Monday, February 29, 2016


Trip Date: May 10, 2008

All Pictures

The Gates of Hell
I’m Back!
On this trip I visited Chongqing for the second time. The last time I didn’t get a chance to see the Ghost City in Fengdu, so I had to go back. Lucky for me, Chongqing is almost on the way from Beijing to Hanoi.

Ghost Pirate?
A Really Great Place to Stay
I took a business card from the hostel in Beijing for another hostel in Chongqing. It had the directions on the back, but I still had a little trouble finding the place. It was great and the people there were very nice. Since I was the only female guess at the time, I got a room all to myself for about 5 USD a night!
On the train I managed to rip my backpack. When I asked at the front desk about a place where I could get it repaired they told me to leave the bag at the hostel and they would take care of it. When I got back from my day trip the hole was gone. The lady at the desk had fixed it herself and she didn’t charge me anything.

The mountain next to 丰都鬼城
The next day I went to see Taoist Hell. The bus ride to Fengdu is supposed to take 4 hours. Since this is China, you have to add in the extra time needed to wait for extra passengers to show up and for construction delays. It actually took about 5 hours to get there and 6 to return.
There was a rest stop along the way, but I didn’t know that. I thought that I had reached Fengdu. That is when I met the lady that saved my day. She showed me where the bathroom was then urged me to get back on the bus. She spoke very little English and I had forgotten my phrase book back in the hostel in Chongqing.
When we got back on the bus she sat beside me. She asked me where I was from, where I was going, and all the other standard questions. When she found out that I was going to the ghost city, she polled everyone on the bus until she found someone who lived near there to make sure I got to hell safely.
It was a bit difficult communicating where I was going. I drew several pictures of ghosts which didn’t communicate “City of the dead” very well. Either Chinese ghosts don’t look like western ghosts or I just have no artistic talent whatsoever.

What are they afraid of?
The Ghost City is very beautiful and there were only a few people visiting when I went. The gates of hell are up a mountain with a wonderful view of the Yangtze. I walked all the way up and took the ski lift down. I recommend doing the opposite.
I also recommend reading all the wonderful, not-so-good-English signs along the way. You will have to read some a couple of times before you understand what they are trying to say. Others you will never understand.
There were many statues and pictures of demons torturing souls. The painted demons were very beautiful. The tortured souls were very expressive. The view of the river was exquisite. It all made hell such a wonderful place.

Life in Hell
Let’s face it, it’s just the two of us.
When I was done I found only one taxi driver waiting at the entrance. He was just walking around in circles like he really wanted something to do. He seemed so happy to see me and asked me if I wanted to go to the dock.
This is a common cruise stop, so if you do not look Chinese the taxi drivers will assume that you are from a cruise and will take you to the dock unless you tell him otherwise.
I had the girl who brought me to hell write in Chinese on a piece of paper, “I would like to go to the Fengdu bus station and buy tickets to Chongqing.” I handed him the paper and got into his van. I talked him down from his original price, but I think we both knew that I would end up riding in his taxi. I had no other taxis to choose from and he had no other passengers to carry.
All Pictures 

How to get there:
  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
  • Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
  • Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.

There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook, youtube, and parts of Wikipedia are just some of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.
My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.
*These books are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

  • If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.

Fengdu (丰都县) &
the Ghost City (丰都鬼城)
  • 29°53’03.5″N 107°43’23.5″E
From Chongqing go to the Hongqing Ying Bin Bus Station (重庆港迎宾汽车站) near Chaotianmen Gate (朝天门).
Buy a ticket on a bus to Fengdu. One ticket one-way costs 66 Yuan. When you get to Fengdu you have to a take a minivan/taxi to the Ghost city. The cost of the taxi ride will depend on your negotiation skills.
  • The Ghost city itself will cost 80 Yuan.
  •  If you don’t want to walk up or down the mountain it will cost 15 Yuan extra each way to use the ski lift.
  • I recommend using the ski lift up and walking down. You will definitely want to see the crazy stuff on the walk to/ from hell’s gate.
  • There are 2 sections of the Ghost City. The more interesting part is up the hill.
  • If you are visiting during the non-peak season you should make sure your taxi driver will come back to get you.

Click for Google maps

Saturday, February 27, 2016

No Occupying While Stable

Trip Date: May 6 – 9, 2008

The Tian Ren: Panama’s finest!
Goodbye 한국
My next attempt to leave Korea was more successful. I had given myself more than enough time to get lost a couple of times, though I didn’t need it this time. I arrived at the Incheon port with 2.5 hours to spare.
They began boarding about one and a half hours before the schedule departure time of  1:00 pm and the gate closed at 12:30 pm. It took a long time for the boat to get out of the locks at the port of Incheon. It wasn’t until 3:30 pm that Korea could no longer be seen from aboard the ship.

