Roaming London

If you have been reading my website at endlessroaming.com you would be aware that I have been blogging and photographing my 8-month road trip around the world in 2019. Most recently I have been driving in the USA, I’ll be writing about this soon enough but first of all this blog is about my recent adventure across England during the “UK Heatwave” a few months ago. This blog is about London which has been written about relentlessly so I have written hopefully a unique outlook on this fantastic city, hope you enjoy the read.

London would be my last stop prior to flying out to the USA, Id booked a hotel in Holborn Central London which is located near the British Museum. Now I’m not going to get write about museums and other famous London tourist attractions or about the fantastic London Underground transport system, the nightlife, sport, restaurants, history, architecture and the theatre as I’m sure there are thousands of articles / blogs, pamphlets, guides etc written on these and all other topics. London averages 30 million tourists per year making it the most visited place in the world so Ive decided to blog about wait for it shopping…. now before you stop reading, switch off or move on, this is about London’s Markets, namely Brixton, Camden, Notting Hill and Brick Lane. Its possible that the millions of tourists each year that descend on London like me visit London to go shopping and if this is the case then maybe my blog wont be particularly unique, however if planning a trip to London and markets are not on your agenda, after reading this I hope it will be.

First I stopped at Brixton, now Brixton has a special place in my heart as I lived there 20 years before in 1999-2000. If you are not aware of this Australians were and are entitled to 2 year working holiday visas in the United Kingdom as Australia is part of the Commonwealth. I chose to move to Brixton and spent a lot of time working, eating, drinking, clubbing, traveling Europe and other activities I have chosen not to write about. Brixton is described as London’s Afro-Caribbean area and its market is a daily occurrence featuring featuring live Caribbean music, outdoor food markets on Electric Avenue, Popes Road and Brixton Station Road which which specialise in seafood and meat butchers, there are also cheap items such as clothes and electronics. There are three undercover arcades full of restaurants selling all different types of cuisine, African, Indian, Caribbean and of course British. The area has undergone a regeneration and money is starting to flow through Brixton but you can still get a feel for the course roughness that is this area that suffered many years of turbulent and racist violence.  Brixton is referred to as the “Soul of Black Britain” so if you want a unique market experience focused particularly on food, enjoy a few bars and experience something quite unique then this market is well worth a visit. I made it my home for a few years and always enjoy my time there.

Next onto Notting Hill and the famous Portobello Market on Portobello Road which is world famous and specialises in antiques. Notting Hill is very affluent area and the market runs four days a week, I went on Saturday the most popular day and the market takes over the entire street lengthy street. If you believe you have heard of it but unsure as to why the market attracted a lot of attention because of the movie Notting Hill, unfortunately Julia Roberts didn’t turn up and sweep me off my feet but nevertheless I had a great time. Notting Hill is also the location of the Notting Hill Carnival which I attended 20 years ago (see photo below), the one a year Carnivals loud music and live bands is very much is in contrast to the more peaceful Market. I recall during the Carnival standing with a pom pom held above my head watching a float pass by, people standing on the float throwing packets of Benson and Hedges cigarettes at the crowd….  a lot changes in 20 years.

I started my walk at the Portobello food market, there was a wide range of international food, after a cider and some tasty paella I headed along the road under the rail bridge past all the retro clothes, records and other odds and ends on sale. As I walked further the clothes gave way to the antiques, cutlery, china, watches, compasses, model toys and anything else from the 1970’s era and possibly dating back to the 1770s all for sale. Behind the stalls along the road were small arcades selling yet more antiques, the thrall of people moving everywhere and all the arcades its quite easy to get lost which is amazing considering the market is essentially all on Portobello’s one lengthy street. I purchased a couple of antique tobacco tins and made the most of the UK Heatwaves bright and sunny day.

The following day I headed to Brick Lane, 20 years ago Brick Lane is where I would head after work including drinking plenty of pints at the pub, so I could get myself a quality English / Indian curry to help settle the stomach. Curry is essentially the national English cuisine and there is no better place to get it on Brick Lane so I chose Sunday to head down to have a look. What I wasn’t aware of is that Sunday is also the market trading day for Brick Lane, the streets were full of stalls selling second hand goods ranging from clothes, music, arts and crafts, kitchenware, furniture and other items.

