Category Archives: Wanders

The Summary of my World Travels (so far)

Sri Lanka
Land of smiles
Feel: good feeling, somewhat strangely void in farthest north
Memories: Eating curry and rice in a restaurant in Jaffna, motorbike across emptiness. queuing for free food, tuk-tuk

Nepal
Namaste
Feel: surreal, exploration every single day, one of the best in my travels
Everyday trek all merge into one, just amazing

Indonesia
Need to experience more
Feel: lonely, mix sometimes with some good surprises, but generally not deep
Looking out the window in a nice room in Jogja into rice fields

Philippines
Full of emotions, one of the deep friendships I’ve forged here
Feel: always longing to return, to touch base with friends
Last night in Tagaytay, the wedding, countless drinking and talking nights, riding Pol’s car home from work

Mongolia
Land of shit
Feel: wilderness, vast, nothingness, raw
Bayuderzeli?
Ger tent, waking up to extreme cold, far far away toilets, the sunrise over the sand dunes

China
Madness in form of people
Feel: overwhelmed, crushed in, some surprises but mainly can’t wait to get out
Lining up to the Mt Huashan

Burma
The untouchables
Feel: special, as if I have just manage to capture something while it was just slipping away
Mingalaba
Deadliest bacteria/virus ever – food poisoning and foot infection
Golden temples as far as the eye can see, all the sunrises and sunsets

Laos
The final frontier
Feel: at peace, happy and chill
Jeong

Cambodia
Just a tourist
Feel: lost at first, then Indiana jones and finally comfort
Motorbike accident and sitting in a cafe finishing a storybook about Laos with peanuts and beer

Thailand
Overrated, first place I ever fly to, Meditation was life-changing
Feel: always feel like I’ve been there a million times
“There is no time”

Singapore
Sim city
Feel: unreal

Japan
The future, the real Sim city
Feel: amazed by the mix of modernity and history, yet after a while, the taint of craziness emerge
Hitchhiking was one of the best decision, ancient trees had taken a part of me to the future

Turkey
Mix of east and west, not a myth
Food: one of my favourite!
Feel: like I own the place, relax and completely in control
Best fish sandwich under the bridge

Hungary
Friends from around the world
Feel: relieved to meet EC, just stopping by
Running from Buda to Pest

Bulgaria, Romania
Somewhat strange
Feel: in transit
Too many border crossings

Italy
Coffee, gelato, wine
Food: need I say more?
Feel: special, dreamy, touching the soul, question on what’s more to life
Deep talks in Padova, student home in Venice

Belgium
White, cold
Feel: an escape, frozen feelings
Icey landscape on the train, postcard-like Bruges

Netherlands
Work
Feel: lonely, need to escape, like an outsider looking in

France
A dream that was too real
Feel: reality casting a huge shadow
Stolen macaroons, broken veins from big business

Spain
Arts
Feel: need to return to explore
Gaudi, gaudi, gaudi

Portugal
Holiday with the family
Feel: a turning point in life
The bridge, the pact, the coin and the ring

Czech Republic
The Paris that was
Feel: romantic, touching the artistic side of me
First concert, old romantic bridge, told myself I must write again

Vatican City
Long queues
Feel: what?

Hong Kong
Virgin trip with friends
Feel: excited, my first foray into exploration and craziness
The friendly and generous old man

Britain
The beginning of everything, home
Feel: euphoria when realizing a dream, like my second home
The Swains!

