PART VI: Almaty to Baku – From Bali to Belgium, the Long Planeless Way Home

Planned travel route.

PART VI: Almaty to Baku

25/03/2016 – From Almaty to Aktau

Today we finally took the train we actually wanted to catch last week. Tickets: check. Azerbaijan visa: check. We are ready for the Caspian sea crossing! First things first, which was a long journey through the Kazakh steppe. We had planned to buy ‘platzkart’ tickets, but by coincidence we bought the coupe tickets. Those were so ridiculously cheap we couldn’t imagine there were even cheaper options. It was only about thirty euro for a three-day train ride. We ended up in wagon number 11 in the upper beds of a four person coupe. It was late, around 10 p.m. when we got on the train, so not much happened during our first night.

Train ticket Almaty - Aktau

For those of you who just want facts… 

Route: from Almaty II railway station to Mangyshlak railway station (Aktau).

Distance: 3300 kilometres.

Time: departure the 25th at 9:50 p.m. (Astana time) and arrival the 28th in Mangyshlak at 6 p.m. local time (7 p.m. Astana time), so 69 hours.

Price: 11800 Tenge (31 euro).

Vehicle: Kazakh old train.

Capacity: 12 wagons, 1 restaurant wagon, 4 coupe, 5 hard sleeper, 2 sitting. (See China for capacity.)

Other expenses: coffee and cheesecake afternoon with Rafa: 4000 Tenge (10 euro), apples: 500 Tenge (1,30 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 31 euro transport + 11,30 food.

 

26/03/2016 and 27/03/2016 – On the train somewhere in the Kazakh steppe, Charlie interviews Daniel

Daniel, what about the Kazakh trains? 

Hot and cramped is what pops up in my mind when I think about Kazakh trains. The radiator was on full power all the time, and the space to hang out was very limited. There is a restaurant car though where it was possible to meet funny people. So at the end I didn’t get bored.

Define funny people…

Funny people, people who make fun. People who don’t mind the language gap between them and me, who are interested in intercultural exchange and… who don’t say “no” to a bottle of vodka of course.

What about the landscape during those three days of crossing through the whole country?

The landscape was interesting on the first day. The second day I got used to it. The third day a mountain or something like that as a change from the steppe would’ve made the ride more exiting. I can imagine that hiking and cycling would be interesting in this area, but this long distance with no real change in landscape is really monotonous, I think.

You have taken the train in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, and Kazakhstan during this trip. Which was the worse and which the best? And why?

I liked the trains in Thailand a lot. They were spacious and calm. Indonesian trains were super comfortable because of their seating. They didn’t have sleeper space, but it was perfect for daytime travel. Overall, Chinese trains were the coolest ones. If I could build an ideal train, it would be with the sleeping space of a Thai train with the entertainment of a Chinese train. I actually don’t really remember the Malaysian train. Kazakh trains were good for drinking vodka and the low price, but anything else had been a lot better before. Oh, and on Kazakh trains we got a free towel, which was a plus.

The Kazakh steppe.

For those of you who just want facts… 

Other expenses: two times borsh: 1400 Tenge (3,70 euro), coffee: 100 Tenge (0,30 euro), breakfast greasy stuff: 150 Tenge (0,40 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 4,40 euro food.

 

28/03/2016 – From Mangyshlak to Akau city centre

We arrived in Aktau around 6 p.m., and were a bit bored after having been on the train for three long days. Upon arrival we took a taxi straight to the ferry ticket office, but it was closed already. A lady made a few phone calls, and told us that tonight there would be no more boats. We found a crappy hotel with really hard beds and moisture everywhere, but it was okay because it was cheap.

Aktau beach.
Aktau beach.

For those of you who just want facts… 

Route: from Mangyshlak to Aktau city centre.

Distance: 12 kilometres.

Time: 30 minutes.

Price: 500 Tenge (1,30 euro).

Vehicle: shared taxi.

Capacity: 4 passengers and 1 driver.

Other expenses: one night in hotel Keremet: 1500 Tenge (4 euro), food in Silk Way Hotel: 1500 Tenge (4 euro), 7up and chips: 500 Tenge (1,30 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 1,30 euro transport + 4 euro food + 4 euro other.

 

29/03/2016 – Aktau city

This morning I woke up early to go to the ‘kassa’ to get some information about the boat and the tickets. There I met the friendly Julia who told me that there would be no boat today, but that I’d maybe have more luck on Wednesday. She couldn’t issue the tickets because they only issue them when they are really sure a boat will be leaving. Come back tomorrow, she said. Since there was really not much going on in Aktau, we occupied ourselves by eating and drinking coffee the whole day. A bit boring to be honest, but we were hopeful to have a boat soon. The local lady Mika, who I had met via Couchsurfing, took us out for diner to an Uzbek restaurant, which was cool because now we’d had at least some action today.

Aktau city.
Aktau city.

For those of you who just want facts… 

Other expenses: one night in hotel Keremet: 1500 Tenge (4 euro), Palermo restaurant and bar: 3000 Tenge (7,90 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 7,90 euro food + 4 euro other.

 

30/03/2016 – Aktau City

This morning I went to the ‘kassa’ again, and Julia and Katia told me they could sell me tickets, because there would be a boat tomorrow at 6 a.m.. I was hoping to have one tonight, but I guessed tomorrow early in the morning was also fine, not much we could change about it anyway. At least I got tickets, that was already a step forward. In the afternoon I was super bored again, and just talked to friends and family on Skype. The evening was awesome, because Mika took us to a nice hipster bar that was packed. Wow, we didn’t expect this here in Aktau. A nice surprise! There was even a band playing cool rock music later that evening. Thanks, Mika!

Couchsurfing meeting.
Couchsurfing meeting.

For those of you who just want facts… 

Other expenses: one night in hotel Keremet: 1500 Tenge (4 euro), Palermo restaurant and bar: 3000 Tenge (7,90 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 7,90 euro food + 4 euro other.

 

31/03/2016 – Aktau City

It was 4 a.m. and we had to wake up. Too early for sure! We arrived at the port around 4:45 a.m., and no one was there. Heloooooo guys, they told us there would be a boat waiting for us at 6 a.m., any idea if it is there already? It took forever to find someone who could help and inform us. The port of Aktau was really not organised. People walked around like chickens, and didn’t give a f*** about those stupid tourists who don’t want to take an airplane for weird reasons they don’t understand.

So we were sitting and waiting and sleeping and asking for information and drinking coffee, till finally an English speaking person told us the boat hadn’t left the port of Baku yet. Tomorrow morning maybe, he said. Oh, I hated the word MAYBE in this situation. Anyway, after a few hours of waiting we agreed we would go hang out in the centre for another day, and sleep in the terminal of the port. On the ground there would feel the same as on the beds at the crappy hotel anyway. The guy from the port confirmed there would be a boat tomorrow at noon. Inshalla.

For those of you who just want facts… 

Other expenses: one night in hotel Keremet: 1500 Tenge (4 euro), Palermo restaurant and bar: 3000 Tenge (7,90 euro).

The boat ticket.
The boat ticket.

 

01/04/2016 – From Aktau to Baku (Alat)

The security guard woke us up early, because he didn’t want people to run into us at the offices while we were still sleeping on the ground. So we woke up, had some breakfast, and waited. People came in and out the offices of the immigration starting from 8 a.m. or so, but everybody ignored us. They didn’t even look at us to say “hello” or “good morning”. After an extra hour a few guys with a different physiognomy walked in and out the offices. They were clearly not from Kazakhstan, and most of them turned out to be Turkish truck drivers, arranging the paperwork to get their trucks on the boat. For them it also seemed to be a hassle to organise everything. But it was a good sign there would actually be a boat. A lot of people were hanging around, not like yesterday when there was really no one who looked like a passenger. I made a paper boat to explain a guy that no matter what he had to make sure we were on this boat.

Our cabin.
Our cabin.

The boat was getting ready to get all the cars and cargo on it, and to leave in a few hours. We were happy to see things moving, but we were still not sure. Seen the I-don’t-care-mentality here, there was a possibility they would all get on the boat, and leave without us. Usually if it’s impossible to communicate properly people at least try to keep us informed in one way or another, which was not the case here. Then around 10 a.m. Daniel called Katja to see if we had to arrange something with customs. She told us she just got a telegram from Baku telling that out boat changed, and that we would not be able to take the planned Nahichevan, and that we had to change the tickets for another boat. She thought we were still in town, and asked us to come over as quickly as possible to change the tickets, because we only had few hours left before the boat would leave. Really? There was a huge line of trucks in the port, how were we supposed to find a taxi that can bring us there quickly? The moment we were ready to walk out of the port immigration building she called us again. “Are you in the port already? Ow, sorry, I thought you were still at the hotel in the centre. Stay in the port. A guy called Nikolai will come to you and change the ticket for you.” While I was on the phone, Nikolai had already grabbed our tickets to change them. Change is a big word though. He just changed the name of the boat on the same handwritten ticket, no big deal. Luckily we didn’t go to the city centre to arrange something so stupid. Nikolai told us about a restaurant in the port, so after all we could still have a last proper meal before going on the boat. He told us to be back at 1 p.m.. I really hoped we wouldn’t be stuck at the port for an extra twenty hours or so, but that we would just do the crossing, smoothly, as it should be. Again… Inshalla.

Charlie and the strong truckers on the boat.
Charlie and the strong truckers on the boat.

And then the moment came… We were asked to stand in line to pass customs. This went smoothly. I was the only woman in between al the trucker guys. Once we passed customs we still had to wait for the boat to come from Baku, and to unload all the trucks that were still on it. Then it was our turn to hop on a truck, and get into the ship. It didn’t take too long, and we left around 5 p.m.. I was hoping for a smooth crossing. We shared the four-bed cabin with David and another trucker. We were happy to be on board, and took some pictures upon departure. Later it was dinner time, and we were surprised that all the meals were actually included in our ticket price. A nice extra! Yeah, it was not top cuisine – basic soup with bread and pasta or rice, but perfect if you ask me! The guys even organised a little get together with some snacks, and of course a little vodka to end the day. I figured it would be a really bad night, because I expected that the big guy sleeping in the bed under me would snore for sure!

The trucks coming in the boat.
The trucks coming in the boat.

For those who just want facts… 

Route: from port Aktau to port Alat.

Distance: 300 kilometres.

Time: departure April 1st at 5:30 p.m., arrival the 4th at 1:30 a.m., travel time was 56 hours.

Price: 80 dollar.

Vehicle: big boat ferry.

Capacity: 28 big trucks. 30 passengers in cabin. Crew about 10 people.

 

02/04/2016  – 03/04/2016 – Somewhere on the Caspian Sea

And indeed, it was a terrible night. After a while I went sleeping on the bed in the smokers room. You would think people don’t smoke at night, but they do. At least now I could sleep a little. Luckily I could catch up some sleep during the day, and also the next day, because we stood still for about a day because of bad weather at the Azerbeijan coast. We were just floating, no movement for more than a day, no fun.

Sunset on the sea.
Sunset on the sea.

It was cold outside, so most of the time I just sat inside, read my book, watched some movies, slept, went to the restaurant three times a day, talked to our trucker friends – mostly David who reminded me of my grandfather, only younger. It was also the only one who spoke a few words of English, so it was a little easier to communicate with him.

Another night on the boat, they told us. We expected it of course, after having read all the stories of being stuck on the Caspian Sea for a long time. We nevertheless hoped our crossing would be super fast. Wishful thinking. This night David reorganised the rooms so I could sleep without snoring folks around. It was a good second night on the boat.

March 3rd around noon we went to the machine room after lunch for a little tour. They told us we would leave again soon. Five more hours to the port of Altat, about 70 kilometres under Baku. Of course ‘soon’ meant ‘a few hours’, so we still spent another full day on the boat.

 

 

 

Written by Planeless Traveller Charlie

Part V: Almaty to Bishkek and Back – From Bali to Belgium, the Long Planeless Way Home

Planned travel route.

PART V: Almaty to Bishkek and Back

16/03/2016 – From Almaty to Bishkek

The road from Almaty to Bishkek, for me, meant re-entering the Central-Asia I got to know a year earlier and that I love so much. The flat steppe with shepherds and their animals running around the fields. Mountains at the horizon. The initial plan was to skip Almaty and to go straight to Aktau, a place without memories since I hadn’t been there before. But plans sometimes change (read Part IV!), so on Wednesday morning we headed to Bishkek, a place full of memories – maybe the place with the most memories of the whole trip. The area from Turkmenistan to Kazakhstan, where we had spent many months during the first half of 2015, is really special to me. It was a new universe of sometimes nothing, sometimes weird cities, sometimes Aladin-style cities, sometimes the nothing-landscape of the steppe, sometimes high peaks in the unspoilt nature. So while being on the road again around here, from Almaty to Bishkek, I had to think about all the magnificent things we had discovered in this area.

The border crossing went pretty smoothly, despite the fact dat our minibus driver ditched us at the Kyrgyz side of the border and drove away without us. We chartered a taxi, which was okay because the border is only 30 minutes away from Bishkek, and asked him to drop us at the Azerbeijan embassy right away. Since there was no one at the embassy, we called, and the consul told us to come back at 5 p.m.. Enough time to check in in Sakura Guesthouse, and to have some late lunch.

Pic of our first breakfast at Sakura, May 2015.
Throwback: pic of our first breakfast at Sakura, May 2015.

Good old Sakura. The guesthouse where we had spent the most time during the whole trip. It’s the place where we’d met our Israeli friends: Ilan, Manbar, and Omri. The place where Omri made a point out of bringing Ien and me coffee in the morning, simply because we’d asked him if he wanted to do that – life was good from the first day on at Sakura. The place where we’d decided to hike together, and where we departed for our epic Chok-Tal hike with them. It’s the place where we’d met Marthe and Thomas again, after having met them before in Ishkashim and Khorog. It’s the place where we’d met the Dutchies: blond, blonder, and blondest. It’s also the place where a bit later we’d met Lucas. (I remember the first conversation where I was making fun of a guy on Tinder who lied about his age. We’d found this out, because Ien and I had ran into him in Chok-tal a few days earlier.)

Sakura is also the place where we got reunited with Davy who’d had to go back home a few weeks earlier to arrange passport shit. With his old passport copies I had made him a welcome-back-banner – it was good to be all together again. He was even right on time for my b-day. So were Lisa, who we’d met in Khorog, and our Belgian buddy Elisabeth, who we’d met in Ishkashim. Since the pre-b-day-party had ended up being Lucas, Lisa, Joanny, and myself being too enthusiastic about the amber beers at Steinbrau brewery, I kind of had to skip the real party with Ien’s special spaghetti bolognese… oops! Sakura is the place where the next morning, hungover, I had talked to Scott for the first time, this awesome photographer is now also an awesome friend!

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Throwback: welcome-back-banner for Davy last year.

In Sakura we’d met tons of cyclists like Claudia and Johann, but most important of all, it’s the place where we got reunited with Daniele and Simona who we’d already met in Ishkashim. Ow, and also Vali from Ishkashim had stopped by for diner at Sakura all together. Too much incredible people, too much memories, so hanging out at Sakura was emotionally pretty difficult. Especially now I’m really missing my family and friends a lot. It was also in Sakura that I’d started to think about going home by plane if something would’ve gone wrong at this point. It was just too much, too much memories, but now there was an empty Sakura. It was cold outside, cold in the dorm, not the Sakura I knew with people everywhere, sitting and laughing on the terrace.

Not much time to think though at this point: time to go back to the embassy. The consul gave us the application form we had to fill in, an example of the letter we had to write, and the name of the bank where we should do the payment. Deadline: tomorrow at 11 a.m.. Because we’d had to arrange our Kazakh and Chinese visa the last time I was in Bishkek, I knew exactly where to find the photo and copy shops, where to print and write the letters, and where to make passport pics in the right format. We arranged everything in no time, and the next morning I went to the bank for the payment. Time to relax, and of course buy postcards! We kept the tradition alive of cooking at Sakura, and Daniel made a local-style mutton spaghetti bolognese, Ien would’ve been proud!

