Heart and Soul of Korean Culture – Hansik (Korean Cuisine) in Gangwon-do

Hansik

One of the best way to immense into the Korean culture is through its food. Mention about Korean food , Kimchi and Bibimbap immediately comes to one’s mind. There are more than Kimchi and Bibimbap to Korean Food. Korean Food is characterised by its strong flavours, typically combining 3 essential sauces: Ganjang (soy sauce), Doenjang (soybean paste) and Gochujang (Korean chili paste). Gangwon-do in South Korea has its distinctive cuisine. Surrounded by Taebaek Mountain range and East Sea, Gangwon-do benefits from the fresh ingredients from the mountains and the sea. Due to its geographic makeup of the province, dry fields have been cultivated for farming of corn, potato and buckwheat. And having the East Sea to the east of Gangwon-do, the province is blessed with the freshest catch from the sea. The cuisine in Gangwon-do revolves around corns and potatoes, which has been made into rice, rice cakes and rice wine. While the buckwheat has been a staple food for people in Gangwon-do. Here are three of my top picks that are the signature cuisine in Gangwon-do, where one can taste food from the mountains to the fields to the sea.

Places where one can taste food that are only found in Gangwon-do

(published by Korean Travel Organisation)

Food from the Mountains – Yangyang Songibap (Pine Mushroom Rice)

Yangyang region is famous for producing the highest quality pine mushrooms in South Korea. Of all the cuisines made with pine mushrooms, Songibap (steamed rice with pine mushrooms) is the most popular here. Pine mushrooms are aromatic in flavour, rich in nutrients like vitamins B1 and B2 and is thought to prevent cancer. Songibap combines the delicate flavour of the steamed rice complementing the robust flavour of the chewy pine mushrooms, giving it a flavourful and earthy taste to the dish.

Songibap

(Photo credit: http://mengnews.joins.com/view.aspx?aid=2920045)

Food from the Fields – Bongpyeong Memil Guksu (Buckwheat Noodles) and Memil Muk (Buckwheat Jelly)

What place to enjoy authentic buckwheat cuisine other than Bongpyeong, a town located in the northwestern part of PyeongChang county, renowned for growing the best quality buckwheat in South Korea owing to its geographical makeup. Koreans have been making and enjoying noodles and jellies made of buckwheat since ancient times. Cuisines made from buckwheat is said to have lower calories and benefits of reducing blood pressure. There are no lack of restaurants serving up buckwheat cuisines in Bongpyeong, one of the best restaurants in this region is Migayeon. Migayeon is renowned in the area for their buckwheat menu, everything in this restaurant is made with buckwheat.  Their buckwheat cuisine, usually served with the freshest vegetables and high quality meat, is as tasteful as it is nutritious.

Buckwheat Jelly (Memil Muk)

(Photo credit: http://www.migayeon.co.kr/en/)

Buckwheat Noodles (Memil Guksu)

(Photo credit: http://www.migayeon.co.kr/en/)

Food from the Sea – Samcheok Daege Jjim (Steamed Snow Crab)

Nested by the coast of the East Sea, Samcheok is blessed with the freshest catch of seafood. People flock to this south eastern city in Gangwon-do for the seafood. One of the dishes that is a must try here in Samcheok is the Daege Jjim or Steamed Snow Crab, where it is famous for its abundant catch of the large meaty snow crabs. Visitors will be able to taste the freshest catch from the East Sea. Snow Crab is popular amongst the shell fish owing to the abundant meat in its legs. Daege Jjim here in Samcheok is steamed on order to preserve its freshness. One of the popular way to eat Daege Jjim is to add steamed rice to the shell, where the intestines and roe are, which tasted buttery.

Snow crab is best enjoyed steamed where one can taste its natural flavours

(Photo credit: http://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/korea-food-map/index.html)

Steamed rice mixed into the shell of Daege Jjim

(Photo credit: http://m.kenterin.net/article/10518e)

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Jump – A Korean Non-Verbal Musical Comedy

A Unique Korean Contemporary Culture – Korean Non-Verbal Musical Comedy

A musical that is unique to the Korean culture is their non-verbal musical comedies. Such shows infuses dance and sometimes martial arts (depending on the show you watch) into a musical that makes speaking redundant. Nevermind that you do not understand the Korean language, one will still be able to understand the general plot of the show and laugh off the funny bits.

Of the Korean non-verbal comedies, Nanata, Chef and Jump are the more popular ones with locals and visitors to Korea alike. A few months back, I managed to catch the localised version of Chef in Singapore. After that show, I saw that another Korean non-verbal comedy is coming to Singapore, I wasted no time and recommended my friends to watch the show. The show Jump is in Singapore for 4 shows from 6 to 8 Oct.

Poster of Jump at the entrance to the theatre

Stage setting

Synopsis of Jump

The show Jump is a martial arts comedy. The scene is set in a martial arts house, where the students were seen cleaning and practising their respective areas of martial arts, ranging from Taekwondo, Taekkyun, Drunken Fist and gymnastic skills. The family of martial arts enjoy challenging each other to martial arts showdowns displaying their awe-inspiring expertise. The plot thickens when the house is being broken into by 2 burglars in the middle of the night. When the family discovers the burglars, a battle took place between the family members and the burglars.

Casts of Jump

One of the actors interacting with audiences before the start of the show

Jump is a mix of martial arts and dance that provides laughter to audiences

One of the many somersaults performed by the actors

There are a lot of “flying” movements throughout the show

Review on Jump

Never mind the lack of fanciful Phantom of the Opera like stage sets, never mind the fact that the plot of the show is simple, I find the show Jump very entertaining. The purpose of Jump is very simple, the infusion of martial arts (mostly Korean’s National martial arts – Taekwondo) with dance to produce a comedic effect. Jump kept audiences laughing throughout the 1½ hours of the show time.  I like the use of imagination in the show. There is a scene portraying the grandmaster’s speed in his martial arts, every actors on stage moved at controlled slow speed where the grandmaster moved at normal speed. There is also a scene where the actors portray the grandmaster’s flying skills where the actors carried him horizontally. Such scenes are common in Jump. There are no wires that hangs the actors on stage, all are done with what seem to be years and years of practice in their acrobatic skills. There are a lot more actions and acrobatic stunts in the show, displayed by both male and female casts of the show. Compared to Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab that I watched a few months ago, I like Jump better mainly due to more actions in the show. The neon light display of staff stunts in the dark was amazing, feels like one is watching light sabres being used from a scene in Star Wars live. A couple of audiences are invited up to the stage to interact with the casts of Jump, this adds to the comedic effect in the show. I highly recommend visitors to Seoul to catch Jump as such non-verbal comedies is uniquely Korea.

Actors in one of the fighting scenes earlier in the show

Female casts displaying their skills with a staff

Incredible flexibility displayed by one of the casts of Jump

Some of the stunts require not just agility, but strength too

One of the fighting scenes in Jump

Another fighting scene in Jump

This is towards the end of the show where the cast displayed coordinated Taekwondo

I like the neon staff display

One of the staff even light up at both ends, feels as if this is a scene from Star Wars

More “jumping” actions in the show Jump

The acrobatic display stunts audiences

The casts make all these flipping in the air looks so easy

A gravity defying flip

All the casts of Jump in coordinated martial art moves

The grand finale of the show Jump

The show ended with all the casts displaying their martial arts skills

Strolling Amidst the Autumn Foliage in Gangwon-do, South Korea

As the leaves turns from lush green to red and yellow in South Korea, autumn has arrived. The top pick for viewing autumn foliage in Gangwon-do on most travelers mind would have to be Seoraksan National Park, with its expansive area and no lack of trekking trails. Other than the usual Seoraksan (which has been extensively covered), I picked three other spots in Gangwon-do where one will also be able to enjoy the colours of the autumn in Gangwon-do. Gangwon-do is blessed with numerous mountainous sights. Baekdudaegan, the spine of the Korean Peninsular, is a mountain range that runs through the Peninsular. Most of Gangwon-do’s spectucular natural sights lies along Baekdudaegan, including Taebeak mountain range where Mt Seoraksan and Mt Odaesan is located.

