundance of caves in the area and pull up onto our own private beach for swimming and clamming.

Day 3 (Hike and jet boat exit): We had an amazing guide, Chili, for all of our excursions and he created an experience where all we had to focus on was the present moment. On the morning before we left, Chili took us on a hike through the jungle to a lookout that has an incredible view of Halong Bay and the valley below. The hike was a couple of hours round trip and soon we were gliding through the islets of La Han Bay as we made our way back to the mainland of Vietnam.

Ninh Binh Region

Leaving the island lifestyle behind was difficult until we arrived in the fields outside of Ninh Bindh and quickly realized more adventures lay ahead. Ninh Binh is an iconic city on the Red River Delta that is teeming with natural beauty and historical relics. Domes of densely forested bleached mounds are piled on the flowing fields growing out of water. Lakes, streams, and canals swarm the hillsides and cultural heritage sites pay tribute to the area’s rich history. Being able to see all of this from the back of a scooter only adds to the feeling of freedom and adventure.


Trang An Lamia Bungalow (Google Maps)- This was the perfect hub to explore our surroundings and although bungalow’s start at $25/night, we upgraded to have a private bathroom and bamboo room for around $75/night. Breakfast is included and even though the establishment is in a pristine setting, the restaurant and bar might be the best part. We had dinner here each night of our stay and had trouble deciding which meal was our favorite. The host is beyond gracious and even created space for us to stay an extra night when our travel plans changed at that last minute. The host also sat down with us and planned an itinerary for two days and rented us scooters for less than $5/day to explore the area.


Tam Coc (Google Maps)- For less than $10/boat, a guide will take you on a two hour tour through this UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to the wonderment of the majestic green mountains peeling back from the floating rice paddies, the guide rows the boat entirely with their feet as you pass through 3 caves hollowed out by the Ngo Dong River. Note: It is recommended to do this in the morning to avoid the heat of the day.

Rich Dong Pagoda (Google Maps)- Driving the scooters through the vibrant fields to this location would have been a site in itself. So, the fact that there is a temple carved into the cliffs where bats screech when you enter makes the site a must see.

Hang Mua (Google Maps)- The 500 steps are well worth the climb as the view from the top of Lying Dragon’s Mountain is stunning. We had hoped to catch the sunset but due to cloud cover we happily settled for all encompassing views of the area.

Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve (Google Maps)- This was more about touring the land on the scooters we rented from our bungalow than the actual destination. We found ourselves circumnavigating the different roadways with perceptive ambiguity is we took whatever road fit our fancy.

More than anywhere I have ever traveled, attempting to describe our 8 days in Vietnam through words and pictures truly fails to capture the essence of the country. It is a place that evokes feelings and emotions that has you catching your breath, gasping for air, and craving more of everything. We were in a small area of the country and in talking with other people on our journey, the possibilities of places to see in Vietnam are endless!

Sabai, Sabai

10 Days in Thailand- A Traveler’s Guide

In Thailand, you have no other choice but to let it go. Succumbing to the playful and outgoing personalities of the Thai people and embracing a pace of life that is, ‘Sabai, Sabai.’ After over two years of navigating pandemic related travel bans and quarantines, Southeast Asia is opening up to visitors. If you are in the privileged position to be able travel, many of these nations rely heavily on tourists and would gladly welcome being your host to an amazing experience. We were fortunate enough to leave Korea for our Spring Break and over a 10 day span combined island time with the jungle and hills of the North.


Since our time in Thailand they have removed the majority of the travel regulations, but check the Thai Embassy Site for the most recent updates. At our time of travel at the beginning of April, we followed their ‘Test and Go’ policy. They seemed to have the process pretty dialed as we landed at around 1130pm, were picked up by the hotel shuttle, checked in at the lobby, and then received a PCR test right on the spot. Once in our room, we were able to have food and drinks delivered and shortly after waking up we had our negative results. There was the risk is that if we tested positive for COVID we would have been staying in the hotel for 7 days, so, it was a huge relief when we were turned free.

Ko Samet

Our good friends from Bend, the Krauthoefers, moved to Bangkok the previous summer to work at an international school. Even though they have only lived in Thailand for 6 months, they have done plenty of exploring and shared with us some of their top spots. When we arrived at their house the family of four had their van packed up and were rearing to venture to the island of Ko Samet. Andy masterfully weaved through the Thai traffic for 2.5 hours to the Ban Pae Pier (Google Maps). Note: I was told that from Bangkok it is about $40 USD to hire a private car to transport you to the pier. From there, we elected to pay the small difference for a motorboat ride rather than pack onto a larger ferry for the 30 min water taxi to Ko Samet.

Thailand is renowned for their tropical islands that speckle the waters surrounding the peninsula. When picturing Thailand, I had always imagined hoards of tourists piled up like beached sea lions barking out drink orders. Maybe it was that we were traveling there in April or that Thailand was just revealing itself to foreigners, but we kept landing in secluded spots with pristine beaches on Ko Samet. They all boasted white powdery sand sprawling in between the teal covered bath water of the bay and the lush forest chirping in the background.

Accommodation Plus

Samed Villa Resort (Google Maps)- For around $40/night we had a fantastic bungalow that was nestled back in the vegetation just above the beach. Our room included a scrumptious breakfast that featured both American and Thai style cuisine with boatloads of fresh fruit.

Reef Bar and Restaurant (Google Maps)- A5 min walk from the resort and for all intents and purposes one could post up there for a week and slip into a space void of time or worry.

Audi’s Bar (Google Maps)- In the evening, fire dancers come out in a whirling display of pyro eruptions on the beach and Audi’s offers the opportunity to dance in the waves with bioluminescent plankton.

Beach Scooting

Even though you could easily just walk around the resort area and relax into sublimity, we rented scooters for about $5/day and toured the entirety of the island. The roads that wrap around the island were not busy which made for a stress free driving experience.

Prao Beach (Google Maps)- One of my favorites as this crescent moon shaped beach had fantastic snorkeling along the reefs.

