Traveling for almost one whole year is a long time and as you can imagine, a lot of things happened. Good and bad, exciting and frightening, exhilarating and touching, a lot of highlights and some lowlights but all of them all so memorable and I wouldn’t want to miss any of them. I often get asked what my favorite country was or the best thing I have done. That of course is very hard to answer because every experience and every encounter was special in its very own way. But there are a few things that stand out a little more than others and those I want to share with you in a short and entertaining way.
Moment of Triumph
Arriving at the summit of Mount Bulusan, an active volcano in the Bicol region of Sorsogon in The Philippines. Hiking for a whole day, having started at 3am in the morning, trekking along steep and muddy paths through fog, rain and cold wind, my travel mates Chris, Dolf finally made it and conquered one of the many volcanoes of The Philippines.
An absolute basic bamboo hut in the small Laotian village of Hoybor somewhere close to Muang Ngoi. Really basic but good for a night and our host was super friendly, taking us into the jungle and roasting a still unknown animal in front of us.
Riding my motorbike early mornings on the Mae Hong Song Loop, Northern Thailand. It was so cold, that I used all of the few clothes I had brought on the trip as layers. The result was major body odor after the 6 day loop.
Second was canyoning in Dalat, Vietnam during off-season. Chilly and overcast day being spent in cold pools and waterfalls. Good thing our hotel had a sauna and hot tub to warm up afterwards.
Most beautiful women award
Whereas I think all of the Southeast Asian women are utterly beautiful, this award has to go the Philippines. Pinay are not only very pretty but also very intelligent and friendly. Great combination.
Most relaxing moments
Chilling out on Don Dhet on the 4.000 islands in Laos before heading into Cambodia and living the good life at Stormrider Surfcamp in Bali. But the most relaxed time I probably had on remote Biri Island in The Philippines staying at Villa Amor. They name says it all…ice cold beer while watching the sun set over the ocean. I will for ure return to this place.
Nastiest food award
Another one for the Philippines. Eating Balut, a boiled egg with a duck embryo inside of it. And yes, you have to eat all of it. Eating it drunk was still tolerable but doing it sober almost had me vomit. It was quiet entertainment for the local crowd around.
Best wildlife encounters
My guide Palet who took me into the jungle of Mondulkiri, Cambodia and showed me how to live off the forrest. Fishing, catching and preparing frogs, cooking ant soup, collecting vegetables and much more. On top of that, he was a real humble person living a modest life but still being happy and satisfied with everything he had. A true inspiration
Awkward moment award
Hitchhiking with my travel mate Remy in a car full of Thai ladyboys. Turned out to be a funny and very friendly bunch who invited us for beers and coffee during a short break. Hilarious experience after-all.
Moment of personal contemplation
During my month in Bali I was thinking a lot about what I was actually doing. I was questioning my journey and myself but then I decided to hit the road again and to travel all across Sulawesi which instantly blew away all of my previous doubts.
Extreme Physical Challenge Award
Hiking through the jungle of Taman Negara, Malaysia all by myself. 8 hours of steep up and down, with about 90% humidity, 30 degrees °C and leeches and mosquitoes bullying me. There were two ways how to get to my overnight shelter but I had unknowingly opted for the much harder one.
Worst border crossing
Probably from Laos into Cambodia. Not because I was scammed or anything. It just took too damn long and involved too much waiting time. Paying a few dollars just to leave Laos was also a bit of a letdown.
Easiest border crossing
Going from Singapore to Malaysia on a Sunday. I think the whole affair took less than 5 minutes. Arrive at the border, get out, get stamp, pass and get back into the bus.
This is a real tough one since I found the people in all of the countries I have visited extremely friendly and welcoming. But I think the Burmese and the Filipinos might have a small edge.
Amazing generosity award
Being invited for lunch in a rural Vietnamese village, somewhere in the Ha Giang area. This family didn’t have much, just a small hut with an open fireplace inside. But they welcomed us as friends and insisted for us to stay and share their lunch with them. Such a humbling experience.
Most underrated places
Among all the dives I did, diving in Komodo National Park, Indonesia was my favorite. Sharks, schools of fish, crystal clear water and colorful coral. The dive I did at a spot called Castle Rock was probably the best I ever did.
