Ecotourism in Vietnam: Potential and Reality
With 13,000 floral species and over 15,000 faunal species, three newly discovered big animal species, and a ratio of country/world species of 6.3%, Vietnam is one of sixteen countries with the highest biodiversity in the world. Its wide range of ecosystems and shift to an open economy make it a very favorable site for ecotourism development. Indeed, tourism has been identified by the government as a spearhead economic industry and there has been a seven-fold increase in international tourist visits with Vietnam visa in the last decade. Ecotourists account for over 30% of international and nearly 50% of domestic tourists. Ecotourism is distinguished from mass or resort tourism by its lower impact on the environment, lower infrastructure requirements, and educational role regarding natural environments and cultural values.
Potential target areas for ecotourism include coastal ecosystems (sea-grass, coral reef, lagoon, sandy beach, and mangrove habitats), limestone mountains, national parks and nature reserves, and fruit gardens. Most of these are not only interesting landscapes, but home to Vietnam’s rich cultural identity. Ethnic minorities-resident in most potential ecotourist sites have a deep understanding of traditional festivals, land use customs, culinary culture, traditional lifestyle and handicrafts, and historical places.
Despite such great potential, this paper identifies several areas in which so-called ecotourism in Vietnam falls short of the ideal. There has been investment in nature reserves by the state and in restaurants and hotels in Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi by foreign investors, but not the kind of investment in human resources needed by tourist guides and staff, especially training in environmental knowledge. Tourism is still largely spontaneous and unregulated, resulting in environmental degradation. Local populations, their cultural identities, and traditional customs are not much involved in ecotourism, nor are they reaping its economic benefits. Finally, tourism management and policy are fragmented among various levels of government, resulting in a lack of national strategy.
The paper recommends: coordination among concerned bodies to develop ecotourism while conserving vulnerable ecosystems and defending cultural integrity; environmental impact assessments and research on carrying capacities; compulsory human resource training for ecotourism staff; and the engagement of local communities, not only in income-generating activities but also in conservation work.
Eco-tourism is in its infancy in Vietnam
Eco-tourism is a relatively new idea that has dramatically captured the attention of many people from a variety of backgrounds. It seems to be a catch-all word that has different meaning to different persons. To some it means ecologically-sound tourism; to others it is synonymous with nature tourism, alternative, appropriate, responsible, ethical, green, environmentally friendly or sustainable tourism. Despite the continued debate about exactly what eco-tourism entails, it seems that most agree that Eco-tourism must be a force for sustaining natural resources. Eco-tourism is nature travel that advances conservation and sustainable development efforts.
Eco-tourism is in its infancy in Vietnam, yet it has certainly become a buzz word in a short period of time. Everyone appears to be talking about it - and the media are latching onto the term wholeheartedly. My preliminary observation is that there is a general lack of understanding, in both the local media and tourism industry, of what constitutes an eco-tourism experience, what an eco-tourism venture/initiative entails, and what the underlying rationale for eco-tourism is.
Eco-tourism is a specialized, niche market that has evolved with the diversification of the tourism industry into ‘alternative’ or ‘special interest’ forms of tourism, including nature and adventure tourism.
With the pace of industrial life in a hurry, the people did not always have time to live with nature, discover nature. It's hard to believe that now, many children do not understand how grown vegetables, trees, how animals grow. There are many herbs that grow around the house and are very useful for our lives, but we do not know.
Today, many tourists do not like to stay in 4-star, 5 stars hotels, they want to live more closely with the Vietnamese people to better understand the lives of local people.
Based on the above conditions, we would like to introduce our (customer intimacy) a new destination located 150 km from Hanoi, 15 km from the Cathedral of Phat Diem stone - one of the famous cathedrals of Asia. From here you can take the road to Hai Phong and Ha Long, Ha Noi. You can spend there after visiting the former capital of Vietnam dated tenth century (Hoa Lu), sightseeing in Halong Bay Land (Tam Coc) and the Cathedral of Phat Diem. The ferry crossing can imagine the tourists themselves are moving into the Mekong River as the girl in the movie (The Lover) by Marguerite Duras. Here, tourists can live with nature in the quiet, peaceful, pure among inhabitants, make known medicinal herbs, learn to make bonsai and sample local delicacies. This destination is called "The Ecology Center of Hai Hau", it’s located in the district of Hai Hau, Nam Dinh province. It is directly to the possession of the Agency's Travel Vietnam Ecotour.
Vietnamese food is about accomplishing a perfect balance in taste, in texture and the lightness of being. Many people naturally follow the yin and yang principles in combining ingredients, for example, a soup with hearty ginger to warm up the body is contrasted with refreshing, cool leaves like pak choi to harmonies the feeling in your body. Eating in balance is a major factor in keeping healthy and many believe that food is medicine.
To maintain an equilibrium, plenty of refreshing shakes, like avocado, papaya, pennywort and watermelon, are drank as snacks, especially in the evenings to freshen the body before bedtime.
CNN in "Travel to Vietnam program", has introduced Vietnam’s 40 delicious dishes, including “pho” (Noodles), “banh xeo” (pancakes) and “cha ca” fried fish, soup (pho), spring rolls, grilled shrimp paste, grilled minced fish, etc.
“Pho” ranks top of the list. The channel also broadcast other courses from Vietnam’s Northern, Central and Southern provinces, such as “Cao lau” (vermicelli), “bun cha” (noodle salad with pork patties), Southern “bun bo” (spicy beef noodle soup), “nom hoa chuoi” (banana blossom salad) and sweetened porridge and so on. What list of Vietnamese cuisine would be complete without pho? It’s almost impossible to walk a block in Vietnam’s major cities without bumping into a crowd of hungry patrons slurping noodles at a makeshift pho stand.
This simple staple consisting of a salty broth, fresh rice noodles, a sprinkling of herbs and chicken or beef, features predominately in the local diet -- and understandably so. It’s cheap, tasty, and widely available at all hours.
Hanoians consider cha ca to be so exceptional that there is a street in the capital dedicated to these fried morsels of fish. This namesake alley is home to Cha Ca La Vong, which serves sizzling chunks of fish seasoned with garlic, ginger, turmeric and dill on a hot pan tableside.
A good banh xeo is a crispy crepe bulging with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, plus the garnish of fresh herbs that are characteristic of most authentic Vietnamese dishes.
To enjoy one like a local, cut it into manageable slices, roll it up in rice paper or lettuce leaves and dunk it in whatever special sauce the chef has mixed up for you.
This pork noodle dish from Hoi An is a bit like the various cultures that visited the trading port at its prime. The thicker noodles are similar to Japanese udon, the crispy won-ton crackers and pork are a Chinese touch, while the broth and herbs are clearly Vietnamese. Authentic cau lao is made only with water drawn from the local Ba Le well.
Some might call it river weed -- with good reason -- but that doesn’t stop the masses from scarfing down platefuls of morning glory, usually stir-fried and seasoned with slithers of potent garlic. Rau muong is common at Vietnamese restaurants and beer gardens.
Nem ran/cha gio
Vietnam’s bite-sized crunchy spring rolls might not enjoy the same popularity as their healthier fresh equivalent, but they deserve a special mention. The crispy shell with a soft veggie and meat filling dunked in a tangy sauce gets the gastronomic juices flowing before a main course. In the north these parcels go by the name nem ran while southerners call them cha gio.
These light and healthy fresh spring rolls are a wholesome choice when you’ve been indulging in too much of the fried food in Vietnam. The translucent parcels are first packed with salad greens, a slither of meat or seafood and a layer of coriander, before being neatly rolled and dunked in Vietnam’s favorite condiment -- fish sauce.
Bun bo Hue
Central Vietnam’s take on noodles caters to carnivores with its meaty broth and piles of beef and pork. The thick slippery rice noodles also make for a heartier meal than noodles found in the north and south.
This dainty variation of a Vietnamese pancake has all the same tasty ingredients but is a fraction of the size. Each banh knot can be scoffed in one ambitious but satisfying mouthful. The crunchy outside is made using coconut milk and the filling usually consists of shrimp, mung beans, and spring onions with a dusting of dried shrimp flakes on top.
Got the sniffles? Opt for ga tan, a broth that’s Vietnam’s answer to the proverbial cup of chicken noodle soup. Sure, it’s not quite how your mother used to make it, with its greenish tinge from the herbs and hunks of chicken parts, but it’s worth a try if you’re needing a Vietnamese tonic.
Nom hoa chuoi
Vietnam’s banana flower salad packs a much bigger punch than a typical plate of mixed greens. Banana flowers (thick purple lumps that will later turn into bunches of bananas) are peeled and thinly sliced then mixed with green papaya, carrots, and cilantro along with chicken and a heavy-handed pour of a salty fish sauce dressing and crunchy peanuts.
Bun bo nam bo
This bowl of noodles comes sans broth, keeping the ingredients from becoming sodden and the various textures intact. The tender slices of beef mingle with crunchy peanuts and bean sprouts, and are flavored with fresh herbs, crisp dried shallots, and a splash of fish sauce and fiery chili pepper.
Hoa qua dam
This chunky blend of fresh tropical fruit in a cup is the perfect local treat when the heat of Vietnamese summer starts to wear you down. It could be considered a healthy alternative to ice cream -- if you stick to the shaved ice variation -- but for the full experience it’s best had with diabetes-inducing condensed milk mixed in.
Pho cuon packages the flavors of pho and goi cuon in one neat little parcel. This Hanoi take on fresh spring rolls uses sheets of uncut pho noodles to encase fried beef, herbs and lettuce or cucumber.
KFC may be everywhere in Vietnam these days, but skip the fast food for the local version. Honey marinated then grilled over large flaming barbecues, the chicken legs, wings and feet served are unusually tender, while the skin stays crispy but not dry.
Pho xao may just be a slightly healthier take on my xao -- but the beauty is in the details. The flat, smoother pho noodle doesn’t crisp up like its pre-boiled instant cousin.
When done well the outer edges acquire a browned crunchiness, whilst the center stays soft and glutinous. This dish tastes best with a fried egg and seasoned with chili or soy sauce.
Ca phe trung
Vietnamese “egg coffee” is technically a drink but we prefer to put it in the dessert category. The creamy soft, meringue-like egg white foam perched on the dense Vietnamese coffee will have even those who don’t normally crave a cup of joe licking their spoons with delight.
Bo la lot
Vietnamese are masters of wrapping their food. Bo la lot is neither raw nor deep-fried, but flamed on an open grill to soften the exterior and infuse the betel leaf’s peppery aroma into the ground beef inside.
Savory sticky rice is less of an accompaniment to meals in Vietnam, more a meal itself. The glutinous staple comes with any number of mix-ins (from slithers of chicken, or pork to fried or preserved eggs), but almost always with a scattering of dried shallots on top.
These rolled up rice flour pancakes are best when served piping hot, still soft and delicate. Although seemingly slender and empty they have a savory filling of minced pork and mushrooms. Zest is also added by dunking the slippery parcels in a fishy dipping sauce.
