Exploring Gangnam I got on the orange line five subway to Apgujeong first. The station is in the basement of Hundai shopping mall. This is a luxury mall and if you stop at this station it is mandatory to taste your way through the designer food floor. It is an interior dream of a supermarket and different restaurants slash fast-food desks where you can sit down and eat. I you shop in the supermarket, the cashier and the person packing the food for you are all dressed in chef like uniforms, clean and nice like everything else on the contemporary decorated floor.
I am writing this as the news from North Korea vows to put US military bases in Japan “under radioactive clouds” and threatens another Hiroshima – If war breaks out. The warning appeared in the Korean state newspaper “Rodung Sinmun”. The threat comes as the Japanese debates over changing their anti-war constitution, in fear that the conflict between Amerika and North Korea increase. Continue reading “Hiroshima – Will history repeat itself?”
Ranking first among the top ten countries with the fastest internet in the world, the mother nation of tech companies like Samsung, LG, and Hyundai is a future-oriented country to follow closely. Coworking in South Koreas Capital is easy. Several new coworking spaces are being established these days, and the quality of them is changing fast from casual low key to professionally designed for tomorrow’s start-ups.
It has been a strange couple of weeks being a foreigner here in Seoul, South Korea. While the world is watching how super powers threaten to wipe each other out, we all know that if shit hits the fan, it will explode here in the city of Seoul first. Yet, life goes on as if nothing special is happening internationally. There are importent national events comming up this spring, that will change the political landscape of the country. The North Koreans threat, has been there for 60 years. They are more worried about the new player, the American president. Continue reading “Visiting the DMZ during threats of war and political chaos in South Korea”
Welcome to the beautiful city of Luang Prabang. If you are looking for a clean, calm city, where you can bicycle around quiet city streets, watching beautiful colonial architecture, finding inner peace, and drinking great coffee while meeting your deadlines in chick cafes with acceptable wifi! This is your city in Laos.
The road trip by night from Pakse to Vientiane was more of a whim than a plan. I walked past a sign with bus destinations from 4000 islands, and an 11-hour night bus from Pakse revealed itself with “sleep like in bed” seats. It didn’t sound too bad. The worst that could happen was that I ended up on another adventure. The bus company had shuttle “tuks” doing pickup from a travel agent in downtown Pakse. At the bus station, I showed the lady in the ticket office my booking and got the bus number and bed number. I ended up in the back of the bus on the first floor. The bus had a homemade interior of welded beds with mattresses inside, covered with blankets and pillows. The Bus departed at nine o`clock at night, and by ten I was sleeping. I woke up when the bus was getting close to Vientiane at 7 o clock in the morning.
The road trip from Phnom Penh, over the border to Laos was a 12 hour day tour in a, better than expected, bus. I got lucky and had a seat to myself almost to the Lao border, where a bunch of backpackers filled up the empty seats. Continue reading “Laos 4000 Islands – life on the Mekong River”
I decided to be super productive for a couple of weeks again and decided to go to one of Cambodia’s coastal towns, Sihanoukville. The tourist agency sold USD14 bus tickets for the ten-hour long bus ride from Siem Reap. You must change bus in Phnom Penh after about six hours. I waited about 20 minutes to get on a bus for the last four-hour leg of the journey to Sihanoukville with the new VIP bus. The bus tour was a good experience, except for the fact that they promised wifi on the bus, and that did not work on any of the buses. We had a total of three stops plus the change of bus along the way. Arriving the coastal town, I found a tuk to take me to Relax bungalows on Otres beach one, six kilometers south of the city center. I arrived at a bamboo village playing soulful tunes at the live music establishments. I loved it from the first second. The next morning I woke up to this.
