The Magic Of Ninh Binh

A couple of years ago I wrote about one of my favourite places in South East Asia here. I was of course talking about Ninh Binh. It is absolutely beautiful, peaceful and not yet full of tourists (although I’m sure that with the success of the new King Kong movie, that will all change, since it was filmed here).

When I wrote about my first time visiting Ninh Binh 7 years ago, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I’d have a chance to go back there, let alone twice!


Luckily it’s only a 2 hour drive from Hanoi so it’s the perfect place to go to escape the stress of the city.


Sometimes returning to a place can be a terrible idea and all of the beautiful memories can be destroyed, luckily Ninh Binh really hasn’t changed all that much since the first time that I was there.


I highly recommend stopping here while on your trip to Vietnam, especially at this time of the year when the rice paddies are so beautiful. They harvest at the end of May, so if you want to see golden rice paddies, go in May!


Here are a few of my favourite things to do in Ninh Binh:

Take a Bike Ride

This is one of my highlights when I go to Ninh Binh. It’s the perfect way to take in the slow pace of life and the beautiful scenery. Be warned that your arm might get sore from waving to the many people that greet you along the way. Most guesthouses and homestays offer free bike rental.



Stay Among The Rice Paddies

I cannot recommend this option enough. If there is one thing that you must do while in Ninh Binh it’s this! We have stayed at the Ninh Binh Panorama twice now and both times have been truly magical. There is no road leading to it, just a dirt path and it is in a magical valley. It is perfectly secluded and you have the best view of the rice paddies and the limestone karsts. In fact, the second time that we stayed here we didn’t even bother with any of the tourist attractions because the views are probably better than anything else you’ll see in Ninh Binh.



Our sweet little hut


Rent a Boat on Tam Coc

This one is a bit of a hit and miss. Yes the scenery that you get to take in on the boat ride is absolutely beautiful but the river is full of tourists and the boat ride goes on for a bit too long for my liking. I’ve done it twice and both times I’ve been dying for the boat ride to finish by the end. I have heard that Thung Nham is more beautiful, especially at sunset because there are many birds in that area. I have yet to go but hopefully the next time we go to Ninh Binh we’ll go there.

Photo credit: Alotravel Asia

Climb the Mua Caves

This is a mountain with caves at the bottom and steps all the way to the top which has an epic view of the surrounding area. Surprisingly, it never felt very busy there at all!

This is at the bottom of the mountain


How to get there:

It’s so easy to get to Ninh Binh, there are many options. If you walk in to any travel agent in the Old Quarter they can book a tourist bus for you and it picks you up from your hotel. If you are on a budget then you can make your way to Giap Bat bus station and jump on one of the many local buses that go that way. There is also a train that goes from Hanoi to Ninh Binh or if you have the cash to spend, you can hire a private car. If you are feeling adventurous, you can always drive there by motorbike. This is what we did on our most recent trip to Ninh Binh and it is an easy route, you just stay on the same road for the entire time.


How about you? Have you ever been to Ninh Binh? Are there any things that you would add to this list?



Remembering An Australian Roadtrip

1930182_1167379596140_5000781_nThere are some adventures that I took when I was younger that I would love to take again now. I have become a completely different person that travels with a different purpose than I had back then. Before, I absolutely hated hiking, thanks to mountainous Korea, now I love it. Before I loved to party…these days sitting somewhere in the serene nature is absolutely perfect for me.

Australia is one of those countries that I feel would be much more special for me at this stage of my life than it was 6 years ago. Australia is a beautiful country. Although I don’t think that I truly appreciated its beauty when I spent 6 weeks travelling the East coast.

There were many reasons for this:

1. Despite popular belief…It gets cold in Australia.1930182_1167379196130_3490687_n

We arrived in to Melbourne near the end of August. It was cold…like a winters day in Ireland. Nobody had ever let me in on this awful secret that the Aussies keep. Australia gets bloody cold!

Myself and my friend Louise only had one pair of jeans each and one hoodie.  We were also staying in an awful hostel that was freezing inside!1930182_1150791941459_3003379_n

Our first few nights camping were also freezing.1930182_1167380236156_4988317_n

If I ever have a chance to get back to Australia, I’ll definitely pack more appropriate clothing.

2. Australia is expensive!

One of the hardest things to get used to was the difference in the cost of living between South East Asia and Australia.

