round the world 2013 2014

Introduction

Here you will find irregular travel reports and stories from our trip around the world! We did however not finish the report in English language. If you want to read the complete report - please open the German version and translate it using one of the many online-translators.

Dubai

On November 2nd our round-the-world trip finally starts. After many hours of preparation we go to the airport of Zuerich in the evening where our flight to Dubai with Emirates airlines starts just before 10pm. The first panic occurs just after the security check when Martins passport is missing. We find it in the lower part of the backpack - lucky us!
On November 3rd we arrive tired but happy in Dubai. With a special taxi for women and families we reach the Suha City Hotel where we sleep another two hours. Now we are full of energy to start exploring the city. First we visit Dubai museum, then the spice market and the heritage villige where old buildings and customs are shown. We cross the river by Abras (wooden boat taxis).
During the next days we visit the Burj Khalifa, with stunning 828 meters height, the tallest building in the world. We reach the visitors platform with an elevator that brings us to 450 meters within a blink of an eye. Another breathtaking experience is the visit to the Mall of Dubai the worlds largest shopping mall with more than 1200 stores and a huge aquarium with sharks, stingrays and the worlds largest glass-front. In the eveing we meet Wafa (a friend of Corinne) with her cousin to have dinner at a Lebanesian restaurant with a view of the Burj Khalifa and the fountains in front of the mall.
The next day we are invited for a desert safari. First we explore the desert on quads and then our guide takes us with his landcruiser on a breathtaking drive accross huge sanddunes. PS: Martin did not know that one can also become seasick when in a car... After the safari we go to a camp for dinner and some traditional dance shows. At the end of our visit to Dubai we visit the mall of emirates with the biggest in-door ski-slope in the world and the artificial islands of 'The Palm Jumeirah'.
In conclusion we can say that Dubai is very fascinating with its high buildings, its metros without driver, the enormous shopping possiblities and the contrasts between traditional and modern way of life.

Thailand 1

Bangkok

After another overnight flight with Emirates we arrive in Bangkok. First things we notice is the left-hand traffic and the amount thereof. In the city it is quite noisy and everybody was talking to us. Most of the times people offer a taxi, a tour or a custom-made suit. Our hotel is next to Khaosan Road where we drink our first fresh coconut milk - mmmh!
Next mornig we visit a floating market together with Eveline (daughter of Martins godmother). It is quite touristic but also interesting. Some women sell food from their boats others souvenirs. In the afternoon we visit several temples in Bangkok, in our eyes the nicest one being Wat Suthat. Besides the usual touristic sights there is a huge selection of food and restaurants in Bankok. Also the transport options are numberous: ferry, taxi, tuktuk, bus etc.

Ayutthaya

On November 10 we go to the trainstation by taxi where we board the train for Ayutthaya (3rd class, 1.5 hours, 1 USD). Before boarding the train we meet Linus from Sweden who accompanies us during the day. In Ayutthaya we visit multiple nice temples and temple ruins. Later we sit in a small restaurant next to the river where Corinne discovers a monitor lizard (about 1.5 m in length).
In the evening we have dinner in a nice street restaurant, these are temporary places that are built up every afternoon next to some roads. They serve a good selection of local specialities. Our hotel 'Luang Chumni Village' is a cute little hotel with nice rooms as well as friendly and helpful staff.

Surin

We arrive in Surin on November 12 after a 7.5 hour train-ride (2nd class, 255 baht). The jouney is interesting: the windows and doors are all open (all the time) and at all bigger stations, merchents enter and sell their stuff (meat-kebabs, rice dishes, drinks, fruit etc.). In Surin there is not that much to see and for the annual elephant festival we are one week too early.