I considered myself lucky to be on Brick Lane on Sunday and what makes it truly unique is the amount of graffiti art that is displayed throughout the area. Graffiti is everywhere, on all the buildings, in warehouses, in the parks surrounding Brick Lane, along the rail line, in the bars…. everywhere. Id not been to an area that had so much graffiti on display and for the most part highly skilled. The amount of art, the quality of food, the live music and the people dancing on the street gives Brick Lane a unique carnival atmosphere, and the best thing is that its a weekly occurrence. I am unsure how long the market has been running for but anytime I head back to London in the future Brick Lane is on my things to do list.

The last market Id like to write about and is also famous is Camden Market. Id go as far to say that this is my favourite market in the entire world. Camden is in North London and its usually my favourite place to stay whenever I visit. 20 years ago Camden is where I would head after a night out if I wanted my party to continue. There was and is a huge collection of bars, night clubs and restaurants within the area. The market itself contains over 1000 fixed shops, is located on Camden Lock and is within the historical Pickford horse stables. 300 million pounds was invested in the market in 2018 and its steaming with people all the time 7 days week. The market itself is a maze of arts and crafts, clothes, furniture, jewellery, antiques, food etc and has prices for all budgets.

The stables are like a maze of stalls both over and underground, the buildings made of black stone and it can take hours to see everything and its highly unlikely you will discover everything on one visit. I always find something new when there and I also have my favourite established businesses, the highlight being Cyberdog which is a large underground store that specialises in “Rave” or techno music and fluorescent clothing from a bygone dance culture that I used to belong to. The store has undergone many changes over the years from when I was a 25 year old Australian Raver and the store is very futuristic which is in contrast with the dance scene it represents which has largely disappeared into the past. For me Cyberdog much like the market is a good place to meet people, buys retro clothes, eat, listen to music, have a beer and reminisce.

I spent a week in London and its not like I spent my entire time visiting markets even though I did also shop at Convent Garden, Carnaby Street and Victoria Park (see photo collage below). I caught up with a few London friends over a couple of nights and met some cool people hanging around Camden. I also visited the British Museum, the Tower of London, Regent and Oxford street, the National Gallery, British Imperial War Museum, Regent and Hyde Park among other things. I also traced my family history to the town of Rickmansworth where I found records on my relatives from the United Kingdom who migrated to Australian in the 1860’s. I visited a few of the places I used to work at 20 years ago including the Royal National Theatre and the Millennium Dome that today is called the O2 Arena (stories for a different time). Of course there was also drinking plenty of pints of beer, eating English breakfasts and enjoying lots of curries, it was a very full and enjoyable week.

So this was my week in London, I can’t recollect how many times I’ve visited London since living there 20 years ago. London feels like a second home to me and really affected and made me the traveler I am today as it was one of the first places Id visited overseas and subsequently stayed for an extended period. As you can tell in 2019 Id decided to focus on visiting the markets, so whether it’s the delicious food of my former home in Brixton, the lengthy Portobello Road and the popularity of antiquing, the delightful curry, graffiti and music of Brick Lane or the craziness and alternate culture that is Camden, London has a market experience for everyone. This is my hopefully unique and interesting look at London, I hope you enjoyed the read, next Ill be traveling about the USA. Any feedback is always welcome and happy travels……

Roaming Essaouira

I have now been out of Australia Roaming about the planet since February 2019. Starting in Malaysia and the island of Borneo, then Thailand followed by South Korea, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, Italy, Spain and Portugal. I am now located in the UK and have booked a flight to Seattle USA and fly out in few weeks time. In the meantime Ill complete my story Roaming around Morocco, this is Essaouira.

When I returned from the Sahara I spent a night back in Marrakech and the following morning I was on my way to the Moroccan coast and the town of Essaouira. It had been a few weeks since Id left Lagos Portugal and I wanted the beach and this destination is favourite for backpackers and surfers. The population of the town is around 80,000 is surrounded by walls and is a port city sitting on the Atlantic Ocean and has a beach so it sounded like the perfect destination. The bus took a couple of hours and when I arrived I walked through an arched gate to my Riad (hostel) where I would be staying for the next four nights.

When I entered the wall “Call to Prayer” was being sung (prayed not sure I know the difference) and there men scattered about praying on the street itself instead of being in a mosque, Id not seen this before. After checking in I walked through the streets, the majority of shops were selling local arts and crafts including clothes, jewellery and food. I could immediately tell it was a much more relaxed atmosphere then Marrakech as nobody was gesturing or yelling at me,, instead the vendors were going about their business either talking with each other or looking at their mobile phones. Within the walls is Essaouira old city which appears to bve one huge Medina (market place) and while there were plenty of tourists about, they tend to not be so prominent as the locals going about their business. I could already tell after 20 minutes that I was going to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.

