Well, its been a while since my last update and so much has happened! Too much to tell you in one blog update for sure, but I made an attempt to give you a short version of two months travelling including formula 1 racing and Julia Roberts!!
Let me start by saying that I somehow escaped all the natural disasters. I was long gone before the typhoon hit Luzon in the Philippines, and I flew 12 hours after the big quake hit Padang. I still have all ten fingers and toes so I guess I'm doing allright.
I left the Philippines and decided to tackle the Malaysia Pensinsula from the east towards the west. This leaves me in Sabah, Brunei, Sawarak, mainland Malaysia, Singapore consequently. Especially Malaysian Borneo was all about going back to nature. In one word: B e a u t i f u l !!! Can't be described in any words. I wish I'd known that beforehand as I only had three weeks for this part. I met two Swedish sisters who planned two whole months for Borneo! Well, I can tell you, that's what you need when your looking for the real Borneo experience. What did I do in these three weeks?
I became one with Kinabatangan river and met my ancestors (yes, monkeys) in the Sandakan river cruise tour; left 'mammal' world for 'fish' world in Sipadan, one of world's best dive sites; joined the locals on a ramadan experience in Brunei; had a longhouse tea in the amazing Kelabit Highlands; experienced to be 'fridged' in all those d*rn AC long-distance buses; and eventually became friends with the Macaque monkey (read: being their favorite to steal food from) in Bako NP in Kuching.
I put quite some pics online. Maybe that will put it all a bit in perspective, but it simply cannot describe to you the genuine friendliness of the people of Malaysia. I met my favorite Asians: its the Malay. They don't haggle at you, scream at you from a distance, lie at you. They help you, don't rip you off as much as the other Asians, invite you for ricewine and a talk about their lovely longhouse communities, and the Kelabits appear to be one of the most intelligent tribal communities in the world with having some Kelabits in high governmental positions and Shell appeares to be a popular employer. My guide Lian was also a former high Shell employee but even more a very friendly man. I truly enjoyed my long chats with him. I hold good memories of the Kelabits and the Swedish girls -who I told to definitely go to Kelabit Highlands- are also big fans. I gonna stop here before I bore you all too much but it was great. Laos is still my favorite country (nothing beats Laos) but it has a big 'competitor' to my opinion.
Coming back to Kuala Lumpur meant exchanging indigenous people with Indians (Question: who is the biggest population group? A) Malay or B) Indians -- My bets are on the second!!). And that's definitely not a bad thing! On the contrary, gorgeous Indian food widely available: I'm happy! With this change the hassling increased a bit, but it sounds something like this: 'good evening, do you already have a guesthouse, I know a good one for you.' Me: 'Well, I first wanna check out a different one'. The indian: 'Oh which one?' Me: Shoot, now he gonna convince me it doesn't exist, etc... 'erm, Grocers Inn', The Indian: 'oh, that's easy, thats around the corner. Good luck finding it and if you don't like it, here the folder of my GH and I'll give you discount...'. So NOT ever gonna experience something like that anywhere else in South-East Asia. Brilliant!
I spend a few days strolling around in KL with a Tzech couple before I headed south to Melaka, my first encounter with Dutch colonial history. I may sound crazy but walking around in chinatown (former dutch town) really gave me the feeling of being closer to the Netherlands again. Perhaps its the infrastructure, perhaps the many tourboats in the canal but it felt good. I had my Apple Pancake dinner at a Dutch-French restaurant 'Orang Belanda' to complete my Dutch experience in Melaka.
After that it was time to go to Singapore for some Formula 1 racing. Unfortunately, I hadn't been able to arrange the real race tickets but Steve, the Ozzie I met in Sipadan, did arrange a friday night practise round ticket, good enough for me! It was crazy, everywhere in downtown Singapore area were the sounds of the tracks audible, sounding like an ongoing fierce wind. But being in the Walkabout the sound of the tracks hurt my ears quite badly (stubborn, didn't take my earplugs; so not cool you know...). Oh, and now I'm forgetting the coolest part. For all those former Backstreet Boys fans out there, I saw them live and -the best part- saw them for free!! Ahh alright then, I bought a Starbucks cappucchino nearby to wait for the race to be over and ask for a entrance ticket, but isn't it great?! They are live qutie good actually!
After that it was time to say goodbye and to go back to KL for my flight to Sumatra. Unfortunately, 15 hours before my due flight a severe earth quake hit Padang area and I only learned about how bad the aftermath was after I arrived in Medan (Asians don't care that much for news, not a good info source). Here's where I met Raheleh, a very sweet Iranian girl who I gonna meet in a few hours again. She flew in from KL for a visa run and so we hung out for two days. Medan is not a very nice city and with the quake damaging all the roads heading south Sumatra didn't leave much for me to explore. As to convince me to leave Sumatra I also had a negative encounter with a homeless person which ended -thankfully to Raheleh- happily. After she left I also decided to leave Sumatra for Bali to meet Migi from Italy.
I met Migi during the Sandakan river cruise and we immediately got along. We exchanged emails in case -by any chance- we would meet again somewhere in Asia and although aI didn't expected our paths would cross again, it did, this time in Bali. Bali was a huge adjustment for me. After two months of travelling by myself and hardly seing any white people, being in an airplane with all but white faces was... I don't know, lame I guess. The authenticity of my experiences so far ended with this decision and that was quite dissapointing at first. But as soon as I left for Ubud things change. I LOVE Ubud. Friendly people, stunning nature, amazing art scene, nice temperatures, cheap guesthouse and motorbike rental. In short, perfect! I could have easily stayed there longer if I had time. It was also nice to be with Migi again, he's so funny! We rented a motorbike, but after two days decided to rent a car instead for 4 days and cruise around Bali. I also made a dive again at the Liberty wreck close to Tulamben and saw the biggest Barracuda ever!! Too bad Migi was there only for one week.