Two weeks in these surroundings gave me serenity and presence of mind to work efficiently as well as working out a couple of hours every morning before going for a swim in the tranquil tempered turquoise waters. Long walks on the beach in the afternoon followed by tempered baths in the blue-green waters reset my head to work til after sunset every day. The cafes and restaurants along the Otres one beach fulfilled my need for Wi-Fi, food, and coffee. A glass of cold white and live chill-out music ended most days at a waterfront barbecue table. If you are considering this quiet, eco-friendly paradise to get some work done. You could try some of my favorites.
- Papa Pippo, Map
My favorite workplace on the beach is Papa Pippo. They have all kinds of eggs on toast, with bacon or ham, and yogurt with muesli and fruit and freshly pressed orange juice and great cappuccinos for breakfast. They also have power plugs to charge your phone and computer. I also loved their pepperoni pizza with their house white wine.
- Sea Garden, Map
Is the best place to have the beaches barbecue dinner. They have chicken and pork kebabs, different meat platters and fish dishes with salad, potato, sweet dressing and hot garlic baguettes for USD 5. The house wine is better at Papa Pippo, but at Sea Garden, you are eating at the beach one meter from the water, and the red sunset view is magical. If you feel like a working dinner in these surroundings, they have fast Wi-Fi, so no problem.
- Friends forever, Map
Knows how to make excellent cappuccinos and their chicken and vegetable dinner is a moist delight of meat and crispy fresh vegetables. This roofed terrasse on the beach felt luxurious and chilled from the sea breeze. They also have power plugs to keep you going all day and night if you are hustling. Their cute puppies might stop by and go to sleep on your foot.
- Greenhouse effect, Map
Is another great breakfast and workplace. The cappuccino and healthy freshly pressed juices are amazing. So is their selection of eggs and yogurt from the menu. They have power plugs to keep you powered up during the work day, and the scenic beach view is gorgeous. If you feel like sunbathing, they have sun chairs on the beach 5 meters from your workstation.
- Marys Beach Bar, Map
Mary Beach hotel & resort has a beach bar on Otres two, They have healthy vegetable juices, peanuts, wine and good lunches. I found it to be a good shaded spot to work in the afternoon with a healthy juice and some peanuts to keep me going while getting inspired by the red sunset.
If you want to see some of the other Islands in the Gulf of Thailand, go for a day trip to the islands by boat. There are day trips at every tourist agency in the street at Otres One. They offer boat trips for USD12 including snorkeling gear, breakfast, a lunch barbecue on a beautiful island, cliff jumping from another island and 2 stops at nice snorkeling places in the ocean.
You can also walk to Serendipity beach, but Otres is so much more beautiful, I would not do it again. I stayed at Otres one and walked to Otres two and back every day. This tree kilometer stretch of beach between Otres one and Otres two used to be full of the same eco-friendly bamboo bungalows, restaurants, and bars as on Otres one. The Cambodian government ruled by President Han Sin decided to get rid of the establishments and bulldozed the bamboo businesses to the ground. Han Sin is threatening to do the same to the rest of the beach and build government run businesses to cater for mass tourism instead. If you want to experience the tranquil and pure beauty of this white beach, turquoise waters, and eco-friendly establishments, you need to hurry before it is gone.
The town of Siem Reap, the provincial capital in the north of Cambodia, is a pleasant backwater town, serving as a base for visitors to the ancient capital of Angkor. The more than one hundred ancient temples and monuments in the area are situated just north of Siem Reap. The city center has a large night market and bars street area with restaurants and bars, massage parlors and tourist agency’s selling trips to The Ankor area and other parts of the country.
There is a Coworking space called Ankor Hub in town if you are interested in getting some work done. If you fancy working at coffee shops, there are Wi-Fi and western food options in numerous cafes around town. I spent three days working from different cafes. “The Hive” had good healthy juices, excellent breakfast, and exquisite cappuccino. “Twenty5” had super tasty lunches, and cappuccino, and working dinner at “café central” was tasty but noisy as the night marked outside was on.