To the south of city walls is the port itself, its full of local fishing markets, fishing boats which are predominantly blue in colour and there is an extended wharf which, a great place to watch locals go about their business of fishing and trading. I then walked along the beach to the north of the port onto the rocks that surround the west of the city, walls standing tall separating the Medina from the ocean, it looked quite surreal and is a filming location for Game of Thrones, there were also a few islands to the south. I then walked back into the city through the maze of streets which was easy to get lost in. Again this was a pleasant experience as no one was offering me guidance for a fee unlike my confrontational experience in the Marrakech Medina where locals were more than willing to give me directions and asking for tips (see my blog in Marrakech for more information regarding this).

Essaouira is a great place to shop and is the main location for wood craft and jewellery making for the whole of Morocco so there are a lot of products of high quality and are beautiful. There are cheaper goods such as knock off sports shirts / bags but the majority of shops appeared to sell quality products. The Medina sets a very casual pace and the easy to navigate lay out (once you know it) was much more pleasant shopping experience than what I had experienced in Marrakech. I walked through the maze, some of the passages had an enclosed roof, looking at the art on display, I then reached the city ramparts which people are allowed to walk on top of. This city wall makes for a good view of the Medina to the east, the city walls to the north and the islands to the south. There are a lot of old cannons no longer in use scattered along the rampart.

The city walls and buildings within the Medina are quite tall, lot of the buildings are 5 to 6 levels high and predominantly are white in colour with large blue doors, and open roof tops which can be accessed. A lot of these buildings were housing, restaurants and Riads, the city is a tourist hot spot so there is all different quality of Riad for five star to the hostel I was at, Essaouira caters for all levels of budget tourism. The hostel I stayed at had five stories and has a open roof space covered in Moroccan rugs, chairs, tables and a great view of the city. It was excellent for meeting other backpackers and watch the sunsets west of the city walls. The hostel also had live music every night, Moroccan with a bit of Rastafarian Jamaican flare, there was also a meal available every night of local tagine of great quality. Hanging out at the hostel was one of my highlight experiences in Morocco, talking travel in a sober environment which has an alcohol ban in place.

One of the main reasons people come here is water sports and the beach, the beach area is actually one huge bay with plenty of people taking advantage of the ultra-white sand and the beautiful clear blue ocean. There were a lot of kite and windsurfer to the south of the bay where the winds were high but the north of the beach near the city wall the ocean was very calm and not surf-able while I was, it appeared to be protected from the high wind by the city itself. I was not particularly keen to learn kite surfing so when not wandering through the Medina I spent most of my time laying on the beach, ignoring children attempting to sell me soft drink and spending time on the roof top of my hostel talking with other backpackers, it was all very chilled out.

At night is when the city really lights up, during the day particularly the morning, there are not many people about, the city starting to get progressively busier after Call to Prayer at 1pm. At night the city is very busy, the locals wandering around bargaining for local goods whether it being fish, clothing or live animals such as chickens and rabbits. The restaurants do a busy trade so whether you want something classy to really cheap street food, it caters for all and all tastes great. There was also an added bonus, the city has a cheap local bar, Morocco is a difficult place to find alcohol for sale in a shop let alone in a restaurant and when you do find a restaurant with booze prices are relatively expensive, so finding a cheap bar was like winning the lottery. The bar itself wasn’t the easiest place to find, unmarked behind a large ominous looking black door with a couple of non-de script locals standing out front. Once inside however the bar was light up and in full swing with locals and travelers alike drinking, drunk, singing and dancing. Well most the singing and dancing were local men with backpackers watching on, this was not something Id encountered in my few weeks in Morocco and really good fun.

After four nights I said goodbye to the friends Id made there and headed south on a bus to the city of Agadir. I’d been told that Agadir isn’t exactly a backpacker destination with a lot of resort style complexes and up market shopping, when I arrived I found this to be true. It was the quiet season apparently and I had booked a cheap hotel with a large swimming pool by the beach. After Marrakech, the Sahara and Essaouira, Id decided on pampering so I took advantage of this relatively cheap high-class accommodation. There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about the city and is comparable to any European sea side resort, the beach promenade with nice restaurants was quite pleasant.