Germany
My future home
Feel: secure, loved, happy
The Göbels

Switzerland
The Alps
Feel: like the little girl, Heidi
Snowboarding, snows, and rushing for the last train

Australia
As expected
Feel: touching base, making friends, losing a friend
Friends in Sydney, on the beach with Geoff

New Zealand
Untouched beauty of nature
Feel: not touched
Milford Sound, kayaking, under the rain in the vast lake

South Africa
Facing the danger
Feel: like a survivor
Chasing for my robbed phone, car accident and best nurses in the world

October, 2015

Nepal Annapurna Circuit – Trek of a Lifetime

I woke up to yet another round of movements from PK, my trek mate. The familiar burst of the door opening followed by a blast of cold air, he quickly unzips and urine right out from the door as fast as he could and then slams it shut, no sane man is going out there in this weather. I burrowed myself deeper into my soft and warm sleeping bag, which many treks or hikes later in the future I will find it one of the best gear I ever invested in. This is probably the hundredth time PK had done this ritual in our short restless sleep up in the high camp of Annapurna before our day of reckoning, the day we would cross the highest pass in the world – Thorung la pass.

It had been 10 days since we jumped off a 7-hours winding bus ride at Besisahar from Kathmandu and started trudging up to Khudi for our first-night stay at one of the many family homes that doubled as tea houses for visitors. Ironically, this first stay will turn out to be the worst of the rest of my entire 17 days trek. Sleeping on someone’s personal bed (the place was filled with Chinese workers that are fixing a nearby piping, the owner is kind enough to offer his room to us) staring at the cobwebs filled wooden ceiling, and after a “war” in the shower room where a huge spider was hanging down beside my faucet, a huge blanket of doubt came over me on what the hell am I putting up myself for. Of course, these doubts are unfounded as we trek on, the view was breathtaking and the joy of discovering villages to villages amazing while the tea houses improve one after another with surprising modernity or quaint traditional designs.

Just less than a day before this, we were in the bustling city of Kathmandu, hunting for the rest of the necessary gears for our great Annapurna Circuit Trek. How we came about to do this trek will baffle all the trekkers we will hence meet after that asked. It was the first night we were there and sitting in the common room of our guesthouse leafing through a used out of date Nepal guidebook from the exchange bookshelf, PK point straight to the small little section on the left bottom in the middle of the book and said “What about this trek? It has just about the right amount of days”. As we came in with a 1 month tourist visa in Nepal, we planned to stay the length of it and the Annapurna Circuit promised a trek of a lifetime (succinctly written in the short book space that it had) in around the range of 19 days, which would seem perfect for us to cover few cities in between plus buffer days. It was only after years after the trek while reminiscing I learned from PK that he did have some prior ideas about the treks in Nepal.

With that, we slam the book shut with conviction, set out the entire next day to equip ourselves, a detailed map because we would be doing the trek independently without a guide and which goes to say without a porter too, a pair of walking sticks which we used one each for reasons lost to me but probably not PK, and also some other knick knacks like backpack covers, trail foods and compass. We even manage to send some postcards to tell loved ones back home what we are about to embarked on, and in one of them for my dear friends I wrote partly “By the time you received this, I would probably be halfway along cursing myself”, which turns out unfounded as by then I had sunk into the rhythm of a pilgrim, looking forward daily to the open road ahead.

That night we unpacked and repacked all our possessions, stripping it down to the bare essentials as we would be carrying it for an average of 6 hours every day while trekking. It was then I realized I brought along too many unnecessary things on my 3 months backpacking trip, and initially, I thought I was doing really well in the minimalist department. We locked up the extra belongings (most are mine obviously), into the locker of the guesthouse and we would not be seeing it for the next 3 weeks, as we stayed on in Pokhara after the trek to unwind before returning here. We weighed ourselves here too and in return found that we had lost a substantial amount of weight, even after gorging ourselves silly in the leisure days of Pokhara.

As I woke up from the worst night, I shouldered on my backpack bravely. PK seemed the least bit deterred while backing out is not in my paradigm. As the sun started to shine, I am starting to fill up with optimism and excitement for the adventure to come, the arduous bus journey and restless night of the day before fading into the background as we step our first step into the conservation area of Annapurna Circuit. Yes, the trek of a lifetime is about to begin.