After he left I decided to chill on Gili Air for 5 days and that was a goooood decision! First time in what seems to be ever, I wasn't haggle at. I could just walk around in my bikini without seing hungry male eyes staring me, and that for a Muslim island! Whoohoo! I did have one negative encounter with a local who tried to get me into his house (not by physical force thank god) but all the other male locals dissaproved that behavior when I told them about it. Nice to be understood!
On the way back from Gili Air I met Ben from Germany, a very nice and fun guy with who I hung out the last two days on Bali. He's already travelling for 18 months in Asia and still has no intention of going back to Europe. Wow, isn't that fantastic! We rented a motorbike for the last two days and went souvenier shopping while enjoying the amazing scenery of rice paddies, tatched roof houses, and rice paddies. We went all the way up to Lake Batur and -after a delicious bubur lunch and a fruit break at the littered lake- made an attempt to see Pura Besakih. This is hilarious story. Here we are on this very steep mountainous semi dirtroad going higher and deeper into the forest of Gunung Batur and never reconsidering if this dirtroad makes sense for such a popular tourist attraction... Eventually we ended up in the middle of nowhere with Pura Luwuh in front of us and 6PM on our watches. Right... Fortunately, we discovered the wrong turn and eventually took the back route to Pura Besakih. And this turned out to be perfectly planned coz now we were there on our own -ok, besides a lot of aggresively barking dogs and a family offering ceremony- with a nice setting sun in our backs giving us amazing views!
And now I'm forgetting the best part. That morning at the Ubud market Eat, Pray, and Love was being filmed with...(hear the drum)... Julia Roberts! Yes, I saw her live doing her acting. Ben tried to take a pic and I guess only we will recognize her on that particular pic, but isn't it a coincidence! I didn't know she was shooting the film in Ubud but apparently she already in Bali for a few months. Some local told us this before we entered the market and we didn't believe him -I mean, c'mon what are the odds- so I walked in, looked at some souveniers when I was approached by one of the crew 'are you part of the cast?' What the... 'no? please leave the set, we're shooting right now' and before I could respond I was being escorted out. Still flabbergasted by this sudden change and still recovering from this shock I was again approached: 'You are not part of the cast are you, please go out, OUT' and again I was being relocated... Cool!
This was definitely a sweet experience and made my cousins and niece jealous when I told them a few days later in Java. Every Indonesian is very delighted that Julia Roberts is in THEIR country. I stayed in Java this last week before I flew back to Kuala Lumpur yesterday. I went over to Java to visit my Aunts and Uncle. We went to the market, Jakarta, tea plantations, saw my cousin getting married in a traditional Javanese wedding, etc. My Aunti Harti bought especially for me all kinds of Dutch foods (chicken schnitzel, baked potatoes, fresh baked bread, etc.) and when I told her I love bubur she asked her sister to make me some which meant getting every morning a big bowl of bubur. haha, they are so sweet and caring and really are spoiling me too much!
Tonight I fly to my next and last destination: Australia to see Ilvie! I'm so excited!
Pics of Indonesia will be uploaded later...
Hugs & Kisses
Hello again! Welcome on this monday coffee break! If ur not into working yet, here's a nice update from the far east to keep you dreaming
The Philippines, the country of genuine friendly people and the never ending smile, of sunshine and pearl white beaches, and beautiful marine sanctuaries (although increasingly threatened by dynamite and cyanide fishing). But also the country of severe corruption practices, of bureaucracy, but foremost the country of fees. Seriously, haven't they ever heard of 'inclusive'? After paying all the necessary taxes they still charge you an airport terminal fee. Travelling by boat looks a little bit like follows: taking transport to the harbour, finding the right ferry company that offers the first following ferry service, stand in line for ticket, stand in another line for passenger fee, stand again in line three for terminal fee, stand in line to check if you paid all the necessary fees, X-ray your luggage, wait at your gate, shuttle picks you up to drive for 10 meters to drop you off at the ferry, stand in line for ticket and fee check, and then when you are finally standing on the boat, you still need to state your full name, nationality, age, and residence in Philippines: Welcome aboard!
As every where else in Asia here too is the fear of catching and spreading the Swineflu great. So as to challenge to the local authorities a little I always hope to get a serious cough, or a big fat sneeze while handing over my health declaration form. My timing is not always right, but this time I got it to work: right in the face a big fat sneeze, 'ah, Swineflu you know'. They can appreciate my sense of humor...
Anyhow, it was nice to back in the Philippines again. While disembarking the airplane I again met some Filipino's who were also travelling towards Manila and eventually exchanged numbers with one of them Euri so we could meet when I'm back in Manila again. The Filipino's are so amazingly friendly and truly helpful, no strings attached. That is such a welcoming surprise as mainland SE Asia has its reputation of always demanding the favor to be returned in money. Maybe it's a consequence of the Americans' presence in Philippines in the 20th century, coz the high poverty rate would surely encourage other kind of behavior. They are already honoured talking to a westerner and making new 'friends' as having caucasian friends is, weirdly enough, a status. Everyone has a family member abroad and loves talking about that family member how fortunate he/she was to meet a westerner. Unfortunately, me travelling by myself makes me an easy target for potential relationships. This is how many conversations start: 'Hi ma'am, how are you? Where u from?' and then either 'Do you have a boyfriend?' or 'Where is your husband?' 'ah, no boyfriend? Want Filipino boyfriend? It's very nice, I know someone who is single, very nice guy, etc.' After one day I suddenly 'discovered' that I have a boyfriend living in Amsterdam who's already working hence why I'm travelling by myself.