Places in Gangwon-do to visit in autumn apart from the popular Seoraksan National Park

Nami Island, Chuncheon

Any Korean drama fan would have watched Winter Sonata, the K-drama that launched Korea Wave throughout the world. Nami Island is no stranger to these fans and those of us whom have watched the drama series. Nami Island, being the backdrop of Winter Sonata, has seen a surge in tourism after the airing of the drama. Located in Chuncheon county in Northwest Gangwon-do, the small half moon shaped island covering some 430,000㎡, is especially charming in Autumn.

There are no lack of spots to enjoy the autumn foliage on Nami Island. Visitors to Nami Island in autumn will be treated with clean and smoothing scent of bushy pine trees and tall redwoods that line the island. Other than the 20 gardens located in various corners of the island, there are numerous walking paths with trees lining up on either side of the paths for visitors to stroll on. The central artery across the island is dripped with the Korean Pine Trees, which visitors will encounter once arriving on Nami Island. From here visitors can choose to stroll amongst the Metasequoia trees,  Ginko trees, Cherry trees, White Birch, Cornel trees, just to name a few. Amongst the lanes, the most photographed and scenic would be the Ginko tree walk path, which is especially charming during autumn with tree leaves turning bright yellow. Other than strolling on Nami Island, visitors can rent a bike or the electric car around the island. There is even a UNICEF Tram that brings visitors around.

Visitors to the island can opt for the traditional ferry that departs every 30 mins and every 10 to 20 mins during peak hours of the day across the Han River. The more adventurous visitors can opt to cross the Han River to Nami Island via the zip line, where one will be treated with magnificent views around the Island.

Map of Nami Island

(image credit: http://res.klook.com/image/upload/v1486643761/Korea/Nami_Island_Map.png)

Nami Island during autumn
(image credit: 
https://namisum.com/en/) 

Nami Island during autumn
(image credit: 
https://namisum.com/en/) 

One of the walk paths on Nami Island

(image credit: https://namisum.com/en/) 

Nami Island is dotted with red, yellow and orange leaves during autumn

(image credit: https://namisum.com/en/) 

Ginko tree lane in Nami Island
(image credit: 
https://namisum.com/en/) 

Wondae-ri Birch Tree Forest, Inje

Wondae-ri Birch Tree Forest is more popular as a winter destination thanks to the tall slander Birch trees that creates an exotic Siberian feel with white trees thrusting into the sky from the snow covered ground. Visitors flock to Wondae-ri Birch Tree Forest as it is believed that Birch Trees possess mystical power of healing. Wondae-ri Birch Tree Forest is as charming in autumn as it is magical in winter. Instead of a land of white, Mother Nature painted the whole landscape with yellow and red in autumn. Coupled with the presence of leaves, which creates a smoothing rustling sound as wind blows through the forest, making it seem like the trees are whispering to visitors to this land. Wondae-ri Birch Tree Forest is about 20km outside the small mountain town of Inje. The hill that Wondae-ri Birch Tree Forest sits on may seem ordinary at first, one has to immerse in the midst of the Birch tree forest to feel the tranquility the forest brings.

Wondae-ri Birch Tree Forest is located on the side of Wondae Peak in Wondae-li. Visitors to Wondae-ri Birch Tree Forest can choose to stroll along one or all of the 4 courses namely Birch Forest Course (0.9km: 40-50mins), Healing Course 1 (1.5km: 1½ hours), Exploration Course (1.1km: 40mins) and Healing Course 2 (2.4km: 2hours). The walks on these trails are relatively easy as the slops are not steep, providing visitors a relaxing time to enjoy the forest.

Wondae-ri Birch Tree Forest in Autumn

(image credit http://gangwon.com.my/color-your-autumn-in-gangwon/)

Mother Nature painting Wondae-ri Birch Tree Forest with yellow and red in autumn

(image credit: http://www.yonhapnews.co.kr/bulletin/2016/02/25/0200000000AKR20160225180400062.HTML)

Wondae-ri Birch Tree Forest is as charming in autumn as it is magical in winter

(image credit:http://blog.jeep.co.kr/?p=497&ckattempt=1)

View of Wondae-ri Birch Tree Forest in autumn

(image credit: http://blog.jeep.co.kr/?p=497&ckattempt=1)

Wondae-ri Birch Tree Forest in autumn

(image credit: http://blog.jeep.co.kr/?p=497&ckattempt=1)

Odaesan National Park

Odaesan National Park is one of three national parks in Gangwon-do, covering an area of 304㎢. Odaesan National Park compresis of 2 districts, Woljeongsa district despite being in a high territory, has some beautiful trails for hiking; and Sogeumgang district whose rocky formations are a sight not to be missed. Compared to the neighbouring Seoraksan National Park, Odaesan National Park isn’t as crowded and makes this the perfect place to enjoy the tranquility of the forested autumn foliage in Gangwon-do.

Map of Odaesan National Park

(image credit:http://english.knps.or.kr)

Odaesan National Park in autumn

(image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264215)

Odaesan National Park in autumn

(image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264215)

There are no lack of walking trails for everyone wanting to experience the beautiful autumn foliage. Trekking trails can be found in Woljeongsa district of the national park. For the mild trekkers, Woljeongsa Temple is a great place to start. The short 1kim Fir Tree Forest crosses over some streams, is also a filming site for the Korean drama Goblin. The Woljeongsa Fir Tree Forest trail is rather flat, which makes it suitable for most visitors to enjoy the bursts of red, orange and yellow forest in autumn. For the more adventurous trekkers, Sangwonsa at Odaesan National Park would be the starting point. There are numerous trails for varying degree of difficulty for trekkers to choose from, ranging for the shortest 4.4km (takes around 2½ hours to complete) Dongdaesan Mountain Course to the longest 18.7 km (takes around 10 hours to complete) Durobong Peak Course.

Woljeongsa Fir Tree Forest in autumn

(image credit: http://k-popped.com/2017/09/3-best-k-drama-filming-locations-to-visit-during-autumn-in-korea/)

Woljeongsa Fir Tree Forest in autumn

(image credit: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/xjVi_BuTGXE/hqdefault.jpg)

There are also no lack of opportunities to enjoy the autumn foliage in Sogeumgang district. For a start, visitors can take a short 2.2km (1 hour) hike from Guemgangsa to Guryong Falls and enjoy the autumn foliage along the way in the lust vegetation amidst a land of streams and rock formations. Visitors will also be treated to sights of groups of locals gathering for picnic on the flat rocks along the route towards Guryong Falls. The more adventurous hikers can continue the trail for more autumn foliage opportunities which is part of the 13.7km (takes around 10 hours to complete) Sogeumgang Course. The Sogeumgang Courses passes through forests, beautiful gorges and rivers towards Noinbong Peak.

Guryong Falls in autumn

(image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=789858)

Noinbong Peak in Odaesan National Park

(image credit: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/6232468#)

Places to Visit in Gangwon-do During Winter Olympics

The adrenaline and actions for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics will take place in less than 200 days time. Besides soaking in the thrills and excitement as well as watching the opening and closing ceremonies of Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in awe, there are numerous places of interest that Winter Olympics goers can visit whilst in PyeongChang. PyeongChang is one of the 11 counties and 7 cities in Gangwon-do, while Gangwon-do forms up one of the nine provinces in South Korea. Situated in the North-Eastern part of South Korea, Gangwon-do borders North Korea to the north and East Sea to the East. The province covers more than 20,000㎡ in area, with over 80% of the province being mountainous. Here are some of the places that visitors to the PyeongChang Olympics can visit while in the province.

