Yunnan

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With the most ethnic groups among all of China, this southern part of China started to fascinate me when I was researching on Guilin a decade ago. And Yunnan had been on my mind ever since.

Sharing external borders with Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. Internally, it has as neighbors Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan, and Tibet. With its location, it is not surprising that Yunnan is diverse in its culture and people.

Across-the-Bridge-Noodle-SoupA specialty of the Yunnan Province, guoqiao mixian, which translate to “Across the Bridge Noodles”.  The name made popular by a lady who used to bring noodles to her husband across the bridge.  Full Story here.
snow-capped-mountainImpression Lijiang a Zhang Yimou show with the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain as its backdrop.

Its landscape ranges from snow-capped mountains to dense jungles to sensational terraces.

Amazing land it surely is and I have been charmed, captivated. Join me in the next few months as I reminisce about my journey into dramatic landscapes, breathtaking views, fascinating cultures and magnificent cuisine.

Kunming

kunming-at-night

The hub and the capital of Yunnan served as our jump off point. Surrounded by temples, lakes and limestone hills, the city has its own allure, but we didn’t spend a lot of time in the city. Unfortunately.

Green Lake

boating-in-the-lake

I chose to stay near the lake precisely because we didn’t have that much time for exploration. The lake is in the heart of the city’s business, food and culture.

Lao-Fang-ZhiA few steps from our hostel is Lao Fang Zhi, a house of over 100 years turned restaurant that serves awesome hot Yunnan dishes. 

A beautiful park designed and created way back in the 17th century. Surrounded by willow trees and dotted with vibrant lotuses, the park has become a favorite among nature lovers.

willow-lined

A stroll around the lake is a pleasant way to watch how the locals spend their time.

dancing-in-the-park

A lot was going on. In one part of the lake, music filled the air, and people were dancing.

embroidery

In another, aunties sit around chatting and doing some embroidery while some are contented just to admire the lake and soak up the atmosphere.

lily

At night, the lights come alive and radiate a different ambiance.

green-lake-at-night

And with this, we start our journey into an endearing province of China that seemed to have been left alone. Stay tuned.

Posted in China, Kunming, Yunnan | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bukchon and Samcheon-dong: A Fusion of Old and New

hanok-roof

Wandering around Bukchon, a village with over 600 years of history in the midst of metropolitan Seoul was a stroll into the past and the present.

residential-It was home to aristocrats back in those days when the village was downtown Seoul hence the many traditional houses dating back to the Joseon Dynasty.

cultural-center

Called hanok, more than a few of these traditional houses remained remarkably well and are still actual homes to the Seoulites if not operating as cultural centers, guesthouses, restaurants or tea houses.

view-of-the-metro

The walk around Buckchon will immerse you in an atmosphere of ancient Joseon Dynasty with old hanoks in small alleyways that lead to great panoramic views of modern Seoul.

samcheongdong

Next to Bukchon is Samcheongdong-gil. One of Seoul’s most stylish neighborhoods harmoniously juxtaposing the old Korea and the modern artsy galleries and cafes as numerous art galleries, shops and restaurants set up shop in renovated hanoks.

mountain-viewMt. Bukak is partly responsible for the charm and mystic of Samcheong-dong.

This charming enclave begins where Insadong ends. Not the typical tourist area, and the rows of boutiques, galleries, and cute coffee shops make for a delightful afternoon wander.

charming

Captivated once again by Seoul’s unique charm, delectable bites and warm-hearted people, it is beyond any doubt that I will be back, and hopefully much sooner this time.

tea-house

Annyeong Seoul… till we meet again.

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Korean Street Food: A Food Tour

Food has always been a big part of my travels.   It is, after all, the best way to connect with a place and its people. Food is Culture.