Villages in the Isan region

On November 13 early in the morning the taxi waits for us. As the taxi driver does not speak English half of the hotel staff offers to help. Together with them we determine the 400km route. First we visit Ban Tha Sawang, a silk-weaving village. There we can see how women make wonderful silk products. Each weaving machine (all hand-work, no motor) requires 4 women in order to allow the complex designs. After we visit Ban Khwao Sinarin where silver jewelery is produced and sold. The journey then continues to Khun Han where we visit an impressive glass temple (Wat Lan Khuat). The temple and the other buildings are made from empty glass bottles and concrete. In the same village we have lunch in a street restaurant with our driver and make an encounter with the spicy food of the Isan region - huh this is spicy! Driving along rice fields with waterbuffalos and lotus flowers we arrive in Ubon Ratchathani. The city is in close proximity of the border Lao PDR, apart from this fact there is not that much to see and do here.

Laos

Champasak

On November 14 we cross the border to Lao in Chong Mek. From the border we take a minibus to Pakse. Our luggage is stowed in the backrow and another passenger now has to share his seat with Martin's big backpack. In Pakse we eat a nice rice and vegetable dish in the local market. From the market we take a Sorngtaaou (a van with two rows of seats on the back and a roof) to Champasak. Champasak is a very nice little village in the countryside with a lot of small restaurants. Further the people are very friendly and welcoming and all the schoolkids greet when passing. We stay in a very nice bungalow at Inthira Hotel.
The temple ruins of Wat Phou are worth a visit and are 11km out of town. We get there with rental bicycles whereby the one of Martin was about 20cm too short and nearly lost a pedal. Despite this fact and the rain we arrive at the ruins and enjoy the nice view and the short hike along ricefields, hibiscus flowers and jackfruit trees.
After a delicious dinner (stickyrice with ginger-chicken) we see a Tokeh (about 30cm long gecko with red dots) on our neighbor bungalow.

4000 islands (Si Phan Don)

In the morning of 16th November we get picket up at the hotel by a Tuktuk and are brought to the longtail-boat. On the other side of the Mekong we wait more than one hour for a crowded and warm bus that brings us to Ban Nakassang where we take another boat that takes us to the island Don Khon. Don Khon is a quiet and peaceful island without cars in the region of the 4000 islands. The first thing we do after arrival is to drink fresh coconut milk offered from a foodstall. After that we move into a bungalow with a hammock on the balcony and a view on the Mekong river. We hike along the rice fields and see many waterbuffalos. In the evening we dine in small and cozy restaurants with balconies overlooking the Mekong.
The next day we hike to the impressive Somphamit waterfall. Due to rain we dont do much else that day. Following morning we take a bicycle to a place where it is possible to spot the rare Irrawaddy dolphin, however we do not see any. Our bicycle tour also takes us accross the old railway bridge to Don Det, the neighbor island. This island is smaller, more busy and more noisy.