We went from having delicious food in restaurants every day and staying in nice clean private rooms to having to cook every night and spend more on one bed in a big dorm room that we did on an entire room in Asia.

Next time I get to Australia, I’ll make sure to treat it as a destination in itself.

3. The final reason that Australia was tough was because we were camping.

We rented a car and a tent for our roadtrip. I think Grainne today would appreciate it so much more than 24 year old Grainne did. It was incredibly isolating and after travelling together for over 3 months my relationship with Louise was getting a bit tense (our relationship is better than ever now!).


But having said all of that I still had a wonderful time and some beautiful memories. I can’t wait to go back at some stage in my life!

Is there anywhere that you have been to that you would love to go back to at a different stage in your life?



Beomeosa Temple Stay (part 3)

IMG_9291After a long sleepless night, it was time to get up at 5a.m I went out to use the bathroom and witnessed the beautiful sunrise over the mountains. It made me realise that I need to get up at sunrise more often.IMG_9274

After getting ourselves ready for the day, it was time for a morning service. We bowed and then enjoyed 15 minutes of meditation. The monk made sure to tell us all to keep our eyes open so that we didn’t fall asleep. I had a hard time emptying my mind but it was so peaceful listening to the birds.IMG_9281

After our meditation it was time for breakfast. Breakfast was rice, doenjang jjigae (red bean paste soup) tofu and side dishes. I love doenjang jjigae so I was very happy to see it. Breakfast didn’t follow the monks ritual unlike the previous days dinner so it was much more relaxed.

After breakfast we had 30 minutes of free time so myself, Ane and Jason went up to the river for a short walk.IMG_9282

Afterwards it was time to visit a hermitage.These are basically temples that are pretty isolated. So we hiked for about 20 minutes to reach the hermitage. The view from up there was so beautiful and we were able to have another meditation session in the temple while looking out to the mountains and listening to the birds sing. It was so peaceful up there.IMG_9289

IMG_9303IMG_9294We then had an hour and 20 minutes free time. Myself and Jason found another river and sat down talking about our future plans and what our worries and stresses are about moving to America. It was nice to have a chat in a calming area together.

It was then time for another of my favorite times during the temple stay. We got to sit down and have tea with the monk. He showed us the traditional way to make green tea and filled us all up with so much tea!IMG_9312

IMG_9315IMG_9319We also had a chance to as him any questions that we had both about him and his life or about being a monk in general. He was so open and forthcoming, it was so interesting to hear about his life and the struggles that he had with making his decision to become a monk.IMG_9321

It was another memory that I will keep with me for a long time to come.

While telling us about himself he said something that really stuck in my mind.

When we do jobs that we aren’t suited to, instead of accepting that it isn’t the best job for you, so many of us will try to work at it and end up miserable.

I don’t know why but that really made sense to me.

The final event of our temple stay was our closing ceremony where we bowed and said the 5 precepts one more time and just like that, our time had come to an end.IMG_9325

IMG_9330It was by far the best experience that I’ve ever had in Korea and I highly recommend doing one if you are in Korea.

How to book a temple stay at Beomeosa:

I booked through their website which has English. It was very simple and I just had to transfer the money to them once I had booked. You can find the website here.

The Hadong Green Tea Festival 2015

IMG_9039So, a few months ago I posted about the first time that I visited this festival way back in 2011. I had really wanted to go back to the festival last year but, it, like most other festivals last year, was cancelled due to the Sewol ferry sinking.

This year, we decided to go camping in our favorite camping spot and check out the festival.IMG_8951

I have to say, that it is still one of the best festivals that I’ve been to in Korea. The setting is absolutely beautiful, it is situated along a river with fields of green tea in the mountains surrounding it.IMG_9035

Initially we stopped off in a nearby town that had a big market. We thought that that was the festival and myself and Jason were so confused as to how much it had changed in four years. We soon realised that this wasn’t the festival. But we did get some delicious green tea ice creams while we were there!IMG_8997

IMG_8996In the centre of the festival is a stage.IMG_9005

When we arrived there were lots of tables set up with beautiful bowls of different types of tea and magnificent place settings.IMG_9069

IMG_9072Women entered the area wearing beautiful hanbok (Korean traditional dress) and took their places at their tables. Then a group of judges went around to each table to judge the different teas.IMG_9041