The only traditional activity I engaged in was going to the local Medina and see if I could find something to purchase. Much like Essaouira the atmosphere was laid back and non confrontational, the market was huge and quite modern compared to other Medina’s Id visited and it sold all different types of crafts from cheap to expensive. There were a lot of jewelers and Id already decided I wanted a Moroccan ring, I entered a store and after some bargaining which was more banter than confrontational, we agreed a price. The ring did not fit so the vendor took me to another jewellery stand to resize it, we had a cup of mint tea, conversation about Morocco and Australia and after finishing up I walked away quite content with my shopping experience.

After a few days of relaxing I headed back to Marrakech as my flight to the United Kingdom was from there. I spent a few more days walking the Medina, but now that I was more experienced with Marrakech and had experienced other places in Morocco Id learnt to handle the hustle and bustle of the place and appreciated the market for what it had to offer. I was now comfortable in ignoring locals I did not want to speak to and was now experienced in handling Marrakech and the most amazing Medina of them all. I really enjoyed my Roam across Morocco, I have not traveled to some of the other popular destinations but I was comfortable with what I’d experienced and now have a better understanding of a very different culture that revolves around shopping, bargaining, beautiful places and little alcohol. Whether it’s the frantic in your face experience bartering experience in the beautiful and diverse maze that is Marrakech to a journey through the Atlas Mountains to the magical Sahara Desert for a night in a Bedouin tent or the beautiful Moroccan coast and the city of Essaouira with its walls, wonderful arts and crafts you can choose any or all, it just takes time. Hope you enjoyed the blog, next up will be my week around Ireland, some highlights of the United Kingdom and then its onto the USA…

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Roaming Istanbul Turkey

If you have been reading my website at endlessroaming.com you would be aware that I have been blogging about previous adventures across the USA, specifically 2012. Ill also write further about other experiences in the USA and other countries I have traveled. I am now in Lagos, Portugal blogging about about my brief four day visit to Istanbul.

This is actually my third trip to Istanbul so the city is familiar to me, I came here 20 years previously and 10 years previously so in a way I was doing my decade anniversary of sorts. On both my previous trips Id spent a while in Turkey exploring the countryside as well as Istanbul, this time however I had only four days before heading to my next destination in Rome so here are some highlights of my brief time.

Istanbul has a population of approximately 15 million people, sitting on a peninsula that divides Europe from Asia adjoining the Black Sea with the sea of Marmara via the narrow Bosporus seaway. The city is the largest in Turkey and also its cultural capital containing many historical sites going back to its founding approximately 3000 years ago, essentially there is a lot of interesting stuff to do in Istanbul especially for historical buffs. Id decided to stay in a backpacker hostel in the old city of Sultanhamet where most of this interesting stuff is easily accessible.

The nightlife I experienced was around the hostel bar, a lot of travelers that had come to Istanbul, mostly Australians, Turkey is a hugely popular destination for both Aussies. I had not meant any Australians in the past few months of travel so it was good fun to socialise with people from home my country. Where we were located meant easy access to many restaurants selling all kinds of Turkish cuisine so socialising generally meant a few beers at the hostel bar, head to a restaurant for kebabs, rissoles and salad then some Turkish delight and other cakes before heading back to the bar for more beer.

If you aren’t already aware Australia has a unique history with Turkey which is why so many frequent the country, the Gallipoloi Campaign in World War 1 resulted in 8,709 Australian fatalities at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. This campaign essentially became the catalyst for the Turkish War of Independence and the new declaration of the Turkish Republic and also the birth of the Australian and New Zealand nations creating the tradition of ANZAC. Instead of anymosity between Turkey, Australia and New Zealand, this campaign has lead to a positive relationship has been going on since that battle and Australians are very welcome.

As I mentioned there is a lot of interesting stuff to do in Istanbul so between the beer, laughter and kebabs there are a lot of sights which Ill briefly cover including the…..

Topapki Palace constructed in 1459 is a large cultural museum in Istanbul and the old administration centre of the Ottoman Empire during the 15th century. It’s a massive complex sitting on the ocean an contains a great amount of history of the Turkish Empire. My favourite place is the adjoining Archeological museum with the fake Alexander the Great Sarcophagus and other historical relics. Waking the palace grounds is also an excellent way to past the time and take in the view of the ocean and city.

