SAPA: second day OFF the beaten tracks among the remote villages

Following my previous post for the first day of trekking, for completion I dedicate this post for the second day of SaPa adventure 🙂

First of all, the home-stay where we slept was nicely arranged for us foreigners and I was surprised since they even had a western toilet with shower (my guess is that they would not have the same toilet in other houses/shelters in the village), the reason behind that is that they cooperate with Sapa O’ Chau tour which is one of the most reliable and best rated tour agent in SaPa and besides that, Sapa has become a popular destination nowadays. However, be sure that if you ever end up sleeping at a casual house in such villages you could never expect a western toilet! The experience in Indonesia (Flores) taught me something.

Secondly, like in every village the morning starts very soon, at 5am you can already observe ‘women at work’ taking care of the chickens, goats and cows already awoken, and myself I caught the chance to get up to record the scenery during the sun-raising , after that I just returned to the bed to sleep a bit more. Finally we all got up around 7:30am to enjoy the offered breakfast and get ready to set off.

Not until we started off, we had to trek further up to a steep hill on a muddy trail, despite the conditions of the trails local people ventures to get through by scooter, I could imagine how often they break the suspensions 😀

When we arrived at the top-point of Soi Thau village there were two kids playing with each other and smiling to us like to say ‘Welcome aliens!’

Once we reached the top point, the trail upfront looked at our eyes long and well-distributed throughout the immense landscape, compared to what we had to trek the day before this was a way easier, after one hour of trekking we got to pass through a weak water-stream originated by a small waterfall see the picture below:

Water pool in-between the trail

it was nothing impressive, we stop by to record some scenery around, then when we continued, we finally got to trek gradually upper and upper, the trail itself had been carved along the perimeter of the hills and it was wide enough so that we were fully-safe 🙂

at one point we end up passing one more farm house, as aliens we said ‘xin chao‘ to the local guy outside the house, however he did not react: our tour guide Su explained us that most of them are rather shy with the aliens and therefore they will barely react, in addition there is the title of the tour itself ‘OFF the beaten track’ 🙂 During the first day of the tour I made an estimation that we met max. three more foreigners who probably were with another tour guide, other than that no one more was around. See below the surrounding scenery 🙂

At one point we arrived at the top point of the last hill, and after that we only experienced downhill, the more we were getting down and more we started observing more and more houses which was the sign we were slowly approaching the semi-rural life, at one house in the outdoor space there were five kids who were fighting to drink from a bottle of water, it was just funny to observe them how cute as well as ‘naughty’, see below:

Here at this point our trekking turned into a walking down to the village of Ta Giang Phing, because we end up being on concrete narrow road which meant the beginning of the conventional civilization had taken over 😦 all the second day trekking lasted about four and half hours.

We stop at a typical open-air Vietnamese tavern to enjoy a pork noodle soup spice with lime, chili and mint!

All in all, this is an experience I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to get away from the agitation of the conventional civilization, it is worthy for the money, moreover if personally I were to travel back to SaPa, I would surely go for a motorbike tour off the beaten track.

As for the tour agent trips, check out their website here below:
http://sapaochau.org/sapa-trekking-and-homestay/

Any remark is welcomed!

Giuseppe

FLORES motorbike tour: the conservative face of Indonesia with surprising people on the way.

Dear travelers,
after being back from quite some time spent in Indonesia, now it is time to provide you with an overview of my motorbike tour on East Nusa Tenggara commonly known as Flores. So far, Having explored in Indonesia Java, Bali and Flores, I venture to say that Flores compared to the others two is still conservative:

There is not yet a properly-developed tourist infrastructure, apart from Labuan Bajo, over the entire land, out of twelve spots checked out I found only two touristy-appealing sites: Bajawa and Moni (which is the town close to the Kelimutu crater). All the rest are mostly old-fashion villages or just not-westernized small town.

As an organized European traveler, before my journey came I drew a daft itinerary plan of the places I would have explored by riding a motorbike:

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Yamaha N-max scooter by FloresMotorbike

When in Flores, the rental of a (proper) motorbike is a MUST because of the following reasons:

  1. There is no public transportation network (only some mini-van by tour agents)
  2. If you like to challenge yourself with the sense-of-discovering then you have no other way then just getting a motorbike.

As you noticed above my drawn plan consisted of eleven days and I nicely fit it by including even an extra stop at Mbay, naturally depending on your time you can plan it longer and juicier, however generally speaking I would say that eleven days is a proper time to discover what great Flores offers to the motor bikers.

I am not going to drill down into many details because those are countless then especially when considering every single happening day after day, however every day was a discover of something new, as first when in the early morning (around 7:30am) I started riding the motorbike I felt very keen to say a warm ‘Hello!’ by raising the hand to almost everybody as I crossed on the road either on the feet or just riding on the opposite way, their common spontaneous reaction was a loud ‘Hello Misteeer!!!’, yes ‘Mister’ as a sign of a respectful welcome to the alien in Flores 🙂 I would say roughly the 90% of locals, even the kids, had such an energetic reaction (imagine yourselves doing the same warm salutation in Europe…) and in some cases they were even intimating me to stop for chatting with them and perhaps be offered with a baked green banana and a Kopi (coffee) as shown below:

One day being curious of a uphill concrete surface road I decided to ride up there to see what I would have discovered and well guess what?

