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The Best Korean Souvenirs & Gifts

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What’s the best part of any vacation? Buying fun souvenirs for your friends back home to show them you appreciate them while making them jealous of your awesome trip at the same time, of course! (We’re half kidding.)

The next time you’re in Korea, you have some big decisions to make: Korea is full of super fun, one-of-a-kind souvenirs for you to choose from. Your days of picking up shot glasses in an airport are over! Read on for our favorite Korean souvenirs, and be sure to let us know if we forgot anything in the comments below!


Korean Souvenirs #1: Buchae (부채)

Korean Souvenirs 1 Buchae

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Summer is finally here, and it’s going to be scorchingly hot in most of the Northern hemisphere for at least another couple months. If you’re on the hunt for some cool Korean souvenirs over the next couple of weeks, consider the buchae, a fun, foldable Korean fan. They’re inexpensive, easy to find, and your friends will thank you for getting them something practical instead of a trinket that will gather dust in the back of their closet for the next few years. Pick up one for yourself as well to make exploring Korea more enjoyable this summer!


Korean Souvenirs #2: K-Pop Merchandise

Korean Souvenirs 2 Kpop Merchandise

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If you’re searching for souvenirs for friends that have been swept up in the K-Pop phenomenon, you won’t have to look far! K-Pop posters, t-shirts, and other merchandise are available pretty much everywhere in Korea due to K-Pop’s rise in popularity over the last few years across the globe. You can also pick up some of your favorite K-Pop CD’s to give your friends a taste of Korean popular culture. Who knows – maybe it will make them want to join you on your next trip to Korea!


Korean Souvenirs #3: Fun Socks

Korean Souvenirs 3 Fun Socks

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Alright, hear us out – socks? Yes! Korea has taken fun and adorable sucks to a whole new level, which makes them the perfect souvenir for you to pick up for your friends back home. Not to mention that they’re inexpensive, easy to find, and will take up no space in your suit case – could they be any more perfect?! In Korean culture, it is polite to remove your shoes before entering somebody’s home, so Korean designers have extra motivation to design show-stopping socks because they’ll be seen on a regular basis. Take advantage of this trend and pick up some cute socks for you and your friends the next time you’re out and about in Korea!


Korean Souvenirs #4: Phone Cases

Korean Souvenirs 4 Phone Cases

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If you’d like to go the practical route the next time you’re picking up souvenirs in Korea, you should consider picking up one of the cute Korean phone cases that are for sale at most souvenir shops. These cases often depict Korean art, Korean cartoons, and K-Pop stars. Your friends will thank you for being thoughtful AND for helping them protect their new iPhone from cracking when they inevitably drop it – everybody wins!


Korean Souvenirs #5: Korean cosmetics

Korean Souvenirs 5 Korean Cosmetics

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The Korean cosmetics industry has BOOMED over the past couple of years, and fun new cosmetics shops have been opening up left and right throughout Korea. Picking up a brand new BB cream or eyeshadow palette for your friends back home is the perfect way to say you care! Korean face masks are also super popular and inexpensive souvenirs – they’re made from all-natural ingredients and have been the talk of the industry because they leave skin feeling soft and taut for days on end after only one application.  Be sure to pick up something for yourself, too – you deserve to be looking your best!


Korean Souvenirs #6: Soju

Korean Souvenirs 6 Soju

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Soju is a quintessential Korean alcohol made from rice. There’s a reason it’s as popular as it is – soju has a clean, crisp flavor that means it pairs well with a wide variety of dishes. It’s also relatively inexpensive and available at most Korean supermarkets, so you won’t have a difficult time tracking it down! Soju is loved by pretty much everybody, so it’s a safe choice for a souvenir that your friends and family will be thanking you for. Just make sure the bottle doesn’t break in your suitcase!


Korean Souvenirs #7: Korean tea

Korean Souvenirs 7 Korean tea

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If you’re looking for a souvenir for your underage friends, look no further than the tea aisle in any Korean supermarket. Tea is a big part of day to day life in Korea, so there’s a wide variety of interesting flavors (and beautiful boxes!). Tea is also way easier to transport than other beverages – you can just throw the box in your suitcase and forget about it without worrying about leakage. If you really want to go above and beyond, consider picking up a tea-set for friends – maybe they’ll host a tea part in your honor as a ‘thank you’!


