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

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

52 Weeks Filled with Mementos

Welcome to a New Year, Welcome to a New Blog –

While everyone is stowing away their christmas ornaments for another year, I’m stowing my life away for another quest. Most likely the biggest one so far as I am leaving with no actual expiration date on my adventure. And this my friends is so liberating and scary at the same time.

And now I am sitting here in my room filling boxes with stuff I have gathered over the  years. More than ready to toss out those old cds from the 90s with embarrassing songs and that leather jacket I never wore because I bought it too small in the first place. Golden rule is, if you have never used it or wore it in the last year, toss it. Except for momentos. A lot of mementos from my travels I simply can’t throw out. It is just too damn precious. The memories you made, the experiences you encountered, the people you met on your road of life. Cherish every single on them. From the awkward little love note from your high school sweetheart to the drunken polaroid group shot from your trip overseas or that awesome pebble you found in the Mongolian Desert last year.

Still trying to decide to do something original with these momentos and take them with me or just leave them in the shoeboxes at leave them at my moms’ for now. Any ideas are more than welcome in the comments.

So here is to a New Year, A New Life and another 52 weeks filled with Mementos, which I will try to share with you on a weekly basis. Hope you and I both enjoy the memories we will make this year.

Fox

If you hear about Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier might be mentioned as well. These two glaciers are like two peas in a pot but it looks like Franz is stealing the spotlights in most cases. But as both glaciers are massively retreating these days the only way to get a good sight of the glaciers now is on a helicopter tour (hiking up to the foot of the bottom of the glaciers is forbidden nowadays)

If you are deciding to make a stop in Fox Glacier and you want to explore the area, then Lake Matheson is worth a visit, preferable in the early morning when the clouds have not closed the curtain over the Fox Glacier. The fairly easy loop gives you some nice viewpoints of the area. IMG_9921Another great spot (if you got the time for the detour) is Gillespies Beach. Keep your mosquito repellent handy here because the sandflies are everywhere and they leave you with a nasty itch.IMG_0182

West Coast Drive

At the break of dawn, I am rolling myself out of a bed in a dark dorm room and gather my stuff into my backpack. Wouldn’t be survived if I lost a couple socks in there.

Time to get some fresh air during my morning walk to the bus station. This would be a long but very scenic ride from Nelson all the way to Franz Josef. A fantastic drive along the West Coast of Southern New Zealand. Filled with hugs between the highway and the coastline.

The bus ride makes its way Murchison, known for its whitewater rafting, and swings it way from there to the coast close to Westport. From there, your eyes get a six-hour treat on beautiful ocean views.

IMG_9638Make sure to make a stop at Punakaiki to see the famous funny shaped Pancake Rocks and get blown away by the thunderous sound of the blowhole (check the tides online before visiting but expect a higher volume of visitors during that time). I was lucky cause the rest stop of the bus ride was just during high tide and then you get the full spectacle of the blowhole. 

 

IMG_1502

 

From there the windy road continues until Greymouth, the biggest city on the West Coast. From here a lot of passengers transfer to the Tranzalpine. This train takes you through the beautiful Alps of New Zeland all the way to Christchurch. Beside from that the city seems to leave me with a rather sad impression. The once economical thriving city now seemed to have its better days behind it.

A few miles further, at Kumara Junction, you have one last chance to decide  if you are making your way east to Christchurch over Arthur’s Pass or if you are further down the West Coast. The bus driver chose the latter one.

The next stop you will come across is Hokitika, a cozy little touristy town to make a stop for fuel for the car and for yourself. There are plenty of eateries and a big supermarket available to satisfy the stomach. There are a lot of artists in town that you can see at work during one of their workshops if you have the time.

From there on the road continues inland and after a couple hours we finally arrived at Franz Josef, my new home for the next three months. Of course it started raining when I arrived. If only I knew that it was just the start of it…

The bus driver waived me goodbye and I made my way to my new job in this little cozy village on the West Coast, one of the wettest places on earth. IMG_0020

Layover in Nelson

I woke up early in my dorm room in Picton. Today I wanted to reach Nelson as soon as possible to meet up with my good friend Julia (you might remember her from previous escapades).

Because the bus to Nelson was only leaving around noon I wanted to beat this by hitchhiking my way there. During my time on the North Island I’ve seen my share of backpackers hitchhiking along the way. So, I packed my bags again and walked down the main road in Picton that leads to the Highway 1.

I must admit the first ride was the hardest. Some competition further down the road and not a lot of traffic heading down this way is making me think of taking the bus after all. But then my first ride stops and asks me where I’m going. After sharing my final destination of the day he offers me a ride until Blenheim. Sounds good to me. At least I’m out of this starting point.

Meet Bill, an architect who has been on a lot of adventures himself but now settled down in Blenheim. He drops me off on a busy road at the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 6.

Thumbs up ! Time passes but no car is stopping anymore. I decide to relocate to a better spot where they can pick me up and encounter another hitchhiker, Fritz. He looks agitated with my arrival but I follow the unofficial guidelines of the hitchhiker and wait in line until he catches a ride. Trying to make conversation doesn’t seem to interest him as he is keeping his eyes on the road and up to the morning sky that is getting darker.

As I am grabbing something out of my backpack Fritz seemed to have luck and got a ride. Without having me aboard he just flees with his new ride. Thanks for the invitation Fritz,  Auf Wiedersehen, maybe not…

And then it starts raining.

An elderly lady passes by and sees me getting wet and picks me up to prevent me from getting a nasty flu. I am grateful. 5 minutes down the road she stops the car and tells me she is home. At least she gave me shelter for a couple minutes and brought me to another place to catch a new ride.

Not much later a new ride stops to pick me up, Tyler. Tyler just finished his shift at the gas station and is on his way to the Pelorus Bridge where he is meeting with his dad to go hiking in the area. We talk about what great of country New Zealand is as we drive through Havelock, a town that dedicated its soul to the Green Mussel.

At the Pelorus Bridge, famous from the barrel scene with the dwarves in The Hobbit I thank Tyler and try to find my next ride. In the meantime the bus already left Picton so I hope to at least beat the arrival time of the bus I was gonna take today.

Half an hour of standing there around the corner of the bridge until a couple picks me up. Jessica and Lucas. They are on their way to Cable Bay and can help me a bit further. They give me really helpful tips about bars and please to go in Nelson.

They drop me off at a lonely gas station right before their exit to Cable Bay. It seems like a good spot to catch a ride and not much later Boris pulls over. I opened the door and asked if he was going to Nelson. He mumbled with a very low voice. I guess that was a yes. Boris was a man of few words and a road temper on a fuse but soon enough I learned he had a good heart when he wanted to drop me off in Nelson but I couldn’t figure out where the hostel was. He drove me through the town twice and tried to make some calls before I ended up at the right place. We say a brief farewell.

Time to check in my hostel. Really liked the atmosphere here at Tasman Bay Backpackers.  Not much later Julia knocks on my door and we go explore Nelson. We end up on top of the hill with nice views over Nelson. Enough exploring for today. Time for a drink before we go home as I have a early bus leaving tomorrow to Franz Josef, my new home for the new couple of months.

A great place to go for a drink in town would be Sprig & Fern

Well… with Julia it’s never just A drink… before we know it we are into the seventh consecutive happy hour of the night… The last moments of the night are still a vague memory but I believe there was some pool games involved. See you next time Julia ! Together with Ron, a dutch guy from my hostel we make our way back to the hostel.

A few hours later the alarm goes off again. Did I even sleep ?

Oh these Nelson Nights…

Off to the Bus Station for a long but scenic ride to Franz Josef !