• I believe that every country and culture has invaluable perspectives and lessons to teach us.
  • My personal journey is equally guided by traveling and educational opportunities.
  • This is where I share my experiences and photographs as I wander and learn.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

India: a summary

Entry 2:

We decided to spend 4 days in India touring 3 major cities that make up the famous "golden triangle".

These three cities are very unique based on the famous things they have to see, but are not unique in their impoverished, filthy, run-down state.
The lack of infrastructure was mind-boggling considering that each of these cities house famous "world wonders" and huge cultural/historical sites.

From the moment we stepped out of the airport, we knew we had to be extremely careful and smart.
We paid for a "prepaid" taxi to take us to our hotel which was insanely cheap (like a 2 hour drive for $5-7)  It seemed shady because a man immediately approached us asking if we wanted a ride, and it was unclear if he worked for the taxi company we paid.  He spoke english which we assumed was normal, but quickly found out was not.  He said he had to "tell our driver" where to go... no gps was a little disconcerting, but what did we know?  Then it felt even stranger when another english-speaking person got in the car with the driver...  we had no idea why, but didn't argue.

Before long we realized these people weren't taking us to our hotel.  They asked random people on the street where our hotel was and no one seemed to know (Although they were speaking in hindi so perhaps he wasn't asking them anything about our hotel...)

They ended up taking us to a "tourist office" to "get directions"-- but we knew something was up when he told us to come in with him...
immediate bad vibes.

The guy behind the desk spoke brashly to us-- immediately talking loudly and eagerly informing us that our hotel is in a "shitty"--his words and unsafe area.  At this point since we hadn't even seen the hotel yet, we were not buying it.  He could tell I didn't trust him, and started getting aggressive with us, telling us to trust him.  They concluded we couldn't reach the hotel by the airport van we came in, so they told a tuk tuk driver where to take us (supposedly).

While in the tuk tuk we decided we did NOT trust anyone, including him.
We told him to take us back to the biggest thing we could remember-- the train station. (it did not in any way look safe, but at least we might find a fellow traveler or helpful person)

He insisted on taking us to a different tourist office which he showed us on his map and declared "the real one"... aka admitting he knew we were nearly scammed at the first one...
We went in feeling extremely skeptical of every person, and sat down reluctantly.
The atmosphere was different, and the guy behind the desk was an attractive young indian guy with a very clear american accent.   We told him what had happened and he said "yea people come in all the time telling similar stories-- don't trust anyone, not even me!"  at that, we were shocked and annoyed.

There was still a shady vibe as he promised he'd help us without trying to sell us anything.  He offered someone to walk us to our hotel and then shortly thereafter said actually it was lunch time... can we wait?

Feeling really frustrated and helpless we firmly asked for a map and a phone to make a phone call... after about the 5th time of asking he gave us both.  THANKFULLY we had a friend in the city waiting to hear from us and meet up before he left on a flight.  Within minutes he met us at the train station nearby and we felt 1,000 lbs. lift off our shoulders.  He walked us to the hotel in less than 5 minutes!  Yes it was down several dirt paths, and didn't look like a prime area, but it was close to the shopping and food area we wanted.  The room itself smelled of moth balls and had no ventilation or hot water whatsoever... but at least we were "safe" for now.  He also helped us find a tourist agency which organized our driver for the rest of the trip.  We were so thankful for him, otherwise our entire trip might of been spent inside a hotel room.

Things we were surprised about-- very few people spoke english.
literally "hello" and numbers (money) was all most vendors, hotel employees, and restaurant staff said.

The overall unsafe feeling you get from just simply being a tourist walking around, not to mention the fear of food and water being contaminated and getting you sick really wore on us. (we were very careful and still got sick).

The severity of the impoverished people and how it effected everything and everyone... it seemed like the overall culture was even influenced because it was common to see people publicly peeing on the same street corners they slept on.  Random cows and pigs walking down major streets, and mangy stray dogs EVERYWHERE.  The amount of garbage on the streets... even a literal mountain of burning trash at the entrance to the city Jaipur... it was just unbelievable.  The state in which they all lived in those cities ... even the wild animals like monkeys were hardened by the harsh lives they have in the cities and were known for being dangerous, stealing, biting, and eating trash...  The air is so contaminated in the cities, we both got headaches and just overall did not feel well by the third day.

On top of the aforementioned, the amount of children in rags or naked and begging-- sometimes with adults nearby telling them to... sometimes in a group with practiced "routines"... sometimes just asleep on a slab of concrete all alone... covered in dirt and fleas like the stray dogs... just heartbreaking.

Seeing a young mother trying to care for her tiny newborn wrapped in a rough blanket thick with dirt... the baby black from being outside in the sun constantly.  Other women with missing limbs begging for money-- shoving their disfigured body parts in your face-- and when that doesn't produce the result they want-- they go grab a baby and come back... begging.