Ca tim kho to
Eggplant alone tends not to get us excited. Although when it’s diced and sautéed in a clay pot along with tomatoes, soy sauce, sugar, and (depending on the recipe) minced meat, the once bland vegetable redeems itself.
Saigon’s favorite street-side snack, bot chien, is popular with both the afterschool and the after-midnight crowd. Chunks of rice flour dough are fried in a large wok until crispy and then an egg is broken into the mix. Once cooked it’s served with slices of papaya, shallots and green onions, before more flavor is added with pickled chili sauce and rice vinegar.
Bun dau mam tom
This plain-looking tofu and noodle dish is served with mam tom sauce -- the Vegemite of Vietnam. The pungent purple dipping sauce is used to flavor the slabs of deep-fried fofu that are at the core of the meal.
These pockets of deep-fried goodness are often described as the equivalent of a Cornish pastry or as a Vietnamese samosa, depending on the nationality of the person explaining. Inside the crispy exterior you’ll find that it’s similar to neither description, with its filling of finely minced pork, mushrooms and vermicelli noodles.
Com suon nuong
This simple meal is the Saigonese equivalent of bun cha -- with rice in place of noodles. A tender pork cutlet is barbecued over hot coals to give it a rich, smoky flavor, and laid over the fluffy white com.
With its thick and creamy texture Vietnam’s rice porridge is the best pick when your queasy stomach can’t handle much else. If you want to jazz it up you can always add slices of chicken, fish, beef, duck or pork ribs, along with a sprinkling of herbs and shallots.
Bo luc lac
Cubes of beef are tossed around a steaming wok with garlic, pepper, and some vegetables to make shaking beef. There’s nothing special about the beef that makes it shaking.
The name is just a literal translation that refers to the process of mixing the beef around while cooking.
Hat de nong
The smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire can bring back fond memories of Christmas carols -- until a moped transporting a giant blow-up Santa whizz by. Pick the street vendor with the most enticing smell.
Source: Get Vietnam Visa
Hai Phong Vietnam
Among Vietnam's traditional cities, Hai Phong was formed in a special situation. Considering the North region only, Hai Phong was a young city developed after many other cities that have a long existing process such as: Ha Noi, Nam Dinh, Ninh Binh, Son Tay, Bac Ninh, Hai Duong...
The downtown of Hai Phong nowadays used to be 'Hai tan Phong thu' (Defensive coastal area) of Le Chan Woman General under Trung dynasty the suburban of Duong Kinh - the second capital of the Mac dynasty (1527-1592). At the end of Tu Duc King belonging to Nguyen dynasty, the head office of An Duong district was also moved to Hang Kenh, now belonging to Nguyen Cong Tru street, Le Chan district.
As the trading was getting more and more fruitful, many foreign businessmen, mainly Chinese, Thai and Nam Duong ones came so that the Nguyen dynasty establish Nhu Vien station on the bank of Tam Bac river (now the police station on the river) in order to collect taxes. In the early of 70's of the 19th century, more and more Chinese, French and English businessmen... came and asked for doing business at Ninh Hai wharf at the cross road of the Tam Bac river and Cam gate because they discovered that Ninh Hai road could lead to Laokay, and then to Con Minh, Van Nam of China to exploit the enormous region Van Nam-Qui Chau-Tu Xuyen which were very rich in natural resources.
In that case, Tu Duc King had to agree to set up a bureau in Hai Phong (bureau was an administrative agency helping Hai Duong province's chief to deal with work in place). In 1887, based on the Hai Phong bureau, the Nguyen dynasty permitted to expand this area to establish Hai Phong province with its head office in the current Le Chan area. In 1888, the French President issued a decree to set up Hai Phong city in the internal urban area, and the province was moved to Phu Lien and renamed as Phu Lien, and then Kien An. Although Hai Phong city was set up with small scale and poor streets at the beginning, the French government early ranked Hai Phong as the first-grade city, at the same grade with Sai Gon and Ha Noi of the Indochina region.
Since then, French colonialists speeded up urbanization process of Hai Phong city by building sea ports, river ports, warehouses; Ha Noi - Hai Phong railway, Hai Phong - Van Nam railway; national highway No.5 and No.10 and an airport at Khinh Dao then moved to Cat Bi, Kien An airport, Do Son airport making Hai Phong become the most complete traffic hub in the North. After that French, Chinese and Vietnamese ship building and repairing factories were established quickly. Industries, machinery, processing, chemistry were also expanded...
Some urban infrastructure such as: telecommunications, post office, electricity, water supply... were set up very early, and the electricity particularly was started in 1893, two years earlier than Ha Noi. Services such as: banking, trading, tourism, entertainment and hotels in Hai Phong were also established. The Hai Phong Chamber of Commerce operated within the area from Nghe Tinh to Quang Yen and it worked fairly effectively.
Just during 40 years (1888-1929) of constructing and developing, the former face of city was basically formed as it was taken over by our government in May, 1955. During the world economic crisis and the second world war (1939-1945), the construction speed came to a standstill and all the city expansion projects which had already been approved were not implemented.
In the period 1956-1965, Hai Phong city was recovered and further expanded but was heavily damaged by the American war with many destroyed places. The internal area of Hai Phong has been not only recovered but also expanded in quality and scale only since 1975, especially after the renovation era. Concentrated industrial zones, export processing zones; trade and services centers; universities, professional colleges, research institutes, technological application stations... have been set up creating a more and more complete network. The force of scientists, technicians, managers, businessmen and skillful workers have been professionally trained in majority and continued to be supplemented and retrained to meet the demand of the city development.
Nowadays, the area of the 5 central urban districts is up to 56.37km2 with a population of 708,000 people, not considering the development speed of satellite cities according to the approved master plan. The Party Committee, the People's Council, People's Committee of Hai Phong city have made a proposal to the central government to expand Le Chan district and set up a new district namely Hai An. In the future, the city will continue to propose for establishing 3 more new urban districts meet the need of Hai Phong development.
Source: Get Vietnam Visa
Our last 2 days we spent in New York. Amazing city, huuuge and really worth to check! Yesterday we made a quite nice ship cruise around the Manhattan Island; fantastic weather and a hot cup of tea helped to make the 3 hours journey in the icy conditions without being frozen to an iceberg.
To follow the recommendations, we’ve decided to spend our last evening of our tour 11 in New York Steakhouse instead of having another “plastic food”. Okay, it wasn’t that cheap as usually acceptable for our travel budget, but… Last evening… So what..;–) And the steak was fantastic!!! Some Long Island Ice Tea helped afterwards to fall asleep ;–)
Now our backpacks are packed again and the subway will bring us to the airport. In a few hours our plane will leave and we’re expected to ground in Good Old Germany tomorrow, 1st Nov, 10:15. Till then, we’ll enjoy the crazy street live of New York’s 31. October – the Halloween!!
You might have already noticed that our blog is lagging, which means it is way behind our actual schedule. Partly because of missing time (believe it or not, travelling can be stressy and time consuming), partly due to missing internet connectivity. Fact is, while our written blog is about to arrive in California and our video blog is still waiting to depart from Auckland, in fact (and reality) we arrived in New York today.
The truth is – our actual journey will end the day after tomorrow. We will try to inhale NYC as much as we can (which right now actually breaks down to inhaling mainly snow flakes, falling from New York’s dark grey – or gray – winter sky). But soon we will be back in Germany again, getting back to “normal” life.
So does the story end here, as you might expect? No, not at all. We will, as soon as we have dealt with our basic stuff at home, begin to sort out more material – texts, pictures and videos – to further document our tour. Or, to put it that way: it’s not an end, it’s a new beginning! So stay tuned, much more material to follow the next months on our homepage (especially blog) Facebook page and Twitter account.
...we didn’t ;–) Best place to get real Hula exercises in Hawaii would have been Molokai Island. But as we had just 7 days on the pacific islands (and already some concerns about our travel budget) we decided to stay on the Oahu island.
And we still had plenty to see! Waikiki beach with the sunlovers, the North Shore with world famous surf (and surferboys ;–), deep south for snorkelling in Hanauma Bay and even some spots we’ve detected for nice hiking tours: The hike through the extremely muddy volcano crater valley led us to a hidden waterfall – and we really would have appreciated the swim in the clear waterfall’s pond after that treck, but the leptospirosis bacteria has even reached this far secluded area :–(.
When not swimming, hiking or waiting for The Bus – the Bus service on Oahu is generally quite good, some 2,50$ can take you around the whole island, but it’s extremely slow! – we enjoyed the Hawaiian art of brewery. Imagine the names the Hawaians gave their beers: “Longboard”, “Bikini”, “Big Wave” or “Firerock”… But besides the funny names, the beer was really good and refreshing! With a kind of Ananas taste ;–) Together with a worldclass “Surf and Turf” (a fantastic steak and some king prawns) a delicious combination and a highlight of the stay.
So, we had some sports, sightseeing, fine dining and culture. What we did not is the Luau, the “Hawaiian BBQ and show”; we weren’t that attracted to have dinner with some 80 other tourists, cramped in a garden, entertained with kitsch flowers and animation, pseudo-folkloristic dances, tons of food served on plastic dishes – we’ve seen people returning from that parties, and that was already enough.
Instead we found another way to hook up with the myriads of Japanese tourists: shopping! Unfortunately we’re still bound to our backpack’s capacity and airline’s weight restriction, so we had to concentrate on the necessary stuff, that is some warmer shirts for the upcoming travel destinations. That at least saved our money – there’d have been reeeeally nice shopping in Honolulu ;–)
Bula ! That’s definitely the first word in Fijian you’ll hear – and remember. Bula is the kind of word valid for (nearly) everything. Originally meant as a “hello” it may also work as “great”, “ well done”, “I feel good”, “I’m drunk” or “I’m a stranger and that’s the only word I know, but I like to party with you ” …
The second most important thing to learn is: Forget about your watch – you are here where the “Fiji Time” rules! So when you hear about the boat is coming in 5 minutes… expect it’s arrival in 15 min or in 2 hrs. Or tomorrow ;–)
Further generals: Fiji is said to be quite expensive and an exclusive, exotic destination. Exotic: yes. One immediately thinks about the just 1m high sandy islands, surrounded by turquoise water and squeaky white sands, with just coconut palms… Forget about that! True, there are indeed some of that islands, but: Fiji is also part of the “Pacific Fire Ring”, means: Fijis origin is volcanic, and this is reflected in the landscape, with it’s steep mountains and hills. Expensive and exclusive: well, when you book and arrive via Europe: yes. As there is no nonstop connection from Germany – you may be some 26 hrs or longer on your way (with some 2000 – 3000 Euros less in your wallet). But when you’re anyway already in Australia – or, even better: New Zealand – then you might be lucky and grab a ticket for less than 150$ for that 3hrs trip. Expensive and exclusive islands are the ones that are offered in all the travel agencies in Europe. 250$+ a night is the standard with prices up to some thousand Dollars for a night. Without breakfast. But: There are other, smaller, family- run places on Fiji for less than 80$/ night, including 3 meals a day! For 2 people! Family connection and no crowds guaranteed!