IMG_9064Afterwards, it was open to the public to try as much tea and snacks from all of the contestants.IMG_9058

While the judging was being held we decided to see what else the festival had going on. Usually, with Korean festivals, the stalls all look the exact same and sell all of the same things, regardless of what type of festival it is. This festival however was much more tea orientated which was a nice change.IMG_9014

Our first stop was at an area where we could roll our own tea leaves. It was fun to see the process and afterwards they gave us some bags of dried tea leaves for free.IMG_9017

IMG_9018IMG_9023We then continued on wandering around. There were so many local products to try, green tea mists and lotions, green tea snacks, smoothies, ice-cream and of course many different sellers of different types of tea. All of them offering free tastings.IMG_9025

IMG_9052IMG_9056We found a Turkish food stall (there is always at least one at these festivals) and had some delicious skewers (I got lamb). We then went to the food tents and had some gimbab and cold drinks to cool off from the beautiful hot sunny day.IMG_9049

IMG_9050We really enjoyed our time at the festival. All of our bellies were full of green tea and we found it unbelievable that we didn’t have to pay a cent anywhere (except for our food). The people were so friendly also.IMG_9076

I would highly recommend for anyone needing some time away from the big cities to visit this festival…you won’t be disappointed!IMG_9061IMG_9059

NC Dinos Baseball Game


This past Saturday, myself and Jason decided to go and see a baseball game. Baseball is absolutely huge here in Korea and the games are so much fun!

We usually go to see the Lotte Giants play in Busan but the Changwon team, the NC Dinos, is actually closer to us so we decided to check out their stadium.

Being from Ireland, I don’t really know much about American sports but having a husband who loves all of the American sports I’m slowly learning.

We arrived at the stadium about an hour and a half early to buy some tickets. We then went for some coffee while waiting.

Something that is really cool about stadiums in Korea is that you are allowed to bring your own food, drink and alcohol! There are sellers outside the stadium selling the typical baseball food here…fried chicken, gimbab and squid.

Jason bought a couple of rolls of gimbab and we went in to the stadium. Even if you don’t buy your food outside, the prices inside aren’t extortionate.

I bought a hot dog and chips and we settled down in to our seats. Each seat has a table, which is pretty cool! I had lots of questions for Jason and he was very good explaining all of the rules of baseball to me.

The game itself was pretty disappointing for the Dinos. But the lively songs and chants definitely made up for it! Every hitter has their own theme song that the fans sing. I took a video of it which you can watch here.

Jason tells me that American baseball isn’t like this which makes me a little sad. I love the songs and dances involved in Korean baseball!

All in all it was a great day, perfect weather and good seats and to top it all off the parking in the stadium was free!

There are baseball teams in nearly all of the big cities so if you are here in Korea, grab yourself some beers and a box of fried chicken and get yourself to a game, you won’t be disappointed!

Busan Canola Flower Festival

IMG_8764What a great festival this was!


The Nakdong River Yuchae Flower Festival is only in its fourth year but it’s a really great festival that I’d recommend to everyone living nearby.

IMG_8789For a few weeks the big riverside area of the Nakdong river transforms in to a mesmerizing sea of yellow canola flowers for as far as the eye can see.

IMG_8765We are lucky because it is only a 30 minute subway ride from Gimhae to the festival. Myself, Jason and our friend Ian decided to go last Friday after school. Once we arrived I immediately fell in love with this small festival.

There were a few tents selling food and drinks but it’s nowhere near as big as the many other festivals that I’ve experienced here in Korea. For me, this just made the festival even more wonderful. There is a very laid back feel to it and there weren’t many people there.

Which meant that we had plenty of opportunities to take photos of the flowers without people.

As you can see from the photos, it was absolutely beautiful there and I’m sure sunrise would be magical as the sun rises from behind the city.

IMG_8794How to get there:

Take the brown line (line 3) of the Busan subway system to Gangseo-gu office. From there you can take exit number 2 and it’s about a 15 minute walk to the park.

Cheontaesa Temple (천태사)


Having lived in Asia for 5 years I’ve seen my fair share of temples. It takes a lot for a temple to take my breath away these days and that’s exactly what Cheontaesa temple did.

