29th of August
In the morning we met with Masha, our tourguide who introduced us to Kevin, a local tourguide that took us to the Forbidden City and Tianamen Square. Kevin was very carefully selecting his words when he introduced us to Tianamen square and adviced us to not take pictures of soldiers and not use our cameras if a policemen would “re-educate” someone.But he asured us that that would happen rarley anymore. Tianamen Square is enourmes in sice and used for official ceremonies by he political partie. it is also home of Maos tomb and people que up for up to two hours to see the upper part of his torso. Only two other leaders are preseved and displayed in a similar way, Ho Chi Min in Vietnam and Lenin in Moscow. The forbidden city once was home for the king, this family and many many concubines (one king had up to 3.000 concubines. Most of them would be given as presents to the king by leaders of local tribes etc. The forbidden city has more then 9.000 bedrooms and it sure must have been a logistic nightmare to keep that giant palace afloat. Most of the interior is gone, and was taken to Taiwan, where it is in a Museum, but of course the buildings remaind and are an impressive testemonial to the once great king. The last king actually became a gardener after he was overthrown by the communists. After a nice lunch at a cafe near the palace a small group of us walked back to the hotel, which was a proper hike of about 50 minutes, but Bejing is very easy to navigate as it has a similar layout like most American cities. In the afternoon I went for the pearlmarket and Allen helped me bargain for watch. that I went to the palace of heaven and wonderd around the park for a bit, before heading back to the hotel and joining the group for a acrobatic show and a nice dinner at a local tea house.
30th of August
I had to get up early to see the Great Wall, a good 1,5 hour drive away. The weather was very cloudy, which created a mystical atmosphere, but blue sky would have been just have fine. I and a fewllow group member did a fair walk on the wall and actually managed to visit about 8 watch towers. After our return to Bejing I tried to visit Chairman Maos Mausoleum, but that lazy bastard is lying in this coffing 24/7 and still only works about two hours a day – from 10 am till 12 am and he even gets monday off! Well, since Mao did not want to see me I hoped back on the underground and for two yuan I was on my way to the Olympic Center. Its a vast area and the stadium really is an impressive sight. After that I joined Allan and Michelle for the food market, but after beeing offerd scorpions (alive on a stick alive before beeing deep fried) and snakes and all sorts of insects for dinner we eventuella ended up at a korean restaurant for a decent meal.
31th of August
To catch the Trans Mongolian we had to get up early and meet at the lobby of the hotel. Fortunatley our hotel was located just across the trainstation so we just took our bags and walked over. After sitting around in the waiting hall it was finally time to board the train. The train adventure was about to start. The chinese carriages are basic, but since beds where and even the meals at the restauraned turned out alright – meatballs and vegtables for lunch and chicken for dinner. On the train there is not much to do but talk to fellow travellers, have a few beers or even hand over 45 yuan for some chinese white wine called “the great wall”…
1st of September
We arrived in Ulaan Baator in the early afternoon and where greeted by Julia, our tour leader that would stay with us all the way to St. Petersburg. She gave us a little tour around the city and as we walked down the street I had my first attempt of pickpocketing as someone tried to grab stuff from my backpack while walking. It would later happen again as I walked into the postoffice an got stuck in the revolving door with a young kid, who sneeked into the with me. Unfortunatly for him the door got stuck and I turned around just to see him when he had his hands in my backpack. I gave him an angry look and he disapeard quickly after we finally made it out of the door. At night we met Mosho and Julia again.
2nd of september,
In the morning we visited the Gandan Khiid Monestary, home of a giant Buddha statue (about 26,5 meters high). There are many monks around the compound, praying for what every you pay them for. Religion, especally buddism is on the rise again after it had been oppresed by the Russians for a good portion of the past century. It was a little bit odd seeing a lot of the monks, praying and at the same time checking there phone. I think I even saw one monk, using his brand new Android phone to check facebook. Not the kind of Buddist monk one would expect. Compared to China, Mongolia is well developed in terms of internet access. Lots of places have free Wlan and Facebook and other services are not blocked. After the Monestary we headed for the Winter Palce, which was used by the last King of Mongolia, Jebtzun Damba Hutagt VIII (what a name). The stuffed animals the king collected have seen better times, but in all it was a very interresting place and slightly different to the European castles I’ve been too.
We conclued the guided tour at a monument for the Russian soldiers who fought along the Mongolian Army when Japan tried to invade the country. At night we went to a Monolian BBQ, and visted the sky bar on the 17th floor for a cocktail and watch Asian business men entertain themself with a flock of cute looking girls. The scene could have been right out of a James Bond movie…
3nd of September.
In the morning we headed out of Ulaan Baator and into the Terelj Natinal Park to stay at a Ger Camp. Along the way we stopped a few times to have a look at camels. In 2006 a giant Ghengis Kaahn monument made of stainless steel was constructed to attract tourists. Fortunatley for us, mass tourism has not yet kicked in and there where only a few other busses at the place. But in a few years time this could be a hot spot on the map of many tours, as there are also plans underway to build a ger camp with around 200 tents around the statue among a few other attractions for a so called Ghenigs Kaahn amusement park. In the early afternoon we arrived at the Ger Camp where we had lunch and went for a little horse riding tour to the Turtle Rock. I and two other travellers witnesses the slaughter of a sheep there. The sheep was fighting the guy who was dragging it close to a tent. There, three men put the sheep on its back, and one of them made a cut to the sheeps abdoman and but his hand right into the sheep, most likley reaching for the heart and killing the sheep. The scene was not gruesome the three men then blessed the sheep before it was prepared for dinner. We did not stay for that long and headed back to our camp where we joined our fellow travellers inside one of the tents for a few drinks next to a cosy fire place, as it gets very cold at night. The day finally concluded with me, Allan and Jenna sitting outside our tent and having a cigar while looking at the stars .
4th of september
Before we headed back to town we tried our luck with a mongolian bow and arrow. I spent the rest of the day walking around Ulaan Baatar, sending of some postcards and stocking up on Vodka and food for the trainride to Russia. In the evening we boarded the train to Irkutks. Our group shared the carriage with three other companys, Vodkatrain, Intrepid and Sundowners mostly Australians and Kiwis, but also a few Germans. A few Vodkas with the my fellow “Vodkatrain” companions resulted in an early night and a good sleep.
5th of september,
In the morning we arrived at the border, of Mongolia, where Toiliets are 150 Turiks and nothing muc going on except waiting for the passport to be processed. We had a couple of hours on the russian side as well, which we used to walk around the border town and have a little lunch and stock up on some food. I bought some caviar and bread to celebrate my arrival in Russia and shared it with my fellow travellers the same night. Around 11 the train arrived in Ulaan Ude where most of the passengers got of the train and only our group continued on to Irkutsk. Unfortunatly going around the lake at night also meant that we would not get to see the lake along the tracks.
6th of september
Arrival around 8 am in the morning, short stop at the hotel, bus to Listvayanka and stay at private home with an elderly couple, the landlady prepared a fantastic breakfast with nice pancakes. After that we met at the lake Baikal Museum for a guided tour and finally walked for about 40 minutes to the center of the city where we had a late afternoon lunch at a local market. I even got a taste of hot smoked Omul there, a really tasty fish from the Baikal lake which kinda tastes like salmon.
Around 4:30 we went to local celebrity, Nikolai, who runs a Banja (Russian Sauna) and the B&B Baikal Dream. After three rounds in the sauna, every time beeing wiped with a branch of birch we headed back to our host and got dinner. In the evening we visited the Lake Baikal hotel close to our apartement and had drinks there. September seems to be already off season as we where the only guests at the bar.
The day started early, as I had to catch a train from Passau to Munich Airport at 7:25 am for my 12:20 flight via Abu Dabi to Bejing. What a loooong day of travelling! After a tiny breakfast and the traditional blessing by my mother I and my brother drove to Passau. Just as we crossed the border to Bavaria, a cow jumped on another cow and tried to make sweet love to her. Never saw lesbian cows having Good Morning Sex, but it sure put a big grin on my face and made me realize, if this is how the day starts, well, what else lies ahead of me?
Munich is usually a very boring Airport, but after I had checked in my luggage (18 kilograms… holy cow!!!) I headed for the area between Terminal 1 and Terminal 2, and to my surprise there was a surf tournament going on! They had a huge pool and a wave mashine and people where sitting around watching the surfers. I decided to go for a final bavarian breakfast with “weisswuerste, brezen and beer before heading to my gate. The times on the plane went by quickly and since I only had about an hour in Abu Dhabi I was able to continue my journey without much hassle. Upon my arrival in Bejing I was picked up by a driver and taken to a hotel. Unfortunatley not my hotel, so I had to go on the underground and go to the bejing railway station. But even that was no big trouble. After I checked in a I did a little walking around the area and ended up at a nearby Shopping mall. I slept pretty much the rest of the afternoon, until I met my fellow travellers and mosho, our tourguide from bejing to Ulaan Batoor. He is Mongolian and will start studying Economy and Law in Vienna this fall… What a suprise. After the introduction the whole group walked to a chinese restaurant where I had my first taste of “real” chinese food. Various dishes with chicken, shrimp, peanuts, beans and last but not least bejing duck. Not bad at all I have to admit!
Well, this is the first articel I am going to write about my Trans Mongolian Adventure. The trip was in the making for several years, I think the first time I seriously considerd doing the trip goes back to 2007, when I was travelling Cuba with my good friend Severin. I never wanted to do the trip just by myself, but ultimatly that is how it is going to happen. Initally Severin and I had the trip planned for 2009, but we decided to move the trip to 2010, but again the 2010 departure fell through, and that was the moment I decided to do the trip 2011, regardless if someone would join me or not. Having travelled by myself for more then 11 years, it was not too much of a problem anyway.
28th of November: 4 Island Tour
Lying on the beach all day long is not my cup of tea so I decided to do some island hoping and opted for a 4 Island tour and do some snorkeling around Hong, Chicken and Bamboo Island. And the 4th island? Sorry; I don’t recall the name of it 😉 ! After my return I hired a longtail boat to Raleigh Beach for sunset, which I have to admit was one of the best sunsets I have seen in Thailand.
25th of November River Kwai, Tiger Tempel
As I had to go to another fitting on the 26th I decided to go on a day tour to Kanchanaburi to see the bridge over River Kwai and the Tiger Tempel. Although very touristy and at 1.600 Bhat expensive for Thai Standards I really enjoyed getting close to the giant cats and touching them, even as it was only very briefly. The train ride for 100 Bhat turned out to not be the best idea as I did not managed to get a seat and had to stand the entire journey, not being able to ejoy the view of the river Kwai.
26th of November, Bus Nr. 53
In the morning I had my second fitting at Rajawongse after which I returned to the hostel. It was fully booked that day and I had to move to a different place. I decided to stay at the Bangkok YHA, where I had stayed 8 years ago. The YHA Bangkok has changed a lot and the rooms are now even more spotless. When I walked in I even met the same receptionist that I remembered from all those years ago. After settling in it was time for my favorite bus ride : Nr. 53! Back in 2001 I would always take it to get to the train station to catch other busses to go else where. Its still the same red busses that are very noisy and thick black smoke is coming out of the tail pipe.
27th of November: Bangkok to Ao Nang
Yet another flight, this time with AirAisa to Krabi and then a busride to Ao Nang. If I would have know how much Ao Nang had changed in those eight years, I probably would have stayed in Krabi this time. Ao Nang these days looks a lot like Samui did eight years ago, with a McDonalds and BurgerKing and numerous 7-11 all over the town. But the hostel (WarinaPlace) was again a spotless place and I had a 6 person dormitory all to myself.
After some last minute souvenir shopping and a lunch at the Butterfly Garden Restaurant it was time to board the plane back to Bangkok. While the Butterfly Garden Restaurant was really beautiful with all the flowers and butterflies roaming the tables, the Cambodian fish “Amok Trey” was not as good as at the previous place. Back in Bangkok I once again stayed at the Nira Bangkoc, and joined two French girls for dinner at a nice Indian restaurant called Bombay Blues on Soi Rambutri, my favorite Indian restaurant in Bangkok .
24th of November
I went for my first fitting to Rajawongse and did a little bit of walking around the shopping area of Silom before going to the Golden Mount by boat. It is by far the fastest and cheapest way to get from the Silom Shopping area to Banglampoo area. At night I went to “The Deck” again, for a full Thai dinner and my favorite entry dish: Chicken Satay before taking a taxi to Bayoke Tower II, the tallest building in Thailand for a cocktail (or two…). Unfortunately we where told that the revolving platform was already closed, but on our way down a guard asked as if we wanted to go up there for 200 Bhat (usuall 250), which I accepted. As the two fellow travelers declined the offer I was the only one up on the 304 meter high tower, the highest point of Bangkok, watching the city lights and even got the guard to stop the revolving platform so I could take some pictures.
My final day exploring the temples of Angkor Wat turned out to be the busiest. After two days mostly on a bicycle I decided it was time to speed up things and give my shoulders a break from carrying way to many things. So I rented a guide and a motorcycle Tuk-Tuk for 22 Dollars to take me to Banta Srei, a beautiful pinkish colored temple about 25 kilometers northeast of Siam Reap that they started building around 967. It’s not one of the biggest temples, but surely one with many details and delicate carvings and well worth the 80 minute ride on bumpy roads. On the way back I made a short stop and the landmine museum that was set up by a former Khmer Rouge child soldier, who helped demine some 50.000 Landmines. While this sounds pretty amazing, there are estimates that there are up to 3 to 6 !!) million landmines still hidden all over Cambodia. Countless victims, missing legs or other parts of the body are a constant sad reminder that Cambodia was hell on earth not so long ago.
Before returning to mesmerizing Ta Prohm for late afternoon light I also visited Eastern Mebon and Pre Roup, visiting each temple for about half an hour. The difference of visiting Ta Prohm in the morning hours and in the later afternoon is amazing, its like visiting two complete different sites and a lot of places that looked amazing in the morning felt very different, whereas spots that I walked by hardly noticing earlier on caught my attention and made me stop for a couple of minutes just to marvel about. A very quiet but very beautifull spot for Sunset is Srah Srang, where Phnom Bakheng was crowded with people, there were only two others sitting at the giant ancient artificial lake, enjoying a very scenic sunset. I spent my last night in Siam Reap at my favorite Indian Restaurant “Kama Sutra” and later joined the pool party at the Sieam Reap Hostel. There I got to talk with an Australian who works at the hostel, who told me that Cambodia can still be a very tough place and that Siam Reap and Angkor are just Tourism bubbles. Only two years ago it became a federal crime to kill someone in Cambodia. Before they passed the law, the killer would basically go into negotiations with the family of the victim and settle over a “price” for the killing. And if you witness a car accident in Cambodia, the best thing to do is RUN, as police will look for the richest person on at the scene and arrest them as the wrongdoer to get the most money out of them.
To see the sunrise one has to get up at 5 am in the morning. Not very good when you only fell asleep around 3 am.. But I did manage to get up and get on a motorcycle taxi to tale me to Angkor Wat. Angkor gets really crowded in the early hours and everyone gathers at the pool on the left side of the temple as this is the most scenic one with lots of pink water lillies and a nice palmtree to cover that big green grid thats right in the middle of Angkor Wat, covering ongoing reconstruction work.
I remember they used to have the same kind of green grid for years in Venice on the Marcus Square, but eventually used a fabric that with a picture of the building printed on it. The Cambodian Goverment should do the same here in Angkor Wat, for 20 Dollars a day entrance fee it should be coverd ;-). But I don’t want to complain, Angkor Wat is probably the cleanest placed all over South East Asia, like an ancient Disneyland. There is no rubbish whatsoever on the ground as guards constantly sweep the ground and collect all sorts of garbage, left behind by not so thoughtful tourists.
After about 1,5 hours at Angkor Wat, the temple has a completely different atmosphere when you come in the morning, I continued to go to Ta Prohm, one of the temples that the jungle has reclaimed and which is now preserved in that state to show tourists what the temples looked like when they where discovered by Europeans. I have to say it is my favorite temple and after the initial 45 minutes that I walked around I knew I had come back and take a little more time to enjoy this amazing scenery. It’s also the Temple where Angelina Jolie aka Lara Croft walked around to fight some bad ass Tomb Raiders. Finally my need for sleep took over; I returned to the hostel and decided to resume my exploration of the temples in the afternoon. Around 2 pm I once again cycled to Angkor and took good look at Preah Khan before returning to Ankors favorite Sunset Spot: Phnom Bakheng. When I hiked up the previous day, there were three people walking around the temples, but for sunset it was slightly different, with easily up to 300 people watching the sun set over the Tonle Sap Lake. Again I had to cycle back in the dark, but this time I was prepared and had brought a flashlight to not be run over by some frenetic Tuk Tuk driver. At night I joined the Irish guys that shared the room with me for a stroll down Pub Street, the party lane of Siam Reap.