Sumbawa west to east by scooter – from one goose bumps moment to the next

A month ago, I was still on the island of Sumbawa, where one dreamy beach and one romantic sunset followed the next. Now sitting at the window of my Viennese quarantine apartment, I soak up every ray of sunshine that finds its way onto my skin – wondering if I would have appreciated the last days in Indonesia even more if I had known that my trip would end, and at the same time still stunned by and grateful for the wonderful experiences Sumbawa has given me.

From the island Gili Air I took the ferry to Lombok, which according to my travel guide books resembles Bali, but is less crowded and more authentic, while still offering a good tourist infrastructure. Since I am too scared to drive a scooter myself, I had chosen the surfer village Kuta as starting point, where a tourist can probably find everything he or she needs, and which was about 2 minibus hours away from the port where I arrived from Gili Air.

At the port I got on a minibus and sat down in the back row. After I had listened for a while to the conversation in the bus, which was mostly about the fact that Lombok is very touristy, which is why all passengers used the island only for passing through, I started to talk to the man sitting in front of me. To my surprise Vit was also from Vienna. He had already travelled Indonesia several times and was now on his way to the neighbouring island of Sumbawa, which he wanted to travel from west to east by moped. He didn’t have a concrete itinerary, but his plan sounded so adventurous and exciting that my hip surfer hotel in Kuta suddenly seemed pretty boring. We were just talking for a few minutes when people in the bus started to get ready, as the stop where they had to change to another bus was almost reached. At that moment I thought how much I would like to have such an adventure ahead of me, but I was aware that to just change my plans and travel with someone I had just met would be kinda crazy. Anyway – after a short silent discussion with myself, I plucked up my courage and asked Vit: “That might be a crazy question, but would you mind if I travel to Sumbawa with you?” He questioned whether it would work to travel with the scooter together, but just a few seconds later he agreed. Shortly afterwards I got out of the car with him and a German couple at a bus station in Lombok’s capital Mataram without really knowing where it would all lead me, but still with a pretty good feeling.

Julia and Florian from Germany were also on their way to Sumbawa, but had a slightly different plan and therefore took a different bus than us. During the next week, however, our paths were to cross again a couple of times. On the way to Sumbawa, Vit and me got on another minibus which went on a car ferry and brought us in another 2 hours to the beach town Maluk. Actually all that time, I had no idea where we were going, but luckily back then I hadn’t read that Sumbawa is considered to not be very safe on websites like Wikitravel and that most tourists circumnavigate Sumbawa on their way to the island Flores or the Komodo National Park – because otherwise I might have chosen to stay in Lombok. In fact however, I felt safer on Sumbawa than almost anywhere else on my trip, which is mainly due to the incredibly kind people I met.

Maluk – dreamy beaches, huge rice fields and a beautiful waterfall

In Maluk we stayed in a small and simple guesthouse. In the surfer cafe across the street we met the extremly nice owner Ozzy, who after a few minutes agree to lent us his new moped for the next two weeks.

The first day on Sumbawa we explored the surroundings of the city – we passed monkey families, small villages and huge rice fields on our way to a waterfall, which unfortunately didn’t have that much water but in which‘s basin we could swim completely alone. The white sandy beaches around Maluk and the turquoise blue water we shared only with a few surfers, who come to the island because of the world famous waves and are probably the only tourist group on Sumbawa. This day ended with a fantastic sunset and I could hardly believe how lucky I was to have landed on this beautiful island.

Sumbawa Besar: a long scooter ride, many nice encounters and a very cool rock bar

The next day we had a 170 km long scooter ride ahead of us. The capital of the western part of Sumbawa is called Sumbawa Besar, and as there were no accommodations on the way, we made the whole distance in one day. The ride was exhausting for our backs and bottoms, but we enjoyed the views, authentic food and nice encounters. On Sumbawa, many people asked if they could take pictures with us, which often gave us the chance to meet very nice and interesting personalities.

Sumbawa Besar is a rather unexciting city for tourist purposes. But the people we met could not have been more welcoming and interesting. We spent our evenings in the Dogtown Rockbar, which is run by a very nice team and where we could listen to breathtakingly great live music. The owner of the bar is about my age, has a band himself, but also works in real estate, and has a mobile phone accessories business and a start-up in the food sector – such an impressive person. On the day of our departure from Sumbawa Besar we were invited for coffee and Pisang Goreng (fried bananas) by the family that runs the Dogtown Rockbar. The father of the family, who is called Papa Gorilla by everyone, probably runs the only tour company in Sumbawa Besar and has remarkable ring and machete collections. Again, I was stunned by all the impressions I got of the life on Sumbawa and the hospitality of the people.

