Sunday, March 22, 2015

Homeward Bound

After spending 2 years in Korea, it was finally time to return home to Australia. I took a gamble booking some dirt cheap tickets with Asiana Airlines about 10 months ago, but luckily Jihyen's 309 partner visa came through in time with 8 days to spare ^^. 

I had read some mixed reports about Asiana Airlines, so I was a little worried about what the 10 hour flight to Australia would be like. We flew with Asiana Airlines about a month prior from Korea to Singapore and it was a fairly modern aircraft. The plane we caught to Australia however.... I think it was from the 1990's. There was a decent normal (for economy) amount of space between the seats, but the in flight entertainment was very limited and didn't use touch screen control. You had to use the remote attached to your seat to navigate the menu's, and you had to tune into the 4 or 5 movies that played every 3 hours. But, that didn't dampen my spirits. The tickets, as I said, were dirt cheap AND I WAS FLYING HOME TO AUSTRALIA!!!

The meal they provided wasn't bad for airline food.

After spending 5 hours trying to get some sleep, I opened my window shade to see this... my first Australian sunrise in 2 years.

We have been back a little over a week now and are settling into a new routine. Please drive carefully, we now live here too! 

I'll update this blog from time to time, but I'd say this will be my last post for quite a while. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Master Switch

Modern Korean apartments have all sorts of gadgets, one of which is a master switch conveniently located by the front door that can call the elevator, turn off the gas or all the lights before leaving the apartment.

We are crashing at Jihyeon's parents apartment all packed and ready to fly to Australia tomorrow. I just got up to get a drink of water from the kitchen. It was pitch dark in the hallway, so I tried to turn the hallway light on.... it didn't work. I pushed the button again... still not working. I then started repeatedly pressing it only to find out it isn't the hallway light switch. It is the master light switch for the whole unit and I was turning the bedroom lights on and off! Sorry everyone! The apartment must have looked like a Christmas tree from the outside. Just spent the last 5 minutes laughing hysterically with Jihyeon. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Review - Happiness Tuk Tuk in Siem Reap

My wife and I recently traveled to Siem Reap - Cambodia for a week to escape winter in Korea and check out the ancient temples Cambodia has to offer. We hired a Tuk Tuk for 4 days and it was absolutely the best decision. I was originally thinking about riding push bikes  as I love cycling, but i'm happy we didn't. The weather was very very hot and humid and the temple complexes are massive. We wouldn't have been able to see half as much as we did if we rode push bikes, not to mention we wouldn't have known were to find air conditioned restaurants for lunch.

I read a glowing review about Mr Sarorn and his Happiness Tuk Tuk on a expat forum, so decided to book him for the week to drive us around Siem Reap. It is my pleasure to add another glowing review for his services to the internet in the hope that it will help him get more business so he can improve his standard of living and put his two children through school. 

If you hire Mr Sarorn and his Happiness Tuk Tuk, you will get:

  1. A driver who can speak English.
  2. A driver who is fully licensed, safe and cautious on the road.
  3. A driver who is on time and never late.
  4. A driver who is honest and won't try to rip you off.
  5. A driver who won't try to sell you stuff.
  6. A driver who will keep an eye out for you when you finish exploring the temple and give you a friendly wave, helping you to identify him and his Tuk Tuk among a sea of identical Tuk Tuk's outside each temple. 
  7. A driver who will greet you with FREE bottles of cold water when you return from exploring temples. 
To hire him for the full day will cost between US$15 and US$30 depending on how far you want to travel and the price of fuel (which is quite expensive in Cambodia). 

You can contact Mr Sarorn though his website By hiring him directly yourself and not through a travel agent or hotel, you will get a better price AND ensure that every dollar you pay him goes to him. Many hotels and travel agents will take as much as 75% of the money you pay as a commission. 

If you are traveling to Siem Reap, hire Mr Sarorn and his Happiness Tuk Tuk. By hiring him you will help him provide a brighter future for his two children and improve his poor standard of living while enjoying your stress free holiday. 