Ao Char (Google Maps)- Has a pier that you can launch off and a Rasta bar (Google Maps) that will blend up fresh fruit smoothies ($2) and margaritas to compliment a plate of grilled fish and Thai noodles ($3-5). Don’t expect anything to happen fast here is that would defeat the purpose of the island way, but it is the ideal setting to leave behind what is not directly in front of you.

Laem Toei (Google Maps)-With the thrill of humming along the jungle roads, cruising to the southern tip of the island is a no brainer.

Sai Kaew Beach (Google Maps)- If you are in the mood to catch a sunrise you will be granted a spectacular view of the sun cresting over the hills.

Chiang Mai

As tempting as it would have been to stay tucked away in the island way, we were lured by tales about the Rose of the North and took the hour flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Once the capitol of Thailand, Chiang Mai provides the perfect launching point to tour the cultural relics of century old temples, explore the mountainous jungle by foot, mountain bike, or bamboo raft, and connect with the traditional life of local tribes. The area offers the rare combination of wondering through the maze of cafes and restaurants while being able to leave the buzz of the city behind to stay with elephants and breathe in the waterfall laced air.


Phra Singh Village (Google Maps)- We had a gorgeous room for about $45/night which included a fantastic breakfast and a nice pool where creative cocktails are delivered to your lounge chair. Our stay was an ideal point to explore the cultural center of Thailand while still maintaining a quiet setting.

Chiang Mai Elephant Friends (Google Maps)- We only stayed one night here and I wish it would have been more. Although you can fit in all of the activities that the outfit offers in two days, simply staying in the hillside camp is a greater opportunity to connect with nature. Feeding a baby elephant, floating on a bamboo raft down a surging river, bathing an elephant, and hiking in the jungle bring pure joy to the heart. The lodging for a bungalow with A/C, private bath, and a porch opening up to the lush valley is about $50/night and there are a couple of restaurants on the property that offer great food options at a very reasonable price.

Norn Timman 13 Boutique Hotel (Google Maps)- Although the area of Nimman is definitely worth a visit, the room at this hotel are incredibly small at $45/night. It was fine for us as we hardly open any time in our room, but there would not be much space for kids. There is also a popular nightclub near by that produced some rather loud and well lubricated hotel guests late into the evening.

Eateries (Old Town)

Huen Phen (Google Maps)- Many say this place has the best Kao Soi Curry in Chiang Mai. We came here a couple times where we tried enough dishes to say this was one our top places to eat and you have to appreciate that the tables are hidden amongst antiques.

Akha Ama Prasigningh (Google Maps)- There are plenty of great coffee shops in the Old Town and we fell in love with this one. They source their beans from one of the local tribes in the area and roast on site.

Mug (Google Maps)- Incredible atmosphere with live music and a full bar. Sit outside and watch the people fade into the night. The owner is local artist in the area and there are frequent shows.

The House by Ginger (Google Maps)- More flavorful Northern Thai cuisine with an upscale flare. Cocktails get creative here and the bites are rich and savory!

Yellow Elephant (Google Maps)- Much safer and tastier than yellow snow. Homemade coconut ice cream with sea salted caramel, waffle cones, and ice cream sandwiches had us dubbed as repeat customers.

Eateries (Ninaminn)

Tong Tem Toh (Google Maps)- They did not hold back on the heat for foreigners but I could not stop eating the Kao Soi as it was an explosion of flavors. We wound up having to get a second bowl of rice just to tame the spice but it was well worth the sweat.

Rock Me Burger (Google Maps)- No matter where I travel there normally comes a time when I crave a burger. Typically it falls after too many beers from the night before and the burger here did the trick.

The Salad Concept (Google Maps)- Just in case you are with someone who requires a constant supply of fresh leafy greenery there are plenty of options here at a reasonable price.

Mooh (Google Maps)- Just in case you are someone who enjoys cream and fruit filled pastries for breakfast this hole in the wall prescribes what is needed any time of day.

Roast8ry (Google Maps)- Award wining coffee on the global scale and cutting edge decorations in the foam!


Doi Suthep (Google Maps): While staying in Chiang Mai, viewing the temples is a surreal experience as the city has simply built up around them and it feels like you are slipping in and out of a time warp. Most of the temples you can simply access by foot in the Old Town where remnants of the castle wall and surrounding moat provide an ancient border. However, two of the regions most iconic temples require transport. Doi Suthep is about a 25-30min bus ride from Chiang Mai and then you have to climb the stairs up a dragon’s back to reach the shrine which was carved into the mountainside.

Grand Pagoda Nabhapolbhumisiri (Google Maps): Located in Doi Inthanon National Park this requires a guide and we turned it into a full day trip where we visited the southern most point of the Himalaya Range, the picturesque pagoda, and then hiked into the village of the Karen Hill Tribe. The Karen Tribe migrated from Burma and are often the people in the region who work with elephants. For a period of time the fields where covered in poppies as a main supplier of the Golden Triangle Opium trade. The king at the time convinced the people to surplant the poppies with coffee and rice by supplying them with the means and materials to transform their land. King Bhumibol the Great is still very well regarded throughout Thailand for his efforts to connect with the people and the village is breathtaking in beauty and culture.

Trailhead All Mountain Bike Tours (Google Maps): To cap our time of adventure in the hills around Chiang Mai we went on an incredible ride provided through this outfit. They have well trained and knowledgeable guides who showed us a fantastic time climbing through the jungle. There are several different options based on skill level and they were more than accommodating by providing trailside lunches, snacks, and ice cold water on a humid day. We were flying out on the same day as our ride and they even let us shower at their shop before driving us to the airport.

We were beyond grateful for our 10 days in Thailand and look forward to when we are able to return. Three weeks would seem like an optimal amount of time to travel here as there is so much to soak in! If you have the opportunity to make it to this part of the world or have been saving up for a trip, the Thai people will make sure you enjoy their country to the fullest potential. Sabai, sabai…

Kickin’ It Kauai Style

I’m unsure if there has ever been a place I’ve traveled to that I haven’t wanted to visit again. For me, part of the beauty of traveling is to continue exploring and constantly carving out new experiences. And, no matter how many different places I’ve been fortunate enough to see, there are always more adventures to create. A 6 day stint on the Island of Kauai at the tail end of our winter vacation was a glimpse into the glory of the ‘Garden Isle’ and had us craving for more time. I would say that as far as a quick breakaway is concerned, I could not envision a more rejuvenating location than the pristine island of Kauai.