 

For those of you who just want facts…

1.

Route: from Almaty Backpackers hostel to Almaty Sairan (international) bus station.

Distance: 17 kilometres.

Time: 30 minutes.

Price: 700 Tenge (1,80 euro).

Vehicle: regular taxi.

Capacity: 5 people, 3 passengers and 1 driver.

2.

Route: from Almaty Sairan bus station to Kazakh-Kyrgyz border.

Distance: 212 kilometres.

Time: 3 hours.

Price: 1250 Tenge (3,30 euro).

Vehicle: white minibus.

Capacity: 21 people, full!

3.

Route: from Kazakh-Kyrgyz border (Kyrgyz side) to Azerbaijan embassy.

Distance: 20 kilometres.

Time: 30 minutes.

Price: 1000 Tenge (2,60 euro) (overpriced but we had no Kyrgyz Som yet).

Vehicle: super old car.

Capacity: 5 people, we were 2 passengers and one driver.

 

Other expenses: lunch: 110 Som (1,40 euro), body milk: 350 Som (4,30 euro), passport pic and prints: 110 Som (1,40 euro), grocery store for diner and breakfast: 442 Som (5,50 euro), one night in Sakura guesthouse: 600 Som (7,50 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 7,70 euro transport + 6,90 euro food + 13,20 euro other.

 

17/03/2016 – Bishkek: the Azerbaijan Embassy

Embassy time! And I hoped it would be the last time during this trip… I woke up early for a morning walk to the bank, and Daniel had made breakfast by the time I came back: a good deal! At 11 a.m., as agreed, we went to the consul, and gave him our passports and the required paperwork. “Five days”, he said. “Does that mean the visa is ready on Wednesday”, we asked? “Call on Monday to make sure it’s ready”, he said. Perfect, this guy is working during the holidays! He is really doing us a favour here.

We decided to stay in Bishkek today and tomorrow, and to only head out somewhere else later. We looked for new shoes for Daniel, and then I took him to Steinbrau, the perfect evening activity, in my opinion!

 

For those of you who just want facts…

Expenses of the day: Azerbaijan visa: 20 euro, one night in Sakura Guesthouse: 600 Som (7,50 euro), beer and fries in Steinbrau Brewery: 600 Som (7,50 euro), grocery store for diner: 200 Som (2,50 euro).

Total: 10 euro food + 27,50 euro other.

 

18/03/2016 – Hanging out in Bishkek

Not much going on today. Some more shopping for Daniel, like gloves for the skiing we plan to do in Karakol, and just hanging out in Sierra Coffeebar in town. And for diner we had leftovers! A cheap, but not an exiting day.

 

For those of you who just want facts…

Expenses of the day: lentil soup and coffee in Sierra coffee: 260 Som (3,25 euro), bread and green pepper and snacks for on the minibus: 150 Som (1,90 euro), one night in Sakura Guesthouse: 600 Som (7,50 euro).

Total: 5,15 euro food + 7,50 euro other.

 

19/03/2016 – From Bishkek to Cholpon-Ata

Since it was the first time for Daniel to be in this area I decided he must see Issyk Kul, the second biggest Alpine lake in the world. I love this lake, and I love the mountains surrounding it! Because we don’t carry camping gear anymore, and because it’s low season, I figured it would be better to not go to desolate places to hike, and go to the bigger tourist hot spots like Cholpon-Ata and Karakol instead. We arrived in Cholpon-Ata mid afternoon, and went to the restaurant where we used to go, delicious as always. The weather was really shit, and once we were in the hotel I didn’t want to go out anymore. Rain and fog, no thanks! I wanted to see the lake and the mountains, but now I can’t see anything – sad face. Daniel was so nice to get us some take-away mantis, and we just had a lazy evening.

Our bus from Bishkek to Cholpon-Ata.
Our bus from Bishkek to Cholpon-Ata.

 

For those of you who just want facts… 

1.

Route: from Sakura Guesthouse to Bishkek Western bus station.

Distance: 4 kilometres.

Time: 10 minutes.

Price: 10 Som (0,12 euro).

Vehicle: white minibus aka ‘mashrutka’.

Capacity: 21 people, full.

2.

Route: from Bishkek Western bus station to Cholpon-Ata.

Distance: 261 kilometres.

Time: 4 hours.

Price: 300 Som (3,75 euro).

Vehicle: white minibus.

Capacity: 21 people, full.

 

Other expenses: one night in Kalinda Mini Pansionat: 800 Som (10 euro), lunch: 150 Som (1,80 euro), dinner: 120 Som (1,50 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 3,87 euro transport + 3,30 euro food + 10 euro other.

 

20/03/2016 – From Cholpon-Ata to Karakol

Yesterday we decided that if the weather would be nice this morning, we would go for a hike. So at 7 a.m. I looked through the window, and I saw the sun on my beloved mountains, hooray! Hiking time, Daniel! I didn’t expect much of the hike since we were in a little town, and because we couldn’t go really far anyway. But I was happy to see that the sky was clear. We went towards the hill with an antenna, because I had noticed a road running through the mountains there. Suddenly we ended up in a really nice valley with snow, and a shepherd and his sheep. I couldn’t imagine a better picture! This is a view of Issyk Kul I know. Now the valleys were covered with a little layer of snow, melting bit by bit, which made it even more beautiful. During the hike we went up and down in this valley, crossed a nice river, saw horses, goats, sheep, cows… all the way up to the highest hill of the area for a nice view over the lake. In my opinion, there is no better way to start the day than with hikes like this in the fresh morning air on a sunny day.

Cholpon-Ata hike.
Cholpon-Ata hike.
A bit of snow.
A bit of snow.

Around noon we went back down for a walk on the beach, and enjoyed a well-deserved lunch in Green Pub after. Later we continued to the next town: Karakol! Scotty had told me to go to Nice Hostel, so that’s what we did. And the guy was indeed really nice. It made me wonder how it would be to meet someone unfriendly in a place called ‘Nice Hostel’ – that would be funny! Since it’s Navrus, which means holiday time, we expected to see a lot of people around Issyk Kul, and that’s why we had booked our accommodation online in advance. But there were only another two people in Nice Hostel: Anna and her mother, also very nice people.

Memories around Issyk Kul.
Memories around Issyk Kul.

We had come to Karakol to ski. Yes yes yes. I had no idea it was possible to ski in Karakol and around Bishkek, but I read about it by coincidence a few days earlier, and I think it’s awesome! Skiing in Kyrgyzstan, hell yeah! It will also be Daniel’s first ski experience ever! I think I was more exited than him about that, haha.

So we asked the owner of the hostel about ski possibilities, and he said that today was the last day of the season. Noooo, no ski? He would make a phone call, and ask around. Luckily it was only the official closing today, so the ski lifts and rental places would still be open! Anna told me there was still enough snow to ski, so we were in! The next morning at 9 a.m. the car would pick us up to go to the ski slopes!

 

For those of you who just want facts…

Route: from Cholpon-Ata to Karakol.

Distance: 143 kilometres.

Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Price: 150 Som (1,80 euro).

Vehicle: big car.

Capacity: 7 passengers, 1 driver, full.

 

Other expenses: linch at Green Pub: 400 Som (5 euro), grocery shopping for diner and breakfast: 270 Som (3,30 euro), one night in Nice Hostel: 500 Som (6,25 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 1,80 euro transport + 8,30 euro food + 6,25 euro other.

 

21/03/2016 – Karakol Ski Time!

On the way to the slopes we were driving on a muddy road without any snow nearby, and I was wondering if we would ever get to a place where skiing was actually possible. At some point we turned, and I saw the valley with snow, yay! We chose the cheapest ski gear; crap but good enough for just one day. Daniel skiing, me snowboarding. Oh, how did I miss my own board back home. I was exited to laugh with Daniel falling while skiing – not in a mean way, just part of the game, right? But he managed pretty well. After the first descend he already made pretty nice turns. I took him straight to the longer slope, which was a bit more difficult for him. But after two times or so he managed to descend smoothly. Good job, Daniel! The slopes were good, just some grass that was peeping through here and there, but I didn’t care.

Ski-time!
Ski-time!

The view from the ski lift and while skiing down was absolutely amazing! Again a beautiful day, so we could see the lake, the mountains, and the whole valley. Around noon we hung out at the restaurant on the slope, ate our own lunch, and ordered some coffee and tea while sunbathing. How do I love those outside lunch moments while skiing. It was a great ski day, even though there were just three lifts and limited slopes, it was enough for Daniel’s first experience. Last year I was skiing in Dizin, Iran. This year I skied in Karakol… Where will next year bring me?

 

For those of you who just want facts…

Route: from Hotel Nice to the ski area and back.

Distance: 13 kilometres go, 26 go and back.

Time: 30 minutes one way.

Price: 350 Som go and back (4,40 euro).

Vehicle: big car.

Capacity: capacity for 6 people, we were just 4 people plus the driver.

 

Other expenses: crappy rental snowboard: 600 Som (7,50 euro), ski-pas: 1550 Som (14 euro), snickers and coffee in the ski restaurant, we had brought our own lunch: 120 Som (1,50 euro), dinner: 96 Som (1,20 euro), one night in Nice Hostel: 500 Som (6,25 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 4,40 euro transport + 2,70 euro food + 27,75 euro other.

 

 

22/03/2016 – From Karakol to Bishkek

Yesterday I tried to call the Azerbaijan embassy, and a guy (not the consul) picked up and told me the consul would call me back. No one called back, so on Tuesday I tried again to make sure we can indeed pick up our documents on Wednesday morning, and catch the train from Bishkek to Aktobe to later continue to Aktau. We hadn’t bought tickets yet, because by now we know that embassy timing is almost never reliable. I tried to call about fifteen times today, and no one picked up the phone. Wednesday morning is one of the few opening times of the embassy, and I was sure that if we would just go things would turn out to be just fine, so we didn’t worry too much.

Minibus from Karakul to Bishkek.
Minibus from Karakul to Bishkek.

Once back in Sakura we were happy to see that we had some company in our dorm room. Later, when he woke up from his afternoon nap, we met Antonio, a long-term world traveller who, as many, had quit his job and comfort zone to explore the world. He had travelled through many African countries, a pretty much unknown continent to me, and told many stories about his adventures there. I’m exited to go there myself after having heard all of his stories.

 

For those of you who just want facts…

Route: from Karakol to Bishkek Western Bus Station.

Distance: 414 kilometres.

Time: 5 hours and 30 minutes.

Price: 350 Som (4,40 euro).

Vehicle: white minibus.

Capacity: 21 people, full.

 

Other expenses: grocery store shopping for the upcoming days: ? Daniel is too lazy to check his excel file. One night in Sakura Guesthouse: 600 Som (7,50 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 4,40 euro transport + ? euro food + 7,50 euro other.

 

 

23/03/2016 – Bishkek: The Azerbaijan Embassy

Wednesday morning. Time to pack everything, and to go to the embassy at 10 a.m.. We hoped we would get our passport back, and that we would be able to go straight from the embassy to the railway station to catch the 12:30 p.m. train, because there is only one on Monday and one on Wednesday from Bishkek to Aktobe. Otherwise we will have to go back to Almaty to catch a train there – not a big detour, but this way would be easier.

Upon arrival at the embassy there were three other men waiting. A good sign that it will open, we thought. But then they told us to not ring the bell (it was already ten, by the way), because the consul hadn’t arrived yet. We thought that was weird. He seemed like a punctual man. After half an hour the guards looked into the offices, and informed us that there was no one there. Hmmm, we knew that technically it were holidays, so maybe the consul had had a party yesterday evening? After a few phone calls the guards informed us that we had to go, and come back tomorrow. Daniel and I waited a little longer, just in case, but when nothing was moving after all, I asked the guards one last time if they were sure that the consul or anyone else wouldn’t show up. We decided to head home.

I was very sad, and thought about doom scenarios. Before we’d had the time to arrange visas, and we just accepted it could take long. We had been arranging visa stuff in Tehran for forever, for example. But now I just wanted to go home as fast as possible, and not be stuck here. I did some research about Navrus in Azerbaijan, and I read that they have the longest official holidays in the whole area. Oh no, imagine the consul forgot about us. Did we misunderstand something? We had been clear that we would collect it this week, right? What if it will only be ready Wednesday next week? Should I just take a plane home then? Another week extra is a long time, I’m not sure if I would be able to do that. Anyway, taking the plane right now is not a good idea since the airport is closed because of the attacks in Brussels. But yeah, they told us to come back tomorrow, so I guess that’s what we will do.

I comforted myself with a burger (250 Som) at Sierra Coffee, and later Antonio made diner.

Comfort food.
Comfort food. (Editor’s note: not the actual burger, I just decided there needed to be a picture.)

 

Total expenses of the day: 3 euro food + 4,40 euro postcards and stamps.

 

 

24/03/2016 – From Bishekek to Almaty

Since Daniel came home late from an evening out with a friend, I let him sleep in and went to the embassy early by myself. I wanted to be the first person to enter as soon as it opened. The moment I arrived the guards came to me, and handed me a paper with the name of the consul and a phone number. I guessed it was his private phone number. They told me to call him right away. So that’s what I did. First time, nothing. Second time, he picked up. “Your visa has been ready for two days already. I’ll be there in one hour so you can pick up your passport”, he said. Two days already! I wish they had picked up the phone before, so we would’ve known. Nothing to do about it. I went home to wake up Daniel, and told him that we could pick up the passports. And around 10:40 a.m., the consul – all cool in his jeans and Italia jacket – showed up. It was clear that it were holidays, but that he had kept working for us. Wow, thank you so much, sir, for coming all the way and open the embassy for us! No need to think about doom scenarios anymore, we could go to Almaty this afternoon. From there there is only a train to Aktau every other day, so we knew we could catch the one of Friday night. Finally we could move again, standing still was really not good for me!

Azerbaijan visa!
Azerbaijan visa!
Azerbaijan visa!
Azerbaijan visa!

And off we went. After a good brunch prepared by kitchen princess Charlie, we were ready to finally say our final goodbyes to the Sakura lady. I won’t see her in a while, I thought. It took a really long time to get to Almaty. Waiting till the minibus was full, a lot of people at the border, traffic jams while entering Almaty… The good news is that this time they didn’t ditch us at the border. Almaty means meeting my friend Rafa, so we had some wine at Dostyk Plaza to end this day of victory.

 

For those of you who just want facts…

1.

Route: from Jibek Jolu ( bus stop close to Sakura) to Bishkek Western Bus Station.

Distance: 4 kilometres.

Time: 10 minutes.

Price: 10 Som (0,12 euro).

Vehicle: white minibus.

Capacity: 21 people, 12 people.

2.

Route: from Bishkek Western bus station to Almaty Sairan international bus station.

Distance: 235 kilometres.

Time: 5 hours.

Price: 400 Som (5 euro).

Vehicle: white minibus.

Capacity:  21 people, full.

3.

Route: from Almaty sairan bus station to Almaty II railway station.

Distance: 9 kilometres.

Time: 45 minutes.

Price:  80 Tenge (0,21 euro).

Vehicle: local city bus.

Capacity: not sure about the capacity, but there were about 30 people on the bus.

4.

Route: Almaty II railway station to Dostyk Plaza.

Distance: 6 kilometres.

Time: 30 minutes.

Price: 600 Tenge (1,60 euro).

Vehicle: taxi.

Capacity: 5 people, it was just us, two people and the driver.

 

Other expenses: hostel: 3000 Tenge (7,90 euro), wine with Rafa: 2000 Tenge (5,30 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 6,93 euro transport + 13,20 euro other.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Planeless Traveller Charlie

 

Part IV: Kunming to Almaty – From Bali to Belgium, the Long Planeless Way Home

Planned travel route.