We actually found it completely by mistake. We were driving to a beautiful riverside area in Wondong just outside of Yangsan. On our way we had to go up a mountain pass and coming down we saw the entrance to the temple. We quickly found a spot along the road to park. Even the outside of this temple is beautiful. There were beautiful Spring flowers blooming all around and a small stream running near the temple. There was also a small building next to it with some hens clucking around freely.



We walked under the entrance way and up a small hill to get to the main temple area. It was very quiet with only a handful of people there. There was also an eerie voice playing on a speakerphone with some traditional music (I’m guessing it was explaining the history of the temple).

From the main area there was a stairway build in to the surrounding rocks. We climbed up and about halfway up we managed to get an incredible view of a giant Buddha carved in to the mountain across from us. It was absolutely beautiful and we were both pleasantly surprised by it.

We then climbed the remaining steps to find a small shrine area in a small cave at the top.



Afterwards we walked over to the area with the giant Buddha. There were lots of other beautiful stone carvings and statues.


There was also a short hike up to a waterfall behind the temple. We climbed some of the way but didn’t have time to climb the rest. I definitely want to come back and finish that hike!


It was such a lovely temple, it was so calming and peaceful there and we could have definitely spent a day there sitting and enjoying the zen-like atmosphere of this temple.




Getting there:

Unfortunately you need a car to get here. It is between the towns of Samnangjin and Wondong. and about 20 minutes outside of Yangsan city.

The actual address is: Yongdang-ri, Wondong-myeon, Yangsan-si, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Road trippin’ around Bali

IMG_8300During our time in Bali we decided to hire a driver and see some of the island. Our friends had done this before and highly recommended it and also gave us the name of their driver so we organized to meet him at our hotel.

He offered many different types of tours but the one that stuck out for us was getting to go up north and see Bedugul which has a beautiful temple on a lake.

His name is Gejor and we quickly found out that he is a really great, friendly person! He picked us up from our hotel at 9:30 and we started driving to our first stop of the day, Tanah Lot. On our way, while chatting, we mentioned that we were interested in buying some art but were worried that it would be very expensive. He then offered to bring us to a gallery outside of Ubud to take a look.IMG_8259

When we arrived, we started walking around with one of the men working there and realised that the place was huge! They had thousands of paintings! When we finally finished walking around we realised that we had forgotten where our favourites were so had to return and try to decide together. In the end we bought two beautiful paintings for about $60 combined. We were both very happy with them and know that they will hang proudly in whatever future house we end up living in.

After that surprise stop we continued on to Tanah Lot. Tanah Lot is probably the most famous of Bali’s temples. It is a beautiful temple that was built on some rocks just off of the beach. When it’s low tide people can walk out to it. It is very beautiful but it was extremely crowded. I can’t imagine what it’s like during the busy season!

IMG_8263After getting a few photos at Tanah Lot, it was back in to the car for the hour journey up north to the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces. This was probably my favourite stop of the day. It was absolutely stunning there and there were rice paddies in every direction as far as the eye could see!


I could have spent forever there just taking in the beauty of it all! We did stop here for lunch and got to get a table with a view.


IMG_8317After lunch we were on our way to Bedugul to see the famous Ulun Danu temple. The Ulun Danu temple is such a beautiful temple. But what makes it even more beautiful is its surroundings. It has a huge mountain as a backdrop and it sits on a serene lake.


IMG_8351We had a wonderful time on this tour and then on our way back to Ubud after a great day, I asked if he would mind stopping at a place for us to try Luwak coffee. We thought that it might have been just a coffee shop but it was actually a place where the Luwak coffee is made.

I didn’t really know too much about Luwak coffee before going to Bali. It is the most expensive coffee in the world. It is made by collecting the poop of the Luwak animal and getting the coffee from it. The Luwak apparently only eats the best coffee beans so by taking it from their poop, it guarantees that it is the best coffee beans and it’s perfectly fermented too. During the tour they allowed us to taste many different types of coffee, including the luwak coffee. It did taste good.


We got to see some luwaks which broke my heart. They are animals that have been taken from the wild and forced in to small cages. They looked very unhappy. It was a very sad sight to see and made me feel sad that by paying for the tour we were contributing to it.


After the coffee it was time to go back to Ubud. We were both exhausted but extremely happy after our tour.