And thats how we made the Fijis :–)
We arrived on Nadi Airport (Fiji) on a late Thursday afternoon and found ourselves after a quick drive in our first Fiji hotel. Not really worth to mention that hotel (besides the fact that it was in the middle of nowhere), but ok for the one night of stay on the main land. Next day we’d anyway leave for the island. We decided for an island in the Yasawas group to become our “South Sea Island Dream”, the so-called “Wayalailai Island” in the north of Fijis main island. Unfortunately the “Big Boat” running daily for all the Yasawa Islands was already fully booked, but we got a ride on the “local boat” organized. After the scheduled 30 Fiji-Minutes (= 2hrs) our “local boat” was ready for departure. Just in time, heaven decided to open it’s gates now. Fortunately we did not need to care about getting a seatin the dry area organized, as there was just one other passenger with us – Rachelie from Switzerland. And: there was no “dry area”. Because unfortunately… there was no roof. Actually we found ourselves in a nutshell of a boat. So our transfer to our hidden south sea gem started already the right way – with a 1 hr unprotected ride through heavy rain.
The welcome on the Naqalia Lodge nevertheless was a very warm one, with guitar music and singing and flowers… and together with the warm water of the sea we didn’t feel that frozen any longer. Our bungalow was quite spacious, with running cold water supply 24h! Electricity on the island daily from 18:00 – 22:00. But as there was anyway neither mobile phone nor internet connection, there wasn’t that big problem to get our devices charged ;–)
With us were a few other couples: two world travellers from Hamburg, two world travellers from St. Gallen and two World travellers from Bern. And of course our swiss companion from the boat ride :–)
As you see… We aren’t anything special with our “round-the-world-tour”. Actually the just 4 months we had planned was more or less peanuts to our fellow travellers ;–)
Our upcoming 5 days on our Fiji Dream Island are described in a few words: Check temperature of the rain, check strength of the tropic storm, check water depth on the resort garden, define whether it’s worth to go now for a coffee or later… Have lunch, have a sleep, read a book, have a sleep, have dinner, have a sleep ;–)
Nevertheless, we had three real highlights on the island:
“Happy”: After one night of heavy rain and storm we found an exhausted, half-dead kitten in our resort’s garden. We organized some milk and fish as well as a protected sleeping area – and the kitten was doing it’s first steps the next day. One further day, the cat was already in exploration mode and checked the whole resort. It was really great to see how life and strength came back in that poor (and really ugly and awfully smelling) little thing :–) We decided to withstand the first intuition and didn’t name her “Ugly”. No, actually she was named “Happy”, as proposed by Tui (one of the resort’s women, who was indeed happy by herself to have a cat now in the resort to eliminate the mice). And happy she really was to find a place on the island like this, where she’s not only allowed, but indeed respected, treated well and needed .
Fiji Day: National Day / Independence Day of the Fiji Islands. All three resorts of the region and the villagers prepared one big party, with a real Kava-Ceremony (sorry, no pictures were allowed, was really not that usual “tourist” stuff – everything quite serious!), singing and dancing and loughing (needs separate explanation!) and loooooots of food. Just the “games” – as we’ve learned a usual entertainment for the young backpacker folks on all the other island resorts – we really wouldn’t have needed. Okay, and the neverending rain was somewhat annoying…
The People: we were really lucky! Not only the locals of our resort were really nice and friendly and amiable. We were as well really lucky regarding the other travellers we met there… Not sure whether it was that damned weather, the flair of the island, the relaxed and chilled atmosphere (or the Rum-and-Vodka-sit in;–), but we’ve had lots of fun, interesting conversation exchange of travel experiences etc. In a nutshell: a really good time with them all! Actually it was – even just after this short time – somewhat sad to leave… But hope to meet the one or the other again; maybe on one of the next dive safaris – through Switzerland. As mentioned, they’re – like we – on their trips round the world, and we wish them all a safe, pleasant and colourful ongoing journey!!!
One final word to Fiji’s people: During all our travels, we’ve nowhere seen people laugh that way. While in Asia everyone is really friendly and the smile (sometimes even a biiig smile) is a usual way of business practice and culture (contrary to our usual behaviour in Germany; sorry to say so), the Fijians are really laughing. You can count all of the remaining 17 teeth (haven’t met one single person with not having at least a loss of 2 teeth; guess they don’t waste time and get rid of that white things even in the very first second of a tooth pain) while doing conversation! :–) We really liked that happiness, and the music and singing.
The Fijians we’ll indeed recall as the most funny folks we’ve met so far! Thanks, Fiji, for that great lesson of relax and happiness!
Etwas spät - wir sind ja schon wieder ein paar Kilometer weiter, in Kalifornien - aber mit Liebe hochgeladen :)
One of our favorite video clips so far - our days on Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia. Nice island, great diving, awesome Mola Mola.
This time the video is marked public viewable in the first place :) Retry the Ubud video as well, should work out now!
Now that we have some resonable internet connection again, we are able to upload some more already edited footage from the last weeks. First off, some impressions of our stay in Ubud ...
Seit 4 tagen kreuzen wir nun mit unsrem alten Schlachtschiff Fritz durch die neuseelaendische Nordinsel. Viel gesehen haben wir bis jetzt, und so manche Erkenntnis ueber Land und Leute gewonnen:
- Wider Erwarten steht man hier nicht auf dem Kopf. Nein, tatsaechlich mit beiden Fuessen auf dem Boden.
- Der Boden ist heiss (an den vulkanisch aktiven Zonen) oder kalt (im Grossteil des Landes), An einigen Orten schneebedeckt, in der ueberwiegenden Region aber gruen. Grasgruen.
- Es gibt tatsaechlich Schafe! Viele Schafe! Aber nahezu genausoviele Kuehe! Selbst Steilwandkuehe haben wir entdeckt – und neben der Sorge, auf verlassener Schotterkiste ein Schaf umzumaehen war die Angst, von einer herabstuerzenden Kuh erschlagen zu werden, nicht minder.
- Neuseeland ist gross! Auch wenn der Strassenplan relativ uebersichtlich ist und die Distanzen zwischen den angestrebten Destinationen moderat erscheinen… Man gondelt schon geraume Zeit!
- Nicht alle Strassen sind asphaltiert
- Nicht ueberall ist man allein (kann auch schonmal einer drauf sitzen, auf der Schuessel, im Toilettenhaeuschen, mitten in der Pampa)
- NZ ist nicht billig. Zumindest, wenn man die ausgewiesenen (Natur-) Attraktionen sehen moechte, greift der neuseelaendische Landbesitzer gerne tief in die Touristengeldboerse
- NZ hat tatsaechlich Naturschoenheiten, die kostenlos sind! Die stehen allerdings nicht in den verteilten Broschueren der Tourismusbehoerde, sondern man findet sie auf “gut Glueck” abseits der Wege (ein LP hilft aber)
- Man muss nicht die halbe Welt umreisen, um die als einmalig beschriebene Natur NZ zu bestaunen. Man kann sich auch auf eine Reise durch Island, Oesterreich, Schweiz, Kroatien, Finnland, USA und der Eifel begeben, um zu wissen, wie es _hier_ist. Aber bitte in dieser Reihenfolge. Nungut, wird dann wahrscheinlich nicht guenstiger ;–)
- Kiwis sind einheimische Fruechte (bei uns erhaeltlich fuer 25 ct/Stck, hier 60ct/Kilo), einheimische Voegel und Einheimische.
- Den gemeinen Kiwi erkennt man daran, dass man ihn nicht bzw nur plattgefahren auf der Strasse sieht ( = Vogel), oder dass er mit Badeshort und Flipflops durch alpines Gelaende marschiert ( = der Einheimische; fuer uns hat der nen Vogel ;–). Beim Obst sollte keine Verwechslungsgefahr bestehen.
- Der (menschliche) Kiwi ist ein sehr freundliches, aufgeschlossenes Wesen mit aeusserst britischer Hoeflichkeit und einer sehr eigenartigen Sprache. Eine freundliche aeltere “very british” Dame im Supermarkt hat mit mir in vermeintlich hoechstem Oxford-Englisch Konversation betrieben, die meinerseits lediglich mit einem “oh yess” und “oh noo” nebst angemessenem Laecheln bzw Stirnkraeuseln erwidert wurde. Ich hab bis heute keine Ahnung, worum es ging, ich hab bei dem Slang kein Wort verstanden.. Aber es war eine nette Unterhaltung.
- Der Kiwi (wir bleiben jetzt mal bei der Spezies Mensch) hat seine Wasserhaehne 1860 aus dem Koenigreich mitgebracht und haelt seitdem eisern an dem daemlichen Prinzip der zwei getrennten Wasserhaehne (links = heiss, rechts = kalt) fest. Wer sich hier versucht, seine Haende lauwarm zu waschen, outet sich direkt als Kontinentaler: mit verbrannten Pfoten, die noch tagelang rot leuchten ;–)
- Auf Neuseeland pflegt man noch die alte Gepflogenheit des “sich gruessens”. Allerdings nicht als Fussgaenger ( wie bei uns, beim Sonntagsspaziergang, im Dorf), sondern beim Autofahren. Vermutlich, weil es doch etwas besonderes ist, wenn in abgelegenen Schafzuchtbergregionen alle 6 Std. ein Auto vorbeirollt. Vielleicht ist es aber auch eine Abschiedszeremonie: der Einheimische kennt den Berg. Und auch die Strasse hinter der naechsten Kurve. Und weiss, dass der vorbeirollende Touri mit seinem Caravan nur eine 50:50 Chance hat, den Berg auch in umgekehrter Richtung wieder zu meistern…
- Caravanfahrer unter sich gruessen sich generell. Speziell jene, die den Berg schon erklommen haben.
- Es regnet auch auf Neuseeland. Aehnlich wie bei uns aber nur dann, wenn gerade keine Regenjacke / Regenschirm zur Hand ist. Besonders gerne natuerlich bei Sportveranstaltungen ( z.B. Rugby-WM) im unueberdachten Stadion. Kurz nach dem Anpfiff. Wenn man nichtmehr weg kann. Hoert nur kurz zur Halbzeit auf, wenn man sich ohnehin in die vollgedraengte Wuerstchenbude zum trocknen quetschen koennte. Ja, eigentlich wie zuhause. Womit bewiesen waere: Petrus ist auch fuer hier zustaendig ;–)
- Die Zeit laeuft auf NZ schneller. So wird uebermorgen schon unser Abreisetag von diesem wundersamen Stueckchen Erde sein. Und um daran anzuknuepfen:
- Neuseeland hat so viel zu bieten, die Zeit wird nie ausreichen…
Morgen werden wir – sofern uns Petrus wieder etwas gnaediger gestimmt ist – auch noch die legendaeren “Poor Knights Islands” inAugenschein nehmen. Hierbei beschraenken wir uns jedoch auf die Unterwasserwelt; das Anlanden ist auf den Inseln aus Artenschutz-Gruenden verboten.
