Osaka Aquarium, Japan

Asia, Japan

While we were in Japan we visited the Osaka Aquarium. As cool  as aquariums are, they would never normally be on my list of places to go while in another country. Buuuut, Osaka Aquarium is one of the largest and best aquariums in the world.

The layout is really unique. You take an escalator up to the 8th floor and work your way down in a circular manner. What I found amazing about the aquarium is that every section is totally devoted to a particular area in the world and is made to look exactly like it. One minute you are wandering the great barrier reef and the next you are in the amazon.

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How adorable is this?!

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What a grumpy little face…

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A whale shark!

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This is one of the cutest animals I have ever seen

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Seriously, look at that face!

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Day 5: Island hopping (Part 2 of 3)

Asia, Thailand

Part 2! After our adventures exploring caves and sea canoeing it was time for James Bond Island, the most famous spot in the bay. This island is actually called Koh Phing Kan but after the 1974 James Bond movie (The Man with the Golden Gun) was filmed at this stunning spot it became known as James Bond Island.

We bounced over the waves and the bay was soon in sight.

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As we drew closer we spotted a small fishing village nestled between two cliffs.

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Once on the island we had a quick tour by our guide, Harry, and then were left to explore.

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I have heard this island can get pretty busy, but luckily we beat the crowds and thoroughly enjoyed our time at this beautiful spot.

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After spending some time on the island and acting silly we climbed back on the boat and sped off in true Bond style. The day was quickly warming up and we stopped off at a secluded bay for a swim.

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We jumped off the boat and swam to Treasure Island, a hidden beach only accessible by swimming through a narrow cave.

After a refreshing swim and being destroyed by fire coral (seriously. that stuff is insane) we were back on the boat and on our way to Koh Yao Noi for lunch. All the women needed to get properly dressed before we arrived as this is a Muslim island. We pulled into the tiny docks and got ushered into tuk-tuks and driven to a stunning local Thai restaurant for lunch.

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This ten minute drive gave us some insight into the local economy on this island. Rubber production is one of the main enterprises and we drove past people extracting the latex directly from the trees. We also spotted monkeys who had been trained to climb up and retrieve the coconuts for their owners to sell. Apparently one monkey collects as many coconuts in a day as ten men would be able to. We also drove past a buffalo who saved his owner’s life during the 2004 tsunami. The buffalo wasn’t constrained and about an hour before the tsunami came he started running away. The owner, whose livelihood depended on this buffalo, chased after him. He followed the buffalo up a steep hill and as the tsunami hit they were both on high ground.

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The restaurant was directly across from the beach. We ordered our drinks and wandered off for a walk along the deserted bay.

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We sat down to an absolutely delicious lunch at the restaurant (I only remembered to take pictures of the starters). The waiters places a myriad of dishes down in the center of the table for our group to help themselves from. We shared red curry, green curry, chicken with cashew nuts and an assortment of salads.

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We spent a little more time relaxing on the beach before being transported back to the docks and onto our boat.

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Next up: Island fun, snorkeling and a night out in Kata.

Day 5: Island Hopping (Part 1 of 3)

Asia, Thailand

This was the best day we have had in Thailand so far! After doing lots of research at home we decided to book a tour with Simba Sea Tours as they were highly recommended.

This tour was what I had been looking forward to the most and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I took so many pictures that I have had to break this day into 3 posts.

The tour left bright and early in order to avoid the crowds. We were up at 5 and sitting in the lobby waiting to get picked up at 6. Our shuttle soon arrived and half asleep, we leaned against the windows watching Phuket wake up around us as we made our way to the Royal Phuket Marina.

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We met at the pier as the sun was beginning to rise and gulped down some terrible iced coffee before walking down the docks to our boat.

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I felt like a little kid as I bounced around the boat while the crew got us ready to go. I was unbelievable excited. The engines were lowered into the water and with a roar we were off.

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The rising sun turned everything to gold as we made our way into open waters.

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Our first stop was Koh Phanak for some cave exploration. During low tide there is a cave that opens up at the base of this island. We donned our hard hats and fired up our torches to explore the hidden caves, lagoons and hongs.

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We wadded along the edge of the cliff (with our cameras held high above our head) as we made our way to the entrance of the cave.

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The rock formations inside the caves are incredible (and sharp! I definitely made full use of my hard hat). Soon the twisting tunnels opened up to reveal a lagoon filled with mangroves.

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The small lagoon is completely surrounded by high cliffs covered in shrubbery and trees. It was a bizarre feeling, it felt like we were looking up from the bottom of a well.

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There are some sections in the lagoon where the ground is covered in decomposing leaves. The guide led me in backwards by my hand and slowly into the warm, slimy earth. As I stood there I slowly sunk in up to my knees. According to the Thai it is great for your skin. It was a truly disgusting but interesting experience.