Korean Souvenirs #8: Electronics

Korean Souvenirs 8 Electronics

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Korea is always on the forefront of awesome new electronics. If you can imagine it, they’ve probably already invented it! If you’re considering picking up electronics as souvenirs on your way out of Korea, you’ll be happy to know that Korea is full of inexpensive, high quality electronics like phones and MP3 players. You can also try your luck at bargaining – in many of the larger electronic stores in Korean cities, proprietors are open to bartering and will give you the best price they can. Electronics that won’t break the bank? Sign me up!


Korean Souvenirs #9: Korean snacks

Korean Souvenirs 9 Korean Snacks

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There’s nothing in the world quite like Korean snacks – from dried squid to fried kimchi, there really is something for everybody! Bring a little taste of Korea back to your loved ones as an inexpensive, thoughtful gift – just make sure you don’t bring anything TOO addicting (we’re looking at you, pepero) or their gratitude will turn to sadness when they can’t find Korean snacks in your home country!


What is your favorite souvenir to surprise your friends and family with when you return home from vacation? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!


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I was in Kota Kinabalu for five days in April 2016. Formerly...

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I was in Kota Kinabalu for five days in April 2016. Formerly known as Jesselton, it’s the capital of the state of Sabah, Malaysia. KK is a popular beach getaway for Malaysians, but I think the beach is underwhelming compared to the beautiful mountains.

One thing you’ll notice immediately upon arriving is that taking a taxi is a rip-off. I’m not sure where I hate taxis the most: The Philippines, Malaysia, or Indonesia. Thankfully, the KK airport requires taxis to comply with a standard rate, which is typically RM30 from the airport to your hotel. Unfortunately, the airport has two terminals and no shuttle, so you’re required to pay RM30 for a taxi from one terminal to the other.

The first night I stayed at The Crown Borneo Hotel for $28.75. It was a small room with spotty wifi, but the staff were really nice. There are plenty of local restaurants nearby serving Malay, Chinese, and Indian food. There’s a place to get decent massages across the street. I walked a mile to Perdana Park, which has a sweet night water fountain show. And, it seems like they have plans to build a massive library in the near future. As you can tell, that’s not really the happening area of town.

I also stayed by the waterfront for two nights and stayed at the Promenade Service Apartment (for $43.13). It’s a big complex of condominiums, apartments, and businesses. Great location but the shoddy condition of the facilities supports the low price.

It is really nice staying across the street from the Oceanus Waterfront Mall, though, and there are lots of good restaurants on the waterfront. Mai Yai Thai Orchid is likely my favorite. I bought two drinks, a som tam salad, and pad thai for RM69.65.

Next to the mall is the Pasar Kraftangan (Handicraft Market) open during the day, and then the Pasar Malam Sinsuran (Night Market) in the evening. It’s a good place to eat street food and haggle for the usual touristy fare.

I went on a 1-day Poring Hot Spring & Kinabalu Park Tour for RM190. I loved being at the park, but that wasn’t long enough in my tour. The hot spring wasn’t the best -granted I’m spoiled by Taipei and Osaka- but it peaked my interest with the tropical and butterfly gardens, canopy walkway, and Rafflesia flower site. I had to pay extra for all these things, but that could be the fault of my poor tour choice.

Despite being on the seaside, there’s basically nowhere to enjoy it. Big buildings near the water and no beach. The biggest tourist attraction (and the only nearby nice beaches) is the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. It’s a park of five islands which you have to take a 20-minute speedboat to. Boat transfers are only available 7:30am to 5pm. If you happen to get stuck on the island, you can sleep at a regular hotel for $200-300 a night.

The most worthwhile thing to do in the area is to climb Kinabalu, the highest peak between the Himalayas and New Guinea at 4095m, and a Unesco World Heritage Site. You have to pay ~RM1,060 to hire a guide to take you up there, and they feed you meager meals like hot dogs, but I’ve heard the experience is amazing.


Hi, I'm Stacy. I'm from Portland, Oregon, USA, and am currently living in Busan, South Korea. Check me out on: Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Lastfm, and Flickr.


How to Say ‘Mother’ in Korean

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One of the first things people often learn when studying a foreign language is how to talk about their families. Families are very important in every country, Korea included! Therefore, it is a good idea to know how to talk about them and how to recognize if somebody else is talking about theirs. In this article, we will look at how to say ‘mother’ in Korean.