Cambodia

Ratanakiri

On 19th November we get picked up by a motorbike with sidecar that brings us to the boat. The boat takes us across the river to Ban Nakassang where we change to a crowded minivan. The 20km to the boarder are quickly behind us, but there we wait some three hours for the bus that should bring us to Stung Treng in the north-east of Cambodia. As the bus did not show up we asked the young driver of a car (Lexus) that had just dropped off some monks at the border if they could give us a ride to Stung Treng. In Stung Treng we find another car that takes should take us to Banlung. However after 15 of the 150km the cooling-water was boiling and we had to stop. The driver stops an already overloaded minivan and we enter with all our baggage. The van now contains 13 people, 2 motorbikes and many bags with pineapple, sweet potato, limes and under our feet there are stacks of cucumbers! When we finally arrive in Banlung, we get to our hotel by motorbike.
The Treetop Ecolodge is located at the outskirts of Banlung, the capital of the Ratanakiri province. The nice bungalows of the hotel are spread over a small forest and the balcony of the restaurant offers nice views across the valley. On November 20 (Martins birthday) we see a red-brownish snake in front of our bungalow that lives in a dirthole nearby, after breakfast we rent a Tuk-Tuk for the whole day. First we visit three nice waterfalls located in the forest and some villages of different minorities. After some back in Banlung we visit a crater-lake where we do some hiking. In the evening there are two frogs sitting on our clothes-line - no idea how they got up there!
The next day our three-day trekking starts. Togehter with 7 other tourists we get picked up by a pick-up car and driven to a river where we get on a longtail boat. The ride on the longtail boat takes about one hour. During the ride we see a watersnake and in a small village we stop quickly to pick up our local guide.
From the riverside we walk through ricefields to a rice-farm where we have lunch. We then continue another two hours though bamboo-forest into the nearby hills. At a waterfall in the forest we put up our camp for the night. While our guides install the hammocks and prepare the dinner, we swimm in the pool beneath the waterfall. For dinner our guides cook local meals: one meal is cooked in a thick green bamboo which they put in the fire (they frequently have to turn the bamboo so it does not burn). Further we are also provides with mugs, spoons and chopsticks made from bamboo!
After dusk our guides go hunting successfully with a slingshot. For 'desert' they serve barbequed frogs and fish that are served with rice-wine. To the sound of cicadas and the blinking of some glow-bugs that fly by we fall asleep in our hammocks. In the morning the next 'catch' is awaiting us. Over night the guides set traps in the forest and nets in the river. Besides noodles with vegetables, the also serve fried rat, frog, snake and fish. The hike begins with a tough ascent, then our group is separated because the other tourists only do a two day trek. From now it is only Yok (our guide), the local guide and the two of us. The 5 hour hike takes us through a nice forest. Unfortunately we meet quite a number of lumberjacks that cut the most valuable trees in the forest - and also animals we do not see much. During the hike Yok finds a delicacy: great red ants. However, Martin does not find them very tasty. At a big tree we stop to take the resin, the resin is collected in some sort of basin that is cut into the tree. To stimulate the resin-production they set the rest of the resin on fire. We further see a 2m high carnivorous plant. At a river our guides cook rice with vegetables. Later in the afternoon we get to a village where we sleep in our hammocks in the meetinghouse. In front of the meeting house the local youngsters gather with their motorbikes, this distracts the peaceful atmosphere to some extent. On the last day of our trekking we visit the village including the school and cemetery. When somebody dies, the family has to sacrifice two or more waterbuffalos and to build a small hut on the grounds of the cemetery. On the way back we visit some more villages. In one of them the inhabitants invite us to eat pomelo (citrus maxima) with them. In another we see women weaving scarfs and cloths with nice patterns. The last stop is a village where our guide Yok lives in a self-made bamboo house together with his wife and their two children. His wife prepares a nice meal for us. Back in the Treetop Hotel we are all excited about the shower and a cold beer.
The next day we head to Phnom Penh via Kratie.

Phnom Penh

On November 25 we arrive in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. In contrast to the rural areas Phnom Penh is much more crowded and busy. The streets have less potholes and it is quite cleat - but there is also much traffic - bicycle-rickshaws, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, food-stalls on wheels, cars, ox-wagons, buses and trucks. Along the streets there are a lot of small restaurants which get rebuilt every evening and stored in big boxes during the day. Further there are a many markets - most of the things are sold and bought on the streets, only very few supermarkets can be found. In the city we visit the national museum (many old statues are on display here), the Tuol-Sleng museum (a former school that was converted into a brutal prison during the regency of the Red Khmer), the Killing fields of Choeung Ek where we learn about the sad history of the Cambodian people, Wat Phnom (a nice monastery on a small hill). For relaxation we go to a 'seeing hand' massage where blind people have the possibility to work. On the markets and in the restaurants much strange thing can be found: Martin tries some grasshoppers and fried tarantulas. One day we do a cooking-class where we learn more about the art of the Khmer-kitchen, the highlights were: fried spring rolls, banablossom-salad with chicken, fish-amok steamed in a banana-leaf basket and coconut-sticky-rice with mango.

