A Month in “The City” (version 2.0)

(Because the first version was lost to my fat thumb) Suddenly, I find myself in the United States of America. To be precise; San Francisco. What happened after the Philippines? Did she go to Taiwan? What are you doing all the way in San Francisco?! Yes, a South-East Asia trip has almost converted into a Round-The-World trip, now in the U.S. and later this year (probably September) I can be found down-under, in Australia. Celebrating my six-months travel anniversary here in The City is not so bad, I can tell you.Twin Peaks & Blue Skies

After saying goodbye to the Philippines, I found myself in a plane to my second home – Taiwan. The country where I lived for five months and where nostalgia was waiting for me. Those very first days being back in Taipei, I was overwhelmed by these feelings of so-called nostalgia. Meeting up with old friends, meeting new friends, walking through the streets that I had known so well a year and a half ago; Gongguan & Shida night market, biking through Guting, Daan Park and around Taipei 101… and things just did not feel the same. Of course they shouldn’t; things change, and change is good. But somehow I was missing something and as I was wandering around the city, I soon started to feel restless. Realizing many of my memories were tied to people whom I met in Taipei, people who have moved again from the country, I increasingly told myself: “get the fuck out of here.” Don’t get me wrong, I love Taiwan (I really do!!), but after almost five months of new and exciting experiences, the old gets boring soon and I was not prepared for that. My thoughts were answered with whispering plans. These whispers, however, started to get louder and louder, until they were screaming to take a decision. A bold plan started forming: Korea, then Japan? Japan, then Korea? Just Korea? Just Japan? Japan? Korea? Korea? San Francisco? Japan? San Francisco? Enfin, you get the train of thought and from the introduction you also know my decision. A mere two days before my flight, I booked it. Hooray, hurry, hurry, pack, pack! And those two days later, I was boarding a plane to the United States. So, what made me cross 10,000 km over the Pacific Ocean? Would it be really cheesy to say I did it because of love?

Escaping the increasing Taipei heat, I arrived in a very pleasant temperature of around 22 degrees Celsius (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit for those unwilling to convert). The weather has been quite stable during my stay. Have I been to the city of fog? Yes, but I have yet to see a foggy day. Blue skies and sunshine; whoever said “the coldest winter I ever spent, was the summer in San Francisco” clearly didn’t visit the City in the 2015 drought.Golden Gate Bridge - who said anything about fog?

After a long flight with almost continuous turbulence, I arrived with R. waiting for me. It was strange seeing him again, but also completely natural and wonderful (obviously). To be honest, this was not my first time in San Francisco. Eight years ago, I visited with my family in a U.S. trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. In those years, a lot has changed and I cannot remember a lot from that time, except that it was cold and foggy. What a difference. San Francisco is crawling with so many different characters. Most notably homeless people, hipsters, techies, business(wo)men, immigrants and tourists. Such a vibrant city and there is so much to do every single day that sometimes R. and I just got lost in the apartment. Throwing my stuff everywhere, it almost felt like “our” apartment. Plenty of times we also went out of that apartment, no worries. Just biking around or going camping in Cache Creek Wilderness to escape Fourth of July madness. It was a month in San Francisco as I could never have imagined.Cache Creek Thoughts

A little Dutchie with a little Dutchie

Now, after a month of making many memories, I can look back with a big smile and a big pinch of sadness as well. Riding the hills of San Francisco on bicycles, spotting the Dutchies (as in spotting the wildlife of Dutch tourists), climbing and coffee in Hipsterville, Prison Break, Chinese take-out boxes, music, movies, Minions, laughing, crying, tie-dye, taking photographs, camping, and so many books. A lot of books. And bookstores. And thrift stores. And used book stores where the books are $1 and where you can find little gems like Jim Morrison’s Wilderness and Nobokov’s Lolita. Thank you, San Francisco, for your literally literary paradise. Thank you, R., for being so patient and taking me to my happy places. I wish I didn’t have to leave, but at the same time I can’t wait to be on the road again. So this is what it feels like…