*Can’t read Korean yet? Click here to learn for free in about 60 minutes!


‘Mother’ in Korean

Just like in English, there is more than one way to say ‘mother’ in Korean. Let’s start off with the most formal way, and then work our way down to the more informal ways of saying ‘mother’ in Korean.

Formal ‘Mother’ in Korean

Formal mother in Korean

1. 어머님 (eomeonim)

When addressing somebody formally, we need to add the suffix ‘님’ (nim) to our subject’s name (never add this to your own name). The word for ‘mother’ is no exception, so if we want to say ‘mother’ in a formal situation, we need to say 어머님. This is the best word to use when referring to other people’s mothers.


어머님께 안부 좀 전해 주세요 (eomeonimgge anbu jom jeonhae juseyo)

Say hello to your mother for me.

Standard ‘Mother’ in Korean

Standard Mother in Korean

1. 어머니 (eomeoni)

This is the standard way to say ‘mother’ in Korean. You can use this in most situations when talking about your own mother. If you are talking about your own mother, you need to use the word 우리 (uri), meaning ‘our’, instead of the word ‘my’.


어머니들은 자식들을 사랑하길 절대 멈추지 않는다. (eomeonideuleun jashikdeuleul saranghagil jeoldae meomchuji anneunda).

Mothers never stop loving their children.


Informal ‘Mother’ in Korean

Informal Mother in Korean

1. 엄마 (eomma)

This word has a similar meaning to ‘mom’ in English, and should only be used when talking to your own mother. When referring to your own family in Korean, instead of saying ‘my mom’, you need to say ‘our mom’ (우리 엄마 [uri eomma])


엄마, 제발, 저는 하고 십지 않아요. (eomma, jebal, jeoneun hago shipji anayo.)

Mom, please, I don’t want to.


A Word of Caution About Romanization

We’ve added in the Romanization for all of these words to help with pronunciation. However, learning the Korean alphabet (Hangeul) will help you learn Korean a lot faster than if you solely rely on Romanization. Hangeul can be learned in just a couple of hours, and it will benefit your Korean massively by improving your reading ability, pronunciation, and ability to learn new words and phrases more quickly.

You will certainly benefit from learning new Korean words. However, if you really want to learn Korean fast, it’s best to make sure you have real conversations. Take a look at our free list of Korean phrases or our full Korean course for all the help you will need when conversing in  Korean.

‘Mother’ in Korean Wrap-Up

You may hear Koreans using family words when referring to non-family members. Although the word 이모 (imo), which means ‘aunt’, is the most common family word used for addressing women of a mother’s age, the word 어머니 may occasionally be used by people so don’t get confused if you hear it in this context (although I don’t recommend that you use it yourself).

Now that you know how to say ‘mother; in Korean, start asking your Korean friends about their families, and telling them about yours!


*Want more Korean phrases? Go to our Korean Phrases Page for a complete list!

Marmot’s Hole Podcast: “Creative Korea” Faces Uphill Battle After New National Slogan Announcement

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Creative Korea Skyline

Marmot’s Hole blogger & tourism magazine editor Robert Koehler joins Korea FM host Chance Dorland to discuss South Korea’s new national slogan, “Creative Korea.”

While the government spent $3 million dollars to select the new branding campaign, the very quick revelation that “Creative France” is already in use, and doubts by commentators and industry professionals as to whether “creative” is the best term to describe the ROK and its future after the Park administration, the new campaign has experienced condemnation since the moment it was announced.

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Clam: Haeundae

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Busan Food: Clam Haeundae

I won’t be saying too much about Clam’s new branch in Haeundae, as you can read my detailed review of their Seomyeon branch here. However, I wanted to give you all the chance to revel in the glory of the wonderful looking food I took photos. Tasty!

The new location is perfect. Located in the Pale de CZ building right on the eastern end of Haeundae beach, the front door is 20 seconds walk away from sand. This beach view location sits perfectly with the vibe, and makes sure that Clam: Haeundae, is almost guaranteed to be a huge success!


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Filed under: Food Tagged: busan, busan food, busanfood, collaboration, Food, restaurant, restaurant review, review, salmon, Spanish food, tapas, wine

Eat Busan, Eat The World!