Map of Gangwon-do

For the Nature Lover – Seoraksan National Park

One of the “must-go” places of interest in South Korea is Seoraksan National Park. This iconic national park was designated UNESCO Biosphere Protection Site, with oddly shaped rock formations, dense forests, abundant wildlifes, hot springs and ancient temples. Nature lovers would find it hard not to fall in love with Seoraksan National Park. The national park has a total of 15 hiking trails ranging from 1km to 24km, hikers of all levels of fitness are bound to find a trail that suits them.

Entrance to Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan National Park

Rock formation in Seoraksan National Park

I visited Seoraksan National Park both my twice visit to South Korea, the beauty of Seoraksan National Park never fail to captivate me. Mt Seorak, the centre piece of Seoraksan National Park, stood majestically welcoming visitors to this area. Seoraksan National Park has activities catered for all visitors. Other than the hiking trails, a cable car system operated since 1970, has taken numerous visitors up Mt Seorak to soak in the views of the surroundings. From the summit station, visitors can walk up to Gwongeumseong Fortress, built around 1253A.D. during Koryo Dynasty to fend off Mongolian invasion. Instead of finding a building, what I saw at the Gwongeumseong Fortress was a bunch of rocks. As the fortress is built on top of the mountains, visitors are treated to views of the Seoraksan Mountain Ranges and fresh mountain air here.

View from Mt Seorak 

View from Mt Seorak 

View from Mt Seorak 

At Gwongeumseong Fortress

The other side of Mt Seorak

View from Mt Seorak

Nested within the valley in Seoraksan National Park is where Sinheungsa Temple sits. The ancient temple was believed to be built in 653 and is the oldest Zen temple in the world. With the surrounding tranquil mountain, I experienced a sense of peace and zen when entering the temple grounds. I could spend the whole afternoon here, sitting under the tree in the courtyard, enjoying the peace and calm the temple offers. This is a good place to escape from the sometimes massive amount of visitors to Seoraksan National Park.

Bronze Buddha Statue in Seoraksan National Park 

Temple building beside the Bronze Buddha Statue

Entrance to Sinheungsa Temple

The peaceful Sinheungsa Temple grounds

Sinheungsa Temple

The peaceful Sinheungsa Temple grounds

The peaceful Sinheungsa Temple grounds

For the History Buffs – DMZ

North Korea has always been a mystery to most people around the world. There are several places in Gangwon-do that allows visitors to get up close to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. Cheorwon county is one of the more popular places for visitors to get up and close to North Korea. Other than Cheorwon being situated on the North Western part of Gangwon-do, the county, bordering between the two Koreas,  was part of North Korea before the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement that created the DMZ between the two Koreas. The war broke out in Cheorwon during the Korean Wars, which saw the county being divided into two, with Cheorwon being claimed by South Korea. Speaking about visiting DMZ, many people flock to Joint Security Area (JSA) in Panmunjeom, which is more expensive and crowded to peek into North Korea. Cheorwon offers a cheaper and less crowded alternative for those who are interested to learn more about the history of Korean wars and the aftermath of the war.

DMZ (image credit: https://koreaprivatetours.com/tours/cheorwon-dmz-tour/)

View of DMZ (image credit: https://koreaprivatetours.com/tours/cheorwon-dmz-tour/)

Cheorwon saw the fierce fight during the Korean War and reminiscence of war is still present today. Most of the War sites lie within the Civilian Control Zone that spans 20km from the border. The Second Tunnel, dug by North Korea in 1975, allows visitors to experience what the soldiers went through during the Korean Wars. The tunnel was a tactical move for the North Korean Army to infuriate into South Korea. About 1km of the 3.5km tunnel lies in South Korea and it’s large enough for some 16,000 soldiers to stream through per hour. The tunnel isn’t as cramp as the famous Vietnamese tunnel, however headroom can be a challenge at some parts of the tunnel. A 150m staircase leads down to the well-lit albeit damp tunnel, which brings visitors just 300m from the border.

Entrance to 2nd Tunnel(image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264482) 
Inside the 2nd Tunnel (image credit: https://koreaprivatetours.com/tours/cheorwon-dmz-tour/)

The Cheorwon Peace Observatory lies about 1km from the DMZ, which makes it a great place for visitors to glimpse into the mysterious North Korea. Due to the proximity to the North Korea, the coin-operated binoculars found on the second level of Cheorwon Peace Observatory allows visitors to gaze into North Korea and its ‘propaganda village’ of Seonjeon. There are exhibits on the first level of the observatory displaying photos of the Second Tunnel, military barracks, checkpoints, and the DMZ. A short video clip is shown in the auditorium at scheduled timings on the Korean Wars, however the clip is in Korean language.

Cheorwon Peace Observatory
(image credit: 
http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264482) 
Exhibits on the 1st floor of Cheorwon Peace Observatory(image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264482) 
Exhibits on the 1st floor of Cheorwon Peace Observatory(image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264482) 
Observation Deck on 2nd level(image credit: https://koreaprivatetours.com/tours/cheorwon-dmz-tour/)

Not far from the Cheorwon Peace Observatory is the Woljeong-ri Station, left as a memorial to the railway line between Seoul and Wonsan, and housing the battered, twisted remains of a bombed train.

Woljeong-ri Station(image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264482) 

After passing a few battle-scarred buildings, visitors arrive at the former Labour Party HQ. Here is where one would be able to see the reminiscences of the Korean war. The surviving facade look and feels eerie, more like a haunted house. This building is where many civilians were imprisoned and tortured when Cheorwon was part of North Korea. Visitors are not allowed to enter the whatever remains of the Labour Party HQ as the building is being cordoned off, however looking up at the facade of the building is sufficient for one to feel the sufferings that war brings.

Ruins of the Former Labour Party HQ (image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264482) 

Ruins of the Former Labour Party HQ (image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264482) 

Ruins of the Former Labour Party HQ (image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264482)

Ruins of the Former Labour Party HQ (image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264482) 

For the Cultural Seekers – Naksansa Temple

One of the oldest temple in Gangwon-do, Naksansa Temple has a 1,300 year old history and is found by the ambassador of the 30th King of Silla Period in 671 after his return from China during the Tang Dynasty. Since then Naksansa Temple has been rebuilt several times and the most recent reconstruction of Naksansa Temple was in 1953 as the temple fell victim to the Korean Wars. Naksansa Temple is a major cultural attraction in this region, that also offers temple stays for visitors who wants to immense into the religious culture of South Korea. Through the temple stay, visitors not only are able to experience the life of Buddhist practitioners, they can also learn the various aspects of Korean Buddhist Culture and history through stories told by the monks in the temple.

Map of Naksansa Temple (image credit: http://www.koreanbuddhism.net/bbs/board.php?bo_table=250&wr_id=7)

There are two gates that forms the main entrance to Naksansa Temple. The first gate that greets visitors to this ancient temple is the Iljumun Gate, which is also called the One-Pillar Gate as it appears to be supported by a single pillar when viewed from the side of the gate. This gate sybmolises the one true path of enlightenment and purification that one must leave their worldly desires when entering the temple. The second gate that visitors will pass through before hitting the temple grounds is the Hongyaemun Gate, which is built by King Seo in 1466. The Hongyaemun Gate is built with 26 stones representing the number of counties.

Iljumun Gate – The first gate at Naksansa Temple (image credit : http://en.gangwon.to/cyber/en/board/read/id/en_themetour/page/2/num/34)

Hongyaemun Gate is the second gate that visitors will come across before hitting the temple grounds (image credit: http://en.gangwon.to/cyber/en/board/read/id/en_themetour/page/2/num/35)

Naksansa Temple is spread out over a large area and houses numerous cultural assets. A little further from Hongyaemun Gate, the first thing that greets visitors is the bell pavilion to the far left side, housing a large copper bell, one of the cultural assets in Naksansa Temple. Further from the entrance is where one would land themselves into the Cheonwangmun Gate, with statues of the Four Heavenly Kings guarding the temple. Sitting in the middle of the upper courtyard is another cultural relic of this temple, the seven-tiered stone pagoda. The temple building behind this pagoda houses the statue of Gwanseeum-Bosal. Further into the temple grounds, up a small slope is where visitors can find a large statue of Gwanseeum-Bosal. This 18m tall statue, looking out into the East Sea, also called the Haesugwaneumsang. The Haesugwaneumsang (Bodhisattva of Mercy) stands on a 9 foot tall pedestal looks peaceful and serene.