The main reason to fly back to the Phillies was to make a lot of dives. The country holds a reputation for being one of the most popular destinations when it comes to diving. So I first went to Palawan where I wanted to get my PADI Advanced. Sabang is just a laid back beach town so my first dive was at El Nido. The ride from Sabang to El Nido was again a very interesting experience: I sat on top of the bus enjoying the magnificent views and the ever shining sun. Here I also met the French couple with who I travelled with for about a week and with whom I got my Advanced. Eventually, we decided to get our Advanced in Busuanga Island which is famous for its WWII wrecks. So while wreckdiving I managed to get my new dive certificate, really cool! I also dove in a lake in which a thermocline exists that goes from 18 degrees to 36! As I'm always cold I truly enjoyed this dive!! After Busuanga Isle I flew to Dumaguette where I dove at Dauin (Macro diving) and Apo Island - a Marine Sanctuary although it is full of fish cages - and ended my holiday on Panglao Island where I made my last 2 dives at Balicasag Island. After Dauin this was my best dive for seeing any Marine life! In short, after three weeks I increased my dives from 4 up to 19!! Yes, I found myself a new hobby!
In these three weeks I also met a lot of Filipino's and learnd quite a bit about local issues. People really liked to make you part of the community and travelling by yourself in the Philippines (well, except for being 'harassed' for marriage arrangements) is definitely not a lonely experience! I think this in part can be explained by the language barrier which is of course non-existent: they all speak English. And even if they only speak a little English they are not afraid of making mistakes and thus still try to talk to you. I remember this one moment when I was walking back from a waterfall close to Dumaguette and a local boy started to walk with me. First, I was a little annoyed but he was so cute (he was 18 but looked 12!!!) and by walking next to me I noticed from the reactions of the locals that he was becoming the new cool guy in town and the funny thing is that his English got better the more attention he got from the locals. Eventually, he walked all the way down with me as to ensure that I would not get lost and had to walk the 45 minutes all the way back up! And of course no money charge, he enjoyed walking with me! Another example, because of this amazing attitude I got invited to a local town meeting about how to save the El Nido bay (they want to dredge the area which is a UNESCO protected marine park), got invited to a batch party of an Alumni Homecoming Weekend, hung out with Harold, the owner of Harold's Mansion in Dumaguette, etc. It was a really awesome experience and I can recommend the Philippines (and in particular the Visaya region) to everyone. I'm going to miss the typical Bangka boats (see the pics, I crossed the ocean from El Nido to Coron on one of those things! Crazy...) and the little airplanes they use to fly from one island to the other (seriously, people who are afraid of flying will LOVE these airplanes
On the 28th of August I planned my flight back to KK and it was time to say goodbyes. It was nice to meet Euri in the end, but unfortunately I didn't have time to meet with Kent anymore. Rosanne, I had say Hi to you!
Low battery (have my own laptop, did I tell you guys that already??) so bye bye for now. Have a good working week!
Here's a big HI from the east! Thank you for all the sweet Bday wishes! I had a nice day, didn't too much during the day but at night me and some other travelers went out for dinner and drinks. Unfortunately, I had to get up early to catch the ferry to my next destination... Panglao Island!
But first let me tell you a bit more about my travels with Rosanne. On the 16th I was meeting Rosanne in Hong Kong. She flew straight from Adam into HK and was already chilling on Lantau Island when I arrived at night. We chose a more luxurious hotel for the first night and the next morning we checked out to relocate ourselves to Hong Kong Island (I can totally recommend Yes Inn hostel!). We took a ferry which gave us the perfect opportunity to get a good glimpse of that amazing skyline HK is famous for. In these four days we visited the typical tourist attractions such as the Peak, Symphony of Light, Aberdeen Harbour, all the street markets, Ocean Park, the longest escalator in the world, strolling along the bay, etc. We also experienced a typhoon level 8 that saturday although the only thing we saw as a reminder of this storm were the breaking news interruptions during our Harry Potter movie. I also met up with Babs, friend from Maastricht, who was in HK at that moment for her studies. I have picture proof on my picture website!!
For me, HK was such a major step forwards. After 3 months of lowering your standards as to adjust to local life standards it was such a relief that people were able to speak good English, and who immediately understood what your needs were. For instance, I wanted to buy a SIM card and the salesman helped me out by putting the SIM card in my mobile phone, asked me which country I was from and automatically gave me the rates. I didn't have to ask and re ask, he would just automatically help me! Later a security guard helped me out with finding a taxi, gave me a written version of my hotel address in Cantonese (or maybe Mandarin, I don't know...) and guided me all the way to the taxi stand and gave me the taxi rates. And again the only thing I asked was 'Where can I find a taxi?'. This was so very welcoming and I immediately felt my body relaxing. Gosh, I realized how I missed that those last three months (for my fellow Organisation students, I think I was suffering from Peter Senge's Eroding Goals concept, ha!
The way out from HK gave us some more problems. It took us about 1,5 day to get the payment done for our tickets at Cebu Pacific. Eventually, after that 1,5 day, we learned from the main office that most non asian creditcards are not accepted via their online website simply because the technology is not advanced enough to cerify these. Right! After many problems with the payment for our tickets for Cebu, we finally left one day later to arrive in paradise. Although I expected a country with not so many English speakers, they definitely proved me wrong! Everyone speaks very well English and addresses you as ma'am. This was definitely a welcoming surprise! People (travelers, other asians) too tend to speak very negatively about the Philippines, say its unsafe, and this is also truly a misconception! Although a lot of guards with big guns are at work, I haven't felt in danger at any moment. These stories caused us to book a ticket to Cebu instead of Manila because 'you should consider yourself lucky if you make it out of Manila alive'; again a misconception, Manila is quite nice and taxi drivers can be trusted, just ask them to switch on the meter.