Even Gundi, my well traveled childhood teddy bear had fun.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Australian Partner Visa

Applying for an Australian partner visa is a royal pain in the ass. Australian immigration will want to know every excruciating detail about your relationship and charge you thousands of dollars in the process. 

If you find this information useful, please share it with others. It can be a daunting process. If you have jumped through all the hoops, please feel free to leave a comment about your experience with Australian immigration below. 

Before we start, enjoy this funny immigration video. 

How much does a 309 or 820 temporary/permanent partner visa cost?
The Australian government bumps the price up every year, but in 2014 it was $3085 if you apply outside Australia, and a whopping $4575 if you apply in Australia. There are also a range of other costs which need to be considered too, such as medical checks, marriage certificates, document certifications, document translations, criminal record checks, postage and printing fees. I'll discuss these other expenses in further detail later, but the up to date visa pricing info can be found here

Entry to Australia date and partner visa expiry.
As you gather your documents and submit your visa application, there is one critical thing you need to be mindful of. Once you have jumped through all the immigration hoops and the visa is finally issued, on the visa will be a date which you MUST ENTER AUSTRALIA BEFORE otherwise your visa will be declared invalid. This date is tied to the validity dates of any health and character checks. When I inquired for more specific information, I was told it would be 12 months after the date on the medical check. You can request an extension, but this must be done at the time of the application and you will be asked to get a second medical check at a later date. You can find more info here, in the partner migration booklet issued by the department of immigration and border protection. 

Can I enter Australia before my 309 partner visa is granted?
If you have applied from outside Australia and some kind of emergency pops up requiring to be in Australia before your 309 partner visa has been granted, you can contact immigration/your case officer and ask them to put a hold on your application. This really is a last resort as you will have to leave Australia again in order for your visa to be granted. If you can't bare to be apart, plan accordingly. Apply from inside Australia or live together outside Australia until the visa is issued.

Can I leave Australia before my 309 partner visa is granted?
This is a similar deal to above. If you applied for your visa from within Australia but an emergency pops up (maybe a death in the family in your home country) requiring you to leave the country for a short time, you can ask immigration/your case officer to put a temporary hold on your application while you conduct your business outside of the country. 

What evidence do I need to provide?
There is a pretty long list of evidence you need to provide to prove that your relationship is genuine and ongoing. You can find more info here, in the partner migration booklet issued by the department of immigration and border protection, but here is a quick summary. 
  • Statements about the history of your relationship
  • Statutory declarations by people you know
  • Financial aspects of your relationship.
  • The nature of your household
  • The social context of your relationship
  • The nature of your commitment to each other. 
By the end, we compiled over 260 pages of evidence. We printed it all out and bought a cheap ring binder to hold it all. We probably went a little overboard with supporting evidence, but considering the application fee is over $3000, I didn't want to take any chances. I just went through the check list and included everything it asked for. This was the result. 

Australian Partner Visa Application Subclass 309

Who can I contact for help?
I found the Australian Embassy in Seoul to be very helpful. They responded to all my questions clearly and quickly. Website here. 

You could also use a migration agent, but if you are prepared to sit down and read all the information provided by Australian immigration there is no reason you can't do it yourself. If you do use a migration agent, make sure they are a certified migration agent for Australia. If you do use a migration agent, you are probably looking at a minimum of 4000 in extra fees, on top of the standard visa application fees, so taking the time to read and understand the the partner migration booklet is worthwhile. 

Where can I find the statutory declaration form for immigration. 
You want form no.888, which can be found here, statutory declaration by a supporting witness in relation to a Partner or Prospective Marriage visa application. 

How can I save some money on the visa documents?
In Australia you can get documents certified by a JP for free. In Korea we had to go to a lawyer to get documents certified. Happily though the service was very cheap. Only 25,000won ($25) compared to $150 in Australia. Jihyeon (my wife) did the translation from Korean to English herself, and then got the lawyer (who also offered a translation service for an additional 25,000won) to verify her translation as correct. 