Pulau Moyo: the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen

A very simple boat took us from Sumbawa Besar to the island of Pulau Moyo. During the 2 hour boat trip with strong swell the local passengers offered us the best seats as well as delicious sesame balls, and we were even accompanied by dolphins for a while.

Arriving on Moyo, Davi, the owner of our homestay, as well as our German friends Julia and Florian were awaiting us. The homestay was very simple, electricity was only available at night, three times a day Davi’s daughters cooked very delicious meals for us. We had brought our moped with us to the island, so we rode over hill and dale through the jungle to what was the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen. Beautiful pools invited for a swim, the green jungle scenery was simply breathtaking and again we were all alone at this magical place.

The next day we drove through the jungle again, partly we had to get down from the scooter and push it through the mud. The herd of buffalos we met was kind of frightening, but I soon realized that the animals were more afraid of us than we were of them. The adventurous drive was rewarded with a dreamy beach and crystal clear water perfect for snorkelling. For the first time I dared to snorkel not only just underneath the surface, but also to dive down deeper under water – and was thrilled by the fish and colours I discovered. Although all of this was already too great to be true, it got even better when our time on Pulau Moyo ended with an extremely beautiful human encounter. Vit and me wanted to explore the surroundings of our village in the evening, but were surprised by a heavy rain shower and so parked the scooter under a big tree. A family who was sitting on their terrace became aware of us and waved us over. So we sat down on their terrace with them, drank some coffee, took a lot of pictures and chatted in our bits of Indonesian until the rain had stopped. Did I mention how incredibly welcoming the people on Sumbawa are?

Dompu, Lakey and Bima – interesting cities in the east and the last time on the beach

Back on the island of Sumbawa we drove further east. We rode along the beautiful coast for a while. On clear days it is possible to see volcanoes in the surrounding area – unfortunately it was not so clear that day. Nevertheless, I was amazed by the green vegetation on the island – this did not fit at all with what I had read about Sumbawa by then, saying that it is stark and dry – it might be more like that though outside of rainy season.

We spent two nights in Dompu and made a day trip to Lakey, the second famous surfing spot with very nice beaches. As the current was too strong to go swimming, we enjoyed the view from the deserted sandy beach. At that time I didn’t realize that this was the last beach I would see in a long time – maybe I would have appreciated it even more if I had known.

The next day we went on to Bima, the capital of the east side of the island. When we arrived, everything was closed – it was Friday evening on the Muslim island. As we flew back to Bali the next day, Ozzy from Maluk came with a friend to pick up his moped – our faithful companion during the past days. Ozzy and his friend had driven two whole days from Maluk to Bima. We asked if they would like to stay overnight in Bima, but since they wanted to use the money we paid them for their families, they immediately set off again on their long journey home. When we said goodbye, we promised that we would return to Maluk one day – and I meant it, because I was simply amazed by the island of Sumbawa, with its surprisingly beautiful nature but above all by the warmth of its people.

Bali and Gili Air – a first glimpse of wonderful Indonesia

From the window of my apartment on the 43rd floor I look at the lights of lockdown Kuala Lumpur. Tonight the Austrian Foreign Ministry is sending an Austrian Airlines flight to pick up stranded travellers from Malaysia. This also means the early end of my trip around the world. The almost 4 weeks I spent in Indonesia seem so far away now, but as soon as I look at the photos on my phone, the time I spent in this beautiful country is completely present again.

Indonesia has inspired me like almost no other country. My first destinations, Bali and Gili Air, gave me only a small taste of how great Indonesia actually is. However, Indonesia was not even on my travel plan at all. Following some random feeling, I changed my plans while in Vietnam and booked a flight from Ho Chi Minh to Denpasar, Bali.