Copper Bell Pavilion in Naksansa Temple (image credit: http://chdkstks.tistory.com/233)

Seven-tiered pagoda in front of the temple (image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264245)

Golden Statue of Gwanseeum-Bodal inside the temple behind the stone pagoda (image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264245)

The 18m tall stone Haesugwaneumsang that looks out into the East Sea (image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264245)

The other highlight in Naksansa Temple is the pavilion built on top of the cliff facing the East Sea. Uisangdae Pavilion was built where Ui-sang used to sit and mediate. The view from this pavilion is stunting and peaceful. One can simply spend some time here and enjoy the scenery of the sea. A little further from Uisangdae Pavilion is where Hongryeonam, a small Buddhist temple built above a stone cave sits. There is a 10 cm hole under the sanctuary floor where visitors can peak through the view the sea.

Uisangdae Pavilion(image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264245) 

View of the East Sea from Uisangdae Pavilion (image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264245)

Hongryeonam, a small temple built on a cave(image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264245) 

Hongryeonam up close (image credit: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264245)

Winter Sports and PyeongChang Olympics 2018

With PyeongChang Winter Olympics happening less then 200 days from now, there are no lack of winter sports that I would certainly be watching out for. In one of my previous post, I mentioned there are a total of 102 Gold Medals up for grabs across 15 winter sports for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics game and 80 Gold Medals up for grabs across 6 winter sports for the Paralympics Games. Of all the winter sports, I like Luge, Skiing and Ski Jumping most. I had the opportunity to try out the amateur versions of these winter sports.

PyeongChang Winter Olympics is less then 200 days away

Sledding – an Amateur version of Luge

I was in High1 Ski Resort, 3 hours train ride from Seoul, last year for winter. Coming from a tropical country, snow is never seen here in Singapore. As I have never tried skiing before my trip, I was hesitant to try skiing without going through proper lessons. Being my first winter sports, I wasn’t ambitious in trying skiing, and opted for sledding instead. Sledding requires me only to slide down a short slope on a sled. Sledding is a fun version of the Luge, which is a competing sport in the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics. Luge is a fast sliding sport where competitors (one or two lugers) race down 1,000 to 1,500m track while lying face up with their feet stretched in front of them. Runs are timed up to 1/1,000 of a minute. While the sledding is not as intensive nor the track is as long, however it gave me a glimpse of luge as a winter sports. Sledding requires no training, all I did was to grab a sled and slide down the slope. The only “technical” part about sledding is the braking. It is a fun sport for amateurs and families.

High1 Ski Resort, 3 hours train ride east from Seoul

The ski slopes at High1 Ski Resort in Gangwon-do

My friend getting ready to sled down the slope in High1 Ski Resort

Me and my friend trying sledding for the first time. This is our first time trying a winter sport

My friend with the sled in High1 Ski Resort

The snow in High1 Ski Resort is perfect for sledding

High1 Ski Resort in Gangwon-do

My First Shot at Skiing

As I visited Hokkaido earlier this year, I finally got to try skiing. I took a beginners lesson on skiing and I loved it. Without the use of poles, the trick to skiing is really to control the braking speed with the inverted “V” shape that one would need to form with the skis. Prior to learning to ski, I always thought that the poles are used to control the speed and was initially puzzled why I was not provided the ski poles. After some clarifications by the instructor, I realised that the poles are used to increase the speed of skiing down the slope, especially for Alpine Skiing, another event in the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics, where competitors slides down snow-covered slopes on skis with fixed heel bindings. Alpine Skiing is comprised of largely two types of disciplines: the speed (velocity) events and the technical (skills) events.Skiing down the slopes gives me a sense of freedom, just letting gravity doing its job. I can imagine the exhilaration the competitors must have feel during velocity Alpine Skiing, rushing down the mountain at great speeds. Skiing is a fun sport and is a fun even for kids.

Having ski lessons

I was glad that I managed to ski for the first time

My friend learning to ski

A Skier in action

Skier coming down the slope

Despite still learning to ski, we immediately fell in love with this winter sport

Me on a chairlift up a ski slope for beginners

My friend skiing down the slope under the watchful eyes of our instructor

The Elegant Ski Jumping

I had the opportunity to watch Ski Jumping broadcasted over the television when I was in Hokkaido. Prior to visiting Ski Resorts, I always thought Ski Jumping is boring. However with my very limited experience in Skiing, I came to realise Ski Jumping is quite fun to watch. The skier glides down a ramp at 90km/h to jump and fly as far as they can go in Ski Jumping. Because the downhill launch souring through the air is so beautiful, it is also called “The flower of ski sports”. Just looking at the jump from the slope is enough to deter me from trying this sport (perhaps one of these days I might try this sport). Ski Jumping is both elegant and thrilling just by watching it. This is also one of my favourite winter sports. Ski Jumping is also an event in the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Can’t wait to see Ski Jumpers in action during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018.

Ski Jumper in action (image credit: https://www.pyeongchang2018.com/en/sports/ski-jumping)

Chef : Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab – Immensing in Korea’s Non-verbal Comedy Musical

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One of the dancing scenes in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

Non-Verbal Comedy Musicals in  Korea

Non-verbal musicals that infuses Korean culture, be it food or lifestyle with dance and acrobatics, is one of the must-dos while visiting South Korea. These popular musicals are watched by Koreans and visitors. Several years ago I had a chance to watch Jump, one of the several such non-verbal musicals, whilst traveling in Korea. I was amazed by the fact that despite no language was used, I was still able to understand the show and was kept entertained throughout the show. It is refreshing that the Koreans are able to pack laughter throughout the theater despite not using any form of language. My friend and I managed to catch one of such non-verbal musicals that has made its round to Singapore. Chef: Bimbap is a show about a group of chef learning to make a perfect Bibimbap. It combines dance, beat boxing whilst introduces Korean’s iconic dish, Bibimbap to the audiences.

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Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab standee outside the theater

Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

The show that is being shown in Singapore, Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab, feels like a localised version of the original show Chef. The story seem slightly different from the original Chef. Instead of having a group of chef learning to make a perfect Bibimbap, Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab is about 2 chefs (green and red chefs) pitting their culinary skills to outcook each other. The show saw both chefs taking turns cooking up cuisines from sushi to pizza to Chinese chicken noodle and ended off with a show down of both taking the stage, with one side cooking the Chili Crab and the other Bibimbap. Despite departure from the orginal show, Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab, still has the same theme throughout and did not lose its essence of infusing break dancing and beat-boxing into the show. The 1-hour show saw the use of beat-boxing live on stage most of the time, with small occasions where recorded music was used or complimented with the beat boxing. The actors doing the beat boxing seem to be masters of the art, verbalising musics for the most part of the show (including the Korea Folk Song, Arirang). There is segment where they beat- boxed a series of songs from K-pop songs to Michael Jackson hits. The beat boxing added to the entertainment value of show.

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Beat Boxing was performed lived on stage

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Beat boxing was the main source of music throughout the entire 1 hour show

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One of the character singing to the tune of beat boxing

Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab packed laughter in the theater for the entire duration leaving audiences amazed by the breakdancing of the actors. There is a segment where one of the characters sang and the light went out. In pitch black emerges luminous hands mimicking fishes and scenes of underwater. There is even a diver swimming underwater in this scene. Audiences later were made known how this diver underwater was created with the diving appearing in a comic way. Audiences were also invited up to the stage to become part of Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab at times during the show, which adds more comedic effect to the show. Watching Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab does reminds me of similar performance that I watched some years ago in Korea, which has earned itself a place as a pop-culture of Korea. The show is highly recommended for one who wants to immerse themselves into this aspect the Korean Culture.