Cebu city is not that very special and we immediately left for Malapascua Island. This tiny Island at the tip of Cebu Island is truly a bounty island. Pearl white beaches with bright blue water, it couldn't get any more perfect! Here we made new friends with some of the local girls (Jane, Janet & Jenaline) and they showed us the island and took us to a local party. We were also invited to a birthday party/dinner of the son of my masseuse, Janet, and ended up singing, again, karaoke. They take karaoke so very seriously. The guys don't mind singing love songs and are quite good actually at it too! It is very easy to make Filipino friends and they all are so very friendly. We stayed here a couple of days until we got fed up being stared at by the locals and hearing the remark 'wow, you're so tall' (Rosanne is blond and 1.86m) all the time. It was actually quite funny, coz I was totally not interesting anymore to them and they only remembered Rosanne's name and not mine. So this is how it feels to 'stand in ones shadow'... I love it!
I heard about a festival on Bohol and we went there to see this. Although the bounty experience ended with this decision, Bohol is definitely a nice calm Island off coast from Cebu city. We went to the streetdance festival, see the chocolate hills (product of natures many beautiful mysteries), and the tarsier monkey. On the ferry to Tubigon we again met a Filipino, Kent, who helped us find a guesthouse. Kent was also going to the festival so we exchanged numbers and would meet the following day at the festival. He was also our wake up call as he came knocking on our door to wake us up the folowing day, ha! He made sure we were on the right bus towards Tagbilaran and left again. These last few days we hung out with him and his friends and they showed us the island in the jeep with the tennis rackets on the front window (see pics), really cool! Then it was time to say goodbye as we left for Borneo to spend the last week in Brunei Darrussalam. Oh, now I'm forgetting a very funny story. We flew back to Manila to leave for Clark the following day. Coz we arrived late at night, most of the guesthouses were full so Raja, the Indian guy we met on the plane, his girlfriend suggested that we should go for a 12 hour hotel room. So we checked in only to find out that we got our private, little darkroom!! Leather mattress, red atmospheric lights, mirrors situated on the perfect height if you know what I mean...
We flew into Kota Kinabalu, Borneo. Although we planned a lot of things to do around here we eventually decided to just hang out in this relaxing city. Most tourist leave Kota Kinabalu straight away but we kind of like the quiet atmosphere of the town in which Rosanne regained her semi anonimous life again. We went island hopping, chilled on the beach, went shopping and went to the movies. Paddy would arrive from Semporna that very first wkend so we went out for drinks. Was nice to see him again. He got a job offer he couldn't refuse so this would be his last week in asia. He didn't wanna go... Rosanne got also convinced to climb Mt. Kinabalu so we decided to skip out on Brunei and booked our accomodation on the mountain. Although we only met travelers who were not allowed to climb to the top because of weather conditions, the day we left for the mountain it was perfect blue sky and we got more and more excited as we met people going downhill telling us how amazing the view is from the top. In the bus towards the park we met another Dutch couple, Roy and Petra, who we here on their honeymoon (did I tell you that the dominant tourist population in Borneo is Dutch? Its crazy how many Dutch are travelling at the moment!) and together we decided to challenge the mountain. Unfortunately, Petra got altitude sickness on the first day but she insisted on continuing although we climbed the mountain in a slower pace. The good thing was that we got plenty of picture opportunities as the view on this clear day was tremendous. During our climb we saw many locals running (yes running, not lying here) down the mountain or walking up with large packs tight to their backs. They bring up the supplies and earn 200 ringit by doing so everyday! Holy cow...
While we checked in our rooms, we found out that we booked a room in the non heated facility. What the... No one told us something about that?? That wasn't the only downside, the other lodge was also higher up the mountain and breakfast and dinner was held in the other lodge which would basically mean that you needed to run up and down that steep mountain part for at least 4 times! Sure we are not going to do that!!! Roy and Petra told us that there's still an empty bed in their dormroom so I went up to the reception desk to ask if we could move to this lodge and after convincing them that there's truly a bed still available we were allowed to check in. So now we were sharing one bed, but that still better than sleeping in the cold! When we woke up at 2AM we heard a very unwelcoming sound... it was raining! This means that ur not allowed to go up to the summit! We got out of bed anyhow and hoped for better weather to arrive any time soon and it did! We still had to wait for another hour to ensure the wind dried up the rocks and we were allowed to go through the gate, whoohoo! This last part is truly the most challenging part. It is very steep and because of the limited air supply very hard. Then, as we passed the 7,5km sign, clouds came up again making the breathing harder and harder. It were rain clouds which decided to pour down everything it contained on us. With a visiblity of about 1,5 meters and hands too cold to open any pockets for sugar snacks we continued to climb up the mountain. Now it was getting more difficult to withstand the situation by the minute and I was glad that Rosanne's was there with me coz at a certain point I felt completely drained and she kept me moving. We also saw blood stains on the way to the top which can give you some indication in what kind of weather conditions we were in. In the end Rosanne and I switched roles as I kept convincing her to continue. I just knew we were getting really close although are visibility was still only about 1,5 meters (I know this coz I couldn't see the ground in front of me even though I'm only 1.68m). We met many people on the way down who didn't even climb to the top. We found out later that most of them turned around 500m before the top! Such a shame. We made it to the top. I have picture proof! I'm the one in orange...
