My Absolute Favorite Weekend Trips Around Asia

My life had been thrown in a tailspin. We were moving 7,000 miles across the world from Fort Lee Virginia to Camp Henry in Daegu South Korea. We had to hire a realtor, find an apartment which took 3 months and get to all the Asian traveling we had imagined when we accepted this assignment. The year took us all over South Korea, Japan, China, Malaysia and Thailand and we’re just getting started. 2016 is going to be even better.

You learn to take advantage of long weekends, so in July we decided to fly to Jeju Island. It’s a volcanic island, a 2-hour flight from Daegu. The locals refer to it as the “Hawaii” of Korea. Personally, something that’s called the “anything” of something probably isn’t like its namesake. Jeju is no exception. It’s a beautiful island with beautiful white sand beaches and sharp craggy rock formations. There are great walking trails and tons of amusements for the young and old– but it’s no Hawaii. This post is specifically about accessible travel around Asia. These are My Favorite Weekend Trips Around Asia from Camp Walker & Daegu in South Korea.

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Weekend Trips Around Asia from South Korea

Camp Walker is a Great Home base for Asia Travel

Four days into the New Year—already. And I am beyond excited. This year has been a banner year for us that included an international move to South Korea. It culminated in a couple of pinnacle experiences. We PCS to South Korea and celebrated our 20th Anniversary together. And we were blessed to celebrate it somewhere exotic– Phuket, Thailand. We also traveled all over Korea, visited Beijing, Tokyo, Kyoto, and Kuala Lumpur in 2015. Mama’s got a brand new duffel bag full of exciting travel stories. More awkward interactions and memorable experiences to relive over and over again. So let’s get started.

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PCS From Virginia to Daegu, South Korea

Before we PCS to South Korea, we lived in Virginia. We had been living there for almost three years. And as it generally happens in this military life, I had just gotten settled into a routine. New friends, curtains hung, every picture meticulously placed, and a brand new job. And a job that took roughly two and a half years to get. They are all gone and in the past tense now.

Daegu is a great mid-market city to live in. Not far from Seoul or Busan (my favorite city). Lesser-known cities like Gwangju, Andong, Pohang, Gyeongju, and Boseong are also nearby. I loved the small cities most. It’s where traditions are alive and well in the fields, streets, temples, and markets.

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Travel Around Asia

We had to cancel our next trip to Palawan, Philippines two days prior to leaving due to a horrendous tsunami heading straight for the island. We contemplated going anyway but decided it wouldn’t be much fun. It might be a little dangerous. We lose about $300 on our $1,000 plane tickets. And we incurred a one-night hotel charge, which was later reimbursed by the hotel.

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Beijing, China

Our next trip was a 5-day group tour to China. After only a two-hour flight from Busan, we landed in Beijing, China. I had to pinch myself because I was going to cross off a HUGE bucket list item—the Great Wall of China… but I’d have to wait.

We lucked out because previous tours had more than 30 people, our group numbered 7.

China is a Communist country and we felt safer on a group tour, which I highly recommend. Our tour guide Fiona was great. She was very knowledgeable, spoke great English, and was open to our “stupid” questions —offering us an insight into how the Chinese really lived and what they really thought about Americans. It shouldn’t surprise you that they really don’t think too much about us at all. In a country with 1.6B people, 250M living in Beijing alone—their foremost concerns are the same as ours—shelter, food, employment, and educating their families.

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Great Wall of China

Over the 5 days, we watched an acrobatic show. We visited the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven. And I checked off one of my bucket list dreams by climbing the Great Wall of China. We were “forced” to shop at a jade factory, pearl shop, teahouse, silk factory, and an outlet mall. I complained about the shopping, but I ended up buying a few things like my jade ring that will always remind me of China.

We ate Peking duck, yummy family-style meals that always had chicken nuggets and French fries and I didn’t eat the live scorpions or tarantulas on sticks.

Oh, how I wish I had the foresight to charge for all those photos I took with perfect strangers. I could have also charged for touching my hair, OMG… they were all in my twists and I can’t imagine how many newsfeeds I showed up in that week. I wonder what the captions read?

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Tokyo, Japan

You Need More than a Week to Experience this City

Our next trip was on Steven’s bucket list—Tokyo. Tokyo is huge. We spent 5 days traversing the neighborhoods of Asakusa, Roppongi, Shinjuku, and Akihabara. We participated in the world-famous Shibuya Scramble, saw the city from the Tokyo Tower, ate a lot of delicious food, took in the fashion and fashionable Harajuku girls on Takeshita Street, and sat back and watched the skyline from a window seat on a yacht on a romantic dinner cruise around Tokyo Bay.

Basically we only scratched the surface, we had the plan, but not the time to really explore Tokyo’s fascinating culture.

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The Highlight of Japan 

Everyone said, don’t go to Japan without stopping in Kyoto and I’m glad I listened. We took a detour on the Shinkansen to Kyoto to see a Geisha show. Our trip included a Gion Corner tour. And we toured a few of the 1,000 temples Kyoto is known for. We only got to two: the brilliantly orange Kiyomizu-dera and the fabulously golden temple, Kinkaku-ji. We also climbed the mountain trail at the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. The only thing we couldn’t get to on my list was the Arashiyama Monkey and Bamboo Forest. But I loved Kyoto and will go back again one day soon I hope.


