My last trip to Asia was fun. But there is a ton that was hidden from the camera. This last trip really put me through the ringer. I just wish my luck worked this well on lottery tickets.
My first mistake on this journey was not taking my own damn advice - give yourself time! Everyday something was on the itinerary. There was no breathing room whatsoever. Since one of my many rules when traveling is to never visit the same place more than once, I wanted to make sure I could do as much as possible. I consider myself to be very disciplined to handle this back to back scheduling but it hurt me in the end. Museums, DMZ tour, temples, markets, fly out early in the morning to Manila, take a 10 hour bus to Banaue...bam bam bam. I mean it just kept going. I even had to cut short my amazing dinner with my friend Che whom I hadn't seen in years because I failed to give myself considerable time to catch the next flight out to Manila. But one must remember
Give yourself time
You haven't seen the world, yet you're still alive. You're not going to die if you don't see everything. Enjoy the moment. Traveling like a contestant on the Amazing Race can really suck out what you're supposed to take in.
The other part that made this trip the hardest journey in my life is that I caught a vile stomach bug from the underworld. And this is not the first time. I first caught one in Mexico. I was on a row boat in city called Xochimilco, México just 30 mins outside of Mexico City. On the banks there were farmers selling a drink made from a Maguey plant that is native to Mexico called Pulque. I had it a few days before and knew that I wanted more before catching my flight back to Nashville. Heartburn, sulphuric burbs, paralyzing cramps and violent hacking in the toilet the next morning before my flight almost made me miss the plane. I'll never forget it because Lauryn Hill was playing at the Ryman Auditorium downtown the night I returned. I was with my mom and started feeling better because I refused to eat anything. As I grew hungry I decided to risk it with a hotdog. Then that dreadful curse reminded me that it wasn't just a dream. It must have been the pulque that I got off the banks in Xochimilco. The farmer must have used local water to make that batch. That was the only unprocessed fluid I ingested. I ended up having to see a doctor to get it taken care of. Most Americans and Europeans are not used to non processed water. So water from naturally occurring sources can really harm us if we are not careful.
Similar story in the Philippines except it was rice wine from a local village that did the damage. Local water is used in the fermentation process. You'd think I'd have learned from the first experience but as one who's trying all kinds of different foods and fruits and exotic flavors, it's easy to forget. I say all this to say that
If you don't know where it came from, don't drink it.
Sometimes other countries don't have strict rules about prescription antibiotics and you can find them at a local pharmacy. In my case the pharmacist in Banaue, Philippines gave me what I needed right away. But I wouldn't ever risk that again. I imagine it's possible for certain places to not be as willing to give them out or to not have exactly what it is you need. Since my doctor knows that I travel, he gives me emergency antibiotics to have available in case situations like these ever occur. Stomach bugs are no joke. So it's a good idea to be medically prepared. And that's the next travel tip...
be medically prepared before you leave.
Another hurdle that I encountered during my return flight from Seoul to Nashville was a sinus infection. I know right!!!! I told you this trip was rough. I was so congested that my ears wouldn't equalize to the cabin pressure. One ear in particular felt like it was going to explode. I thought I needed to go to the hospital. When I landed in Seoul from Manila I told the nearest taxi driver to take me to the hospital. I didn't care what it cost cause I was in so much pain. I got to the hospital and I couldn't get fixed cause it was unbelievably expensive. 500 USD to be seen. 500 USD to get treatment. 1000 USD total to fix my ear before my outbound flight to Nashville. I wasn't prepared for that so I was on the verge of tears. But there was good news. Turned out that there was an emergency clinic on the bottom level of the Seoul airport. I wish I had known before paying the taxi driver 200 USD to take me to the hospital. I'm still sour as hell about that. I got to the clinic in the airport and the doctor checked out my ear and was like whoaaaa!! My eardrum was severely bulged like a balloon and full of fluid. She gave me antibiotics and a steroid to reduce swelling. She said in 24 hours I should be ok to fly. My flight was in 12. Oye! Total clinic cost 36 USD. Better than 1000 the hospital was asking for.
Because I also experienced this, my doctor prescribes me nasil steroids and antibiotics to alleviate any symptoms of sinus infection. This as well as Aphrin, an over the counter nasil antihistamine, solves the problem. I can say for certain that this works because on my last flight to Haiti in December I had a sinus infection and the steroids and Aphrin helped to allow my ears adjust to the cabin pressure.
Talk to your doctor to see if they can help you get antidiarrheal tablets, antibiotics, and inflammatory steroids. These are a good first aid. Aphrin is available over the counter at most pharmacies.
Philippines: Manila, Batad, Puerto Princessa
The morning was cool. Empty. People don't seem to move in the streets before 0600. However the subway was busy. A woman by the subway entrance 200 meters from my hostel was selling 2,000 won sushi. The spontaneous breakfast was super tasty. It was warm and fresh and filling. Best 1.80 USD I spent.
The subway has a fluidity to it. Everyone moves in unison. Seoul moves like an organism. Everyone seemed sorta drone-like. People seem to line up in an orderly manner when boarding the train car. And the car is silent from people fiddling with their devices. Hypnotized by their gadgets. However, I'd say this is quite normal behavior these days. What is really impressive is how Seoul's subways are impressively clean and well kept. If you refer to the video you may notice that the floors and walls are white. The floors are free of shoe marks. Free from stains and signs of wear. It's evident that Seoul takes great care of its infrastructure.
I arrived at Gyeongbokgung palace 2 hours earlier than opening time. Palace hours are 09:00-18:00. As a lover of food, I decided to venture around the city and see what I can try. A decided to ask a stranger for some help - perhaps she could point me in the right direction. She knew no English. My Korean vocabulary was only comprised of thank you and hello. The Converse app is my go to when trying to communicate. This is another reason why having international coverage is extremely helpful. No wifi necessary to translate that I would like to find a place that serves traditional Korean food. A 15 minute walk led us to a place I cannot pronounce. But the long line outside made me curious. This is actually an exception to one of my rules - I tend to avoid places with trip advisor stickers because it robs the place of its authenticity (or at least that's how I feel). When I know that a location is a common tourist spot I tend to steer in a different direction. But after the kind lady walked all this way I disregarded those green stickers.
Mugyodong pollack soup. Their signature soup is what I everyone seemed to be ordering. You usually can have it cooked with your choice of seafood chicken or pork. Condiments at the table are there for you to design the taste to your liking. Make it as spicy or salty as you wish. I've noticed that the same condiments are common in every other restaurant I had visited. Kimchee, pajeori, and chili suace are available with every meal. It was tasty and filling. In fact I was already full from the sushi I had earlier in the morning but the soup was still delicious.
09:30. 8 USD gets you pass to 5 different palaces. Gyeongbokgung was the main one I wanted to visit because it's a partially reconstruction from the Joseon Dynasty. Dating back to the late 12th century Korea it was a the first established form of government in the city of Gyeongju Which is now known as Seoul until it was destroyed in the Imjin war when the Japanese invaded. The palace was burned to the ground. It was partially restored in the 1980s to give us a view into the Joseon period.
A visit to Gyeongbokgung can take several hours as the grounds cover a large area. The entire group of palaces are definitely going to consume the majority of a day. Keep this in mind when planning a visit.
The highlight of my day was myeongdong night market. Shoe shops, food stands, restaurants, outlets of all kinds exist here. You can find squid on a stick, crab cakes, lobster, sweet and sour chicken, a very appetite friendly zone. So much food to try, it can make you too full to subway back to your hostel. An Uber ride was my only option by the end of my visit here.