Hagia Sophia constructed in 537 it was orginally Greek Orthodox until the Ottomans changed it to an Islamic Mosque and today it’s a museum. Most mosques in Istanbul are blue in colour, but Sophia is pink, the inside is impressive as you climb up the steps to look at the impressive decorations etched in the walls and roof and the floor below

Blue Mosque is directly opposite the Sophia museum, completed in 1616 this mosque is active and tourists can only enter at certain times. Unfortunately the interior is undergoing a major renovation so mostly all I could see was scaffolding. Fortunately Ive been inside on my two previous tours of the city, at the tie the floor was covered in Persian rugs, the arched domed roof standing tall and lamps burning various oils and incense, its similar in design to Sophia

Bascillica Cistern – one of several hundred underground cisterns built between the 3rd and 4th century during the time of Rome. Walk down a short stair case and you can see a lot of columns darkly lighten up by reddish lights and some of the column bases have the head of Medusa. Its quite a surreal place to visit. It would also make for a really good nightclub but I dont see that happening anytime soon.

There are also plenty of other destinations nearby within easy walking distance from each other, Tip so there really is no need to go on a paid tour, just get a map. There are plenty of tour guides also available if you wish to delve further into the history. The best thing to do in Istanbul in my opinion is the Grand Bazaar and adorning Spice Bazaar. The largest and oldest covered market in the world, the Grand Bazaar has over 4,000 shops, its globally one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world having approximately up to 400,000 visitors a day. Its an easy place to get lost and contains all matter of items from luxury fake clothes, authentic rugs and other trinkets. You can spend a day in there and not necessarily cover all of the market, its like a monster maze and people can easily get lost. Its also a great place to purchase underwear which came in handy as Id been saving my dirty washing for a big load and was running short on clean clothes. The Spice Bazaar adjoins, is much smaller in size and sells all types of cakes, treats and spices.

Other tourist things include going on a Bosporus cruise Tip or better still just pay for a ferry which is a lot cheaper. I headed over the Galata Bridge which connects the Old City with the Northern area Istanbul, the bridge has upper and lower pathways, includes many restaurants cooking a variety of seafood and kebabs as well as fisherman casting lines into the ocean. Then its 15 minute walk to Galata Tower, medieval in design the cue to enter was to long so I continued my walking trip up an almost endless open air high end fashion mall (not fake goods) to Taksim Square. The square itself has a statue in the middle and there is a mosque being constructed overlooking it

Walking back through the mall I saw many mean wearing headbands on their head, some with blood stains, and many women with tape over their noses and some with black eyes, quite a confronting site. I was approached by a shop vendor and asked if I wished to undergo a hair transplant. Istanbul is a major destination for people requiring hair transplant and nose job surgery at a comparatively cheap price compared to other areas of the world, I can only imagine this is the case due to its affordability, its quite odd to see so many men with patches of hair, sweat bands and blood, being a bald many myself I found it quite fascinating, entry level transplant are around $2,000 which was a little beyond my tourist budget and I’m quite comfortable with my skinned head.

After four days of drinking beer and eating kebabs, taking in the tourist sites, in particular hanging out in the Grand Bazaar and contemplating hair replacement surgery it was time to leave Istanbul and onto Rome. As indicated it was my third visit over 20 years, the most obvious sign of change was the light rail system that had been put in place for travel about the city. The ancient sites however had not changed much though there is a lot more security on the ground than I can recall. If interested in history, a phenomenal shopping experience, transplants, nose jobs and Turkish cuisine Id strongly recommend a visit, Istanbul is cultural and vibrant, but mostly really good fun….

Roaming Seoul South Korea

If you have been reading my website at endlessroaming.com you would be aware that I have been blogging about previous adventures across the USA, specifically 2012. Ill also write further about other experiences in the USA and other countries I have been to, at this point now 72. I am now sitting in my accommodation in Almaty Kazakhstan and thought Id cover my four days in Seoul South Korea.

Seoul South Korea is the first new country I have visited roaming in 2019 and I was not really sure what to expect, Tip If unsure about a place always best to check into a hostel over a hotel, more likely to meet other travelers and helpful hostel staff. The hostel had already provided me details on how to get there from the airport which is actually simple enough as there is a railway that runs into the centre of Seoul and then a rather detailed and complex underground / overground rail network with a bit of practice becomes easy to use. With my simcard sorted at the airport I was ready to head into Hongdae where I would be staying. It was also handy to know that there were gas masks on hand in case of any nuclear war occurring involving North Korea over the border.

