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.
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.
You can't come to the Komodo National Park without seeing the dragons.
These giants are said to be found on five islands, while the local dive guides only told be about Komodo and Rinca, where you can officially visit them with a ranger (I was very happy not having the information, that they are also just chilling on Flores and thought they only lived in the National Parks. I never heard of anybody just meeting them on the other inhabited islands, though).
Happy 2017 fellow travellers!
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.
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.
“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 kind of 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.
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.
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).
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.
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".
“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.
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!
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.
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.
“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. “Uhm, yes”.
She pointed out that my itinerary through the Philippines basically consisted of impressive cliffs, stunning beaches and beautiful views. I don't think there is anything wrong with that.
So, 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.
“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?"
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.
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.
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.