I got a tuk to show me the most important sights in town. We stopped at the memorial of people killed by the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot. The horror stories from the almost four-year-long nightmare are impossible to grasp. We went to the Kings summer house but were pulled over by the police. Apparently, the King had celebrity guests arriving in the many black limos’ driving up the road to his palace. It was the premiere day of the movie about life under the Khmer Rouge regime, and I later heard that Angelina Jolie was there for the premiere night. The tuk continued to Wat Damnan, a beautiful quiet garden containing schools, a cemetery and living quarters for the monks studying English. The Monks were happy to talk to me and explained that they studied English literature and worked as English teachers in the local school. The last stop was at a temple called Wat Preah Prom Rath. An Asien beauty with symbols from both the Hindu and Buddhist religions.
Historically the population of the Ankor area grew when trade started flourishing between the East and the West. The Indian traders sailed to this region to establish Indian trading posts to collect goods and products. The traders brought with them their civilization, culture, and religion. The natives adopted Hinduism as their religion and its gods Shiva and Vishnu were revered as their supreme gods. In addition to the religious belief, the residents also learned the engineering skills such as the irrigation system you can see at Ankor Wat, as well as stone carving.
The Headphone guide at Ankor Wat revealed that in 802, Jayavarman II crowned himself for the second time, which marked as a starting point of the Khmer Civilization and the Birth of the Angkor Empire. In the ritual, he worshiped Shiva, who was known by the Khmer as a God of protection. Adopting the Indian concept of divine kingship proved to be an ingenious strategy and served as a healthy root for the growth of the Angkor Civilization. Jayavarman II did not randomly select the location of his capital. He considered its inland location surrounded by jungle, a strategic location. The only way to access the kingdom was through Tonle Sap lake. The nation became strongly unified and later evolved into an empire.
Ankor Wat is the largest religious building in the world. The entire property of Angkor covers about 100 km2 and includes about 100 structures and temples. Many kings built the city over a 600-year period, between 1113 and 1150. The city surrounding the stone structures was constructed in wood and other degradable building materials and is gone today. At the center of Angkor Thom is the Bayon Temple, famous for its distinct 50 towers, each bearing the large faces of a Buddha on the four sides. These faces look like the actual face of the king who got the temple built. According to the legend, he had a smile so gentle that it is known as “the Khmer smile.” The temple is most referred to as the location for the movie “Tomb Rider” with Angelina Jolie. About one kilometer east of Ankor Thom you can find Ta Prom. This temple is in much the same condition in which it was found. The photogenic combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings is a magic combination and have made it one of Angkor’s most popular temples to visit.
After being seized by the Thai army in 1431, it appears that the Angkor empire entered a dark period as there is almost no inscription found in later centuries. The West did not know anything about the existence of the Khmer Civilization until a French botanist, Henri Mouhot published his finding of this lost empire in 1861. Today it is a Unesco world heritage site, and hundreds of thousands visit the ancient city every year. The best way to get around the temple areas is by renting a Tuk for the day. I prayed USD 15 for a full day and got free history lessons from the Tuk driver thrown in. This destination has been on my bucket list for years, and is a must visit if you are interested in ancient history and architecture. Like the pyramids in Egypt, it is still a mystery how these giant stone structures were built.
After visiting cold Hanoi, scenic Halong Bay and wet Hue, we decided to get back on the southbound train to look for the sun further down the coast. The Scenic train ride from Hue to Danang along the coast lasted about 4 hours and was beautiful. We went over mountains and looked down on the beautiful coastline with green vegetation and beautiful empty beaches. We were offered a meal on plastic trays like the once you see in Hollywood prison movies, with rice and some soup. We respectfully declined, again. We had a taxi booked through the hotel as we were going to the next city HoiAn first.
We stopped by Marble mountain on the way to Hoian. The chain of marble mountains also called five element mountains is a cluster of five marble and limestone mountains situated between the cities of Danang and HoiAn. To our surprise, we could take a regular Otis lift, normally found inside buildings, up to the first pagoda on the mountain.