After some 24 hrs travel from Manila via Singapore (with the best stopover time on the Changi Airport!) we’ve finally reached “the other side of the world” yesterday noon. First impressions: From the plane’s window we’ve spottet an awesome beautiful landscape. Fresh green hills, interrupted by lots of bays filled with bright blue water, small vulcanoes and islands with white sandy beaches just offshore.. One would nearly love to right jump out of the aircraft ;–) When grounded, the next detection: everything (and everybody) is veeeery relaxed here! Furtheron, we’re in a country now, where also the coffee seems to be drinkable! Just the people’s speaking is not yet that easy for us to understand. Quite an interesting slang…
New (rolling) Home
Right at the airport we were lucky to get introduced to our new Best Friend: Fritz. Fritz is a campervan and defined for beeing our new home for the upcoming nine days. Our friendship started somewhat confusing (no one of us was ever using a caravan) but after some closer looks ( and the use of our combined power of “grey cells”) we managed to handle – or at least still are hoping so… Our Fritz is quite a basic vehicle. 4 wheels, a fridge, gas cooking station an a cold water rinse, plus the mattress and bedsheets for the nights rest, thats all. One luxury equipment nevertheless we added to our rental: a small heater fan! I can tell you, after this first night I really congratulated us for having ordered that small white, noisy thing!
The new day in this completely unknown country started with quite a thrill: driving! It’s not that we’re not both experienced drivers, but: after 3 months “off”, close to no sleep for 20hrs, jetlag (we’re now 5 hrs ahead Manila time), a Right Hand Drive vehicle that is a campervan AND driving on the left side… it was indeed a challenge. In addition, we’ve detevted that the 1,5 kgs of paperwork, which was handed to us together with the car’s key, did not really content even a simple street map. So… We just drove on, with intention to somewhere find a supermarket, where we can fill our fridge. And indeed, some 45 min later we were – somewhere – packed with all the essentials and necessities to survive the upcoming days and nights; and hell of a money less in our pockets ;–)
To find an adequate campsite was the next challenge. 15:45 it was time to watch for a “legal” parking place for the night’s rest. Due to the running Rugby World Championship we’re already alarmed. Google Navigator forced us for some sightseeing tour (first 2 campsites didn’t exist – at least not in the shown location) and the 3rd was … hm… aeh… Not really a place where we’d have liked to spend a night ;–) But finally we found a quite nice place for our Fritz now and enjoyed the first shower after a looong day. A colleague of Rene gave us a pickup and accompanied us for some delicious seafood dinner in Auckland Bay.
We survived. Somehow. Thanks to our white, noisy, funky heater ;–)
It’s been some time since we did our last blog posting, right? So what’s the excuse - did we have no internet? Have we been diving like mad? Have we just gotten lazy?
Actually nothing of those. Internet connection on Alona Beach (Bohol, Philippines) was reasonably ok and we only did a few dives here, although we love diving in this area which we were already visiting for the third time. And actually we weren’t much lazier than ever.
The truth is - we just had no time. We came to Alona mainly to visit our buddy Karsten, who we know for six years now and who runs the well known Blue Planet Diving down there. And although he is one of the best guides and dive instructors you could find all over the world, our main focus was to spend some time with him again, both with and without diving.
For the latter one we could have done better, since - luckily for him - he was very busy in his shop with lots of customers both for courses and fun dives, while most other shops around have kind of a quiet time now during low season. I was only able to make one dive with Karsten, while Nat was biting small pieces out of some wooden table to get rid of her anger for having got a cold. Nevertheless, we did some really nice dives with Nina, his new and very good Divemaster at the shop the next days, including our beloved Balicasag trip.
So how on earth we could have been busy, as stated above? Well, we left our Hotel early each day, spend all our time at Karsten’s shop until the evening came. There we either did some diving, or we sat there with Karsten, Nina, Hubert or other nice and relaxed customers and had great chats, lots of coffee, maybe even some beer later and simply a great time. What exactly the phrase ‘leaving the hotel early’ meant was depending on what we did the night before - either having a serious barfly with the other guys, not supposed to end before dawn, or getting to bed soon after dinner to fight the hangover and missing sleep from the night before. After these harmless nights, early meant around nine o’clock. On the other hand, after the heavy nights, anytime before dusk was supposed to be early enough in our swollen eyes.
Frankly, we had a great time. And we wanted to enjoy every minute especially with Karsten, since it’s so precious when living that far from each other. Luckily we managed to, although it came at the cost of having some serious headaches in the morning. It even did not matter that Alona is not any more the place we used to know.
It is still a nice place to stay, especially for divers. But it has become more touristic, with new resorts, hotels, shops and restaurants all the way. It’s not the laid back, relaxed and not so well known hidden gem any more that we first visited six years ago. Given you saw it once that way, you may wish back the ‘good old times’. But it’s still one of the best places in South-EastAsia for the combination of awesome diving and nice beach and night life.
Time now to leave the beaten tracks. Not only we left well-known Alona for now, it’s also time to start for the part of our journey that was originally not planned at all - making it a real round-the-world tour! Right now we are sitting here in Singapore, Changi airport, waiting on our connecting flight. In about ten hours, we’ll do our first step in Oceania - Auckland, New Zealand. There a camper waits for us, with which we will do some exploration of the northern island. As long as internet connection permits, we’ll keep you updated.
Family Meeting at San Fernando (La Union)
We’ve missed our connecting flight from Manila to San Fernando (there’s just one daily flight from Coron to Manila, and another one-day-only connection to the northern Luzon City, with just 2 hrs time inbetween, and the statistics of on-time-arrival less 70% is already self-explaining..) But nevertheless we were lucky: Yves, my brother-in-law, had just on our arrival day a meeting in Manila and gave us a lift for the 280km (= 6 hrs) ride.
Arrived late night at the temporary residence of my sister and her family and got a really warm welcome. And an incredibly nice rest for upcoming days.
San Fernando is quite a nice little town, close to some good surfing beaches – but as we’re not surfers… cannot comment about the waves' quality. It’s furtheron obvious, that quite low (western) tourists are making their way up to this northern Luzon beach area (indeed, the travel literature mentions the usual “single travelling men aged 45 and above”, but so far we’ve just met some Expats, that claim San Fernando their new home for more than 10 years now). So for us it’s quite interesting to see daily live off the beaten tracks. And an experience to not getting cheated all the time ;–) Indeed, people are really friendly here and it’s fun to accompany my sister to the fruit market. (for the wet market with fish and meat I couldn’t convince her, guess we’ll need to hook on Yves to get a sightseeing tour there ;–)
Some further benefits and luxury, besides to meet all our beloved ones and follow their organization of daily family life in this alien country: terribly good cooking (no rice, no chicken for the last 4 days already!!), a washing machine (don’t know when our stuff was that good smelling!) and a very interesting “tour program”.
Today we’ve visited the 100 Islands Nationalpark, some 2,5hrs drive south. As name is programme, a whole bunch of tiny little islands are spread allover the sea, just some few km off the mainland. A short boat ride opened us the door to our own, private, whitesandy island; felt like the “Swiss Family Robinson”, with nice picknick and a relaxed time in the water. Even a baby octopuss came close to the shore and said “hello” – at least I think that was the meaning of his 8-handed gesture… Dark clouds on the sky gave our session at the little paradise to a quick end. Monsoon indeed is reliable – it rains definitely. And heavy. And wet ;–)
We’ll stay here for 2 further days until the Philippine transportation systems will bring us to the Visayas / diver’s heaven. All our thanks goes to Pat, Yves, Fabienne and the kids for all their hospitality and care – and the room with hot shower :–)
During our “days off” at Bali, Rene has spent lots of hours (as well as some money) to improve our blog status. So far, we are really sorry, that we couldn’t post more regularly our blogs.
But we’re reliant of two main criterias: the internet connection and the availability of a useful blog device. First one is unfortunately not in our hands.. Second one was all the time a hard tradeoff. One must imagine: we do have 4 (four) communication systems, made for the web, with us. 2 smart phones, a (really small) laptop and a tablet. But the only device, that allowed us so far to update the blogs, was the laptop. The same unique device that was necessary for doing our detailled tour plannings or the flight / accomodation reservations. You see, most of the time, priorities were just given..
But when I was the glad one to enjoy some readings on the beach of Lembongan, Rene was the one who deeply investigated all the App possibilities and so on. After several hours (not to say “days”) he managed to install a device, that will allow now both of us to “work” in parallel.
So if you’re worried about our irregular blog posts from now on: it might be our laziness.. But even more likely the lack of internet connection. Really ;–)
The Devilish Umbrella
Sept 03, 05:30. Manila. Arrived. And survived the night flight, some of us with, others without sleep, both of us very groggy. Ongoing transfer flight to Coron, Busuanga Island, Palawan, scheduled for departure at 09:20, so enough time to get the eyes opened with a biiiig cup of coffee. Enough time? Well, we’re on the Philippines, and theres the tale of the Devilish Umbrella still vivid. You haven’t heard about before? Well, we neither. Till that very day.
A friendly guy from the Security Check enlightened us of the cruelsome life inside that rain protection system. And insisted to pass my beloved mini (not to say “baby”) umbrella to the exorcist for getting the daemon out of it. Not sure how often that spiritual ritus is practised, but the interims storage box (size of a watertank) was already filled with poor umbrellas. Yellow, pink, blue,big, small, mini, nice, ugly, very ugly.. There was no separation, no question of race, origin or destination – each and every umbrella had to find it’s way in that quarantine box. Most likely it’s on the full moon each month, at midnight, when the umbrellas are deported to the upmost part of the dark airport roof and set to fire, surrounded by singing, praying and dancing security witches.
We decided to protect our poor little baby umbrella from the desastrous end of his life. Rene, my hero, made his way back to the airline counter to get it as checked baggage in the plane. We’re pretty shure, this unselfish gesture the umbrella will never forget and from now on either have a sunny word with St. Peter (or at least protect us from the upcoming rains).
It was 20 minutes prior to boarding. Of course the counter was crowded… So another queuing. 10 minutes prior boarding. The checkin of a single Devilish Umbrella is not possible, it needs to be covered by a bag (else the daemons inside might let it open during the flight and forces the plane to crash I guess). My hero, in a sprint, up the elevator for the nearest shop to organize a plastic bag. Seems to happen quite often, because the shop owner was already prepared with plastic bags… 7 minutes prior boarding. Wrapped in 0.4mm plastics, the Devilish Umbrella is ready for airplane transportation now. But the queue on the security counter had grown meanwhile. Nervous minutes followed while the row moved with incredible low speed.
Just in time we arrived at the boarding gate. 5 minutes passed. 10 minutes passed. A quick announcement was made, quite hard to understand… Our plane is delayed for at least 2 hours. Sorry. There was no reason given for the delay, but we guess it was an unwrapped umbrella in the cargo, that unfolded…
Time passed by quickly at Indonesia, indeed. 15 days we’ve spent on the Islands already, filled with lots of diving, relaxing, meeting and chatting with very nice people… And even two lazy days on the beach chair, accompanied by a good book we’ve managed this time with pleasure! We were really fascinated by the colourful Bali island and would have liked to explore more. So it’s definitely on our “must come back” list – that enables us to head over for our last night in Jakarta without that many tears in our eyes.