After some minor flight delays leaving the Big Chill on the Big Island, we landed in Kauai well after dark and had a ride set up to take to us to Kauai Rooftop Campers (Google). We had decided instead of paying the cost to rent a car and a hotel room, we could combine the two and experience more of the wilderness. Our Toyota Tacoma was fully loaded with a rooftop pop up tent and bedding, cooking utensils, beach gear, a large cooler, and any miscellaneous items you might need for camping. Having four wheel drive is recommended when accessing remote locations in Kauai and almost a necessity following the series of flooding which had occurred this Winter. Within 10 minutes of leaving the parking lot, we were putting our borrowed rig to good use as the road to Anini Park Campground (Google Maps) came to an abrupt end. The route was trying to take us through an abandoned vehicle, a concrete barricade, and a rushing creek. The night was only made darker by the cloud cover and we began to meekly follow a set of tire prints that led us through some puddles that more resembled ponds and weaved us through trees before stumbling onto a beach. With waves looming too close for comfort and a no vehicle sign posted in site, the adventure had officially begun! The wheels on the truck began to spin and visions of facing arrest, a gauged up tow truck bill, or saltwater pouring into the cab, all flashed through my mind. Fortunately, the 4WD worked and we motored through the soft sand and back into the jungle until we found the campground. We later learned from the campground host that the bridge had blown out a year ago and there was another entrance further down the highway. Apparently, this did not make the latest updated version on Google Maps. Not completely sure of our surroundings and with a little effort, we popped open the rooftop tent and settled into sleep.

Anini Park Campground

We woke the next morning to a steady drizzle that quickly built up into an island downpour. I love camping; being close to nature, experiencing the elements, sleeping under the stars, roughing it. Except of course, when Mother Nature decides to piss down upon you with great ferocity and then being outside is only fun when you can dry off. We retrieved our rain gear from the pickup, where a window had inadvertently been left open, and did our best to pack up without getting everything drenched. Note: This was the first of several occasions on this trip when I swore I would never buy a rooftop tent. Rather than battling to make breakfast or coffee in the faucet leaking from the sky, we drove until we landed upon the town of Princeville. We discovered from a local artist who was showing off his works that the North Shore General Store (Google Maps) had the best breakfast burritos on the island. Although that was the only breakfast burrito we had on the island, we went back several times and could not argue his point.

Queen’s Bath

The skies started to calm and we were unsure of how saturated the trails would be so we decided to stay close and venture to Queen’s Bath (Google Maps). Although the trail was closed for the Winter season, there was an offshoot a little further down the fence line. We had read that it was a short 10min walk down to the ocean and thought we would we be able to manage with a coffee in hand. My confidence quickly slipped away as my feet went airborne on the greasy path and we retreated to take the coffee back to the truck. Better prepared for the current conditions, we slid through the sloppy mud and found times when we were knee deep in footholes filled with rain water. The jungle was still sweating with precipitation and the vines were tightly woven into an impermeable ground covering. A stream pulsed with a couple of waterfalls and broke up the vegetated fabric before creasing into the sea. The site from there would have been enough reward for navigating the mud but we were treated to more views of the northern coastline as we traversed across the rocks. Queens Bath is formed by a sink hole in the ocean floor that is now a deep tidal pool protected by rocks. Queens of the past used to bath in the calm, but now in the Winter months there are typically stories of people being swept out to sea.

Fortunately, we had a 5 gallon tank of water that we could use to wash off the mud caked to our legs and clothes. In the Princeville marketplace there is a courtyard which had a few different food options and we had some tasty Thai food before heading back to our camp. The surf which had been so rough that morning calmed enough for us to embark on a sunset swim. In comparison to days of battling the masses on the beaches of the Big Island, we felt like we had Anohola Beach to ourselves and were glad to call it home for the next 4 nights.

Sunset at Camp

The morning brought an abundance of sunshine that would stay with us for the rest of our time on Kauai. We had stocked up on groceries in Princeville and watched the rising sun glisten across the sea from while eating granola and sipping from our French press.

Sunrise at Camp
Sleeping Giant (Nogono Mountain)

If Kauai does not awaken the wild side in your soul, you may be shackled to the stagnation of society’s sedentary life. Mystic mountains draped in density crest the skyline and spark curiosity with wonder. One mountain that loomed over our area was aptly coined the Sleeping Giant (All Trails) as the lazy ridge laid in the outline of someone sneaking a snooze on their side. The parking lot to access the East Side Trail (Google Maps), only has room for about 20 cars and half of these spaces require vehicles with clearance. With other trails in the area closed due to the incessant rains, we were happy to find that we are allowed to flop around in the mud. The 3.5 mile trail climbed steadily through the generations of vegetated growth and our shoes were occasionally sucked into the coffee ground sludge-like mud that brewed in the shade. When we wrapped on either side of the giant’s back there were pockets from the shadows where the sun was blasting and we could gaze down unobstructed on the prowess of the Pacific. Near the top, the spine becomes crooked with rock outcroppings and we needed all four of our appendages to stay connected to the ground. The vastness provided from the summit views were a stark reminder of our insignificance as we were simply ants crawling on a mound surrounded by peaks and valleys rising from a small volcanic island peeking through the sea.

Tunnels Beach

With nothing but time and plenty of daylight on our side, we figured the best way to scrub the mud would be a salty snorkel on the reefs off Tunnels Beach (Google Maps). However, with the surf swirling in a display of boiling waves thrashing and crashing in chaos, the water was too rough for an actual swim. We were more than satisfied to sit back on the beach and marvel at jagged toothed formations that jutted into the ocean. On our drive back to our camp, we stopped in the charming village of Hanelei to eat at the Dolphin Restaurant. It was closed that night due to COVID, so we grabbed some tantalizing Poke and Sushi at the neighboring Dolphin Fish Market (Google Maps) that we enjoyed on their outdoor tables. Knowing the view that awaited us back at camp, we made sure that we were back in time to see the sunset.