We crouched down and made our way back through the tunnel and onto the boat. Our next stop was Koh Hong.

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Koh Hong is a stunning location where we took a scenic canoe trip. This area is bursting with little individual islands; a result of tectonic plate shifts. We climbed aboard a canoe and set off to explore these geographical wonders.

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We were taken around by a very enthusiastic guide who spoke absolutely no English. He communicated purely by squeaks and hand gestures. Every few minutes he would stop and squeak frantically while pointing at something and absolutely refused to move along until I had taken a photo. By one point I had taken about 20 photos of the same thing. I got desperate and tried to pretend to take the photo, but to no avail, he was adamant. We were thoroughly entertained by him and he was very nice, even offering to take some photos of us.

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The views were breathtaking and we were turning in every direction as we tried to take it all in.

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At some points we lay down flat in the canoe in order to enter the low caves.

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It was such a tranquil experience. We lay back, looked around, and listened to the water lapping against the side of the canoe and the calls of the birds above.

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The colour of the water seemed to change every time we turned a corner.

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I’m looking forward to sharing the rest of our incredible day!

Day 3: Phuket Fishing Charter

Asia, Thailand

On our third day in Phuket we went on a fishing charter. This is something that Peter has always wanted to do. In the weeks leading up to Thailand he spent a lot of time looking at the different options and finally settled on this one. I had planned to stay at the hotel and have some ‘me time’ but at the last minute I decided to join him. As this was his thing he is going to tell you all about it (and I’ll add my little bits).

We awoke to the sounds of rustling coconut trees and blasting wind; not the ideal fishing weather (Or time. It was 5am!). However, by the time we had scoffed down a quick breakfast the wind had died down and the conditions looked close to perfect. Soon we were on our way to Chalong Pier, which is one of the more commercial piers in Phuket. It’s s littered with longboats, fishing vessels and tourists; giving us a small glimpse into the day-to-day lives of the Phuket fishermen.

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With bated (see what he did there;p) breath and a surge of excitement we jumped onto the back of a tuk-tuk and raced done the pier and onto our fishing boat. In no time we had boarded and were off into the unknown to tackle the monsters which lie there within.

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It was a 40 minute trip from the pier until we could drop the trawling lines. This gave us ample time to get settled in and enjoy the sights as we cruised past the Big Buddha, picturesque islands and a myriad of sea bound vessels. Unfortunately, as we left the wind picked up and made the voyage a little choppy (this often causes the fish to dive a little deeper). Even so, 10 minutes after dropping our trawling lines we had a bite…

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… And I was able to land the first fish of the day, a little Longtom (also known as a needle fish). This gave us high hopes for what was to come… Unfortunately, the wind had its way and it was another hour before we had another take, this time Megan brought in 2 little tuna.

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From there our luck seemed to pick up and everyone else on board (7 fishermen in total) were able to bring in a few Tuna, some of them being quite a bit larger than either Megan or my own fish. At around 1PM everyone had caught at least one fish, so we decided that it was about time for lunch. We anchored in the bay of Racha Island (this was by far the most beautiful bay we have seen so far. The water was incredibly clear and we could see thousands of little fish darting below the surface). We snorkeled on the bay’s reef whilst the crew prepared a lunch of Pineapple, fried rice, chicken and some of the more sizable Tuna which were caught earlier.

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The lunch was incredible! Fresh fruit and even fresher fish in one of the most exquisite locations I have ever beheld, this is what its all about.

After a little more snorkeling, we cruised off to a reef and tried our luck at a little hand line fishing. The fishing weren’t biting, so we were soon on our way out to do some more trawling. It was my turn at the rod once again. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, the fish were quiet for the remainder of our trip.

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We chugged our way back to the harbour (with Big Buddha looming over us) and enjoyed the view from the best spot on the boat.

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Such is fish I guess, but this still was one of the best days of my life.

We were exhausted and starving by the time we got back to our hotel. We ordered chicken satay via room service and had a shower before going down to the hotel restaurant for dinner.

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We had such a wonderful day and I am so glad I came with. 

Day 2: Phuket

Asia, Thailand

We ended up having quite a late start yesterday after oversleeping. We went to bed late the night before and must have been a little jet lagged. I woke up with a fright and it took me a few seconds to realise where I was. As soon as I remembered we were in Thailand I sprung out of bed and threw back the curtains to see what I could see…and I wasn’t disappointed.

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After oohing and aahing over the views we wandered down to the buffet breakfast at the hotel. I had planned quite a full itinerary for the day, but as we were both feeling quite sleepy (and we have more time in Phuket than we had planned) we decided to go check out the beach.