On the way down I was numb, litteraly and mentally. My knees were hurting, my hands looked like blown up surgical gloves, my face was all puffy, and I was really hungry although no ones hand were strong enough to open the pockets for food, but then still I was also too nauseous to eat anything. I didn't feel proud yet of what I just accomplished. Now, looking back I know that what we've done is truly a great accomplishment. They closed the gates when it started to rain heavily which basically means that the conditions were to fierce for us to climb and still we did and made it! Will I ever climb a mountain again? No, I certainly will not...
When we arrived back in K.K. we said bye to Roy and Petra and immediately took a hot shower and jump into bed. We both slept around the clock to wake up with muscles aching all over. As the people in K.K. are used to this image they kept on saying 'ah, you climbed the mountain ha ha... yes we did thank you for noticing'. That night we met Roy and Petra again for drinks and exchanged the pictures. This was the moment when it got all a little bit more in perspective. We are hardcore!
Then it was time to say goodbye to Roos. I decided that I didn't see enough yet in the Philippines so that sunday Roos was flying back to HK while I took a flight back to Manila. Roos, ik vond het echt gezellig met je en tot in Brisbane!
Aah, I have time to post my next update. Let me tell you something about my Thailand travels...
The moment I cross the border with Thailand I sense a feeling of dissapointment: Thailand is so very civilized and, well, basically westernized. For instance, the roads are in perfect shape (no holes) with decorative gardens bordering it and with these crash barriers thingies, more cars than motorbikes are on the road, the local buses are very luxurious (touringcar with airconditioning, spatious seating and - as it is a nightbus I took to BKK - a blanket, water, and cookies), the streets have lights, the toilets have lights and are (appear) cleaner, and so on. Initially, I thought this feeling originated from my very positive Laos experience but as I started to think about it, the same feeling came over me (in reverse order) the moment I crossed the border with Cambodia. I even remember saying to my sister: This is more like what I was expecting to see in my trip through Asia. I wanted to experience a life completely different to that of mine and, to conclude, Thailand is basically too civilized for that. I do not want to be all negative though. Thailand is a very beautiful country with a lot to offer to tourist who are looking for a good and relaxing holiday. I also had, of course, good experiences such as sitting in a saenthaew with appr. 30 school children all too shy to sit next to you, [accidentally] free riding the local bus to Thanon Khao San(or is it free to everyone? I still don't know...), only one person helping you to sort out the right bus instead of ten, and buying a bus-boat combination ticket without worrying that they (thai) will 'forget' you bought a combination ticket (tourist trap in Vietnam). And I got my PADI at Koh Tao! Whoohoo!
Its just that while travelling through the countries I kind of tried to summarize my experiences in the countries into one word. Cambodia is more Traditional, while the Vietnamese are really Energetic in all emotions including shyness (salesgirl didn't dare to look at me while I only needed a SIMcard), enthusiasm (smiling teenager jumping up and down while waving ‘hi') , and aggressiveness (only country in which I was threatened with this electric police stick thingy because I dissagreed about the amount to be paid), and the Lao people are just as the LP describes Lay-Back people who are rather lazy than doing something which could initiate bad karma -we wouldn't want that to happen now would we. I still find it hard to find a word that can mean a similar thing to Thailand. It appeared I am not the only one who has that opinion; I met quite a few travellers who travelled through Thailand in 2005 that claim it changed a lot in the past few years as it has seen just too many tourist coming its way changing the country's charme into a structured major tourism destination. Knowing this I would like to re-travel through the country once more, hopefully sometime soon.
What have I visited in Thailand? Well I was meeting Ingeborg in BKK on the Saturday, so spend a few days therewith sightseeing and shopping (weekend market is nice!) and met with Lily and Paddy who I met during the trekking in northern Laos. After a few days in BKK, Ingeborg and I decided to travel on the typical tourist path but to skip Kanchanaburi as it is less easy travel in rainy season. We went to Ayuthaya and Sukothai to visit the ancient tempels and stayed in Chiang Mai for a few days. There we walked around town, went to the zoo and did a cooking course which was really nice! There was also this german-american couple with a small kiddo present, Luna, and she was soo very cute! Chiang Mai is among others famous for its night and Sunday market, and Ingeborg and I couldn't get enough of it. So many beautiful things and such a good vibe. Unfortunately, we had two full days of rain and it wouldn't get any better so we had decided to go to the Islands in the south. The night train down was fully booked so we were ‘forced' to fly to the south - such a burden - so we would be in time for the Full-Moon-Party. There we had two days of sun and - yes, you can see it coming - it started to rain a little and the full four days during our PADI the weather was overcast. On the day we left for BKK the sun decided to shine again (is this a hint?). On the 16th Ingeborg flew back home again and I flew to HK (itchkey
Knee update: Its doing perfectly fine! In BKK they removed the stitches and because they did that the scab came loose and showed a fullyrecovered skin again, yay! Okay, almost recovered as I still had two skinless spots where the holes were before, but these are now fully covered, unfortunately, with scartissue. The tenants?? And muscles around the knee were still very soar?? and especially started to get annoyed by airconditioning so the day before I flew to HK I got a steroid injection which really did its job. Basically, I can do everything with the knee again; just bumping into something still hurts more than normal. Ah well, at least I have a permanent reminder from my beautiful travels through Laos.
p.s. Pictures are/will be uploaded again in Thailand file soesan.myphotoalbum.com
p.s.2 To give answer to your reactions: I rebooked my ticket to 18th november;
Yes, you won't believe it but I actually uploaded some pics. Surf to the following website and experience Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos like never before....