Related stories
Thoughts Before Annapurna Circuit
Thoughts After Annapurna Circuit

Porto, Oporto, Oh Porto

Ponte De Luis at Ribiera, Porto, Portugal
Porto, Oporto, oh Porto. How can I put into words about you.

As I first got introduced to you, you flood my senses with the many sides of you. Your grand dark stones churches with beautiful white tiles of printed blue paintings and haphazard buildings of decaying walls that allows you to peek into its previous colorful glory. Your cobblestoned streets that goes up or down like waves, old brown tram rambling by with the overused pulley and a calm river cutting through your curves with seagulls swooping by and by. Cathedral and view at Porto, PortugalYour huge metal structure of double layered bridge meant for cars, trains and foot no less which I couldn’t quite decide if I hate or love for its garishness but which soon grow on me as a welcome sight of awe and served as a compass for the surroundings. Your many hidden alleys that winds around your belly giving ways to many delightful secret finds in nooks or opening up to stunning views of rooftops and endless horizon of the sky and sea. Your grafittis after graffitis stamped all over your bosom, giving either awe inspiring pauses or flinches of distaste. Your countless windowsills filled with tantalizing golden pastries and wafts of aromatic smooth coffee which you served up small and strong, marrying both of them like a match made in heaven. Not to mention your intoxicating unique port wines and surprising refreshing locally brewed beer.

After a week of dating, I finally get to know you in depth. You quickly took over my days. The day would only truly start with your smooth coffee and rich pastries in the middle of the morning. I got used to climbing your hilly streets, expecting to see yet another steep climb after every turn and knowing I will be rewarded with a spectacular view at the end. I even had a rare flat trek along your river even though a blanket of mist had came and covered you for a while. There was also the farce of taking your tram for the first time in attempt to get back to the center only to find myself going there and back again where I started, hilarious but definitely a thrilling ride. I hungered for more and took the tram again another day but this time with better planning and managed to make my way to your beach, which I spent half the day tanning and dipping my toes into your stone crashing waves that crept up inch by inch to me as I sat there. Church and Tram at Porto, PortugalIn between there are the countless glasses of wine and beer that is ever so fresh and generous, I have never seen wine filled to the brim till I met you, and of course your specialties of bacalhau (dried cod fish) and grilled seafoods tickled my taste buds. Most nights ended early for me but I would not forget the time when I wandered out at night to your ribiera (the river) and had my night turn into a scene from a love story. I had a long and intimate time with you on your Ponte de Luis bridge (how could I had even thought it was garish?) on the last night, with talks of hopes and dreams while the moon hover over the lights along your river with traditional soothing music floating up to surround us.

When it comes to parting I knew it would be hard, how can I forget you? Maybe I won’t. I left with the heart to return once again to see you when I finally fulfilled the pact I made with you on the bridge that night. I left with the words to tell everyone else to come and meet you, promising them it would definitely be a date to remember. I left to finally write this open letter of love to you, my Porto, Oporto, ohhh Porto.

Porto (Oporto), Portugal
24-31 August 2014

Night view from Ponte de Luis bridge at Porto, Portugal

My Maaikies in South Africa

My Maaikies in South Africa

What are you going to write about us?

That was the question that my new found maaikies* from South Africa had been asking me relentless ever since we met.

I can write about drinking like there’s no tomorrow at the dodgy Bowling Club on my first night in South Africa, the interesting arts on main and almost freeze from eating nutella crepe outside in the night, the multitudes of beer, wine, biltong and braai, the gatherings in circle around open fire in the cold, Malaysian breakfast in a South African home to re-enact some Asian experience, exploring Soweto with beer by the street and eating a traditional meal by hand in a dark cold place, good food and atmosphere in the Neighbourgoods Market, breathtaking view from cable cars and Sterkfontein caves expedition, crutches included. I can also write about the impromptu al fresco lunch, the bakuteh night at home with of course braai for starters and end with World Cup, the epic road trip down free state through family home, vaal river, origins, staying in a farm house, kitschy Alice in Wonderland 11 course dinner (don’t ask), quaint pretty town and rugged beautiful Golden Gate park before ending at the far, faraway Mweni cultural center just to drop me off like a first class courier.