Our Driver: There are many drivers all over Bali that offer day trips. We found out about Gejor from our friend Ian who had used his services while in Bali and really enjoyed it. We were so happy with our tour and Gejor was so easy going. It felt like we had known him for longer. As I mentioned earlier, he also made changes to our day with no bother whatsoever.

Highly recommended!

You can find his website here. We contacted him through his facebook page and he was always super fast at responding!

We did the Bedugul tour that is advertised on his website.

Korean Bull-fighting Festival


Both my mind and my body are so ready for Spring to come. I can’t wait to stop having to wear thermals, be able to cycle along the rice fields and spend our evenings sipping wine on our balcony. For now though all I can do is reminisce about Springs gone by.

The best thing about Spring in Korea is all of the festivals and if there’s one thing that Korea knows how to do it’s festivals! They have a festival for everything! A few include; Kimchi making, green tea, strawberry, mask, sunflower and the list goes on!

These festivals are usually a lot of fun although they can get pretty crowded. One of my favourite festivals that I’ve been to here in Korea was actually a bull fighting festival in Cheongdo. I was a bit skeptical about it before we went but I’m so glad that we did go.


Korean bull fighting is different from Spanish bull fighting. Luckily none of the bulls get killed and the bulls actually fight other bulls and not people. Two bulls are put in to the stadium and lock their horns together. The first bull to turn away loses. I’m going to be perfectly honest and admit that I didn’t actually like watching it. Some of the bulls got a bit bloodied and as an animal lover I’m not a fan of seeing animals being hurt or in pain for sport (a cliche I know, since I’m a massive meat lover!). We only watched the bull fighting for about 15 minutes.

But the real reason that I loved this festival was what was happening outside of the stadium. There were stalls placed in a big area that were selling different products, there were also entertainers on different stages. We spent most of our time just relaxing and enjoying the food and drink. The best reason to come here is to be able to view the stalls without the large crowds that go to other festivals. We weren’t being pushed or shoved and were able to relax.


A magician performing at the festival







Afterwards we decided to get a taxi and take a side trip to a wine tunnel.

The wine tunnel is a beautiful abandoned train tunnel that has been turned in to a wine cellar. When you walk in there are bottles stored all along the tunnel. It is so beautiful and it’s cool in there so you can get away from the midday heat. They also make their own persimmon wine so we sat down and relaxed with some wine for a while.





Cheong-do is a beautiful town and I’d definitely recommend visiting, especially to see the wine tunnel!

Currently…Spring is here!


The cherry blossoms have arrived which can only mean one thing…IT’S SPRING!

These past few weeks were busy ones for me.  Last Wednesday was Jasons birthday so I’ve been trying to plan the best 30th birthday for him. We celebrated it this past Saturday and luckily he had a great day!

I organised a scavenger hunt for him. I’ve realized that once we leave Korea in August we’ll never be able to return to all of our “first” places. So his scavenger hunt led him to our first hike, the first place we kissed, we said I love you, our first date, where we met and finally to where he proposed (which is our apartment) where we had a small party with lots of food and drink.

I gave him his first clue of the day and sent him off in a taxi by himself. I could tell that he was a little worried that he would be spending his birthday just walking around by himself. But I had planned on having one of our friends meet him at each place and the day went perfectly! He told me that it was his best adult birthday which was so nice to hear.



I feel so lucky to have such amazing and talented friends! Our friend Ane made this beautiful painting for us.


Yesterday myself, Jason and Willy took a walk around our neighborhood to take in the cherry blossoms. It’s crazy because they only last a week or two before they are all blown away so we feel like we need to appreciate them every chance that we get!



We have also been taking some time out over the weekends to relax and enjoy the beautiful weather.


Tomorrow we’ll be going to Jinhae where the biggest cherry blossom festival in Korea is held. The festival doesn’t begin until Wednesday but with our busy schedules and rain forecasted this Friday we decided to go tomorrow before the rain blows them away.

I have been researching other festivals that are coming up in Korea over the next couple of months and we are hoping to make it to a few of them. I really love this time of year!

We also bought a new tent and are excited for that to arrive and for us to take some camping trips again soon.

We have a short trip to Seoul planned this Sunday and Monday as we have our first appointment with the American embassy for my Green Card application. I’m so excited/nervous about this next step that we are taking.

Preparing my visa documents.

So there are plenty of fun stuff coming up this Spring that I’m excited to share with you.