And in Korea, street food is part of its culture. The food scene in Seoul is deliciously varied and steeped in tradition. And its streets will fill you in on its true flavors. Ubiquitous food stalls and kiosks are the best places to eat on the go in a city that needs fuel to get going. Food is quick, hot and cheap in a Po Jang Macha, as locals call them.

demo

Our adventure started with a dish of Haemul Pajeon (Seafood Pancake) demonstrated first to us by a chef at O’ngo Food Communication’s kitchen in Jongno-gu. A food tour we joined to experience Seoul through our belly. I tried many times to replicate this Korean pancake in my kitchen but could never get the crunch. Now I know. A pinch or two of baking soda will do the trick.

Pajeon

On hindsight, hard as it may be, I shouldn’t have gorged on that favorite dish of mine because the rest of the tour had us weaving through good eats after good eats around Insadong.

First stop was the Nakwon Market. Definitely not a Gwangjang (the market of all Seoul markets) but it caters to the neighbourhood and it doesn’t get as local as this.

nakwon-market

It is here where I had my first taste of baechu geotjeori, which translates to Napa cabbage lightly salted.

kimchi-variety

It doesn’t have the oomph of the classic kimchi, but it is mildly salty and sweet making it more rounded. Its crispy texture is refreshingly addicting that leaves me craving for it to this day.

fresh-kimchi-and-gimbap

A kimchi made to be eaten fresh without fermentation,

making-gimbap

it is made daily by this lady who also makes an outstanding Gimbap, a dish that I was never compelled to try (because I thought it is an inferior version of the Japanese sushi, quite the contrary) but have since become a convert.

gimbap

Gimbap: Rice rolls stuff with cucumber, crab sticks, turnip and wrapped in seaweed then brushed with a bit of roasted sesame oil.

Her stall is packed with locals, and you can guess why.

A few street foods later,

bungeoppang

Bungeoppang: It’s a waffle with either a red bean paste (azuki) or a cream filling (similar to a Bavarian) shaped and sealed in a bungeo (carp) like cast iron mold. Crispy edges with a soft sweet middle.

egg-bread

Gyenranppang: On the same stall you’ll most likely find this chicken egg bread or simply egg bread. A version of the bungeoppang. The dough is topped with an egg and cooked in a mini oven.
rice-cakesVarious rice cakes

silkworm

Beondegi: Seasoned silkworm pupae steamed or boiled and eaten as a snack. Chewy in texture, taste is ok, but the smell is a bit off. Overall, ok to try once.

we found ourselves in Bukchon Son Mandu.

Bukchon-Mandoo

Oh the deep-fried pork dumpling is to die for.

pork-mandu

A combination of pork, scallions and glass noodles on a dumpling that is fried to a perfect crisp. We were back the following day for a full meal.

bukchon-mandoo-full-meal

That good.

We then capped the tour with more food. A sumptuous BBQ lunch.

bbq-lunch

Left to wander on our own, we found more street food that fancied our eyes more that our stomachs but still gave in to the lure.

making-dragon-beard-candy

Ggultarae or Dragon Beard Candy: These guys do a great show, attracting many audiences. They start with a block of fermented honey and a bowl of cornstarch (chanting as they work) that is stretched until it turns into fine soft strings. It is then stuffed with hazelnuts, walnuts or peanuts. Yummy!
mochiFruit filled mochi — preserved persimmons on the left and fresh strawberry on the right.

sweet-potato

Spotted, not in Insadong but in Bukchon (on my next post), is this heavenly sweet potato that Korea is so known for.

Seoul is a haven for foodies and a wonderful city to be on a food trip.  Check out my past posts here and here.

Bukchon Son Mandu
42-5, Insadong-gil, Jongno-guSeoul, South Korea (Insadong)
Posted in Seoul, South Korea | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rainy Days in Seoul: Taxi rides, Museums and Bibimbap

rainy-days-in-SeoulCredits:  Template from the You are Awesome bloghop

As luck would have it, we woke up to a rainy Seoul on our first full day in South Korea’s capital.

rainy-dayBreakfast at the guesthouse.