I arrived at the hostel, unfortunately there were not very many guests (it is winter I suppose) however the hostel owner was really sociable and informative and gave me a plan of sorts to see the best of Seoul for my four-night stay. My first evening involved wondering around Hongdae itself, this is the student area of Seoul, along with the university there is hundreds if not thousands of retailers within the area selling both budget and high-end fashion as well as many restaurants and bars. The locals appeared to be very fashion conscious and there was a constant flow of people eating and shopping. The fashion is of such quality that I would recommend the area for anyone looking for new clothes, so much so that I felt a little out of place with my dusty jeans and sheepskin jacket. I consoled myself with some fried chicken and a few beers at a bar. The bar was quite being a Monday night but the hustle and bustle of people still shopping was still going on when I decided to go to bed around midnight.

The following day I did a self-guided tour of some of the sites with the aid of my phone, the tourist map and guidance provided by the hostel owner and the extensive transport system. After determining which was the right way to go Tip Google Maps does not work correctly in Seoul, it will guide you through the rail network however it wont guide when walking, the owner told me it’s something to do with being so close to North Korea and this level of detail can not be provided. My first stop was the National Museum of Korea, a free entry museum detailing the history of Korea, this includes history on Korean Buddhism, pre-historic and ancient times and a focus on the Joseon dynasty. The most memorable moment for me however was when a security guard came up to me, started laughing and pulled on my beard I assume to see if it was real, very random.

Conveniently next door is the Gyeongbokgung Palace was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty and is regarded as Seoul’s no 1 tourist attraction. Originally built in 1395 over its history it has been destroyed and rebuilt including by bombing by the Japanese Air force during World War 2. Korea has a history of occupation 1910 to 1945 by the Japanese and in many ways to the cultures today are intermixed and many Koreans are fluent in Japanese. The palace grounds are made up of various temples, its quite an expansive space and is a good opportunity to take photos and get a feeling for the cultural heritage. There were also many tourists that rent Korean costumes of the period when the palace was actively used and nearby there are many shops in the area that rent out these costumes. I learned later if dressed up entry is free, this includes Western tourists. It’s the first time I have been to a tourist location offering this type of free admission entry.

Conveniently again next to the palace is the Buchkon Hanok Village, a traditional suburb of Seoul and not just a tourist attraction but also an area where locals reside. It’s on a hill and has many paved streets where people can walk and look at traditional architecture, there is also traditional market shopping and restaurants. Its quite a picturesque location and I was more and more gaining an appreciation for traditional Korea . Nearby is the National Folk Museum of Korea, there are more temples and also the museum itself demonstrating various traditional period dress. Museum ed and temp led out for the day, I headed back to the hostel, the owner took myself and another hostel guest to Traditional Korean Barbecue, Bulgogi or marinated beef is brought our frying in a pan and chopsticks are used to wrap in leaves and put various condiments on it, roll it up and eat. We sat on mates cross legged, drank some maekju (beer), talked about Korea and had some laughs, Koreans enjoy beer as much as I do.

The following day I was on a tour to the DMZ, if you have not heard of this briefly is a strip of land separating North and South Korea across the entire island, the width being approximately 4 kms all the way across. After World War 2 Korea had no government as the occupying Japanese had been defeated so the country was split in two, the USA governing the south and Russia the north. The Korean war started from 1948 and concluded in 1953 when the border was established. The tour is about an hour bus ride from Seoul and time is limited as to what can been seen, the border being heavily controlled as its active. Our first stop was the Freedom Bridge, a park that includes many monuments to the war. Unfortunately we were delayed there due to the amount of pollution in the air Tip If you have a local sim you will get warnings a few times a day, this isn’t about an impending problem on the DMZ but pollution, neighbouring China creates so much pollution that it effects the weather condition in Korea which appears like a fog, when getting such a warning its advised to put on a surgical mask to inhibit the pollution into the lungs. I would not let this discourage a tourist from visiting Korea, but it is something worth mentioning.

Our next stop was the Third Tunnel of Aggression, one of four tunnels dug by North Korea during the war that have been discovered, there is thought to be 20 or so more, this is the only tunnel open to tourists. No cameras are allowed, a hard hat must be worn and then it’s a 1.6km steeply descending walk and it can get quite claustrophobic, very interesting and worthwhile experience even if there is not much to see, its more appreciation of the effort. Then it was onto the Dora Observatory, the new complex as opposed to what is featured in the link, from there you can apparently see North Korea and the city of Kaesong, there are binoculars for this purpose but because of the pollution I could make it maybe 2km in distance, half way through the DMZ itself. Last stop Dorasan train station, an active station to Seoul, it connects to the north but has an irregular service and is not for tourists, Westerner or Korean. It’s a typical looking train station except perhaps sadly the glassed off customs inspection area which includes luggage scanners you would find at any airport but have never been put to use.