The first days on Bali I spent at the Puri Garden Hostel in Ubud, where an expensive 4-bed dorm room, including free yoga and massages, a great pool and many beautiful looking people awaited me. In Ubud everything is very stylish and hip, but I soon realized that this is not necessarily the destination that fulfills me. I didn’t really make use of what the hostel offered either, as I spent my days going on trips with my dear driver Redi. Because of the rainy season (it hardly rained at all, though) and the first missing guests due to the corona virus, there was rather little going on – I don’t even want to imagine what Bali looks like in the main season, because even now most jungle swings, Hindu temples and rice terraces were still full of tourists looking for the perfect Insta shot. I enjoyed swimming in waterfalls (even if I crashed some photos by doing so) and meditating in jungle temples. On our trips Redi told me about the Balinese culture and taught me a few words of Balinese language. Suksuma, Redi. 🙂

After a few days in Ubud I continued south – I wanted to relax near the beach for a couple of days and had found the perfect place to do so. The Pererenan Nenah Guesthouse is a lovingly designed accommodation on the edge of Canggu. Several single travellers stayed in the cozy rooms around the pool, which all had their own terraces – the place made me feel a bit like in the 90s TV show „The Melrose Place“. The guesthouse was within walking distance to Echo Beach, which is more suitable for surfing than swimming, but offered beautiful sunsets as well as nice bars and BBQ restaurants. I was really lucky that a dear Canadian traveller, who was staying at my guesthouse and knew the area well, showed me the surroundings on his scooter. I felt so comfortable in Nenah’s guesthouse that I postponed my departure several times and if I ever come back to Bali, will certainly return to stay there.

After Canggu, I went on to Gili islands. The internet says: the island Gili Trawangan is for partying, Gili Meno is for honeymooners and Gili Air is a perfect mixture with beautiful beaches, clear water and great snorkeling spots. So the decision for Gili Air was quickly made. However, when I was there, not much was going on and I was a bit unlucky with the weather. My cozy bungalow with a nice outdoor shower was located in the middle of the island, but in the pouring rain I had to wade over the narrow paths in partly knee-high water and complete darkness, so that I preferred just to stay in in the evenings. Luckily, my bungalow had a beautiful terrace with a hammock where I spent relaxed hours. In the mornings, the muezzin of the neighboring mosque woke me up around 4 o’clock. After a tasty breakfast, I borrowed a bike from the bungalow owner. I repeatedely got stuck on the sandy paths so that I had to get down and push, but was still able to drive around the whole island, which is completely free of motorized vehicles, in approximately 1 hour. On the last day I rented snorkel gear in order to search for sea turtles and found at least many colorful fish and corals. I also took a Yoga session, which I really enjoy since the time in the Ashram in Vietnam.

After 3 nights I took the ferry to the island Lombok, where I planned to go to the surfing town Kuta. But things didn‘t go quite as planned from there…

Vietnam – Breathe, Relax and Eat

From Mondulkiri, in the north of Cambodia, I moved on to Vietnam. First destination: Dalat in Central Vietnam, theoretically only 150 km from Mondulkiri. However, because there is no direct border crossing that can be used by foreigners, I first took a 6 hours bus to Phnom Penh, then another 6 hours to Ho Chi Minh City, where I booked myself a flight to Dalat the next day, as I didn‘t feel like taking yet another bus.

Yoga Vacation in Dalat

Dalat is a nice small town, idyllically located on a beautiful lake. However, that’s not why I came to Dalat – my plan was to meditate and try classical yoga for the next 7 days. I had read about the program at the yoga center beforehand, but what it meant exactly, I didn‘t know. The retreat took place in a real Ashram, the rules of the Ashram were also to be followed by vacationers. This meant that every day started at 6 am and ended at 9 pm with 1.5 hours of Satsang (silent meditation, chanting and theory), in between there were obligatory units of traditional yoga, workshops/theory, karma yoga (= selfless activity/volunteering) plus the possibilty of attending counseling sessions. After the 2nd day I seriously thought about throwing in the towel: getting up early was tiring, I probably should have tried yoga before (while the older lady next to me was in the head stand within seconds, I could hardly touch my toes with outstretched legs), and especially the chanting and praying was a bit too spiritual for my taste. In my mostly black clothes I attracted attention next to the white/yellow outfits of the other people (volunteers working there, yoga teacher trainees) – later on I was also told that people in the ashram think that people wearing black have something to hide and are therefore somewhat suspicious to them.
However, in the end I decided to stay at the Ashram for the whole week and I am very happy about it. My daily walks in the forest, the peace and quiet and the healthy vegetarian food were good for me. During the breaks I exchanged experiences with other guests and especially with a very dear Canadian woman I had wonderful conversations on our breakfast bench in the pine forest.