Surfers at Anahola Beach
Awa’awapuhi and Nu’alolo Trail

Even though Kauai is a relatively small island, life moves at a slower pace, and distances take loner to cover than expected. The drive to Waimea Canyon is no different and so we left early in the morning as we wanted to spend the day hiking in the area. I’m not sure if you can really go wrong as there are so many different options, but we found this 12 mile loop (All Trails) that was absolutely spectacular. We parked at the Awa’awapuhi trailhead (Google Maps) and meandered through the woods until the path spilled out onto the cliffs drastically dropping off into the big blue. This path was fairly well traveled and for good reason as the hanging canyon walls dove into the depths of the Earth’s core. On the cutoff trail that connects Awa’awupuhi to the Nu’alolo Trail we did not see another soul. The feeling of wilderness settled in as we were pushing through the thick brush to find our way. The ocean below was like a far off echo muffled in a conch shell that was greeted with occasional chirps from the flurry of iridescent birds. We had seen plenty of traffic on the drive winding up Waimea Canyon, but everyone had left us in peace for the remainder of the hike and we found more conversation in just listening to the outside world. The loop finishes up at Nu’alolo Trail Parking (Google Maps) and the walk along the paved road to our truck was definitely anti-climactic. We drove back with night creeping in and rather than cooking back at camp we elected to stop at the Fish Bar Deli (Google Maps) in Kaapa for an amazing meal.

With the need to get tested before our flight home the following evening, we spent the next morning around Anini Campground enjoying the serene setting over several pots of coffee. The clinic was in Lihue and so we decided to go down to Poipu Beach (Google Maps) which boasts a nice protected sandy bottom enclave for snorkeling. Poipu is known to have the best weather on Kauai and with that comes the larger resorts that run right into the water. We stopped at Lava’s (Google Maps) as we were cruising the beaches before deciding Poipu was a little more touristy than what we had become accustomed to further North. That night we were treated to a dazzling display of pastel paints pouring out onto Anahola Stream as it spilled into the sea.

Na Pali Coast to Hanakapi-ai Falls

The logistics of this hike definitely require some planning ahead and you will probably want to book well in advance. When we came here in 2011, the area was clogged with people and nature was getting hammered by the constant usage. They have put in a booking system (Google) to help manage the numbers and there is a limited number of reservations. For us to hike back to Hanakapi-ai Falls, we made a reservation for the shuttle bus that picks up at Waipa Park and Ride (Google Maps) and drops you off at Ke’e Beach. To walk further along the Na’Pali coastline or to camp, an even more limited permit is required. The trails climbs abruptly from Ke’e beach and soon we were gawking at the rugged coastline that spiked into the water. The hike is 8 miles and you probably want to give yourself at least 6 hours as the footing requires special attention and there are several creek crossings that you will not want to rush. There are steep up and downs as the path hugs the water for about 2 miles before leveling out at Hanakapi-ai Beach. From there, we left the sea views and slipped into the lush jungle mixed with bamboo stalks, looping banana trees, fuzzy ferns, and other island mysteries. The journey back to the falls was as breathtaking as the 300 foot rush of water busting free from the carved stream bed. Kauai is known to be a hikers paradise and this trail is at the top of my list for mixing the mountainous jungle with the cobalt infused sea. This was the perfect way to end our short trip on Kauai and made the 25 hour long trip back to Korea and the 10 day quarantine well worth it!

Big Chill on the Big Island

A Traveler’s Guide to Hawai’i

We were determined to leave the bitter cold in Seoul for warmer days. Last year, Ashlee’s Mom made the long journey to Korea and we spent two bone chilling weeks touring around the peninsula (Pork Chop Meets Korea). This year we decided to leave the frigid temps behind and spend our winter break in Hawai’i. The East side of the Big Island boasts the most sunny days in the State and so we met Ellen, who was coming from Texas, in Kona. For the weeks leading up to our trip, the forecast was calling for rain, flooding was being reported, and a blizzard dumped 14 inches of snow on Mauna Kea. Prepared for the worse we were instead pleasantly surprised with two weeks of brilliant weather. We kicked back on beaches, snorkeled in the aquatic world, sampled cuisine and libations at local establishments, hiked to waterfalls, and walked along the lava fields. Regardless of your ambition to get after it or simply chill, the Big Island will heal your mainland stress and let your soul shine through.

The Basics

If your goal is to truly explore the Big Island, you will want to rent a car and expect to pay a pricey fee ($100-$150/day). There would be many benefits to having a 4WD vehicle when it comes to accessing some of the beaches but we were able to get by in a Chevy Spark. Although, on the days when we were transitioning to different accommodations we were a sight to see with 3 of us crammed in the tin can with all of our luggage. We went the Air B and B route when booking accommodations and stayed right on Ali’i Drive which is the main drag in Kailua, Kona. We mainly stayed in two different condos, the Royal Ka’hili (Google Maps) and White Sands Village. Both places had two bedrooms/two baths which was ideal for 3 of us. Whites Sands was a bit more spacious and is right across from Magic Sands Beach Park (featured below). We preferred the Royal Ka’hili as it had less units meaning there were fewer people in the pool/hot tub/BBQ area. Directly across from Royal Ka’hili is a secluded little cove shaded by a Banyan tree that offered amazing sunsets and Lyman’s Surf Spot was a stone’s throw from our condo as well. By going the Air B and B route we were able to cook meals at home, do laundry, and could utilize all of beach and snorkeling gear that was provided.

Kailua Kona

If you only have 5 days, I honestly think there is enough to keep you busy just in the Kailua area without needing to rent a car. You can stay right on Ali’i Drive and either walk, bike, take the bus trolley, or the occasional Lyft to check out all the hot spots with cool drinks.