Off to Panama?
It was very sad seeing Korea disappear in the horizon. I felt a mixture of sadness for leaving Korea and excitement for seeing new countries like Vietnam, Mongolia, and Finland just to name a few. Plus I would be seeing my mother and brother. It was almost a year since I saw either of them last.

My Bunk with the curtains closed
According to the boat company’s website the ride lasts 25 hours, but it took about 2 hours longer than that for my ride. I heard from a fellow passenger that his trip over to Korea from China took 29 hours.
On board, the boat has many things to make your voyage across the sea more tolerable. There is a main cafeteria that is open only during meal times. The food is okay and not expensive. You can pay in either Won or Yuan.
There is also a bar/restaurant that stays open later than the cafeteria. The food there tastes less like cafeteria food and more like kimbap shop food.
There was also a DVD room, a norae bang, and a sauna area in the shower rooms. For the kids there was a video game area next to a very sad casino that lacked gamblers.
Aboard the ship I didn’t see much of the people in the bunks next to and around mine. As expected, most people only went to their bunks when it was time to sleep and then they closed their curtains. I did manage to see a turquoise bracelet on a wrist that stuck out of a bunk of a snoring neighbor.

On a boat to China
Back on Solid Ground
I met two guys on the ship, a Canadian, Tim, who had just finished his contracted year teaching in Korea and an American, Brian, who was going back to work in China after vacationing in Korea. We were the only non-Asian people on the boat.
Once we were off the boat our group of three appointed Brian the navigator, and his duty was to get us to the bus stop where we would get the bus to Tianjin. Once on the bus we sat next to a lady with a turquoise bracelet.  As I sat there trying to think why the bracelet looked so familiar, the lady introduced herself.
She just happened to have had the bunk next to mine on the boat from Incheon and recognized me. She chatted the whole bus ride and then helped us get to the train station. The lady was Chinese and married to a Korean. She was on holiday in China to visit her folks. She was a lovely woman.
At the train station in Tianjin our group became a trio again when we said, “goodbye” to Brian. Mrs. Turquoise helped us to buy tickets to Beijing. It was a good thing she was there too. The Canadian, Tim, and I just watched the crowd at the ticket counter in disbelief. It was a mad group of people pushing and shoving to get tickets. I think a couple of burly men were even fighting for real over the last ticket to somewhere. But Mrs. Turquoise took our money and just walked right into the crowd and disappeared.
Tim looked at me and half heartedly suggested that we do something to help her. “Like what?” I asked. As he fumbled for a reply Mrs. Turquoise returned with 3 tickets to Beijing in hand. “These were the last tickets for the next train,” she said. “Did you get hurt in there?” Tim asked. Mrs. Turquoise looked at him as if she had no idea what he was talking about.
We followed her and boarded the train together. It was a nice train with clean bathrooms. I know, because after the bus ride I really had to go. Mrs. Turquoise led me to the bathroom section of the train. There were two unoccupied toilets, so we each took one.
When we got back to our seats some big bald baddie-looking guy and his bigger baddie-looking friend were in our seats. Tim said that he tried to explain that the seats were already taken, but they would not listen. Mrs. Turquoise show them our tickets, but they would not move. The men indicated that we should find some seats somewhere else. “You snooze, you lose!”
Mrs. Turquoise started yelling at them. I have no idea what she said to them, probably something about having their mothers hostage back in her dungeon. Shortly into her rant they shot up from their, umm ours seats and apologized for their huge lapse in judgement. They didn’t even bother with looking for another seat in our train car. They just ran to the next one. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprise if they hurled themselves from the train in fear, shame, or whatever feeling Mrs. Turquoise’s speech stirred in them.
In Beijing Mrs. Turquoise went to her parents’ home and it was just Tim and me. We ate dinner at a Chinese fast-food place and opened our Lonely Planet: China books to look for a place to stay. After discussing our options we picked the Qianmen Hostel near the Qianmen subway station.
This hostel was really nice and the location was very near everything I wanted to see. When I went back to Beijing the following month with my mom and brother, I stayed at the Qianmen Hostel again.
I did not see much of Beijing in May. One of the purposes of going to Beijing at that time was to get tickets on the Trans-Mongolian Express for my mom, brother, and me. But the tickets would not be sold until five days before departure. This was in 2008 and the summer Olympics would be in Beijing in three months. This screwed up a lot of train ticket sales for international journeys.
The next day I had breakfast with Tim and then never saw him again. I was heading down south to Vietnam and then going to Mongolia and he was going up north to Inner Mongolia then going to Vietnam. Unfortunately I don’t remember his real name but he just seemed like a “Tim” so in this blog he will be known as Tim.

