Under The Maldivian Sea

Swimming with the fish is an incredible experience. I’m not a good swimmer or a fan of being underwater, so, needless to say, I was really hesitant to sign up for this excursion. But I’ve been on this face-your-fears, you-only-live-once kick lately. So I decided to go for it! Besides, I had (and still have) no idea if and when I’d be in the Maldives again.

Our tour guide took this picture of me during our first snorkel adventure. It exceeded my expectations in every way possible. The guides were so friendly and knowledgeable. They knew all about the reefs and sea life and the best places to observe some truly spectacular underwater creatures. On this day we swam with sea turtles, stingrays, countless fish and an abundance of other ocean beings.

It was such a good day. I ❤ the Maldives!

Summer Days in Hong Kong

The cold, rainy weather we’ve had lately has me longingly thinking and wishing for the balmy heat and constant sunshine of the summer days I spent in Hong Kong. Don’t get me wrong, I love winter. I love cold, snowy weather. But rain… you can keep that.

I took this photo while visiting a temple in Lantau Island. It really shows the climate during my stay there. Blue skies with a few clouds. Warm. Green. Tropical. Hong Kong stays pretty warm all year round, but the warmth and clamminess of July is perfect (well… if you like that sort of thing).

This day was truly splendid. The palm trees swaying, a light breeze gusting, the smell of incents wafting through the air… I could do with a little bit of all of that right now.

Monkey Business in Bali

One of the funnest things I did during my trip to Bali is spend time at the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Seeing hundreds of these little furry creatures running wild and free through rows and rows of trees is quite the experience. The monkeys are super friendly; they jump and climb all over you, and even pick your pockets (hence the lighter in his hands). Most aren’t afraid of the visitors, and it’s so cool to see them interact with not just humans, but with each other, too. And the forest is incredibly green and beautiful.

A Day at Donghwasa

You can’t visit any country in Asia without going to at least one temple. In my case, many. I’m a fan. I love seeing the architecture, history, and customs. During a recent trip to Daegu, South Korea I had the chance to visit Donghwasa, and it was truly AWESOME!

Donghwasa is situated on the south side of Mt. Palgongsan, about 20 kilometers (an hour-long bus ride) from downtown Daegu. It’s surrounded by trees, hills, and a few parks and recreation areas. It’s hard to believe all this nature and serenity is just a few miles away from the crowds and lights of downtown Daegu.

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The temple grounds are pretty big. Monks live and work there, and Donghwasa also offers Temple Stay, where visitors can really experience Buddhist life and learn more about the Korean Buddhist culture by staying at the temple and interacting with the monks (for reservations and details check out  donghwasa.templestay.com – unfortunately the site is only in Korean). Things are pretty spread out. The temple itself is about a seven-minute walk from the property’s entrance gate. And there are hiking paths inside the grounds, which I think is pretty cool.

Colorful lanterns hang from cables in the temple courtyard and line the paths to other sections of the premises that are open to visitors. During my visit, I really wanted to see the big standing Buddha statue. There’s just something about Buddha statues that fascinate me and bring me peace. So I followed the trail of lanterns for about ten-ish minutes until I found it.

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The Buddha stands about a hundred feet tall. He’s Yakasayore-bul, the Buddha of medicine, and he’s magnificent. When I walked up, visitors gathered at his feet. They lit incense and got on their knees to pray to him. It feels very personal, almost intrusive, to hear someone’s prayers. But also, it feels uplifting to see people completely give into their faith.

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The statue is surrounded by a semi-circle of guardians and other Buddhas carved into a stone building. You can go inside it and visit the underground meditation center. There’s also a temple directly in front of Yakasayore-bul that you can check out.

There are a variety of other historic buildings on the grounds that you can visit. I wasn’t part of a tour group when I visited, and I was unable to locate any brochures in English. I  don’t know the purpose or use of the buildings, but they were very interesting. The detail in and on all the buildings is stunning.

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This is by far one of my favorite temples. And I absolutely recommend it to anyone who is going to be in Daegu for a few days. It’s worth the trip. Just make sure you wear comfortable shoes.

Adult admission to the temple will cost you 2,500 won ($2.25). The temple has a small drink and snack stand, but no restaurant. There are a few restaurants between the bus stop and the temple. There are also several restaurants a few kilometers down the road the opposite way from the temple.

To get there:

Take the Number 1 bus from the Daegu City Center Square (it’s the park across the street from the Novotel Hotel. You buy your ticket on the bus (cash only); it’s only 1500 won ($1.35). You can also catch this bus from Dondaegu station, but the stop for the bus a little harder to find because there are several buses that leave from there. From the City Center Square, the bus ride is about an hour long, give or take about 10 minutes based on traffic. The stop to get off at is called Donghwasa, and the bus does display the upcoming stops in both Hangeul and English.  You can get back downtown the exact same way. The stop is across the street from where you get off at Donghwas. You can take a cab if you prefer, it’s faster but more expensive. Just keep in mind that finding a taxi to take you back to Daegu may be a little challenging; sometimes they aren’t available and you have to wait.

You can take a cab if you prefer, it’s faster but more expensive. Just keep in mind that finding a taxi to take you back to Daegu may be a little challenging; sometimes they aren’t available and you have to wait.

A Forest in the Clouds

 

Wouldn’t it be wondrous to explore a forest in the clouds? Well, you can. Sort of. Cloud forests exist in humid tropical and sub-tropical areas that have persistent low-level clouds. There are only a few places in the world where you can experience them. In Singapore, the Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay is inside a glass dome. They’ve created an environment that mirrors what you would encounter if you were high in the mountains of the tropics, in the middle of the city.

 

As soon as you walk through the doors, the cold air and heavy mist make you feel like you’ve been transported to a different part of the Earth. Right in front of you, a mountain and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall (man-made, of course). It’s green and cold and beautiful. Inside the dome, you’ll find a huge variety of plant-life. Flowers and greenery line the path to the elevator that takes you to the top of the mountain. The line was a little long, and the dome a little crowded, which made getting a closer look at some things difficult (patience is key).

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At the top of the mountain, there’s a stunning garden that reminded me of the movie Fern Gully (minus the fairy). It’s covered with flowers and moss, with a pond in the center. This is a very popular photo spot, so you’ll have to fight your way to edge for a picture if you want one. From there, you’ll begin your descent to the bottom through these incredible skyways that circle outside the mountain. The views are marvelous. Not only do you get to see the beauty of the plant-life on the sides of the mountain, but you get a complete view of the city through the dome’s glass. Pictures don’t do it justice. And even on a cloudy day, it’s breathtaking.

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Inside the middle of the mountain, there’s a smallish mineral cave that displays a number of crystal formations. There’s also a video that shows how climate change and an increase in temperature could affect cloud forests and similar environments in the future.

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Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay was a very fun place to visit. If you like nature and gardens, you won’t regret going. Adult tickets will cost you $28 (Singaporean dollars). Totally worth it!