Drive to Siem Reap

On 29th November we get picked up by a taxi that brings us to Kampong Thom, from there we take a dirt road to reach the temples of Sambor Prei Kuk. The temples are spread throughout a forest. It is a peaceful and quiet place with few tourists. Some children want to sell us scarfs. Some of the temples date back to the early 7th others to the 9th century - very impressive. Our journey then continues to Siem Reap where we stay in a very nice small hotel (Travellers Inn).

Siem Reap

In contrast to other places we visited in Cambodia, Siem Reap is very touristic. The reason are the temples of Angkor that we also visit: on the first day we do a small tour, the tuk-tuk first brings us to Angkor Wat, this temple was built in the 12th century and - according to our guidebook - is the biggest religious building in the world. Besides the impressive towers and the water surrounding the whole are, the are also very nice and impressive stone carvings showing various scenes like building the temples, invasions etc. Next we visit Angkor Thom which includes the temples Bayon and Baphuon. In Bayon there are 54 towers with 216 huge faces of Avalokiteshvara cut into the stone. Other places we visit are Ta Keo and Ta Phrom. The later was built in the year 1186 and nowadays many of the walls are entangled by huge old trees. During the whole day many merchants try to sell us their produce, towards the evening this gets a bit annoying.
On day two we visit some temples further away, after lunch we head back to Bayon and Angkor Wat in order to take some more pictures as these temples were our favorites. While walking around the temples we see some wild monkeys and a small snake. In the evening we drive to Phnom Bakheng from where we have a nice view on the spectacular sunset. Back in town we book a flight to Kuala Lumpur (Malayia) because in Bangkok (our planned next stop) there are currently some demonstrations with some people dying and others getting injured. The two days until the flight, we spend relaxing in Siem Reap.

Malaysia 1

Kuala Lumpur

Unfortunately a memory card with pictures gets stolen from Martins backpack somewhere at the airport. Luckily we have a back-up of the pictures. The first thing that strikes us is the good conditions of the roads and the many cars (and missing tuk-tuks and motorbikes). In the afternoon we visit and old Chinese teahouse in Chinatown and and a colorful Hindu-temple where there is an ongoing ceremony.
We book a bus for the next day to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands. Next to our hostel there is a very tasty Indian restaurant where we have dinner.

Cameron Highlands

Aboard a very comfortable bus, we get from KL to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands. In the beginning we drive past many palm oil plantation followed by a very windy street up to the mountains through some nice rainforest. In Tanah Rata, 1500 meters above sea level where it is much cooler than in KL we move into our nice room at Gerard's Place. The guest house is like a big flat-share with a common living room where we sit together with the other guests in the evening and discuss about possible hiking tours. One evening our hosts presents us with a miracle berry, after eating this small berry, everything (yes, even a lemon!) tastes sweet and you can actually eat a whole lemon! Another day we make a hike through the jungle, sometimes we have to climb under and over fallen trees. Later, our hike also leads us through vegetable farms and to a tea-plantation. After visiting the tea factory where we can see how the tealeaves are being processed, we would like to enjoy the view across the tea plantation but due to upcoming fog we did not see very much. The next day we make a tour to the mossy forest, this part of the forest is about 2000 meters above sea level and is covered almost the whole year through by mist and fog, due to this there is lot of moss, lichens and other plants. We also see nice orchids and carnivorous plants called 'monkey cups' and learn a lot about plants in the jungle.
Besides nature there are also a lot of culinary delights to delights to discover for example the noodle dish 'mee goreng mamak' or a Chinese fondue called 'steamboat'. In the latter different ingredients like jellyfish, chicken, beef, noodles, vegetables and eggs are cooked in a soup on the table.