Ho Chi Minh City

After one week I went back to Ho Chi Minh City by bus. At a rest stop I wanted to order my lunch, but could not make the staff understand that I do not want to eat meat. A nice older Vietnamese man had observed this, came over, translated for me, invited me to his table and finally insisted to pay for my meal. It is incredible how nice some people are!

In Ho Chi Minh I was lucky to stay with a friend from Germany in his huge expat apartment on the 22nd floor of a modern apartment building. After I arrived, he opened a bottle of Grüner Veltliner from his last trip to Vienna and then we rushed into the Saigon nightlife and drank one or two cocktails in cool rooftop bars. We spent the Sunday at the pool of his apartment complex. Whew, what a hard life. 🙂

Since it was my second time in HCMC, I focused the next days on finding vegetarian but authentic food. I also booked a streetfood tour via Airbnb Experiences. They also offer a vegan version, at least if you don’t take it too seriously, because the delicious papaya salad that a woman sells from her moped contains pieces of meat that the guides of the tour removed and ate themselves before they handed us the salad. The next days I continued with delicious spring rolls, Banh Mi, Pho and extremely tasty Coconut Coffee.

Trip to Mekong Delta

During the week I also made a 2 day trip to the Mekong Delta. Since I still had to do my research for my next country, I booked a tour there. Most of it was as expected. Trips through water channels and the floating market were very interesting. There were several stops where we had the chance to buy something – by chance always at the best friends of the guides. What annoyed me was that we had the chance to take pictures with a big snake around our neck. Many members of the group happily took this chance. I preferred to take a look at where the snakes usually live and found only small, bare cages. In my feedback form at the end of the tour I expressed my displeasure. Luckily I had booked a homestay instead of a hotel for the overnight stay. The hosts were extremely friendly, the bungalows very spacious and the dinner was fun and very very tasty. One of my highlights was when 2 older ladies of the group, after we had gotten rice wine from the homestay, brought out their very strong Romanian schnaps for tasting. Beside the beauty of the Mekong Delta the other nice travellers were what made the tour especially great.

As I had already seen several parts of Vietnam last year, after 2 weeks I went on to my next destination: I wanted to see with my own eyes if Bali is as great as many people report or maybe too touristy for me. More on this soon.

All the best,

Kati


No rides, no tricks, just elephants. One week volunteering at the Elephant Valley Project

3 years ago I visited an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. Back then, I was aware that riding on elephants, especially in the often heavy seats, was no fun for the animals. At that time I didn’t find it problematic that we could feed and bathe the elephants at the sanctuary, but when an elephant, while posing for a photo, at the command of his mahout, wrapped his trunk around my legs, I felt a bit strange. However, I really liked the photo that came out of it, so I shared it on Facebook anyway.

Since this first encounter, I loved watching elephants, so it was clear to me that I wanted to have another elephant experience on my world trip – and especially in Asia there are so many opportunities to do so. However, during my research I became more and more aware that feeding and bathing with tourists, which are no natural situations for the animals, is actually stressful for them. Furthermore, elephants are at least semi-wild animals, which even if they have been “tamed” are not completely predictable, which also is a safety risk for visitors. However, the Elephant Valley Project in Cambodia, which is also represented in Thailand, is an initiative giving (former) working elephants a species-appropriate, temporary or permanent home and offers tourists the opportunity to observe elephants in their natural behaviour from a reasonable distance. The elephants in the EVP are either rescued from captivity or “rented” elephants, which get some time-out from their working life e.g. in tourism while at the EVP. The animals are all of middle or older age, as the EVP does not breed baby elephants (which would later live in captivity). So it basically is a retirement or recovery home for elephants.

Watching the elephants

During the 5 days I spent in the Cambodian jungle, I had the opportunity to observe the elephant groups consisting of 2-4 animals several times together with other visitors. The elephants are not brought to the visitors, but we trekked into the jungle where we met the elephants and their mahouts. There we watched the elephants at whatever they where doing. I quickly realized that it is so much more exciting to watch the elephants picking leaves or scratching their bums on trees than to just feed them bananas or even watch them doing tricks. The staff of EVP consists of a few foreigners and many members of the local Bunong minority. Their knowledge and especially their passion for the topic really impressed me. They told us the stories of the individual elephants, explained their behaviour and answered all our questions. Did you e.g. know that elephants, despite having large ears, don’t even hear very well with them, but can perceive sounds, sometimes from kilometers away, with their feet?