What to do? We deferred our plan to walk around Bukchon Hanok Village and instead, per the suggestion of the guesthouse staff, we headed to the National Folk Museum in Samcheong-ro in Jongno-gu.

The hassle-free way to get around on a wet day is by taxi. So driver dropped us off in front of the Gyeongbokgung Palace. The museum is located inside the palace grounds, but we didn’t know that. So imagine us bewildered when he stopped the car and tried to tell us (in Korean and sign language) where to go. And so we got off but couldn’t figure out why. While studying the map (in the rain) to get our bearings, he came back and gestured for us to get back in. He decided to drive us all the way to the gate. A quick left and a U and there we were at the side entrance of the Palace, closest to the museum. He was actually trying to tell us to cross the street, walk a little further, turn left, and we will find it. But he didn’t speak English, and we didn’t understand Korean hence the confusion. He didn’t charge extra.

National-Folk-MuseumThe museum shows the lifestyle and traditions of everyday Koreans at different periods that stretches from prehistoric to the end of the Joseon Dynasty.

traditional-villageThere is also an open-air exhibit that takes you back in time through a replica of a street in a traditional village in late 19th century when a new modern culture was rising in Korea.

grinding-millThere you’ll see a grinding mill, a street car; hanok-style buildings and stores.hanok-style-stores

For lunch, we took a very short taxi ride (the driver scratching his head but couldn’t explain that it is just across the street, practically!) to Insadong. But because it was also drizzling, he obliged. I am amazed at how kind and gracious these people are. Thank you!

Lunch was an entirely satisfying meal of bibimbap and bulgogi at Gogung. I forgot how I adored these well-known dishes, which I first came across about 3 decades ago, when Seoul and I weren’t quite as hip. GogungThis beautiful mixed rice with vegetables, chili paste and eggs called bibimbap kept us full without breaking our pockets. Gogung, known for its Jeonju style bibimbap, is in the basement of Ssamzie-gil, a colorful shopping and cultural complex in Insadong-gil.

insadong-gilThe main street, Insadong-gil

An iconic Korean street, Insadong is a vibrant neighbourhood with streets and narrow alleys lined with antique shops, art galleries, and all kinds of shops, from beauty to crafts.

alleys-insadong

insadong-stores It is also home to many traditional restaurants and teahouses. Tomorrow a food tour we signed up for will bring us back here. So stay tuned for more of Insadong and its street foods on my next post.

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Rainy Days in Seoul: Staying at the Hongdae District

main-road-mapo-gu

Blame it on K-drama and a thwarted meeting last June, we found ourselves walking the streets of Mapo-Gu, backpacks in tow, looking for our guesthouse on a cold and rainy day in November. We don’t want to waste that visa and ticket, yes?

We got off the subway, followed the instructions provided by the guesthouse complete with photos. Easy to find, on a quiet street not far from the main road sits a charming brick building housing a photography studio and an office on the ground floor.

Lee-Kang-Ga

Lee Kang Ga will be our home for a few days while we explore Seoul (some of it, that is). The cozy guesthouse is on the top floor with residential units in between.

wall-artI chose to stay in the Hongdae district for its urban street arts and indie music culture. Brimming with mostly young people wandering about, the vibrant streets (especially at night) are alive with music and a lot of cheering. You’ll see dance performances, musicians singing or playing their instruments in all sorts of genre.

shopping-at-hongdae

Filled with independent stores and boutiques, it is also a fantastic place to shop if edgy fashion is your thing. It is clearly a place for the young and the young at heart.

As it is a university belt, restaurants and coffee shops abound. Although a phenomenon in all of Korea, the area boasts of exciting themed cafes.

hongdae

Every night was a different discovery of the local taste. One night we devoured on (fried) chicken and beer.

chicken-and-beerIf you don’t know this combination, then you are not watching enough K-dramas.

“Have you tried makgeolli?” Andy, from our guesthouse and (must add) the kindest staff I’ve encountered so far, asked. Apparently also superb with chicken, he ran down to the nearest convenience store, bought us a few bottles of Korean rice wine. He ordered a box of fried chicken to go with it.