How to apply for a Canadian criminal record check from overseas. 
Since my wife spent a couple of years living in Canada, we had to get a Canadian criminal record check too. I can recommend "Worldwide Forensic Services Inc". We got the local police station in Korea to take my wife's fingerprints, and then posted them to worldwide forensic services, who scanned them and forwarded them to the Canadian government for a criminal record check. All up it came to $120.

Australian immigration interview
We have not been asked in for an interview yet. If/when we are, I'll post an update. There is however a lot of good information on Australian immigration interviews here. Check it out.

Australian partner visa processing times/How long does it take to get a 309 visa?
You can find the official line on processing times on the immigration departments website here, but I've found that in 2014/2015 the processing times have blown way out. We applied outside of Australia through the Australian Embassy in Seoul. Korea is classified as a low risk country, so it should have taken about 5 months. We were told the queue was 9 to 12 months. In the end, our visa was issued after 9 months and 1 week. I have friends in Australia who applied for a partner visa from inside Australia for their Korean wife/partner and their applications took a whopping 18 months to be processed. 

Should I use a migration agent?
If you have the time, doing all the research and paperwork yourself is definitely doable and can save you thousands of dollars (i.e. at least $4000). The information booklet is a great source of information and I found my answers were always answered promptly by the Australian embassy in Seoul. If you are short on time/lazy/flush with cash, there are a list of registered migration agents you can choose from. I didn't spend a lot of time investigating the migration agent rout though, so I can't comment on it any further. 

Where do I go for the Australian Visa Health Check/Medical Exam?
If you are outside Australia, check out the Australian embassy website for your country for a list of hospitals that you can go for a medical checkup for. In Korea there are a handful of hospitals you can go to (see here for the list), but they are all in either Seoul or Busan. We went to Severance Hospital in Seoul since it was open on Saturdays. 

Australian 309 partner visa medical test at Seoul hospital

Australian 309 partner visa medical test at Seoul hospital

Do I need to fast for my Australian Visa Health Check/Medical Exam?
No, you don't need to fast. It is OK to eat or drink before going for your visa health check. My guess is that it is because the blood test is just checking if you are positive for HIV, A test for which it doesn't matter if you eat before hand. 

List of useful links
Here are some websites I found useful for reading up on the visa application/migration process and what is involved. 

Friday, March 6, 2015


It was long a dream of Jihyeon's to explore the temple ruins in Cambodia, so back in March this year we spent the best part of a week travelling around Angkor with a tuk tuk driver (review of our driver here) exploring the temple ruins and enjoying the delicious (but cheap) foods.

We flew into Siem Reap late Sunday evening with Korean air and made our way through customs. I got threw customs without any dramas, but Jihyeon was held up by a customer officer trying to scam money out of her. It was only $1 or $2, but it reaked of bullshit. In a country where the average yearly income is only $750 each, collecting $1 from each Korean that passes through the airport would pocket them a nice little bonus on top of what would already be generous salaries as government workers. It really soured the start of our holiday and put Jihyeon on guard for the rest of our trip. 

The next morning we got up, had breakfast at our hotel and met our tuk tuk driverWe hired a Tuk Tuk for 4 days and it was absolutely the best decision. I was originally thinking about riding push bikes  as I love cycling, but I'm happy we didn't. The weather was very very hot and humid and the temple complexes are massive. We wouldn't have been able to see half as much as we did if we rode push bikes, not to mention we wouldn't have known were to find air conditioned restaurants for lunch. I read a glowing review about Mr Sarorn and his Happiness Tuk Tuk on a expat forum, so decided to book him for the week to drive us around Siem Reap.

My Angkor travel tips:

  1. Hire a Tuk Tuk driver for the day. It's not that expensive and they will know where to go and the best times to go there. I recommend the Happiness Tuk Tuk
  2. Take an umbrella with you even if it isn't raining. It will come in handy to take shelter from the sun.
  3. Be prepared to say no to a lot of people trying to sell you things. At every temple you go to there will be people trying to sell you clothes, souvenirs, water, fruit, or tours of the temple.
  4. Take USD in small bills. 
  5. Don't give money or buy things from kids, because it really doesn't help them. If you want, you are best off to donate to a charity instead.
  6. Double check the bottled water you buy is sealed.
  7. Allow more time than you think you will need. Accommodation, food and transport is cheap so don't rush. Take things slow and enjoy your trip.

