Tag Archives: travelblog

Chasing Aurora: Iceland Ring Road Trip

 Can you imagine being on the road with this exquisite view? That is Iceland. You have everything you need at one glance.

We only had few days to spend in Reykjavik, just visited the famous destinations, but it made me feel so at home.

Skógafoss is a waterfall situated on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline.

How can you even resist its beauty? It captivated my heart in an instant. The moment we drove out of the city, the landscape made me in awe. You see different scenes which are not usually seen in other parts of Europe (at least to my knowledge and to what I have seen so far).

Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon, bordering Vatnajökull National Park in southeastern Iceland.
Gullfoss is a waterfall located in the canyon of Olfusa river in southwest Iceland
The Glacier Lagoon flows through a short waterway into the Atlantic Ocean, leaving chunks of ice on a black sand beach.

I can go back to these places every single day just to breathe the fresh air, feel the cold breeze and just feel one with nature. These destinations can be reached easily. Reykjavik is easy to navigate, and you can use even google maps to go to places.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, famous for its deadly waves.
The small peninsula, or promontory, Dyrhólaey is located on the south coast of Iceland, not far from the village Vík.

And the best part is, chasing Aurora!

At that point, I believed that if it is meant to be, no matter what, you will get it. And a miracle happened. After almost  two days of searching and chasing, the northern lights were evasive. I was on the verge of losing my hope and accepting the fact that I will not witness one of the wonders of Iceland and one of God’s miracles this time. There it was, dancing under the moonlight. Pitch dark, clear sky and cold breeze!

THE NORTHERN LIGHTS APPEARED!

I was so grateful that Gabi was able to set the camera and took some fantastic shots of the Northern Lights.

A few minutes later, off we go and pack to leave the next day.

XOXO

Jhes

Credits to the photographer: Gabriel Brandusa

Chasing America – Grand Canyon Experience

At first, I thought Grand Canyon will remain a dream…

Every travel I plan, I always make sure that I have at least one memorable experience planned, a remembrance that will surely last and can be told over and over again. I take all the time to research for uncommon destination or activity, some of them I did by myself and some with friends. Regardless, I made sure it gives me that happiness, that smile and that satisfaction. To name a few, I had my first ever solo mountain hiking in South Korea, skydiving in Australia, tried my first ever sashimi in Japan (I do not eat raw food, so this is a big deal for me), first ever bus group tour in the US – that includes a whole lot of memorable experience, my first ever glimpse of Grand Canyon.

At first, I thought Grand Canyon will remain a dream. Well, some dreams do come true if you put your heart to it and I got lucky to have one of my dreams came into reality. Before going to the US, I was still hesitant to include this on my itinerary, but I muster the courage to go alone. A road trip with strangers that led me to this amazing place, breathtaking is even an understatement!

The trip took roughly 2.5 hours from Las Vegas. We left the hotel early in the morning, to catch the sunrise on the way, stopped at Hoover Dam to get some photos and breakfast, passed by an outlet store and stayed a couple of hours and reached Grand Canyon (West Pacific Rim) just before noon.

I have seen photos of the Hoover Dam from #Instagram before and I thought, it would be good to see that place as well, but during this trip, I thought it will just be another wishful thinking. But, life can really surprise you anytime, right?

Hoover Dam is on the border of Nevada and Arizona.

Sunrise in Lake Mead, Hoover Dam (Nevada, 2016)
Hoover Dam (Nevada, 2016)
Hoover Dam (Nevada, 2016)
Hoover Dam (Nevada, 2016)
Boulder City (Nevada, 2016)

I kept looking at my watch the whole time as I cannot wait to reach Grand Canyon. I was thinking whether will it be worth the effort (who am I kidding???), or will it meet my expectation, all sorts of questions that made me more excited and anxious at the same time.

Then along the dusty road, I saw the SIGN and I knew we were almost there!