Yes, I found another opportunity to bring you an update this time about my Laos experiences. Beautiful Laos... I had such great experiences in this amazing country, met predominantly friendly people, tried gorgeous national dishes, seen magnificant scenic views while roadtripping, travelled with beautiful people, and drank a lot of Lao Lao (yes, I was truly integrating here
I entered the country during rainy season and I experienced the first signs on the first day already. Around noon we arrived at this village where a lot of cars in front of us were parked in a row. We got off the bus to check out what was going on to find out that the road ahead was completely flooded. To make matters worse, the rescuing jeep got stuck in the middle of this newly formed river! This was of course a great happening for the locals and they all came out to view the rescuing attempts at the river side. Meanwhile, the children saw the flood as a great opportunity to go out and play in the river. So nice to see how they all react to such a situation. Eventually, about 15 local men got out of their trousers and pushed the rescuing car out of the water in their underpants, but then it wouldn't start anymore! So all the people were waiting for something. I was told that they were waiting for the river to be less fierce so the cars could try to cross the river. After two hours the trucks in line took on the challenge and managed to reach the other side and they were cheered to by all the locals. We of course cheered as well and hoping that our bus would soon do the same. Eventually, after 4,5 hours of waiting the chauffeur did and also arranged another 15 passengers to join us to Muang Khua. Welcome to Laos way of life...
The first village was quite boring and me and Mirjam and Jeroen - who I met on the bus - agreed to leave the following morning for Muang Ngoi Neuea, a peaceful layback rivertown that can only be reached by boat. A Swiss Daniel joined us on our trip. This town is so great! The prices were quite low due to low season and I booked a private bungalow with river view for only 3 euros! Whoohoo! Thats the big advantage of travelling during low season
After Muang Ngoi I had to travel to Luang Prabang as there was no ATM in the nearest 100km. This was a very interesting experience. Up until now I didn't take local transport and now I travelled with a sawntheaw (sentouw in Dutch), which is a pick-up truck with a rooftop and two benches along the side for 4 hours. To be more precise, with me 18 others, three bags of rice, a huge box filled up with fish (I found out later as we stopped at a local BBQ to sell the fish). To make it more comfortable, they placed plastic chairs in the middle so that the remaing people could sit as well. Ain't that nice... ha ha! This is where I met Doron, Israeli, with whom I spend some days in Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang is a beautiful, but touristy town famous for its night market. I loved strolling down looking at all the fabrics, bags, silk, handicrafts, etc. and so made me wanna spend all of my money here! The market start around 5PM and the sales(wo)men all come out with their bags (all same, same, perhaps government supported???) to build up their stall, putting down all their merchandise in such a neat and precise order so that it looks even more attractive and doing this everyday!! Gosh, I wouldn't wanna switch with their lives. You can also have dinner for 5000kip (8500kip = 1USD) and have meat on a stick for 10.000kip. Fruitshakes are also only 5000kip and the sandwiches in the morning too. How I loved eating in this town! They even had Nutella!!! hmmmmm.... I didn't just do shopping and eating, I rented a bycicle too with Mike, a Canadian I met here.
Together with him I also went up to Luang Nam Tha to do some trekking and rent motorbikes. This what we did the first day while arranging a group to do the trekking. Eventually we got together a group of 7 people, which made it both more fun and cheaper for us! The trekking was amazing and the group was very nice too. We immediately got along. The trekking was a ecotourism based which means that they do not pollute in any kind of way the environment and that the 'hilltribe villages' are not visited more than 2 times a month. So when it was time to have lunch banana tree leefs were collected to use as table cloth and plate and we could start eating with our hands! That's an interesting thing btw, the Lao don't eat with the chopsticks that very much, but rather with a spoon and fork or, when it involves sticky rice (me like so much!), with the hands. The village was truly enchanting, so very cute but also interesting to see how one survives while living so remote. Most of them have never seen any other town in their lives. But the influence of modern live was even visible on this small village (one motorbike was spotted and some houses rent a solar penal). The trekking was truly an amazing experience and afterwards we all went out to have dinner and drinks together. The only downside was leeches. I got so lucky by not getting any leeches as the only one of the group, but when we got back in Nam Tha and I took of my shoes a big fat leech fell out of my trousers!! EEEEEEEWWWWW! I was totally grosed out and I didn't dare to take any other step and be confronted with more blood filled leeches. Luckily, this was the only one. He didn't survive.... Next day we didn't wanna go back to Luang Prabang yet and me, Mike, Lars, and Dave (from the trekking group) decided to motorbike up to the chinese border, which gave us some of the most beautiful scenic views I had seen up until then. Yes, Laos is so amazingly beautiful.
Back in Luang Prabang Mike and I signed up for a mahout course. In this course you learn what its like to be a mahout trainer, someone who takes care of the elephant. We heard some great stories about this course hence we were convinced it was worth the money. Well, although it is amazing and it sure ain't a rip off I wouldn't recommend it to every traveler. Its quite touristy and the elephant really don't listen, ha ha! But the bathing of the elephant was a unique experience! After this it was already time to say goodbye to Mike. He was planning to go to Vietnam and me and Lars decided to go roadtripping on a motorbike in the south. For this we skipped Vang Vieng and went straight to Vientiane to arranged the motorbike at PVO cafe, the only place who would allow us to drop the motorbikes in Pakse. Now I know I'll soo get comments on this decision from everyone who visited Laos as Vang Vieng is the party place in Laos. Well, I don't care!