After another night of fried chicken and beers, there was one more museum to see, the War Memorial of Korea. An impressively sized complex detailing the history of warfare in Korea from ancient times but in particular the Korean War itself, including the role of the United Nations, the USA, United Kingdom and the importance of Australia Army during the conflict. There are many details including a large collection of weapons, tanks, planes and a ship. South Koreans have experienced the threat of war for a long time, from the Japanese occupation to the Korean War and now ongoing issues with North Korea. The hostel owner told me that all South Koreans have compulsory military service and can be called upon for active duty till the age of 40. He as so many hopes one day that there will be one unified Korea, I hope it does happen for them and also, I wouldn’t visiting North Korea myself one day.

This is what I got up to in my four days in Seoul, a truly world class city with a lot of tradition and history. Sure there is some tension with an active DMZ but it does not seem to effect South Koreans daily lives and it should not affect tourists from going there either. With top quality food, excellent beer, friendly people and as indicated earlier, quality shopping and fashion sense, I would recommend a visit for historian buffs, lovers of barbecue and shoppers alike. Anyway, now it’s time for Central Asia and Kazakhstan and who knows what….

March 2019 – Roaming Chiang Mai and Bangkok Thailand

If you have been reading my website at endlessroaming.com you would be aware that I have been blogging about previous adventures across the USA, specifically 2012. Ill also write further about other experiences in the USA and other countries I have been to, now Ill briefly go through my latest adventure in Thailand, Chiang Mai and Bangkok including a few Tips.

Chiang Mai is the northern capital of Thailand, originally founded in 1296 it still has the remnants of the Old City Walls surrounding the Old Town in the centre of the city. The official population is around 180,000 though the number of Western expats and others means this is only an approximation. It is also the cultural capital of Thailand meaning there are hundreds of Buddhist temples located around the city. The amount of outdoor activities, spirituality and cheap affordable accommodation for Westerners coupled with quality shopping and a vibrant social scene make it a popular draw card for tourists, both short and long term. It certainly has made an impression on me and first Tip is a great place for any potential budding English language teachers that want to make the move.

Whilst staying here it is crop burning season meaning that there is a lot of pollution from the burning of crops such as sugar and mushrooms, this doesn’t make it unpleasant but for a few months of the year there is a haze that blankets the city. This and the sweltering afternoon heat means another Tip is renting a hotel with a swimming pool a must to get some chillout time at one of the many reasonably priced hotels in downtown area. This means most of my time was taken up by touring some of the temples, going for a swim, looking at markets and enjoying some of the nightlife on offer, not a bad way to spend some time here.

One of my tours was to Doi Inthanon which is the highest mountain in the region and on top of that are two spectacular temples standing elevated at about 2600m. These temples sit on opposite peaks facing each other and are surrounded by gardens and forest, the entire mountain range is worth touring and includes waterfalls scattered throughout the park. The views are spectacular and the my personal impression is they appear like something from a fantasy adventure, its truly worth seeing and only a few hours by tour from the downtown area.

If not keen to head out that way, there are over 300 temples within the city itself, 200 of which are in the old town itself. Wat Phan Tao is in the city centre and is the largest of the temple complexes. There is a series of varying shrines which Buddhist and tourists alike are free to enter as long as they take their shoes off and is an excellent and peaceful way to spend a few hours in the slowly heating up day. Originally constructed as a palace in 1846 it was a few years later converted into a monastery and the monks there are more than happy to talk to tourists at “speaking areas” when approached. At the centre is a large stone temple which can not be entered, but plenty of the shrines can be and there is plenty of gold buildings and Buddha statues on display.

Other activities I managed to fit in included going to many of the shopping markets in the area selling fresh food, clothes and art which is quite cheaply priced. This includes the famous Night Market which is very large area on the outskirt of the old city which is where I was staying, a series of shopping malls, street stalls and food vendors selling all different Thai dishes. I went down to the market a few times to enjoy some dinner, listened to live street performers, drink a few beers and enjoy the vibrant colourful lifestyle, the locals are very hospitable.

