24 December 2014

Ko Phangan - Relaxed beaches instead of the fullmoon party

Our sunset terrace on Haad Salad beach
Another island close to Koh Samui is Koh Pha Ngan (also know as Koh Pangan). It is a little bigger than Koh Tao and still has a lot of lonely beaches on the east coast. As we were looking for a place less touristy than Koh Tao but still easy to reach by land, we decided to stay five nights in Haad Salad in the north west of the island. As it was still low season and no full moon party took place, we got a very good deal. You can book something through one of the well known websites like booking.com or agoda.com or you can ask the hotels directly.

Kayaking from beach to beach

13 December 2014

Koh Tao – Turtle island

Sairee beach
Koh Tao in southern Thailand is mostly known as a diving destination. Almost every second house is a diving shop and a lot of people come here to do their PADI open water course, as the prices are lower than almost anywhere else. Open water courses start as low as 7500 THB (190 EUR), single dives are from 700 THB (18 EUR). The island is very touristy. Back in the 1970ies, when the first travelers arrived, barely anyone lived permanently on the island. Today more than 15'000 residents make their living from tourism.

9 December 2014

Krung Thep - also known as Bangkok

One of Bangkok's many temples
After an amazing three weeks with friends and families, Lisa and I were thrilled to start the next part of our trip. Everything went smooth and we safely arrived back in sunshine and hot weather. Unlike most travelers, we took a taxi from the „new“ airport, as our CouchSurfing host lived quite on the edge of Bangkok. About 1.5 hours from the city center. But this was what we were looking for. A quiet neighborhood, far from the touristy Khao-San-Road and the hyperactive Sukhumvit. We spent the first two days relaxing, getting to know the Thai culture and curing Lisa's cold.

6 December 2014

Hello, goodbye

Wine tasting with friends (photo by Jessica)
Holidays in Switzerland. That never sounded spectacular to me. Yes, it is the country of mountains, cows, chocolate, watches and banks. But for most of my life chocolate made me even fatter, watches showed me that I am late, banks reminded me to earn more money and start a career, cows were just everywhere and in between the mountains I felt simply limited. But after one year in Indonesia I started to realize that there is a lot more to that country and that there are millions of people dreaming of a holiday in this place.



4 December 2014

Dada Solo Sayang

Lisa and her assistants
369 days I called Solo home. Well, somehow I still do sometimes. When I was about to arrive there, I was scared like rarely before. But the smiles greeting me at the airport after my 24 hours journey promised a lot. And even though it was sure not an easy year, I can say it was definitely a good one. I met amazing people, I learned a lot about myself, and my relationship with Fabs got to another level.

I have never smiled so often from the bottom of my heart as I did during my time in Indonesia. I never felt so warm for an entire year, as the temperature never drops below 25 degrees (as long as you don't climb mountains). I heard so many interesting new stories of wonderful people in such a short time. And I never had a job that I loved so much before, probably also because of the people I worked with.

28 November 2014

Honored guests in their pyjamas

Traditional Javanese mask
Solo is a place where people like to celebrate. Most of the time festivities are traditional ceremonies with very strict rules, but that doesn't mean that people look sad or serious. Usually Indonesians make a very happy impression, but they rather stay calm and express that only with a beautiful smile. During festivals or happy ceremonies though it gets loud and colorful.

When our host mom told us that we should quickly have a look outside because something would be going on, we had no clue what we would get into. So we just stepped outside, in our pajamas and fully unprepared for the huge spectacle.

24 November 2014

Bali backroads

Hidden beach on the Bukit peninsula
Lisa and I both have been to Bali several times. Lisa has been there twice for conferences and once for a holiday with her siblings, I have been there in January before flying to New Zealand and again a couple of times in between flights. We both loathe the overcrowded beaches around Kuta (aka Mallorca for Australians) and the overpriced resorts around Benoa and Nusa Dua. The hidden gems Bali indisputably has are tucked away from the crowds in small coves in the South and in the North and East of the island.