50 minutes more to Grand Canyon (Grand Canyon, 2016)
Entrance to the West Rim, Grand Canyon

The trip was definitely worth it! The view is stunning, exquisite and I was speechless. Whenever I am in a place where I cannot find the right words to define the beauty, I was totally dazed and in awe!

Grand Canyon West 2016

The group chose West Pacific Rim over the South (they call in the “true” Grand Canyon) due to its close proximity to Las Vegas. Nevertheless, the view is majestic!

Although this side of the canyon is not part of the Grand Canyon National Park, it is still, Grand Canyon!

Grand Canyon West is open to the public from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily from October through March, and from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm daily from April through September. It is open every day of the year including all major holidays. (http://www.grandcanyon.net/west-rim)

Navigating is no problem, you can go from one point to another via the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus provided in the park. There are so many things to do in the park, but I only focused on 2 destinations – Eagle and Guano Point.

Wherever I looked, the view gave me chills and happiness inside which I cannot explain. I am always fond of nature, and I must say I got even teary-eyed because of the overwhelming feeling of being so blessed to ever witness such an amazing and miraculous creation.

Eagle Point

This place is called Eagle Point because the formation of the rocks look like an eagle spreading its wings.  Can you spot the eagle?

Me and the rock formed as an eagle spreading its wings!
An Eagle spreading its wings (Eagle Point, Grand Canyon West 2016

There were also replicas of the Native American – Hualapai Village, where you can go and see inside each “teepee”.

Cliff formed at Eagle Point
Photo from http://gatetoadventures.com/
Skywalk at Grand Canyon West Rim Credit: Photo from http://gatetoadventures.com/

After walking for a couple of hours, I headed to the next destination.

Guano Point

Hike all the way up to see the stunning panoramic view of the Grand Canyon. This is by far the most majestic view I have ever seen. I know there are others, but this is my first time to see such an amazing rock formation and unending scenery of cliffs eroded by time.

Credit: Photo from http://absolutewanderlust.com
Guano Point (Grand Canyon West, 2016)

There is also another stop at Hualapai Ranch but I did not go anymore.

This is totally worth the effort, the bumpy and dusty ride along the Nevada and Arizona stretch. I am grateful for this opportunity and for God who created such an amazing scenery, it fits its name, it is indeed, GRAND!

Have you been to Grand Canyon? How was your experience?


It always surprises me how life unravel itself. The things I least expect can give the purest happiness that surely is treasured for as long as I live…

XOXO

Jhes

Chasing America – Los Angeles, California

“Drop everything now
Meet me in the pouring rain
Kiss me on the sidewalk
Take away the pain
‘Cause I see, sparks fly, whenever you smile…”

Sparks Fly by Taylor Swift

This song will always remind me of Los Angeles, the city where dreams can actually come true. There was that spark that hit me. Maybe because of the California sunset or the Hollywood sign, or meeting with my good friends or just because it’s California, as simple as that.

The famous HOLLYWOOD sign (Los Angeles, California)

Continue reading Chasing America – Los Angeles, California

Chasing America – San Francisco, California

California!

Blue sky, cool and breezy weather, stunning scenery of sunset and mountain ranges, and contrasting city vibe – made this trip interesting, memorable and a dream come true.

When I was younger, I have always thought of traveling but never imagined that this time will come. Traveling made me realize that I am living an extraordinary life. Not everybody has the chance to see the beauty of life and how amazing our world as I see it now. Slowly, I am realizing hidden dreams, to discover how amazing the world is and to live life to the fullest.

Continue reading Chasing America – San Francisco, California

Travel with me to Victoria (Australia)

A glimpse of the Great Ocean Road (Victoria, Australia)
A glimpse of the Great Ocean Road (Victoria, Australia) from Teddy’s Look Out

It was only a dream, a dream that seemed to be so far- fetched and impossible. Through time, I was able to accomplish a part of that dream little by little. I am still dreaming but planning and pursuing at the same time, because you will never know, what seems to be so unreal and impossible becomes the other way around. ~ Jhes

It was my first personal travel out from my own pocket and I was so glad that my friends and I decided to take our first trip to the Land Down Under – Australia.