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Scenes in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab where the 2 master chefs pit against each other

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Scenes in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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The underwater scene in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Break dancing in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Scenes in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Audience (the guy in the middle) were invited to the stage to participate in the show

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Final showdown in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Audiences were treated to breakdancing in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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More breakdancing in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Breakdancing in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Scenes in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Breakdance showdown in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Breakdance showdown in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Scene in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Audiences were treated to a series of dance and songs in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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The cast of  Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

 

PyeongChang Winter Olympics 2018

Olympics Return to South Korea

After 30 long years, the Olympics flag is flying high in South Korea once more. The city of PyeongChang, about 2 hours KTX ride from Seoul, has been chosen to host the 23rd Winter Olympic Games. The last time South Korea flew the Olympics flag was in 1988 in the Summer Olympics version. More information, including ticketing and schedules can be found in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics website.

Image Sources:
https://www.pyeongchang2018.com/en/index
https://architectureofthegames.net/tag/pyeongchang/page/4/
http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/sochi-olympics/see-you-four-years-russia-hands-south-korea-n36786

 

Sydney Day 5 (22 May 17) – Blue Mountains National Park : Beyond The Beauties of the Three Sisters

As iconic as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House, the Blue Mountains National Park is a must visit when coming to Sydney. We planned to visit this national park during weekdays to avoid most of the crowd and indeed visitorship is rather thin on this Monday at the time of our visit. Blue Mountains is located about 100km West of Sydney and took us 1½ hours to drive from Sydney Olympic Park. Our first stop is Scenic World, which is a great place to start the trip to Blue Mountains National Park.
Baby Ryker excited to visit Blue Mountains
We travelled more than 200km to and from Blue Mountains
Driving on the highway towards Blue Mountains National Park

Scenic World

Scenic World overlooks the Jamison Valley where the famous Three Sisters is located. This is also where we bought our day pass that allowed us unlimited rides on all 3 modes of transportation for us to appreciate the beautiful Blue Mountains. Visitors are free to customise the way they wanted to use the 3 modes of transportation when visiting scenic world. For us, we took the Scenic Railway to the valley floor, did a short walk and took the Scenic Cableway up to Scenic Top Station and took the Scenic Skyway to the East Station and back.
My Brother-in-law and Baby Ryker in Scenic World
My friend and I at Scenic World
View of Three Sisters from Scenic World Top Station

Scenic Railway Ride to the Valley Floor 

Scenic Railway is boasted as the world’s steepest passenger railway with a inclination of 52°. I thought riding the railway down to the valley floor is more fun than riding it up backwards.  The train brought us down 310m into Jamison Valley and takes about 5 mins. There are options for passengers to customise the way they want to ride the Scenic Railway. My friend and I opted the “daredevil” Cliffhanger mode, which allowed us to ride the railway at 64° inclination. As there are no seat belts on the seats, half the time we were trying to prevent ourselves from sloping towards the seats in front of us. Nonetheless, we were glad we rode the train in their cliffhanger mode and had a great time riding the world’s steepest passenger train. As my sister and her family had a baby in tow, they opted the laidback mode, riding the train at about 30° inclination. My nephew, despite being only 9 months old, enjoyed his ride down to the valley floor on the Scenic Railway. As no prams are allowed in this ride, visitors with prams or wheelchairs are not able to take this ride, there is still the Scenic Cableway option down to Jamison Valley.

Scenic Railway signage
The train pulling into top station
My friend and my sister’s family ready to board the Scenic Railway
3 options for passengers in the Scenic Railway
Taking a wefie before the train leaves the station
My sister and her family inside the moving train. Baby Ryker is too busy enjoying the ride
Riding through the rainforest in the world’s steepest passenger train
The Three Sisters as we rode down the Scenic Railway

The ride down to the valley floor, started with a gentle slope. In the beginning we were not able to feel the steepness of the railway. A little in the ride, the railway suddenly tilted steeper as we descend to the valley, I find the Indiana Jones theme song playing inside the enclosed train carriage a little cheesy. Soon the Railway reaches a cliff-side tunnel, all of the sudden everything was pitch black. We can only hope that we don’t find ourselves sitting on the carriage floor after we pass the tunnel. As the train descends further into Jamison Valley, we were out of the tunnel. The view from the left side of the train is spectacular! I can see part of a waterfall and the Three Sisters peeking through the canopies of the forest. The inclination of the railway turns gentle once more, we know our ride is over as we were at the Scenic Railway Bottom Station.

We rode down this rail track
Three Sisters from the Bottom Railway Station
My sister and her family with Three Sisters in the background
Taking a wefie with Three Sisters
View of the surroundings at the Bottom Staton

Strolling in the Scenic Walkway

Exiting the Railway, we stopped briefly at the side of the station. We felt so small being enclosed by the cliff where the Three Sisters sit and the vastness of the land that seem to stretch forever. After snapping a few more pictures, we headed to the Scenic Walkway in the Jamison Valley floor. There are 3 routes that we can take in the Scenic Walkway, all of which end up in the Scenic Cableway Bottom Station. We took the shortest of the 3 route – Coal Mine Route, which took us around 15 mins to reach the Scenic Cableway Bottom Station, the other routes are the Lillipilli Link (30 mins) and Yellow Robin Link (50mins). True to its name, there are a couple of coal mines along the Coal Mine Route. The air is indeed fresh down at the valley, with the freshness of the rainforest. My nephew seem excited about the forest walk. He was smiling and very curious about the things around him. We passed a closed mine shaft, that used to be an entrance to the coal mine. These days it is a tourist spot that served for photo opportunity for tourists. Further down the path, there is another bigger entrance to the coal mine. Despite being unsealed and armed with a sign saying “Danger Keep Out”, no one seem to be entering the coal mine. Along the path we felt as if we are in scene in Jurassic Park, the forest seem as old as time and cliffs that seem to be sheared off by a giant sword, with its near vertical cliff face. A rock sitting on the side of the pathway that seem to be nature’s creation. Very soon we found ourselves at the Cableway Bottom Station.
The walk through the Jurassic forest in Scenic Walkway is very easy
My friend and I at the ventilation shaft of the coal mine
Baby Ryker is curious about his surroundings
Baby Ryker seem happy to have touched a tree for the first time
Coal carts that was used before
My sister’s family in Scenic Walkway
Horses used to pull these coal carts
An entrance to the coal mine
Flora in the Scenic Walkway
Wefie in the Scenic Walkway
My sister’s family in Scenic Walkway
We are some 300m from the top of the cliff
My sister’s family with a huge rock that seem to fell off the top many years ago

Scenic Cableway

The Cableway was just calling into the station when we reached. We boarded the Cableway and journeyed 510m to the Scenic World Top Station, where we started. The Cableway is a huge cablecar that is designed to ferry passengers up and down the valley. The cableway is less thrilling than the Scenic Railway, however the 10 min journey allowed us slowly enjoy this scenic part of Blue Mountains. While the Scenic Railway dashes us through the rainforest cliff, the Scenic Cableway gave us a bird’s eye view of the entire valley as we ascended in it. We were above the canopy of the rainforest that we were in just minutes ago. All this while, we had the Three Sisters constantly in our sight. At the side of the Cableway, we seem to be narrowly passing the cliff, as though we can almost touch them if the windows are opened (well it is not exactly that close). As we approach the top station, the staff in the Cableway, who has been giving commentaries about the Blue Mountains, suddenly announced a lone rock that we will be passing by, known as the Orphan Rock. The staff mentioned that there used to be a trail that leads to the top of the Orphan Rock, a wedding has even  being held there. However due to corrosion, the trail to the top of Orphan Rock is closed. Nearing to the top station, I spotted some rail tracks. These are supposed to be a roller coaster ride that used to be one of the attractions here in Blue Mountains and has since closed in 1982. The Scenic Cableway is Wheelchair and pram friendly too.
Scenic Cableway pulling into the Bottom Station
View outside as we ascend to the top station in the Scenic Cableway
View of Three Sisters at the Scenic Cableway top station
Wefie with the Scenic Cableway car that we just rode in
View of Three Sisters from Scenic Cableway top station