Final count

Looking back on those six months, my life almost seems unreal. I did the most amazing things, met the most amazing people and I managed to develop myself in a way that I feel proud of. Six months ago, I was in the plane towards Singapore, with healthy nervous butterflies coursing through my body. A month later touristy Thailand, complete with Chang, Khao San Road and Thai massages. Another month later, Myanmar, still one of my favorite places, where the smiling people never stopped smiling. Then back to Thailand, this time for ultimate hippie life in Pai and ultimately, more Chang. Three and a half months in and being reunited with my parents in gigantic China was more than great, and a nice break from backpacking life & culture. Then from Hong Kong to the paradise of the Philippines which surprised me every minute. Taiwan never received the honour of the five-month touchdown because two days before, I found my way to San Francisco. And now it is July 20th and I am overwhelmed with memories of places, people and adventures. I can’t help being emotional and grateful, not only to family and friends for their unconditional love and support, but also to the people that brushed the shoulder of my life: the guy who showed me the way in Batad, the Philippines and the woman selling me about a dozen donut sticks for 50 cents in Pyay, Myanmar. Thank you!

For now, I am going to continue growing, learning, travelling, writing, experiencing, meeting and smiling. The world is such a beautiful place and I can’t wait to explore more and more. Over & Out.

Noli me Tangere

Paradise of Pai

Meanwhile, in another quiet morning in Pai, I have found time in my doing nothing to write some words.Sitting in the outside common room, listening to the relaxing yoga session going on next to me, my mind and body are at peace (even though I am not even participating in the yoga session). And thank you for that, because Pai plague has already caught four friends by now. Hopefully it will pass me by – I’ve already had my share in Chiang Mai.
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Pai is the most tranquil paradise I have encountered so far. Imagine waking up whenever you want, walking out of your dorm room and of course, the sun is shining. You take your first chill moment and head out for breakfast at Om Garden (obviously). After stuffing yourself with good food, you take your next chill moment and you can do whatever you want. Shopping, renting a motorbike and preferably not crashing and exploring the waterfalls, fake Chinese villages and Pai canyon, reading a book at one of the many little restaurants or just napping all day until it’s time for another favorite passtime: EATING! In the evening, the night market bursts open with opportunities for more shopping, eating pad thai, springrolls, veggie lasagnas, burritos, dried squid, kebab, gyoza, crepes and much more to stuff your face. After gorging all the food you can get your hands on, you guessed it, it’s time for another chill moment before heading off to one of the countless live music venues around to listen to the many talented artists that flock to the village.That is basically your average Pai-day and it’s awesome. It’s a perfect way to charge up before going to China and meeting the parents. “Living by doing nothing” is the slogan – and I have been living by it precariously.
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Basically, Pai is one big great cliché, the type of hippie town where you can easily hang around, where the dreadlocks and tattoos are common, vegetarian and vegan foods are super easy to come by (and generally, the food is to die for), the clothes you can find are standard hippie trousers and tie-dye shirts. So you can imagine – I feel right at home here and I have been smiling every single day again. I will explain why the term again.

After Myanmar, my stomach was still acting funny, resulting in a few running-to-the-toilet times and a discreet puking-in-the-Bangkok-MRT moment. Still in Chiang Mai not a complete 100% yet, and when that was combined with bed bugs, I had my first-ever “wish I was home (or at least wish I had my mum now)” thought. Though, I’m a 22 year old girl, I can take care of myself! So I did and once I got to Pai, I was feeling 100% again. Yay me! This is why I hope I will not catch Pai Plague.

A week left of relaxing in a hammock (which I’m doing right now), eating (which I’m going to do in an hour or two), biking around (maybe tomorrow) and shopping (continuously). I think I will manage.

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Yeah I’ll definitely manage!
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my love letter to Myanmar

Dearest Myanmar,

while I’m sitting in Bangkok, I miss you more than you can imagine. Thank you for welcoming this Dutch girl into your country. I felt your warm arms around me the minute I walked on your soil. Over the past 24 days I have learned a lot about you; about your culture, your food, your landscapes and your people. These words are an ode, a serenade to you, my beloved Myanmar.

I love your extremely loud karaoke & James Bond buses, your bumpy trains, all your different, overcrowded tuk-tuks, your bike-takes that can fit three full-grown Westeners plus one skinny Burmese cyclist and your many, many constantly honking motorbikes.
I love your countless hello’s, mingalarbar’s, how are you’s, only one’s, byebye’s and which country?
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I love exploring your landscapes, whether by foot, by bus, by train, by e-bike, by normal bike, by boat or by motorbike. Motorbike trekking around Kyaukme took me past rice paddies, up mountains and through grassy lands (highly recommended: johnny.inmyanmar@gmail.com ). Whilst the almost 60km trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake transported me from the African savannah to Tuscany, Greece and Spain.