The Jakarta Experience
Quite a scenic flight. Already from the airplane we could obeye the vulcanic activity on the Java island and were even more sad, that we weren’t able to make the route from Bali to Jakarta by land. But, as mentioned, the end of the Ramadan “Idul Fitri” is definitive a bad time for foreign travellers, as everybody is on the road. We’ve recognized, when we entered the airport shuttle bus and managed to grab the last two seats. And this was already day 2 of the festival. Even more we were puzzled when we reached our hotel area: not a single shop was opened, even the foodstalls (Warung) were closed!
But that was definitely our least priority for the moment. Target of the day: enjoy the civilization! Thanks to all the hotel bonus points I could arrange a really nice room in a really good hotel for free. Shy to say the word “luxurious”, but it was ;–) Hot Hot Hot water, bathtube, shower, white soft towels, a bathrobe… and an incredible clean, white, comfortable bed! One can imagine, we didn’t visit the spa, but had already lots to do in our private wellness heaven. All the amenities urgently wanted to be tested, and the bath was more than once filled with fresh Hot water :–). But all that would not have been the absolute wellness day without the following rest in the squeaky white bed sheets (and the wrinkles on the toes from the hours of bathing really required some time for relaxation as well).
As the nearly new-borns, the surrounding of our hotel area wanted to get it’s exploration. But the plan for the outside activity such as shopping or dinner was quickly destroyed. The only open area after a 20 min hike through the city was a “Dunkin' Donut”– which fortunately served also a hearty sandwich. But sadly, just managed to set our hungry stomach in a further growl. So, back to the hotel and check the indoor restaurants. Well, one can imagine, not the cheapest solution, but due to the saved accomodation for that night there was some travel budget for that “extra” left. And, whow! What a buffet! Never ever in my life I’ve seen that kind of a setup of different food.. Spent some hours there and went to bed not hungry any longer ;–)
Next day (and last day in Indonesia): Third day of Idul Fitri. In a nutshell: same procedure like the day before – just the “Dunkin' Donut” we passed by ;–) At 21:15 we left the hotel for the airport and the overnight flight to our next destination: The Philippines..
Wie bereits angekündigt, haben wir Tulamben irgendwann doch verlassen und uns auf den Weg zur weiteren Erkundung Balis gemacht. Ein bequemer Taxi-Transport (der Bus hat seinen Weg leider nicht nach Tulamben gefunden und mit 20kg auf dem Rücken die Reisterrassen Balis hochkraxeln, um vielleicht vielleicht ein Transportmittel herbeizuwinken.. na, da waren wir doch "Mädchen") hat uns bis nach Padangbai gebracht; von dort aus ging es per Fischerboot weiter nach Nusa Lemongan, einer kleinen Insel, im Südwesten Balis. Bereits bei der Überfahrt konnten wir einen Geschmack auf bevorstehendes Strömungstauchen bekommen - die Passage zwischen den Inseln ist ordentlich "zugig" und hoher Wellengang hat uns zu wahrer Teamarbeit angestachelt: Während Rene das Wasserschöpfen aus dem Boot übernahm, habe ich um Höheren Beistand gebetet ;-)
Nusa Lembongan an sich ist äußerst unspannend. Der Alltag des Fischer- und mittlerweile auch Touristenortes richtet sich gänzlich nach dem Mond = nach den Gezeiten. Einen Badestrand sucht man in dem Ort vergebens, auch wenn feiner goldener Sand zum Sonnenbaden einlädt: Die Küstenzone ist gänzlich als Algenplantage ausgestattet; was auf der Hauptinsel Reispaddies sind, so dienen hier getrocknete Algen dem Lebensunterhalt.
Unsere Zeit auf Lembongan gestaltete sich pragmatisch einfach: Tauchen, Schlafen, Essen.. wobei das absolute Augenmerk wirklich auf ersterem lag! Das Tauchen um Nusa Penida (der Nachbarinsel) und Nusa Lembongan ist gigantisch! Im August ziehen MolaMolas in die seichteren Gewässer und können so auch vom Taucher bestaunt werden. Strömungstauchen ist Tagesordnung und es kachelt gelegentlich ganz ordentlich! "Crystal Bay" hat eine Putzerstation, spezialisiert auf die Molas (wir haben den Beweis in Bild und Ton! :-) Wir hatten bei einem Tauchgang das Glück, gleich 4 dieser seltsamen Tierchen zu bewundern. Selbst Riffhaie haben noch ihre Aufwartung gemacht, als kleines "Beiwerk"..
Nach ein paar Tagen auf der Urlauberinsel war dann aber auch wieder gut mit Sonne und Strand. Noch drei Tage bis zur Weiterreise auf die Philippinen... so haben wir uns entschieden, noch ein bisschen Kultur im Inselinneren Balis zu tanken. Per Boot und Bus also weiter nach Ubud.
Ubud ist vermutlich ein wahres Touristen-Mekka. ZEN überall! Alte (oder auf alt getrimmte) balinesische Häuser sind quer durch die Stadt verteilt zu finden, und sowohl Geschäfte als auch Unterkünfte bieten das, was jedem Bali-Touristen vorschwebt: gekonnte Vereinigung von Götzenbildern, Kunsthandwerk, tropischem Grün und Wasser. Nahezu keine Herbergsunterkunft ist uns aufgefallen, deren Pforten nicht durch Statuen, Jasminblüten und weiteren Stilmitteln einladend gestaltet war - auch wenn sich dahinter die letzte Bruchbude verbergen mochte. Innenarchitekten und "Schöner Wohnen"-Abonnenten würde auf Ubud sicherlich das Herz aufgehen!
Ein ganz entscheidender Nachteil Ubuds: der Verkehr! Da nahezu jeder Reisedienstleister Ubud als Tagesausflug aus den Touristenresorts im Programm hat, rollen tausende Busse, Minibusse, Taxi tagein tagaus durch das Städtchen. Weiters ist natürlich auch für die Balinesische Bevölkerung Ubud ein Magnet: viele Touristen = viel Geschäft! Und somit finden auch Millionen Händler und Angestellte ihren Weg in die Stadt. Das Resultat ist ein schier unauflöslicher Verkehrsstau, von morgens 08:00 bis abends 06:00. Wir haben solch Verkehrswahnsinn eigentlich nur von den Straßen Denpasars erwartet, aber mitten in den Bergen?? Leider konnten wir Ralfs Empfehlung nicht Folge leisten und dem Massenansturm entrinnen: Rene hatte sich die Schulter verrenkt und somit war ein Motorradausflug ins Balinesische Hinterland leider gegessen. Stattdessen haben wir den "Monkey Park" besucht und uns weiters dem Strom der Touristen ergenben; sowie bei Chips und Soda auf unserer Bungalowterrasse weitere Reiserouten evaluiert.
Unser gestriger Aufbruch richtung Jakarta war sodann auch relativ unspannend und von wenig Abschiedsschmerz geprägt, Einzig der Streifzug über die Insel, unabhängig mit Moped oder Fahrrad, wäre wirklich nocheinmal eine Rückkehr nach Ubud wert.
Our diving in Bali was great, and we have a lot of pictures and video footage. Time for editing and low internet bandwidth are constraints for sharing these so far, but we're working on both.
During our dives on Nula Lembungan, we had awesome encounters with one of the biggest and strangest fish you can experience underwater - the Mola Mola, better known as Sunfish (or Mondfisch in German).
To give you a quick impression what this all about, here a small teaser video:
Arriving in Bali
While our stay in Vietnam, we were checking and discussing various options for possible next waypoints on our Tour 11. It soon turned out that we were not exactly free to decide, since half Europe and nearly all of Asia seemed to be on the move. Flights and stays were either fully booked or quite expensive, especially for our favorite destinations Sipadan or Sulawesi. Nevertheless we wanted some serious new diving experience, so we finally decided to head to Bali to see what famous diving in Indonesia is like.
We decided to go to Tulamben in the north eastern part of the island, famous especially for the U.S.A.T. Liberty wreck to be found a few meters off Tulamben’s rocky pebble beach. We read some recommendations for Ocean Sun, so we asked them upfront for information on diving and accomodation. Ricardo, the german shop owner, replied lightning fast (hard to find here these days, believe me…) with very useful information and a good choice of stays meeting our budget. Given that it was a no-brainer for us to chose Ric’s shop for diving. We also followed his recommendation for Safety Stop Bar & Bungalows, owned by - surprisingly - german Ralf. Ric also made a good offer for airport transfer (a 2,5 hour drive) which we happily accepted. All set we were ready to go!
We arrived in Denpasar at nine in the evening. Our driver was already waiting for us at the negotiated meeting point, holding a big sign saying “Mr Rene” - what a luxury after all those more or less stressy arrivals of the last weeks. The driver (I’m so sad we forgot his name, shame on us) turned out to be a real gem, a very gentle, helpful and friendly local who loved to smile and laugh. His English was great, and we ended up having a delighting and very informative chat during all of the drive. Way after midnight we arrived in Tulamben, feeling already welcomed and at home in lovely Indonesia.
When we arrived at Safety Stop, Ralf was already waiting for us. He showed us our bungalow, which turned out to be great deal - a lot of space, cozy, clean and in top condition with a lovely veranda facing the small garden pool, at a very reasonable rate. But even better, Ralf then asked the magic question: “Wanna join for a beer?”. Guess what, he didn’t have to ask twice. Bintang, here we come - I was already aware that Indonesia’s top beer was a good one. Natty needed a few bottles to build her own opinion, and since drinking alone is reported to cause stinky feet, Ralf and I joined building up experience. Ralf turned out to be a very nice guy with a bunch of stories to tell, and we ended up chatting until three in the morning. By that time, Bintang stocks reportedly raised by 0,3%.
For unknown reasons we did not manage to go diving the next morning. Instead, we started off lazy, with a tasty breakfast prepared by Martin, Ralf’s - you guessed it - german cook. He is a fabulous cook and a fabulous guy, as we learned during our stay. He loves cooking and learned it the good old-fashioned way. If you drop by eventually, try his famous beef steaks or the awesome tuna steak, or one of his crazy daily specials - how about some Maultaschen in Indonesia? We very soon came to love not only his food, but also him as a person with whom we had a great time with good chats and lot’s of laughing.
Later that day we managed to get a bit familiar with our Location. Tulamben is a sleepy little village, with a reasonable amount of tourism nearly fully related to scuba diving. While Tulamben is a famous Bali dive spot, most operators serve it with daily trips from more developed locations around Bali. The divers staying in Tulamben might be considered more “hard core”. Ralf coined the term “Cowboy Diving” which is a good way to put it.