The first beach that we went to the morning after landing was Magic Sands Beach Park (Google Maps). This is very centrally located making it consistently packed with people. I did not get in the water on the day we visited as the break was pretty gnarly and I was watching kids on boogie boards getting their vertebrae’s stretched to the limit. The Magics Beach Grill has a little booth that you can grab cold beer, iced coffee, or Acai’i bowls and the restaurant has plenty of outdoor seating to enjoy their tantalizing Mai Tais and toasted macadamia nut Pina Coladas.

Just down from Magic Sands Beach is Kahalu’u Beach Park which offers incredible snorkeling. We heard that it fills up by 9am, so Ashlee and I went on several sunrise sessions where the long extended reef is teeming with all kinds of different fish. There is also a surf shop here that offers lessons and is a decent place for beginners.

I highly recommend taking a snorkeling boat tour which takes you from Honokoahu Marina to Captain Cooks inlet. We had amazing guides through Kona Snorkel Tours and on the zodiac boat ride saw schools of dolphins, humpback whales, and in one spectacular display watched as a Mama Humpback was teaching her newly born calf how to breach the water as a shark was circling to eat the placenta. While snorkeling around Captain Cooks Inlet we were able to see a 6 ft long reef shark, spotted eels, and an endless array of vibrant fish.

Hawai’i is crazy expensive so we would stock up on groceries and cooked the majority of our meals at home. There is also a plethora of establishments to get full and tipsy like a teapot and here are some of our favorites:

Da Poke Shack (Google Maps)- This place sells out daily for good reason. Grab some tuna loaded bowls to go and park yourself by the water.

Humpy’s Big Island Whalehouse (Google Maps)- Same Humpy’s Alehouse from Anchorage, AK with better weather. This a great spot to sample some local brews on draft with a view of Kalaepa’Akai bay and a chance to see spinner Dolphins or Humpback Whales.

Papa Kona Restaurant and Bar (Google Maps)- In terms of being on the water, Papa Kona’s is built right over Oneo Bay. We came here a couple of different evenings to catch live music.

Kai Eats and Drinks (Google Maps)- Macadamia nut flavored iced lattes with macadamia milk could only be better with fresh baked chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies.

Umekes Fish Market Bar and Grill (Google Maps)- Ahi fish tacos, poke, and fish and chips are fresh off the boat!

Kenichi Pacific (Google Maps)- Nothing spells a Christmas dinner like Japanese cuisine! On the pricey side but well worth it as the sushi rolls were stuffed with seafood and no matter how full you are, make room for dessert.

The Beaches of Kohala

If we ever have the opportunity to return to the Big Island, I would choose to leave the hustle and bustle of Kailua behind and stay further North in Kohala. Many of our top beaches were past the airport and it would be a way to spend more time with your feet in the sand instead of in the car. During peak tourist season, I’m unsure if you will find any secluded beaches. However, if you can arrive by 8am you can grab a choice spot with some shade and have some semblance of solitude.

Mahai’ula (Google Maps)- In our economically compact Chevy Spark Rental, speed bumps would rattle our bones. So, for Mahai’ula we parked in the pullout off the highway and walked the two miles on the gravel pot holed road to the beach. There were cars that scraped paint and streaked oil along the rocks to save the walk and having a vehicle with a little clearance would have made all the difference. Even if you drive until the payment ends, hike the trail to Mahai’ula Bay for calm waters to swim and snorkel. You can literally float the whole bay and we saw some sea turtles along with schools of fish.

Makalawena(Google Maps)- From Mahai’ula Bay (above), walk another 30 min over the lava rock to find powdery sand and even more pristine water.

Manini’owali/Kua Bay (Google Maps)- Parking is at a premium here so arrive early, bring your cooler, beach chairs, and post up shop with everyone else in Kona. There is a reason it is crowded and the surf here was too big to snorkel and is probably better suited for boogie boards.

Beach 67 (Google Maps)- In our search for Beach 69, we stumbled upon an even more secluded spot. We didn’t arrive until the afternoon and the waves made the water too murky to view fish.

Hapuna (Google Maps)- This is often makes the top 10 list of World’s best beaches. If you are in the area you have to checkout this picturesque stretch of fluffy sand. We arrived just after 8am and were able to grab a spot in the shade. Even though the surf was big, there is a protected bay on the North end of the beach. There is a trail that leaves the sand just below the Westin Hotel and hugs the coastline for 5min before reaching steps that drop you right into the water.

Beyond the East Coast

The weather and beaches made it tough to leave the East Coast but we went on a few different road trips that had us wishing we had even more time to explore the Big Island.

Hilo Loop- From Kona go up Hwy 19 through Waimea and along the North Shore with a must stop at Tex’s Drive In (Google Maps). Although the name would indicate different, there is outdoor seating and they feature local cuisine including Malasada’s which are a Portuguese Donut. We went on a beautiful little hike through the lush jungle to Akaka Falls (Google Maps). From there we went to Hilo and grabbed a bite on the water at Ponds (Google Maps) where we were treated to some live music as we watched kids jump off the bridge. We walked around Hilo Bayfront Park before getting back in the car and taking the 200 Saddle Rd through the Mauna Kea volcanic are and back to Kona.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park- There are plenty of hikes or short walks to go on that will allow you to marvel at magma’s carved creations. We parked at Kilauea Overlook and hiked a loop (All Trails) that that went along the rim of the crater, through a diverse forest, and across the scorched out lava flats.

The Southern Coast- Following Hwy 11 on the Southern shore provides magnificent views of green flowing fields falling off into the sea. Start your day by stopping into the farm at Paradise Meadows where you can sample and purchase their different types of coffee, eat all things Macadamia nut, and soak in the owner’s paintings. From there, check out the sea turtles sunning themselves on the gunpowder colored sand at Punalu’u Beach (Google Map), grab a pulled pork chili verde burrito at Taco Tita (Google Map) and have a picnic lunch at Whittington Beach Park (Google Maps).

However you choose to spend your time on the Big Island, you will find your experience well worth the trip!