It was a primary school building, moreover the pupils at that moment were doing some outdoor activities, they all came close to me as I was on the motorbike and naturally asked me for pictures “Photo photooo“, then also the teachers and the headmaster realized me and also they want photos with me, look at below picture to get impressed with an idea:

Naturally as usual in here I was offered with a coffee and then one lady wanted to get my Facebook contact, even the purpose was not clear to me I had nothing against that, once I left the school I thought that I could even be hosted by her so I didn’t think twice to talk to her and ask for hospitality, then she agreed with her husband to host me for one night as I was on my long way back to Labuan Bajo.

It was a great chance, even better than staying at a known traditional village, to get deeply involved on their rural village life out the ‘comfort zone’. Both wife and husband work as teachers part-time, so the 2nd half of the day they just enjoy their simple life characterized by social meetings with their neighbours which most of them don’t even have a conventional job, instead their profession is to take care of their cultivation of coffee, green vegetables and their chickens, one of their neighbors they also produce a strong alcoholic drink which I personally tried and it was even stronger than a shot of whisky!!!

Just a social consideration, the couple who hosted me told that everyone in the village was staring me because of my height above the (Indonesian) average, my long-pointing nose and the colour of my skin which sounded funny to me since most of us Europeans consider the South-east Asian people to be exotic 😀

Here below I have attached few pictures of my stay at a ordinary Flores village:

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In conclusion, If I had not been enough curious I would have never get into such a situation, however life itself means a lot, we can’t always just be focused on itineraries advertised by Google maps and similars. I can proudly affirm that I got a very meaningful life lesson from the motorbike tour in Flores, especially when I consider that they don’t care at all about how many belongings they live with, the consumerism is still a way far from their habits, moreover they are truly tolerant and humble regardless the skin and the religion.

Having said that, I would encourage anybody of you to try such a life experience, if you believe that a simple lifestyle is possible at this world!

Any remarks and concerns are warmly welcomed!

PS: special thank to Enu and Chen for the generous Coffee bag roasted on your village!

Eggiamp

JAKARTA: the 50 shades of a chaotic megalopolis

Hello to everybody!

After so long time of non-posting finally I am here back to bring a real-time post about the beginning approach of my long journey being spent in Indonesia.

Since last time was only focused on Bali which is not that meaningful this time will likely be a proper challenging Mission Indonesia.

Being here one day, I can not judge much, however I will draw your attention on the fact that the maximum length as a tourist in the Country is of 30 days, if have planned to stay longer just be aware of the fact that you will have to require the extension of your visa, perhaps this reference may be helpful for your future reference:

https://stingynomads.com/indonesian-visa-on-arrival/http://balifloatingleaf.com/extend-visa-bali/

That was my case, I knew I would have stayed longer than thirty days, however I was not aware that the limit was of only 30 days so I got to pay the fee of about 35$.

Coming to Jakarta, the first impression is that the city itself appears to be a mixture of poverty and richness which are twisted with each other, e.g. cab drivers sleeping in their own cabs, homeless people everywhere sleeping on the benches and modern shopping centers spread-ed everywhere, perhaps I could notice by far similar things in Bangkok.

 

Ans yes here like in Thailand here there are electric pylons everywhere!

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What is enjoyable is the fact that here you have the choice to get a ride by scooter by using the GO-JEK application, just ensure to get an Indonesian card in order to set it up: you will benefit a lot out of it then especially if you are a backpacker! Just 0.5 € for a 3km-ride.

So after sorting out some hassle with my general journey plan then it was easy for me to hop from one attraction to another one and so on.

If you like to record great scenery I warmly recommend you to get to the ‘Monas’, which is the national monument with a huge wideness of green area all around, just pity that today as Easter there were hordes of people getting there so I gave it up to get to the top of the tower, it was too appealing 🙂

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Then I decided to jump into two more attractions which were:

  1. Jin De Yuan Buddhist temple
  2. Taman Suropati park

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Having said that, I am done with the short visit in Jakarta, and I will get ready to head to the next stop(s) for which I will soon post a new real-time article!

Every comment is welcomed!

Giuseppe

Koh Lipe: explorers, local residents and Thai gypsies community.

Once again I am here to talk about a South-East Asian society which is the Thai one, just this time it isn’t related to a volunteering action: after three years since last time, I decided to visit a new Thai island which is close to the border line with Malaysia. The island is Koh Lipe which is part of the Tarutato National Park:

Koh Lipe

The aim was to explore new breathtaking landscapes by hiking and snorkeling dive; for such a challenge I planned to stay on Koh Lipe for just two days and after that I would have kept travelling to Malaysia which is by far less touristy than Thailand is.