19 November 2014

Blue fire and yellow bricks

Crater walls in the morning light
Daria and I left Bromo almost in a hurry because we wanted to head immediately to the next volcano: Kawah Ijen. We knew the way would be long and climbing Ijen would involve a wake up way before dawn. We descended the same route as before to Probolinggo by minibus and at 11am already caught a bus to Banyuwangi for only 32'000 IDR (2 EUR). But here our luck ended. Or, better said, we got what we paid for. A slow, uncomfortable bus that we had to exchange half way for another even slower, more uncomfortable one. After something over six hours, our ordeal was finally over and we arrived in Banyuwangi. Together with a Spanish couple we met on the bus we caught a microlet to the seemingly only hotel the locals could point us to. The room we got for 200'000 IDR (13 EUR) wasn't the cleanest one, but clean enough and we were anyway tired from the trip.

11 November 2014

Bromo – an ocean of sand and smoke

Smoke rising from the crater of Bromo
Our Indonesian friends advertised Bromo with plenty of superlatives: spectacular, stunning, a lifetime experience. In consequence, our expectations were high when I set out with my friend Daria to explore the volcanoes of East Java.

A comfortable night bus (Rosalia Indah) brought us for 115'000 IDR (8 EUR) from Solo to Probolinggo. We arrived around 5am, a perfect time to head to the bus terminal to continue the journey. Quickly we found the minibuses to Cemoro Lawang, the village on the rim of the outer crater. Unfortunately, we were the first ones to arrive that morning. The price of 30'000 IDR (2 EUR) was not an issue. But the minibuses leave only once at least 16 passengers are crammed in. As the trickle of tourists wasn't that steady this morning, we finally left around 9am. During the first hour we crossed the usual cities, villages and rice fields. It was the second hour that got more interesting. The road climbed steeper and steeper, the lanes got more narrow with every meter, but the traffic didn't slow down. We arrived safely and happily in Cemoro Lawang at 11am.

29 October 2014

Karimunjawa – Travelling Indonesian Style

Our beloved beach on Karimunjawa
If you want to get a real Indonesian experience, we can highly recommend you to go to Karimunjawa - an Island group north of Java, paradise for all Indonesians. When Lisa came to Indonesia, she asked her local friends where she absolutely must go. Besides Bunaken, on top of the list they all mentioned Karimunjawa. Local travel agencies offer trips there that take between two and five days.

White beaches, forests, few people, not too touristy yet. But that might change soon. As the tour operators all offer tours from the port in Jepara and organize the accommodation on the island we decided not to book a tour but organize everything ourselves. Because the really difficult part is not the one the agencies offer to do for you: to find a safe and not too time consuming transport to Jepara. We were lucky to have a great host mum who let us use her old Taft, so we decided to drive ourselves to the port by car.

19 October 2014

Rinjani: the mighty volcano of Lombok

Early morning view on Rinjani from the village where
the hike starts 
Number three in altitude in Indonesia, Gunung Rinjani is quite an impressive volcano – actually it is two. Because in the big crater there is a smaller volcano growing in the middle of the crater lake. A spectacular view that is totally worth the great effort it will cost you trekking up there.

You can book the tour either on one of the Gili Islands, online, in one of the cities on Lombok or at the foot of Rinjani itself. You can book two day one night tours to the crater or you can book three day two night trips including the peak. We decided to go to the crater only, as Lisa does not like hiking anyway and a good 2000m trekking straight uphill in tropical climate seemed challenging enough.

13 October 2014

Gili Islands - Paradise in three variations

Beach on Gili Air - Lombok
Three little islands, visible from far away: Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. The tropical dream for every tourist in Indonesia. White sand beaches, food from all over the world, perfect views no matter where you are. We spent a couple of days on Gili Air, the Island for backpackers and families. Gili Meno is catering more to honeymooners with its exclusive and spacious resorts while Gili Trawangan is occupied by the party crowd seeking house, trance and magic mushrooms.