Scenic Skyway

After having lunch at the Scenic World Top Station, we went for the Scenic Skyway next. I have been to Scenic World more than 15 years ago. I recall the Scenic Skyway used to pull us out halfway to where the Katoomba Waterfall is and than back to the Top Station. Fast forward 15 years later, another station has been built on the other side of the cliff. These days the Scenic Skyway brought us to the Skyway Eastern Station, where we can view the Blue Mountains from another angle. As the skyway leaves the station, I felt we are like an eagle soaring up the sky, viewing the entire Jamison valley region in the Blue Mountains from the sky. The centre of the Skyway is a panel of glass that allows passengers to step on and view the valley from high above. Sitting solemnly afar, rising up from the grounds is Mt Solitary. Once at the Eastern Station, we took the short trail to the left, leading us to Cliff View Lookout, which is about 5 mins walk from the station. Here we can see Katoomba Waterfall on the right, with a relatively small stream of water falling 300m into Jamison Valley and Mt Solitary. The view of Three Sisters is obscured from Cliff View Lookout. There is a trail that leads to Echo Point which takes about 45mins walk, while it will only take us 5 mins to drive there. We took the latter option. After some photos, we headed back to the Skyway East Station and took the next skyway back to Scenic World Top Station, where we drove ourselves to Echo Point.
Me in Blu Mountains
Taking a wefie in Blue Mountains before we ride on the Scenic Skyway
My sister’s family in Blue Mountains
My friend and I in the Scenic Skyway
Taking wefie in the Scenic Skyway
The Scenic Skyway brought us across the Jamison Valley
Katoomba Falls from Scenic Skyway
Scenic Skyway that we just rode in
View of Jamison Valley in the Blue Mountains
Panoramic shot of Jamison Valley in Blue Mountains
My sister’s family at Cliff View Lookout
My friend and I at Cliff View Lookout
View of Mt Solitary from Cliff View Lookout
Jamison Valley from Cliff View Lookout

Echo Point Lookout

Echo Point Lookout offers the best up close view of the Three Sisters. Just a 5 mins drive from Scenic World, it did not take us long to reach Echo Point Lookout. Legend has it that a witchdoctor turned 3 beautiful sisters into stones to prevent a warring tribe from forcing them into marrying into the other tribe. However the witchdoctor died before he can turn the sisters back to human. To this date, the Three Sisters sits on the cliff waiting for someone to turn them back into their human form. The Three Sisters are 3 cliffs that sit on top of the north escarpment of Jamison Valley. Visitors can take a short walk to the lookout below for a closer view and photo spot with the Three Sisters. It can get crowded here with bus loads of tourists here. We did not stay here for too long and continued our journey to other parts of the Blue Mountains.

Echo Point signage
Close shot of the Three Sisters at Echo Point Lookout
Wefie with the Three Sisters at Echo Point Lookout
There is a lower platform that visitors can access to for a closer shot with the Three Sisters at Echo Point Lookout
View of Blue Mountains at Echo Point Lookout

Cahill’s Lookout

For most of the visitors, their trip to Blue Mountains will end at Scenic World and Echo Point Lookout. Blue Mountains has a lot to offer (if one travels here via driving). Our next destination is Boars Head Lookout and stopped by a couple of lookouts before that.  The first 2 lookouts that we stopped by, Eaglehawk Lookout and Narrow Neck Lookout, while offers views of the Jamison Valley from another perspective, the view isn’t that great. There are no proper parking spots for cars and the views are obscured. We snapped a few pictures before heading to Cahill’s Lookout. Soon we arrive at Cahill’s Lookout. After parking the car, my friend and I headed to the lookout (my sister and her family was too tired to join us on the 3 min walk to the lookout). While walking to Cahill’s Lookout at which lies at the end of the pathway, we stopped by Boars Head Lookout. The view at Boars Head Lookout is magnificent! It offers a different view of Blue Mountains, other than the already popular Three Sisters and Jamison Valley. From Boars Head Lookout, we spotted the Narrow Neck Plateau that separates Jamison Valley from Megalong Valley. The Narrow Neck Plateau looks like the body of a dragon lies in deep sleep. The land below us seem to stretch to the end of the earth. We continued our walk to Cahill’s Lookout, which is an octagon platform that looks out into Megalong Valley. The views here is no different from that of Boars Head Lookout, except that we were able to see the cliffs off Pulpit Rock and Bonnie Doon Waterfall. As the sun is setting, we still have another spot to head to, my friend and I headed back to the car and continued our journey to our last stop of the day.
View of Blue Mountains at Eaglehawk Lookout
View at Narrow Neck Lookout
Narrow Neck Plateau in the Blue Mountains
Taking a wefie with Narrow Neck Plateau in Cahill’s Lookout
My friend with Narrow Neck Plateau in Cahill’s Lookout
Me in Cahill’s Lookout
My friend in Boars Head Lookout
Taking a wefie of Narrow Neck Plateau and Megalong Valley in Boars Head Lookout
Panoramic shot of Narrow Neck Plateau and Megalong Valley
Cahill’s Lookout
My friend in Cahill’s Lookout
Panoramic shot of Megalong Valley from Cahill’s Lookout
View of Megalong Valley from Cahill’s Lookout

Govetts Loop Lookout

The drive to Govetts Loop Lookout takes about 45 mins from Katoomba, where the Three Sisters is located. To get there we passed by the town of Blackheath. There are signs well placed to point drivers to Govetts Loop Lookout. Govetts Loop Lookout offers views of the Grose Valley. Due to the low clouds, the view here looks mystical, as if it is nothing from this world. The view here felt a little like Pandora, the homeland of the Na’vi from the movie Avatar. From the lookout we can see a waterfall – Govetts Loop Falls. Since it is our last day in Sydney and our last stop of the day, my sister, my friend and I decided to take the 30 mins walk to the top of Govetts Loop Falls. The walk to Govetts Loop Falls is downhill. The initial walk was gentle, there come a point where there are stairways carved out of the soil and at some more dangerous points railings installed to ensure the safety of trackers. As we were walking, the sound of water appears to be closer. Not longer after a series of down “stairs” walks, we knew we arrived at the top Govetts Loop Falls. The view here isn’t that great, as the “lookout” is not overlooking into the valley. Rather we were treated to a view where the stream falls into the valley. There is a smaller waterfall on the side where we came from, with gentle streams flowing from the rivers on top. At the other side of the stream, we saw part of the Govetts Loop Brook that seem to come from a forest on top of the waterfall. After taking some pictures, we traced back our steps from where we came from and headed back to the car. The walk back to the car park can be tiring for some as it comprises a series of stairs to climb up. We made it back to the car before the sun sets and were on our way back to Sydney. As we were driving out of Govetts Loop Lookout, the clouds are so low that the entire area fogged up. The drive back to Sydney took around 2 hours. We headed back to Chinatown in Sydney for a well deserved dinner after a whole day at Blue Mountains and a way to end our trip to Sydney. We headed back to our accommodation early to pack and rest as we fly out of Sydney the next morning. There are more places to Sydney than those we visited, given essentially only 5 days in this city, we visited most of the icons of the City.