Continue reading Travel with me to Victoria (Australia)

My longest 3 hours – an experience worth every second

If only I could make 3 hours into 3 days, I would have done it. It would have been a wonderful experience. My feeling for this trip or place is beyond words, but this side trip is really worth every second, every step and every sweat!

I must admit, I am not a Sound of Music fan (I am not a musical fan, in general). Have I seen the musical? movie? cartoon? I have seen the cartoon version, Yes. I cannot even remember whether I have watched the movie. I am not a classical music fan either, I am not familiar with Mozart, I only encountered his name from one of the literature subject I took a long time ago.

Without any background or whatsoever, will I enjoy?

Why Sound of Music and Mozart?

Continue reading My longest 3 hours – an experience worth every second

South Korea – Hiker’s Haven (Dobongsan)

It was that time of the year again to reflect, restart and refocus and the place I called my second home, South Korea, was the choice of destination.

I went back to South Korea to restart my life button and experience Fall. Without a full itinerary on hand and only listed 2 activities, the rest was unplanned and unexpected.

What better way to breathe and free your mind than to be one with nature.

That’s what I did last October 2015. I hiked Seoraksan and Dobongsan mountains to experience Fall Foliage and I was not disappointed.

Seoraksan Fall Foliage Photos:


I hiked Seoraksan twice back in April 2014 and last year October 2015 (see my previous post here), the expectation of the level of difficulty was known as I had done it before, while Dobongsan was harder to climb because of its rocky hiking trail according to the reviews I’ve read.

Dobongsan is located in Bukhansan National Park and very accessible via subway train (Dobongsan Station). It’s one of the most popular hiking trail for locals, so if you hike during weekends, this hike is pretty busy with local hikers.

Despite the level of difficulty I headed my way to Dobongsan and began my Fall Foliage journey.

I was never fully geared (wore my favorite running shoes) for hiking, except the hiking stick I bought at one of the stores along the way. Thank goodness, I read somewhere that hiking stick is a must so I bought because I don’t really know what to expect, and true enough the trails were far more difficult to climb.

There were a lot of local hikers when I started, but in the end the crowd went by and I was left alone traversing the trail and enjoying the different fall colors.

Local hikers passing by
Local hikers passing by
Don't leave me
Don’t leave me

As I went farther and farther, exhaustion and frustration nearly got in my way. The rocky trail made it so difficult to reach the peak, although I had lots of rest in between (and some cursing) and my 1.5-liter bottle was nearly empty not even half-way through the journey. But after a while, the weather seemed to hear my rambling and the wind got cooler and somehow eased my discomfort as I moved on.

After almost 2-km and more than an hour hike, I’ve reached the first resting spot, Madangbawi Rock, with an exquisite panoramic view. This was not even the peak and the view was already breathtaking. The pit stop was crowded by hikers. I joined the rest of the hikers and sat down for half an hour, ate my gimbap, having second thoughts whether to continue to Jaunbong Peak or not.

Since the goal was to really go on top, I decided to continue the journey. And glad I did. As I made my way to the top, the Fall Foliage was absolutely stunning. If only I can sit down and enjoy more of the scenery, I will spend more time just looking at the maple tree leaves glittering from the rays of the sun. But time is running out and still have not reached the peak and I need time to descend as well.

With my aching feet and arms and after another hour from Madangbawi Rock, I was damn shocked that I still have to climb (almost vertical) while holding on to the rustic steel bar drilled on the rock to reach the top.

I sat down and watched as the hikers made their way up and down to and from Jaunbong Peak. I was observing the other hikers how they climb up and when I was comfortable enough, I mustered the courage to try myself. I finally reached the peak with relief and awe on yet another stunning panoramic view.

I thought the trail going up was hard enough that going down will be easier, but I was TOTALLY WRONG. As I went down the rock, the footholds are wide apart making it more difficult to go down, obviously I don’t have long legs to reach one foothold to another. I slid down slowly on the foothold while hanging on to my dear life.