Penang

On 9th December we arrive in Georgetown on the island of Penang. We stay in a very small room in the 'Old Penang Guesthouse'. Penang is known for its delishes and diverse food, however Corinne is often a bit unfortunate with her choice of food (she gets blood-sausage in her noodlesoup, raw octopus etc.) due to this we mostly chose to eat in Indian restaurants.
In Penang there is an art-project called mirrors Georgetown: big paintings can be found on about 20 walls throughout the old town, besides these paintings there are also some iron-sculptures. Penang has a long history of multiculturalism so we can visit temples from many different religions (e.g. Kek Lok Si temple that is situated on a hill and is very colorful). We also visit a butterfly farm and a tropical spice garden. On our last day in Penang we get picked up in the morning by Thorsten from Germany who we had met in the Cameron Highlands. He lives in Georgetown and takes us to a nice dam in the mountains and to the botanical gardens where we can see a lot of different wild animals (monitor lizard, turtle, green tree lizard, different types of squirrel, makak and other black monkeys). Our last night we stay in a wonderful boutique hotel called '23 Love Lane'.

Thailand 2

Border crossing

In the morning of 13th December our odyssee to reach the island Ko Tarutao in Southern Thailand. First we take a bus to the ferry that brings us to Butterworth. From there we take another bus to Alor Setar, followed by taking a taxi to Kuala Perlis at the border. While waiting for the boat we can observe mudskippers (amphibious living fish) and crabs in the mud. By boat we then reach Satun in the South of Thailand. From the immigration checkpoint to the bus station we take a songteao (local type of minivan). We then continue with a minibus to Langu where we can join a friendly young Thai in his car to Pak Bara. The boat from Pak Bara to Ko Tarutao leaves only once per day so we have to stay in Pak Bara for one night. In Pak Bara there is currently a fishing-festival with many foodstalls selling delicious foods.

Ko Tarutao

With a speedboat we get from Pak Bara to Ko Tarutao that belongs to the Ko Tarutao marine national park. The island is about 10km wide and roughly 30km long and is inhabited by about 50 people. There are a lot of hills on the island that are mostly covered by dense rain forest. Two restaurants serve food for the inhabitants as well as the tourists. Electricity is available between 6pm and midnight.
On Ko Tarutao we swim in the sea and lie on the white sandy beach that stretches for many miles and is mostly deserted. One day we rent two bicycles and we ride them to Ao Son beach, the road sometimes is very steep and bumpy. From Ao Son beach we walk through the jungle to a waterfall but due to very slippery rocks and fallen trees we did not make it. About half way we find a nice pool in the river where we can also have a very refreshing swim. Another day we rent a kayak with which we paddle through the mangroves to a place called crocodile cave. Sandrine and Olivier, a French couple join us. After paddling for 45 minutes we reach the cave, where we find two other kayaks to explore the cave. Using joined forces we can rid these sunken kayaks from water and use them to explore the cave where we see many bats and stalactites.
On our last day on Ko Tarutao we take a truck to bring us to Ao Talo Wao beach that is 12 km away. This place used to be a prison in early days and is home to some nice rock-formation in the sea. While driving we see seval big monitor lizards crossing the road. Once we reach the beach, we get off the truck and walk back to the village. While walking we see a lot of black monkeys, hornbills, colorful butterflies, birds of paradise, black squirrels and bee-eaters.

Ko Lipe

After three calm days on Ko Tarutao we take another speedboat to Ko Lipe. This small island is completly different compared to Ko Tartuao which is only one hour away. It is much smaller but much more touristy. There are only a few streets but they are packed with restaurants, massage-saloons, travel-agencies, souvenir-shops, guest-houses and hotels. The reason why Ko Lipe is so much visited is the beautiful beaches, white sand, coconut-palms and very clear water. The first night we walk from sunrisebeach to sunsetbeach where we can whitness a wonderful sunset.
The next morning we join a snorkel-tour around some nearby islands, some of them only a few square meters in size. Together with 5 other tourists (2 Malays and 3 Swedes) we get picked up by a longtail boat and are driven from one snorkel-spot to the other. Well equipped with swimmsuit, fins, goggle and snorkel we all go on underwater discovery tour. Due to the clear water the sight is very good and we see a multitude of fish in all different shape, form and color. We see the famous orange-white clown-fish swimming around sea anemones and corals as well as many other fish like green-blueish parrot-fish (chewing on coral), stingrays, moray eels, giant blue-glowing clams, sea-snakes and many more! For lunch we stop at a wonderful white sandy beach on one of the small islands. After lunch we spend another few hours snorkeling.
The next day we realize that due to the sheer beauty of the underwater world we had been a bit careless with our sun-protection - our legs are pretty red now :-(
Later in the morning we take the speedboat back to Malaysia, to the island Langkawi.