PART IV: From Kunming to Almaty

09/03/2016 – One full day of rest in Kunming 

If you have read Part I already, you know that we had to book the Chinese train in advance since it tends to sell out quickly. Because everything has gone incredibly smooth so far, we happened to have one full day of rest in the capital of the beautiful province Yunnan. We had calculated that if everything would have gone wrong, we would not have arrived in Kunming any later than the 10th of March, so we had bought tickets to Urumqi for the 10th at 7 p.m.. We now had lots of time to enjoy the not-sitting-on-train-or-bus- life!

The Hump in Kunming is a really cool hostel with a nice bar, lounge, pool table, and outside sitting area on the roof. Although it was much cooler here in Kunming, the rooftop terrace was open and filled with people when we arrived. In the morning people were enjoying breakfast in the morning sun, including myself. I was looking forward to this fresher temperature for a long time. For us it felt like autumn, because we came from hotter places, but it was spring of course, so Kunming was in bloom. Sitting outside wearing long trousers and a jacket, being outside without sweating, being able to enjoy the sun on our skin,… the last time all of this was possible was ages ago. I have been accompanied by burning hot weather since Kazakhstan in July, although I’ve had a few breaks at the fresh Yunnan mountains and the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. For many months the sun was not my best friend. It was the thing that made me sweat day and night, and that burned my skin. It was the thing that made it impossible to enjoy an outside walk during many hours of the day. Humid, hot regions made me walk around with an umbrella to prevent myself from fainting. I thought my body would adapt, but it didn’t. At least now I know that living in South-East Asia would not be for me. You have to love the weather and embrace it to live in the area, otherwise you’d better leave. But now the sun and I, we were friends again. By-by humid air, hello fresh wind! After having spent a day outside my cheeks were burning, but the good kind of burning. The burning from having spent a day outside with some fresh wind. The feeling that I have after a day of skiing in the mountains. Usually my cheeks never burn like this from a good 20 degrees Celsius and some wind – to my norms a normal weather situation. I guess my skin was just not used to it anymore, but it felt good, and I could feel that my body was getting used again to its normal habitat.

Walking to Kunming train station.
Walking to Kunming train station.
Arriving at the railway station.
Arriving at the railway station.

After a good cup of coffee we went outside for a walk to the train station to pick up the train tickets we had booked online. I preferred to pick up our tickets early, because the lines at the ticket offices in China can be long and time-consuming. Now we could go straight to the boarding terminal the day of departure. And believe it or not, but I still knew the way from the hostel to the station by heart. Along the way I bought a pineapple and a typical Chinese water bottle for Daniel that everybody carries around here, filled with hot water and tea. Everywhere in China you can fill your bottle with hot water for free, so I figured Daniel really needed one of these bottles like I have. On the way back from the station we tried some delicious tofu and found a nice market street. Last time I was in Kunming we discovered a cheap and super good place for basic dumplings. Amen, I still knew where it was. DUMMMMMMMMPLIIIIINNNNNGGGGGSSSSSS!!!!! After lunch we walked around the streets of Kunming, and enjoyed the busy but not crowded atmosphere of this relaxed city. Oh, how do I love the electric scooters in China! There is traffic, but not a lot of sound, perfect! A city like Jakarta should use Chinese cities as an example. Private lanes for the ELECTRIC scooters; not that hard to realise, right?

Daniel decided he wanted to go to the hairdresser’s in China, so we found him a local hairdresser to arrange whatever he wanted. New haircut and a new colour, maybe red, why not? ‘Living on the edge’, like Yasmin would say! The result was really nice!

Later on we found the park we wanted to go to. A wonderful place of rest and nature in the city. With people singing and doing aerobics, and black swans. We walked around there for a while till it was dark, and then we tried to decide where we wanted to eat. Too much choice, too many good things, sadly not enough time to eat everything we want to eat in China during this short visit. We picked a restaurant close to the hostel, and ended up with a menu in Chinese only, and staff only speaking Chinese. So we did the classic traveller trick and picked three cheap dished from different pages without knowing what we ordered. The result was a spicy glass noodle soup – a huge bowl: approved! Fried cashew nuts with some green vegetables: approved. And some weird bitter tasting vegetable: approved by Daniel, but not by myself. What a terrible taste! I ended with a filled stomach after a day filled with activities. It was time to get some sleep now.

 

For those of you who just want facts… 

Other expenses:
Two nights in the hostel (we paid everything today): 70 Yuan (5 euro), American breakfast in hostel and coffee: 25 Yuan (3,60 euro), pineapple: 5 Yuan (0,70 euro), shampoo: 23 Yuan (3,30 euro), water bottle for Daniel (present, yeah I am nice sometimes): 30 Yuan (4,30 euro), dumplings: 7 Yuan (1 euro), dinner: 32 Yuan (4,60 euro), new Chinese bracelet (the last one broke in Ko Tao when Davy got beaten up): 35 Yuan (5 euro), overpriced Carlsberg in the park bar: 32 Yuan (4,60 euro).

Total expenses of the day (OMG I have spent way too much today!): 14,50 euro food + 17,60 euro other.

 

10/03/2016 – From Kunming to Urumqi – The big China crossing 

Today we took it easy. No long walks in the city anymore, just short ones. We had dumplings for breakfast, and later some coffee on the rooftop in the sun – I called it a good morning. Later we went to the market and the Carrefour for some grocery shopping. We bought lots of fruit for on the train to stay healthy. I needed some coffee and socks to survive the ride. In the afternoon we relaxed in the hostel, after we had bought some ice-cream that I spilled on myself while I tried to eat it – ‘as usual’, like Davy would have said. I was able to catch Davy, Yasmin, and my aunt on Skype, which gave me new energy again! Every time I talk to my family or travel buddies I am super happy, because I wish we were together, and hearing their voices and joking around via Skype makes a lot of things better. I can’t believe that the big journey with Davy, Ien, and Yasmin is over already. It went so fast! And now I won’t see Davy for about a year. It’s weird because I saw him almost every single day for the last fourteen months, but now he is in Melbourne. It has only been three weeks since we got separated, so I still don’t realise it fully, I think. It feels as if he is in another city seeing a friend, and we will continue travelling together again soon. But that is not the case. I can’t wait for us to meet again in America when he will move to his dad’s, and I will go cross country. New adventures are already waiting for us.

Waiting for the train to Urumqi.
Waiting for the train to Urumqi.

Daniel and I walked to the train station, passed security two times, and found the line for our train in the big terminal four. A mass of people was already queuing (editor’s note: ja, Charlotte, ik weet het, dat is echt een draak van een woord). We could board the train twenty minutes before departure, and found our hard sleeper beds in wagon number eleven. Since we had discovered there were plugs on these trains to charge the computer and other electronically devices, we watched the movie SNATCH. The lights went out early, around 9 p.m., but we stayed up a bit longer. I was on the lower bed, and my neighbour turned out to be snoring like a huge dinosaur-pig or something. It made me think about how Davy can’t sleep at all when anyone is snoring. If he would’ve been here, he would have gotten out of his mind, and so was I this time. Usually I just fall asleep while listening to my iPod when someone is snoring. But what if you can still hear the noise through the music? I had a terrible night. I woke the guy up several times during the night, but every time he fell asleep again within one minute, so I didn’t have enough time to fall asleep myself before he started snoring again. At 4:30 a.m. I considered the battle lost: even while laying on his side he was snoring super super loudly! I decided to watch a second movie: THE DINOSAUR PROJECT. When the movie was finished, around 6:30 a.m., I decided it was time for him to wake up and for me to finally sleep. During the fist year of travelling I would’ve been too shy to wake up (snoring) people. But times have changed. I know there is nothing you can do about it, sir, but it is my right to sleep too. So I took my torch and woke him up once more. He looked at me and turned around to fall asleep again. I was persistent in my actions and shoved the light in his face, shook him again. Since we could not talk about it, I had to make things clear the hard way. Using sign language I made him understand that this was the moment where he would stay awake and I would sleep. He finally got the message. But two minutes later his wife arrived, and they started to have a nice conversation at 6:35 a.m.. So I had to use my torch again: YOU STOP TALKING, NOW! I mean, I think this is a pretty good deal, no? You sleep from 9 p.m. till 6:30 a.m., and I sleep from 6:30 a.m. till 9 a.m., okay?! They both got the message, finally: you shut up, so I can sleep for a few hours, thank you very much!

 

For those of you who just want facts… 

1.
Route: from Kunming Hostel The Hump to Kunming railway station.

Distance: 3 kilometres.

Time: 45 minutes.

Vehicle: we walked.

Price: free.

2.
Route: from Kunming railway station to Urumqi railway station.

Distance: 4320 kilometres (I asked our wagon responsible).

Distance: 64 hours.

Price: 706 Yuan for ticket + 30 Yuan reservation cost on Ctrip = 736 Yuan (105 euro).

Vehicle: Chinese train operating the route Kunming – Urumqi.

Capacity:
19 wagons: all full of course, this is China.
Wagon 1-2: 1 wagon of staff: 50 people, 1 wagon for goods: 0 people = 50 people; Hard sleeper wagon 3-11: 9 wagons with each capacity for 66 people = 594 people; Soft sleeper wagon 12: 1 wagon with capacity for 36 people = 36 people.
Restaurant wagon 13: 1 wagon capacity for 50 people (everybody has a seat other than restaurant, so counts for 0 people).
Hard seat wagon 14-19: 6 wagons with capacity for 118 people = 708 people.

Total capacity: 1388 people – wow only in China I guess!

Other expenses:
Dumplings: 7 Yuan (1 euro), two coffees in the hostel: 26 Yuan (3,70 euro), potatoes for on the train: 6 Yuan (0,80 euro), ice-cream: 7 Yuan (1 euro), grocery shopping at market for on train: 38 Yuan (5,40 euro), grocery shopping in Carrefour for on train (bottle of Great Wall red wine included, mwuhahahaha): 68 Yuan (9,70 euro), lunch: 12 Yuan (1,70 euro), socks – 10 Yuan (1,40 euro), Nescafe big pack of coffee: 41 Yuan (5,80 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 105 euro transport + 30,50 euro food.

The responsible of our wagon on the Kunming - Urumqi train.
The responsible of our wagon on the Kunming – Urumqi train.

 

11/03/2016 – On the train somewhere in China 

Our first full day on the train. It was not the first time I experienced a really long train ride in China. Together with Yasmin I had gone from Shanghai to Kunming a few months ago, and I remember we had been on the train for two nights. This time we will spend three nights on the train, which is my personal record. But from experience, I knew in advance it would be just fine. There is a lot to do on trains: you can keep yourself busy, you can walk around, go to the restaurant, go to the toilet as much as you want. We have beds, so we can read and sleep and so on. It’s just like staying home for a few rainy days in a row. And we can watch the wonderful landscape through the window, and admire how it is constantly changing. Daniel and I agreed in advance that we would eat one meal a day in the restaurant, so we would have some sort of activity and a proper warm meal going on. The meals seemed pricy, but the portions were huge, and the quality of the food was insane. Such good food! Fresh vegetables, nice tofu, good meat, and nice staff of course. We enjoyed our trips to the restaurant wagon a lot. Today I did a lot of writing and reading, and again we watched a movie before going to bed – our routine for three days. Time passed by so fast, I think I could be on a train for one week in a row without any problems!

Our fellow passengers on the Kunming - Urumqi train.
Our fellow passengers on the Kunming – Urumqi train.
The landscape passing by.
The landscape passing by.
Food, glorious food!
Food, glorious food!

 

For those of you who just want facts… 

Total expenses of the day: 34 Yuan (4,80 euro) for dinner on the train.

 

12/03/2016 – On the train somewhere in China 

Today was the second day on the train. We’ve seen the landscape changing bit by bit. I was especially looking forward to my favourite landscape of Xinjian province. When the train arrived in Wuwei I realised we were there already! The most exiting part of my hitchhiking trip with Davy in July has been in this area. It was also the place where Davy and I had had dinner with two of our drivers. Two young guys going to Wuwei had picked us up somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Xinjiang, and they had insisted to take us for lunch in Wuwei city since we were the first foreigners they had ever met in their life. Even though we were not able to speak to each other – we no Chinese, them no English – we had found our own way to communicate like we had done during the whole hitchhiking adventure in remote areas. Looking through the window, I recognised the landscapes where we had been walking around many months ago. The moon landscape where we had pitched our tent, this time with a little bit of snow. I wish Davy could have been here to see this too. (Although this time of year Davy’s fingers would have probably turned white from the cold, instead of melting away due to the summer’s heat we experienced.) I love this Chinese province. We passed some villages that reminded me of the abandoned village were we had had a barbecue with yet another driver… Good times. I saw it all again from the train, and I said goodbye to one of the highlights of last year’s trip. One day I might come back to walk through the desolate landscapes of Xinjian province again, and to pitch my tent in the middle of nowhere.

Fresh air, and stretching our legs!
Fresh air, and stretching our legs!
One of the many stations we've passed by.
One of the many stations we’ve passed by.
Kunming - Urumqi train: snowy landscape.
Kunming – Urumqi train: snowy landscape.

 

For those of you who just want facts… 

Total expenses of the day: 45 Yuan (6,40 euro) for dinner on the train.

 

13/03/2016 – From Urumqi to Almaty

It was finally time to get out after having been on the train three days. We had prepared ourselves for the cold, so I put on my beloved panda hat that I had gotten from my cousin before this trip. It had previously lost one ear, so now it’s a sad panda hat, actually. Anyway, one last selfie with the responsible of wagon 11, and off we went! Local bus number 44 brought us from the railway station to the international bus station. There were a few big bus stations in the same street, so we asked around and found a terminal that served buses to Kazakhstan only. We expected that the ticket would have been around 30 euro, but it was double that amount. Too bad, but that’s the way it was.

Arrival in Urumqi, pic with our cool wagon dude.
Arrival in Urumqi, pic with our cool wagon dude.
From the railway to the bus station in Urumqi by local bus.
From the railway to the bus station in Urumqi by local bus.

Let’s explore Urumqi! We had about six hours to hang around. I thought that Urumqi, although in the middle of nowhere, would have been like many other Chinese cities: skyscrapers, bling-bling everywhere. But Urumqi was very different. It felt like we were in Central Asia already. Plov, manti, shashlik, flat bread, mosques, … it was all already here, much earlier than I had expected. But it felt good to be back in the good old vibe of Central Asia. The comu-block-athmosphere was certainly present; a grey and not very cosy city. The street food stalls and the many bread sellers did bring the city alive though. Also, and maybe more importantly, it had been since June when I was in Kyrgyzstan that I had seen some snow, and here it finally reappeared: snow! Old snow, so it was a bit dirty, but it was certainly better than nothing.

Urumqi city.
Urumqi city.
A problem with my scooter, haha
A problem with my scooter, haha.

Time for the sleeper bus! I will never forget when Davy and I had taken this kind of bus for the first time. It was from Almaty to Ili. We were shocked! A sleeper bus, we assumed, was just a normal bus with extra large seats. But then we discovered that it was a bus with real beds – SO awesome. The people on the bus were cool, and soon we made some friends again, although we don’t really speak any Russian. We turned to the good old traveller way of communication: mime and basic words you’ve somehow picked up along the road.

Waiting for the bus to leave Urumqi.
Waiting for the bus to leave Urumqi.
Ready for departure.
Ready for departure.
A quiet kid on a 27-hour bus, love it.
A quiet kid on a 27-hour bus, love it.

 

For those of you who just want facts…

1.

Route: Urumqi railway station – Urumqi international bus terminal.

Distance: 3 kilometres.

Time: 15 minutes.

Vehicle: city bus number 44.

Capacity: 10 people, 1 driver.

Price: 1 Yuan (0,15 cent).

2.

Route: Urumqi international bus terminal – Almaty international bus terminal.

Distance: 990 kilometres.

Time:  Departure at 7 p.m. in Urumqi on the 13th, arrival in Almaty at 9 p.m. the 14th. Travel time was 27 hours.

Vehicle: sleeper bus

Capacity: 26 people, 1 driver, full bus, total of 27 people.