It took me almost 1.5 hours to descend from the mountain following the same route. I was exhausted, my arms were so tired, my legs almost collapsing, I reached the ground after a very long almost 5-hour hike.

That was it for the day! Headed back to the hostel, ate my dinner, cleaned up, had my face mask and slept soundly through the night for the next day adventure!


Somehow hiking clears my mind and makes me refocus to what is more important in life. While on top of every peak, it is as if I am closer to God, and I always whisper how grateful I am for all the blessings He has given me over the years. Forever grateful for being able to witnessed such beautiful creation.

XOXO

Jhes

 

 

South Korea – Hiker’s Haven (Seoraksan)

From my previous post, South Korea – Hiker’s Haven (Seoul Fortress Wall), I cited that hiking in Korea is one of its main attractions, however some travelers may not be keen to explore as it may require some level of physical fitness to be able to reach the highest point.

Korean mountains trails vary from one to the other. Definitely the experience and fulfillment is different as every hiker traverse the slopes, ridges and unending stairs (It’s for real, Koreans probably love stairs) to the peak. There are also levels of difficulty from easy to difficult climb, which beginners (like myself) can consider. Some mountains can be a day-hike or multi-day hike, depending on your endurance, you can climb different routes in one go. As for me, I am taking it slow and one at a time.

After my first ever hiking adventure in Seoul, I headed to my next journey.

When I was researching for mountains to hike in South Korea, Seoraksan was on top of the list. Seoraksan is located in Sokcho, Province of Gangwon-do. It is about 3-hour bus ride (either from Seoul Express Bus or Dong Seoul Bus Terminal) from Seoul.

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Despite my apprehension to travel outside Seoul City for the first time, I enjoyed the 3-hour ride. A very refreshing, calm and green scenery delighted my way as I traveled to the province.

I stayed in House Hostel for my two trips in April 2014 (Spring) and October 2015 (Fall). I highly recommend this hostel because the place is cozy  and the owners are friendly and hospitable. You can book the hostel in Hostelworld.com.

I climbed Seoraksan twice, and I plan to do it again. The adventures I had were totally different but the admiration to its breathtaking view is as if seeing its beauty for the first time.

As you enter Seoraksan National Park, the surrounding gives you a positive vibe and gets you excited to continue the journey.

At first, I did not really consider going to any mountain peak as from the reviews I read at that time, Seoraksan is a “difficult” level. I was supposed to hike the Biryong Falls or Bisondae Cliff course, but these two trails were closed when I went. I hesitated to climb Ulsanbawi Peak. But in the end, I decided to head on and started my journey.

I was no longer surprised to see stairs as I am already used to seeing them in Korea and quite relieved that the trail is not as rough and difficult as what I expected. Similar to Seoul Fortress trail, the national park is well-maintained except for a few rugged ridges and slopes, but still able to pass through.

I was delighted to see the Fall Foliage in Seoraksan during my second visit in 2015.

As I continued my journey, there were also pit stops where you can take a rest and enjoy the amazing view of the Ulsanbawi peak as the overwhelming excitement kicks in.

Pit Stop
Pit Stop

Giving up was never an option, the mantra I kept telling myself. As I got nearer to the peak, the trail gets steeper and steeper and more stairs to climb.

I am acrophobic and imagine the struggle I had to endure in order to reach the top.

The struggle is for real but the breathtaking panoramic view awaits those who made it to the top.

I did and it was so surreal!

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breathtaking panoramic view of Ulsanbawi Peak

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It was so rewarding to be able to be on top. It was my first time to hike a real mountain.

Ulsanbawi in April 2014
Ulsanbawi in April 2014
Ulsanbawi in Oct 2015
Ulsanbawi in Oct 2015

After staying for few minutes at the peak, I headed down with a smile on my face, exhausted but fulfilled. The view made it all worth it.

After the exhausting hike, I went straight to a restaurant and enjoyed my bibimbap and ice cold soda to refresh and went back to the hostel to rest.

