Guest Post: Exploring the temples of Bagan from a hot air balloon

It's time for another guest post!
Paula shares her story about a hot air balloon ride in Bagan, Myanmar, showing us the best temples from above. I'm so jealous of her experience, that she didn't have a hard time to convince me of sharing her story. I loved exploring the temples by bike but after seeing her pictures I guess I'll have to go back to see them from the air.

Hot air balloons over river in Bagan
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Guest Post: Taipei SPOT house

Last year I went to Taipei to visit my friend Doug, where he took me to his favourite restaurant and told me that he was thinking about starting a blog about colonial architecture. I loved the idea and we spent the evening brainstorming what he could write about. Here we are, twelve months later with his first guest post, which obviously had to be about the exact restaurant, where I heard about his blog "Going Colonial" for the first time:

Taipei SPOT house fassade
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Beach Bumming in South Bali

After almost a month in Indonesia, I realized that I hadn't been to a single beach there. If you've followed my journey for a while, you probably know that this is highly unusual for me, that's why I decided to spend my last three days in Bali looking for the perfect beach.

Drinking Milkshake at Bilangan Beach Bali
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Five things to do around Labuan Bajo apart from seeing Komodo dragons

Like most visitors, I came to Labuan Bajo from Bali to dive in the close-by Komodo National park and to look at Komodo dragons.

 

Labuan Bajo is famous as a starting point to go on a dragon tour to Komodo island or Rinca, but there are many other places to explore from there. I had already booked a week in a dive resort right at the border of the National Park, but had a couple of days to spare in Labuan Bajo. So I went on to explore Flores island, as usual mostly to see everything you can see from a boat.

View over Labuan Bajo
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Where to see Komodo dragons: On Rinca or Komodo island?

You can't come to the Komodo National Park without seeing the dragons.

Officially these giants are only found on Komodo and Rinca island where you can visit them with a ranger. The local dive guides then told me later that the dragons are also living on three other islands (I was very happy not having this information earlier. I also never heard of anybody just meeting them on the other inhabited islands, though)

 

edit: there were plans to close Komodo Island for 2020, which apparently now have been canceled. Please check before you go. I haven't heard of plans to ever close Rinca.

Komodo Dragon on Komodo island
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One day in Taipei

My last trip of 2016 took me to Indonesia, but not before stopping over in Taipei for a day and a half. I was pretty excited about this interruption, because I had never been to Taiwan and because I could see my friend Doug, who I had met in Hong Kong the year before and who is now working in Taipei.

 

Knowing I only really had one day (plus the time I'd spend drinking with Doug) and because I was travelling with my parents, I changed my usual sloth-like travel style to a day of exploring the city with a full itinerary.

Dulong Street in Taipei
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Itinerary for travelling South East Asia for four to six months

So you're planning a trip and you're wondering how far you'll get South East Asia within four to six

months? This is my list of places I visited in four months without rushing from one place to another using

local transportation when possible and flights when needed, including Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar,

Laos, Cambodia, the Philippines and a little bit of Vietnam. It can easily be stretched to six months by

staying longer at a few great places or by adding a few.

I've visited Indonesia on other trips, therefore I didn't include it on this one.

Beach Thailand Koh Lipe
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Chinese Hutong Architecture in Beijing

Do you want to do a Hutong Tour on my rickshaw?”

A rickshaw driver jumped in front of us while we were strolling around Beijing.

 

I looked at my friend Lydi. We were both pretty tired from flying to China from Germany, being driven around in a rickshaw – although pretty touristy – sounded perfect. We had planned to check out the architecture of the hutongs around the forbidden city anyways, so we climbed on our new friend Jinjing's rickshaw.

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Coming home to Yim Huai Khwang Hostel in Bangkok

I love arriving in a new city. It's the thrill of something exciting and unexpected that keeps me going from place to place, always hoping the next one will offer something I haven't seen yet. New people, new food, new everything.

 

But then there are all these little incidents that won't make it onto my Instagram feed. Being scammed by a taxi driver because I didn't know how close my hotel was, getting lost in the middle of the night, dragging the backpack through the city looking for a place to stay...

 

That's why from time to time, there is nothing more enjoyable for me than returning to a place that I liked. Where I can tell the taxi driver where to turn and where my phone connects to the wifi without asking.

My place for that in Bangkok is my favourite hostel in Thailand: Yim Huai Khwang.

Arriving here, I was greeted like an old friend and I felt like I was coming home.