But no, that’s not what I am going to write about.

I will write about their sense of humor, their love for adventure, always coming up with new “South African tradition”, the crazy fun activities they invent, the endless beer and biltong and braai accompanied by laughters and more laughters. I will write about the togetherness they share that made all like one big family, the warmth they bring, of many big hugs and squeezes. I will write about their hospitality that would put the best to shame, their generosity and always going out of the way to help. I will write about their open mindedness and flexibility, big, big heart and equally big, big smiles, their spontaneity and ever readiness for some fun, the love for travel and exploration. I will write about their zest for life, seizing and truly enjoying every moment and never passing up the chance for good times (or good meat or drink!). I will write about how much I find them to be my kindred spirits and of course how they had shown me unconditional friendship that is so rare and hard to find.

How can I fully write about my wonderful maaikies that had made South Africa feels like home to me? I guess there are no words enough to describe them and the only way is to get to know them, like how blessed I am to have the chance to.

Now the question is, which I will make sure to ask them back relentlessly, “What do you think of this?”

*maaikies – means little friends, we are not so little anymore but we know why 😉

Kaleidoscope, surreal living @ Ubud, Bali

I came to the chaotic and hippie Kaleidoscope from the rigid and structured Singapore, so it was pretty much a shock to me at the beginning. Nobody seems to be doing anything yet they seem to be doing many things. The whole place was painted with bright colours yet there seem to be a foreboding darkness. The quotes on the walls are inspirational yet the decays and molds are depressing. The place is full of people and calm energy yet it is somehow void of life and strength. There is so much going on with kids playing and people painting, planting and practising yoga, yet there is a sense of emptiness. It is full of mixed energies from the delusional to the inspirational. It is a bubbling cauldron of creations and destructions. It is somewhat like the surreal world where dreams and reality collide. The part where you see people pilling bricks on the crumbling wall of babel.

Kaleidoscope, Ubud, Bali

Home is where your heart is @ Kaleidoscope, Ubud, Bali

At night the place will turn into a magical place, when it is dark and you could not see all that is falling apart. What you have left is a peaceful house in the middle of a jungle, with the sounds of nature engulfing the place. I had an amazing discussion with some of the people at night, out in the jungle on the verandah. Heated debates in the cooling jungle breeze. The place starts to grow on me after I stayed the second night. Somehow you start to overlook all the dirt, the mess and the broken. You start to feel at home and just want to chill and do nothing much there. Unfortunately or fortunately, I still haven’t decide, I had to go anyhow because I would like to get some dip in the sea which I love before my short trip is done. I told the Australian hippie I debated over night with, that I had to go as the place starts to grow on me, and he commented later when he heard it again “ah so that is why you left, you are afraid of attachment”. Which he could be right, maybe I am running away from all the commitments and attachments? Maybe I am running from the sufferings or the fear of loss.

So I left the surreal Kaleidoscope. Now that I am reflecting back on it, it does put a smile on my face. As someone who loves surreal arts and surreal books, how much more beautiful it is than to experience surreality itself. Indeed it is not something you love at first sight, but with enough awe and appreciation you will see the beauty in it, the magic it brings to the people willing to surrender themselves into it. Kaleidoscope resembles life in a way, full of hopes and dreams and creations, yet there will always be destructions, imperfections and sufferings. Wabisabi, to see the beauty in the imperfect. Life can be wonderful and yet at the same time also suffering, maybe that is how it should be. The strife for dreams and creations despite all the loss and destructions is what makes life meaningful. So we beat on, day after day, like boats against the currents, to continue living the life that borders surreality.