Kata beach is a five minute walk from the hotel and a stunning beach. The waters are much calmer and it is significantly quieter than the other beaches in the area.

The sea is truly bright tortoise and I can’t believe how warm it is. We strolled hand in hand along the beach admiring the view before stopping off at a dive shop to hire snorkeling equipment for the day. I absolutely loved the snorkeling. There is just something so serene about bobbing along in the ocean listening to the sound of your own breathing as bright little fish dart all around you.

After an hour or so we decided to explore the town a little and Peter went back to the hotel to get our stuff while I swam and lay on the beach.

After taking a few photos I realised that my memory card wasn’t in my camera. Sigh. While walking back to the hotel to get it we spotted a cute little market on the beach where we got the most refreshing drinks and banana pancakes.

Our hotel is at the top of the worst hill in the world (seriously, if I don’t have killer legs after this I want a refund) so we hopped into the pool to cool down a bit.

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After grabbing what we needed from the hotel we spent some time wandering around the little side streets.

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I even found a pair of slops I have been wanting.

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By late afternoon we decided it was time to return to the beach and took the shuttle down from our hotel.

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It was around 4.30 by the time we got there. We wandered down the beach taking some photos as we went along until we got to our snorkeling spot.

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We launched ourselves into the sea for another hour and loved every minute of it. By the time we emerged the most beautiful sunset was beginning to form, which of course meant that it was time for cocktails!

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We watched the longboats coming in…

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and I couldn’t resist another dip in the sea.

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I waited on the beach and took some photos while Peter went to get us drinks from the market.

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As I sat on the beach watching the breathtaking sunset it finally started to feel real and I can’t believe how lucky I am to be on this adventure. This year is going to be such an incredible experience and as nervous as I am I know it is going to be life changing.

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By this time we were starving and made our way to a little Thai restaurant we had spotted earlier. We ordered spicy chicken curry with coconut milk and garlic and pepper prawns. It was all so delicious!

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We spent some time at the restaurant just chatting and playing games before going home for one last swim for the day.

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It was the perfect day.

Day 1: Phuket

Asia, Thailand

Our time at O.R Thambo flew by and very soon our flight was on the board.

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We headed off to the bathrooms to get ready and changed for our flight and before we knew it our flight was being called and it was time to join the queue.

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Every time someone has asked me ‘how excited are you for Thailand?!” or ‘how are you feeling about Korea?’ I inevitably reply with ‘I don’t really know, it doesn’t feel real’. I’m not sure when it will hit me, but all of this feels like someone else’s reality. I kept thinking that I would suddenly realize it was really happening once I got to the airport, but it just didn’t feel that way. Even as we boarded our flight it felt like a regular trip to Joburg or Durban.

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We settled into the flight and enjoyed the on-board entertainment system. Luckily we were flying through the night so we managed to get a couple hours of sleep.

Coming into Dubai was great, I had only ever flown in at night, and while the city lights are spectacular there was just something about that vast, vast expanse of desert that intrigued me. I have never seen anything like it before.

Our first stop at the airport was Starbucks. Peter had never been there before and I just really needed coffee.

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After checking the board we saw that we were departing from a different terminal. The airport has an underground train which we took to get there. I probably found the train more exciting than I should have. But it was cool!

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We bought some exciting things at the duty free store before tracking down a breakfast buffet which we had a voucher for. The restaurant was pretty great, with a mix of western and middle eastern cuisine.

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Our flight from Dubai to Phuket seemed to take forever (even though it was 2 hours shorter than our previous one). We landed in Phuket at 9.30pm and the humidity hit us as soon as we stepped off of the plane. It was unbelievably hot. I feel like I should add something nice about it, but we couldn’t see a thing and the airport really is tiny. We passed through customs quite quickly and had officially arrived.

I was quite bleak at the airport. My bag had been broken and most of my jerseys for Korea had been stolen (some of which were my grandma’s which I had just inherited) as well as my toiletries.

I tried hard not to let that dampen my excitement and focused on absorbing everything around me. The airport was hot and bustling as we waited for our driver to take us back to the resort. We were soon ushered into a wonderfully cold car and were racing through the city.

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t what I was expecting. I knew that Thailand was a third world country and that Asia was different in many ways, but I guess I had still pictured a tropical paradise of sorts. The city scenes that sped past our windows were not what I had in mind. But, they were still awesome. The drive to the hotel was about an hour and we really got to see the less touristy side of Phuket and appreciate it’s diversity and uniqueness.

We arrived at our hotel at about 11pm and it was spectacular. I was suddenly wide awake and ready to explore!

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After dropping off our stuff and marveling at everything (we had been upgraded to a deluxe room!) we set off in search for dinner.