My approach to Koh Lipe was nothing like surprising as I previously traveled to other gorgeous Thai islands, however as I arrived on Koh Lipe, I was keen to start exploring around the walking streets, as first and usual thing I needed to withdraw some Thai-Bath money by catching a cash dispenser, I asked one Thai guy what the way to the “centre” was, then he offered me to give me a ride there by motorbike as a warm welcome, as first I thought that he’d have expected a tip from me, in fact he didn’t but still I found nice to provide him with a 50-฿ tip.

As a second thing, I needed to find an accommodation with modest claims since I don’t like to have everything super-planned: in the worst case scenario I’d have slept one night on the sand by sleeping bag which wouldn’t have been the end of the world 😉 However I succeeded in finding one, that took me less than an hour 🙂 It was SHANTI hostel with air-conditioned for 400฿ per night which was reasonable.

 

The walking streets on Koh Lipe are full  of restaurants, cafe, shops and some diving schools like in any other well-developed Thai island with the only difference that this island is much smaller and quiet if compared it to Koh Tao and Koh Phi Phi.

In addition to that, if you walk further to the sunrise beach you you’ll discover an area which is populated by local Thai nomads, these people typically live in rustily-furnished shelters and conducts a simple and cheerful life-style, obviously as a curios photographer I didn’t renounce in stumbling into their village, I know they wouldn’t have ripped me off  by any means 😀 but instead they appeared to be pleased by my photo-visit, moreover they started to play some random folklore music which made everyone in a cheerful mood as shown in the short movie below:

As I kept walking through their village I noticed they were even provided with a small bazar for food and beverages which was owned by themselves, and not far from their village there were the shelter of most of Thai and non-Thai residents of the island, not only do the gypsies live in such a simple conditions but also all the rest of residents do, including the Italian owner of SHANTI hostel, since the island life doesn’t involve them to live with any formal clothes.

 

Further to that, on Koh Lipe unlike other Thai islands, only residents are provided with motorbikes, I mean that nobody rents motorbike to the visitors since the roads are narrow and with no asfalt which makes pretty much sense because it is part of the Tarutato National Marine park; basically they want to protect the natural park from the any source of pollution.

To sum it up, although I expected Koh Lipe to be busy like Koh Phi Phi is, in fact it wasn’t like that, at least on November, besides that, here there no disco-clubs attracting bunches of youngsters who are willing to get drunk and that’s all 😀 Here the environment is chilling and relaxing which conveys the right harmony in the evening, then especially when you you want to enjoy a tasty sea-food dinner and a chill-out just after that, perhaps with a healthy hot herbal tea with butterfly pea as shown below 😉

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One questionable point is: having considered how the Thai gypsies and all the local residents live, are we Europeans really sure that our happiness and fulfillment depends on how many gadgets and belongings we have on our hands?

Or are there any other key-factors which determine our fulfillment and joy of life?

Having said that, I will leave it up to you to figure out what make you feel happy, and base on that we can identify our room for improvement for our life-style.

I wish you all a Happy and Joyful Christmas day! 🙂

Everybody is warmly welcomed to comment and make suggestions on it!

Giuseppe

A volunteering day among eastern Malaysia poor villages

One day during my journey spent in Malaysia, a local friend who I had just met one day before proposed me to join him for a volunteering activity which consisted of distributing boxes of freshly-prepared food to the poor families residing in Batu Rakit village, which is situated in the region of Terengganu.

I didn’t think twice about joining him, and give my contribution rather than just behaving as a standard European traveler. Just I firmly believed that would surely have been a meaningful experience which would have helped me in closely understanding how those families conduct a simple lifestyle.

As we approached the village, the very first thing I was surprised about was that even the poorest family could afford a motorbike or a car at least.

I asked my friend Abdullah “Is that possible that such poor families own a car?” His answer was: “Don’t be surprised, here even the poorest family has a car because Malaysian cars are pretty inexpensive to be maintained, they just struggle a lot in getting proper food and drinks.”

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The more we were approaching their poor houses the more I realized that in fact their own houses were not well-maintained at all, hygienic conditions were rather poor as well as the inside equipment. However, I could notice that most of families had two or more children who were always smile-looking, what I understood was that their spontaneous smile represented the main hope for each family, they smile because they live outdoor with few gadgets and they are being raised with the idea that happiness is not given by any belongings, but instead small things make them happy which actually was the case whenever I gave them few boxes of food, YES, by volunteering I was supporting their hope as well as the children’s smile.

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To sum it up, the outcome was that I felt I did not waste my time at all but instead I discovered that still exists a genuine society which is not contaminated by any spreaded self-centeredness; it is only up to us decide what kind of person we want to be then especially when we act as travelers, the only questionable point is: are we really sure that our over-developed society is giving us all what we need?

Now it is up to us to figure out what on our society we can improve, nothing in the Earth is impossible, there’s always room for improvement!

PS: if you wish to look more pictures about the poor villages, check out my Flickr photo-album at the link below:

https://flic.kr/s/aHskZS71sa