Mageolli

Pronounced Mak-a-lee, this milky alcoholic beverage is fizzy and refreshing, slightly sweet and tangy and easy to drink.

Every night, we gather at the rooftop kitchen and dining area to exchange stories and share a few bottles of beer, soju, makgeolli or wine with other guests and staff.

hanging-out

It was a lovely vibe of different cultures and age groups. And till today, I still fond memories of those nights.

In the heart of Hongdae, Andy pointed us to one of his favorite “grilled beef” restaurants. It didn’t have an English sign so he sent us a photo of the sign in Korean and instructions on how to find it.

Korean-beef

Found on the 3rd floor atop a 7Eleven store, it was packed with students and young professionals. And on a corner table, we indulged in excellent Korean beef. What made it really special outside of its quality and reasonable price is the array of flavoured salt that one dredges on the meat.salt-variety

Equally as important to Koreans are pork bellies. Samgyupsal or pork belly wraps could possibly outshine any beef dish in Korea. Koreans are in love with pork bellies and so are we. On our way to the Nanta Theater in Hongdae, we spotted “The Ginger Pork” and instantly knew where dinner will be after the show.

Ginger-Pork

Thick fatty slices of pork bellies grilled on a grill plate, eaten together with garlic, green onion salad and some ssamjang wrapped in fresh lettuce leaf.  It was a glorious way to cap  a fantastically energetic show.

nanta

And speaking of Nanta, do find time to watch this impressive non-verbal comedy show that is entirely about cooking/food. It’s a lot of fun. In Hongdae, the theatre is housed in the beautiful Yellow Stone Building.

Yellow-Stone-Building

There are more to explore in the Hongdae district and 4 nights is simply not enough. In fact, we only scratched the surface and definitely calls for another visit. More of Seoul in my next posts. Stay tuned.

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Responsible Traveling

Sagada's-RealityCredits: Papers by Splendid Fin 4ever Swirls and Now is paper in green; The Design Girl paper 1; Elements from Scrap Matter’s Life Little Surprises: leaf and flower by Scrapmuss; frame by Gwenipooh Designs; Splendid Fin Now is Striped ribbon

My first entry to Sagada was in 1994. I was instantly drawn to it because it reminded me of a TV series set in Alaska that I love. Remember Northern Exposure? Rustic town, log cabins, lots of trees, hilly and winding roads, cool weather, sunflowers, indigenous people… well, it doesn’t snow in Sagada, but you get the drift. But more than that, it had caves, waterfalls, rice terraces, lakes and green pastures too. It has become my haven of rest, my respite when the going gets tough in the metro. I’d frequent it through the years.

St-Mary'sUnobstructed view of St. Mary’s Episcopalian Church back then.  1997.

Back in the days when going to Sagada entails eight to ten hours of (no air conditioning) bus ride and two very bumpy, dusty jeepney rides because you dare not subject your car to the condition of the road (fit for a 4×4 only) leading up to Sagada. Inaccessibility kept Sagada away from the crowd. You had to adore the place to keep going back or even attempt a visit back then.

Walking-to-Lake-DanumWalking to Lake Danum.  1997.

Back in those days, we’d walk everywhere. Sumaging Cave, Lake Danum, Kiltepan, Echo Valley, except for Bomod-ok Falls, where we’d take a jeep to the jump off point to the village of Fedelisan. I remember my first attempt to the falls—muddy and slippery and scary.

narrow-path-to-the-falls
The terraces were narrower then unlike the wider cemented walkways of today (done for the tourists in mind).

Fedelisan-terracesSome paths only had rocks to step on. That was scary.

Back in those days, there was no way to book a room in advance. We’d take a chance and stay wherever there was room. We’d take cold showers because we didn’t know that they sell hot water by the pot for 10 pesos. Crazy, I know. But those were the best times.