This Accelerating Contradiction

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Being alone has never really bothered me. I was an only child growing up, and whenever a play-date wasn't an option, I was perfectly happy playing pretend in my room for hours, reading, or (most embarrassingly) learning how to make databases on my mom's Windows 3.1 computer. There were so many floppy disks. It wasn't even connected to the internet. Am I dating myself?

Maybe I'm getting more introverted as I get older, or maybe I'm just noticing it more, but these days it's getting harder and harder to force myself out of the house. Through all my years of shared bedrooms and roommates, I always knew I'd love living alone--I just never knew how much. I spend all day turned up to eleven at school; I have to keep my students energized, talk to coworkers, and constantly switch back and forth between Korean and English (and sometimes Japanese when the kids try to mess with me). It is, in a word, socially exhausting. The feeling of stepping into my apartment and closing the door to the outside world is magical.

Most people who've met me have a hard time believing this, because I have an uncanny ability to talk to just about anyone, but socializing is not something I'm naturally good at. I had to train myself, and going to a party or even just going to work still requires a certain...different persona. When I worked in cafes and restaurants, I called it my Customer Service Face. It's the face that smiles at rude customers, that cracks cheerful jokes no matter what's going on behind the scenes, that can run on autopilot through most types of small talk. It's convenient, but exhausting to keep up. When it's cranked into overdrive, I can get home from a party or a day at work and barely remember a thing I said to anyone.

The reason for my aforementioned talk-to-anyone skill is likely my knack for reading people, reading the room, and modulating myself to match. I have to be careful, though, or I'll change so much I don't recognize myself anymore. It's hard for me to stop thinking about how others are perceiving me, how the way I act influences the atmosphere around me. With all but the absolute closest of friends, socializing is like solving a constantly changing puzzle. I'm jealous of those people who seem to always just "be themselves" no matter the occasion. But then again, maybe people think that of me? Who knows.

The upside of having a no-roommate apartment to go back to is that I can more easily recharge after these daily bouts with humanity. The downside is that in order to have friends/any social life at all, it's sort of important to, you know, leave the house. Ever. I know that once I get to the party, to the class, to the bar, what have you, I'll have fun. Usually, socializing is fun, no matter how exhausted I am afterwards. But the problem is, staying home alone is fun 99.99% of the time, and it requires neither a bra nor pants. So you see my problem. I also genuinely enjoy traveling alone. Sure, it's harder to take pictures and eat out in restaurants, but isn't that what the selfie-stick was invented for?

When they invent something that makes eating alone less awkward, I'll be first in line to buy 10.

I may be able to talk to anyone, but making friends has always been difficult for me. It takes me a long time to get close to someone, and my tendency to drop off the face of the earth (socially) from time to time means I lose a lot of friendships that don't have a strong enough foundation yet. Living in Korea has added a bonus boss battle: my friends keep leaving.

It's totally natural. The average stay for native teachers over here is 1-3 years, so it's to be expected that people will come and go. If I were better at making and keeping friends, this wouldn't be such a big deal, but when it takes at least a year for me to feel really close to someone, if they leave right after it's almost like losing out on an investment. This is kind of horrible to say, but it's almost as if I'm an employer who's spent a year training a new recruit only to have them quit. Eventually, I don't want to hire any new people, even though I know I need them. Does that make sense?

There's clearly some lack of logic between what I want to happen and what I do. Case in point: I want to have friends, but what do I do? Avoid my nice neighbor who just wants to get brunch with me because I want to...what? Go for a walk by myself? Stay home and play videogames? I honestly can't understand my motivations in a lot of these situations, and yet they keep happening in the same way. Anxiety is tricky that way, I suppose.

So I guess that's where I am now; trying to find a balance between enjoying solitude and cutting myself off from humanity. Where do I draw the line? When does self-care turn into something bad? Tune in next never for the answer.

Teacher Pretty
Middle school ESL teacher, lover of pink, eater of kimchi, addicted to Etude House, expert procrastinator, meeter of 2-dimensionial popstars: Ana. That's me.

About   Teaching   Advice   Beauty   How-To   Food   Langauge   Tumblr

충무로 (Chung Moo Ro)

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Busan Food: 충무로 (Chung Moo Ro) 

Last weekend I got the urge to explore, so I took myself off to near Busan station, Bosco-dong. It’s just next door to the more well-known Nampo-dong. I stumbled across something I’d heard tell of from other Busan-ite’s but never seen for myself. Book Alley. It’s basically hundreds of little book stalls all clustered together, selling the most wonderful array of used books you can imagine. You can find anything from decades old-Korean cookbooks to second hand new thrillers. It’s really quite fascinating. Amongst all this is the restaurant I had been trying to find. 충무로 (Chung Moo Ro), a cute little bistro, serving traditional Korean food with a fair few tricks up its sleeve. Charmed by the quaint exterior and kooky interior, I ventured in quickly.