Chinese Train
Off to Chongqing
After not getting train tickets to Mongolia, I went to the Beijing West Train Station and took the T9 to Chongqing which took about 25 hours. In that time I ate, slept, read books, and talked with whoever was around that could speak English or was willing to do a little miming.
There is a dining car on the T9, though I didn’t see it. I  completely forgot about meals and only remembered to eat when the lady with the meal cart came by. The meals cost about 30 Yuan and were composed of mostly meat with rice and some sort of vegetable. I usually like the Chinese train meals, although I don’t always know what I’m eating.

No Occupying While Stable?
Is this where I am to have my nervous breakdown?
On the train, I came across the most wonderful sign on a bathroom door. At first I had no idea what  it meant. The train had just pulled into a station and was parked. I really wanted to use the bathroom but the door was locked. I thought that someone was having a really hard time in there, but I was willing to wait. One of the ladies working on the train saw me waiting and she pointed to the sign. “Train stop, no open. Train no stop, open.”
Ahh… I see! Do not use while the train is parked…

How to get there:
  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
  • Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
  • Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.

There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook, youtube, and parts of Wikipedia are just some of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.
My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.
*These books are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

  • If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.

Boat From Incheon, Korea to Tianjin (Tanggu), China
How to make reservations:
  • Call: +82-32-777-8260
  • for better English call the Korean Tourist Information line: +82-2-1330. This is for assistance only. The Korean Tourist information line is not associated with the boat company.
When you call they might tell you that you need to come down to the dock in person so they can photo copy your passport, visa to China, and other documents. You can ask them to let you fax or e-mail the information instead, and pay by credit card or bank transfer.
Website for Boat Company (in Korean. Use Google translator)
  • 37°27’53.3″N 126°37’30.4″E
  1. Go to the Dong-Incheon Subway station.
  2. Take bus 23, 24, 17-1, or 3. There is a McDonald’s near the bus stop to get on the bus.
  3. You should get off the bus near another McDonald’s across the street from the port.
  • Schedule
  • Departing Procedure
  • The cost of the ticket depends on which boat you take and the class of your accommodations. I took the cheapest ticket on the boat to Tianjin and it cost a little over 100USD. My Chinese visa cost more than my fair to China.
  • You must have a valid visa before entering China. To get a visa to China while in Korea you must go through a travel agent, not the Chinese embassy.

About this sound
  • 39°08’16.1″N 117°12’41.7″E (Tianjin Railway Station)
From Tanggu –
  • Take a bus or the train from Tanggu Railway Station or around that area.
I don’t remember exactly how to do it, since I was mostly following someone who lived in the area.
Just ask around.
Tanggu is a small port town on the out skirts of Tianjin. To get the Beijing you will need to get to the main city of Tianjin.

From Tianjin –
  • Take a train, regular or express, to Beijing Railway Station.
I don’t remember exactly how to do it, since I was mostly following someone who lived in the area.
Just ask around.



Click for Google maps

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Sea Parting Festival

Trip Date: May 3 – May 5, 2008

asleep on the train in Korea
Let’s go south
The plan for the weekend was to go down south to visit Wolchulsan in Korea’s smallest national park, then go to the Yeongdeung festival and see the statue of Grandma Bbong. There was a holiday that weekend, Children’s Day, so my friend had time off from work to hang out with me, a newly jobless person.
We took a train from Seoul Station that left really late at night and got to Mokpo really early in the morning. From the Mokpo train station we walked to the Mokpo bus station. It was very early in the morning and the city buses weren’t running yet. When we got to the bus station we had to wait about 45 minutes for the first long distance bus to Yeongam.

What, no vendors?
Wolchulsan is an odd mountain in that, unlike all the other mountains I’ve climbed in Korea, this one had no vendors and was almost desolate. There wasn’t even one ajumma sitting on the side of the path selling beondegi. There were many peaks to climb and play on but what I was mostly interested in, was the suspension bridge, called Cloud Bridge.

Cloud Bridge
If you ever go to Wolchulsan for a day trip, be sure to ask when the  next bus out leaves. In fact you should ask this question before you go to Wolchulsan because for some destinations there is only one bus a day. We had planned on going back to Mokpo to spend the night, but there were no more buses to Mokpo that day. The town near the mountain had nothing interesting to offer, so we went to Jindo.
By the way, if you are hungry after climbing the mountain, don’t think that you’ll find somewhere nice to eat in town or at the bus station. There’s nothing decent in town and stay away from the horrible stuff they serve at the “Chinese restaurant” at the bus station. Eat at one of the places near the base of the mountain.

Walking across the water like Moses
Grandma Bbong
The next day we went to the Yeongdeung (영등) or The Sea Parting Festival. At a certain time every year the tides goes out far enough that people can simply walk to the surrounding islands. There is a story behind the festival, but I won’t re-tell it; click on the link.