Kaleidoscope, a community house in Ubud, Bali

Kaleidoscope, a community house in Ubud, Bali

Random Travel Facts from Burma (Myanmar)

Thanaka on most of the ladies’ faces – apparently it cools the face, serves as sunblock and also moisturizes the face, not to mention beautify it as well

Only men hang out at the tea houses, at all time of the day, idling away the time, chit-chatting, eating and drinking tea and just relax. No ladies there mostly, making us two girls felt out of place but hey we are foreign looking in fort place anyway, so we are the exceptions.

Most men chew the betel nut, spitting sediments out now and then, and continue chewing while baring red stained teeth when they grin. Obviously kissing is not a culture here.

Everyone wears longyi (a sarong or cloth sewn at both ends and wrapped around the waist, men and women tie it differently) to whether at home, go out, school and even formal events. Somehow the guys wear it with style here making them still look macho while the women make it look femininely beautiful. All the same type of cloth, just tied differently.

Everyone smiles back, no matter young or old, when you smile at them they will reciprocate. Generally amiable people and some are really helpful.

Feels really safe here, one of the safest country I’ve traveled in. There is no feeling of threat or whatsoever and though I didn’t, but you can actually just leave your things lying around and you’ll find it still there after. You don’t even need to lock your bicycles when you leave it and your slippers will surely be there waiting for you after your long temple visit.

Food after a while got monotonous, it’s always similar spice in some sort of curries with rice. There is this distinct smell or taste we found in their local food, which we later found out in the market is some kind of pickled white slices of thing (identified through smell) but didn’t get to ask what is it due to communication barrier.

Not everyone speaks English, but one may find some with smattering is English that can help with lots of gestures included. The older ones here might even know English better, like the old monk we met and have decent conversation with, cause he had attended missionary schools when the British was here.

People are generally more soft spoken, you will find that even the market is subdue. Lots of chattering but nothing noisy or above normal level. People generally do not shout or holler, they just speak softly to one another.

Bus are generally clean, also due to people who have more sense to take care of it, and they make sure you’re alright and in place every time, but the timings are horrible. The travel time is always not as stated and found ourselves had to get off at 2am or 4am in a new place disoriented and chilling to the bones.

Train, old and creaking along bumping through the plains provide slow yet beautiful views. But sadly my experience wasn’t a good one having a train accident somewhere that got ours stopped and delayed for more than 7 hours, where we eventually gave up and left, so the fate of it unknown to us.

Traveling here you almost cannot totally avoid contributing to the government, a lot of sites you had to pay the fee to and they also own the train.

Everyone seem happy mostly despite of whatever conditions they are in. Women can be shy while the kids are loud and boisterous, the men friendly.

You will tend to bump into the same travelers, be it when in one place because there aren’t many choices especially when it comes to food and accommodations, and also in different places because there are also quite a define route in permitted places in Burma. Also almost all travelers are using lonely planets, so yes hello to fellow LPs in everywhere you go.

Letters from Cambodia : The Great Fall

Everyone says when you ride a bike, you’ll have to fall at least once. Guess I’ve done my share. Yes I had my great fall here in Kampong Cham, Cambodia. Second day riding since 13 years ago, my moto (local name for motorcycle) just flip and I kinda just let go and try to fall with as much grace as possible.

Motorbike in Kampong Cham, Cambodia

The outcome – pants torn at knee, few holes at right hand sleeve, bruised knees and small cut on the left, bruise right leg calf and thighs, cut on elbow and left thumb. Sounds a lot when I list it out but still it seems pretty minor to me. Thinking back it was actually quite funny.

Later I found out the reason was that the tyre was flat, but the amateaur me did not know. Lesson learnt – take care of your vehicle, and it will take care of you. I am just glad that the amateur here at least had the sense to wear a helmet which probably saved my head (though I did no recall having hitting my head but you never know!)