Volunteering tasks

Besides daily tasks like cooking rice soup for an elephant, who unfortunately can hardly chew solid food anymore, I was able to support the team in activities like weeding, watering seedlings and building signs – not the tasks I would usually do at home and so I was shamefully proud when I managed to hammer my first nail into a wooden sign. Volunteers who stay for at least a week are also invited to help with the weekly health check of the elephants and thus learn even more about the impressive pachyderms. Taking a close look at the elephants’ trunks, skin, ears, eyes, feet, weight and even their excrements – my personal highlight of the week!

Staying in the jungle

Coincidentally, I was the only 1-week volunteer this week and for the first two nights there were no other guests in the jungle. (EVP staff who were accommodated in another building were of course on site). Being alone in the jungle at night (at least it felt like it), especially when the electricity went out after 9 pm, really scared me in the first 2 nights, because who knows what would crawl or sneak into my room in the dark. And especially the way to the toilet a little bit away from the sleeping building was a challenge at first. However, once I noticed that over time, I was less and less bothered by all this and in the end I didn’t really mind anymore, it felt amazing.

Overall, the whole week was such a great experience: I went on this trip around the world to observe nature and animals that do not exist at home, to get to know other cultures and inspiring people and to face my fears. I was able to experience all of this during this one week. Admittedly, a stay at the EVP is not that cheap, but the money is not only supporting the elephants living there, but also the work the team is doing in the forest, as well as the people of the Bunong village, which is involved in the project, many of which are employed by the project, children get scholarships, an ambulance service etc. Next to the unique experience I got for my dollars, where safety was always a priority (e.g. on all the treks I went, there were at least 2 guides joining), I got a comfortable and clean accommodation in the middle of the jungle including a beautiful spot to watch the sunset and very delicious food (with veggie options :)).

If you are looking for an elephant experience in Cambodia or Thailand, I can really recommend the EVP. If you want to know more about my experience there, feel free to contact me. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Best,
Kati

Looking for silence in Cambodia

Our stay in Cambodia began adventurously. I had already heard and read about the overland route from Thailand and was therefore prepared for the fact that crossing the border would not be easy. The drive from Koh Kood to Siem Reap was also the first thing on this trip, which we did completely without planning. Luckily, already, on the transfer to the ferry in Koh Kood, we met the super nice Polish couple Lucy and Baz, who were also on the way to Siem Reap and with whom we could share travel costs and excitement. Arriving on the mainland, we learned that there was no direct bus to the border as expected. However, the four of us were able to share the costs for the 250 km taxi ride, which actually was quite fun due to the driver’s 90s playlist, of which we knew all the lyrics. At the border we had to get out of the car to get a new taxi on the other side. The border crossing was actually quite easy and without expected scams attempts. However, as soon as we arrived in Cambodia we were immediately followed by creepy taxi agents. For lack of alternatives we finally accepted an offer that “the agent’s brother” would bring us to Siem Reap for the reasonable price I had researched. The brother, however, seemed quite grumpy and didn’t speak a word of English. The situation became a bit scary as he drove in side streets and didn’t respond to our questions about where we were going. We quickly learned that Cambodians don’t become friendlier when you talk loudly to them. Anyway, finally we arrived safely at our destination.

We spent the days in Siem Reap visiting the temples of Angkor, which are really impressive, eventhough the hot and dusty air made sightseeing a bit tiring. The main temples, especially Angkor Wat, are of course very worth seeing, but they are also overcrowded and so I found some small temples, where no one else was, even more beautiful. Later in the days, we enjoyed the pool in the hostel or met Lucy and Baz in one of the bars in Pub Street. One evening, we had a very good meal in Haven Café, which offers education to young people from poor rural areas and to my great pleasure, had “Weißer Spritzer” on its menu.