30 September 2014

The sands of Gunung Merapi

Riverbed below Merapi
Gunung Merapi and his neighbor, Gunung Merbabu, tower mightily above the plains around Solo and Yogyakarta. But as they're often covered in clouds, you could almost forget their massive presence with an elevation of just slightly less than 3'000 meters. As Central Java is quite densely populated, the lower, very fertile slopes of the mountain are inhabited by thousands of people. On most days, Merapi is quiet, only a little white smoke is rising from its peak. But every couple of years, last in 2006 and 2010, eruptions occur and the pyroclastic flows they cause usually kill some of the less cautious farmers who refuse evacuation.

23 September 2014

Labuan Bajo and Komodo National Park

View on the harbor of Labuan Bajo
Reunited after some time apart, we headed for another divers paradise, where we finally both could enjoy an awesome day of diving. Labuan Bajo, the port on the very western tip of Flores consists pretty much of one street, where one can find dive shops, tour operators, hotels, international restaurants and whatever else a traveler might need. Compared to most other destinations in Indonesia – except Bali and the Gili Islands - is Labuan Bajo very western. The atmosphere is quite cosmopolitan and European, Australian and American travelers clearly dominate the main street and night life in town. Most of the locals can speak English, European bread, muesli, pizza, pasta, cocktails and many other European things are easily available and the town is growing extremely fast.

3 September 2014

Derawan and the Sangalaki archipelago

On the more quiet side of Derawan
Derawan itself is a beautiful tropical island. But as it's quite easily accessible from the mainland (East Kalimantan) and one of the few islands in the archipelago with a freshwater source, it's also rather densely populated. There is quite some tourism infrastructure and as in similar parts of Indonesia, every second house doubles as homestay or guesthouse. On the downside, the many speedboats and overfishing damage the local reef and leave it severely degraded. Though it is still possible to see corals and turtles when snorkeling.


28 August 2014

The journey to Derawan

The most comfortable way to cover
big distances in Indonesia
Lisa had to prepare and attend a conference in Bali (Asian Finance Association Conference, hosted by the university she works at). The budget of the conference being too tight to invite me, I ventured out to see another beautiful part of Indonesia. As a destination I chose Derawan. If you've never heard the name, never mind. No tourists and only a few travelers make it there. Even most Indonesians just had question marks in their eyes when I mentioned my destination.



25 August 2014

Western Travellers in Indonesia


View from Gili Air towards Lombok
Indonesia is a huge country with more than 17'000 islands. Nobody knows the exact number, and information about that changes each time you try to look it up. And this is one of the first things preparing your trip to Indonesia: not only the number about the islands, but all information is inconsistent or difficult to find. Reliable information is not the highest priority in Indonesia. To find facts and figures is hard, daily news can be found in newspapers but you have to know which ones exist and whether you can trust their information. And an English translation is often not available.

2 July 2014

Northern Maluku: Island hopping off the beaten track

Riding in a bento (motorbike tricycle) in Tobelo
Ternate island was nice, but staying a full week in one place was not our intention. Thanks to its good flight connections, Ternate functions as base to explore Northern Maluku. And Northern Maluku means a lot of islands. The biggest island is just about 40 minutes by speedboat from Ternate: Halmahera.

As a kid, I was fascinated by geography and history. I still remember the attraction that strangely shaped islands like Sulawesi and Halmahera used to have on me. My geographical attraction is today much more focused on finding ways to get to places with beautiful landscapes. And that brought us to Halmahera.

21 June 2014

Ternate

View from Ternate to Tidore
One island, one mountain, one city. That is Ternate, the destination we spontaneously added to our trip to Manado and Bunaken, as it is also the gateway to northern Maluku. Flying in through clouds that always cover the top of the vulcano after lunch, first thing you see is the dark waters and that the entire volcano is covered with thick jungle. Along the coast you discover a few houses, rapidly that become more and more: Kota Ternate stretches out over about 14km around the small island, a place definitely off the beaten track, as soon we found out. And you see that it is not the only island you can barely wait to discover. Neighboured by its historically rival island Tidore, both of them pretty close to apparently huge Halmahera island and many more small, also wood-covered islets.