View of Grose Valley from Govetts Loop Lookout
View of Grose Valley from Govetts Loop Lookout
Wefie at Govetts Loop Lookout
Panoramic shot at Govetts Loop Lookout
The low clouds makes Govetts Loop Lookout look mystical
My sister with a well in Govetts Loop Lookout
Another shot of Grose Valley in Govetts Loop Lookout
We started our trek to the top of Govetts Loop Falls

 

The initial walk was easy down to Govetts Loop Falls

 

A small waterfall at the top of Govetts Loop Falls that flows into the stream
My sister and my friend playing on top of Govetts Loop Falls
My friend at the top of Govetts Loop Falls
Wefie at the top of Govetts Loop Falls

 

My sister posing carefully to ensure that she don’t slip and fall into the river on top of Govetts Loop Falls
Govetts Loop Brook that flows down Govetts Loop Falls into Grose Valley

 

The waterfall side of Govetts Loop Brook falling into Grose Valley. It is a shame that we cannot see the waterfalls from here

 

My sister taking a break while walking back to the carpark at Govetts Loop Lookout
My sister taking another break while walking back to the carpark at Govetts Loop Lookout

 

My sister taking yet another break while walking back to the carpark at Govetts Loop Lookout

 

My sister now can celebrate after all the walk up to the carpark

 

The cloud is very low at the time we return to the carpark at Govetts Loop Lookout

Sydney Day 4 (21 May 17) – Exploring Sydney – From Darling Harbour to Chinatown

Sydney Wildlife Zoo

Our itinerary is pretty light today. We visited the sights in Sydney and catered some time for shopping around town.Our first stop for the day is  the Sydney Wildlife Zoo, located in Sydney’s Darling Harbour a 25 mins drive from Sydney Olympic Park. There are 2 other attractions in this area on top of the Sydney Wildlife Zoo. The Sydney Aquarium and Madam Tussauds are located in the vicinity. One can consider getting the multi attraction pass and visit these attractions at one go to save time and money. We used the same attraction pass that was issued to us the day before to gain entry. Sydney Wildlife Zoo is rather small housing in a building occupying a total space of 7,000㎡. The wildlife park has a 1 km walkway that snakes through the entire Wildlife Zoo, across all 6 zones. All the animals housed in the wildlife park are found in different parts of Australia. The first few exhibits are snakes As the park is rather small compared to most other wildlife parks, it only took us about 1.5 hrs to finish the entire park. We spent about 10 mins listening to one of the staff educating us on the habits of koala bear. My sister bought a photo opportunity with the koala, instead of holding the animal taking pictures, they only managed to take picture with the koala at a close distance. We felt she was kind of being ripped off by the park. There is a Kangaroo petting area, which is rather small. Visitors are not allowed to feed the Kangaroos, just allowed to pet them as the keeper brought the animal around the open area. There is also another crocodile tank, which only house 1 crocodile. The entire Wildlife Zoo is rather disappointing (compared to the one in Gold Coast that I have visited last year), there are not much opportunity for visitors to interact with some of the animals plus Sydney Wildlife Zoo is small. Given a chance to come to Sydney again, I would skip this place.
My nephew – Baby Ryker posing on a fake Tasmania Devil 
Sydney Wildlife Zoo sits in a building next to Sydney Harbour Bay. Visitors can take these water taxis to Sydney Opera House area
My friend and I outside the building where Sydney Wildlife Zoo is housed
Entrance to Sydney Wildlife Zoo in Darling Harbour
Sydney Wildlife Zoo is housed in the same building as Madam Tussauds and Sealife Aquarium Sydney
This python is the first exhibit we saw as we enter Sydney Wildlife Zoo
A couple of lizards is in sight as we walked along the walkway
and more snakes
There is a Tasmania Devil living in Sydney Wildlife Zoo
and more snakes
Finally we see a species of kangaroo
My sister and her family in Sydney Wildlife Zoo
We also spotted a kookaburra in one of the enclosures
My sister and brother-in-law wondering where to go
Another species of kangaroo in Sydney Wildlife Zoo
My sister and Baby Ryker getting close to a koala
A keeper is “walking” this kangaroo in the open area allowing visitors to pet it
A mouse in the night zone of Sydney Wildlife Zoo
and more snakes
My sister and my friend with Baby Ryker
A lone crocodile at the end of the 1 km walkway in Sydney Wildlife Zoo

Paddy’s Market at Haymarket

We were glad we exited the boring Sydney Wildlife Zoo. We headed to Paddy’s market at Haymarket next (which closes at 6pm). Haymarket is located in Chinatown, a 20 mins drive from Darling Harbour. The covered market place comprises of 2 levels, we spent time exploring only the first level. The stalls are well organised in neat rows and columns, which makes it very easy to navigate around. There are 2 main sections on the ground floor in Paddy’s Market. The section nearer to the entrance sells mainly clothing and souvenirs. This area occupies 2/3 of the ground floor. Things on offer here are reasonably priced and is definitely cheaper than some of the tourist attractions and downtown Sydney. The common souvenirs such as T-shirts, kangaroo skins can be easily found here. There are also stalls selling nougats and locally produced chocolates. Paddy’s Market is a great place to stock up on souvenirs of all sorts.

Entrance to Paddy’s Market
There are lots of stuff on sale here in Paddy’s Market
There are lots of stuff on sale here in Paddy’s Market
My sister and her family shopping in Paddy’s Market
Paddy’s Market in Haymarket
My friend and I outside Paddy’s Market

Further into Paddy’s Market is a section selling fruits and vegetables. These produce seem fresh and is reasonably priced. One can get a pint of strawberries for A$5. This area is very lively, we could hear vendors shouting the price of their products on sale. It might be closing time is near, the vendors in market place here are trying to close as many deals as possible. Compared to the section further out front, this section seem more crowded with shoppers, probably due to the smaller area. As it is near to closing time we got out of Paddy’s Market.

The market area in Paddy’s Market
Paddy’s Market signage

Sydney Chinatown

The night is still young and hunt for dinner around Chinatown. Across the road from Paddy’s Market is a Chinese styled red archway, seem to tell visitors we are in Chinatown. There are no lack of Chinese Restaurants pass the archway, mainly selling Cantonese cuisines operated by Hong Kong immigrants. We settled our dinner in one of these restaurants. There are also shops that opens till late at night, selling mostly the same stuffs, Australian souvenirs of all sorts that can also be found in Paddy’s Market. The price is more or less the same as that in Paddy’s Market.  After dinner, we walked around Chinatown. Instead of Chinatown, it felt like a place where the Asians congregate. Interestingly, the different nationality who migrated to Sydney seem to cluster according to their country of origin. There is a cluster selling Taiwanese food and dessert, yet another cluster of restaurants selling Korean food and another selling Japanese food. We came across this shopping mall – World Square, where there is a supermarket in its basement. Near to the World Square, is where one would find a street of Thai Restaurants.

Walking around Chinatown
There are Chinese restaurants pass the Chinese styled archway
My sister deciding if we should dine here
Taking a wefie before our food arrives
My sister and my friend trying to decide what to eat first
My friend and I taking a wefie in Chinatown

 

Sydney Day 3 (20 May 17) – Icons of Sydney : Sydney Eye Tower , Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge

My friend and Baby Ryker with Sydney Harbour Bridge

Carriageworks Farmers Market

No trip to Australia would be complete without a visit to one of a numerous weekend markets. I read that Carriageworks Farmers Market is one of the top farmers market in downtown Sydney, offering a good variety of the freshest produce the land down under has to offer in Sydney region. We made our way to Carriageworks Farmers Market in Sydney, which is around 30 mins drive from Sydney Olympic Park.
Driving in downtown Sydney to Carriageworks Farmers Market
Walking towards Carriageworks Farmers Market
Carriageworks Farmers Market is housed what seemed to be some abandoned industrial area. The market is rather small, selling mostly vegetables and fruits. There are some stalls selling flowers and meats, while other selling homemade products such as cheese, biscuits, etc. There are a limited number of stalls selling food from Chinese dim sum to coffees to freshly pressed juices and steaks. Carriageworks Farmers Market is rather small, it only took us 15 mins to finish the entire market. It is not as big as we imagined it to be. Feeling disappointed, we headed to downtown Sydney to look for lunch. We had lunch in Kings Cross before heading to Sydney Eye Tower in the middle of Sydney CBD.
Carriageworks Farmers Market is rather small
Carriageworks Farmers Market
Some of the freshest produce on sale in Carriageworks Farmers Market
They sell flowers too in Carriageworks Farmers Market
My sister and her family checking out what is on sale in Carriageworks Farmers Market
Carriageworks Farmers Market
My sister and brother-in-law checking on Baby Ryker
Baby Ryker and his dad
My friend and Baby Ryker in Carriageworks Farmers Market
My sister buying some dumplings
Sharing a bowl of dumplings