Kalaw - Inle

Kalaw – Inle

Motorbike trekking Kyaukme

Motorbike trekking Kyaukme

Kyaukme
I love your food, even though it had me vomiting one afternoon. I love your Shan noodles, your absolutely mouthwatering avocado’s and the tiniest, sweetest mandarins I’ve ever tasted. Likewise, I love your drinks, Myanmar beer is light and refreshing especially in these temperatures and your fruit juices are to die for. Even your “muscle relaxation” is a part of my love for you. Furthermore, I love you prices. I barely paid more than 4000 Kyat (3,50 euro) for a whole meal and the best dishes were only 500 Kyat (0,45 eurocents).
I love all your temples, stupas and pagoda’s (yes, I know they’re basically the same). The impressive Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon or the temple-dotted plains of Bagan or the unexpectedly beautiful stupa in Pyay or the caverns filled with golden Buddha images in Hpa-an – they all define and enrich you.
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I love all your sunrises and sunsets, and I’ve seen many of them. The most impressive one in Bagan, with all the hot air balloons floating above the hundreds of temples. Seeing the sun turn pink and red reminded me of where I was and how grateful I was to be there right there and then.
Bagan!

Posing fisherman in Inle Lake

Posing fisherman in Inle Lake

I love all your cats since I became friends with many of them. One of the red ones even wanted to join me on my motorbike. Sorry Kira & Mies! SAM_5374
I love your sense of fashion. Combining your traditional longyi with t-shirts adorning Mickey Mouse, Angry Birds or Spongebob Squarepants is a sight to see. On the other hand, your traditional clothes, especially for women, are insanely beautiful – including the towels on the heads of wrinkly old Burmese ladies.
I love how there are no McDonalds, no KFC’s, no Pizza Huts or any other international fast food chains soiling the streets of your cities. This is the second country and it’s liberating.
I love how all the men I’ve talked to know Robin van Persie, especially the monks seem to be football fans. Talking about monks, I love seeing monks drive a car, drive a motorbike, use a smartphone and rocking other technological stuff.
I love your betelnut red smile that appears on your people’s faces when I smile and wave – and almost everyone chews betelnut (including many of the women). And even though it was a big disgusting as well, I got used to your spitting and gurgling and your red spit-filled streets.
I love your notions of friends, family and love – from calling your significant other “doctor” to 528 (friends) & 1500 (love) affection, even though everyone I asked could not explain where it came from.
I love meeting fellow travellers and talking about our mutual love for the country – from sharing a room in a mental guesthouse in Pyay with Sophia (including cockroaches) to sharing homestays with my two different hiking groups (one of which included 4 Israeli’s and Sophie – the most positive English girl I’ve ever met, plus we were an injury-prone group!!).

Yes please! With Sophia

Yes please! With Sophia

But most of all, dear Myanmar, I love your people. I love how generous they are, inviting me inside their homes for tea and cookies. I love how they try to talk to me even though they don’t know English and I don’t know any Burmese. I love getting tipsy with the locals and Sophia, guessing English melodies played by a Burmese guy on a guitar rocking Burmese lyrics to Sweet Child O’ Mine and Love Hurts. I love asking difficult questions about politics, culture and everyday life and getting enthusiastic responses since they can (finally) talk openly about these things. I love talking to young kids in their English class taught by monks in Kyaukme (thanks again Johnny!). I love their curiosity, shyly looking at me and smiling broadly when I recognise them. I even love that they desperately wanted to go on a photo with me – now I’m wondering how many Facebook profile pictures I rock. I love how nobody tried to scam me or rip me off. I love how incredibly friendly every single person is, from taxi drivers to guesthouse owners, from trekking guides to little kids peeking out of their houses.