From Siem Reap we went on to Kampot – our longest bus ride so far, which lasted 12 hours. Kampot is a nice, quiet town with some small international restaurants and cafes. Our guesthouse Kampot Cabana had a nice terrace facing the river and we loved the Portuguese restaurant Tertúlia – its super nice owner Miguel, who a few months ago gave up his life in Portugal to open the restaurant with his wife, served us the best tips for the surroundings and also for northern Portugal with his delicious port wine.
Our sightseeing program included the sunset / firefly boat tour, where we hardly saw any fireflies but instead witnessed how Cambodian tourists celebrate their weekends and at some point danced on deck to pop songs some Cambodian boys played from their music boxes. The next day we rented a scooter to go to La Plantation, the largest of some pepper farms, which have the mission to revive the world famous Kampot pepper after almost all plantations were destroyed when the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975, and which supports the local community by offering well-paid jobs and support to local schools. Guided tours and tastings are free of charge, but to get there on the unpaved roads is quite tiring.

After Kampot, we were planning to have a few more quiet beach days. Because of the Chinese New Year holidays we only found a free bungalow on Koh Ta Kiev – a small island that seemed to be pristine and quiet and the Last Point Hostel on it appeared to be very simple, but had good ratings. Having electricity only at the bar for a few hours a day, no running water and quite open bungalows in which, one night, a rat stole our crackers (still better than the 2 snakes in the bungalow next door) didn’t bother us that much. However, unfortunately the beach was very littered, which didn’t seem to bother the staff much, because they were busy partying from noon till late at night. Unfortunately, there was enough electricity so they could play loud techno music until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. Nevertheless we found some nice quiet places, e.g. at a viewpoint in the jungle or at the clean beach of the Cactus resort on the other side of the island. And we met some nice like-minded people who also felt too old for this festival life.

After 3 nights on the island we went back to the mainland. Luckily we hadn’t planned a night in Sihanoukville, which looked like one big construction site, but shared a taxi to Phnom Penh with 2 French girls. While at this point we had gotten used to Cambodian driving with its crazy overtaking manoeuvres, we were still irritated when the taxi driver watched Michael Jackson videos on his phone while driving in the dense city traffic of Phnom Penh.

In Phnom Penh we mostly skipped the tourist program, as we were a bit tired of palaces and temples and instead enjoyed the pool and the rooftop bar in our hotel. On 1 February, sadly Paul’s day of departure had arrived – for the next 1.5 months I will travel by myself. After our farewell at the airport, I took the minibus to Mondulkiri in the northeast of Cambodia. There I enjoyed two finally quiet nights in the Route 76 guest house, which is run by 3 very nice Italians who gave me a comfy room, delicious Chianti and good conversations, before I will go into the jungle for volunteering with the Elephant Valley Project. More on this soon 🙂

Greetings from Cambodia,
Kati

Taking a break on the pretty and clean island of Koh Kood

After my last trip to Bangkok, I didn’t want to stay in the crazy Khao San Road area again, but as our bus to the island of Koh Kood left early the next morning, it was the easiest option. In the evening of our arrival in Bangkok, we had dinner at the restaurant of the River View Hotel, which is located at the Chao Phraya river and has a nice roof terrace, that can be reached via a steep spiral staircase. The view can‘t be compared to that of the luxury rooftop bars, but it still is quite nice, the prices are ok and we didn’t need a fancy outfit. I booked the trip to Koh Kood via Boonsiri, which conventiently offers a combined ticket for the bus to Trat, the ferry to the island and the transfer to the accommodation. Except for the fact that my backpack was packed into the wrong minivan when we changed buses (fortunately, I am quite parnoid when it comes to my luggage, so I noticed it), everything worked out fine.

Arriving on Koh Kood, it is easy to spot who stays in one of the beach resorts with great names like Tinkerbell’s or Neverland and who lives in a cheap guesthouse in the jungle – like us, of course. Our wooden bungalow in Eve’s House was quite simple. A mattress and a mini-bathroom – as there were quite big gaps between the walls and the roof, we were happy about the mosquito net. The people in the guesthouse were super nice – our bungalow neighbors showed us the directions to the next beach and so we rented a scooter and watched the sunset at the first dream beach. It didn’t take long until we decided that instead of stopping at the touristy island of Koh Chang on the way to Cambodia, we’d rather spend another night on Koh Kood. Compared to other islands, Koh Kood has very little going on – many people like to stay in their fancy resorts, as there aren’t many other options to get from one place to another than by scooter. There are a few paved “main roads”, other than that there are only bumpy mud roads, where you might also meet some monkey famillies. Anyway, I was glad that Paul took over the driving part.