Price: 440 Yuan (63 euro).

Other expenses: pita: 6 Yuan, two sweet rolls: 3 yuan each makes 6 Yuan, baggio: 5 Yuan, manti: 6 Yuan, coffee: 16 Yuan, bread with meat: 6 Yuan, bread: 5 Yuan = 50 Yuan in total (7 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 63,15 euro transport + 7 euro food + 37 euro other, the Chinese transit visa.

 

14/03/2016 – Arrival in Almaty

This time the border crossing from China to Kazakhstan didn’t go as smoothly as it had gone the other way around last summer. We stood still for about two hours at night in the middle of nowhere so the driver could sleep, and then it took another three hours or so (or maybe more) to actually get from the parking lot at the border to the Kazakh side. But no panic, we kept account of delays like this in our planning: we calculated that the trip from Urumqi to Almaty should take between 22 and 28 hours, and we did it within 27 hours.

We arrived in Almaty around 9 p.m., and went straight to the Almaty II train station to check for the train tickets to Aktau. We were happy that we were able to purchase tickets for the 10 p.m. train (the next day) pretty quickly. Also we found out that there was some sort of cheap hotel in the train station itself. We checked it out, and decided on taking a crappy dark room for 2500 Tenge before going out for beer and pizza. The pizza part worked out, but the beer part not so much. There unfortunately wasn’t any bar open on this rainy Monday night.

Crazy face on the bus.
Crazy face on the bus.
No pictures at the border, oops!
No pictures at the border, oops!

 

For those of you who just want facts…

Route: Almaty international bus terminal to Almaty II railway station.

Distance: 9 kilometres.

Time: 10 minutes.

Vehicle: shared taxi.

Capacity: 5 people, we were 3 passengers and 1 driver.

Price: 500 Tenge (1,30 euro).

Other expenses: pizza: 1200 Tenge (3,10 euro), green tea: 70 Tenge (0,20 euro), room in Almaty II train station: 2500 Tenge (6,50 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 1,30 euro transport + 3,30 food + 6,50 other.

 

15/03/2016 – One day in Almaty 

My first goal of the day was to meet up with Rafaelle, a French girl I had become friends with last summer when we were in Almaty for about two weeks. The second one was to have some beers and a burger, of course. So after we had checked out of our hotel, we walked down the main pedestrian (yes, Lucas, I looked for that painting of Viktor Tsoj you want so badly, but I didn’t see it anymore) and through the park till we reached The Shakespeare Pub, of which I knew it has draft Efes beer, good food, and WiFi. We pretty much hung out at The Shakespeare Pub the whole afternoon – Gmail and Facebook were not blocked anymore! Because some friends had told me that Aktau is pretty expensive, I had written to some people on Couchsurfing to see if anyone could host us. I was happy to see that some people had replied that we were welcome at their place. And then… then I had a message from a guy informing me that we could not stay at his place, because his family would be over for the holidays. Here is the message I received:

Hi Charlotte! Sorry guys, I can’t host you, cause we celebrate national holidays 19-23 of march. My parents arrive at 16th to my place. But in the city there is hostel, price 2000kzt per night. So if you couldn’t find host I can give the address of this hostel. I think, you must know that 19-23 are not working days, so be prepared for it. Anyway, if you want to meet up I would be so happy. Cheers! 

You see, the first and most important thing to do in Aktau was arranging an Azerbaijan transit visa. Our timing was not the best anyway since we would have only arrived in Aktau on Friday the 18th of March at 7 p.m. – yes, three days on the train from Almaty to Aktau. This meant, so we thought, that we would have been able to arrange the visa only after the weekend. We had already taken peace with the fact that that would’ve caused us a delay of two days. BUT! HOLIDAYS + ARRANGING VISA = ALARM!! I feel like we carry around a holiday-magnet when we have to arrange visas. The Turkmen visa in Tehran: national holiday. The Chinese visa extension in Hong Kong: national holiday of HK. The Myanmar visa in Hong Kong: the Chinese golden week holidays. The Chinese visa in Jakarta: Chinese New Year. The Tajik visa in Tehran: a special annual event. So really; not again! (And yes, despite all the experience, I still keep forgetting to check for this holiday thing. I mean, what’s the chance, right? And why would they shut down everything for a whole week?) The staff from Shakespeare Pub helped me doing some phone calls to the Azerbaijan embassy in Astana (they didn’t pick up the phone in the one in Aktau) and to the Azerbaijan embassy in Bishkek. Behold the facts:

  • There is no Azerbaijan consulate in Almaty. Only in Aktau and Astana.
  • Yes, the embassies in Kazakhstan will be closed for an entire week, so it will be impossible to arrange any paperwork next week.
  • If we would just wait for one week in Aktau – or anywhere else in Kazakhstan – we would be overstaying the Kazakh visa free days, which are only two weeks.
  • There is an Azerbaijan embassy in Bishkek which operates this week. We are not sure for next week.
  • Because of everything, we will have to do a visa run to Kyrgyzstan to renew the two-week Kazakh visa free regime no matter what.
Editor's note: my reaction. (Yes, I also just needed to insert a picture here.)
Editor’s note: my reaction.

The plan now is to go straight to Bishkek, and to try and persuade the consul to do a speed procedure so we would still have the visa this week. If they would happen to refuse to do a speed procedure, then we will have to take the regular processing time of maximum one week into account. The moment however we will receive the visa, we will go to Aktau to put our name on the passenger waiting list for the boat to Baku. (There is only one every week.) So if we’re lucky, we will be in Aktau somewhere next week WITH Azerbaijan visa. If we’re not so lucky, we will be stuck in Bishkek for a whole week, and only arrive in Aktau two weeks from now. I really hope we will not have to wait for a week for a boat, because that would slow us down a lot as well. Let’s see!

By the way, at first I thought it were only Kazakh national holidays, but then we found out it’s actually Nooruz, the famous spring holiday in the whole region from Iran to Kazakhstan. Yeah, I know, spring festivals are cool nonetheless, especially since last year in Samarkand we had missed the events, because we were on the road somewhere in Uzbekistan.

Eventually we decided to not leave for Bishkek right away, because that would have implied that I would not have been able to meet up with Rafaelle (remember my #1 goal of they day?) after she finished work. So we decided to stay one extra night in Almaty, and to go to Bishkek the day after. It was good to see my friend again! We hung out at Mad Murphy’s with her expat friends, and caught up on the gossip of the past months. We had a great night, but it was of course not possible to go wild like during our previous evenings together. Tomorrow we will need to leave early for Bishkek to fix our shit – too bad!

 

For those of you who just want facts…

Expenses: espresso: 200 Tenge (0,50 euro), burger and two beers (editor’s note: the editor thinks she’s being funny again) at The Shakespeare Pub: 5200 Tenge (13,70 euro – ow shit), taxi from Almaty II to new hostel around Dostyk plaza: 500 Tenge (1,30 euro), Mad Murphy’s night out with Rafaelle: one pint and Quaedilla: 3000 Tenge (7,90 euro).

Almaty Backpackers hostel: 3200 Tenge (8,40 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 1,30 euro transport + 22,10 euro food + 8,40 euro other.

 

Written by Planeless Traveller Charlie

Part III: Bangkok to Kunming – From Bali to Belgium, the Long Planeless Way Home

Planned travel route.

PART III: From Bangkok to Kunming

06/03/2016 – From Bangkok Bang Sue railway station to Vientiane Central Station 

This morning around 12 p.m. we arrived in Bangkok. It was a good ride! We had planned to get off at Central Station, but Daniel discovered bang on time that the train was first going to the north of Bangkok, which is close to the Mo Chit bus station where we had to catch the bus to Laos. This was great because it saved us a MRT ticket and a long ride through the big city. From Bang Sue a local accompanied us to the Mo Chit bus terminal during a short but hot 30-minute-walk. Every time again we are happy to see that the bus we want to catch actually exists. We of course have done lots of research about the route back, especially about the parts where we will not be taking the same route as we came by. But even when you have read there must be a bus, and a lot of people told you there will be one, you’re still unsure until the very last moment when you actually have those bus tickets in your hands. Today a friendly lady at the counter helped us out, and we got our tickets to Vientianne. Hooray! The Mo Chit terminal is a really big one with lots of facilities. We stored our luggage, took a well-deserved shower, and (of course!) I ate a ham and cheese sandwich from the SevenEleven – ham is finally available again in this part of the world!

Editor's note: in case anyone was wondering, this is the notorious ham and cheese sandwich. Pic from foodspotting.com.
Editor’s note: in case anyone was wondering, this is the notorious ham and cheese sandwich. Pic from foodspotting.com.

We explored the weekend market and the different parks near Mo Chit. It’s always nice to see how people relax, bike, and have fun with their friends in a park during the weekends – just like I do back home. It reminds me that people everywhere in the world enjoy doing the same things after all. The park was filled with locals, while the market reminded me of how many tourists there are in Bangkok. The market was really big and fully packed. We ate some rice with duck, and I had a cheap water ice-cream as a refreshment because it was (although less humid than in Indonesia) really hot in Bangkok.

Bangkok park walk.
Bangkok park walk.
Weekend market Bangkok.
Weekend market Bangkok.

After walking down the market for a while we decided to look for a place that was less crowded. At the other side of the main road there were some bars and food trucks where we found a cosy place. We enjoyed some live music and two beers each. Around 7 p.m. it was time again to head back to the bus terminal and to catch our 8 p.m. bus to Laos. One last ham and cheese, and off we go! Our bus was a huge double-decker VIP bus with lots of space. Again we were given blankets and a snack box with coffee and cake. VIP busses are so extremely comfortable to travel with! Every time I plan to take a bus, I am always prepared for some crapy vehicle with no space to move, because there is always a chance you will get one of those old local buses, so it’s better to not expect too much. But I have to say, during this trip in general, we have had a lot of extremely comfortable buses so far. It was a good night!

Bus Bangkok - Vientianne.
Ticket bus Bangkok – Vientiane.
Welcome, you come first!
The Bangkok – Vientiane bus: welcome, you come first!
Our bus passed the Thai immigration.
Our bus passed the Thai immigration.

 

For those of you who just want facts… 

Route: from Bangkok Mo Chit terminal to Vientiane Central Bus Terminal.

Distance: I don’t know, because Google Maps doesn’t work in China… (Editor’s note: Google Maps in Belgium says it’s 633 kilometres.)

Time: departure at 8 p.m. the 6th of March, and arrival at 8 a.m. the 7th. Travel time was 12 hours.

Vehicle: State bus. VIP (2 + 1 row).

Capacity: space for 6 people down and 25 people up. Full, 31 people on bus + 1 driver.

Price: 900 THB (22,50 euro).

Other expenses:
two ham and cheese sandwiches: 52 THB (1,30 euro), two beers: 240 THB (6 euro), rice with duck: 50 THB (1,25 euro), food for on the bus: 60 THB (1,50 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 22,50 euro transport + 10,05 euro food.

 

07/03/2016 – From Vientiane to Kunming 

We had planned to meet our friend Jan (we had gotten to know each other in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia) at 9 a.m. at the central bus terminal in Vientiane. We arrived early so we waited for him for about an hour. Upon arrival the taxi drivers were screaming again like crazy at the bus entrance. Every time they do that I am not motivated at all to take any taxi or tuk-tuk whatsoever. While waiting for Jan I saw a local bus passing by with ‘5000 kip northern bus terminal’ and other stops written on it. The perfect solution! This was probably the cheapest way to get to the terminal without having to deal with taxi drivers who try to rip you off. Jan arrived and he agreed to take the local bus, because it was also the end of his travels, which meant: almost out of money. I assumed the ride would take forever (city buses, you know) but it only took thirty minutes to get there. We found the Vientiane-Kunming ticket counter, and purchased the very expensive tickets for the next part of our journey.

Bus life.
Bus life.
Bus Vientiane - Kunming.
Ticket bus Vientiane – Kunming.

We had four hours to kill, so we found ourselves a little restaurant where Jan, Daniel, and I enjoyed some food and an ice coffee. At 1:30 p.m. it was time to get on the bus. At the terminal we bumped into a Japanese friend who we had met on the bus from Bangkok to Laos. So we took some more pictures together before saying goodbye. Jan went back to the centre, and our Japanese friend waited for the bus to Luang Prabang.

 

For those of you who just want facts… 

1.
Route: from Vientiane Central Bus Terminal to Vientiane Northern Bus terminal.

Distance: I don’t know, because Google Maps doesn’t work in China… (Editor’s note: Google Maps in Belgium says it’s 9 kilometres.) I shoud be 700 kilometers, I tried to mesure it on maps.

Time: departure at 9:30 a.m., arrival at 10 a.m.. Travel time was 30 minutes.

Vehicle: local city bus from Isuzu.

Capacity: bus was full, 44 seats, so 44 people on the bus.

Price: 5000 KIP (0,50 euro).

2.
Route: Vientiane Northern Bus Terminal to Kunming.

Distance: I don’t know, because Google Maps doesn’t work in China… (Editor’s note: Google Maps in Belgium thinks you can only do this by plane, so no idea either.)

Time: departure 10 minutes early at 1:50 p.m. the 7th of March, arrival at 9:50 p.m. at Kunming the 8th. Travel time 32 hours – 1 hour of waiting before the border opened, 2 hours to cross border between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.. In total 2 hours break for food and toilet.

Vehicle: Big VIP 2+1 bus from Daewoo.

Capacity: 29 passenger seats. Only 15 passengers + 1 driver.

Price: 730.000 KIP (81 euro).

Other expenses:
lunch and ice coffee in Vientiane bus terminal: 180 THB (4,50 euro) (our friend paid in KIP,  we gave him THB), dinner: 25 Yuan (3,60 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 81,50 euro transport + 8,10 euro food.

 

08/03/2016 – Arrival in Kunming 

Our VIP bus was again super comfortable and not full, so everybody had a lot of extra space. But we already had enough space, you know, so I would have rather had a full bus, to be honest.

Sometimes during long bus journeys the driver only stops every now and then, but this time the driver stopped a lot – short breaks of course – so we could go to the toilet many times. This meant we could drink just as much as we wanted! I was the only lady on the bus, and the guys were fun, although we couldn’t really communicate much since we don’t speak Chinese. There were also two monks who spoke basic English, so they operated as translators every now and then. Time went fast while cruising through the beautiful mountains of Laos and China. The border crossing went smoothly, by the way. After we had crossed the border we had a delicious Chinese breakfast: rice noodle soup. Mmmmmmmmm!

Time passed by, and finally we arrived in Kunming a little before 10 p.m.. Luckily the hostel was still open. The Hump is a super nice hostel in the centre of Kunming that Davy had found for us last time we were in China. We had had a good time here, and I am happy to be back!

The Hump Hostel.
The Hump Hostel.

 

For those of you who just want facts… 

Route: Kunming bus station to The Hump Hostel at JinBi road.

Distance: 15 kilometres.

Time: departure around 10:30 p.m., arrival at 11 p.m.. Travel time 30 minutes.

Vehicle: small old car from old Chinese guy.

Capacity: max. 5 people; 2 passenger plus 1 driver.

Price: 50 Yuan (5,50 euro).

Other expenses: breakfast noodle soup: 8 Yuan (0,90 euro), lunch: 9 Yuan (1 euro), big bottle of water: 3 Yuan (0,30 euro), one LaoLao beer in the hostel: 20 Yuan (2,80 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 5,50 euro transport + 5 euro food.

 

 

Written by Planeless Traveller Charlie

Part II: Johor to Bangkok – From Bali to Belgium, the Long Planeless Way Home

Planned travel route.