No Car, No Problem- Traveling Light on Jeju

Getting There

Owning a car in Korea has allowed us to embark on countless road trips throughout the peninsula; exploring the mountains and beaches that comprise the phenomenal landscape of the region. However, when time is limited or you simply do not care to navigate the highways, there are plenty of other options that do not include operating a vehicle. One of these premier destinations is Jeju Island, the largest of all the islands being dubbed the ‘Hawaii of Korea.’ The first time we went to JeJu was in late September of 2020 and with a week to explore and predictable weather, we took our backpacks, camping gear, and set off to explore via the Olle Trail (I Found My Juju on Jeju- Part 1 and I Found my Juju on Jeju- Part 2 ). This year, for a long weekend at the end of November, we decided to keep it simple, stuffed some clothes in a duffle bag, took the 1 hr. subway ride to Gimpo Airport, and boarded one of the many flights that depart to Jeju-si. We were in the air for less than hour and soon walking down the staircase onto the runway where we were immediately met by the clean and warm island air.

Location, location, location…

From our previous trip to Jeju we found that one our favorite beaches was Hopjae and so we booked in that area at Hotel Agilla (Naver Maps). The cab ride from the airport in Jeju-si was around 30min and our room had an amazing view of Gapado Island perched in the South Sea. The rooftop of the hotel boasted 3 hot tubs and a swimming pool for us to choose from and we were even enticed by their room service on a couple of occasions as the sunsets from our balcony were mesmerizing. There was even another restaurant in the basement of the hotel which served up succulent dumplings and noodles in a steamy meat broth.

In addition to the gorgeous water and fluffy beaches of Hopjae, one of the main reasons that we wanted to stay at Hotel Agilla (Naver Maps) was that we could simply walk out the door and stroll along the sea to access any number of great spots. Sometimes the best destination is the unknown and we found ourselves weaving through the streets, along the docks, and through the sand soaking in the island feel.

Cafe Crawling

If you find that you must have an endpoint in mind when wandering around Hopjae, allowing your stomach to be your compass is a fantastic option! There is no shortage of cafe’s in the area which offer stunning sites along with tasty bites. On the morning of Thanksgiving Day, we stumbled upon a spot that was serving a slice of pecan pie that I could not resist. Ashlee ordered a piece of Earl Grey cake to go with our Americanos and the cheerful host of Ennikskerry Cafe (Naver Maps) even brought us a special decorated cookie that emulated the view from their deck. I consider myself to be somewhat of Panini connoisseur and the gooey goodness that comes out of Geumneung Sandwich is at the top of my list. They seem to harness some of the island’s magic between two pieces of toasted bread as they boast Jeju black pork meatballs soaked in marinara and topped with parmesan and asiago or flavor packed bulgogi with grilled onions smothered in gouda and mozzarella cheese. Definitely get an order of fries to go with any number of the drink options that are available. Even if you do not save room for desert, find a way to work through a delicious bowl of bingsu at Jeju Seolsimdang (Naver Maps). Bingsu is a sweet treat of shaved ice that would be a healthy light option if it were not for the condense milk drizzled on whatever topping you choose. There is no flavor too creative for bingsu and concoctions range from green tea matcha, mango and cheese, Oreo crumbles with ice cream or anything else that can be imagined. Of the all the places we went with stunning views, the rooftop cafe at Parato Dos offers the perfect start to a tranquil morning or a happy hour cocktail at sunset.

Day Excursion

We honestly tried and a steadier hand would have prevailed. However, as enticing as it was to simply roll along with the waves at Hopjae beach, we were overcome with wanderlust and decided to go on an outing to different part of the island. JeJu, for being relatively small, has an insane amount of museums (100 to be exact) and one of the more famous is the Museum of Sex and Health (Naver Maps). There are incredibly affordable city buses that make frequent stops all around the island it was about an hour ride for us coming from Hopjae. To say that this museum covers ALL things related to sex would be a drastic understatement. The multilevel complex encompasses a cultural timeline of sex in the region stemming from artifacts, rooms upon rooms of folic statues and nude paintings as well contemporary ‘how to’ pieces and current data trends on the topic from across the world. Even the bathrooms are clearly marked! The displays were as entertaining as they were informative and definitely worth the price of admission. In the same area as the museum is Sabangsan Mountain Carbonated Hot Springs (Naver Maps), which we had planned on going to before learning that our hotel had multiple hot tubs. The weather was too nice to stay inside and from the museum we took a 15 min bus ride to Sagye Beach (Naver Maps). We took our time basking in the sun with our feet in the sand as we traversed the beach as part of the Olle Trail until we arrived to the bottom of Songaksan Mountain (Naver Maps). The area was bustling with tourists who were sitting down at pop-up tents that featured seafood freshly harvested from the ocean by Hanyeo (traditional women divers). We walked the staircases that hugged the tiered cliff sides of Songnaksan Mt which jutted out into the sea drenched in cobalt.

Come Again

If you live in Korea, Jeju is simple to get to and navigate with plenty of beauty and activities to keep you coming back. When travel opens up again and quarantines become a thing of our past, I would highly recommend Jeju for international travelers as well. The splendid destination comes with a simplicity, affordability, and interconnectedness with locals compared with other island spots that are more tailored to tourists.

Yeosu and Islands Abound

From Jirisan, we drove just over an hour to the southern end of the Korean peninsula and crossed the bridge over to Yeosu island. Our pension (Naver Maps), was located 3 floors up from a fishing pier falling off into the south sea. Yeosu boasts over 350 islands in the area and it seemed we could see every one of them in their entirety from our room. To have the ability to travel from mountains as magnificent in Jirisan to a sea of serenity in just over an hour speaks to limitless geographical diversity of Korea. We enjoyed a couple rolls of Gimbap with cocktails and wine while marveling at the sun cutting diamonds across the water. That evening we were treated to one of those sunsets that made us forget about everything else going on in the world. Fragments of clouds folded over mountains that were bursting out of the ocean. The chain of islands that stretched out across our view were coated in a pastel haze. At one point, as the sun was taking its final breath, the caldron of colors poured over into an explosion that ignited the sky. The moon began to crawl out from its cave and soon the sphere was full and bathing the sea a milky white. Families, enjoying the final day of Chuseok, had their vehicles parked on the pier with grills sizzling meat and kids fighting with their shadows. Roman candles started blasting off from the beach and the fireworks shuddered in the show that nature had just orchestrated.

