After trekking in rain for most part of the day before, we were hoping that mother nature would deal us a better hand. We would be crossing over the 3,000-metre mark in elevation to the small village of Namche Bazaar. When I first heard of the name Namche Bazaar, it conjured up images of an endless line of merchants and craftsmen and swordsmen, most dressed in gray or brown draperies, some with their tall and slender hats, all converging from various parts of the mountainous region into this one spot, where they drink, play cards, and generally, be merry.
Right before we set off, there was much banging and hacking going on at the guesthouse opposite ours. Nurbu, our guide, told me that they were erecting a pole with prayer flags for good luck.
I could feel another marble plowing down my throat. My measured heartbeats interspersed with the muffled drumming of the engines. Each turn of the turbine sent a vibration straight into my bones, as if proclaiming to me its existence. All around, the warm morning sun pierced in from the outside, bouncing off the white glossy interior like a hall of mirrors. Except, I didn’t feel it. With every jolt from this winged sardine can, my heart stopped.
…And then restarted.
I was told it wouldn’t take more than 30 minutes, but for all I knew, I could have reached Mars by now. And sure it was. For yet another time, gravity had no effect on me. One-thousand, two-thousand, three-thousand, four-thousand…I’ll be fine.
— 1st May 2014, Kathmandu to Lukla
Tribhuvan Airport, Kathmandu
We reached the airport around 6+ in the morning. For flights to Lukla, the earlier the better as the flights are at the mercy of the weather.
Just like how a novel unfolds; after experiencing the “meat” of the action, we get to how it started and where it goes from here. The plan was to hail a cab to Sui Boon Tong Shrine where we learnt that there, mediums would prepare and invite the gods into their mortal flesh—the starting line so to speak.
The sun has not risen yet when we got onto the tarmac right beside the clock tower. The street was eerily devoid of the cacophony which I was still seeing in my mind. It feels like the calm before the storm.
We needed to get to where the butterfly flaps its wings, and there was no sight of any cabs. We decided to do it the old-fashioned way, we walk.
The journey took us about 25minutes and when we got there, the helpers were just getting started.
The helpers—I presume, lighting up the candles
Little by little, more and more people started pouring in.
We woke up around 0700 on the second day as we needed to help set up one of the tables for the offerings to the mediums and deities. We went to the lobby to find no one and proceed to walk down one of the streets just slightly further down the road.
Apparently we were late and the most of it has already been set up
So I went around to take some shots before the procession starts.
Clock tower reminded me of back to the future, but, I digress…
I first learned about the Phuket Vegetarian Festival when I watched a documentary on it on the telly in the mid-2000s. First impression was that it’s like the Thaipusam we have in Singapore, but on steroids. Devotees inserting objects through their mortal flesh in the name of god, hmm, that would be interesting to witness first hand. When I learned that Angie’s mom is going to this year’s festival, I obviously signed up for that.
A little back story
The year was 1825. A traveling opera troupe from China were performing for the local miners in Phuket when mysteriously, they all fell sick from an unknown illness. The troupe then went on a strict vegetarian diet to honour two of the emperor gods, Kiew Ong Tai Teh—Ninth Emperor God—and Yok Ong Sone Teh—Jade Emperor God, and miraculously, they got healed. This interested the locals and they learned that the vegetarian diet, together with rituals performed were the reason for their recovery. The locals then went on to continue these rituals.
Through the knowledge of one of our acquaintances—a medium himself, we knew that Metropole Phuket is the best place to stay if we want to experience the festival, as many of the street processions will pass by a roundabout just right outside the hotel.
Our flight on Silkair brought us to the sunny island of Phuket at about 0735 local time. It was an early flight and most of us are pretty stoned when we touched down—I know I was. The initial plan is to catch our beauty sleep and then spend the rest of the day or night walking the streets after we’ve woke up—naturally.
We took one of the mini-vans right outside the airport and head to our hotel. As we got closer, we soon realised that the procession for the day has already begun, and had to get to the hotel by foot for about 150m as some of the roads are closed off for traffic.