The first thing you notice is how eclectic the design is. Ancient TV’s and faded old LP sleeves jostle for position with colorful pop art and retro Japanese toys. There’s enough kitsch and kooky things to distract the eye for hours. I was hungry however, so dived straight for the menu.

The menu is fairly simple, and exceptionally well-priced. Most items come in between 3-5,000 won, with only a few dishes creeping up to the 7,000 mark. Its broken down into 3 easy sections. Rice dishes, noodle dishes and combo’s, or sets. Knowing I was visiting for and BEFM 90.5MHz, the owner quickly set about making us a feast, featuring things from each section of the menu.

Whilst we waited we were served with a couple of 충무로’s signature drinks. First, Pumpkin Sikhye. This incredibly sweet drink is a traditional Korean drink. This one however, had the addition of real pumpkin juice. This added a slightly rich flavor, a bright orange colour, and made the drink a little more refreshing! Coming in at 2,000 for an iced glass, it’s a delicious palate cleanser before your meal. We also had a Vietnamese iced coffee (also 2,000). This was served the traditional Vietnamese way, with a splash of condensed milk at the bottom, giving a distinct sweetness to the coffee. Sweet coffee isn’t my cup of tea (pardon the pun), but my fiancée loved it.

Whilst we were waiting four our food, the affable owner pointed us to his extensive collection of LP’s. He went on to explain that these aren’t just for show, a customer is free to choose any LP to play whilst they enjoy their meal. What a fantastic personal touch! The selection is a mix of classic and modern, Korean and western. In a retro mood, we opted for some Billie Joel. As Piano man drifted out the speakers, I began to get a good feeling about the restaurant. It’s just so darn cool.

The food arrived, and I was eager to try everything on offer (see photos below). The bulgogi kimbap was meaty, well-seasoned and generous with the meat, a classic done well. The cold udon noodles were refreshing, cold and delicious. With plenty of chopped cucumber on top to give that fresh, fresh flavor you want from any cold noodle dish. The cream curry udon was soft, with a mild curry flavor and a rich, smoothness from the cream. People who aren’t fans of the strong taste of curry should give this a try.

For me however, the two signature dishes were the undoubted stars of the show. The Hawaiian shrimp set was a hit. Plump, juicy, well-cooked shrimp with a sweet and spicy chili and mango sauce came perched atop a bed of rice and fresh, crisp salad. The dish was simple, well thought and excellently executed. It’s also an absolute bargain!

The other stand-out dish was the tofu salad with Daenjang dressing. This was fantastically original. Soft, mellow, crumbly tofu, atop crunchy baby leaves and soft white rice. Very simple and elegant. Them a generous layer of punchy, flavorsome dressing brings the dish to a new level. Salty, rich and slightly spicy, the dressing contrasts perfectly with the mild flavors of the other ingredients. This was a huge hit with me and my companion.

충무로 (Chung Moo Ro) is well worth a visit if you are in the area. The restaurant is small, charming and relaxing, and the owner is knowledgeable and accommodating. The food is original, tasty, and unbelievably well priced. If I lived a little closer I would be lunch-ing here extremely regularly. That, I guess, is the biggest compliment I can offer!



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The nearest station is Nampo-dong or Busan station.  The best way to find the restaurant would be to search for the book market. The restaurant is at the western end of the book market, near Busan station.

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Filed under: Food Tagged: busan, busan food, busanfood, Food, korea, Korean, korean food, Koreanfood, restaurant, restaurant review, review, traditional, traditional korean, traditional korean food

Sandakan, Malaysia

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April 8 - 12, 2016 

I flew into Sandakan not knowing much of the area. It’s the second-largest town in Sabah (Malaysia’s easternmost state, one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo) after Kota Kinabalu City. Sandakan is on the northeastern coast of Borneo in Malaysia.

I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was thinking of lush beaches and jungles everywhere. It was a really lovely few days, but that isn’t really the case.

If you’re simply staying in Sandakan for an overnight layover, stay at Labuk Hotel because it’s $25 a night and they’ll do airport pick-up and drop-off for free. The Pavilion Hotel is in the same area and looks nicer for only a few dollars more, but I’m not sure if their airport service is free. They’re both located within walking distance of a strip mall that has several curry restaurants and pretty much nothing else.

I rented a car for 24-hours through Borneo Express, which was easy enough to reserve on their website and then pick-up at the airport. They’ll advertise that the price is 40 Malaysian Ringgit ($10 USD) but after insurance and taxes it’ll run you RM150 ($39). Gas cost RM10 for 5 liters, and I bought 10 liters total. It really depends on where you go. The car was convenient to just go where we’d like and navigating with our smartphones (with SIM cards) was easy enough.


We drove to the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, which I recommend. 


These monkeys are only in Borneo and it’s a unique opportunity to see them up-close. The monkeys are free to run anywhere, but there are feeding times about every hour where you can see them come out of the forest to eat. It costs RM60 for entry per person. Learn from me and don’t eat the food there; I ate some “dry noodles” that looked like they were served in saliva.

Also in that area is the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. There is a popular trail there that closes at 2:00 pm. Orangutans are much less lively than the proboscis monkeys. Feeding times are at 10:00 am and 3:00 pm. Entry costs RM30 for foreign tourists, plus an additional camera fee of RM10 should you wish to take your camera with you.

I liked eating at a restaurant nearby called Lindung. The space was really beautiful and relaxing. The food was familiar (e.g. hamburgers and sandwiches) albeit expensive in comparison to local food (RM20 for a burger instead of RM5 for curry).

Another popular tourist attraction in the area is The Rainforest Discovery Centre, which is open 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, and entry is RM15 a person. 

When we were done, we drove to the waterfront and stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan, which is the most expensive hotel in the area but only $57 a night when booked on Agoda


Safe, good service, really comfortable beds, and an infinity pool where you can buy 3-for-2 beers 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Parking is free at the Sandakan Harbour Square Mall. Sadly, this hotel doesn’t offer any service to or from the airport, but instead suggests taking a taxi which is RM30 one-way.

The next morning we went to Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple 普濟寺 before dropping off the car at the airport. The drive up to the temple was windy but worth it. There are some really beautiful panoramic views of the town and bay from up there.


Then, we dropped off our laundry to be washed at the Sandakan Backpackers (1.3kg for RM15.60 - expensive compared to the RM4.4/kg I paid in Kota Kinabalu). They booked us a tour last minute for a Kinabatangan Sukau River Cruise at the Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort (RM200 for 1-day). Really friendly people at that hostel and also at that resort! We didn’t stay at the resort because there was no internet connection (wifi or SIM card). Most people stay for two or three days so they can cruise the river and go on treks for more opportunities to see animals. I was happy to see an orangutan, proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques, a snake, and many bird species (including an eagle) in the wild. 


On our last day we hung around town -shopping at the Central Market, drinking tea at the English Tea House, and learning about the past at the Keith Agnes House (RM15). 

There isn’t much else to do in Sandakan. Tour businesses close on Saturday at noon and are closed all day on Sunday -but you can have your accommodation call them directly. There are a few more tours we didn’t take such as an overnight to Turtle Island (people recommend booking through Crystal Quest) for ~RM730, Gomantong Caves (usually a RM85 add-on for a Kinabatangan River tour), Sepilok Laut trekking for ~RM270), and checking out a Malay fishing village and fireflies in the Mangrove forest for ~RM185.

I’m headed to Kota Kinabalu next, but next time I come to Malaysia I’d really like to go to Kuala Lumpur for a few days and then fly into Tawau so I can go diving in Sipadan.

Hangul Day: Celebrate the Korean Alphabet

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October 9th is Hangul Day in South Korea. Hangul Day is celebrated on January 15th north of the DMZ. Hangul Day is a day set aside to celebrate the Korean alphabet, known as Hangul. The day is known as 한글날 (Hangulnal) in Korean, and is also known as ‘Hangul Proclamation Day’.

At first, it might seem a bit strange that people get a day off work to celebrate the alphabet (but of course any reason for a day off work is a good reason!). However, once you learn the history of Hangul, you will see why it is so important to Korea and Korean culture!

History of Hangul

Most alphabets around the world have mysterious, unknown origins. They slowly evolved from pictures into symbols that represent sounds. The Korean alphabet (Hangul) is different, and is unique among widely used alphabets, in that rather than evolving, it was deliberately created.

During the fifteenth century, Koreans used Chinese characters to write. These characters are known as ‘Hanja’, and are still occasionally seen in Korea, particularly on calendars. As Korean is grammatically very different from Chinese, writing Korean using Hanja was an almost impossible task. As a result, only the elite in Korea were literate.

In 1443, King Sejong decided that it would be best for Korea if the Korean language had its own alphabet. He then set out to make this happen, and by 1444, the new alphabet was completed.

Is Hangul Difficult to Learn?

Is Hangul Difficult to Learn

Unlike Chinese characters, Hangul is incredibly easy to learn. It is said that ‘A wise man can learn it in a morning, and a stupid man can learn it in the space of ten days’. In fact, it can be learned in under two hours if you use the best techniques possible, try our 90 minute challenge to see how. Compare those two hours to the amount of time needed to learn how to read Chinese and you can imagine how revolutionary Hangul must have seemed at the time of its invention!

What is Hangul Like?

Like most other alphabets, Hangul is phonetic. But it also has several adaptations that make it well suited for Korean. For example, rather than being written in a straight line, the letters that make up Hangul are organized in a square shape which matches up with the Chinese characters that they replaced. This makes it easy to identify the meaning of any words that are based on Chinese characters.

Another, rather incredible adaptation that the language has, is that the consonants are based on the shape made by the mouth when saying them. This foresight is only possible due to the fact that the language was planned, and it makes Hangul easy to learn.

The vowel letters are based on a combination of three elements: a dot, representing the sun; a vertical line, representing man; and a horizontal line, representing the earth. Unlike English, each vowel sound in Korean has its own letter, which makes a huge difference when learning how to pronounce new words.

Although Hangul was a created language, it has evolved slightly over time, with some letters becoming obsolete. The double ㅎsound, for example, is no-longer used. The original script also had marks to show the pitch of words, but these marks are no longer used. Also, the dots that were used in the vowel sounds are almost exclusively drawn as short lines these days.

Introduction of Hangul

Despite all of Hangul’s benefits, it nearly went out of existence during the Choseon dynasty. The elite of the time wanted to preserve their status, and as a result saw Chinese characters as the only true way to write Korean. In the early 16th century, Hangul was effectively banned by the king, and education centers that taught Hangul were closed down.

However, Hangul had resurgence in the 19th century, and gradually grew more and more common, especially due to its role in Korean nationalism during the era of Japanese occupation. Even after Korea gained its independence, Chinese characters were still frequently used, and if you read newspapers from the 1950’s and 1960’s, you will see a mixture of Chinese characters and Hangul. It was only in the 1970’s that the use of Chinese characters declined, but these days, almost all Korean is written in Hangul.

The date of Hangul Day in Korea varied a lot since the day’s inception in 1926, but its current date of October 9th has been used since 1945. These days, workers in Korea will be pleased to notice that October 9th is marked in red on their calendars, meaning that the day is a national holiday. But it hasn’t always been that way; between 1991 and 2012, Hangul Day lost its position as a national holiday and workers didn’t get the day off. Luckily, its status as a national holiday was restored in 2012 so this year you can enjoy the great weather that Korea usually experiences in early October instead of being stuck behind a desk.

How to Celebrate Hangul Day

Celebrate Hangul Day

Why not commemorate Hangul Day by visiting the museum of King Sejong. The museum is easy to find; it is located directly underneath the large golden statue of King Sejong in Gwanghwamun Square, in front of Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul. The entrance to the museum is at the back of the statue.

Inside the museum, there are several exhibits explaining the creation of Hangul along with the other technological advances of King Sejong’s reign. The period of King Sejong’s rule is often seen as a golden period of Korean history, where enlightenment and knowledge, rather than war and invasion, were the defining events of the time. It is no surprise that a picture of King Sejong appears on the ten thousand won bill!

Another way to celebrate Hangul Day in Korea is to learn Hangul. As mentioned already, the Korean alphabet only takes two hours to learn, and allows you to read Korean signs as well as improve you pronunciation and ability to learn new words. What better way to celebrate the day than learn the language.

Show everyone how great you think Hangul is by writing something using the Korean alphabet in the comments below!

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