Malaysia 2

Langkawi

The cruise from Ko Lipe to Langkawi turns out to be pure horror! The captain of the speedboat would like to impress the 11 tourists on board to reach Langkawi as quickly as possible, no matter if there are waves, other boats or sick passengers. Especially Martin is very happy to be on stable ground again after just a little over 1 hour on the boat. However, his stomach is so stirred up that the next 1.5 days he can hardly eat anything. After having filled out the border-papers, we transfer to our hotel and have a little lunch in the nearby village. There is not that much to see here. Further, as it is very difficult to find accommodation on Langkawi for the future nights, we book a flight to Kuala Lumpur for the next day.

Kuala Lumpur

With a delay of one hour we leave Langkawi and 50 minutes arrive back in Kuala Lumpur 50 minutes later. The fact that Martin was eating only very little the last 1.5 days lead to massive cramps, so we quickly stop at a medical center for a checkup. With some medicine in our bags we then go to our hotel. The next day we visit the KLCC, a big shopping center just next to the Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers. As we could not take our camera while snorkeling, Corinne buys herself a small underwater camera. So hopefully we will be able to take some nice underwater pictures when snorkeling in Australia.
Next to the KLCC there is a comic festival taking place, leading to the fact that many predominantly young people are dressed up in colorful costumes and like their photo taken.

Melacca

On December 23 we take a taxi from Kuala Lumpur to Melacca. This city has a rich history and various colonial powers were once ruling here. Chinese, Brits, Portuguese and Dutch. This leads to special architecture - a mixture of Asian and European. Both oversea tourists as well as Malaysians like to visit Melacca, due to this there is an immense density of small boutiques, restaurants, museums and hotels.
We stay in an old traditional town house that the son of the owner rents out as a place to stay. In the afternoon we visit a birds-nest factory, there swallows are bread and their nests that are a delicacy (especially in China) get collected, cleaned and packed. A box with 10 of these small swallow nests can easily cost 1000 USD! We further visit some other museums like „The Royal Press“ where books, calendars and other things are still being printed like 100 years ago, the Babanonyan Museum, the Jewelery museum and others. Melacca is also great for eating out. There are many restaurants that our host shows us. One of them - a Dim-Sum place is open everyday from 5-12 (morning). Waiters walk around with trays containing little plates with various steamed or fried goodies, you take whatever you like and pay according to the shape and material of the plate - similar to a running-sushi place.
From Melacca we go back to Kuala Lumpur where we have one more day. We send a parcel home to Switzerland, visit a mosque and do some shopping. Our last night we spend in a hotel near the airport as our flight to Australia is at 9.30 am and the airport of Kuala Lumpur is some 60 kilometers away from town. At the airport we buy a guidebook for our next destination - Australia!

Australia

Perth

After a five hour flight we arrive in Perth, Western Australia in the late afternoon of 28th December. It is great to get to Australia without time difference (Malaysia and Western Australia are in the same time zone). The immigration procedure is extremely quick and the transfer to our home very swift. Like in Melacca, we also use AirBnB to stay in Perth. This platform allows people to rent out spare rooms in their home or whole houses to travelers. In Perth we have a room on the top floor of a beautiful house with very welcoming hosts. After having put down our bags, we go to the city to do some grocery shopping for our upcoming rental-car tour in Western Australia. Later we enjoy a wonderful dinner at an Italian restaurant - it is amazing to have some Western food with a nice glass of red wine! Temperature wise it is also very comfortable here. It is still 30 degrees however much less humid so for us it actually feels cold (compared to what we are used to after two months in Asia).