The first stop was the ticket office to buy a multi-day pass for exploring the ruins. Prices are US$20 for a 1 day pass, US$40 for a 3 day pass (1 week validity), and $60 for a 7 day pass (1 month validity). Each day as you pass through the check point an officer will punch a hole in your ticket. Occasionally as you enter temples, an officer will also ask to see your pass but they won't punch any new holes in it.

They take your photo with a webcam and print your picture out on the ticket.

Welcome to Angkor!

The temple complexes are huge. As we headed to our destination for today, Angkor Thom, we passed by the more well known Angkor Wat which we would visit another day.

About 10 minutes later we arrived at the gateway to Angkor Thom, which translated literally means "Great City". It was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire, covers 9 square kilometers, is home of several monuments and temples and is believed to have sustained a population of 80,000 to 150,000 people. 

We stopped to climb the gateway.

And then continued through the gate towards Prasat Bayon

The Bayon is a well known and richly decorated Khmer temple built in the late 12th century and stands in the center of what was the capital at the time, Angkor Thom. 

This particular temple is a Mahayana Buddhist temple and consists of multiple galleries filled with intricate stone carvings depicting different battle scenes, victory feasts, war machines, and melee between warriors from opposing sides. There are also carvings of women tending to children, open-air cooking and market places, but mostly the carvings glorify different battles that the Khmer army fought. I guess if you want people to fight and die for you, you need to immortalise them in some way.

An elephan carving. 

The galleries are housed in these arched sections, but in this temple and many of the other temples we visited the arched sections have collapsed, which is understandable considering they are hundreds of years old. 

While tourists wander around the temples, the tuk tuk drivers chill out and relax in the shade. 

Next to Prasat Bayon was Wat Preah Ngok, a Buddhist chapel. 

Prasat Bayon though the trees and the stones from the collapsed archways littering the ground around the temple (I assume they were removed to make it safer/easier for tourists to explore the ruins). 

We continued walking towards where our tuk tuk driver said he would meet us and stopped at Baphuon, another temple in Angkor Thom. Baphuon is a 3 tiered temple mountain dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. 

Baphuon was built in the mid 11th century, but converted to a Buddhist temple in the 15th century. 

Restoration attempts of Baphuon proved problematic as it was built on sand.

But 51 years later in 2011 restoration was completed....

allowing sweaty tourists to find shelter from the scorching sun and take photos. 

The entry to Baphuon.

Down the steep stairs and onto the next temple. 

The rear of Baphuon temple. 

And the entry to Phimeanakas.

Another gateway.

We then met up with our tuk tuk driver and stopped at a roadside stall selling fresh mango and pineapple. 

Jihyeon, hot and tired after walking for the last 2 hours, reluctantly agreed to have her photo taken with the delicious mango and pineapple.

After the snack, we continued to the next temple.

We then left Angkor Thom and headed 1km east to Ta Prohm which was built in the last 12th century.

Ta Prohm was founded as a Buddhist monastery and university. Unlike most Angkorian temples, this one has been left in much the same condition in which it was found. 

The temple is very photogenic which helped make it one of the most popular temples to visit. 

After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 17th century, the temple was abandoned and neglected until recently when restoration was begun.

but care is being taken not to ruin the picturesque ruins. 

Here is before and after picture of a gallery that was restored. 

And this is inside the gallery pictured above. 

Ta Prohm is a "flat" Khmer temple, as opposed to a temple-pyramid or temple-mountain, with five rectangular walls surrounding a central sanctuary. 

It is a really nice temple and I can definitely see why it is so popular. Jihyeon wasn't feeling well so we headed back to the hotel for a rest with the plan to return to the temple and finish exploring it tomorrow. 