The way to Sagada has gotten so much easier because the roads are paved now. Visitors tripled, probably quadrupled over the years. Accommodations of all sorts have sprouted, eateries too. Subtle changes I didn’t mind at all. I actually loved the new additions until my haven of rest started to morph from a tranquil, laid-back escape into a noisy, car-packed town. I now become nostalgic of what Sagada used to be and desiring the old one back.

IMG_7145Basura and problema  naming ngayon (we now have a problem with trash),” says friend and guide Fabian. In the many years that travellers (mostly foreign and local backpackers) have come, trash had never been an issue until recently.

And that recently is when the Filipino hit flick, “That Thing Called Tadhana” unwittingly made Sagada an “in” thing.   Nothing wrong with that but sad to say, many of new visitors are irresponsible tourists leaving not only their footprints but also their trash behind.

IMG_7146

I have yet to understand their psyche but I sense a lack of respect for nature and the surroundings. While waiting for the sunrise in Kiltepan (which by the way was packed with perhaps 200 people taking “selfies”that morning),

crowd-in-Kiltepan

taking-selfiesI’d hear words like “Bet ko nandito parin tayo ng 7 o’clock” (bet you we’re still here by 7 o’clock), like the sun will never rise.

sunriseSana natulog nalang tayo” (we should have just slept in), one said before leaving because the sunrise wasn’t spectacular.   Folks, the sun will rise, that’s for sure but life does not promise dramatic ones every day.   I tell myself to chill because people think differently but how do you explain this one— “Pinaasa lang tayo ng sunrise” (in essence, it means – the sunrise led us on).   Really? Like nature owes you?

I always encourage people to travel because it is enriching. Depending of course on how one takes a trip, the experience can be priceless. But, we need to change our travel habits and be responsible travelers, to be responsible enough to properly dispose of our trash, respect local tradition and most especially their environment. I hope one day we learn to be just that.

‘Responsible travel’ means assessing our impact on the environment and local cultures and economies – and acting to make that impact as positive as possible. – Tony and Maureen Wheeler, Lonely Planet

Posted in Cordillera, Philippines, Sagada | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Begnas: A Ritual for Good Harvest

Happy and contented with finally being able to see up close the Panag-apoy, witnessing another festival is, what I would like to think of as, a bonus.

a-few-days-ago-2Walking to town from Ex-Mayor Killip’s house, which we rented for our stay, we saw these men in traditional Igorot clothes.

Former Sagada Mayor Tom Killip invited us to watch their ritual for a good harvest if we have time before heading down. Of course, we have time, we will make time.

dancing-2

Deeply rooted in culture and tradition, the Kankanaey community of Sagada celebrate a Rice Thanksgiving ritual that follows the cultural calendar of the Igorot. The dates of the Begnas are usually decided by the tribal leaders via age-old omen and signs and, therefore, have no fixed dates.elder

It is generally held to mark the different agricultural cycle—pre- planting or land preparation, planting and harvest—and apparently happens three times a year, loosely in March, June and November.

We were advised to be there early so not to disturb their celebration. Being early has its advantages.vantage-point

From our vantage point, we were able to watch the celebration up close without being in the way.gathering-in-the-dapay

Arriving in traditional clothes, men and women from different barangays gather in the hosting dap-ay.to-the-patpatayan

It starts with a group of men in a single file going off to the rice fields to sacrifice a pig on sacred ground the community calls patpatayan.practicing

Meanwhile, the men left in the dap-ay started to perform their traditional dances, not to entertain us (but perhaps themselves) but that we were.   After a half an hour perhaps, they came back, still in single file, to the dap-ay with the pig divided into pieces. The ceremony ends with everyone participating in the dance and the pieces distributed to each community.

dancing-3

pig-distribution

I am honored to have seen this tradition and was well worth setting our trip back for a few hours.

I leave you with more photos of the celebration:

a-few-days-ago

dancing-4

dancing

Posted in Cordillera, Philippines, Sagada | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments