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sunny 15 °C
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Flat scenery as far as the eye can see, family, friends, cheese, bitterballen, Belgian beers, cold, cold, cold... yes, I've returned to the majestic Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Obviously it's great to be back, see everybody, understanding local customs, eat your favourite foods etc. But still I think there's always a certain sadness associated with the ending of a big trip (not that I have anything to compare it to as this was my first extended trip). The adventure has come to an end. It had to happen at some point, but it's still slightly difficult to wrap my head around the idea that I don't have to make a huge effort to understand the locals (whether they speak their local language or English), use the most revolting public squat toilets ever seen (thank you China!), meet dozens of new travellers every day or have to look for a new place to sleep every night (although I'm kind of still going with that during my stay in NL).

During this trip I:
- visited a total of 8 countries
- travelled to the other end of the world
- learned to say thank you and hello in 7 new languages (and forgot quite a few of those already)
- tasted the different local beers (best: Singha, cheapest: Vietnamese fresh beer, worst: all Chinese beers - although Kingstar and Lang Can River deserve special mention for being particularly terrible)
- bought and ruined 6 pairs of sunglasses and 4 pairs of flip flops
- enjoyed the various local cuisines
- developed a love for chilli peppers
- was revolted by yak-butter tea
- had too many upset stomachs to count (but only got really sick from food once in Myanmar)
- used a wide array of transportation modes to get around (airplane, bus, minivan, car, scooter, bicycle, train, subway, tuk tuk, elephant)
- paid as little as US$2.5 for a night's stay
- slept in my rental car for two nights
- read 27 books (of which 3 in physical form)
- chatted to countless Buddhist monks who did not understand 'not religious'
- mingled with the hippies in Golden Bay
- finally went sky diving
- got scammed by two women in Hanoi claiming to work for the Red Cross Vietnam
- went to a cricket match
- celebrated christmas and new year's in a warm climate
- saw the best commercial ever!
- met too many great people to count

This blog was created to provide a record of my travel for both myself and others. As my travels have come to an end, this means the end for the blog. That is, at least for now. Who knows what travels I'll get up to later on. But now it is back to the real world, including finding a new place to live and a new job. Hopefully you have had as much fun reading this blog as I had writing it. For now this is goodbye (but not without sharing a few more pictures)!

Lake Wanaka

The very organised boot of my rental car


Far away from home

Te Anau

Posted by roelvanderkamp 15:12 Archived in Netherlands Comments (1)

Back to Reality

overcast 15 °C

6 months, 8 countries, countless amazing people met and experiences had. I never thought myself to be a long distance traveler, but after setting off I was immediately hooked. And it has been an amazing trip.

But all good things must come to an end. Wait... No, I don't think that is true. There are usually plenty of opportunities to keep going. My money hasn't run out yet, and there are still plenty enough pieces of the world that I want to visit (at some point). The truth is that I made a conscious decision to end my trip.

There are some downsides to traveling for more extended periods. An obvious drawback is that you're separated from family and friends for a long time. Sure, the friends you make along the way are fantastic, but that doesn't mean you don't miss the people back home.
Furthermore, you run the risk of becoming somewhat numb to certain experiences. It is somewhat frustrating to look at an amazing scenery with a beautiful waterall, and only being able to think 'is this it? this is nothing compared to Tat Lo in Laos'. The same with rock formations (never as good as Lan Ha Bay in Vietnam), mountain views (Tiger Leaping Gorge) or 'local villages' (never as authentic as those in Myanmar). And I've had my fill off temples, coffee plantations, tea plantations, wool farms and even cricket farms. After a while you become hard to impress.

So everything taken together I decided to return to Europe. Tomorrow I'm flying to Amsterdam and look forward to seeing everyone again!

PS This will not be my last post so stay tuned

Posted by roelvanderkamp 12:14 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Count to 15,000

sunny 19 °C
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0 - Finally, I've always wanted to do this

1,000 - How long till we get there?

2,000 - Go with the banana! (maybe I should refrain from translating Dutch expressions word for word)

3,000 - Wow! This is it, I'm actually doing this.

4,000 - Why is it taking so long?

5,000 - Look at the pretty views

6,000 - Can we go any faster?

7,000 - Don't be scared, you're in good hands

8,000 - You've done this before right?

9,000 - I guess there's no turning back now

10,000 - Is it too late to turn back?

11,000 - Is it normal to feel a bit dizzy?

12,000 - Where did those other people go?

13,000 - Anybody else shitting their pants? No, just me I guess

14,000 - How many people die doing this? 'You shouldn't think about stuff like that, just relax.' Oh oh

15,000 - Let's do this!


PS This activity was sponsored by the Mum and Dad Foundation

Posted by roelvanderkamp 14:30 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Travel to the end of the world

Exit SE Asia

sunny 21 °C
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From South East Asia to Singapore and New Zealand. I was never particularly drawn to Singapore, but when my friend Arthur decided to move there for a year, I couldn't resist. Exciting? Yes. Culture shock? Definitely.

Is this a city, a country or one big shoppig mall? I would opt for the last option. Singapore is obviously a lot richer than the rest of the region. But it truly seems that all everybody is interested in is shopping, and they seem to prefer high end brands like Cartier, Gucci and ehm... Starbucks. Granted, I've only been there for three days, but it seems like the whole city is just one big luxury theme park. So it's a good place to have fun, for a certain price. But most of all it was a big shock. The streets are actually quiet. The roads and cars are all top notch and it's very different from the sounds of honking, people shouting and cars falling apart that filled the streets in Myanmar. A nice place to visit, but three days was enough for me at this point

Spotless subways, where drinking water could result in a $500 fine (about 300 GBP, 350 EUR) [UPDATE: correct picture shown now]

Chilli crab, the culinary pride of Singapore, with Arthur and his class mates


A local delicacy, I guess

It was almost Chinese new year, and the year of the dragon is now upon us

New Zealand
So, onwards to New Zealand! But wait. Leaving Singapore wasn't as easy as I had hoped. Arriving at the airport I see the sign: check out closes 1 hour before departure. This should be fine as I arrived two hours before my flight. Hmm, the queue at check in looks awfully long (Jetstar is not that good at customer service). OK, this is still doable. 55 minutes later I finally arrive at the desk. 'Sorry sir, but we can't let you board the airplane.' WTF?? Apparently you need a ticket out of NZ before they let you enter. 'Sir, you need to buy a ticket out of the country and return here within five minutes, otherwise we can't let you board the aircraft.' OK, so let's buy a ticket. 'What is the the cheapest ticket out of the country at any time?' 'No sir, we need a specific date and a specific destination.' Ah well, so I ended up with a ticket that I never planned to use, but after a sprint to the terminal at least I got on the airplane.

So did I manage to get to the other end of the world. Geographically that is. Because although it is the furthest away from home that I've ever been, it feels a lot more like home than SE Asia. It's definitely interesting that I can finally understand what everybody is saying, and can get normal things like cheese (for a ridiculously high price of course). On the other hand, one of the most surprising things I've experienced here is the internet. That is, the lack of reliable and cheap connections. I figured that coming back to a developed country would mean free wifi everywhere and fast connections. Alas, I should have realised that the country is really in the middle of nowhere, has to get it's own fibre optic cables (apparently there is only one cable to the US from here). The result: internet is expensive, slow and not readily available. No more free wifi in hostels, you have to pay for it. Luckily the public library system is there to save poor travelers, where you can still enjoy free internet.

It appears that NZ has three official languages, English, Maori and German. I have never seen so many Germans in one place outside of Germany. The country must be empty. Especially all the 18/19 year olds seem to have migrated to this end of the world. Ah well, at least I can practise my German a bit.

The country, as anybody can tell you who has seen Lord of the Rings, is absolutely stunning. Hopefully the pictures below manage to convey this well enough. It is also quite thinly populated, especially the South Island (which has roughly 1 million people to the North Island's 3 million). The great outdoors indeed. I've also had the opportunity to reconnect with friends made in South East Asia who live here, which is absolutely great.