PART II: From Johor to Bangkok

4/03/2016 – From Stulang Laut (Johor Bahru, Malaysia) to Padang Besar (Malaysia) 

We only had a short amount of time to catch the train to Hat Yai, because we arrived at 3:30 p.m. by speedboat in Stulang Laut, and that train would leave at 5 p.m. already. I had collected the schedules of the trains in Malaysia when I was in Kuala Lumpur at the end of January, so we knew beforehand that we wanted to catch train number 20, which goes straight from JB Sentral to Hat Yai. Having to take only one train to cross Maysia sounded awesome, and we were afraid that if we would get there too last minute the sleeper wagons would have been already sold out. So we rushed off the boat and through immigration where they took finger scans – we were lucky everything went pretty fast. We immediately hailed a red cab, but the driver asked us 10 dollars. We knew the railway station was just three kilometres away, so we wanted a lower price. He agreed on 10 MYR, which is only 2,50 euro; much better. The cab driver delivered us at the train station in only ten minutes, and we hurried to the counter where there was a line. We also still wanted to grab some food before getting on the train, and it was already 3:45 p.m., so I decided to do this Chinese-style. I’m very sorry, but this was an emergency! I trespassed big time. Sorry lady who’s queuing, I don’t like people doing this either, but I don’t have the time to explain why we really want to catch this particular train. So I reached the counter within one minute, and asked if there were still any tickets available for the 5 p.m. train to Hat Yai. The lady at the counter said: “Yes, but you have to go now.” I replied: “Well, yes, at 5 p.m., right?” She confirmed and added “now”. This made us feel a bit confused. Why did she say NOW while we still had a bit more than an hour? When she handed us our tickets, she again stressed: “You have to go now!” Obeying citizens as we are, we listened to her instructions and went to the gate, even though we were thinking: “But it’s still only 3:50 p.m.” And then suddenly we realised that there is a time difference between Indonesia and Malaysia. It sounds like we are retards, but you have to understand that we had been crossing time zones as if ordering a cup of coffee, which sometimes gets confusing, you know. We asked the ticket guy at the gate: “Sir, is there, like, a time difference with Jakarta?” He looked at us like we were aliens, showed his watch … it was 4:50 p.m.! We were shocked, but also relieved since we had gotten the tickets anyway, and because the train that we wanted to catch so badly was waiting for us. Victory again! Things were going incredibly smooth so far. I mean, we caught the train as planned/hoped, even though we forgot about the time difference. Wow, what a miracle!

Hurry, taxi, we have to catch a train!
Hurry, taxi, we have to catch a train!
On the Malaysian train.
On the Malaysian train.

We had two lower beds which were very comfortable, spacious, and cosy. I was so happy we caught that train! Otherwise we would have had to go to the bus station outside of town. Even a VIP bus would have meant no nice beds. Oh, and the sleeper wagons were not even sold out, there were plenty of empty beds! We read, listened to music, watched the landscape pass by, and sat in the restaurant wagon – typical train life, you know. I had a good sleep!

 

For those of you who just want facts… 

1.
Route: Stulang Laut (port of Johor Bahru) to JB Sentral (main train station of Johor Bahru).

Distance: 3 kilometres.

Time: departure 3:35 p.m., arrival 3:45 p.m., so 10 minutes.

Vehicle: taxi, regular car.

Capacity: 5 people.

Amount of people in car: 2 people + 1 driver.

Price: 10 MYR (2,50 euro).

2.

Route: Jb Sentral (main train station of Johor Bahru) to Padang Besar (Malaysian – Thai border town).

Distance: 844 kilometres.

Time: departure the 4th of March at 5 p.m. – arrival the 5th at 10:20 a.m.. Travel time 17,5 hours.

Vehicle: KTM train nr. 20 Express Peninsular. Superior Night Class.

Capacity:
Buffet coach: 1 wagon, capacity 40 people, 3/4 th full almost the whole time.
Superior sleeper: 4 wagons, capacity of 40 people per wagon, capacity for 160 people in total, there were 60 people in the sleeper wagons in total.
Superior seat: 1 wagon, capacity 36 people, only 15 people sitting there.
Economy seat: 3 wagons, capacity 60 people per wagon, 180 in total. 120 people sitting there.

Price: 78 MYR (19,50 euro).

Other expenses: hamburger and sandwich on the train – 8 MYR (2 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 22 euro transport + 2 euro food.

Ticket from JB Sentral to Padang Besar.
Ticket from JB Sentral to Padang Besar.

 

5/03/2016 – Padang Besar (Malaysia) to Bangkok (Thailand) via Hat Yai (Thailand)

This morning I prepared my porridge for breakfast and read the book I got from my aunt Evelyne: The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende. As she had told me, it’s a really good book, and I had almost finished it. I also gathered some information about the border crossing. Once in Hat Yai we had to leave the train, go trough immigration (Me: “Can you please not put the stamp an empty page?”), and wait for the exact same train we had just left to continue the ride. There was scheduled one hour for everyone to cross the border. We met a cool bunch of ladies, made some new friends while waiting till the train was ready, and took the usual selfies! It was also possible to purchase the tickets for Bangkok already, which was good because we still had a lot of Malaysian Ringet left that we could then use instead of Thai Bath.

Waiting for the train at the Malaysian - Thai border.
Waiting for the train at the Malaysian – Thai border.
Ticket from Padang Besar to Hat Yai.
Ticket from Padang Besar to Hat Yai.

Once we arrived at Hat Yai we dropped off our luggage at the store room for 50 THB each, and went to a restaurant for some WiFi, coffee and pad thai. Perfect! Later we went to a nice bazaar, walked around the night market, and enjoyed the temperature which was cooler than in Indonesia. We also treated ourselves to a McFlurry, oops. At 6 p.m. it was time to go back to the railway station, collect our bags, and hop on our train to Bangkok, choo choo!

Daniel trying out some nuts at a Hat Yai bazaar.
Daniel trying out some nuts at a Hat Yai bazaar.
Bye bye, Hat Yai, we are ready for Bangkok!
Bye bye, Hat Yai, we are ready for Bangkok!

This time I had the upper bed without any windows, so I fell asleep quickly after finishing my book. In the morning Daniel and I had delicious porridge again, which this time we had upgraded with cinnamon and raisins. We played backgammon and ate grapes. A relaxing ride. Although I do think that the Thai trains are not my favourite ones. We had to pay for hot water, and I feel it is a basic right to get that for free like on pretty much all the other trains I have ever taken. Also the upper beds without a window to look outside is not super cool. What I did like, however, is that they have buttons to open the doors, washing facilities, and toilets.

The guy from the train making our beds.
The guy from the train making our beds.

 

For those of you who just want facts… 

1.
Route: from Padang Besar railway station to Hat Yai railway station.

Distance: 54 kilometres.

Time: departure at 11:20 a.m., arrival at 12:20 a.m., so travel time one hour.

Vehicle: sitting train.

Capacity: same train as from JB Sentral to Padang Besar, but this time everybody just used the economy seats. About 180 people.

Price: 114 THB (2,85 euro).

2.
Route: from Hat Yai railway station to Bangkok railway station.

Distance: 947 kilometres.

Time: departure at 6:45 p.m., arrival at 12 p.m.. Travel time 17 hours.

Vehicle: sleeper train, State Railway of Thailand.

Capacity:
1 restaurant wagon – capacity 30 people, 15 people sitting there.
4 regular sleeper wagons – capacity for 40 people per wagon. Total capacity 160 people, but 140 people in beds.
1 private couchette wagon – capacity for 24 people, but 20 people in the couchette.
1 staff wagon, 20 people staff.

Price: 855 bath for the lower sleeper (21 euro).

Other expenses:
Pad Thai and black coffee for lunch: 120 THB (3 euro), grapes: 50 THB (1,25 euro), raisins: 35 THB (0,90 euro), koala cookies (editor’s note: <3) big box: 90THB (2,25 euro), water: 14 THB (0,30 euro), vegetables: 30 THB (0,75 euro), luggage drop in train station: 50 THB (1,25 euro), ice cream: 30 THB (0,75 euro), hot water on train 40 THB (1 euro), cold water on train 30 THB (0,75 euro).

Total expenses of the day (Bangkok not included): 23,85 euro transport + 10,95 euro food.

 

 

Written by Planeless Traveller Charlie

Part I: Indonesia – From Bali to Belgium, the Long Planeless Way Home

Planned travel route.

PART I: Indonesia

27/02/2016 – 28/02/2016 – From Denpasar to Surabaya 

It was time to say goodbye… again. In the last month and a half I’ve said goodbye (or ‘see you later’) at the airport many times. First Yasmin left from Kuala Lumpur to go back home, and not even a week later Ien returned as well. Davy and I continued travelling together till Jakarta, but soon it was time for him to start a new chapter: moving to Melbourne to work and live there for a year. I spent the last two weeks in Indonesia with my uncle Alex and cousin Yorick who decided to explore the country together with me. I welcomed them at Jakarta International Airport, and now our roads split again at Bali International Airport.

Daniel, my new travel companion, had recommended me a bus company to go from Bali to Jakarta. He told me to book a ticket with ‘Gunung Harta’ for the trip from Denpasar, Bali, to Surabaya, Java. So that’s what I did. I bought a ticket one day in advance at the ‘Gunung Harta’ office in Jl. Diponegoro no. 53 in Denpasar for 180.000 IDR. It turned out to be an extremely comfortable VIP bus with lots of leg space (editor’s note: Charlotte, you always have lots of leg space), a pillow and a blanket. Perfect! I was also given a bag with three snacks and some water – I love getting snacks on the bus. But there was more… Around 10:30 p.m. the bus stopped for diner for which all passengers had gotten a pink coupon. Wow, this was the first time ever for diner to be included in the bus ticket! I liked that! In the restaurant was a little buffet with rice, noodles, vegetables, a meat soup, and hot tea.

To Ubung bus terminal in Bali.
To Ubung bus terminal in Bali.
From Denpasar to Surabaya with Gunung Harta
From Denpasar to Surabaya with Gunung Harta.

As I write this, Daniel is waiting for me in Jakarta, because we will try to get home together in about a month’s time. Since I was in Jakarta already right before the Chinese New Year, I was able to arrange my Chinese visa before the embassy closed for a week. I must say I am proud I was able to arrange my visa without fake flight reservations or fake hotel bookings this time. Arranging a Chinese visa in Kyrgyzstan in June last year was not that easy and very pricy. The extensions of the visa once we were in China were always trouble as well. Fingers crossed for Daniel’s visa!

 

For those of you who just want facts… 

Route: from Bali (Ubung bus terminal in Denpasar) to Surabaya 1 bus terminal (East-Java).

Distance: 409 kilometres.

Time: departure the 27th of February at 5 p.m. from Bali, arrival the 28th at 5 a.m. at Surabaya bus terminal, so travel time was about 12 hours.

Vehicle: Hino bus (Japanese brand) operated by Gunung Harta Bus Company.

Capacity: 33 passenger seats, 1 driver seat.

Amount of people on the bus: 12 passengers, 1 driver, 1 bus host.

Price: 180.000 IDR (12 euro).

Other expenses:
1,5 litre of water in AlfaMart Ubung: 7500 IDR (0,50 euro), Pop Mie instant noodles on Ferry: 13.000 IDR (0,90 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 12 euro transport + 1,40 euro food.

 

 

28/02/2016 – From Surabaya to Bandung 

I arrived in Surabaya at 4 a.m. Bali time, 5am Java time. I had to ask the driver to drop me at the Gunung Harta office, so I could walk from there to the train station. Since the bus was not full the chance of finding an English speaking person was very poor, so no one could help me with my request. I ended up having to get off at the Surabaya bus terminal and face the screaming taxi drivers. No offence, but I’m so done with taxi drivers already screaming at you in the door opening of the bus: “Lady you want taxi, taxi taxi taxi. Lady you want taxi, taxi taxi taxi. Lady you want taxi, taxi taxi taxi. Lady you want taxi, taxi taxi taxi. Lady you want taxi, taxi taxi taxi. Lady you want taxi, taxi taxi taxi.” Give me a break guys, it’s five in the morning, stop screaming. I took my bag and walked to the shops to decide what I should do. I had to catch the 8 a.m. train to Bandung, so there was not enough time to wait for the first local bus, and without map or smartphone it would have been hard to find out whether the railway station was within walking distance or not. So I decided to take a taxi with meter after all. It was a good 30-minute-drive (indeed too far to walk!), and it cost me 70.000 IDR! The good news is that I arrived at the Surabaya Guneng railway station around 6 a.m., and that there were still economy tickets available. A ticket for the 8:15 a.m. train to Kiaracondong (Bandung) was only 100.000 IDR. Imagine, just 30.000 IDR more than the taxi, and this was a 16-hour-train ride!

On the train from Surabaya to Bandung.
On the train from Surabaya to Bandung.
ticket
Ticket Surabaya – Bandung.

Why was I going to Bandung first instead of to Jakarta straight away, you ask? Remember Daniele and Simona from BeCycling, the Italians who are cycling around the world? We had met them in the Tajik Wakhan valley in April, and at the end of June we had cycled together around the Issyk Kul lake. A few weeks later we had met again in Almaty, but that was the last time we had seen each other, even though our travel routes had been kind of similar. We just missed each other in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. Luckily we were now able to meet in Bandung!

The train to Bandung left at 8:15 a.m., exactly as scheduled. I had already taken one train in Indonesia before to get from Jakarta (Gambir Station) to Yogyakarta. Although I had bought the tickets one week in advance back then, the cheap tickets had already been sold out, so I had to buy the more expensive but also more comfortable Executive Class tickets for 320.000 IDR. But actually, after the hard seat-experiences in China and Mongolia, I know I was lucky that I had to go with the expensive tickets. This time though, no matter how much I hate it, I dealt with the hard seat of the Ekonomi Class. (But imagine my poor uncle on those seats during his two-weeks vacation… I’m happy I didn’t put him through that!) I have to say that the hard seats of the Indonesian Ekonomi Class were even less comfortable than the ones in China. Like in Mongolia it was just a bench with no individual seats. There was no table, but luckily there were plugs, so I could watch movies on my computer and write a bit. Two lucky breaks: the train wasn’t full, so everybody had more space, and it was a day-train, so it was possible to read and admire the landscape.

As scheduled I arrived around 11:20 p.m. at the Bandung station where Dony from the Warm Showers Community of Bandung picked me up. Warm Showers is like Couchsurfing but then for cyclist. Daniele and Simona try to use it as much as possible so they don’t have to spend every night in their tent. I finally saw my friends again at a really cozy courtyard! We talked till late at night…

 

For those of you who just want facts… 

1.
Route: From Surabaya bus terminal to Surabaya Guneng railway station.

Distance: 12 kilometres.

Vehicle: Regular taxi, 5 seats.

Capacity: 1 driver and 1 passenger.

Travel time: from 5:30 a.m. till 6 a.m., about 30 minutes.

Price: 70.000 IDR (4,70 euro).

2.
Route: From Surabaya Guneng to Kiaracondong (Bandung).

Distance: 700 kilometres.

Time: from 8:15 a.m. till 11:25 p.m., about 15 hours.

Vehicle: Kereta Api (Indonesian railway company) ekonomi class train named Pasundan.

Capacity: 7 wagons with sitting space. Not full, about 50 people per wagon. No sleeper space.

Price: 100.000 IDR (6,70 euro)

Other expenses:
cookies and chocolate bread from supermarket Surabaya: 20.000 IDR (1,30 euro), pillow on train (some extra comfort won’t hurt); 5000 IDR (0,30 euro), nasi goring from train kitchen for lunch: 20.000 IDR (1,30 euro), coffee: 6000 IDR (0,40 euro), PopMie instant noodles: 7000 IDR (0,50 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 11,40 euro transport + 3,50 euro food + 0,30 euro other.

 

29/02/2016 – Bandung 

The cycling community in Indonesia is very united. Everybody knows everyone. The 108 cycling community of Bandung come together on a daily basis at the place where I was hosted. People walked in and out the courtyard all day, and we made a lot of new friends. Sharing travel stories, playing cards, playing music, drinking beers, we had a good time all together. We didn’t see much of Bandung city, but if  these people are representative for the incredible hospitality of the people of Bandung, then I know for sure I love the place. We got some delicious martabak, the sweet and the salty one, and pretty much ate local treats all day long. Daniele and Simona will be cycling till Bali, and the plan is to catch a flight from there to Darwin. From Darwin they would like to cycle through the central Australian desert via Uluru to reach Melbourne and finally settle down for a bit in Sydney. In Melbourne they will be able to catch up with Davy!

daniele simona

For those of you who just want facts… 

No transport today other then walking.