15 June 2014

Bunaken

Bunaken island
Divers paradise, one more in Indonesia. But one more that really is a paradise. Bunaken island is one of many islands that you can reach through Manado airport, but for divers it is the most interesting one, as it is best equipped and developed for their passion. There are many different resorts on the islands for all budgets.







13 June 2014

Manado - Lihaga

View from Manado harbour
Our dear friend Florian Spisla wanted to include a visit to Indonesia in his round the world ticket, to see us and to discover a new place. The goal was to meet on a nice island, which is easy to reach from abroad and great to hang out a couple of days. When Lisa asked her colleagues in Solo about the most beautiful places in Indonesia, everybody immediately answered „Bunaken!“ But there are no direct flights to Bunaken – Manado seems to be the gateway to heaven for divers, tourists from Indonesia and other parts of the world. We decided to see the gate also, as we had to pass through it anyway.

12 June 2014

Don't think just travel – A new beginning

Lisa and Fabian - your blogging team
Are you wondering if you should stay in your office job or go travelling? We have the answer: Don't think – just travel. Are you asking yourself if you should explore South America or Asia? Don't think – just travel.

Until recently, the title of this blog was „With my mind wide open“. Fabian is still on the road and neither his mind nor his heart narrowed so far. But as Lisa is about to finish her year as a proofreader and English teacher at Universitas Sebelas Maret in Solo (Surakarta), she joins this blog as a new author. If you're curious about her, check out our About Us section.

16 May 2014

Peninsular Malaysia

Lisa wanted to have a break from work and life in Solo, I needed to renew my Indonesian visa. And I'm always happy to travel. So we flew to Kuala Lumpur on May 1st. Lisa had been there before (visa issues), it was my first visit to Malaysia.

3 May 2014

Welcoming friends in Indonesia (part one)

Happy ladies on the beach (Pantai Drini)
We didn't plan this much in advance. In the beginning of April I was just recovering from Chikungunya. Manu, a dear Swiss friend of ours currently working at the Swiss embassy in Beijing, announced that she planned to meet some friends on Bali and would like to visit us in central Java. We were of course thrilled to see her, as she was one of our closest friends back in Switzerland. Even though Lisa and I are both happy to be away from Europe, we often miss our friends.

27 April 2014

Indonesia: health issues

Heat lamp treatment for Lisa's back
Due to Lisa's motorbike accident, we spent a lot of time since my return from Australia on March 22nd dealing with medical issues. So here's our experiences with health care in Indonesia. First of all, it's not as bad as you might think. The biggest problem we encountered is the general lack of information. Often no one knows if or where a specific treatment is available. That's mainly because most treatments are simply not affordable to the average Indonesian. Lisa had to threaten to fly home or at least to Singapore for an MRI until the staff at her work realized that there's actually a hospital doing MRIs in Solo. Luckily, the results showed that nothing is wrong with her spine.

19 April 2014

A short escape: Singapore

Immigration and visa regulations and other red tape never made much sense to me. I personally don't feel like a citizen of a country, but rather a human being. As such, I feel that I should be allowed to live, stay and travel everywhere I want to. Regardless of where I was born. Unfortunately, countries and their authorities don't feel the same way.
Maybe the next "problem" Singapore is going to solve?

9 April 2014

Election day

Election days are always very special days for countries and their citizens. And also for the politically interested traveler. I still remember that we couldn't get any alcohol for three full days during a referendum in Bolivia 2004. Here in Indonesia, the about 190 million voters can elect today the 560 members of the national parliament (DPR), the members of their regional consultative councils (DPD) as well as local governments. The outcome of these elections will also decide what candidates are eligible to run for president in July. Election day is like a national holiday, only very few people work, so everything is also much more relaxed than on a normal working day. Lisa and I had the chance to join our host family to the ballots and talk with some of the people involved in the election process.