Bay of Islands

On the road in my rented car, a fantastic Nissan Sunny

Tongariro National Park, which featured as Mordor in LOTR

For the first time actually watching a cricket game, NZ - Zimbabwe with my friend Ben who I met in Cambodia

Wine tour in Hawke's Bay

Wellington, where I met up again with Marlous and Calum whom I met in Laos and Cambodia. During my visit the Rugby Sevens tournament was in town, which led to a huge city wide party

And finally I made my way to the south island. Picton

Posted by roelvanderkamp 14:26 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)


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29 December 2011, Yangon - It's 1.30am in the morning. After having to get up at 3.30am the previous day to catch my early flight from Bangkok, I was enjoying a great night's sleep. Getting off the plane, adjusting my clock (for some reason Myanmar is 30 minutes later than Thailand), tracking down the pickup from the guest house, checking in, and a full day of sight seeing in a completely different country... Yes, it was a long day and I was enjoying my sleep after three short nights. And suddenly... by bed is shaking and I wake up immediately to the loudest bang I have ever heard. WTF?? If I needed any more convincing that this wasn't a dream, looking out of my window did the trick: people are gathered in the street and above the crumbling buildings of this not so great neighbourhood of Myanmar's biggest city a great cloud of smoke. Most of the hostel is awake. Walking downstairs I hear various new details, some people saw a huge ball of fire from across the river, confirming it was an explosion and not an earthquake or something else. Given the familiarity of this country with rebel armies, I immediately think of a bomb. 'No, no, no,' one of the guys working at the guest house tells me as we stand on the side walk, looking at the expanding cloud of smoke, 'there was an accident at the gas station. No need to worry, go back to sleep.' Even though I'm a bit worried about it all, my tiredness wins and I go back to sleep. The next morning I ask the reception if they know anything more about the explosion. 'A medical facility,' the woman assures me, 'the chemicals weren't stored properly and caused some sort of reaction.' During the next few days I hear many, many different stories about the event, not just about the origin of it, but also regarding the human toll. Accounts vary between 40 injured and 25 dead to 'no-one was hurt'. The government controlled media doesn't help much (mainly because it is almost exclusively in Burmese). Everybody rules out a bomb though. Maybe it's just my sick mind, but I can't stop thinking about some sort of bombing, after which the official government reaction would probably be something along the lines of 'gas station' or 'medical facility'. I guess I won't find out anytime soon. Welcome to Myanmar!

PS Also see the official story here and here

I will refrain from quoting Kipling, as that seems to happen every time when people are commenting on this isolated country, but it is true: this is a country that is very different from anything I have ever seen. And still most tourists follow a fairly well trodden path: Yangon, Mandalay, the temples at Bagan and the Inle Lake. Although I'm sure all of those places are worth visiting, I wanted something different. For one, I really didn't want to see any more temples. In the past few months I've seen so many temples, waterfalls, tea plantations, coffee plantations, silk plantations etc. that I really couldn't be bothered anymore. So obviously I would still visit the magnificent Shwedagon Paya in Yangon, but I figured I could skip Bagan. So after Yangon I headed north to Mandalay for a few days, where I celebrated new years on the roof of the hotel with a beer in some nice warm weather. There are many nice things to see in the area around Mandalay, but the city itself is not very special. So I decided to head north west into the Shan state, where I wound up spending most of my time in the country. This area was luckily enough far enough off the beaten track so that it wasn't overrun by tourists. A large chunk of the state is off limits to foreigners due to fighting between the Shan army and the national army, and a huge amount of arms and drugs trade along the Chinese border. But at the limit of the permitted area I could still experience the authentic Shan way of life, great food and meet people who would only see a handful of tourists every year. The best part was a three day track from a remote village back to a more 'developed' village through the mountains and local villages, where we ate and slept in monasteries or in the house of the chief of the village. More than in any other country the kids would follow you around, wave, smile and yell at you (surprisingly the word for foreigner seems to be 'foreigner' in the big cities and 'Inglay' or Englishman in the rest of the country, as every foreigner is of course from the former colonial power).
Since I had such a great time in this part of the country I didn't see any need to go anywhere and in the end not just skipped Bagan, but missed the Inle Lake as well. Ah well, I'm sure they are still around later on, and instead I had a great unique experience seeing the less touristic part of the country. On the way back to Yangon I did plan to visit the newly built capital in Nay Pyi Taw, but they have made it not easy to visit the city (not too many buses a day, you have to stay in the special hotel zone, which is expensive and far away from the centre) and I wasn't feeling too well from something I ate, so unfortunately I had to skip that too.

A few more remarks about the country

One of the most striking things getting of the airplane is the dress code. This is basically a skirt without form (a cylinder of cloth) that is tied around the waist by both women (tamein) and men (longyi). The first time I've seen so many men wearing what would be considered in the west women's clothes.