Other expenses:
buffet self service: 14.000 (0,90 euro), conditioner: 20.000 (1,30 euro).

Total expenses of the day: nothing on transport + 0,90 euro food + 1,30 euro other.

 

1/03/2016 – From Bandung to Jakarta 

I was sad our roads went into different directions again, but I’m happy I will meet Daniele and Simona again around the beginning of 2017 when we all plan to travel America. I hope their travels in Australia will be good, because the Australian dessert is going to be tough. Al the best my friends, we’ll stay in touch as usual!

Dony dropped me at the Bandung main train station, and I managed to get a ticket for the 11:50 a.m. train to Gambir, Jakarta. This train is executive class only, so I again had a comfortable ride waiting for me. Dirty, busy Jakarta, I’m coming!

bandung - jakarta
Getting on the train from Bandung to Jakarta.

As usual I took the transjakarta, the bus system that operates as a metro in the city, to get to the hostel. As mentioned before, Daniel was waiting for me in Jakarta, and we catched up. Although we felt pretty lazy we decided to go for an evening walk in Old Batavia and grab some street food. After an hour or so we already went back to the hostel to catch some sleep.

Transjakarta.
Transjakarta.

 

For those of you who just want facts… 

1.
Route: from Bandung main train station to Jakarta Gambir station.

Distance: 166 kilometres.

Vehicle: Kereta Api (Indonesian railway company) executive class train named Argo Parahyangan.

Capacity: 7 wagons, 30 people per wagon. Not full. No sleeper space.

Travel time: departure 11:50 a.m., arrival 14:57 p.m., travel time about 3 hours.

Price: 100.000 IDR (6,70 euro)

2.
Route: from Gambir train station to Teduh hostel at Kota station.

Distance: 5.4 kilometres

Time: 30 minutes.

Vehicle: Transjakarta accordeon city bus

Capacity: rush hour, 100 people on the bus.

Price: 3500 IDR (0,20 eurocents).

Other expenses:
Chips: 6000 IDR (0,40 euro), MacDonalds: 30.000 IDR (2 euro), dinner: 20.000 IDR (1,30 euro), ice-cream: 14.000 IDR (0,90 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 6,90 euro transport + 4,60 euro food.

 

2/03/2016 – From Jakarta (Tanjung Priok) to Kijang

Today was the day of the big boat ride. If something would’ve gone wrong, it wouldn’t have been fun since there is only one boat a week from Jakarta to the Northern Indonesian Islands. It was also the day Daniel could pick up his Chinese visa, and around 9:30 a.m. I received a message that he had gotten it, victory! If he wouldn’t have received the transit visa today, we would have had to spend some time in Laos to try get one there. Which would’ve meant getting home later, something we don’t want by any means.

Yesterday night I checked already for the trains in China since I noticed they tend to sell out fast. And I was shocked. The dates that fitted our schedule were all sold out already, except for 10th of March. So we decided we really had to book the Kunming-Urumqi train asap! The minute Daniel collected his passport he gave me green light to book the train. We got two comfortable hard sleeper tickets for our 64-hour-long Chinese train ride. Later that morning we figured out what route to take after having crossed China, and gathered some information about the Kazakh train route and the Caspian Sea ferry.

But now more importantly: Indah time! Indah is our Jakarta based friend who we met via Couchsurfing, and at who Davy and I stayed for about ten days. We became really close, so no way I would’ve left Jakarta before having hung out a bit more with her. Since Inda’s brother lives on Bintan Island, the island where we arrived on the 4th early in the morning, she gave him a call to ask about a bunch of practical stuff. How do we get from the port of Kijang to the port of Tanjung Pinang on the other side of the island? What about the ferry to Johor? Later I got a phone call from Indah saying her brother would pick us up at the port of Kijang. “But there is something else,” she said, “after having heard my beloved nephews on the phone I want to come with you guys on the boat.” So at 10:55 p.m., only five minutes before the scheduled departure of the boat, I saw her walking out of the terminal towards the ship. She did it! She got a ticket, and we travelled together during this long journey. After a beer on the deck I decided it was time to get some rest. The boat left with a delay of three hours, around 2 a.m..

Three friends on a boat.
Three friends on a boat.
relaxing
Relaxing on the boat.

 

For those who just want facts… 

1.
Route: from Kota (Teduh Hostel) to Tanjung Priok (port of Jakarta).

Distance: 15 kilometres.

Time: 1,30 hours.

Vehicle: Transjakarta accordeon city bus.

Amount of people on the bus: an average of 40 people.

Price: 3500 IDR (0,20 eurocents).

2.
Route: from Tanjung Priok (port of Jakarta) to Tanjung Kiang (Bintan Island).

Distance: 930 kilometres.

Time: departure 2 a.m. (the 3rd of March already) and arrival 8 a.m. (the 4th of March), so 30 hours.

Vehicle: Boat named Dorolonda

Capacity: 500+

Amount of people on the boat: 300 passengers, crew 132 people.

Price: 340.000 IDR (22,60 euro).

Other expenses: milk for breakfast: 5000 IDR (0,30 euro), mie goreng for lunch: 15.000 IDR (1 euro), carrefour grocery shopping (for diner and for travel): 150.000 IDR (10 euro), beer: 65.000 IDR (4,30 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 22,80 euro transport + 11,30 euro food + 4,30 euro other.

 

3/03/2016 – A day somewhere at sea between Tanjuk Priok and Kijang 

Today we were one full day on the boat. Last time, on the boat from Batam to Jakarta, Davy and I just slept and read and ate. But because Indah was there we now had someone to tell us what the announcements in Indonesian were all about. So we found out there was a movie theatre and enjoyed a movie in the afternoon. We played cards, watched the sunset, and at night there was even a band playing at the restaurant! We had a good time although we happened to have picked a spot on the boat where it was too hot to sleep. Luckily the showers were refreshing.

Sunrise on the boat.
Sunrise on the boat.
Only blue.
Only blue.
Daniel playing domino with the bros.
Daniel playing domino with the bros.

 

For those of you who just want facts…

Other expenses: ice cream: 20.000 (1,30 euro), movie theatre: 15.000 (1 euro).

 

4/03/2016 – From Tanjung Kijang (Indonesia) to Stulang Laut (Johor Bahru – Malaysia) 

Inda’s brother picked us up at the port and brought us to Tanjung Pinang on the other side of the island. He showed us where to buy the ferry tickets to cross to Malaysia, and we said goodbye to Indah. She is a good friend and I will miss her! Not much to do in Tanjung Pinang, but we had to stretch our legs, so we walked around town and on the promenade near the sea side. We found an outdoor gym to exercise while watching the port. And then it was time to get on the next boat. Last time I took a speed boat was to get to Ko Tao in Thailand, and I (like many others) had gotten sea sick. Since then I have not especially been looking forward to boat rides anymore. I survived this one though, yay!

Fitness!
Fitness!
High waves splashing on the window.
High waves splashing on the window.
Arrival on Bintan Island.
Arrival on Bintan Island.

 

For those of you who just want facts… 

1.
Route: Tanjung Kiang (Bintan Island) to Tanjung Pinang.

Distance: 22 kilometres.

Time: 30 minutes by car.

Vehicle: Regular car.

Capacity: 5 people.

Amount of people in car: 4 people.

Price: / (Indah’s brother picked us up!)

2.
Route: Tanjung Pinang to Tanjung Staling Laut (Johor Bahru Malaysia).

Distance: 100 kilometers.

Time: departure at 12:30 p.m. and arrival at 3:30 p.m..

Vehicle: speedboat.

Capacity: 80 people.

Amount of people on boat: 72 passengers + 1 captain.

Price: 300.000 IDR (20 euro).

Other expenses: ice coffee: 10.000 IDR (0,60 euro), and mie goreng: 14.000 IDR (0,90 euro).

Total expenses of the day: 20 euro transport + 1,50 euro food.

 

 

Written by Planeless Traveller Charlie

A Long Way Home With Daniel

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Since getting to Australia without an airplane turned out to be really difficult, and because Charlie misses her family a lot, she decided to go back home planeless (of course!) starting from Indonesia. And this time she is not travelling alone either! Daniel will be joining her for this one month long journey, because he also has to go back home (Germany) after his big trip through Asia. We all know that planeless is the way to go, so meet Daniel, ladies and gentleman…

 

Daniel, you decided to join Charlie for a planeless trip back home – from Indonesia to Belgium. One thing is certain: everybody is happy you are joining her for this long way back. It’s going to be more safe, and definitely more fun! Charlie told people you are from Hamburg and that you are also travelling in south-east Asia right now. What else should people know about you?

Travel. Music. Photography. Food. This is what I like most. Cooking is my profession, and I do arts wherever there is room for it. In 2015 I decided to pack my bag, and to go to some place I had never been before. Inspired from all those stories of beautiful south-east Asia, I put things at home on hold for six months, and – after a short intermezzo in Israel and Turkey – I flew to Bangkok to travel all the way down to Bali.

Your initial plan was to fly back home from Bali? How come you changed your plans?

There wasn’t a plan, actually. There were several ideas, and flying back from Bali was one of them. Another idea, an early one, was moving from Indonesia to China, and then going back by Transsiberian Railway. Unfortunately, that died the moment I learned that I wasn’t able to apply for a Russian visa outside of my home country. I like travelling by train. I have done an interrail in Europe before, and long-haul amtrak trips in the U.S., so it was more than compelling when I heard of Charlotte’s plans to go back home overland.

How do you feel about the decission you made? What preparations do you have to organise now that you wouldn’t have had to if you would’ve flown?

This journey will be unique. Fifteen countries in more or less four weeks are a challenge and require preparation. But it’s less than you would imagine. A proper route is the most important thing to work on. Finding out about train and bus schedules and visa regulations can change a lot of your plans, but the internet is great guide on that nowadays. Besides this we need to get our hands on U.S. dollars, as it is accepted almost everywhere to buy food, tickets, and whatever we need, we need to find out about local transfers from bus/train stations to another, and to become aware of the fact that we will be spending the next period of time on moving vehicles, be surrounded by people day and night, and have to think three steps ahead if we want to make it home quickly. I have travelled south-east Asia on public transport for the past months and made myself really comfortable on those means. It’s just going to be a little longer this time 😉

What kind of difficulties do you expect to have on the trip? And what about the fact that you will cross the countries as fast as possible? There will not be much time for sightseeing. Does that bother you?

Booking transport can become an issue since we don’t book ahead. Trains and especially buses aren’t really reliable concerning their schedule in south-east Asia, so we can only buy tickets for onward connections as soon as we arrive at the location of departure. Reservations for some connections cannot even be made online, so we may run into unwanted layovers due to fully booked trains/buses.

I don’t mind going fast. I think of it more as a brief and intense inspiration for future travels. Reverse the question: would I ever go travelling in Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan? To be honest, those ain’t on the top of my list for now. But I’m sure I’ll meet some amazing people with stories of their own along the road that will change this.

What’s next once you’re back in Hamburg?

Seeing friends and getting back to my guitars. Filling up my bank account. I’m really curious about how this journey will have affect my life when I’m back home. For now it’s impossible to foresee if things will get back to normal or if my life will turn upside down. Either way, it will be different from what it has been before, and it will be interesting to see what has changed inside me. And then: ‘just go with the wind’, as I learned in Bali!

Travelling is addictive. What about the travels you want to do for sure the upcoming years?

There are two things on my mind right now: snow and Spanish. So I’ll probably go for a proper winter holiday somewhere in Scandinavia this year, preferably Norway. And the next big journey will bring me to South America in 2017.

 

Written by Planeless Traveller Daniel, interviewed by Planeless Traveller Charlie

 

One Week on Batam Island

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When we told former world traveller and Belgian friend Filip we would be going to Jakarta via Batam Island, he right away hooked us up with his friend Ahmadi who has been living on Batam for about ten years already. This was the best thing that could happen to us for our first week in Indonesia.

Ur the best Ahdi! Thanks for everything!
Ur the best Adi! Thanks for everything!

Even when Couchsurfing, wandering around Singapore is still very expensive. And although we really enjoyed the city with its world famous architecture and historical neighbourhoods, we didn’t feel like we were fitting in this business city. We feel like Singapore is a good city to live and work in, but not for budget travellers like us. That’s why we decided to leave this ‘metro-boulot-dodo’ city where the many rules imposed on people should be respected – no chewing gum allowed on the streets, no water drinking in the metro.

The BatamFast ferry from Singapore to Batam.
The BatamFast ferry from Singapore to Batam.

We didn’t go that far though: just an hour by boat. We even arrived earlier than expected on Batam island, the transport hub right in front of Singapore in the north of Indonesia. A 25 SGD ‘BatamFast’-ticket and a 30-day visa free stamp in our passport – sometimes crossing a border by land is as easy as by plane. Upon arrival in Batam center we went straight to Batam Pos, the office of Ahmadi – Adi for the friends. Batam Pos is the main newspaper on the island, and Ahdi is a renomated award-winning journalist working for it.

Pelni

Our priority on our first day on Batam was getting tickets for the Batam – Tanjung Priok (Jakarta) boat. Already in Kuala Lumpur we tried to find out how to purchase tickets in advance. The boat company Pelni (responsible for this trip) has a website that is only working from time to time (www.pelni.co.id), so after a lot of research on travel blogs and forums we knew for sure that there is a boat leaving from Batam to Jakarta every Wednesday at 1pm. Purchasing tickets in advance is a hopeless task though. We tried looking for the Pelni office in Singapore, but don’t bother, this one is always closed, so you will not be able to arrange tickets there for sure. The place to be is the Pelni office in Sekupang on Batam. If you go on Fridays, be aware that you will only be helped after the Friday prayer – so after 1pm. The folks from the office were helpful and arranged us economy tickets for 327.000 rupiah for the boat departing on Wednesday, just like we asked. Departure was planned for February 3rd 2016! All proud with out tickets we had a cheap lunch at the supermarket of the Panbil mall. It is probably possible to buy tickets on departure day, but we were happy to be sure of a spot already.

Waiting for the ticket counter to open.
Waiting for the ticket counter to open.

In short:
Yes, there is a boat from Pelni leaving Batam for Tanjung Priok, Jakarta, every Wednesday at 1pm.
Yes, there is a boat in the opposite direction leaving Jakarta for Batam every Friday at 8am.
No, as far as we know purchasing tickets in advance is not possible outside of Indonesia.
Yes, it is cheaper than a flight from Jakarta to Batam: 327.000 IDR for the economy tickets.

Our boat ticket!
Our boat ticket!
Cheaper then the plane...
Cheaper than the plane…

Nongsa Regatta and Blogger Buddies

Before arriving on Batam Adi told us about this regatta that would happen on Batam from January 27th till 31st. We checked out the event on Facebook and decided that we wanted to attend for sure. The place to be was Nongsa Point Marina and Resort, so off we wenth with Adi’s scooter, ready to meet one of his friends who was going to be there too. We had no idea that we would not just meet one friend in the media room, but many many of them. Chaycya introduced us to the big travel blogger community. We were more than welcome to join all the activities that day! This was the beginning of an awesome day as official travel bloggers.

Nongsa Point Marina and Resort swimming pool.
Nongsa Point Marina and Resort swimming pool.
The blogger group in the media room.
The blogger group in the media room.

Earlier that day we went to the pier of Turi beach to watch the race from the pier. But the boats were still really far away. To see the regatta from more up close, we joined a tour on a speed boat. This was the first time in our life we saw a regatta from that close by! Seeing the race from a speed boat was a totally new experience.

Getting closer to the boats.
Getting closer to the boats.
Watching the regatta from the speedboat.
Watching the regatta from the speedboat.