Traveling from Hanoi to Hue we decided to try the overnight train. We booked 2 beds in a coupè for 4 people. The ticket office said there was a restaurant wagon on board, but just in case we stopped by the supermarket to buy some water, nuts, and fruit for the 13-hour train journey. After waiting for young and old, chickens, boxes and plastic bags to get off the train, we boarded and found our cupè. It was clean, there were 4 water bottles and 4 KitKat mini chocolates on the tiny table between the bunk beds. A young Vietnamese boy came in and climbed up in one of the top bunk beds and went to sleep, and the train left. We looked out of the window for 10 minutes watching the train leaving the crazy motorbike traffic, crowded markets, and busy rice hat bike lady’s selling fruit in Hanoi.
We decided to find the restaurant carriage and get some good wine and a nice dinner. In the corridor, we found a uniformed employee and asked him where we could find the restaurant? It was in the first wagon, we were in the back, meaning we would have to go through the entire, bumpy train to get there. We passed people sleeping in cubits under a staircase, families with boxes and plastic bags and crying children in warm hard wooden seated train sets, six persons cupès with 3 bunk high beds with 3 people in every bed, backpackers with computers in soft seated overcrowded sets, and the toilets was a story I’d rather not think about. We arrived the restaurant wagon after jumping over the last train set gap, only to find it was doubling as a storage room selling only soup. After our last 3 liters, of chopped up frogs with skin and bone soup story, we passed, and fought our way through the train sets to our cupè again and laughed all the way. Thank god for fruit and nuts and the possibility to stretch out and close the door. Suddenly we were in luxury heaven.
After a night on the train, we arrived Hue. We arrived in the rain on a dirt strip Peron and made our way through the vendors selling food and snacks at the station and got a taxi to our hotel. What a service. The Hanoi hotel had great service, but this was a 3-star hotel with a 7-star service. They took on the role as transportation consultants, advisors on what to do, what was good and bad, what to watch out for and where to find ATMs and Supermarkets. They gave us a map and told us to call if we needed anything while sightseeing. The room was spacious with complimentary robes, slippers, coffee tea, water. They took care of the luggage, Wi-Fi was super fast and the complimentary breakfast was great.
Our two days in Hue was filled with the history of emperors, kings, and the old dynasty. Hue used to be the capital of Vietnam and this is where you find the citadel where the emperors of the dynasties lived with their hundreds of concubines and children. The tombs outside town, where the emperors are buried, there are beautiful gardens and amazing architecture influenced by the emperor’s own ideas. Going to the tombs we had a driver that knew his history and spoke good English. We paid 35 USD for a day with history lessons and visits to tombs and gardens ending with a visit to the pagoda in the city. this is where you will find the wolks-wagon the monk was driving before he set himself on fire in protest …..
The driver dropped us off in bar street. This is where you will find the themed coffeehouses, bars and restaurants of Hue. We tried several for lunch and dinner while visiting the city and it was all good. We were surprised to be offered drugs twice in bar street in Hue. So, stay away from motorbikes trying to get you to stop. This is not a country where operational jails should be a part of indefinite sightseeing.
The other day we decided to look more closely at the citadel. Before entering we met a persistent cyclo driver offering a one-hour sightseeing in the streets around the citadel. After haggling the price, we decided to take his offer. Two grown western people in front of a bike in the rainy streets of Hue`s old quarters was a great choice. We visited bonsai gardens, the house Ho Chi Minh grew up in, the citadel museum with the most amazing garden and statues of moguls, around ancient preserved beautiful architecture buildings. We cycled through colonial style quarters, saw children in traditional school uniforms, and a war museum that allows you to get into the tanks and planes. The citadel was definitely worth the visit, but the cyclo trip made our day. Wine and dinner in Bar street were a great end to our history lesson to Hue. This service-minded town is really worth a two-day visit.
We bought a tour to Halong Bay from one of the tourist offices in Hanoi (read about Hanoi here). We were picked up from our hotel in a bus full of other tourists and started the four-hour long ride to Halong Bay