Though we must have a little talk, Myanmar. There is still a lot in your country that has to change. The fighting, the hate on the muslim minority, the politics… Many things have happened very fast the past years and even though change has been good so far, do not let it get to your head. Tourism will continue to rise and this is a double-edged sword. Meeting a military soldier with a huge rifle in front of our first homestay during the trek in Kyaukme was worrying, though they did nothing except snore very loud. Still it reminded me how close the fighting was. So be careful and watch out for yourself, I’d hate it if something were to happen to you.

Dear Myanmar, I hope I have made my feelings for you clear and even though I was with you for three and a half weeks, I had to leave you. Don’t worry, we will see each other soon.

Yours,

Rianne
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When even the cabin crew take selfies…

… and you get about 5 vendors around you trying to sell you a selfie stick, you (or at least I) flee to your fanned bed. Yes, I’m in Thailand, more specifically Bangkok where the sweat will be running down the inside of your leg in no time. Another reason to flee. Just for a couple of hours with a newly bought book (my bargaining skills are improving!!!) that I chose over Murakami. Yes, I actually picked a book over a Murakami book that I hadn’t read yet (just so you know, Murakami is one of my favorite authors). The thing with Murakami books is that I want to have them, not trade them when I finish. Maybe I realize that I don’t want to trade this book either (George Orwell – Burmese Days), but what the hell.

Anyway, after a couple days in Penang and Koh Phangan, I’m suddenly in a giant metropole and as you can read, I need some time to get used to it. Okay yes, Georgetown might also be a big city, but at least the UNESCO Heritage Site is small, therefore it didn’t feel like a big city. So yes, after a few chill days, it might not have been the best idea to go to Thanon Khao San – a street where the tuk-tuks either run you over or drag you along, where you can get anything a backpacker wants for less than 300 baht and where you will drown in foreigners. I have learned from my mistake!

So yes, my initial plan was to stay in Penang for even more days, maybe go to Pulau Langkawi and then take the train up to Bangkok. This young traveller did not calculate Chinese New Year. So the trains were booked. What to do now? Well, let’s just go to Koh Phangan for some lazy days at the beach and book a cheap-ass flight to Bangkok! So I did just that.
IMAG1059 That’s what I had to deal with for 2 days, not bad huh?
Currently, I have been travelling for three weeks and it stills feels like yesterday that I left home, so I hope it will be a while before I actually will return home 🙂 I have left Malaysia behind me for now, but I still have some places I want to go, so I can at least spend all those Ringgits that I still have in my wallet.

To close it off, some photos of Penang, one of my favorite places so far. See you soon!
Temple in Georgetown   Cat Cafe!
Streetart in Georgetown  Fisherman

Malaysia – truly Asia!

After 50 km of hairpin bends in a bus with constant honking before each bend, I have arrived in the Cameron Highlands where the cool temperatures are a perfect getaway from the dense heat of the cities. Singapore, Melaka en Kuala Lumpur were all really nice, but a week of cities makes me crave for a bit of nature. Thankfully, now I’m in the midst of nature (in long trousers and a vest!!!) surrounded by tea plantations and jungles with apparently the biggest flower in the world (rafflesia). Hooray for the Highlands!

Yesterday I went with a tour and did an awesome hike through the rainforest. About 4 hours walking in (our guide: yeah, I do this whole hike in about an hour and a half on my own; I will do Mt Kinabalu (highest mountain in SEA) to check my fitness for Everest Base Camp) we had conquered the top and walked all the way to the teaplantations. About 800 acres of teaplants! Heaven! And of course, we drank some tea to recover from walking on slippery roots, climbing over and under trees and getting my dreads caught in plants. Apparently the forest sentials didn’t want me to leave. I have a good aura – thank you rainforest!

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So I’ve been on the road for a little over a week and I feel like a beginner. Basically because I talk with my fellow travellers who have been on the road for several months and keep telling me all those places I should see (MYANMAR!) and all those things I should do (canyoning!). Oh well, in a few months I can be the one recommending all those things to new travellers. Malaysia is brilliant though and I feel like many tourists/travellers race through it, some even admitted that. Okay, maybe it’s not as exciting as Thailand but it has so much to offer. Of course, I cannot wait to go to Bangkok, but I’m taking it slow. My plan is to spend 2 more weeks on the westcoast of Malaysia and then heading off to Bangkok in one long-ass train. I will be coming back to Malaysia to do the eastcoast and of course check out Sabah and Sarawak!