Just a few steps from our home. Usually this is a local school.


6 April 2014

Young nations

My travel plans in Australia got interrupted quite abruptly, so if you're looking for pictures from a road trip across the outback or a story about diving with whale sharks on the Ningaloo reef, I will have to disappoint you. But I won't stop blogging. So here I share with you some thoughts about differences between Australia, New Zealand and Europe. I hope you'll enjoy the read.

Container mall (built up after the 2010 Christchurch quake)
From a European perspective, Australia and New Zealand feel very young as nations. I'm not going to tell you their history here, Wikipedia can do that better than me. If you're interested, check the relevant sections for Australia and New Zealand. But here a couple of examples that made me feel this way:

23 March 2014

Australia: interrupted

Blue mountains - just two hours from Sydney
I knew before arriving in Australia, that I wouldn't be able to see a significant part of this country. I knew I had to limit myself to a first glimpse. But that's alright, as my return to the land down under is quite probable. So this time, I limited myself to the most accessible parts of Australia: the bigger urban areas along the south and east coast.
I figure everybody who comes to Australia wants to go to Sydney. There's nothing wrong with that. Sydney is a nice city in itself with distinct neighborhoods and the very accessible beaches and coastal parks make it very easy to escape the hustle and bustle of the CBD. I was happy to stay a few days and could very well imagine to live there for a couple of months. Though this might be a costly venture, as the rents are higher than the waves breaking on the many city beaches.



10 March 2014

Warning signs, signalization and fines

Today I'll venture a bit more into the field of cultural observation. I hope you don't mind.

There's a lot of things you shouldn't do on
this beach. But maybe having fun is still permitted?
Coming from Indonesia, I realized immediately after landing in Christchurch that I'm back in Europe. Or almost. New Zealand and Australia have been colonized and settled by Europeans and mostly by the British. No wonder, things down under often have a distinct British touch.  Fish'n'Chips, burgers and pies are ubiquitous, as are delicious treats like ginger nuts, lemon curd and brownies. Sports with obscure rules like rugby and cricket are national passions. The beer choice is more ample than in other countries (especially IPAs seem to be very popular), still, a majority of people lack a sophisticated drinking culture. No, Jägerbombs are not acceptable drinks, at no stage of life whatsoever.

2 March 2014

A travellers paradise?

A rough start
My trip to New Zealand started almost with a disaster. I've been to many countries so far that officially insist that you have a flight or ticket out upon arrival. But so far I've never been asked to prove this. But well, New Zealand seems to be a bit stricter on this point. I had to find out the hard way.

I arrived well early at the Virgin Australia check-in counter at Bali/Denpasar airport. As I had a one way ticket DPS-MEL-CHC, the check-in employee asked me if I had a flight out of New Zealand. Truthfully, I answered that no, but that I had a ticket in less than two months from Australia to Indonesia to prove that I would leave New Zealand again within less than three month. This was not enough. I was told that unless I got a ticket out of New Zealand, they could not check me in as otherwise the airline might get a fine and I might get deported. So the only solution consisted in rapidly booking a flight out of NZ.

6 February 2014

Clove cigarettes, rice and the call to morning prayer

With Lisa, visiting the temples of Prambanan (Hindu)
27 days. That's what I call a good first glimpse at Indonesia. Or Java, to be more precise. I liked what I saw and experienced so far and therefore I'm already looking forward to spend a lot more time in Indonesia between April and September.









27 January 2014

Back. Home?

When I arrived back in Switzerland on December 20, I knew that exactly 3 weeks later, I'd be gone again. During my four hour train ride from Frankfurt to Bern, I was struggling with mixed feelings. Of course I was happy to see my friends and my family again. But I also started to miss Brasil and I was not sure how I would feel being back in a city that I called home for four years, but now was only a transit station on the way to Asia.