The raw emotions we felt during those three days of touring (and one day of driving to the airport)... mostly i remember feeling scared and ashamed... ashamed that i felt scared.  ashamed that I assumed the worst of everyone.  ashamed that I had money. Ashamed that i didn't give it all away.  Ashamed that I have so many travel patches on my backpack-- what felt like a brag to most of these people who will never escape their lives in India.  Ashamed that i felt helpless.  Ashamed that I wanted souvenirs to take home and a clean soft bed to sleep in.  Ashamed that I was having a terrible time on "vacation" because I was so intensely uncomfortable-- and yet, acknowledging that i was far more comfortable at any given time than most of the Indians I encountered.  I also felt mad... mad that the people had to live like this... mad at the injustice... mad that I was expected to tip people constantly and then ashamed that I didn't want to...

We could be surrounded by absolutely stunning views of ancient palaces and historical artifacts-- and then the next moment, be stepping over puddles of human waste and trying not to make eye contact with starving kids...

I think the best way to finish this off is... A. nothing can emotionally prepare you for this kind of experience and B. going to such an impoverished place with the intention of "vacation" is wrong... it simply wont be a normal vacation... C. if I ever go to such an impoverished place again, it will be with the intention of service and finding a way to help.  There is simply no way I could ever feel good about being a "superficial" tourist in a country where the average person is homeless and hungry... That became very clear to us in India.

We did our research as far as food and things we wanted to see, and I think that it paid off.
To be honest, I just don't recommend going to the golden triangle... I hate to say that because obviously we saw some amazing things there... but I just wouldn't feel right recommending it when I NEVER want to return there myself.

I don't know enough about India's history and government to be able to make sense of how it is there, and I assume that different areas are much nicer... but I'll always be very hesitant before traveling there again.

I hope this was helpful, and not completely discouraging... just be VERY careful about every aspect of travel if you ever decide to book a trip there yourself.  I'm sure a travel company with a ton of positive reviews online would be extremely helpful resource to make the journey through india a more relaxing/enjoyable one.

Ps. I wrote a poem about india in the post before this, if you're interested.


This is my brutally honest summary of our 4 day experience visiting the "golden triangle" in India.

1. New Delhi- Main Bazaar Road, ___?___ Temple I was too stressed at to appreciate
(our private driver had just drove away with our belongings and we had no way to contact him, not even his name or license plate)

2. Agra- Taj Mahal

3. Jaipur- Red Fort, City Palace, Hawa Mahal

NOTE: Every person's travel experience is different and this is NOT me pretending to know/judging everything about India.  What I write here might sound harsh, lacking empathy and compassion.  
I had just got home and wrote this down a few days later in my journal... take it or leave it.

A Poem:

Filthy Stench
Yellow air,
Hungry beggars
Greasy hair.

Cow is sacred
...no hamburger
"Paneer" is cheese square
"Dal" is lentil.

Roti, Naan, Parantha, Chapatha (bread)
Masala, Tikka, Butter, Jaifreezi (curry)
Lassi Sweet, Lassi "salty"-sour (yogurt drink)

Taj-- world wonder
city of blunders

Raj Mandir (movie theatre)
see Kaabil here
count your change
popcorn vendor fender bender.

Goat, Dog, Pig, Boar
on the street all o'er.

Girl with toy drum
has as much food as rhythm.
Smaller girl in her shadow
Dirty beanie pigtails out,
determined look clouds her pout

Shiney jewels in their noses
zero hope the future poses.
boy with long rope
on the top of his hat,
swings it around
like the moon in orbit.

tap tap tap
on car windows
a sound we have come to know.

we turn our eyes
from these sad sights
but persistent are these
little fighters.

Boy does cartwheels
between traffic stopped
only can see his shoeless feet,
...our eyes then meet.

like watching someone dying
we look away,
but morbid fascination
draws our eyes anyway.

We have these encounters
at traffic lights.
Some knock again
when they see white.

My heart is breaking
with each breath,
Anger is easier
than silent death.

We mourn our wealth
but we wear it well.
Our stomachs full
our bags will swell.

"what's a good tip
for someone who as nothing?"
maybe we should give instead
like someone who has everything.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

New Mexico & Colorado Road Trip (with Kim & Steve)

 Visiting the tiny old church in Albuquerque town square

 Albuquerque, NM - Doesn't look like much, and I'd say that's pretty accurate (Haha!)

The top of the first peak ^ is a very small cabin built by the people who originally installed the hiking trails and ski lodges... Can you see it?
 We cheated and took the tram up to the top of Sandia Peak and we were glad we did.

Next stop: Santa Fe, NM
 Petrified wood and live glass blowing at the very colorful "Jackalope" store

Markets and Art shops around every corner
 Gotta love a morbid sense of humor :-)
I love how New Mexico really embraces the historic Pueblo architecture 

"A nation that forgets its past has no future." - Melania Trump
To my surprise, I found myself saying "I could live here!!!" while in Santa Fe.
(Loved it)
Onward to Colorado!

 Open air train car to Silverton!

 Fun little "old" town albeit, extremely touristy.

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

 Weird / cute wannabe groundhog aka Marmot 

Can you spot the lake? :-)


Denver Botanical Gardens
(can you tell my parents love nature?)