After a shower, a nap and some water we headed into Siem Reap to find "Pub Street", a street filled with restaurants and bars which are popular with foreign visitors. 

The food was very cheap and tasty. 

No complaints from me..

or Jihyeon.

The next day we visited Angkor Wat and took Gundi (my teddy bear) along for the ride. 

Jihyeon was feeling much better and very excited to be visiting Angkor Wat. 

The main entrance to Angkor Wat.

Like the temples we visited yesterday, there are large carving galleries built into the walls which depict battle scenes. 

Gundi was too excited to stay in the backpack. 

Once through the outer wall of Angkor Wat, we walked towards the central temple. 

It was bloody hot so we took shelter and cooled off in a small stone building by the side of the path to the central Angkor Wat temple. 

I can't imagine what it must have been like for the people that built these temples hundreds of years ago without any modern technology or tools in this heat. 

You can see the central temple in the distance. 

Gundi was hot in the back pack and wanted to cool down too.

We finally arrived at the central temple, looking back you can see the main gateway in the distance. 

More carvings in a gallery.

More rock carvings, this time of a melee.

More carvings of warriors, this time they are going off to war.

And some more carvings. This one was of "hell". 

We climbed up the central temple and got a good view of the surrounding forrest..

and the entry to Angkor Wat in the distance.

This is the very top of the Angkor Wat temple. Again, terribly hot. 

Gundi ventured out briefly before returning to my cool bag packed with cold water.

One of the many shrines in the temple.

As I have said repeatedly, it was a bloody hot day and people were taking shelter from the sun wherever they could. 

Another Angkor Wat shrine.

Our Tuk Tuk driver then took us to a air-conditioned restaurant for lunch. I can't remember the exact price, but it all came to under US$20 (3 dishes, soft drink and fresh hand made mango juice in an air-conditioned restaurant). 

After stuffing our faces and cooling down, we then headed to Banteay Kdei

This temple was also built in the 13th century.

Banteay Kdei is currently dilapidated due to fault construction and the poor quality sandstone originally used. 

Despite it's dilapidated state, apparently it had been occupied by monks on and off again right up until the 1960's. 

Jihyeon taking a break in the shade. 

We then headed back to Ta Prohm (our visit here was cut short yesterday due to Jihyeon feeling unwell) to finish exploring the ruins. Just to recap, it is one of the most popular temples for tourists to visit because of its photogenic nature and atmosphere. 

This time we entered from the opposite end of the temple so we didn't have to walk so far. I think this entry is actually nicer than the main entrance. 

Ta Prohm was home to more than 12,500 people, including 18 high priests and 615 dancers. Additionally, 800,000 people lived in the surrounding villages providing services and supplies to the temple. 

The records also indicate that the temple amassed considerable riches, including gold, pearls and silks. 

Look at me, I can be a tree too!

I can see why this temple is so popular. I think it was my favourite. I would have liked it even more if there weren't so many tour groups (mostly Koreans) being shown around. 

Jihyeon admiring the ruins.

We the jumped back in the tuk tuk and headed back to our hotel for the evening.

The next day we were up bright and early and headed to yet another temple. Morning traffic sucks.

A gateway on the Kings road.

Today we visited Preah Khan, which translated means "Royal Sword". Located northeast of Angkor Thom, it was the center of a substancial organisation, with almost 100,000 officials and servants. 

Like nearby Ta Prohm, this temple has also been largely left unrestored and has a number of trees and other vegetation growing among the ruins. 

A quick snap shot in front of the gate while wearing the ugly pants I finally broke down and bought after days of locals pestering me to buy pants. They broke a few hours later when I climbed into the tuk tuk. 

The construction of this temple wasn't as planned as the others. From what I understand, it organically grew over time as more space was needed and this resulted in some buildings being packed together very closely.


and then outside (same tree as above).

The trees are slowly destroying the temple, but at the same time holding it up.

Yet another temple.... They were all starting to look the same to me.

Another awesome tree growing over a doorway holding it up.