In the evening, we had food and drinks at the guesthouse or next doors and exchanged travel stories with other guests, but at about 11 pm lights went out there as well. Anyway we were exhausted from traveling and in the first night in the jungle we slept better than in a long time. On the next two days we spent more time on dreamy beaches. The south of the island was even quieter and even if part of a beach belonged to a resort, the rest of the beach was usually completely free and shady trees made the midday heat bearable. On day 2, we visited the Khlong Chao waterfall, which has a large natural pool to swim or swing in with a rope. The water is full of cleaning fish, which treat cornea-afflicted feet for free. At the end of each beach day there was an almost cheesy sunset with even more kitschy beach swings. For the last day, when it surprisingly rained a bit, I booked a snorkeling trip at BB Divers. At the 3 dive stops I saw a lot of colorful big and small fish and luckily didn’t get stung by any sea urchin. However, when I arrived back at the guesthouse that afternoon and saw my back in the mirror, I learned that I should apply sunscreen even in that grey weather.

Another thing I really liked about Koh Kood is that it’s extremely clean – there’s hardly any litter on the beaches or next to the road, and in many places there are different bins to separate it. Furthermore, every Saturday volunteers meet to collect trash with the organization Trash Hero – the organization also provides free water dispensers in many places (e.g. in our guesthouse) and BB Divers also took bags with them to collect trash during a dive. We had already collected trash in a bag we brought along on the way of our hike in Myanmar and we will definitely continue to follow the good example of the people on Koh Kood, so that we make our contribution to ensure that such dreamy destinations remain that beautiful.

Like in Myanmar we were a bit sad to leave Koh Kood, but we were also very curious what will expect us in Cambodia or already on the infamous land way there. Soon more on this adventure. 🙂

Greetings from Siem Reap,
Kati

Bagan, Kalaw and Inle Lake – pagodas, sunsets, hiking stories and light food poisoning

Quite a lot has happened since my last post: I guess we have seen about 100 pagodas and temples, we have taken four more long distance buses, survived mild food poisoning, walked from Kalaw to Inle Lake and finally flew from Mandalay to Bangkok.

Once we arrived in Bagan and as soon as we had freshened up after our night bus ride, we set off to visit the first pagodas, because after all, more than 3000 historical buildings were waiting for us. Around 5 pm, we joined in with the other tourists of Bagan on a quest for the perfect sunset spot, in order to watch the setting sun turn the place into a mystical gold. After that, every evening, we continued with a tuktuk to Old Bagan, where we found some vegetarian restaurants – a welcome change for me, after having eaten fried rice and fried noodles for days. After every dinner, i.e. at about 7 pm, and since there is nothing going on in Bagan at night, we were happy about our hostel with a great common area where we could talk to other travelers and relax at the pool. Nevertheless, we went to bed early, because at 5:30 am a tuktuk picked us up for sunrise watching and pagoda sightseeing – and we were lucky, as our tuktuk driver turned out to be a super guide.
Apart from its historical buildings, also Bagan impressed us by its incredibly friendly people. When my slightly clumsy boyfriend Paul had bruised his foot on the uneven floor of a pagoda and hobbled towards a bench to wait for me, 3 attentive Burmese came to his aid immediately, offering him bandages and ice cubes for cooling.

Full of new impressions we continued after 3 days to Kalaw, the city that was the starting point for our planned 3-day hike to Inle Lake. Assuming that the food would be rather simple during the next days, that evening, we had dinner at a “real” Italian restaurant. Ironically, it was just this most expensive meal of our trip that gave us both food poisoning and forced me to spend the whole next day in my room. Our learning: From now on we drop the expensive western food and dine where the locals eat. Luckily, the day after I was feeling better again and we could rebook to a 2-day hike. The nice people of Jungle King Trekking even refunded us the amount for the 3rd day.