The village is located next to a beautiful black pebble beached bay, which would make up perfectly for any beach lover’s photo wallpaper. Nevertheless, beach life is not exactly comfortable here as you would soon find out if you placed your towel here - the pebble stones are a hard bed. Maybe this is another reason why the global tourism industry - luckily - seems to have missed Tulamben as a promoted destination. Good for divers who find fabulous beach diving here and don’t have to step on some sun lovers’ toes to make their way into the water.
Perfect conditions for starting to dive the next day. We showed up at Ric’s shop to make our introduction dives with a sharp-eyed local dive guide. The shop turned out to be a bit confusing at first. We soon learned that they have cultivated an organized way of being kind of unorganized. But if you lean back and let the guys take care of you, everything will be set up soon - just like magic. Ric is not the usual kind of Must-Be-Entertainer, as found in many shops. If you’re looking for such entertainement you might be wrong here. But if you want some relaxed dives and easy going, especially when you are an experienced diver, Ocean Sun is a great place to be. But even then you might have to get used to some things not only typical for this shop, such as the porters - mostly women, carrying one or two sets of fully geared up dive equipment (yes, including the tanks) on their head down to the beach. Don’t be tempted to play the I-can-well-carry-my-own-stuff kind of guy, since the porters make a living out of this!
Our first guided dive was at the Liberty wreck, early enough to be there before most of the day trip boats. This WW2 wreck is really impressing. Though there is not much to penetrate, it is a magic place with amazing reef life all around. As we have heard, more than thousand different species can be found around just the wreck - enough said? If the visibility is good, the wreck makes up for some really mystical photos. But after a couple of dives one will be tempted to focus on the small things, since there is much to find - such as less common nudi branches and slugs or pygmae seahorses, for example. The morning seems to be a perfect time both for visibility and light. Also late afternoon light is amazing, though visibility might be worse. We did some more dives here on our own the next days, and each was great. Tip: at the end of the wreck, go down to the sandy bottom at around 30m. If you look hard, you might see amazing stuff. But watch your deco time, which you will most likely sum up while looking around.
Our next spot was coral garden, just a few dozend meter besides the wreck. It is a typical coral reef found on black volcanic sandy bottom. The corals might not be as high rising as found in a typical red sea reef, but the combination of corals and sandy muck areas makes it a perfect location for all kinds of crittery creatures. We found strange nudis and slugs, scorpion fishes, leaf scorpion fished and - among many others - the famous and beautiful ribbon eel, both black and blue ones. We did this dive three more times on our own. It is perfect for relaxed though amazing dives. If you are trained to spot small things you should come here as often as possible to find and maybe photograph tons of interesting and unusual stuff.
The third direct accessible beach dive location is called Drop Off. At first the name seems to be a miss, since you start your dive at a sandy slope. Even at around 20 meters one might be wondering what the name is all about. But following the slope even further, all of a sudden - depending on visibility conditions - a massive and beautiful wall reveals to the right. Seeing it the first time is kind of breathtaking, especially seen bottom up. Our favorite dive was to follow the sandy slope to 40 meters (well, and beyond… ) and then go slowly up at the wall to the coral slope around the corner, heading back on the top of the wall. Not only because we saw two dolphins there under water it was our favorite spot at Tulamben. It is a place where it is absolutely worth to go really deep, and if you are trained in decompression dives, do deco dives here. It is also popular among tech divers, since they can go down to 90 m and further, while having a beautiful dive. This spot makes the best example for what “Cowboy Diving” is all about - especially given that there is nobody forcing limits on you if you are experienced enough.
Ralfs place is a gathering point for actual or soon-to-be Expats, as well as for all diving guests. We had really nice evenings there, not to mention it were quite long evenings. Great food, good beer, nice chats and great people. Just to name a few
- Ralf, the Panda Bear and patron. Cares great for his clients and friends, and loves to be his client himself.
- Martin, the Magic Meal Master. See above for details, we had a great time with him.
- Uncle Ben, the tech instructor. While being a really nice guy, he pushes his students hard, even after the diving day - no beer while doing courses!
- Boris, the Seeker - hasn’t made the last step to leave his life at home, but seems to be an inventory item in Tulamben. Works hard on improving his experience in billiards, chess, jonglage, philosophy and diving.
- “Mama” Jaqueline - dive instructor, collegue and mentor of Denis, the dive shop manager we met in Cambodia. Diver’s world is not bigger than a marble …
- Erich, the rescuer of the regulators - retired from active diving business, now runs Bali’s #1 regulator maintainance service. Originated in the Aachen area, where we live. Shows the sense of humour that is typical for our area - dry as a Martini, but hearty.
- Isa, the Queen of Asia - used to be a dive instructor, then started a business kids dream of - orgnizing and operating special tours all over Asia. Came to Tulamben for meeting friends and taking some days off with crazy diving. Arrived just before we had to leave, but we made friends instantly.
Nach unserer Ankunft in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, oder in Vietnam TPHCM), dem ehemaligen Saigon, geht's wie üblich über zum Abendprogramm - Nahrungsbeschaffung, dann Bierversorgung. Beides finden wir in Spucknähe zum Hotel. Insbesondere das Restaurant mit dem einprägsamen Namen "Restaurant 13" erregt unsere Aufmerksamkeit, wurde es doch auch im Lonely Planet empfohlen. Vorher müssen wir uns aber noch am benachbarten "Restaurant 19" - offensichtlich ein Fake, das von dieser Empfhlung profitieren möchte - vorbeikämpfen. Das Essen ist interessant, reichlich und schmackhaft, aber keine Erleuchtung. Dazu kommt, dass unsere Bierprobe beim Essen nur einen Schluss zulässt: lokales Bier in Vietnam ist, höflich gesagt, untrinkbar. Gottseidank gibt es in der Kneipe zum Absacker ein nicht ganz billiges Tiger. Wir hoffen, am nächsten Tag die Essenserfahrung am Foodstall-Market steigern zu können.
Die erste Nacht im Hotel in unserem Kellerkerker gestaltet sich ... kurz. Während wir bei Besichtigung des Zimmers ein sauberes, nett eingerichtetes aber dunkles Etablissement vorfanden, dessen Nachteile gut in Kauf zunehmen schienen, so erhalten wir jetzt wichtige zusätzliche Bewertungskriterien. Der Weg zur Küche führt an unserem Zimmer vorbei, und gefühlte 20 Mitarbeiter beginnen um 5:30 fröhlich polternd ihr Tagewerk. An dieser Stelle noch mal vielen Dank an die Effizienz modernen asiatischen Häuserbaus, der Schallisolierung für völlig überbewertet hält.
Um ca. 5:50 stellt sich eine gewisse Gewöhnung an den Lärmpegel ein, und wir frohlocken innerlich ob eines sich verstärkenden Dösungszustandes.
Um 6:00 erhalten wir noch mal eine kurze hilfreiche Auffrischung, wo doch gleich der Frühstücksraum lag - achja, direkt über unseren Köpfen. Die Geräusche lassen uns bereits vor dem Betreten ein klares Bild über dessen Gestaltung entwickeln. Holzparkett auf einer ca. 10cm dünnen Leichtbetondecke, darauf Holzstühle ohne Filzgleiter. Das Leben ist schön, und die Vorzüge modernen asiatischen Städtebaus werden uns beim mentalen Verfolgen der gefühlt 100 ersten Gästen mit ihren durchnittlich 10 Stuhlrückvorgängen nocheinmal vor Augen geführt. Schlafen ist fertig, los raus.
Frühstück, dann ein bißchen Internet-Aufarbeitung. Erstaunlicherweise funktioniert hier auch wieder Facebook und Twitter, was in Chow Doc reproduzierbar nicht der Fall war. Wird da wohl jemand zensiert haben??? Gegen Mittag fühlen wir uns bereit, die vorzügliche Lage unseres Hotels im Herzen von Saigon durch eine fussläufige Besichtigungstour auszunutzen. Das Wetter kriegt das mit und schickt ohne zu zögern heftigen Regen. Wir kontern mit unseren farbenfrohen, technologisch hochwertigen Regenjacken. Wetter gegen GWD: unentschieden.
Nach einer kurzen Stärkung im Strassencafe, welches als Topprodukt internationaler Braukunst eine Blechdose Öttinger auf der Karte anpreist, starten wir durch. Die Tour ist Klasse. Saigon verbindet alte koloniale Architektur mit modernsten Wolkenkratzern. Alles ist ein bunter Mix. Hotel de Ville und Hauptpost sowie diverse Grandhotels sind besondere Highlights. Nur der Präsidentenpalast erinnert doch stark an den Palast der Republik im ehemaligen Bruderstaat.
Apropos DDR - auf unserer Tour schleicht an einer Stelle, wo wir kurz anhalten, ein Vietnamese in enger werdenden Kreisen um uns herum. Wir gehen reflexartig in eine innere "Was will der uns denn verticken?"-Haltung. Dann spricht uns an: "Deutsche?". Wir bejahen. Was folgt ist ein überaus nettes Gespräch mit einem perfekt deutsch sprechenden Gegenüber, der einige Jahre in der DDR gelebt hat und sich offensichtlich freute, einfach mal wieder in eben dieser Sprache plaudern zu können. Wunderbar.
Die Füsse werden langsam müde, es wäre dann Zeit für eine Flüssigkeitszufuhr. Wir sind in der Nähe der Hauptpost, ein Strassenschild macht uns klar, dass wir uns in der Duong Nguyen Du befinden. Ein Freund hatte uns empfohlen, dringen das "Nguyen Du Brauhaus" in Augenschein zu nehmen. Perfekt, keine 100 Meter, da ist es. Im Eingangsbereich erwartet uns eine beeindruckende Sammlung historischer Bierkrüge, was aber vor dem Anblick der beiden perfekt restaurierten alten BMW Motorräder etwas in den Hintergrund gerät. Wie lassen uns nieder und studieren die Karte. An den Leser: Denk an ein Bier. OK? Die Wahrscheinlichkeit, dass es auf dieser Karte steht, beträgt 90% - sofern es aus Deutschland oder Belgien stammt.
Aber stand da nicht was von Brauhaus? In der Tat, hier wird selbstgebrautes Helles, Weißbier und Bock angeboten. Wir sind skeptisch. Wir bestellen ein Radler und ein Bock, im praktischen Halbliterkrug. Um den Wahnsinn perfekt zu machen, nehmen wir noch einen Krakauer mit Kartoffelpürree und Sauerkraut (auf der Karte gleich neben Schweinshaxe und Vietnamesischer Nudelsuppe, kann man eigentlich garnicht verfehlen ...); es gibt nur zwei Möglichkeiten - entweder das wird hier jetzt gleich richtig schrecklich, oder aber fantastisch.
Letzteres ist der Fall - das Bier ist GRANDIOUS, der Krakauer und das Kartoffelpürree umwerfend gut (jedenfalls für uns nach sechs Wochen in Asien). Wir genießen jeden Bissen und jeden Schluck und verunsichern die umsitzenden Leute mit unseren laut gegrunzten "Ahhhhhhhh" und "Mhmmmmhhhmm" Lauten. Das Leben ist schön. Wir lassen den Geschmack ausreichend in unseren Mündern nachhallen, bevor wir uns schweren Herzens trennen. Weiter geht's, Hauptpost und Notre Dame gucken.