Lunch time! Our tuk tuke driver took us to another Air-conditioned restaurant. I don't remember how much it cost, but it was quite cheap and definitely under $20 again.

Loving the fresh hand made mango juice made from real mango's. 

After lunch we stopped at Pre Rup, a temple built in the 10th century mostly from bricks rather than stone. I think it was the hottest temple we had visited yet.

Pre Rup was dedicated tot he Hindu god Shiva.

I don't know how these flowers survive in the heat.

All the temples have very steep stairs. The picture doesn't do the steepness justice. It reminded me a little of scrambling up Mt Tibrogargan.

All the towers are hollow and have alters for people to make offerings and worship at.

We headed down and back to our tuk tuk driver who, as usual, greeted us with cold bottles of water.

Stopped by the next temple. I don't remember the name of this one. They were all starting to look the same to me. 

Climbed all the way to the top.

I do remember at the top of this temple a tour guide started talking to us and told us how bored he was with his job (he had sat at the top of this temple for 10 years) and how badly paid he was. Sorry buddy, but all you did was make me feel uncomfortable.

Another temple just by the side of the road. I don't remember the name of this one either, but it was in very good condition.

On the way to our next stop, we climbed the wall and took a photo next to the giant heads carved into the King's gateway.

Back to the tuk tuk!

We then went to Phnom Bakheng, a temple perched on top of the only mountain around, to view the sunset. From the top, you could see Angkor Wat in the distance.

the sun took forever to go down.

Because the sky was so hazy, the sunset in my opinion wasn't that spectacular. I instead experimented with taking some high contrast photos.

The sun was taking forever to set, Jihyeon was tired, and I was hungry, so we gave up waiting for the sun to set and headed back down the mountain.

The next day was our last day of checking out ruins. We got up bright and early and started our long tuk tuk ride (about 1.5 hours from memory) out to some ruins further from the main Angkor complexes. 

Fresh fruit and water for sale by the side of the road.

It took me a while to work out what this guy was selling, but then I realised! He is selling 2 litre coke bottles full of fuel.

One of the many monkeys we saw by the side of the road. 

We didn't stop to ride the elephants, but we passed this guy at Prasat Bayon. 

We stopped at Prasat Bayon to take a photo with our tuk tuk driver and his tuk tuk. 

And then continued on our way. Since it was such a long journey, Gundi decided to join us in the tuk tuk. 

It was interesting driving through the country side passing people's homes and farms. 

No photo!

Some stalls by the side of the road. We were a pretty long way from the tourist hot spots, so I don't know how much business they would get here. 

Safety first!

We then arrived at Banteay Srey, which loosely translates to "citadel of the women". 

This temple displays some of the finest examples of classical Khmer art. The walls are densely covered with deep intricate carvings, deeper than any of the other temples we went to visit. 

We then hit the road again and continued to Kbal Spean. The site consists of a series of stone carvings in the river bed and banks and is commonly known as the "Valley of 1000 Lingas". 

It is a bit of a walk (about 1km from memory), but the path is well marked and not too steep. 

Finally, we arrived. This is the start of the carvings in the river bed. The idea was that the water (the life blood of their society) would be blessed by passing over the carvings.

For about 150 meters down the river's headwaters, there are carvings in the riverbed. 

At the end is a waterfall where we took our shoes off and rested in the cool refreshing water. 

Nearby, a group of butterflies were drinking/resting in the sun.

Even Gundi cooled off in the water.

We then headed back to our tuk tuk driver who took us to a restaurant almost straight across the road from Kbal Spean. 

On the railing there were some enormous ants. 

It was then back to Siem Reap for dinner. Lasagne and Pizza. 

The next day we just chilled out in Siem Reap and waited for our flight. In the morning we got foot massages (really cheap) and then grabbed some lunch at a restaurant I don't remember the name of. It was good food, but damn it annoys me how people think it is trendy to serve food on things that are not plates. 

The customs officials tried to scam Jihyeon out of US$1 on the way out again, but apart from that all up it was a good trip. We might go back in 10 or 20 years once they have completed some more restoration work.