If not keen on the night market there is plenty of quality restaurants along the river which are also reasonably priced. There is a vibrant nightlife within the city including plenty of backpacker Western bars as well as kitchens where locals tend to frequent and Girl Bars where tourists can buy a woman a drink and choose whether or not they wish to pay a Bar Fine and head out with their companion. This is not behavior I personally choose to participate in but it seems to be part of the way of life, strictly speaking Thailand made prostitution illegal in 1960 though this law does not appear to be enforced. I found myself a local bar where I could watch some live kickboxing, chatted about Thailand with a few locals and enjoy a few beers. I wasn’t particularly interested in hanging out in Western bars nor paying bar fines so finding a place where I could sit relax and have a laugh was much appreciated.

After a few days of relaxing Chiang Mai, it was off to the madness that is Bangkok, with a population of maybe 10 million people the traffic is chaotic hundreds of thousands of cars on the road, Tuk Tuk drivers weaving in between and the air is polluted by not necessarily just from burning crops. It’s a very different experience to Chiang Mai but just as Chiang Mai is full of Buddhist temples, shopping markets, street food and friendly Buddhist locals, so is Bangkok.

There are plenty of tourist attractions within Bangkok and there is a lot written about the place so I won’t go into detail about the history of the city. A few of the activities I got up to included cruising up the Chao Phryaya river watching the mix of new buildings, old housing and temples along the river, also plenty of water taxis and other ferry services making their way up and down the river, it acts as a motorway. My first stop was the the Grand Palace, unfortunately I could not enter the palace at 11am as royal officials were still inside and would be leaving at 1pm so a tour guide organised me a Tuk Tuk to kill a few hours and see some of the Buddha shrines and check out a few textile factories. I saw a few shrines including the 32m tall Standing Buddha statue covered in gold it towers over the shrines below. There were hundreds of locals engaged in activities I have no understanding of though I think a lot of it was to do with praying for wealth as there were ropes on display with bank notes hanging off them…. I really don’t know. The textile factories were actually just an attempt get me to buy a suit but the temple and hurtling around in a Tuk Tuk made the experience worthwhile.

Upon my return to the palace I had to TIP purchase pants as shorts are not allowed to be worn on palace grounds. When entering the grounds, I was made to stand in an area whilst the a motorcade left the ground and then after purchasing a ticket, I was allowed within the palace complex itself. A series of shrines and the palace building itself is spectacular and must visit from the thousands of tourists coming into the complex itself. The shrines are obviously spectacular and the detail that has gone into creating them is intricate and complex, the palace itself is large in size and can’t be entered, well at least not by me.

Another activity I participated in was a few hours out of Bangkok at the Damnoen Saduaok Floating Market tour. This was a totally amazing experience, the tour included a personal taxi to and from the market, my own guided tour boat and of course the shopping experience itself. The market appears to be an endless maze of crisscrossing waterways with long boats hooked up to old car motors and a series of stalls selling all kinds of touristic and local goods. I pulled up to my first stall, purchased a bottle of beer and then engaged in some haggling with many of the friendly stall owners, all very friendly, colourful and a truly unique cultural shopping experience. After a few hours of river cruising, having some lunch and a few more beers it was back to Bangkok.

I’m sure there is nightlife in Bangkok far more sophisticated than what I experienced, rooftop bars and or backpacker bars. At this point in time however and from what I understand the main areas to go out in are the red-light districts, these include Patpong and Soi Cowboy. Patpong was near where I was staying so I tried this area first, a maze of night market shopping, food vendors and Girl bars, I drank in one of the regular bars nearby and watched the crowd go by majority of which being tourists, Western couples and Chinese as interested as me in what went on there. Most of the bars appeared to have Thai lady boys standing out front attempting to draw in customers, great for people watching. Around some of the streets were also gay bars, it seems that Bangkok whilst being deeply religious, is also very tolerant regarding sexual preferences. The Soi Cowboy, one long street of neon light and a seemingly endless amount of girl bars with all types of tourists watching and or experiencing what’s on offer, as indicated whilst bar fining women has no appeal for me it is an interesting people watch.

I have really enjoyed my time in Thailand and comparing two of its major cities, the casual relaxing Chiang Mai and the hectic fast paced Bangkok. As you may be able to tell my preference is Chiang Mai as its a little more easy going and relaxed whether its walking to a temple, getting a cheap meal or catching up with the some friendly faces for a few nights. Bangkok is more for those that really want to chase the nightlife and love of the big city feel, but it also has enough for those that want to experience some of that spirituality and friendliness that is Thailand, to which both cities have in abundance.

Well anyway I’m now in Seoul which I hopefully will have a blog about shortly, just killing some time before I head out to Kazakhstan, should be interesting….