^ *Fave. picture* ^

This last image takes me back to South Korea...
it's amazing how something as simple as a flower can evoke such a strong sense of "homesickness"
 for a place far away, where I may never live in again~
Final Thoughts
  • Santa Fe > Albuquerque
  • Just having to SPELL Albuquerque pisses me off ( Haha! )
  • Colorado lives up to the hype, but $$$
  • Nature is cool.
  • I have so much love for Korea.
  • My parents are rad for letting me ride along, thanks guys!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Note: I'm posting nearly a year after our trip... Mainly so I can delete these pics off my hard drive.
Many of the photos aren't very nicely done/pleasant. Sorry.

Ho Chi Min City 

War Museum + Tunnels used for Vietnamese war tactic

French Influence in the City
 Post Office

 He later dropped these! oops...

Northern Vietnam... Island Tour (Ha Long Bay)

Hanoi (The "Old City" in the North)

The shopping mall wasn't quite what we were expecting...

Overall, our experience in Vietnam was really wonderful, although if I haven't told you the one-legged lady in the park story, ask me next time I see you.

One of the interesting things about Vietnam is that the "American War" as they call it ... or "Vietnam War" as we call it... really ended up shaping their entire country.
The effects of the war are quite obvious when you travel from north to south (or vice versa).  Also, heart-breakingly, the effects of "agent orange" (chemical warfare America dumped on Vietnam) is still, and will continue to, wreak havoc on the land and bodies of the Vietnamese for decades to come.
(From my extremely basic understanding, the Northern army was considered "vietnamese rebels" and the Southern army fought with the USA military and ended up defeating the North-- So today, the South is noticeably more developed and "westernizing", while the north is comparatively floundering due to a lack of infrastructure and opportunities.)

The major cities to visit in the North are Hanoi and Sapa.  We stayed at a wonderful hostel called "Vietnam Backpacker's Hostel" in both cities-- which is a large modern chain of hostels I recommend.  If it weren't for the hostel we might of not enjoyed our stay in Hanoi nearly so much.

  The "Old town" vibe was everywhere.  Walking through the run-down and overgrown yet somehow extremely busy streets was like walking through history.  The people in the North are mostly extremely poor farmers and shop keepers.  To improve their circumstances, many young people flock to the cities (particularly in the south) in search of better education and a higher paying job to support their families in the countryside/north.  Hanoi did offer a few touristy attractions, but all of them could be done in one afternoon and some of them weren't really worth doing at all.
Our favorite thing was watching a traditional water puppet show... yes, you read that correctly.
People literally conduct a VERY fancy puppet show on a stage... made of water!
added bonus: a live instrumental section + voice actresses/singers
(all in Vietnamese but you "get it" for a few of the scenes)
PS. F*** you, tourists with massive ipads in front of us, who held up your devices in the air and recorded the entire thing... come on people.

We went from Hanoi to Ha long Bay (via like 3 buses and 2 boats) but it was organized well by the hostel so we really enjoyed ourselves.  The bay is absolutely stunning.  Green blue sparkling water, monkeys, and a private island was quite amazing.  Bunking in a stuffy cabin with a group of drunk idiot Scottish kids. . . not so much.  Ya win some, ya lose some.
 (it was on this island that Kyle and I realized we're "getting old"-- opting to stargaze in utter silence than get drunk and dance with sweaty strangers to some loud hip hop)

Sapa is in the northern mountains.  It was quite a long (somewhat miserable) bus ride from Hanoi, but totally worth it.
(For some sad reason, I have no idea where my camera pictures are from Sapa...  Here are some screen shots)

SAPA- rice terrace country

The city has gotten much bigger and more touristy in the recent years because it offers the most gorgeous views of the rice paddies.  If you don't know what a rice paddy is, imagine an entire lush green valley that tribes of people hand-carved with millions of flat terraces to farm rice.  These tribes still function today, and some of the women have basically perfected their english, so they can sell handmade items and give hiking tours to tourists.

Side note: Many people rent and ride motorbikes in Vietnam for a fun way to see the countryside...  Kyle and I were very close to doing this until we realized that we kept seeing these people in our hostel with severely burned legs and other hideous injuries... After asking a handful of people what happened, we realized literally every injury was from riding motorbikes.
To each their own, my adventurous spirit has limitations... some might say I value my legs too much.

We really wished we had more time in Sapa, I'd suggest staying for AT LEAST two nights.

The major city in the South is Ho Chi Min City, named after the leader Ho Chi Min.
The city was very modern and had everything you'd find in say, Gwangju South Korea.  In fact, Kyle and I found ourselves saying "we could live here for a bit" -- while just enjoying simple things like air conditioned coffee shops and easy to navigate roads.

In conclusion,  this wouldn't be a complete post about Vietnam without mentioning the truly MIND BOGGLING amount of motorbikes that drive through the streets of Vietnam every day with little to no traffic laws whatsoever. 
. . .
we survived!  food was . . .not as diverse as Thailand, about as okay as. . . Japanese.
(my opinion, don't hate me Japanese foodies!)

Thanks for reading~^^