So yes, I had my great fall, but the day before that I had my great ride, which I believe deserve an entirely separate post to do it justice. But for now yes, as Chinese like to say, you don’t grow up if you don’t fall, guess I can say you don’t consider yourself a moto rider if you don’t fall!

Kampong Cham, Cambodia
24 July 2012

Letters from Mawlamyine, Burma (Myanmar)

In the morning I went downstairs of my hotel to have a quick breakfast. It was those authentic old version of kopitiam that has obviously stood the test of time. The gaw pi (coffee) here is the best I’ve drank so far in Myanmar and that’s to say a lot for a coffee aficionado like me who tried to get a fix almost anywhere, though I must say numerous times I only had the choice of gasp, 3in1 instant coffee mix here. Burmese seem to love these powdered stuff here. But today is the true blue south east Asia’s take of coffee with milk from a tin. I absolutely love it. This was also opportune as I sat right outside, due to it being full inside (of men because Burmese men just love to hang out at shops) (also means it must be a popular breakfast place), where I manage to catch my new-found French friends going off to bus station for another last goodbye.

After I bid farewell I felt truly alone again, but somehow I seem at ease sipping my gaw pi and ordering yet another cup. Hey I don’t always get a good fix! Then suddenly a man came by and chatted me up, who turns out to be a guide around here and today is his off day. Lucky me as he gave me all the information I needed for my day’s excursion, and even wrote in Burmese to show people if I ever need.

Real coffee at Mawlamyine, Burma, Myanmar

Real coffee at Mawlamyine, Burma, Myanmar

Then I go on to proof that this help was exactly what I needed when I walked to the bus station and with my usual bad sense of direction got too far and ended up ON the bridge instead. I had to ask for help but they couldn’t understand me, so I ended up showing them the note. It worked perfectly and in fact the really helpful guy took me on his bike for a short ride down to the bus station. And now here I am waiting in the bus, contemplating my good fortune as usual in meeting good people in my travels.

I just love the idea of not having much plans today. If it took more hours than I expected for this morning excursion then I’ll just forgo the later ideas, it doesn’t matter because it is the journey itself that helped me to interact with so many random people, walked in random places and find myself serendipitously doing things that adds to the whole experience.

****

Upon reaching the foot of the hill, I found myself clambering into a huge pickup truck lined at the back with benches which is now filled with loads of people. After I got in we waited a bit more and amazingly able to somehow fit double the amount more of people! Then we embark on a precarious journey, winding steeply up and down and side to side just at the ledge of a drop off to an amazingly beautiful terrain. For a moment I thought there can never be another more beautiful place and exciting way to die.

At the peak I was presented with lush endless rolling mountains which for a moment as quoted in lonely planet, reminded me of middle earth. I found a hidden spot which provides a little shade by sitting under a rock which was halfway up, balancing itself on the verge from falling off the edge. I reckon if it is to fall, it should be the other way and not onto me.

View from the Hill at Mawlamyine, Burma, Myanmar

View from the Hill at Mawlamyine, Burma, Myanmar

While I was in reverie suddenly a guy came and rush me off back into the truck. I didn’t know that you couldn’t stay and have to go back in the same truck you came up with. Or maybe you don’t need to since the truck is less full than it was but oh well, I cannot disappoint the people who had been waiting for me while squeezed in the truck. So off we go down the natural roller coaster again.

At the foot of the hill I just walk out hoping to catch a bus passing buy, and a bunch of ladies with a booth waiting for donations for something welcome me to sit with them while I waited. They enthusiastically nod to “Mawlamyine?” and not long after one of them quickly stopped a pickup truck and ask me to go up. I’m like whoa and clamber in to find it full so the ‘conductor’ passed me a mini stool that has a wobbly metal stands and I open up somewhere in middle
between all the bags of goods and sat down, just in time to see my nice lady smiling at my predicament while we waved goodbye as the truck pull away.

And little did I know that was just the beginning of my adventure of the day.

26 January 2013
Mawlamyine, Burma (Myanmar)