On the first day of the hike we did 16 km together with a really nice eight-member hiking crew and our 22-year-old guide Titi. We passed chili fields, beautiful landscapes and villages with cute children and nicely greeting inhabitants, and walked over scary wobbly bamboo bridges. In the late afternoon we reached the destination of the 1st hiking day, a Buddhist monastery in the mountains, where we stayed overnight on and under colourful blankets on the floor, and the outside bathroom looked rather adventurous. The light in the monastery went out around 8 pm, as we continued walking quite early the next morning. The morning fog in the mountains, which was more and more banished by sun-rays, showed us a wonderful atmosphere. After a 14 km hike we arrived in a village, where after lunch we boarded a long wooden boat, which took us through water channels and then across the breathtaking Inle Lake.

Before we took the night bus to Mandalay, our last stop in Myanmar, the next evening, I explored Inle Lake by bike and boat. The tour was more exhausting than I thought, the midday heat and tired legs of the last days didn’t help, but the fact that my last stop was a tasting in a winery motivated me to finish the tour.

Strengthened by the wine tasting and another portion of fried rice, we got through the night bus ride well and boarded a plane to Thailand the next day. And even though in the past 2 weeks, we came to love Myanmar and especially its people, who often have so little and still seem so happy and content, we’re looking forward to slowing down a bit and relaxing on the beaches of Koh Kood in the next few days. More on this soon. 🙂

Traveling with hand luggage to hidden beaches

So the day has come: after finalizing all preparations and putting all my stuff into boxes, I faced the challenge of packing everything I would need in the next 6 months into my carry-on backpack. All the people, who told me in the past weeks that my luggage won‘t fit into the backpack, I had simply laughed at, but now I was standing here with my backpack already filled by my 3 packing cubes containing my clothes, and next to the backpack still my cosmetic products, medicine and electronic gear. At that point, I wondered how I even came up with the stupid idea of traveling with hand luggage and was just about to get my large backpack, but finally I decided that I actually don’t need an 8th T-shirt, the Jeans shorts or most of my make up, and that I can rent snorkeling equipment when I need it. So in the end, I managed to fit everything in my 45l backpack and my daypack – and at least until now I didn‘t miss anything. 🙂

After almost 24h travelling, with changing flights in Taipei, we arrived in Yangon, the largest city of Myanmar. Already the taxi ride to the city was a fun experience: after we showed the address to the taxi driver on my phone, I talked to the driver’s brother on his phone and both assured me that they understood where we had to go, we didn’t drive to 15th street where our hotel was, but to 50th street. Anyway, a little later we finally arrived at our hotel, which was small and authentic, and where the staff (as people in Myanmar are in general) was very nice and helpful. We hardly saw any western people in the downtown area of our hotel or during our walk through the “colonial” Yangon. Also when later on that night we had a beer in the very quiet traveller street, we only saw a couple of other tourists. However, when on the next day we went to Shwedagon Pagoda, the most important Buddhist building in Myanmar, we finally realized where all the tourists were hiding. No wonder, the pagoda actually is a very impressive building.

The next day, when we were leaving our first destination, I thought about the impression I had of Myanmar so far: We felt very safe, even in the biggest city of the country. The Burmese people are extremely friendly but never pushy. What surprised me was that also in Yangon Longyis (skirts that also the male Burmese wear) and Thanaka (white paste the Burmese, especially children and women, wear on their faces) are very common.

The next day we left at 4 am for a bus station in the far west of the city, where our bus left for Ngwe Saung, a beach town popular with local tourists. I felt a bit uneasy when we arrived in the dark at the badly lit, very busy bus station, but in the waiting room we were given a friendly „Hello“ by the already waiting families and their cute children smiling and nodding at us. For the next 6 hours, we drove in a shaky bus that I felt stopped every 5 KM to load or unload people or packages. When we arrived, our very simple traveler accommodation awaited us – one of those guest houses, in which you can really hear everything from the room next door, but we also found dreamy beaches and romantic pink sunsets. On day 2, the 4th of January – Independence Day in Myanmar – we borrowed two rusty bicycles to drive to the north end of the town, where we found a hidden beach, which was absolutely stunning and we had all to ourselves. If this sounds like an advertisement for Myanmar Tourism up to this point, that is because Myanmar so far fulfills exactly what I had hoped for: everything here seems authentic and not very touristy, things are affordable and we feel very safe, the Burmese are extremely friendly and always meet you with a smile.

Now I am excited for what comes next: today we take two further buses to move on to Bagan, an ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage Site further north, where 3822 temples and pagodas await us.