There are two sides to everything. Good and bad, black and white, light and shadow and a whole lot of different shades of those. Traveling is no exception here. Especially during my year-long journey across Southeast Asia I developed what you could call a differentiated approach to tourism and travel. On the one hand it enables people to have amazing experiences, to broaden their horizon and ideally to learn about other cultures and ways of living. On the other hand, the massive influx of travelers can have a huge impact on traditionally societies. Sometimes even to the extent of total extinction of their culture and customs. But what’s right and what’s wrong, does the one inevitably come with the other and how should we as travelers deal with this? Continue reading
After a month of traveling Vietnam, I left the border town of Chau Doc by boat and went down the Mekong to enter Cambodia. It would be my second time since my rather spontaneous departure more than three months before. After my memorable jungle adventure in Mondulkiri and the Mekong Discovery Trail, there wasn’t much left on my list but the all time Cambodia highlight Angkor Wat and a short stay in Battambang. The border crossing was quick and I was on my way to Phnom Penh, a city which I associated great memories with. In preparation of my Philippines journey, I had spent a good week in Phnom Penh before and this time I just felt like returning and spending a couple of days in the city to regroup and revive and then head for the ancient temples of Angkor. Continue reading
Here is the second part of my Vietnam diaries which are supposed to summarize the second half of my one month trip from Northern to Southern Vietnam. As you know by now, my entire camera gear got stolen in Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City and since I also lost all of the pictures documenting the second half of my trip, I decided to do this two-part compressed recap. You can find the first part here. Apart from the creative commons pictures from Flickr I am using again, I can this time at least use some photos taken during a thrilling side trip in Dalat. It’s been an interesting and very diverse part of my trip with a lot of recommendable places. However, let me start with the least likeable of them …. Continue reading
A typhoon had hit the coast of Vietnam and our night train ride from Hanoi to Hue turned out to be a full fledged odyssey. Trailing the storm and the massive amounts of rain it brought with it, it took us more then 24 hours instead of 12 to arrive country’s former capital. It was night time and despite having made the best of the ride, meeting new people, locals and tourists alike, we were tired and only looking forward to get some well deserved rest. The good thing about all of it was that the typhoon had just passed, the rain was gone and the next day looked promising, perfect to go exploring. Continue reading
After a more than 24 hour train ride from Hanoi to Hue thanks to a huge delay caused by a typhoon which had just passed the coastal region, we finally arrived in the former capital of Hue. On our first day we were headed for the Citadel and the old forbidden City as we passes by what seemed like a wedding. Loud music and laughter was sounding from the nicely decorated venue across the road. Curious as ever we wanted to have a closer look. As we were snooping around the entrance we were all of a sudden approached by a man who belonged to the wedding party. As we later found out, it was the bride’s father. Apparently he wanted us to come in and after a bit of hesitation, he insisted and pulled us in. We first had to sign the guestbook and put a little bit of money in what seemed like a donation box. Once inside, we realized that this was actually a big event with probably more than 200 people there, live music going on and the pretty couple giving a little speech on stage. We were a bit overwhelmed but our host took care of everything. We were placed at a table with about 6 other people, all men and all of them a little bit tipsy already it seemed. I instantly had to drink glasses of beer with all of them – a custom which then continued throughout the entire party. Shortly after, the waitresses started bringing out the food. It was traditional Vietnamese with a touch of Chinese with more than 5 dishes being served one after another. And every single one was so good. After cutting the cake and pouring champagne into the glass pyramid, the couple went to every single table to thank the guests for their attendance. It was a great time, a lot of laughter, singing and lots of drinking. It was great to get such an authentic insight into the Vietnamese culture.
As I roamed around the venue, taking pictures and drinking glasses of beer with other guests, I saw the bride caught in a moment of contemplation. For a split second she seemed detached from everything else around her. With the most important part of the ceremony behind her, she was perhaps imagining what her new life will be like. What do you think? What was on her mind in this moment?
After my Myanmar adventure, I flew into Hanoi for about a month of traveling Vietnam. My plan was to cross the country all the way from the North down to the South and into the Mekong Delta. I have to admit that I had mixed feelings about Vietnam. On the one hand I was excited to explore a new country, sample the famous Vietnamese cuisine and embark on a promising motorbike adventure along the Chinese border. On the other hand I was a little skeptical after hearing stories about crime, people constantly being overcharged and certain places already spoilt by mass tourism. But I wanted to see for myself and tried to keep a positive attitude. After a day in Hanoi, I met up with Angel from Canada who I had met in Bagan, Myanmar. We arranged to team up and travel together for a bit with Hanoi being our starting point. Hanoi may not have the tropical charm of Saigon but makes up for it with some of the best street food in Asia, a lot of culture and history and a likable type of gruffness and authenticity. Here are my personal highlights which you should definitely check out: Continue reading
Inle Lake was my last stop in Myanmar before returning to Yangon and then heading back to Bangkok. It’s on Myanmar’s main tourist trail and probably every Myanmar tourist stops here at one point. Hence my expectations were a little ambivalent – for no reason as I would find out later. I arrived via yet another night bus from Mandalay. And for some reason the night buses in Myanmar always arrive at the most ridiculous times. In this case it wasn’t much different and I was dropped off at a junction a few kilometers away from Inle Lake at about 4.30 in the morning. Transport into the town of Nyaungshwe, where most of the accommodation is located, wasn’t a problem however and I arrived safely at my guesthouse. Since I had only two full days, My plan was to get a few hours of sleep and then go explore the lake and its surroundings. Continue reading
After our two day trek through the Shan Highlands, Aris and I wanted to explore some more of this scenic and relatively untouched region of Myanmar. On our way back to Hsipaw, we had passed a small village which seemed very nice and interesting. Our plan was to make it back there, till having to figure out how to, and spend the night. Not sure how to exactly get there and not knowing if we could actually stay, we packed our bags, charged our camera batteries and set off for what would be one of the best experiences of my entire trip.
I was bound for Bagan, a place of mystery, magic and many rumors. A place that ranks among the world’s finest cultural heritage sites such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Machu Pichu in Peru. From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city also known as Pagan, was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the kingdom’s height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains, of which the remains of over 2200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day. A must see for every Myanmar tourist, I just hoped that it would not bee to crowded. After a long overnight bus ride I arrived before dawn. Still half asleep, I stumbled out of the bus to board a horse cart into town. My adventure was about to begin. Continue reading
So my Myanmar trip was finally about to start. An adventure which I actually planned to do right at the beginning of my trip and which I then postponed due to a lot of uncertainties. Uncertainties in terms of planning, necessary budget and availability of accommodation due to high season. All the greater was my excitement about finally getting there – I had already heard so many good reports about it. I couldn’t wait to finally explore this supposedly still raw gem of South East Asia.
I had booked a cheap flight from Kuala Lumpur from where I had also lined up my visa. This was actually done within only one day via the local Myanmar Embassy and cost only 150 Ringgit or 35 Euros. Very easy and convenient. The flight was short and I was picked up by an employee of the hotel I had reserved for the first couple of nights. Good service and the hotel itself was alright as well. However, for 22 Dollars a night for a fan room it wasn’t cheap in terms of Asian standards. I conveniently arrived at around midday which allowed me to venture out right away and explore the city.