Adventure is worthwhile ~Aesop

 

South Korea – Hiker’s Haven (Seoul Fortress Wall)

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Seoul City view from Haneul Park

I can really go on and on with how amazing South Korea is and still can’t get enough of its beauty.

When I was there the first time, my plans absolutely changed. My itinerary was literally thrown to the bin as I wanted to go to so many places, which are not even on my list and I know I will eventually regret if I don’t go. I told myself there’s no way I can go to all these places given the limited time to spend. But I tried anyhow.

One of the many things I want to do in Korea is to climb and hike the Korean mountains. The exquisite and breathtaking mountain view is one of the unique attractions that Korea offers to travelers apart from the famous sightseeing destinations like palaces, temples, shopping places and themed parks.

Korea is generally a safe place to visit even for female solo travelers and mountains are very safe to hike as most of the national parks are well-maintained and the hiking routes are well-trodden and crowded by a lot of local hikers. I am no professional hiker but I survived my first ever solo hike.

Seoul is unquestionably a modern city, but the people also tried to preserve its tradition and one can witness through its remnants of the fortress wall built many centuries ago.  In 2014, I started my first hiking journey with Seoul Fortress Wall of Bugaksan. Bugaksan is one of the mountains that can be climbed by beginners in the middle of Seoul and is a 342-meter high granite mountain.

It is a one-day hike, so not so bad. The night before, I slept early in preparation for my first hike.

12493955_212077979135837_4224115964570022425_o I got up early, had my breakfast, took the train and then took my first bus ride and headed my way to the park.

(Important Tip: Most buses do not have English Translation, except for major or tourist destination stops, so it’s best for you to print your itinerary with Hangeul so you can refer to your notes vs the bus stop map)

Although I am a self-declared as someone who has no sense of direction, I was able to reached my destination – Waryong Park, where the hiking journey begins.

Follow the signs and trail to Malbawi Information Center where you will need to show your passport and register.

There are 3 possible courses:
Course 1: Malbawi Information Center – Sukjeongmun Gate – Baegakmaru – Changuimun Information Center – Changuimun Gate (2.3 km)
Course 2: Sukjeongmun Information Center – Sukjeongmun Gate – Baegakmaru – Changuimun Information Center – Changuimun Gate (2.2 km)
Course 3: Changuimun Gate – Changuimun Information Center – Baegakmaru – Sukjeongmun Gate – Malbawi Information Center (2.3 km)

So I took Course 1, I presented my passport got myself registered and my visitors ID and started my way.

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Signs to Malbawi Information

The Bugaksan Trail is manned by security guards and you are not allowed to take pictures as the area is close to “Blue House” or the President’s House.

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Seoul Fortress Wall
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Stairs…
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… Unending Stairs…

With rest in between, aching feet and some sneaky photo taking, the view is really worth it.

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The view

The hike is not about the peak or the highest point, but all about the scenery and history embraced and weathered by the fortress wall. However, the view is only witnessed by those who climbed and walk the trail.

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Path along the fortress wall

This is probably the first time I’ve ever seen a lot of stairs (in my whole life) and I have no choice but to traverse the unending stairs to reach the destination. I walked leisurely and followed the well-maintained path while continuously rambling, “Almost there! Just go for it”.

Almost! But… I was only able to climb until 293m or maybe I got lost and did not find my way to Bugaksan peak (342m). Well, it was my first time and there will still be next time.

I sat down for few minutes, photo taking is still not allowed in this area. And after a little while, I decided to go and probably call it a day!

Little did I know that another unending stairs waiting on my way down… Imagine if I took the route from the other side (Course 3), I will be going up these stairs to where I started and no way I could have survived, or maybe I will, but who knows.

After the unending stairs, you will reached Changuimun Information Center, where you need to surrender your Visitor’s ID.

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Changuimun Gate

My first hike is over and done! Off we go on the next hike adventure in Sokcho, South Korea to climb Seoraksan. Stay tuned for my next blog update!

You can find more information about Seoul Fortress Wall of Bugaksan here.