The next day we followed a series of fascinating bridges linking a series of forested islands over to Goheung Island. Because our pension was located on the southern tip of Yeosu, the drive was only 30 min to the start of our hike in Dadohaehaesnag National Park (Naver Maps). When staring up at the ridge line from Nunggasa Temple, we had no idea on the intensity of the traverse that lay ahead of us. Maybe this naivety came from the grounds around the temple invoking a peaceful feeling or it could be that aside from looking at a map, we had done little research around the hike (All Trails). The stone path that meandered through the woods took on a playful feeling. There were no steps and the incline was gradual as we weaved through the stands of Korean maple and cedar trees. We stopped for a break at a pagoda and were amazed to find that we were less than a kilometer from the top. I knew from the map that we would gain close to 3,000 ft and cruise along a bumpy ridge but, it did not seem like we had climbed enough. The trail finally turned to the dreaded steps that are found on mountains all across Korea. We were commenting that they were still the least we had encountered and felt solid on reaching the first peak. There were a few other couples who we shared the top with and we would get to know them over the course of the day by taking pictures of each other. The view was incredible as we could see all the hundreds of islands that were scattered like beads spilling out into the sea.

We did not fully grasp the enormity the ridge until we studied the picture posted at the saddle and counted 8 more of these prominent rock outcroppings that we would be scaling that day. The first set of stairs resembled more of a ladder and from that point on we were hiking and scrambling hand over hand. In the US, we would have needed to sign a waiver, hire a guide, and be hooked up to a rope and harness. I did not take as many pictures as I would’ve liked as there were times we could not risk stopping or taking a hand off the railing. To comfort myself, I tried to imagine the team of people that constructed those steps bolted into the mountainsides as the most highly qualified group of engineers in Korea.

Every time we reached one of the pinnacles, we were greeted by the other members of our ragtag hiking party. One of the groups we saw taking a Makgeoli and cigarette breaks in the shade and another couple was hiking in jeans. The woman who essentially became our personal photographer spoke enough English to tell us the names of the summits and which trail to follow. I’m guessing by their surprised reactions that hey had not seen many foreigners in this area and maybe felt a little responsible for our safety. We were very grateful for their kindness and compassion on that section as the exposure we felt on the ridge definitely created some vulnerability. Our adrenaline was coursing through our bodies as we held on tight and carefully measured the placement of our feet with each step. As we came down from the last spike jutting into the sky and dipped back into the forest, we felt a collective sigh. The ridge we crawled across was less than a half a mile in distance but had provided one of the more thrilling sections of hiking I’ve experienced. We capped off the day with a fantastic dinner at a Korean BBQ joint (Naver Maps) that featured beef rather than the typical pork.

Once discovering that sunrises are worth the early wake up, the mornings become even more unique. The next day we drove the 90min through the dark to the other side of Yeosu and crossed one of the many bridges interconnecting the islands to Dolsando Island and arrived at Hyangiram Hermitage Site (Naver Maps). As we were parking, the the sun was starting to blossom and bloom pedals of clouds stained in violet. We walked up the steps as fast as we could to reach the temple just as the sun was breaking the horizon. There were about 12 other people at the stunning overlook and 4 of those appeared to be part of a film crew capturing a model/actress as she occupied the prime photo spot. She came equipped with a photographer, videographer, drone operator, and someone frantically directing all of the traffic. I was not sure how to ask if we could get a shot in there, so, I simply started taking pictures of her as well. Who knows, maybe she’s famous or the woman could simply be an influencer hopeful.

Everyone who had woken up for the sunrise started slipping back to their vehicles and we seemingly had the temple grounds to ourselves. We hiked up to the top of a rocky point that offered spectacular views of the vast chain of islands. The temple was originally built 1500 years ago and then again restructured after much of it was destroyed during the Korean War.

From the temple we went to Mangseongni Geomen Morae beach (Naver Maps) which is one of the few black sand beaches in Korea. Because it was still early in the morning there was no one else around. We were basically trying to kill some time before places opened up for lunch and Ashlee found a street on the hills overlooking Yeosu which was covered in murals and shique cafes (Naver Maps). We wandered around before scooping up some Gimbap (Naver Maps)on our way back to our place.

We came to the conclusion that we should plan to have dinner back in our room so that we would be guaranteed a sunset view. The evening sky seemed to be perfectly stitched together in a tapestry weaved with a stunning spectacle of the world rotating on its axis. Claw marks gashed through the blue sky and lava flows seemed to bleed out into the ocean. The falling sun sliced across the sea and embossed the water in bronze crystals. The ridge that we had hiked the day before sat perfectly silhouetted in the shadows of the horizon. Along the beach, families had set up tents and were barbecuing an assortment of meat while enjoying what nature was serving. It had been a long day that could not have produced a more prefect ending.

Our location on the southern tip of Yeosu provided quick access to take the ferry from Baegyado Island (Naver Maps) over to Geumodo Island (Naver Maps). The Bireong-gil trail (All Trails) covers a 13 mi stretch on the West side of Geumodo and there is something that adds to the adventure when you have to take a boat to access the trailhead. The water taxi took about 45min and it was an ideal day to sit on the top deck and marvel at the islands that weaved through the cobalt colored water. Although we took our car on the ferry, there was no need as once we de-boarded at Geumodo, we simply parked our vehicle and started walking. There are 5 different sections to the trail with established access points and a bus that frequents those spots. We elected to hike the 1st course of the trail which offered absolutely stunning views of the prominent coastline of Geumodo. The trail winds through a sturdy bamboo forest and pine trees which then spit you out into viewpoints that offer the full magnitude of the South Sea. Sun bleached cliffs with conifers clutching to their existence peered over forested mounds bathing in the turquoise splashes of liquid jade. Halfway through our hike we stopped at a shack of a restaurant that sat overlooking the water and I enjoyed a seafood stuffed Pajeon (Korean Pancake) while Ashlee was regulated to a bowl of buckwheat noodles. Although the older gentleman pushed their shop’s homemade Makgeolli (famous in Yeosu), we abstained as the day along the coastline was intoxicating all on its own. With an early start, one could definitely cover the entire trail in a day or there are several options to stay along the trail including camping on Ando Beach (Naver Maps). Although there are buses which have frequent stops around the entry points of the trail, they were not running on a Friday in late September and fortunately there was a number to call for a ‘cab’ that took us back to the ferry port. Geumodo is a destination in its own right that deserves several days of exploration. Unfortunately, our vacation was coming to an end and we had a 4.5 hour drive back to Seoul awaiting us the following day.