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We could really appreciate that we were in another country. Nothing was familiar; the sights, the sounds, the smells…everything was so foreign but we loved it.

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Most places were closed as it was now after midnight, but we managed to find a little restaurant with a live band. We ordered our first drinks of the trip and some dinner.

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We only got to bed after 2 and totally overslept this morning! We have had the most wonderful day today and I can’t wait to share it with you tomorrow.

8 Things To Do Before Applying To Teach English in South Korea

Advice, Getting to Korea

adriftinwanderland-seoul-skyline

Would you like to teach English in South Korea? Often the application process can be drawn out, frustrating and overwhelming. So, here are 8 things you will need to do which will make the application process quicker and easier. This is written from a South African perspective, but should be applicable for everyone.

Get your crap together.

The application process doesn’t have to be a long process, as long as you have these 8 things sorted.

  • Finish your degree or diploma. In order to apply for your E2 (work) visa, you will need to have a degree or a diploma of some sort (it doesn’t need to have anything to do with English or teaching). If you have not completed either of these you won’t be able to get a work visa for Korea. Rather apply to teach in Thailand, China, Vietnam or Italy.
  • Your police clearance certificate (CRC). This can take up to 8-12 weeks to get back (especially with all the recent postal strikes) and is essential for your visa application, so make sure that you apply for this up to 2 months before you even start looking for a job (it also paints a more professional picture if you have all your documentation before you begin the interview process). You can apply for your CRC at any local police station; the cost is between R120-R150 per person, you will also need to post this to the department head in Pretoria (as well as include a pre-paid registered mail return envelope) at your own expense. Depending on how you decide to post this (registered mail, overnight, regular…etc.) budget an extra R50.
  • Your CV. You will need this for your agency, position and visa applications so make sure that it is up to date with accurate and relevant information (they won’t care if you worked for Butler’s Pizza during your summer break). Some schools may want written references, so try and get digital copies of these just in case. Here is what you should include in your CV: http://www.myworldofwork.co.uk/content/10-things-you-should-have-in-your-cv
  • A cover letter. Some applications don’t require this, but it is good to include anyway. A cover letter is a great way to elaborate upon the work experience listed in your CV, as well as include a few examples which you couldn’t fit into the CV. Here’s what you should include in your cover letter: http://www.myworldofwork.co.uk/content/cover-letter-guide
  • A recent photo. This needs to have been taken in the past 6 months. It will need to be a forward facing, and professional looking, headshot. You will need to look professional; styled hair, freshly shaven and collared shirt for guys; and professional looking hair, light make-up and a blouse or buttoned up shirt for the ladies. While you need to look professional; this is not a passport photo, so look friendly and accessible (you will be working with kids after all). Please also make sure that you have no tattoos visible. You will need to use this photo for your agency and position applications.
  • An introductory video. This isn’t essential, but if done properly it could give you an advantage over other candidates. An introductory video is a short 2-3 minute video in which you give a brief introduction into who you are, why you enjoy teaching, why you would like to teach in Korea and why the school should employ you. Here are a few examples of good videos: http://www.teacheslkorea.com/getting_to_korea/intro_video.html http://youtu.be/kWZexAF_VBo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ie_85xhDe2s . During your video make sure that:
  • You are dressed smartly (no visible tattoos), this enables the potential employers to place a face to the application and enables you to make a good impression.
  • You film somewhere quiet with no background noise (unless you record in your current classroom).
  • You speak clearly, slowly and simply; the potential employers want to hear your accent and how you communicate, remember that their English may not be as strong as yours.
  • Start a TEFL course. If you are not a qualified teacher taking a 100+ hour TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) course will go a long way in your application process. They can be quite pricey, but Groupon often has specials where you can get up to 90% off of a course. When applying for a TEFL course, make sure that the institution that you do it through is certified under ACTDEC; here are a few things to consider when choosing your course: http://www.i-to-i.com/choosing-which-tefl-course.html
  • Decide on Private or Public school, and location It is always a good idea to decide on whether you would like to teach in a private or a public school, here is some useful information that will aid your decision:

http://www.teacheslkorea.com/teaching_in_korea/public_vs_private_schools.html ; Personally, I suggest that you go after a public school position, it is a more stable position, is often better paying and you stand a much lower chance of getting screwed over. However, the public school programs are a lot more competitive and you often have to apply up to 6 months in advance to secure one of these positions. With regards to the location, this is up to you; Korea has the 3rd largest city in the world (Seoul) as well as a few smaller but still fairly large cities; on the other hand, Korea also has a quite a few more rural areas if the big city vibe is not your thing. Your recruitment agency will ask for your preference, so make sure that you have a rough idea of where you would like to teach.

My next post will be a list of tips for when you start applying for a teaching position in South Korea.