Unsere Fusstour neigt sich dem Ende, der Tag hat es schon länger getan. War da nicht noch was? Achja, wir wollten zum Food Market. Wir schrauben uns einige Blocks vorwärts und erreichen ihn, nur um festzustellen, dass man gerade aufräumnt und zumacht. Wie immer, wir sind scheinbar zu blöd dazu. Allerdings sind die Vietnamesen auch offensichtlich nicht vergleichbare Nachtmenschen wie Thailänder oder Kambodschaner. Dafür steht man hier aber dann auch freudig um 5:00 auf - siehe oben.
Wir gehen zurück ins Hotel, kurze Siesta und dann in einen Pub einfallen. Auf dem Rückweg war uns da was begegnet, sah ganz nett aus, obwohl kein umfassender Blick durch die teilweise milchige Scheibe zu erhaschen war. Egal, rein. Innen finden wir eine Mischung aus Pub und Sportsbar. Allein die zwanzig (!!!) leichtbekleideten Mädels hinter der Theke und teilweise davor verwirren doch etwas. Das Bier ist exorbitant teuer, aber das ist uns jetzt auch schon egal - obwohl der Unterhaltungswert der Bar für mich etwas höher angesiedelt ist als für Natty, siehe leichtbekleidete Damen. Es handelt sich offensichtlich um eine "Gesellschaftsbar", wo die Damen sich mit zwanglosen Gesprächen und neckischem Gehabe - nicht jedoch mehr - um vorzugsweise die männlichen Gäste kümmern. Auch lässt man sich gerne mal auf einen Cocktail einladen, oder aber bekommt ein Glas beim Köpfen einer Flasche "Hausweins" - in der Regel eine Flasche Whisky für drei bis vier Personen. Weitere Eindrücke verschwimmen jedoch, da wir uns verquatschen und ein Bierchen oder zwei mehr als üblich zu uns nehmen. Das wird ja schön morgen im sechs, wenn wir aus dem Bett geschüttelt werden (siehe oben) und es dann zum Fluhafen nach Kuala Lumpur und dann Bali geht ... hicks.
12. August. At 07:00 we get picked up at the hotel and find us some 30min later on board our bus to Phnom Penh. The ride is quite comfortable, when one is used to the bad roadconditions.. We pass small rural villages, bright green rice paddies, giggling children, working people on their fiels.. The scenery won't change for the next 5 hrs. Just some queer thoughts and feelings occur from time to time, when one remembers the tragic past of Cambodia and his people.
History: on 17. April 1975 the regime of Khmer Rouge took control over Cambodia and forced all the City people, starting at Phnom Penh this day, to leave homes immediately and resettle to the urban countryside to proof they're "worth to stay alive and proof they're real Khmers" by leaving everything behind and work on the agricultural side now. Within the 4 years of terror regime, 1/3 of Cambodias residents came to death by starvating or malnutrition, genocide(lots of inhabitants were half-chinese), murdered for beeing a monk or a university professor / teacher, even wearing eyeglasses (a "sign for intellectual intellicenge") could have set one on the deaths list... Children were separated from their families and had to work on plantation grounds or were trained in camps to become a child soldier. (A impression of life during the Khmer Rouge regime, written by a survival, is described in the book "first they killed my father", but definitely nothing for the faint-hearted!)
So we're now in the opposite direction of where the treck some 36 years earlier started.. At 14:00 we reach Phnom Phen. On a first look: bigger, busier, more earnest than SiemReap. We were brought to our "hotel" and immediately know now of how the "good price of our travel arrangement" is achieved. The manager guides us to our dedicated room: a 8 sqm shoe box without window but an increadible smell of sticky, wet air. A half-black wall indicates the source of bad air: the funghis are alive.. No way, I'd rather sleep on a garden chair than in here! We changed room and found ourselves now in a smilar-sized room, but with window and running cold water. For one night.... But don't want to know how many living creatures shared the bed with us. At least the nights sleep wasn't really comfortable, most likely it was already a kind of psychic reaction that my body felt itchy and biten every few minutes...
Too sad, our promised "rivercruise on TonleRiver" was cancelled. By the taxi driver. He didn't show up, but we had to wait from 16:00 onwards. No manager, no one around we could ask. We were catched in the outmost location of Phnom Penh. At 17:00, Our fresh developed plan of doing the PP exploration on ourselves by feet was immediately interrupted again. Petrus took his chance for a Veto and loud Thunder and a deep black heaven recommended a stay in the very neighbourhood of our brilliant hotel
13. August - day starts at 07:00 with an hours drive through Phnom Phen to pickup 2 Other people for our taxi drive to the Mekong Jetty. Upcoming two hours will force our nerves.. Squeezed with 5 in the taxi, we make our way to the suburbs of PP, while our 2 italian companions don't waste any second for their emodional chats of dontaskmewhat. The rear center seat changes my back in a hellfire of pain, while our ears are already bleeding. The taxidriver seems to have made his driving license in India: with speeding like Schuhmacher through the narrow streets of the villages (flanked by kilometres of spreaded dry corn on the streets) he hardly makes 10 seconds without pressing the horn. Don't know whether I'll ever suffer from the tinnitus.. But the drive through rural landscape along the Mekong is still a pleasant one, watching people in following their farmer's business and again confronted with this bright vivid colours of nature.
At 10:20 we reach the "jetty": the end of a narrow pathway on the riverbank. Thats it. Nothing else. But our boat arrives 15 minutes later and we enter for our cruise along the Mekong with destination Vietnam Boarder.
12:00 - lunchtime. Just in time we arrive at the boarder. Immigration formalties are done by the boat crew, so we have time for a relaxed noodle soup until we proceed our journey on the Mekong.. Goodbye Cambodia - Hello Vietnam!
Two hours ride through the winding channels of the Mekong arms (we're about to enter the famous Mekong Delta). No words for the scenery left but phantastic! Our videocuts may show..
At 15:00 we reach Chow Doc, the first bigger town in Vietnam, passing the "floating village". That's some hundred houses built in the river. On a kind of boat. Quite nice for those who're in troubles with their neighbours: jist lift the anchor an paddle for a new surrounding Our residence this time is somewhat better value, especially: it's the FIRST place since our departur from Germany where there's NO construction in or nearby the hotel! Yepp, that's really worth to comment!
Chow Doc is quite small, but due to transfer point for travellers from or onwards Cambodia, the inhabitants are used to foreigners. Especially the cyclo-riders are quite eager to get a foreigner onboard. They even don't mind to park their bike just along your dinner table and chatting with you, while you're trying to swallow your rice balls. Well, they're really interested in chieving the best for their small business ("grab-you-a-tourist"), but are still also interested in the chat with foreigners for the chat's reason. So.. Not really a quiet time for us, but still a nice one.
The contrary scene on the market: it's not a tourists market but the one for locals. A thousands of vendors are squeezed along the roads, allowing just a some 80cm narrow pathway inbetween. Everything is sold - from shampoo and tooth brushes to T-shirts, bags, umbrellas, Walkman(!!! No idea where they get the cassettes for..), about hundredfiftythousand mobile phone vendors, vegetables and fruits (we found our delicacy: fresh roasted peanuts with white sugar peel), fish (fresh, salted, dried, dried/salted, fisheads... ), frogs, crabs, birds (size of a sparrow [Spatz] including some eggs on a stick, grilled).... Inbetween the shoppers. Some of them by feet, but most of them on their motorbike. The market seems to be the "mother of drive- through"! One can imagine the noise and smell, mainly when 3 motorbikedrivers try to make their way in the confronting direction - and the complete even-moving flow through the market comes to a stop. But somehow they always manage to pass their ways on areas, where we're struggling to go ahead by feet already! (it needs to be highlighted, that 80% of the bikes aren't occupied just by solo driver but at least accompanied by 1-3 children. Sometimes a whole family [2 Adults + 2 kids] move around that way and they even find some space on their vhcl to store their vendings..!) Another grolling Thunder gives us the advise to leave the market and settle for a place in shelter. Time for the Four-O'Clock-Tea.
14. August - 07:00 boarding for our excursion.. (hey, a tour program part that really works..!?!). Already busy life along the Mekong and it's riverbanks. Postcard-like motives attract our eyes and hearts (kids on their way to school, women in their typical coneshaped hats padling their boats, fisherman throwing small nets) and when we slowly cruise through the channels of the floating village, we catch some glimpse on the bizarre life of the people on the water. The tourist program leads us (who'd have expected..? also to a "sarong making factory" where one can buy scarfs, sarong and other fabric stuff. Okay, we don't need anything, but listening to the tour guide and his explanations was still worth the trip. The visit of nearby fishfarm at least re-confirms our denial of eating "Pangasius" Fish...
Back on the mainland we head on for our bus transfer to Saigon, where we arrive at 17:00 - in heavy rain. Once again, misfortune leads to a room downgrade (no, we really don't want to move rooms again after 1 night!) and straight into the soutterain. Someone seems to think we urgently need to have crap rooms.. But this time there's at least a "window" (not that it helps to get the room enlightened, no no, darkness everywhere), and we're confronted with a bath tube and hot hot hot water! Another Plus: to overcome the loss of downgrade, we'll receive free shuttle to the airport. So at least this travel budget is to be saved as well. (some 12 hrs later we'll learn why this cheapest room category is usually not available for booking of foreigners...)
We've really enjoyed our days in SiemReap! What a nice city and friendly people! Traffic goes slow and relaxed, even when streets are crowded with Tuktuks, bikes, cycles etc.. Nevertheless, we need to head on to our next destination: Sihanoukville!
The night bus will take us from SiemReap via Phnom Penh right to the village on the Cambodian Gulf Coast. Departure at 20:00 and arrival scheduled for 06:30. Fortunately got a "sleeper bus". We would have re-considered our booking, if we had known that we (once again) have been forgotten by the traveller's god. We are led to our "berth" in the bus - at the very far end of the bus. Right on the Axle. No plain berths but a kind of "resting seat". Okay for a 1.50m asian guy, but for us European Biggies.. hmpf... We nevertheless manage to get some minutes of sleep just from pothole to pothole (forget your idea of roads, the Cambodian ones are those with some asphalt around the potholes ;-) Time goes slowly during this night. No light in our department, and reading a book is absolutely a no-go as the pages in your hand would jump up and down for some 20cm in high frequency. At 02:38 - as we've just managed to fall somewhat asleep - we wake up again, and find ourselves about 30cms above the berths. In freeflow, like Neil Armstrong, managing to stick our feet in the front row and avoid the hard collision / the flight through the bus. What has happened? Seems like a new, and so far unknown, pothole was found by our speedy busdriver. His last-second try to avoide that the bus will loose his axle resulted in a really hard break. Even though, the hit into the groundless pothole sorted all our bones from upside down.