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Thailand and Malaysia

The last trip of the year was to Phuket, Thailand, by way of two long layovers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for our 20th Anniversary. We took public transportation to the twin towers and Batu Caves just outside of the city. We ate a vegetarian Indian dinner in Little India where I bought a stunning sari.

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Phuket, Thailand 

I loved every minute of it from the warm weather and warmer waters to the cheap street food and overtly friendly Thai people. They are so freaking nice!! I’m not ashamed to say that you definitely notice a shift in temperament when you leave that country.

December is the beginning of the high season and looking at the weather forecast before our trip I was nervous. The forecast of 80% rain every day of the trip made me relive the horrors of the failed Philippines trip at the end of May. But it rained once while we were there, and the hat was just a quick evening shower that cooled the air. It was HOT.

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Phi Phi Island and Phang Nga Bay

I signed up for three tours. Two full-day tours to Phi Phi Island and Phang Nga Bay and a half-day elephant trek in the jungle. All three tours were amazing, included meals and a lifetime of memories. I piloted a canoe, swam in the ocean, and snorkeled on some of the clearest, bluest water I’d ever seen.

We also ventured out on our own to the Chalong Temple, Big Buddha, and Phuket’s beautiful beaches.

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Our Tour Guide Angel

Charlie’s (our guide) expert canoe skills and knowledge of the local caves and wildlife saved our vacation. He maneuvered in and out of the tight caves around the bay. Pointing to things we would have missed ourselves. He helped us make a flower offering good health and happiness. And we floated out on the water in a cave with bioluminescent plankton after the sun retreated in the west. Charlie jumped into the black water and swirled his white shirt around. He activated the iridescent blue plankton “fireworks”. I sunk my arm, elbow deep, into the dark water to see them dance at the end of my fingertips. I would never have done that at home. Trust me, travel changes you.

New Years Eve in Daegu

We returned home renewed and refreshed, opting for a simple New Years here in Daegu. We attended the Annual Bell Ringing Ceremony. The balloon release and fireworks ceremony had a few thousand of our closest friends. Our temporary countrymen.

Trips We are Planning for Next Year

Afterward, we walked home. Just because it’s a new year, doesn’t mean you can break the 1 am curfew. LOL. We are planning another trip to Thailand in 2016, along with Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Bali. You never know where this military life will take you. It brought my son to Korea this year too. Happy New Year… indeed!!

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21 thoughts on “My Absolute Favorite Weekend Trips Around Asia

  1. Stacey,
    I always look forward to read and see pictures about your new travel adventures.
    Looking forward to read about your travels in 2016.
    Safe travels and thank you for sharing,

    1. Michelle, thank you for being so supportive. It was a exhilarating yet challenging year. I so look forward to more traveling in this New Year!!

  2. What an exciting year of travel again. I love seeing your blogs and pictures about all of your adventures. Looking forward to read about your upcoming travels.

  3. What an amzing year of traveling Stacey! And moving across the globe, wow!

    I will be looking into your Japan post, I am planning to go there in May and find it so difficult to decide where to go because everything seems amazing!

    Best wishes for 2016 and hope you get to visit Palawan this year:-)

  4. I just recently found your blog and have been comparing notes with some of the places y’all have traveled. I also live in Daegu and have been trying my best to see (and blog) as much as I can while living in this part of the world! It looks like we’ve hit up some of the same spots (we went to Phuket for our anniversary too!) – it’s always interesting to read another person’s perspective.

    1. So true. what has been your favorite destination so far?? We are off to Bali in a few weeks and are very excited!!

  5. What an amazing year of travel, looking forward to read about your upcoming ones. Love seeing all the pictures you post along. Safe travels

  6. sounds like you had a great year with lots of travel involved. That’s the only downside to living in Australia you can go nowhere on a 2-hour flight. If I fly north its 5 hours before I leave the Australian mainland lol. Cheers and happy travels for 2016

    1. Thank you. In Australia you have the luxury of varied sights, landscape and activities all in one place… Korea not so much. And flights even though only 2-3 hours are expensive with long layovers. We are doing Australia and New Zealand in the spring of 2017 for our last hoorah before returning to the United States and we both can’t wait.

  7. That was a big year! I love reflecting on the year before as well, especially when it looks like you had some great adventures. Bring on 2016!

    1. I agree completely, Nicole. I am looking forward to lots of adventures in travel and in life too. Thank you so much for stopping by.

  8. What an amazing year and congratulations on your anniversary! I can’t believe your son is joining you in Korea by chance: I know you had fabulous trips (and I wish you many more of them) but that must be the most fabulous thing of all for you:-)

    1. Thank you so much, it has been an eventful year. We are all so excited, so is he. He’ll only be 2 hours away from us and my husband is already planning a trip back to Thailand for them. Little does he know that he’s not going anywhere, let alone Thailand, without me.

  9. Wow, what an amazing year! And Happy Anniversary! By the way, I absolutely LOVE your barrel table! Some of these places, especially Thailand are high on our wish list. All the best in 2016!

    1. Thank you so much, it has been a great year with surprisingly few problems even though there was plenty of room for them. 20 years goes by fast if you marry the right guy. 🙂

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