Adrenaline Rush award
I am not so much into extreme sports but jumping from a pretty high cliff on the island of Siquijor and canyoning in Dalat, Vietnam are definitely up there.
Home away from home award
My one month stay in Gubat in the Bicol area of The Philippines. It’s a cosy little town by the ocean, not very touristy and the friends I had made there not only hosted me, but showed me around the area, took me surfing and so much more. I will be grateful forever. Pasalamat!
Another tough one. Probably Nacpan beach in El Nido, Palawan. A beach we had almost exclusively for ourselves at that time and where we rode our motorbikes along it’s shore. Another one would be Pantai Bira on Sulawesi, Indonesia. The picture perfect beach with white sand, turquoise blue water and coconut trees and also not a lot of people around.
Best motorbike tour
The three day tour through the remote region of Ha Giang in the far North of Vietnam. Hill Tribes, amazing scenery and windy roads all along the Chinese border. The Thakhek Loop in Laos is up there as well. Rough riding along dusty roads with my mates Dolf and Chris.
Best motorbike day trip
I did so many and each was a great experience. But the Mekong Discovery Trail was a definite highlight. Because of the friendliness of the people along the way and a rather sketchy river crossing.
Almost breaking my ankle during the descent of Mount Bulusan. For a couple of days I was considering flying home. And of course getting my precious camera gear stolen along with some other items in Saigon.
Dirtiest hostel award
Needs to go to a place (can’t even remember the name due to trauma) in Cebu, The Philippines. As we returned from a late dinner in town, we opened the door to our room, switched on the light just to see at least 10 big cockroaches crawling all over and hiding from the light. Needless to say, that we changed to hotel that same night. Gave me shivers even a few days afterwards.
Most disappointing place
This would probably be the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia. Known for the diving, the diving wasn’t even that good (but at least cheap). Apart from that, too much party, too much drinking which usually ended in violence. Luckily I wasn’t affected, but yeah, not a place you need to see I’d say.
Most memorable night
When my travel mate Aris and I hiked up into the Shan Highlands of Myanmar by ourselves. We didn’t know if we would be able to find a place to sleep at all but when we arrived in a small village, the local monks invited us to spend the night in their monastery. They were so friendly and welcoming and Illuminated by candle lights only, the monastery became a magical place.
Best big city award
This one goes to Phnom Penh and Bangkok. Bangkok was sort of a home-base for me. I went there 4 or 5 times and after a while I just knew my way around. Phnom Penh is a bit similar, but much more raw and rugged. I sometimes though it must be like the Bangkok of the past.
Best beer award
San Miguel Pale Pilsen and San Mig Light of The Philippines. I don’t even know if it is the best tasting in Southeast Asia, but the memories connected to it make it my favorite beer. I definitely had more than a few good San Mig moments.
The funeral ceremonies of Tanah Toraja, Sulawesi in Indonesia. In this region everything seem to revolve around death and the life after. The burial ceremonies are huge social events which families save up for years. Once it is time, the ceremonies go on for days, pigs and buffaloes are donated and sacrificed. The practices and the whole concept is so much different from all we are used to here in the West.
Best view award
The rice terraces in Batad, The Philippines where we had the best view from our guesthouse built right into the cliff overlooking the terraces.
All of Myanmar. Nowhere else in Southeast Asia religion and spirituality was so ever-present as in Myanmar. Monks are everywhere, every little village has its own monastery and the locals seamlessly integrate religion and worshiping into their daily lives. Fascinating country.
Best train ride award
The dancing train from Yangon to Hsipaw in Myanmar. Took more than 10 hours but the rumbling train and it’s crossing of the scary looking Gokteik viaduct was definitely an experience.
Greatest personal insight
I took a lot of things and insights home from this trip but if it is one thing that I learnt, it is that the simple life is the best life. You don’t need much to be happy or content with the world. It’s the small things, meeting new and interesting people, an adventure, arriving at a place you have never been before and exploring foreign places. A lot of the locals I have met have way less then we do in our societies but at the same time they seem to be happier. That was good to see, eyeopening and made more content and relaxed in a way. Being back home, I always try to remember this and live by it. Although it is not easy at times, it was and is an important lesson.