The experience of riding almost 1000km on a motorbike was so very awesome! We took a detour through 'the loop' as described in the lonely planet and this was so amazing, the views were almost intoxicating. Thats such beauty can still be found. What made this trip even more special is that lars and I hardly met any foreigners and the locals hardly spoke English which made it more adventeruous. During this trip we also visited the 7km long cave which can be accessed by boat and again we were the only tourist (okay, that one tourist we met on the way back we just block out of our memories, we were alone...) which made it more special. Unfortunately, the third day of our trip we had to motorbike on a dirt road and after 70km I fell off. I still got very lucky, it could have gotten so much worse but I wasn't able to climb back on the motorbike. We stopped a pickup truck and they brought me to the closest medical booth. There they took out all the stones and cleaned the wounds. Lars convinced me that it was all steril and hygienic but all that I could see were the tens of thousands of mosquitos staring at me from the walls! Ha ha, Laotian version of cleaniness I assume. Later on, I saw that chickens and a dog were walking in and out again too! There they arranged a pick up truck to bring us and our motorbikes to the nearest town with a hospital, Ta Kaek, were they cleaned the wound again and stichted my knee without anaestetics!!! I feel so brave and cool now looking back but back then I was only glad Lars was there with me making sure everything went okay. Nice little detail: total costs 15 euros! Only 15 euros!
Lars decided to do the last part on the motorbike but I couldn't bent my knee so I decided to take the local bus. Again, so hylarious. You can take the motorbike literally on the bus. The expression sky is the limit is so easily used in the western countries but so very applicable here in Asia and Laos. They will try everything to help you out. This time the motorbike went on top of the bus, but later when I was taking the bus back up the put the motorbike even in the bus! There are so many examples of how everything is possible here, its really an eye opener how flexible they are, a completely different mentality than we from 'the west'. If you wanna see pics of this trip surf to http://www.larsvdberg.nl/ (sorry uploading is not going very quickly and I have everything on Cds/DVDs which are not allowed in most internet cafes).
I'll round up my story here, otherwise it is really getting too long, but the last week Lars and I spend exploring the surrounding of Pakse, visiting the ruins in Champasak and chilled a few days on Don Det (4000 islands). Unfortunately, we had to skip the bolaven plateau because of my knee injurie. Then it was also time to say our goodbyes as Lars was heading to Cambodia and me to Bangkok. My last few days I spend in Savanakhet to arrange my Thai visa. This was my first 'me' time on this trip and I truly needed it to arrange practical matters, think things through and enjoy all those precious moments here in Laos with the nice people I met. It has all been a great experience.
p.s. I'm in Thailand now and Ingeborg has arrived save and sound. The stiches have been taken out and the wound is almost completely healed. Next update will be about Thailand and general impressions so far.
Hellooo dear everyone!
Oh my, it has been such a long time since my last update. Its not that I'm not experiencing nice things. On the contrary, I'm only doing fun things and hardly have time (want to make time) to sit down for 2 hours and type this blog! But now I have some time left before Ingeborg is arriving so let me make use of this opportunity and tell you a bit more about beautiful Vietnam!
I booked a 2-day Mekong Delta tour from Pnom Penh to Saigon as I heard so many positive stories about this tour (I think that just might be one of the causes why I experienced this tour with less excitement than all of my 'advisors'. My expectations were too high). We were drove to a town an hour away from P.P. and there we got on the boat that would bring us to Vietnam border. This is actually a fun experience. Imaging cruising on a boat down the Mekong river, docking at immigration for check out and, one minute later, dock again for check in: Welcome in Vietnam! And we continued cruising all the way down to Chau Doc where we would stay for the night. At the Vietnamese border we got a new tourguide Phisan and she would stay with us untill the next morning. It was interesting to see in how many ways the Mekong is used for everyday life: washing. bathing. washing the animals. drinking, cooking, cleaning, fun time, sewer, etc. Later I'd learn that this count for everyone living close to this life vesel of South East Asia. These first 24hours in Vietnam were a relief to us, Cambodia was in so many ways a poor country and seeing streets in tact, nice houses, people working, more than 2 types of vegetables in your dish is such a nice change! My and my sis had the luck that we arrived on Independence Day of Vietnam, april 30. That night our tourguide Phisan suggested to go out for a drink. Eventually, only me and my sister were up for it and this was heaps of fun! Imagine, being in a town that is not visited that much by tourist, standing in their local disco at 9PM (and the place was loaded!), everyone was waving at us and were trying to get a glimpse of Heleen in particular (tall, blond...). This was definitely a good experience and a fun way to start my travels in Vietnam. After the disco (where they truly had good Vietnamese dance music!) we went to a Karaoke bar where we got a private room. We sang untill we had no voices left (really, my throat was soar next day
Next day was a true dissapointment. We were promised to get a tour around the mekong and see how locals lived but our new tourguide couldn't speak English and it only lasted for an hour instead of the whole day. At noon we were already on the bus to Saigon. In Saigon we checked in at this very small guesthouse but the owner was such a sweet old lady! and the room was only 7 dollar a nite
The last few days we spend in Saigon. We still wanted to do the Cu Chi Tunnel tour and get our mani- and pedicure (so cheap!)! I love Saigon, the city is so vivid! The Cu Chi Tunnels I can definitely recommend to everyone visiting this city. It was very interesting to hear the Vietnamese side of the war story, it amazed me as we westerners learn about the war from the communist perspective but the Vietnamese didn't view it like that at all! Later in the War Renmant museum we learned more about the devastating power of Agent Orange and Napalm. Aweful! We left the museum with a nauseous feeling.