Sydney Eye Tower

Sydney Eye Tower is located on top of Westfield Shopping Centre in the heart of Sydney’s shopping precinct. Parking is a tad difficult to find in this area as we had to go around a few rounds before being able to find a parking spot. As it is located in the heart of Sydney, parking rates can be a tad expensive. Westfield Shopping Centre stands out among the shopping malls in downtown Sydney, it is the building with a single tall tower affixed on top. Sydney Tower Eye is the tallest building in Australia, standing 309m tall. The observation deck is some 268m from the ground. We got a 2 attraction pass from Experience Oz and NZ website, which is value for money and allowed us to choose how many attractions we wanted to visit. The ticket prices are discounted and we did not have to pre-select the attractions when buying the tickets. We can appear at one of the 5 attractions and get our ticket validated and visit the rest within 30 days of the first attraction.

Sydney Tower Eye seen from Kings Cross
Sydney Tower Eye sits tall on Westfield Shopping Centre
Street outside Westfield Shopping Centre
My sister and her family in downtown Sydney

The lift to the observation deck, is located on 5th floor of Westfield Shopping Centre, where the food court is located. Tucked away in one corner of the food court is where ticketing and the lift up to the observation deck is located. I visited Sydney Tower Eye almost 20 years ago (it was known as Sydney Tower back then), there are a couple of new additions to the tower. There are some models of the tallest buildings in the world, where one can see how tall Sydney Tower Eye stacked up against other giants around the world. Another new addition is a 5 mins 4D show in an auditorium prior to the lift up to the observation deck. The show is rather unique in that it introduces Sydney to visitors from the eye of a bird flying through some of the tourists attractions in Sydney.

My sister and my friend ready to go up Sydney Tower Eye
Models of some of the tallest buildings on earth
My sister and her family ready to go up Sydney Tower Eye
A happy Baby Ryker at Sydney Tower Eye
My friend and Baby Ryker at Sydney Tower Eye

After the show, we took the lift that whizzed us up 268m into the sky within minutes to the observation deck. Stepping out of the lift, we were treated to unobstructed view of the entire Sydney. Sydney Tower Eye is a good place for visitors offering a 360° view of the city, especially great for first timers to Sydney to get a glimpse of how massive the metropolitan city is. It is also a great place to orientate one on where’s where of Sydney. The side that faces Sydney Harbour Bridge was the most crowded, as visitors are here to get a different perspective of the famed icon of the city. However Sydney Opera House is kena obscured. I managed to find the Opera House peeping out in between 2 buildings. One can also see the entire Sydney Harbour Bay from the observation deck. We spotted the Blue Mountains sitting afar from the observation deck, as well as the Sydney Airport and the many suburbs. Walking one round takes around 5 mins (provided one do not stop and take pictures). There is a souvenir shop on the observation deck selling overpriced souvenirs (Hay Market in Chinatown offers souvenirs at half the price here on average). We stayed in Sydney Tower Eye for about 1 hour as my nephew needs to be fed, however Sydney Tower Eye can be done within 20 mins on average.

View of Sydney Harbour Bridge and a small section of Sydney Opera House from Sydney Tower Eye
View of Sydney Harbour Bay from Sydney Tower Eye
View from Sydney Tower Eye
My friend and I at the observatory deck of Sydney Tower Eye
View of Sydney from Sydney Tower Eye
My sister and her family in the observatory deck of Sydney Tower Eye
Sydney Harbour Bay seen from Sydney Tower Eye
Baby Ryker seem to spot something below
Sydney Harbour Bay from Sydney Tower Eye
Sydney Harbour Bay from Sydney Tower Eye
Sydney Harbour Bay from Sydney Tower Eye
My sister had to put the koala ears on Baby Ryker
My friend and I on Sydney Tower Eye

Shopping in Downtown Sydney

Coming down from Sydney Tower Eye, we spent sometime exploring the shopping malls in downtown Sydney. There are no lack of shops ranging from Myers department store to upscale boutiques to mid-range boutiques around this area. One would be spoilt for choice with the numerous amount of shops here. There is even an Apple Store round the corner in downtown Sydney. Do not miss some of the small stores selling finger food such as sushi and cream puffs in the basement of some of these shopping malls. The nearby Queen Victoria Building, a Romanesque architectural building built in the late 1900 Century, that once housed government offices and public library is hard to be missed. The well preserved building, spotting a large dome right in the centre of the building stands out from the rest of the modern skyscrappers. Queen Victoria Building now houses a 4-storey shopping mall in its most recent reincarnation. We did not spend much time to shop around here and headed over to the iconic Sydney Opera House.
Shopping in downtown Sydney
Shopping in downtown Sydney
My friend and I in downtown Sydney
My friend in downtown Sydney
My friend and I in downtown Sydney
Downtown Sydney
Queen Victoria Building is now a shopping mall
Some of the cute cream puffs in downtown Sydney
Downtown Sydney at night
We came across this Roman themed theatre in downtown Sydney
My friend and I taking wefie in the Roman themed theatre
Baby Ryker with his parents in the Roman themed theatre

Sydney Opera House

The iconic Sydney Opera House is a good 30 mins by foot from Sydney Tower Eye. As we had Baby Ryker in tow, we decided to drive there instead. There are ample (but expensive) parking spaces in the carpark of Sydney Opera House. By the time we reached the Opera House, it is already nightfall. This is when the restaurants in the Sydney Opera House promenade is bustling with life. Sydneysiders gathered here in the evening to chill out in the night, while some others come here to watch performances. From the promenade, one can get a good view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Night view of Sydney Harbour Bridge
My friend and I with Sydney Harbour Bridge in the back
My friend and Baby Ryker with Sydney Harbour Bridge in the back
Sydney Harbour Bridge at night
Sydney Harbour Bridge with a little of Sydney Opera House
A bit of both icons in Sydney

We headed towards the Sydney Opera House, comprising of 7 “shells” which look more like sails. From a distance, the Sydney Opera House resembles a sailing boat sailing in Sydney Harbour Bay. The iconic white roof looked as if it is coated with a blanket of white paint from afar, upclose, these white parts of the buildings are tiled with uniform mosaic tiles. Getting up close to the Opera House, it seem to emit a sense of timeless beauty and classiness. There are plenty photo spots around the Opera House buildings, however one would not be able to the entire building into the picture. For a great view of both Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, head to Mrs Macquarie’s Point, a short 10 mins drive from the Opera House.

My friend and I outside Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House at night
Taking a wefie with Sydney Opera House
My friend with Sydney Opera House
Another wefie outside Sydney Opera House
My sister and Baby Ryker at Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House from the promenade
Sydney Opera House up close at night
My sister and her family at Sydney Opera House
My sister and her family at Sydney Opera House

We headed inside the Opera House. The ceilings are decked in the concrete grey, as though telling visitors no fanciful dressings is required for its interior. The building is already magnificent even with the plain grey concretes. There is a shop inside the ticketing area of the Opera House selling memorabilia. One can also opt to join a 1 hour guided tour of the Opera House (costs A$37) to get a better understanding of the history and architecture of the building explained in detail by the staff. We stayed here for quite awhile to admire the grandeur of this iconic structure that visitors and locals come to identify Sydney with before heading back to rest for the night.

Interior of the Sydney Opera House