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How to do a day trip from Hong Kong to Macau (for the architecture, not for gambling)

It's almost impossible to get bored in Hong Kong but being at such a busy place, it was time for some peace and quiet for me. Introducing: Macau.

The former Portuguese colony is just an hour by boat away and rocks some cool European architecture, combined with quieter streets and an almost traffic-free old center.

 

Of course there is also the gambling part, but this is a total different area, which I didn't visit (ask my friends in Hamburg who once took me to a Blackjack-bar. You should simply keep me away from gambling).

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Shopping and Architecture at Phnom Penh Central Market

I have this romantic picture about markets in my head. I see myself wandering through the narrow alleys, picking up artisan fabrics and smelling exotic spices while probably becoming best friends with an old lady who has been working there for decades.

Well, those of you who have been to Asia might have made the same not so romantic experience there, that I had to learn. A wet market is a very smelly place and the whole "same same"-thing is only charming on your first day there.

 

So after ripping one of my two pairs of trousers on a motorbike in Malapascua and being in desperate need for replacement, I dragged going to a market in Phnom Penh assuming it would be se same annoying experience. Thankfully, I had become friends with Ady, an Australian girl who I could talk into coming with me, as she wanted to buy a shirt for her boyfriend anyways.

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French Architecture memories in Hanoi

Hanoi was tough on me. I arrived there after deeply falling in love with Luang Prabang's calm friendliness and cute architecture, with smiling children on the street and with being greeted hundreds of times a day with a charming "Sabaidee".

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Falling in love with Laos in Luang Prabang

Laos and I did not get off to a good start.

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Getting Crafty in Luang Prabang: Weaving

"Oh, that's what we've been doing wrong!”

My friend Aga was looking for activities in Luang Prabang on her phone: “Apparently the women in Laos are very much into weaving because it's said the better you are at it, the better a wife you are going to be. That's why we are still single!"

 

The next morning, we were picked up for our weaving course in a Tuk Tuk. Tou, our guide explained that he'll drive us to a nearby village, where Lae is living and working. She has been weaving ever since she was ten years old and would teach us for half a day while he helped to translate.

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French and Lao design at the Putaxai Victory Monument Vientiane

This piece of architecture in Vientiane won my heart when I heard of it before I even arrived in Laos:

In 1962, the Americans donated concrete for a new airport and Laos decided to build a giant victory monument resembling the Arc de Triomphe in Paris instead.

This sounded like enough of a reason to go there for me.

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Life in Manila's South Cemetery

A while back, I saw a documentary about people living in the south cemetery in Manila, many of them working for the cemetery but staying in between the tombs over night.

 

I've always found the influence of different circumstances in different places on design fascinating. How do we react on what is given and how does our culture influence the result?

So... how do people live in a cemetery?

 

Obviously I had to go on see it for myself.

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Z Hostel: Hip in Manila

After an amazing month in the Philippines my last stop was Manila.

Z hostel had invited me to stay with them and as design hostels are my favourite kind of accomodation and the Philippines have some of my favourite places in the world, I knew this would be good.

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A trip through the Philippines for visual people

"So you're doing the whole scenic views thing?" my new Filipina friend asked me sitting in the white sand, overlooking the most beautiful beach I've ever seen. She pointed out that my itinerary through the Philippines basically consisted of impressive cliffs, stunning beaches and beautiful views. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

 

If you, like me, are a very visual person and can stare at a star fish in clear ocean water for an hour, and you are wondering which islands to go to, here is some inspiration for your trip through the Philippines.

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Paradise found at Two Seasons Coron

"What do you bring to a lonely island? Not in a “the bible and a flashlight”-way, but really, what do you bring?" I asked my friend Natasha.

I was about to be picked up from Coron town to stay at Two Seasons Coron on a tiny island for a couple of days. I came to Coron for wreck diving but what else do you do in a luxury resort on a private peninsula? "Uhm... bring sunscreen?"

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Wreck diving in paradise with Two Seasons Coron

Ever since I got a first glimpse at a wreck in Koh Tao, I was so fascinated by the size of the ship, by the history around it and by the coral stuck to it, that I definitely wanted to see more.

I knew that I had to travel to Coron in the Philipines.

During the second world war, several ships had tried to hide in the Coron bay and were all sunk.

Today this makes a great dive site, one of the best for wreck diving in the world.

 

Two months later, I climbed off the speedboat at Bulalacao island in Coron bay.