Once back in the media room Chaycya asked if we would like to join a paddleboard race. We were like: “Eeuuuuum, sure why not.” Davy was the first one to participate in the race while Charlie and the others supported him from the sideline. A fun activity with friends they told us, and it was fun for sure. Having some kayaking experience, paddleboarding is rather easy. You just need to analyse the current and the wind, and to be able to turn around. Alfa Male Davy won the first race, and Charlie the second one! From the sideline we enjoyed the other races, cheering for our blogger friends. What we didn’t know was that the paddleboard thing was kind of an official race. Yes, we read about it on the schedule before, but we had no idea that we were part of it till someone said: “And now the finale with the winners of every race. You can win a stay in the Nongsa resort.” Of course we thought this was a joke. Ready for the semi-Belgian – semi-Indonesian finale, we paddled one last time. Alfa Male Davy won with his strong and muscely arms, followed by Charlie with her not-existing arm muscles, but still seemingly enough to beat the other two guys behind her. Girl power!

Let's paddleboard!
Let’s paddleboard!

And so it happened. To receive the prices we had won (yes, they were really existing!) we had to attend the closing dinner and ceremony. Ahdi had to work all day, but came over in the evening for the occasion. The dinner was great, and each of us apparently won one night at the luxury Nongsa Point Marina and Resort. Since we enjoyed the resort all day already, swimming in the pool included, we decided to give the price to Adi and our blogger buddies, so they could enjoy it instead.

Hooray for Belgium!
Hooray for Belgium!

Bridge Crossings

Six bridges are connecting Batam to other islands. So it’s actually possible to drive all the way from Batam Island to Galang-Baru. We know one thing for sure: locals are very proud of their connecting bridges, and enjoy taking halt on them for a picture or even chatting with friends!

The first and most impressive bridge.
The first and most impressive bridge.

The crazy bunch of bloggers took us across the second bridge for another event we would be joining as travel bloggers. We attended the big opening ceremony of the ‘MV. Sea View’, a new boat-restaurant that will sail around ten of Batam’s islands. We were part of a little test ride sailing under the first bridge that is connecting the main island Batam to the second island Rempang. A great experience. Not to forget mentioning that Mickey and Minnie Mouse we also present.

Traditional Indonesian dance for the opening ceremony.
Traditional Indonesian dance for the opening ceremony.
Taking a blogger group selfie on the restaurant boat.
Taking a blogger group selfie on the restaurant-boat.
Minnie Mouse is exited to go under the bridge.
Minnie Mouse is exited to go under the bridge.*

 

Martabak

On Batam we also discovered a really special dessert, a real party in your belly! Martabak is a sort of pancacke filled with whatever you like. Cheese, chocolate, nuts of all together? It is possible and it is delicious. We probably ate martabak before in Malaysia or Thailand without knowing exactly what it was, but this one on Batam we will never forget! We found this great martabak place close to our hotel in Nagoya by coincidence, as always. Charlie wanted something sweet as dessert, so we found this sort of big pancacke place and decided to give it a try. Now we love it and are completely addicted. We went back a second time, and both times it was such a big portion that we could eat the rest for breakfast the next day!

 

Put in it what you want!
Put in it what you want!
Cut it in pieces and ready for your belly!
Cut it in pieces and ready for your belly!

 

Written by Planeless Travellers

 

*KIDS, PLEASE DO NOT CONTINUE READING…

The real face behind Minnie Mouse…

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Something New – The Underwater World

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I’m not a beach person, I’ve never been a beach person, and I reckoned I would never be a beach person. But then people started telling me that maybe diving would be a ‘beach’ thing I would actually like. So I decided I should give it a try.

My buddies and I decided to spend the holidays on some Thai island. Our decision about wich island to go to was based on a mix of both diving and party possibilities. Ko Tao seemed like THE island for us. Not too much later Dimi, a friend of mine from back home, asked me where I would spend Christmas. He was about to move his ass after having spent five months in Borneo. Long story short: he’s a diving instructor, and he ended up being on Ko Tao when I was there as well.

So this should entertain me?
So this should entertain me?

This was pretty fucking cool! This meant he could teach me how to dive. And the fact I already knew him seemed to be an advantage. For example, I already knew he would be a good instructor, because he’s super chill yet serious when needed. And there is more. We have the same native language, I already felt comfortable around him, I knew he’s been doing this ‘diving thing’ for a while already. I mean, could this get any better?

Dimi knew when I would arrive, and even before stepping foot on the island the first diving classes got planned already (yet another advantage?) and apparently, yes, it could get even better: I formed a group with another Belgian girl from Aalst, wich meant that the classes would be entirely in Dutch. Something new and a challenge for Dimi, but very refreshing for me.

Sanne - Dimi - Me
Sanne – Dimi – Me

And it was cool! My first diving buddy, Sanne, was an awesome chick, and catching up with good old Dimi was a blast! We had fun both in and out the water, and our evenings were often spent together as well. Having barbecue, drinks on the beach, meeting more people together, and making plans for future meet-ups.

And I’m not even talking about the diving itself yet. I ended up doing both the ‘open water diving’ and the ‘advanced open water diving’. I would have never expected that I would enjoy it that much. It’s crazy. It’s like an underwater jungle. But then one that aluminates in the dark (hence bio-aluminesence), one where you can be absolutely weightless (buoyancy control to the max), one where your mind can play tricks on you (oxigen narcosis), one where both giant creatures and small pearls leave you breathless (or better not) and so on. It’s awesome. I didn’t feel completely stunned from my first breath under water, but the last two dives I did (wreck dive and deep dive) definitely left me speachless. What can I say? … Speachless …

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Meet Paul. My buddy for the second course.

Thanks Dimi. Thanks Sanne. And thanks Paul. I had a absolutely great time with you guys! Let’s meet up soon.

 

Written by Planeless Traveller (and scubadiver) Ien

This is Myanmar!

Life is good.

Beautiful Sunsets 

U Bein Bridge is the place to be for sunset in Mandalay. Davy decided he wanted to enjoy a coconut while watching the sun going down.

Sunset over Inle.
Sunset over Inle lake.

Longyi

The traditional maxi skirt in Myanmar. Both men and women wear this sarong-style outfit, only few folks walk around in jeans. The tropical climate makes it the perfect option. We were convinced of the advantages the day we crossed the border, so day one in Yangon was Longyi shopping time. Ever since we’ve been loving our new local clothes! Breezy, appropriate to visit the many temples, highly encouraged by the locals, and extremely pretty.

Our taxi driver adjusting Davy's Longi
Our taxi driver adjusting Davy’s Longyi.
Local style
Local style.
I go local you go jeans.
I go local, you go jeans.
Ladies while longyi shopping.
Ladies while longyi shopping.

Bamboo Traditional Tattoo

Many people in Myanmar have tattoos, both young and old. It is obviously not just a fashion statement. Even more, most of them are traditional and carry a mantra (a blessing). They are designed to protect you against evil.

Ien has been thinking bout a second tattoo for a long time and this was the chance to get the first part done. Traditional. With bamboo.
Ien had been thinking about a second tattoo for a long time already, and this was the chance to get the first part done. Traditional. With bamboo.

Red Teeth

If you chew tobacco all day… Yeah, this is what happens. People, young and old, buy it from one of the many chewing tobacco sellers on the street. They start in the morning and end before going to bed, or maybe they keep chewing while sleeping, we don’t know 😉

Smile!
Smile!
At the tobacco shop.
At the tobacco shop.
Spitting out of your car window, this is the result...
Spitting out of your car window, this is the result…

Mud Face

When we were crossing the friendship bridge (border between Thailand and Myanmar) we noticed muddy faces everywhere. Sometimes just splashes, sometimes with nice designs, sometimes all over. So of course, that was the first question we had for the first local we encountered: “Why does everybody have mud on their face?” The answer was very simple: “Sunscreen!”

Mud face
Mud face.

Kindness 

People are friendly everywhere we have been so far, but in Myanmar we got a kindness overdose. People are so extremely friendly. Not only towards foreigner, but also towards each other. This is something that really cought our attention.

Our friend and awesome tour guide!
Our friend and awesome tour guide!
This lady from the Four Sisters inn wins one-of-the-nicest-persons-in-the-world award for sure.
This lady from the Four Sisters inn wins one-of-the-nicest-persons-in-the-world award for sure.

Inle Lake 

The place to be for some nature and rest. It is also the place where you can see traditional crafts such as weaving, boat making, leg fishing, and… long-neck tribes! Say what? Jip!

Long neck ladies weaving.
Long neck ladies weaving.
Leg fishing.
Leg fishing.

Puppet Theatre 

Typical folklore from Myanmar Guided by instrumental traditional music, the handy puppet coordinator brings the puppets alive. A very enjoyable scene to watch during diner. And these puppets make a nice souvenir to take back home.

Temple and Stupa Overdose 

If you think you’ve seen a lot of those in Thailand or Cambodia, then come to Myanmar. Sometimes separated, sometimes all in one, they are all over the place!

Bago old town.
Bago old town.
Stupa Stupa Stupa!
Stupa Stupa Stupa!

Tomato Salad

Tomato salad is one of the national dishes in Myanmar. All the tomatoes are grown at Inle Lake. During our boat tour on the lake we saw the huge amount of tomato farms. They even grow them on the water, crazy! The tomato salads you can eat in every restaurant are super cheap and very addictive.

We got addicted to this delicious national dish!
We got addicted to this delicious national dish!

Food Poisoning

Is it a coincidence or not, we are not sure? All of us got a funky stomach on a regular basis. Some more then others, from puking to pooing to both at the same time. Don’t worry we are die hard and keep eating street food. One day we are lucky, the other day we are not: living on the edge, we call it.

We keep trying new things. Here sticky rice prepared in bamboo... nope did not get sick!
We keep trying new things. This is sticky rice prepared in bamboo… Nope did not get sick!

Lots of Monks 

Temples, stupas, and of course monasteries filled with monks. We are well travelled in Buddhist countries, and Myanmar sure beats all of them in having the biggest amount of monks we have ever seen in our lives.

Monk procession in Mandalay.
Monk procession in Mandalay.
Monk... oh no this is a monkey... oops.
Monk… oh no this is a monkey… oops.

Buddhist Nuns

Nuns are something you see on a very rare basis in many other Buddhist countries. In Myanmar they are well represented in their cute pink outfit.

Nun procession.
Nun procession.

Myanmar is also…

Trash car.
Being creative with trash.

 

The road
Building new roads, everywhere, all the time… by hand!
People in the trunk to fill up the cars.
People in the trunk to fill up the cars.
Heavy long neck rings.
Heavy long neck rings.
Awesome schoolkids.
Awesome schoolkids.
Cooling down the motor with water.
Cooling down the motor with water.
Cigarettes sold per piece.
Cigarettes sold per piece.
Myanmar beer of course!
Myanmar beer, of course!
Awesome bus service in the Whole country.
Awesome bus service in the whole country.

We love this place!

 

Written by Planeless Travellers

 

An Unexpected Meeting

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First: http://www.planelesstravellers.com/travel/an-unexpected-return/

 

Thursday 12th of November 2015:

We are walking on one of the main roads of Luang Prabang, Laos.

It’s lunchtime.

We are hungry.

We are looking for a place to eat.

We pass by a bikeshop.

A guy comes out of the shop.

He is on a bike.

I look at him.

He is looking at the bike. Checking it or something.

He bikes towards the direction we are walking.

My friends and I keep on walking.

I see him riding away.

He has dreadlocks.

“This is not the capital, Vientiane. This is Luang Prabang. It can’t be him”, I think.

I keep on walking.

The guy on the bike turnes around and bikes back to the shop.

I see his face.

“He got married. He moved to China. It can’t be him”, I think.

“Didn’t he always bike to the bar? He loves bikes! Could it be him?”, I ask myself.

“He looks different. The world can not be this small. Nah. It can’t be him!!” I make up my mind.

I keep on walking.

One of my friends stops to buy something. I don’t know what. I didn’t hear what she said.

I’m thinking.

I’m confused.

It feels like my troat is blocked.

I swallow hard, but it doesn’t help.

My friend is back.

I’m staring in the direction of the bikeshop.

My friends start to walk again.

“Wait! … I think I saw Noah…”, I say out load.

My friends immediately know who I’m talking about. And their faces change. They look worried.

We walk back to the bikeshop.

I enter the shop.

The guy with the dreadlocks is still there.

“Hi… Can I ask you something?”

“Yes.”

“Is your name Noah?”

“Yeah.”

Block.

I swallow hard.

I blink my eyes.

My heart is pounding! My hands are shaking!

“Wait. What??? I didn’t expect him to say ‘yes’. Shit. What now?”, I think.

I’m most probably staring at him like a dead fish right now.

I see his lips move.

Listen Ien!! Focus.

“I remember you! We met, a long time ago, in Vientiane. You were having a really hard time”, he says.

“Yeah”, I say. And then: “I never thought I would ever see you again.”

“No. Me neither. But it’s good that we do!”, he replies with a smile.

And then he said something about going for a drink after he finishes work. Something like 4.30. Same place.

I agree and walk away.

It’s a blur.

We had food.

I had tears in my eyes.

 

Last time I was in Laos my friend was missing, so I didn’t really feel like being social and making friends. Furthermore, I was living in a hostel where all the faces changed every couple of days.

I made one friend though, Lambert, but then, he too, kept travelling.

Lambert and I went to this bar once. Cool bar. Cool staf.

When I found out that Debbie was found, dead, I had absolutely no one or nowhere to go to. So I stumbled to the bar.

When the bartender saw my face, he said: “Wow. Look at you. Did somebody die?” … “Yeah” … He gave me some rum, poured one for him too, we cheered, spilled a bit on the floor ‘for Debbie’, and drank it as a shot.

He talked to me all night, gave me a hug when I most needed it, … He was the one telling me that one day – one day! – things would be alright again.

He didn’t even know me!!! And he didn’t expect anything in return. But he was there for me that night. And the next day. And the day after.

His name was Noah.

Two days later I left. And I never thought about asking contact information. All I knew was his first name, that he had a Chinese girlfriend, and that he would move to China soon to marry her. That’s it. There was no way I could ever get in touch with him. And here I am. Super fucking grateful for what he had done for me, but I never really had the chance to thank him.

I always said that if I ever have a son I would name him Noah.

I mean…

I wished a million times that I would run into him again. Never ever have I thought that that would actually happen.

And then it did!

Me and Noah. Three and a half years after our first meeting. A bit uncomfortable at first, but that didn't last for long.
Me and Noah. Three and a half years after our first meeting. A bit uncomfortable at first, but that didn’t last for long.

 

Once more, Noah, a million times more: THANK YOU SO MUCH!

 

Written by Planeless Traveller Ien

Life is full of surprises

 

An Unexpected Return

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In 2012 I arrived in Laos after having lived and travelled in Nepal. The plan was to work in the north of Laos for an unlimited period of time, but something very bad happened. Not in Laos, but during the time I was in Laos a very good friend of mine got missing in Nepal. Eventually her body was found. It’s a long story and a not very pleasant one to hear or tell, but after about a month I returned to Belgium. I needed my family and friends close to me.

Laos as such has actually nothing to do with my friend’s death, but I experienced all the nasty emotions   in the streets of Vientiane, in the hostel where I received the devastating phone call. And I promised myself I would never go back.

In the beginning of this trip I asked my friends to skip Laos. They could  go if they wanted to, but I would find a way around it.

Now, another year later, I suggested myself to visit Laos after all. It’s on the route, so it made sense to go, and more time has passed by. I’m fine with passing through Laos. I still don’t want to wander around the streets of Vientiane, but here I am… in the north of Laos, driving scooters and doing fine.

In a way it’s good to be back. It’s good to see that it’s not this country that did me wrong. It’s good to see the beauty of today and not the ugly dark history that my mind automatically connects with the name “Laos”. It’s good to set things right!