The Myanmar Kyat (pronounced more like 'chet') is, unsurprisingly, not freely traded and unavailable in other countries. Because of the economic sanctions, there are no cash machines and credit cards are worthless (except for the few upscale hotels which allow you to pay for just a 20% commission). So the only way to make you're way around, because compared to the rest of South East Asia it is not cheap, you need to bring in your own supply of dollars or euros. And, even though most of their own bills are falling apart when you look at them, to change the money, they need to be in perfect condition. As was noted in a comment on the previous post, crisp is the word. This means no tears (reasonable), no smudges or writing on it (understandable), no folding (weird) and not certain random serial numbers (plain paranoid). Luckily some money changers in Bangkok know exactly what to do, but it takes some effort to make sure you don't fold your bills which will just be refused by the money changers at the hotel or the bank (until recently banks were only allowed to change at the 'official rate' of around 6 kyat/dollar, but they have finally accepted that no one will change it for less than 800 kyat/dollar).

To say that transportation in this country is medieval is an overstatement, but it would be fair to say that most of the country is stuck in the 1960's or 70's. Almost all the cars and pick-up trucks are in appalling condition and their is no consistent position of the steering wheel. Even though you have to drive on the right (hand) side of the road, about half of the cars have their wheel on the right as well. It is clear that they have to make do with whatever they can get as the number of new cars spotted could be counted on one hand (which must have been owned by military/government officials).
On the other hand, the country does want to look great to foreigners (and especially its main economical and political backer China). So there is a brand new highway between the main cities of Yangon and Mandalay. But more strikingly is Mandalay International Airport. This brand new airport with, apparently, excellent facilities and four baggage belts, only serves the Mandalay - Kunming (in southern China) route. It goes two times a week.
So you can imagine that traveling through the country is not always easy. Getting to Mandalay on the new highway is fine. But every bus arrives at 4am. This seems to be a common theme there, buses always leave or arrive in the dead of night. The bus stations are all far out of town (it took us 1.5 hours to get to the Yangon bus station). The other options are not that much more attractive: trains are ridiculously slow (14 hours on a route where the bus takes 6 hours) and private taxis and airplanes are expensive. My favourite way of traveling was by pick up truck. A small tuk-tuk or van that operates as a bus. One of the cheaper options and it allows you to sit, cross-legged with your bag on your lap, crammed up with the locals who all find it hilarious that a foreigner would travel this way.

When discussing Myanmar, it's impossible not to mention the political situation. The country is still very much isolated and controlled by a military dictatorship, but it looked like things were slowly changing. Talking to locals and tourists who had been there before, there did seem to be some genuine changes. The people seem to speak fairly freely about politics (in private of course) and on the street in Yangon posters and T-shirts with the picture of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi are sold openly (who also appears in the newspapers more freely, while this was illegal until recently). Furthermore Suu Kyi's NLD party is contesting some 40-odd parliamentary seats in April's election and campaigning relatively freely to do so. This seems to have generated enough interest from abroad that there has been a flurry of high-profile visitors to the country since Hillary Clinton visited the country two months ago, including billionaire philanthropist George Soros and UK foreign secretary William Hague. It seems everybody wants to get a piece of the country if/when it opens up.
But if you talk to people in smaller villages outside of Yangon and Mandalay, many people are not that optimistic. They admit that there have been some steps towards democracy, but also know that the military will tell them exactly what to vote in the upcoming elections. Many think that the current opening up is just a ruse to impress foreign governments and that the military will remain firmly in control of anything that matters. When I was there on Independence Day in early January, locals pointed out that they shouldn't celebrate the day too much. Obviously the government wanted to celebrate their freedom from colonial rule, but the big hero of that episode, Bogyoke Aung San was not a popular figure for the government anymore ever since his daughter Suu Kyi started entering politics. I guess time will tell.

And then it was time to move onwards again. Since this was already two weeks ago, I am aware that I have to catch up on some writing, which will come in due time. In the meantime, some pictures of Myanmar

Shwedagon Paya in Yangon

Learning to tie my longyi

The door in the taxi

Many monks would come up to us to try to practice their English. This monk was kind enough to show us around his monastery and show us the way back

A local store

Special tourist taxi

Amarapura, a village near Mandalay

Pyin Oo Lwin, a former British outpost

Hsipaw and the trek from Namshan back to it, the area in Shan state where I spent most of my time in Myanmar



Near our hostel in Yangon, not the best part of town

Posted by roelvanderkamp 10:04 Archived in Myanmar Comments (1)

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