‘Traveling is About People’

-Nogodan Guesthouse

With a week off from school for Chuseok, we woke up at 5am to try to beat the Seoul traffic, but found the roads cluttered with other holiday bound travelers. After about 4 hours in the car we arrived at the Nogodan Guest House near the town of Guryre. There must have been a downpour right before we pulled up as the array of wildflowers had beads of sweat dripping from their pedals. We immediately felt a sense of peace at the base of the mountain range. Our room was not ready so we decided to explore the area and stumbled upon Jirisan Garden (Naver Map). Because it was chuseok holiday and everyone was visiting their family home to remember their ancestors there was no one around. I’m unsure if the garden was temporary closed for the holiday or due to COVID, but we found complete solitude wondering around the park. Sometimes your soul does not realize you have been deprived of nature until you are to breathe in the replenishing air. We settled back into our guest house and found that our host had been trekking all around the world. In 2014 they hosted in Iron Man competition and all of the competitors stayed at the Nogodan Guest House (Naver Map). The room was a simple box, with a small fridge, large tv, and a firm mattress. We did not need much as we planned on spending the next 4 days in the area hiking around in the mountains. Our accommodations boasted a reception area that had books and pictures from out host’s travels, an attached cafe that served up Korean style BBQ, and a roof top deck that peered up at the lush ridges scaling across the sky @nogodan_guesthouse (Instagram).

After a chance encounter on the rooftop, we found ourselves having dinner with Mike and Jiyoung. They lived outside of Busan in Yongman and were celebrating Mike’s recent retirement with a trip to Jirisan. Jiyoung had organized a sunrise hike up Nogodan peak and when I told her we had planned on hiking there as well, she told me we needed reservations. When Jiyoung checked the site on her phone, she found all of the spots had been booked. This was a recent COVID related precaution and one that caught us off guard. Jiyoung called over to the host of the guesthouse and he confirmed it was not possible to hike. Earlier that day we had noticed in one of his many pictures of global trekking adventures, that he had been to Nepal. So, I proceeded to show him a picture of when Ashlee and I had hiked to the base camp of Anna Purna and he looked at us in a different light. Through Jiyung’s translation, he explained that he was leading a trip that was leaving at 350am and we could join. With our bloodstreams infused with a mixture of makgeolli and plum wine, we happily agreed.

As imagined at 3am when our alarms sounded, the plan seemed less than ideal but we were pot committed. We piled into our host’s van along with a family of 4 and two women. The curvy drive to the parking lot had the previous nights alcohol swirling around in our stomachs and we could not get outside quick enough. Once we started moving and breathing in the soothing air our bodies adjusted to what our minds had previoulsy concocted under the influence. The site of the stars beating in the sky stopped us in our tracks as they were perfectly cluttered in contrived shapes centered in the galaxy. On the walk, our host Mr. Jung, talked about loving hiking since he was a little boy and how he opened up his guesthouse with the dream of sharing that with others. Over the first 6 years in operation, tourists from Germany, France, the UK, and US as well as Koreans flocked to his establishment as a base camp to Jirisan. These days that has slowed to a stagnant stall and he relies solely on Korean travelers to maintain his operation.

Mr. Jung had timed everything on our hike down to the minute as we reached the summit as the sun was smoldering in the valley below. The peaks of Jirisan were glowing in a sea of embers on one side of Nogodon and on the other was what Koreans call Ullhe, meaning Ocean Clouds. There could not be a better description as we were seemingly gazing down on sirrius whites caps pressing up around lush islands that dotted the sea. The 7 and 10 year old children who were ready to hike at 330am without any sign of protest were still jumping for pictures. The two women turned out to be professional hikers and left us to traverse the ridge connecting the nearby peaks. Ashlee and I reflected that for the first time since last Chuseok, we truly felt like we were traveling. Random conversations with strangers sharing a common desire to find adventure led us to connect and create a experience that would stay imprinted in our lives.

After our 3am wake up the morning before, we were in no rush to leave Nogodon Guesthouse. We found a hike that was shaped like a horseshoe and would allow us to climb to the top of Baraebong and Segeolsan (All Trails). The start of our hike came with complimentary bug dope as there was a machine with two spray nozzles distributing a concoction that would keep us safe from the local ticks and mosquitoes. A former road was converted to a walking path that was lined with cobblestones. Unlike previous hikes in Korea, we found only a few flights of stairs at the very top of Baraebong. We were at a lower elevation than Nogodon and were surrounded by shoulder high bunches of grass fluttering in the breeze and the occasional wildflowers that dotted the hillsides. The size of the stone signifying the summit must reflect the amount of people as we were alone at the top. The forested mountains of Jirisan encircled us and whisky clouds were draped over the ridge lines. We have become very fond of hiking with gimbap and had picked up some fatty rolls at Gimbap Cheongug (Naver Map) in Gurye.

We crept back into the woods and traversed through thick brush and bamboo over to Seoglsan. In Korea, we have become accustomed to sharing the trails with the masses and found significant solitude on this route. With bears and boars known to be in the area, we tried to make a little more noise as our legs were being thrashed by the foliage that had overgrown the path. Although we were following a ridge line, we were mainly kept undercover and occasionally porpoised through the vegetation for air and a view. To our astonishment we found a summit without a stone on the peak of Segeolsan and took a break in the clearing before heading making our way down. We slowly meandered through the woods until popping out ‘a youth training center.’ I’m unsure what this facility is used for, but there was a state of an art obstacle course that included a zip line.