I’m having a good time here. Maybe I’m a bit more emotional, though. I think about Debbie a lot and how she would have liked this trip too. I think about all the things we did together in Nepal. I think about all the people that have loved and still love her. I think about her parents and how no parent should have to go through this kind of thing. I think about many things… when I’m on that scooter… driving around…

Travelling has thought me some things again. It maybe healed some wounds. As time does too, but travelling does it faster.

 

Written by Planeless Traveller Ien

 

Mega Cities China

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Travelling in China, one of the biggest countries in the world, also means encountering all kinds of settlements. Tiny rural villages, mediocre rural cities, and futuristic ginormous mega cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Shanghai,  old houses in the front with new skyscrapers in the back
Shanghai, old houses in the front with new skyscrapers in the back.

 

We entered China from the west, via the border with Kazakhstan. This part of China is not inhabited that much, so our first experiences were more of the tiny nomad kind, you know… Yurts and horses and small shacks surrounded by thousands of goats or sheep.

Desolate village in the Chinese countryside
Desolate village in the Chinese countryside.

 

Further eastwards big cities began to appear. But pay attention to this: in China, a big city has not only one million or two million people, not even just three million. A place like that is Lanzhou with about four million inhabitants, and such a city is only considered to be a rural town, or province capital.

More to the east of central China we visited two other cities, Chengdu and Xi’an. Both pretty big and famous. Chengdu is well-known for the panda breeding centre, and Xi’an is famous for the terracotta army!

Modern panda city Chengdu
Modern panda-city Chengdu.

 

Both cities are beautiful, with a rich history, and very modern at the same time. In China new infrastructure seems to be implemented a lot easier than anywhere else in the world. Therefore, Chengdu turns out to be build up  rather logically.

Chengdu
Chengdu.

 

We already saw it on the map before we arrived: this city makes sense. It’s formed in circles: floating highways, middle floating highways, and outer floating highways that don’t disturb traffic and city life below. They are all connected smoothly with each other, and direct cars up and down via well thought-true placed ramps.

Chengdu
Chengdu.

 

We had no idea how the city would look like in advance.  Boy, were we impressed! Being ‘only’ the fourth biggest city in China, it nevertheless houses about the same amount of people as our home country, Belgium. Yet here are no traffic jams, all buses have their own lanes, and metros bring people to their destination at the speed of light. Lets put it all in perspective though: this place is brand new, which means they had the chance to make constructions work in the best possible way. In Europe we’re working with ancient city structures that need to be preserved. So lets give ourselves some credit as well: we’re not doing that bad.

'Visit Flanders'  promoting our beloved city Ghent in Belgium
‘Visit Flanders’ promoting our beloved city Ghent in Belgium, in the Beijing metro.

 

It’s so nice to move around in a place like this, because  everything has been thought of. Cars have two lanes, the bus has one, and even space for electric scooters (everybody owns one, they rule the streets) has been taken care of. Contrary to what most people think, China is a rather ecological country. Most motorbikes don’t run on gasoline, but on electricity which is generated in one of the enormous windmill and solar panel fields. Also, in Europe buildings with green roofs are a hot new topic, but it’s actually still really rare to see one. In China it looks like every building has a rooftop garden while making the city look very green from above. What we I am trying to say is that I’m impressed. Green, smooth skyscraping mega cities with great urban planning, the future is here!

Xi'an
Xi’an.

 

Xi’an, also closer to the eastern part of China, was the next big city on our route. Again a ten million ‘medium sized’ city. Again great urban planning. It seems like the Chinese are masters at building high quality transport systems that link residential zones with commercial zones with industrial areas. Maybe they played ‘the sims’ on PC too much. (Yeah, Chinese love playing PC games.)

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Terracotta army in Xi’an.

 

Life goes on, and so do our travels. Next stop was supposed to be megacity Beijing, but we unexpectedly ended up in Tianjin, a huge city neighbouring Beijing. This one was also very modern and very beautiful. Stunning canals running through the city, even more stunning parks along the waterside, and modern high rise buildings creating the skyline which looks absolutely fantastic. Clean huge squares, cosy benches, and people doing their daily exercise. We were only here for a day, and then we took a train to our original set goal: Beijing capital!

Tianjin
Tianjin.

 

Wow, we couldn’t believe it, we were in Beijing! One of the cities on planet earth. We made it! We were so excited to start exploring this place, but we didn’t have a place to sleep. Usually we find places to stay thanks to the awesome people on Couchsurfing.com, but this time nobody replied to our request. We asked the help of our Facebook friends and it didn’t take longer than ten minutes to get in touch with Anna, a Japanese friend of Brett, an American long-term traveller we met a while ago in Belgrade, Serbia.

Beijing,  view on The Forbidden City
Beijing, view on The Forbidden City.

 

Going to our hostel with crazy Anna
Going to our hostel with crazy Anna.

 

Anna took us to a safe haven, and together with her we started our big city life. Beijing has it all. Historical monuments, famous landmarks, beautiful parks, giant lanes, skyscrapers everywhere, perfect public transport, minimal traffic jams, broad pedestrian walks, shopping shopping shopping, clubbing clubbing clubbing. Yeah, also great gay clubbing – this is true for all big cities in China, by the way. (I’ve got to mention this, right?! Especially because it’s been since Istanbul that these things even exist.) We spent about three weeks in Beijing. We had the time of our lives, and we met so many new people who made our stay unforgettable. We discovered artistic places and party districts, we visited the famous tourist attractions like Tian’amen Square, The Forbidden City, and The Summer Palace.

The train into the Mongolian
The train into the Mongolian steppe.

 

Then the time came to meet up with Ien and Yasmin in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia. We left China for a week, so we got to visit another famous city in this desolate neighbouring country, only to dive into our second Chinese visa entry when we returned.

Karaoke time in KTV with our buddy Tim
Karaoke time in KTV with our buddy Tim.

 

We arrived back in China after three days of being on the road non-stop from Ulaanbataar to Shanghai. Charlotte and I were absolutely wrecked! Tim, our Belgian buddy who lives and works in Shanghai and who housed us for a few weeks, took us (after a well deserved nap) to go see one of the most famous cityscapes on our beautiful little planet. We were only realizing just then that we reached Shanghai. Shanghai! Unbelievable. We have not been the only ones to be so very impressed with this place: the world famous Belgian singer Eddy Wally even made a song about it.

After a good walk we got to ‘The Bund’. This is how the world sees Shanghai. This is the place a million pictures get taken of every five minutes. This place is stacked with locals, and national and international tourists. Shanghai is very multicultural, and when walking downtown you can easily pretend you are stroling around a European city. Shanghai houses more or less 300.000 expats in the downtown area alone. That’s the size of Ghent.

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The Bund Shanghai.

 

Shanghai kept me in its grip. But I didn’t care. I loved it here. Supermodern skyscraping towers and tiny old Chinese houses, it’s all mixed together and it works. Again a super nice metro system and cabs the second you need them. Maybe we’ll stay here forever, no? No, because we’re travellers, with a goal. Need to move on.

Davy saying goodbye to his beloved Shanghai
Davy saying goodbye to his beloved Shanghai.

 

And so we did. We left Shanghai after three weeks. Charlotte went back to Beijing to pick Yorick and Yasmin up, and all together we moved on to our next destination, Guilin. Not a megacity like we had gotten so used to, but a more moderate, rural, four-million-something sized town surrounded by beautiful nature and mountains created by far lost and gone oceans.

Guilin
Guilin.

 

On the train again. The hard seat kills us every time. But it’s always worth it. This time we were on the tracks towards yet another famous city/country, Hong Kong. Hong Kong is not really China though, so we were excited to go and see this coastal money paradise. It’s super expensive, it’s a commercial and financial hub, it’s a small town, it’s world famous… finding a place to sleep for free in Hong Kong turned out to be impossible.

Hong Kong,  view from The Peak
Hong Kong, view from The Peak.

 

Because housing is so very expensive in this place, everybody lives in tiny apartements. (There are eight million people in an area thirty times smaller than Belgium. And in Belgium, we dare to say that the country is fully built. This makes us laugh now, haha.) Hong Kong feels very Western. Business, business, business. Banks and shopping. This definitely is shoppers paradise. There is no consumers tax in this city, and to gamble you can take a ferry to Macau, the casino city where your money goes on to its next life.

Hong Kong by night
Hong Kong by night.

 

No matter how much we liked to be here, no matter how perfect the skyline is, no matter how clean and perfectly paved the roads are, we had to leave this place as fast as possible. A low-budget traveller simply can’t survive here… So we went back to our beloved China!

We split up again, and Yasmin and Charlotte went back to Shanghai, to meet up with old and less old friends. I wasn’t really in the mood to take another 18-hour sitting train ride back, so I decided to visit the – to me – unknown cities Shenzhen and Guangzhou. They are the fourth and third biggest cities in China.

Shenzhen city hall and surrounding -all new- business districts
Shenzhen city hall and surrounding – all new – business districts.

Shenzhen was still only a small town thirty years ago, but because of the migration of Hong Kongers back to China because of the expensive life in financial hub Hong Kong, Shenzhen grew out to a ten million+ city. Madness, right?! This city attracks mainly young people looking for new fast high positioned jobs, and there are plenty of those in a city growing at light speed. Everything is new here. All shiny new star reaching offices and residential buildings. Biggest city hall on the planet, I think, and clean traffic jam free roads. And again a skyline that blows you away. There is no other way but yet again being blown away by the Chinese way of doing things.

I moved on to the next city with a big questionmark next to its name. Guangzhou.

Super modern, super high skyline in Guangzhou.
Super modern, super high skyline in Guangzhou.

 

This is after Beijing the biggest city. And this city is definitely big. There is no way to describe a size like this. And this place has it all. Where Shanghai has the French concession area this city has an entire island which architecture makes you feel as if you’re in Paris.

French brittish island making Guangzhou feel European.
French-British island making Guangzhou feel European.

 

The old city offers you cosy but busy pedestrian food and shopping streets, and the new town treats you with endless ‘I am the highest’-mentality towers. Like the Canton tower, a beautiful piece of art while being the second biggest transmission tower on our globe. Yeah, the Chinese like it big and high! Me likey. Me likey a lot 😀

One of the supercosy, traditional and busy pedestrian food-shopping streets in Guangzhou.
One of the super cosy, traditional and busy pedestrian food-shopping streets in Guangzhou.
Canton tower, 2nd largest tower on planet earth. Magnificent play of coulours and the view from the top is fenomonal!
Canton tower, 2nd largest tower on planet earth. Magnificent play of colours and the view from the top is fenomonal!

 

Sadly this is the last mega city in China I’ll be visiting, but I’ve seen enough of them to be able to have an opinion about Chinese cities; they rock! They sure know how to handle masses of people and run everything as smooth as possible.

Now we go back to nature. Yunnan province, here we come!

 

Written by Planeless Traveller Davy

 

About Love

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Well have you ever, a post about love on a travel blog. It might come across as a corny subject to touch upon, but I feel, however, after being on the road for a while and after talking to many fellow-travellers, that it is definitely a relevant topic. Almost everyone I have met so far talks about it, or they at least mention it in one way or the other. The different kinds of love in this world can be difficult to handle during long-term travelling. Love is part of life, and if travelling is also a part of life to you, those two are bound to get intertwined sooner or later.

For starters, we leave people we love behind the day we start our journey. Parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends of all sorts, potential lovers, even stable romantic partners,… we cannot take them with us. Having to miss them is probably one of the most challenging parts of being a long-term traveller. We miss seeing them in person, we miss out on certain important and less important events in their lives, and vice versa. So we try to keep in touch with them to make sure the relation stays alive and kicking. Many travellers are especially concerned when it comes down to elderly family members. The possibility of them passing away while travelling is painfully real.

Skype with my mom!
Skype with my mom!

 

Officially my grandmother's first selfie ever.
Officially my grandmother’s first selfie ever.

We also meet new people on our way to everywhere. We befriend them, care for them, have a real connection with them, only to go on our separate ways not too long after. Even though we feel that some of these people could have become our best friends in the world if we sticked around a bit longer, we still move on.

I would argue that romantic love is a special animal in all of this. Some of us decide to leave and go travelling because they got hurt in the process we call life, only to learn how to love again along the road. Some of us just happen to meet someone who could possibly be the next love of their life they did or didn’t need. But loving someone is never without risk, even without the uncertain factor of travelling. It also tends to just happen, suddenly, out of the blue. However good the travel route might be planned, love is always unaccounted for. But when deciding to step away from these feelings, how do you deal with never knowing what could have been? How do you forget something that has never had the chance to be real enough in order to reveal all the flaws that are inherent to reality? The choice to move on nonetheless implies that there will remain a fantasy of a possibility.

I do not believe that we have a predestined path. As I see it, we have a choice, and we apparently choose to leave behind those we love – whether we have known them for forever or only for a few days – for something with significant importance.

Ien and Willem together in Iran, but at the moment separated for six months straight.
Ien and Willem together in Iran, but at the moment separated for six months straight.

Also, I do not have a one-size-fits-all answer to the issues love possibly arises while travelling, but I do think that sticking with the travel plans is the best case scenario for most of us. Because, luckily, we can love from a distance. Or wait until we meet again.

 

Written by Planeless Traveller Yasmin.

Yorick: Travelling Along for Two Weeks

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What I discovered about China by Yorick Viaene… 

Hi I’m Yorick, 27 years old and live in Zaventem, Belgium. I’m a profiler for the US and Canadian carriers at Brussels Airport.

Picking up Yorick at Beijing airport: Our friend Fish is waiting with us
Picking up Yorick at Beijing airport: our friend Fish is waiting with us

 

I work a lot of hours and my life is pretty hectic at times, so the easiest way for me to make holiday decisions is to check where my world-touring cousin (Charlotte) is located and just book a flight there. In this case, the destination was China.

 

Beijing,  Yorick on the lake at the Summer Palace
Beijing, Yorick on the lake at the Summer Palace

 

Beijing,  Yorick at the Olympic Stadium
Beijing, Yorick at the Olympic Stadium

 

Beijing,  Yorick at the Great Wall (with hangover)
Beijing, Yorick at the Great Wall (with hangover)

 

Beijing,  Yorick entering the Forbidden City
Beijing, Yorick entering the Forbidden City

 

My expectations were: good food, interesting people, huge cities, breathtaking scenery. All of them got delivered during my 10-day tour.

 

Hard sleeper train to Shanghai,  Yorick's first long train ride ever!
Hard sleeper train to Shanghai, Yorick’s first long train ride ever!

 

You can’t really imagine how huge everything is until you experience it, so in a way it was even better than initially foreseen.

 

Our group at The Bund in Shanghai
Our group at The Bund in Shanghai

 

Belgian beer in Shanghai
Belgian beer in Shanghai

 

The first meal in Hongkong made me think of the Chinese place in the town where my parents live. I couldn’t believe how close the taste was to how the food is in that place. So familiar, yet incredibly good. I do not recall having had anything weird except for the disgusting rice wine they have in China.

 

Biking in Guilin
Biking in Guilin

 

Guilin: Yorick feeding the water buffalo
Guilin: Yorick feeding the water buffalo

 

Guilin: beautiful scenery in the back
Guilin: beautiful scenery in the back

 

I would describe the Chinese and their culture as the following:

– Hard working, they achieve huge projects in no time.

– There’s still a lot of tradition, mainly in the older generation.

– Two-faced: On one side they are really progressive, on the other side there’s the government’s censorship.

 

Last stop: Hong Kong
Last stop: Hong Kong

 

Hong Kong,  Yorick so kind to answer some question from these primary school kids
Hong Kong, Yorick so kind to answer some question from these primary school kids

 

Hong Kong,  one last beer,  and time to say goodbye...
Hong Kong, one last beer, and time to say goodbye…

 

I would recommend China to everyone, because it has so much to offer. There are so many things to see, and so much history to discover. If you’re not into any of that, just go to Shanghai or Hongkong and enjoy the night life.

Written by temporary Planeless Traveller Yorick aka Charlotte’s awesome cousin!