After unpacking our belongings—basically just dumping our luggages in one of the rooms and grabbing my camera gear—we went downstairs and say goodbye to our beauty sleep.
Every beginning has an end. So ours end where it began—back at Seoul. We had reserved the last 2 days to do our shopping at Myeongdong for, you know,the ubiquitous skincare It’s alot cheaper in Seoul that it is in Singapore and we couldn’t miss the chance. I had purchased some Laneige Homme package at the Lotte World duty-free shop, hoping that I will use that for once—which I did, for some days at least.
Other than emptying our pockets for our beauty-fix and friends’ gifts, we also took time to fill our stomachs with restaurants that were marked but missed earlier. So for our lunch, we went to the recommended Yoogane Chicken Galbi located at Myeongdong.
Yoogane Chicken Galbi
Basically, chicken, some veg and noodles are tossed into this giant wok where the server would cook it for us
He’s got the moves
It might not look all that appetising but trust me, it’s nice, albeit a little spicy.
For our last day on Jeju Island, we chartered a taxi to take us to the attractions that were scattered around the island. I knew that after our hike of the great Hallasan, we wouldn’t have enough energy to go around on buses. This turns out to be a smart move on our end as our internal batteries were running pretty darn low.
4.3 Peace Park
The peace park details the Jeju uprising, which began on April 3rd, 1948. This was a series of unfortunate events that lasted until 1954 which resulted in the deaths of 25,000 to 30,000 Jeju citizens.
In March 1st, 1947, a police was riding the horse, he accidently hit the little baby. And one citizen…protested to the police. And many citizen heard this so they gathered and protested. And the police shot the people. The years of violence against the people of Jeju that began on April 3, 1948, were in part the result of civil unrest that resulted from the Jeju people’s boycott of the national election, and a reaction to the accidental killing of an innocent child by a member of the mounted police.
Jeju was especially foggy that day, cloaking the peace park
When you search for Jeju on Google maps, it’s hard not to notice that the shape of the entire island really gets its contours from the centre. Right there, grabbing all the attention is the 1,950m tall Hallasan or 한라산, which incidentally, is also the highest peak in South Korea.
There’re several hiking trails available but in the end, we chose the Seongpanak Trail (9.6km) to ascend and the Gwaneumsa Trail (8.7km) for our descend, because Seongpanak is considered easy and well, they’re the only two that leads to/from the summit.
Oh! Did I mention Hallasan is a volcano?
Seongpanak, the easy trail
As there’s a cut-off time, we played safe and started the hike pretty early. We took a cab from our hotel, reaching the Seongpanak visitor centre at around 6am. If you’re on a tighter budget, you can take bus 5.16 (~30mins) from the intercity bus terminal and alight at the Seongpanak stop.
The cut-off timing was 13:00 which gave us a comfortable 7hrs
The trail was marked with these posts giving you assurance that you’re on track and the emergency number to call if something bad happen.
Most visitors to Jeju-do either stay at Jeju-city (North) or Seogwipo (South). For us, we had opted to stay at Jeju-city as it was close to the airport and the bus terminal serves most of the major attractions. Having visited the North and Eastern part of the island, we were ready to visit the South and West coastal areas.
We took bus no. 5.16 towards Seogwipo first, taking us a little less than 2hrs. When we reached, we headed to Paris Baguette for our breakfast.
We ordered some simple sandwiches from the 1st floor and went to the 2nd to enjoy
View from the cafe
When we had our full, we walked South-east, towards our first destination.
Along the way, we saw this giant palm, leading us the way
Recharged from our bath from the day before, we were ready for some good ol’ walking.
Our destination, the Sunrise Peak Seongsan Ilchulbong is all the way to the East of the island, so we settled our breakfast at the restaurant right opposite our hotel
Beef Noodle Soup
We took an east-bound bus at the Jeju Bus Terminal, journey was a good 1.5hrs..so be prepared to chillax abit
Seongsan Ilchulbong aka The Sunrise Peak
Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak rose from under the sea in a volcanic eruption over 100,000 years ago. While the southeast and north sides are cliffs, the northwest side is a verdant grassy hill that is connected to the Seongsan Village.