Out of Order in China

Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.

Day 95: By the time I am getting used to the currency, learn a few basic words (which I end up butchering anyway), and get acquainted with the customs of a place it is already time to leave for the next one. Seba and I knew beforehand this fast-paced whirlwind trip is not the most ideal way of traveling when you really want to deeply indulge yourself in the culture and the destination. However, with a finite time frame and a meager bag of everchanging coins, the purpose of our trip is the get a good overall first impression of the plethora of cultures South East Asia has to offer and we have not regretted our way of traveling so far.

Some moments during this trip I can’t believe I am actually here. My head is already bursting with amazing memories and sometimes I feel like I am experiencing a human ‘memory almost full’ notification. No way I am going to erase any storage, at least not deliberately. Continue reading Out of Order in China

The Sands of Time in Mongolia

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

Day 80: Even though typhoon Nida kept us grounded in Hong Kong for a couple extra days, we are now ready and incredibly excited to be on our way to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. The extremely early but direct flight takes about 5 hours and touches down while it is still morning (and with the same timezone). The airport here is quite small and we are outside the airport building in no time. We jump on a crowded bus towards downtown. Guess all the passengers of our flight are on our bus as well… 45 minutes later we are dropped in the heart of Ulaanbaatar. From there it is a 10-minute walk to our hub hostel for our Mongolian adventure, Modern Mongol Hostel.

Upon check-in, we ask the lady at the front desk for some suggestions. She recommends joining one of the sightseeing tours with a local tour partner. The good news is, the tour to the Gobi Desert is leaving tomorrow and the lady had two other guests from France interested in the tour so we could split the travel costs for the driver guide, cook, transportation accommodation and three meals per day for about 60 USD per day (7 days). The bad news is; I was planning my visit to the Chinese embassy the next day because I still need to arrange my Chinese visa. I look at the clock and realise the embassy is still open for another hour today. I decide to go for it and jump in a taxi to the embassy which is a 10-minute drive away. My heart is racing as this embassy is my last hope to go on the Trans Siberian Express from Mongolia to China, one of my top picks for this trip. Continue reading The Sands of Time in Mongolia

Hong Kong, Our Port in a Storm

Often, not the Storm but the Fear of Storm beats us.

Day 72: My alarm has never endured so many pre-sunrise wake-up calls as in the last two months. Especially those crucial mornings when you have a flight to catch are heavily protected with five to ten alarms and snooze opportunities. We depart Hanoi in the early morning and arrive two hours later in the metropolis of Hong Kong. The Airport Express brings us from the airport to Kowloon, the neighborhood where we spend our next couple of days.

Our hostel is located inside the Chungking Mansion on Nathan Road, the busiest and most known street in the district of Kowloon. The Chungking Mansion, a 17-story building spread over five blocks, once was a notorious place for prostitution and drug deals but now traded its bad reputation for little restaurants, hairdressers, and other commercial businesses but also tons of guesthouses which entices a lot of backpackers due to the cheap rates. The cheap rate comes mostly with minimal space. Don’t be surprised if you have to crawl over each other to get out of the bed. The toilet is also installed in the shower, just in case you want to speed things up during your morning routine and privacy is limited.

We nestle our backpacks in the room and go out to discover what this city has to offer. During our stroll through Tsim Tsa Shui, the southernmost area of the district of Kowloon, we notice how the Pokemon Go frenzy has won over the world. We move through the herds of teenagers who are glued to their phones and end up at the pier overlooking Hong Kong Island. For a moment, it felt like we were undertaking a little western city trip weekend getaway during our eastern backpacker voyage.    Continue reading Hong Kong, Our Port in a Storm

From the Delta to the Mountains

Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river.

Day 60: Another day, another bus ride, another country. We leave Cambodia behind us and head east towards Vietnam, a country full of beautiful gems. From the mighty massive Mekong Delta in the south to the mysterious misty mountaintops in the north. We enter Vietnam at the popular Moc Bai border. From there it is a hectic ride into the biggest city of Vietnam, Saigon (officially called Ho Chi Minh City). Crazy to think this city has over 7 million motorbikes that fill the thousands of little streets. From the bus station, it is a short walk to our hotel. Luckily we have the perfect guide for our visit, my dear friend Vo. She meets us at the hotel and takes us for an introductory walk around Saigon. We get to see the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon and French-built Central Post Office which were both built by French Colonialists back in the days when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina. Vo tells us about the Vietnam War and what her own parents had to go endure. We also make a stop at a local restaurant where I have never had so many veggies in one meal, tasty nonetheless. We end our first successful day in Vietnam with a visit to the Saigon Sky Deck. This place offers great views of the city. Continue reading From the Delta to the Mountains

Cambodian Daydreams and Night Terrors

There are no wrong turning. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk. 

Day 52: After a quick layover in Bangkok where Luke kissed his Mary goodbye, we set foot on already the sixth country of our whirlwind trip through Southeast Asia, Cambodia. Our stay in Phnom Penh is short-lived as we decide to hop on the night bus with direction to Siem Reap, which entails a 6-hour ride up north.