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El Nido in Style: Spin Designer Hostel

El Nido has been on my list for ages. One stunning beach next to another, amazing diving and beautiful cliff surroundings? Sounds like my kind of place.

So on my trip through the Philippines, I made sure that this was my first longer stop.

The lovely people at Spin Designer Hostel invited me to stay with them, which obviously made my time in El Nido even better.

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Newsflash: Mandalay isn't horrible

Planning my trip to Myanmar, I told a couple of people about my itinerary:

Starting from Yangon, I wanted to work my way up north over Inle Lake and Bagan to Mandalay. The common response to that was: “Cool, but don't spend any time in Mandalay. I heard it's a horrible place”.

So I was obviously on a mission to find the beauty of Mandalay, and spoilers: I did.

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Views from the Yangon Circular Railway

Myanmar won my heart right after I stepped out of the airplane in Yangon.

I walked down the street past a mother with her child eating rice. She looked up to me: "do you want to share?" – I was overwhelmed by her generosity and declined.

She looked at her child: "say hello to the foreign girl". The little boy looked at me and waved, a big smile on his face painted with Thanaka: "Minglabar".

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The Design of the old and the new Kuala Lumpur Railway Station

"So what did you do today?", I asked my new friend Thomas at our Hostel in Kuala Lumpur. “I went to look at this old train station. It was supposed to be super interesting because of the mix of different architectural styles, but I didn't like it”. WHAT? To Thomas's confusion, I left to look at this cool train station right away.

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Street art with random people in Penang

I was absolutely thrilled about my stay in Georgetown, Penang, as it's famous for its street art and – as regular readers know – I love strolling through a new city looking for exciting public art.

The great thing about Penang is, that you don't really have to look for long.

The city actually curated a large part of it's public art for its town festival in 2012, making it a mecca for street art lovers from all over the world.

Kids on Bicyle by E. Zacharevic, Lebuh Armenian

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Colours of Penang

Every now and then I drive into a new city and get the feeling: “you and me, this is gonna be good”.

 

After a month of beach bumming, diving and doing nothing in Thailand, I was a little scared to go back to “civilisation” but Penang was the perfect place to start.

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Street art in Tonsai Bay 

Having spent two happy weeks in Koh Tao with lots of friends and a new found love for diving I set off for my next stop: Tonsai.

Tonsai Bay is located in Krabi, next to Railay beach but separated from it and everything else by cliff stones, making it only accessible by boat.

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Cast away on Koh Lipe

If you asked me what my dream accommodation looks like, I'd probably say something like this:

my own little bungalow on the beach with large windows to overlook the ocean, right next to a great restaurant. The overall style should be laid back, but comfortable.

A bonus would be a spa, yoga, snorkeling and diving.

Well, guess where I am right now.

Bungalows at Castaway Koh Lipe
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Exploring the Phi Phi Islands

I mean, there is a chance that Leonardo di Caprio comes back to Maya bay for a sequel of “the Beach”, right?

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Relaxing at AliSea Boutique Hotel in Aonang 

The timing for my visit at AliSea Boutique Hotel could not have been better.

A small boutique hotel in the cool and calm green area of Aonang, Krabi was just what I needed.

 

I was coming over from Tonsai and felt a bit under the weather. An infected scratch on my leg kept me from going in the water and therefore from doing anything I had planned there. The antibiotics didn't help my overall wellbeing either and I couldn't wait to have a couple of relaxed days in Aonang.

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Exploring Koh Tao by scooter

Regular readers know already what my favourite mode of transportation is: The scooter.

Obviously, I rented one to explore the island as soon as I arrived on Koh Tao. If you are planning to get away from Sairee or Mae Head village, this is really your only option if you don't want to take a taxi.

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Cooling down in Bangkok at Lumphini Park and Bangkok Art and Culture Centre

It is hot here in Bangkok! With temperatures close to 40°C (sorry Fahrenheit's, that's 100°F) I feel like I am melting here.

 

So I went looking for nice cool places where I could just lay and nap under a tree or walk around in peace and here's what I found:

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Le Pirate on Nusa Ceningan

One of the reasons I started this blog was my stay at “le pirate” in Nusa Ceningan, a little resort and beach club on one of the small islands around Bali.

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Potato Head Seminyak – stylish beach clubbing in Bali

By now you guys probably know that I'm not a fan of posh beach clubs and would rather go for a free night of bonfires and drinks most days.

 

This beach club in Seminyak, Bali let me forget all of this though, as it is a real treat for every design lover.

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