Grandma Bbong
BBong or PPong?
You have no doubt clicked on the link above and have read the story. If you looked it up in a Google search you’ve probably noticed the heroine’s name differs from website to website.
Let me mention something about the Korean writing called, Hangul. This writing system has only 24 letters, unlike the 26 letters we have in our Roman Alphabet. When you match up the letters of both writing systems you’ll see that there are some incongruities. The letters “F”, “P”, “Z”, “R”, “L” and “ㅡ” do not have a corresponding letter.
Their letter for “F”, “ᄑ”,  is really more like a “P”, but sometimes when written in English the “P” sound is represented by “ㅂ” which is actually more like our letter “B”. There is no letter for “Z”. Instead they use the letter “ㅈ” which is really more like our letter “J”. This causes many Koreans to go to the jew to see animals.
The letter “ㄹ” does double duty as both “R” and “L” but it doesn’t sound distinctly enough like either letter so that the words “right” and “light” are indistinguishable when coming from a mouth of a Korean. As for the “ㅡ”. This makes a sound like… well maybe it’s like a “uu” which is never used in English.
Then sometimes for no known reason at all, the letter “ㄹ” is spelled with the letter “N” in English, even though there is a separate letter  “ㄴ” that is only “N”. For example the main street in downtown Seoul is spelled 종로 in Hangul and Jongro or Jongno with Roman Alphabets.
Because of these discrepancies in lettering, words are often spelled one way in the Hangul system and many ways with the Roman Alphabet. Like the name of the central character in our story, Grandma Bbong/ Grandma Ppong.

Getting ready to wade in the water
At the festival many people rented long rubber boots in which to cross the sea, while others stayed on the shore collecting sea weed. I didn’t try to rent any of the colorful boots, so I don’t know how much the fee was.

What? No, I said BEACH, BEACH. It’s a nice BEACH.
Most of the seaweed collectors where ajummas and their grandchildren who were most likely being punished. Other people stood around shouting into their cell phones, annoying all the people who came to the beach to have fun. While still others, who didn’t realize they were  going to a rocky beach when they got dressed that morning, stumbled around in their high heels.

Heels at the beach with knee-highs?

South Korea
How to get there:
  • You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.

  • Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets, muggers, or scam artists.
    • You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
  • Use common sense and you will be okay.
  • Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.
Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.

  • 34°47’27.7″N 126°23’11.8″E
You can take a train from Seoul Station or take one of the 7 flights per day from Seoul.
This city is on one of the KTX lines.
Cost (train):
  • It depends on what train you take.
  • The ticket (25,700KRW) in the picture is for one of the cheaper trains.
  • Okay, so there isn’t much to do in Mokpo itself. There is a mountain to hike up, but what Korean town doesn’t have a mountain?
  • Mokpo is great because it’s near other towns that have stuff to do and you can easily get to Mokpo by KTX.
  • There is a Gatbawi here, but don’t confuse it with the wish granting Gatbawi which is in Daegu.

  • 34°46’34.7″N 126°43’19.5″E
(Google maps does not have the option below. I’m not sure if that means it’s not in there database or this route is no longer available. Here is google’s advice on getting to Wolchulsan from Seoul.)
  • From Mokpo Bus Terminal take a bus to Yeongam Bus Terminal.
  • From Yeongam Bus Terminal you can take a 5,000KRW taxi to the entrance of the park.
  • If you show up in hiking gear, you won’t even have to tell the cabbie where to go. He’ll just assume.
464-46, Gaesin-ri
Yeongam-eup, Yeongam-gun, Jeollanam-Do
  • +82-61-472-9201
  • I think there is an entrance fee, but I showed up about half an hour before the guy who collects the money got to work.
  • It might cost about 2,500KRW (2.50USD)  to get in.
  • Many mountains in Korea have entrance fees, but no one to collect them. So a majority of the mountains in Korea are technically free.
  • There is a campsite here.
  • Make sure that you bring enough water and food to last you the day when hiking up Wolchulsan. There are no vendors at this park.
  • If you’re hungry after your hike, eat at one of the restaurants at the base of the mountain. Don’t count on getting something at the bus station!

The Sea Parting Festival
(영등) at Hoedong-ri (회동리)

How to get there:
  • 34°25’19.7″N 126°20’48.1″E
From Mokpo Bus Terminal:
  • Go to Jindo Bus Terminal.
  • Then take a bus to Hoedong-ri (회동리). If you are a tourist traveling at the time of the festival, everyone will just assume that this is where you want to go.
  • Even though google maps says you have to walk to the beach from Jindo bus terminal, there is a bus during the festival at least.
  • There is a specific time when the tide is at its lowest. I think it’s around 5:something in the evening.
  • There are tons of other stuff to see and do all day long for the 2 or 3 days that the festival lasts.

Click for Google maps