We arrived Sihanoukville in time at 06:30. To avoid the crowds of tuktuk drivers, we first had a coffee at nearby food stall. But as the tuktuk drivers here are well organized (a cartell), "our" driver (we haven't asked for one, but was directly dictated from one of the seniors) keeps staying and watching at our breakfast table all the time. So the first impression already on arrival shows us: Sihanoukville is different to Siem Reap..
However, managed to get some 30min later to the city. By fixed price of course. No bargaining. As mentioned, it's a well-organized cartell and they have negotianted how to help travellers to get rid of their Dollars. But who cares.. we're here now, first checking in at the dive shop, being lucky to directly do a reservation for the upcoming 2 days and having the fortune to grab one of the last bungalows on the island! Our hotel (booked for just this night) we find right opposite the divestore and is quite ok for 15$. AirCon AND a kind of "warm" water... ! yeah!
09. August, 07:00 and the day already begins by busy arrangements. We store our main baggage in the diveshop and proceed to the pier, where our boat is waiting for the 2.5h trip to Koh Rong. St. Peter pleases us during our hours on the sea with really rough weather. Storm, Rain, Rain, Storm. LiveJackets were handed out - and I am feeling more comfortable with them than without ;-) Our clothes are soaked to bones, but we're anyway going for diving now. So who cares ;-) At 10:15 we reach the small Island and have a short break to pickup the additional divers. At least the weather gets better now.. then our first journey to the divespot starts.
Diving at Cambodia.. not anyhow comparable to Thailand. But we are still enjoying to have the head back in the water. And we claim our Names correct now with "GreenwaterDiving"! Remembers somewhat of diving in the NorthSea (on one spot even with Blausteinsee on a Saturday afternoon): visibility is between 0.5 - 6m, but the water is definitely warmer. Lots of nudibranches and small stuff can be detected. But for photos the vis is too poor, so upfront already: sorry, no pics from cambodia!
The island "Koh Rong" itself is a astonishing big island, without any infrastructure. There's the main jetty where the boats leave 1x / day. Some "resorts" have found their way to the beach and are clustered in the lush green jungle along the beachside. But no nightlife, no bars, no internet. No hot water, limited electricity (06:00-22:00). So a really relaxing time we've had on the island. But worth to mention is the beach: even while we hadn't the chance to enjoy a sunbath (rain..), the brilliant white strip of fine sand is really inviting. (the next bay changes completely to a squeaky Orange). Rumours are that an "international" airport is planned, as well as some investors are already to make "eco-friendly luxury vacation resorts", whatever that means. In the end, we somewhat fear that KohRong may become a next KohSamui; at least the sale has already started :-(
2 Nights we've spent on our island bungalow, having met there also two really nice French guys with whom we've had a nice evening with lots of exchange of traveller stories, infos where to go, tips for food and diving etc etc. They're also on travel and gave us really good advises, as they're coming right from the opposite direction than we are. Hope they'll doing fine now and do have a gooood and safe trip! :-)
For our next tour plans, we have to stay another night in Sihanoukville. Supported by nice Teriyaki.
We've decided to make a "tour arrangement" (3D/2N) for our way to HCMC (HoChiMinhCity = Saigon). Price was reasonable and stuffed with some bonuses (river cruise etc), which we couldn't beat in price by doing our own individual transportation organization. So lets see, how our first "tourist tour" will work out - at least we're released for the upcoming 3 days from travel planning :-)
We had a great stay in Koh Tao, and - as we've already mentioned - had some wonderful diving. So let me sum up a bit how our days went there.
As we arrived with the ferry, we had only a rough picture of where to stay and what dive shop to pick. Koh Tao is a basically a dive resort of the size of an island, with more dive operators than palm trees (at least kind of ...). We had already invested a couple of hours of internet investigation, but we still weren't sure. On the one hand we always look for small operators, which are definitely hard to find there. On the other hand, we were looking for some serious beach- and night-life, so we wanted to stay in the Hat Sairee area. And guess where all the big operators are ...
We found out that Big Blue Diving might be worth a try, since they offered trips to Sail Rock (a must!) and had some nice looking accommodation pictures on their web site. Nevertheless we were sceptical because of it's size, and of course because we have learned to never ever trust those nice looking pictures unless you've seen it with your own eyes.
That said, we got on a taxi (which is kind of a rip off on Koh Tao) and made our way from the jetty to Big Blue. The first contact was promising - although situated at the beach front, there was a lot of green and a first cozy feeling about the location, even with dozens of guest around. The shop office turned out to be really small when we entered it, which made sense after a couple of minutes - we were told to deposit our rucksacks, take a seat in the restaurant and everything, including the paperwork will be done there. That was exactly what we wanted to hear.
A coffee and some water later, we had sold our soul to the dark forces of PADI paperwork, arranged first dive trips (after the explanation that we were both certified divers, and what this fancy CMAS *** certification is all about - no one of the staff seemed to have seen it so far ...) and were ready to check the beds in our simple but clean hut, a 1 minute walk away from the beach. The accommodation was not overwhelmingly charming, but paying 200 Bath on a dive day (5 €) and double if not diving was well worth it. And seriously, after our travel the beds felt like heaven!
Being lazy after traveling, we checked out Big Blue Restaurant for dinner that evening, after we had our very first beach beer at a bar just a few meters away. The prices were reasonable, the food was good, the cocktails as well - perfect preparation for our following dive day.
The next day we got on the boat to our first trip. Due to choppy sea, the original - highly recommended - destination Chumpon was cancelled. We didn't worry so far, since we hadn't seen any dive spot round Koh Tao. Before getting on the Long Tails for the commute to the actual trip boat, we were assigned to our dive master, which made it very easy to learn and follow the highly organized procedures from getting your equipment together over having a safe commute to how and when to setup your stuff on the boat.
Our divemaster was Tibo, a young French guy who accidentally knew what our certification was about. He seemed to be kind of impressed with the number dives we had logged. During a short chat we were told that it is very rare to have obviously experienced divers as clients around here, which surprised us a bit. He promised us to do his best to guide us appropriately, which we found both a bit funny and very nice.
The dives itself (Himong (???) and Ligthhouse) weren't exactly spectacular, which of course had nothing to do with Tibo's perfect guidance (just the three of us!). The sites had a rather bad visibility, not much coral and only a reasonable amount of the usual suspects of reef fish. When we came back we were wondering if four days of diving here - as planned so far - would be really worth it. Yet since were booked for the Sail Rock full day trip the next day, we assured ourseves that at least this trip would be great - as mentioned in an earlier post, it was our very first dive spot when we did our Discover Scuba course years ago, and although this sounds like it has to be a beginners dive site, we can assure that there is serious, advanced and beautiful diving!
The next day started great. We had a new Divemaster assiged: Ferry a cool and handsome guy, which surprisingly turned out to be Dutch - thus he's originated right around the corner from where we live. During his very good briefing it became clear to us that we would be diving in a larger group, with some Open Water Divers in the group which was supposed to limit our depth and our dive time. This would not have been a catastrophe, but we gave it a try and asked whether threre was a slight chance to dive on our own, given that we are doing this usually and our certification permits this easily.
To our great surprise, our boat leader Greg allowed us to dive on our own as a buddy team. He gave us another great briefing and provided us with a surface marker boye, which both we asked for and he liked us to take with us. We were more than happy and thankful to get this opportunity, since you have to understand that this is totally unusual around Koh Tao, which is supposed to be a famous "start your diving career here"-destination. As we learned later, we were the very first divers at Big Blue Diving to get this permission, and we really have to say: Thank you guys, you really made our days! Our recommendation to our readers: if you are good and safe divers, experienced enough not only with diving as such but also with guidance and being self sufficient as buddy team even in rough conditions, don't hesitate to ask those guys for diving on your own. But don't come with the expectation to be allowed to, since Greg, Ant, Steve and the other guides in charge will base their judgement on what they actually see of your diving and soft skills, not on your log book or your certification card alone - which is just the way as it should be!
That said, we had two fabulous dives at Sail Rock, first - a bit accidentally - to the hidden pinnacle, which Ferry found as we dove the first minutes together with his group. The second dive was a looooong exploration of the main pinnacle, including the nice camin reaching from 18 to 6 meters, which we managed to enter without any other diver around. When we came back, the moronic grin on our faces ensured the other divers on the boat that we had a really great time.
After a tasty lunch and a longer boat ride we got to our third dive site of the day, Laem Thien Bay. Again we got a great briefing, both by Ferry and Greg, which made it easy for us to enjoy a cozy, yet wonderful dive with much to see and a great underwater landscape with lots of pinnacles. Coming back, we felt like having deserved both a big beer or two and a great BBQ. Great day, would things get worse now?
Actually - no. Although the trip at the next day was originally aiming at famous Chumpong site, which was - again - cancelled due to choppy conditions, we had two wondeful dives (again on our own) at Hin Wong Pinnacles - a really misterious and unique underwater landscape - and Mango Bay. At the latter site we even managed to find the juvenile Sweet Lips (a must see!) and the tiny black Sea Horse in the middle of nowhere on a sandy area. Great day, crowned again by some beers and sss... sssss... ssssssome cocktails in the evening.
By that time we already had agreed to extend our stay and do five dive days, as we found our expectations regarding both the dive sites and the shop highly exceeded. We had a nice fourth day at Laem Thiem Caves, with great swimthroughs which might have been hard to find without the help of our dive guide Tibo this time. The second dive from Red Rock to Japanese Garden we survived as well, given that a totally gone mad Titan Trigger first attacked Tibo and later managed to bite one of the Divemaster trainees that accompanied us - luckily without serious injuries. Beer, tasty food - nice day, again.
Our last day diving was a hightlight again. This time we were planned to not go to Chumpon, which was actually switched when the trip started. Our boat leader Steve asked if we would mind to see his two favourite Koh Tao dive sites, and surprisingly we refrained from throwing in our veto. And oh well - it was fabulous! Chumpon showed all it's beauty with the best visibility we have had so far, revealing loads of fish in a setting of massive pinnacles. Some say it is better than Sail Rock, and although we would not to favour one over the other, it is definitely as much a top site, which is surprisingly not as famous.
The last dive was at Green Rock, and oh boy, we soon came to know why this was Steve's favourite. Loads of pinnacles and rocks with holes, swimthroughs and all the like - a huge and beautiful kid's playground, with much small stuff to find and enjoy. Actually the highlight was a snake we found in a crack, giving a show just for the two of us, right before our masks. Again we were allowed to dive on our own, and since our boat was the only one around, we managed to see no other divers until the very end of the dive!
Every dive has to end, and so has every stay with a diver's location. We really had a great time at Koh Tao, and we have to thank the guys at Big Blue - Greg, Ant, Steve, Tibo, Ferry and Heather, just to name a few - for giving us the long leash and successfully managing to create a personal and cozy, yet professional and well organized environment not to expect in combination at a shop of this size.
Wanna dive in Koh Tao? Go ahead, we can recommend. Not sure for the Dive Shop? Big Blue gave us some great days, you might want to check them out. Remember, we've seen a freakin' lot of dive shops so far, this is not the usual "I made my OWD here, it's the best dive shop in the world"-recommendation :)
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