On the 8th of May it was time to say goodbye to my sister. This was a very sad moment. After three weeks of intense travelling together I had to say goodbye knowing that I wouldn't see her for the next 4 months! I decided to leave that night for Da Lat as well. I did meet Dong that night for dinner and we promised to stay in touch! I'm really bad at keeping contact with everyone but I'll try! Da Lat is beautiful by the way! I only stayed there one night as they were hardly any tourist up there and I was in need of some good fun, but the surrounding area is so different to the rest of Vietnam. Nice temperature, green all over, flowers and veggie plantations, hilly, locals who are not paying attention to you but just doing their thing! Love it!
So I decided to leave for Nha Trang that sunday and grant myself some beach time (again). That's when I met Lotte (Dutch) and Monica (Canadian) on the bus. We immediately got along and decided to check in the same hotel. Lotte and I also shared room. We were already setting some baseline rules, such as giving me-time, no hard feelings when I want to continue on my own, etc. but eventually none of us had the urge to continue travelling Vietnam alone.
As we had similar travelling plans and we got along really well we decided to continue travelling together. Our next stop: Hoi An. I made a promise to myself not to spend a lot of money during this trip on things less necessary. I had only one exception to that rule: My million Dong shopping spree in Hoi An. It was actually more than one million dong eventually!
Hue is a nice and quiet city in the middle of Vietnam. I must say I expected more of this city as a tourist and therefore we decided to continue our travels very soon. We arrived in the morning and visited the imperial enclosure in the afternoon. At night we arranged our tickets to Hanoi and me and lotte booked a tour to the Phong Nha Caves for the next day. I'm glad I didn't book the tour to DMZ or anything like that coz the stories I heard so far were't that exciting. Phong Nha caves were really cool! The caves are flooded with water so you can experience the caves by boat. Many stalagmites and -tites could be seen. It was very touristy too as they had installed lights for the ambience here and there but I didn't mind. It was a good tour! As we booked bustickets to hanoi we asked if could be dropped somewhere halfway as the bus would pass here anyway. This was possible and yet another great experience. We arrived in this town where hardly, if not any, tourist are. No one is trying to sell you something, talk to you what so ever. Just locals and Lotte and I. Ordering food and not knowing what you get is of course a part of the experience. But the food in Vietnam is really good so I wasn't too worried and, in fact, it was better than most tourist places. Here we also observed that the women are the ones working in Vietnam. Only guys were sitting at foodstalls on the street drinking beer or tea. The women were working hard to serve those men. This is something you'll see a lot in Asia, women working and guys aren't (as much). Fortunately, we got picked up by the bus (that was something we were worried about) and continued our travels to Hanoi.
Hanoi is okay, can't realy recommend to stay here a couple of days hence why we immediately looked around for a halong bay tour and train tickets for Sapa. We found a great tour for Halong Bay which was unfortunately, quite pricey. It was a delux tour and instead of doing some sightseeing on Cat Ba Island we would have been kayaking the whole day through the bay. Yes, you're reading that correctly: would have been. The F*ckers at Sinh Cafe ripped us off putting us on a completely different, standard tour thereby earning 30 dollar a person (for a good complete story about this I'd suggest to see monica's blog: monica-allwhowanderarenotlost.blogspot.com, may section). Eventually, after shedding some tears (that really works here trust me girls!
The last few days before bordering to Laos I spend in Sapa with the girls. Sapa was truly my highlight of Vietnam! Its so amazingly beautiful, almost intoxicating! Rice paddies, rice paddies, rice paddies. They were working the field as we got there as rainy season was about to start which gave us some nice pictures. You'll also see true minority people up here. I've seen many offerings by tourist agencies to meet minority villages and these always turn out to be a dissapointment as they all look the same as any other Vietnamese, but here you can really see the difference. Their faces have a different contour and they are way smaller, I think about 1.50meters. and their clothing is sooo very cute! You prob think now, yes they wear that for the tourist but that's not true! They wear the outfits too when they are working the field or just in their houses. I do think that they received the incentive to not modernise their clothing so tourism would keep on coming, but still you can tell its their everyday outfit. The first day we just chilled around town and at our balcony at the Lotus Hotel (can totally recommend this hotel). We observed the everyday life of the locals. For instance, we saw this cute little boy carrying around his sibling on his back. He must have been younger than 5 and carrying around a huge responsibility already! He was playing with Lotte and Monica but and at a certain point he lost his balans and almost fell! But instead of falling on his back where he held his sibling he made sure he was only hurting himself. Wow, imagine a western child thinking like that... I don't know any! For the next few days we rented motorbikes to explore the area. It was such an amazing experience. We went to see, villages, waterfalls, and caves but we couldn't find them and instead found a great deserted mountain road with no tourist at all! Unfortunately, Monica had to leave us already on that second day. We did arranged a last massage together in Sapa town (thank you Monica!) and then it was time to say our goodbyes. So weird when you are travelling together for two weeks 24/7 and then one person has to leave the group. I myself left a couple of days later for Laos. It was said to say goodbye to Lotte.
Me and the girls had good fun, laughter, sereous conversations, some sad moments too and I learned a lot from them. We were all travelling for the same reasons which made them very good travelling partners. I'm sure I'm going to miss them heaps! Vietnam was a great country to travel in, friendly people and many amazing sites. I might come back some day as I have the feeling that I left so many things unexplored.
On the bus to Dien Bien Phu I found out that everyone in that minivan was heading for Laos. I was relieved as there were some negative blogs about this border crossing (which is open now for only 5 months) with Laos online. Next update will be about amazing Laos. My favourite country so far. I hope to bring it to you soon.
Hugs & kisses
Okay, something went wrong with blogging. So just pay attention to the last story I believe...