Day 54: Another brutal early morning but we have a great reason for this. Today we have one of the World Wonders on our travel menu. My alarm wakes me at 4 am. I try to be as quiet as possible in our 30-bed dorm and notice other shadows moving around in the room who are getting ready for the same adventure, visiting the Angkor Archaeological Park. The best time to visit is very early in the morning for several reasons. It is less crowded, it is less hot and you can see the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Continue reading Cambodian Daydreams and Night Terrors

On the Road to Mandalay

Build Bridges, not Walls

Day 42: After crossing Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand by land, we decide to fly into Myanmar. It takes us about 1 hour and 15 minutes to fly from Bangkok to Yangon with AirAsia. As we arranged our visa beforehand, the arrival and immigration process is smooth and quick and soon enough we are in a taxi on our way to our hostel in Yangon. At the hostel, we meet with Mary and Luke who got there a few hours before we did. We check-in and decide to explore the city. The receptionist recommends us to jump on the Yangon Circular Train at the Lanmadaw Train station to get a great first glimpse of this beautiful country. For us, it is already hard figuring out the entrance to the small train station but trying to actually figure out which track our train is stopping at is like a real gamble. Luckily there are only two tracks. Tracks as in some overgrown pavements next to the railroad, without any signage or direction. A train is approaching and we take our chances. We get on the train and pray for the best. Unfortunately, we soon realize we are on a different route which takes us a bit out of the city. Nonetheless, this train ride is really interesting as well with locals passing by and try to sell food. At the end of the line of this route we get off at a bigger train station and figure out the next train back leaves in about an hour. Upon arrival back at the hostel, we reunite with Alice, a feisty girl from the Netherlands who we met in the Ko Phi Phi Islands. She just arrived in Yangon as well with her travel buddy Thomas from the UK and decide to join our group for our travels through Myanmar. With the six of us, we go for dinner and have some beers in the lobby before calling it a night. Continue reading On the Road to Mandalay

Say Wat ?

Day 37: Last night we arrived in the ‘Venice of the East’ after an eight-hour bus ride from Chumpon. We found a great place to rest our heads at the Bed Station Hotel in Ratchathewi, one of the neighborhoods in Bangkok. This trendy hostel has spacious rooms, clean bathrooms, A/C, and free wifi. It is also located in a convenient location close to the Ratchathewi BTS (Bangkok Transit System) Station which helps us greatly to get around the city.

The guy above my bunk bed in the room brought home his newest catch into the dorm room last night which kept some of us from having a peaceful night. I was pretty exhausted from traveling all day and apparently added my snoring capabilities to the mix, I am sure it led to a beautiful crescendo. Continue reading Say Wat ?

Southern Comfort Blackout

Day 29: On our way from Georgetown to Hat Yai, we are due for another passport stamp. The fourth one on our adventure in Southeast Asia already. Collecting these stamps has been one of my favorite things on this trip as we are always curious about how the stamps will look like. We have been on a whirlwind trip so far but our journey suddenly comes to an unexpected halt at the border between Malaysia and Thailand. Sebastian encounters visa problems and is not allowed into Thailand. Although I pass without any problems with my European passport, he needs to provide certain sufficient funds (the equivalent of 10,000 baht) in order to be able to pass with his passport from Chile. But with little cash in both our pockets, they are being stubborn and do not let him pass. Sebastian has to return to Malaysia and get to the nearest ATM to get some cash. He asks one of the locals if he can hop on his motorbike to be dropped at the first ATM. The local guy nods and Sebastian jumps on. In the meantime, I have to convince the driver and the passengers to wait for us (and our luggage) until things get sorted. Every minute waiting next to the van feels like an hour and the looks of the other passengers become more and more sourly but luckily Sebastian finally shows up with the necessary cash and not much later we can continue our drive to Hat Yai. Continue reading Southern Comfort Blackout

Malaysia, My Cup of Tea

Day 23 – Our first couple of hours in Malaysia are hectic. This also must be one of the first (of many) times where we are trying to find our way through a non-touristy area which means there are fewer communication techniques available and lots of locals around you who do not speak or understand much English. We must have looked really clueless and ‘easy targets’ upon our arrival at the bus terminal when a few local guys approached us and tried to sell us bus tickets. I admit, my very pale complexion tends to stand out like an approaching headlight so it is sometimes hard to lay low. A little overwhelmed, we followed one of the guys to the little bus ticket office where we purchased our bus tickets. Luckily, we checked the price of how much a bus ticket would go for so we wouldn’t end up being scammed but the price seems to be accurate. With our bus ticket in hand, we get on the long haul bus that departs from the busy Larkin Sentral and will take us 330 kilometers further up north to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.  Continue reading Malaysia, My Cup of Tea

Singapore Along

Day 21 – Our flight with AirAsia from Denpasar gets us to Singapore smoothly just under three hours. We pick up our backpacks and in our shorts (slowly learning from our mistakes) and make our way with the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) to our temporary home for the next three days, the Coziee Lodge in the Kallang neighborhood. We arrive a bit early and have to wait for a little before we can check in so decide to indulge ourselves into the local cuisine around the corner. Different smells, a different language we don’t understand, and different currency, the Singapore Dollar. Not too much later we check into our dorm room which we share with a few other travelers. We all have our own ‘coziee’ pod. We hop back on the MRT (two-minute walk which is super convenient) and are ready to discover the touristy spots of this city-state. Continue reading Singapore Along