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Malaysia Travel Tips

Malaysia Travel Tips

Welcome to our travel guide for globetrotters & UNESCO enthusiasts and discover top tips for your next travel to Malaysia – the country with the various cultures and ethics: Malay culture, a Chinese culture, an Indian culture, a Eurasian culture, along with the cultures of the indigenous groups of the peninsula.

Content

Tips for planning your journey

Our route through Malaysia (by bus and rental car)

Our highlights in Malaysia

Melaka (UNESCO World Heritage)
Kuala Lumpur
Cameron Highlands
Lenggong Tal (UNESCO World Heritage)
Ipoh
Penang (UNESCO World Heritage)
Kota Bharu
Kuala Terengganu

Unsere Empfehlungen

Our favorite dishes in Malaysis
Our recommendations about travel guides, cooking books and further literature

We spent two weeks in the western part of Malaysia (Peninsula Malaysia) in January 2020, starting in Singapore, crossing major cities and places like Melaka, Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves, Cameron Highlands, Penang, Kota Bharu and Kuala Terengganu. Above all, we have also visited all UNESCO world heritage sites of the island including Melaka and George Town (Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca) and the Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley.

This Malaysia travel guide will help you plan your dream trip by giving you all the tips, tricks, and travel hacks you need.

How to get from Singapore to Malaysia

You can reach Kuala Lumpur the capital of Malaysia from almost of European capitals with a non-stop direct flight. But it also possible to have a stopover in Dubai, Muscat, Doha or Bangkok etc.

Entering Malaysia from Singapore

We have entered Malaysia by foot from Singapore via the woodlands Immigration and arrived in Johar Baroh where we have rented a car. From Singapore there are regular buses starting at the central bus station (close to little India) going to the immigration. The tickets cost around 3 Singapore dollar and you can even pay with the MRT card. Since we started our trip on a Saturday morning the immigration was quite busy what means we were standing for around 1 hour in the queue.

Our route through Malaysia

 

Route Singapore Malaysia - Malaysia Travel Tips

Our experience of self driving in Malaysia

Car rental companies

All well-known car rental company are available in each big city in Malaysia. We decided to rent a car at Europcar that is just in a walking-distance from the immigration center in Johar Bahu in a hotel.

Costs for a rental car in Malaysia

Since we like to explore the countries by ourselves we decided to rent a car. Compared to other countries we already visited, renting a car in Malaysia is quite cheap. With approx. 25 Euro per day incl. insurance and two drivers, we got a typical Malaysian car: a proton. Proton stands for Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional which means translated national automotive company. Proton was founded in 1983 by the prime minister as a joint venture of the heavy industry in Malaysia and Mitsubishi. Now the chines car manufacturer Geely is also invested.

The streets are in a very good condition, especially when you take the toll roads. To pass the toll gates a so-called Touch & Go card is required. The card can be bought in shell gas stations and needs to be charged with money. For our round trip we required around 120 MYR (approx. 30 Euro). Malaysians are careful drivers, almost no soundings of horns. Waiting at red lights means being patient since red lights can take up to more than 100 seconds. Never experienced so long red-light phases. Hence, we understand why everybody is using the AC in their cars.

Ultimate travel tips for Malaysia

Melaka / Melakka

Our first stop was Melaka / Melakka – a UNESCO world heritage site. We spent one day to explore the colonial sites in the city center. The main attractions are within a walking distance. The different cultures and especially the influence form the Dutch, Portuguese and the English are visible in the city. Our favorites sites in the city center are:

1. Walk along the Melaka River, especially in the night when the trees around are illuminated.

 

2. The red place contains the main colonial sights. All buildings around the place are painted in red since the beginning of 20th century. The oldest Dutch building in Southeast Asia is the Stadthuys that was built based on the city hall in the hometown of the sailors. Together with the Christ Church and the clock tower in the middle of the place show the outstanding architecture. The place is very crowded but it is worth taking the time to walk around and also climb up the hill to St. Paul to enjoy the view from above. However, the only annoying thing are the colorful and trashy rickshaws with earsplitting sounds.

3. Walk through the Jonker Street and Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Look for the beautiful houses. Preferable is a morning walk before the market at Jonker Street starts to have a view to the colonial houses. The houses are built in the typical Malaysian style with two levels where the second level overstates the first to have a shadowed and dry walk-way. Certainly, you should not miss Chee’s House (Chee Mansion) in the honor of the first chairman of the Overseas Chinese Banking Cooperation (OCBC).

Travel tips for Kuala Lumpur (KL)

Our next stop was the capital and the biggest city of Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur (KL). KL offers so many sights. However, since we only spent two days in KL we have only visited the following sights.

Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur

The most impressive of KL for us was the ancient city around the Dataran Merdeka Square where the independence has been declared. With all the surrounding beautiful buildings like the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the clock tower it feels like a transformation to former years.

Petronas Towers

KL’s well-known sign are the Petronas Towers – still world’s tallest twin towers with 88 levels. The towers are connected via a sky bridge at level 41 and 42. visits are possible up to level 86. The Petronas Towers were in 1996 with a height of 451,9 meters the highest buildings in the world. In the evenings there shall be a light show between 8 and 9 pm however, the evening we were visiting the Petronas Towers there was none.

Botanical Garden

Unfortunately, at the time of our visit in January 2020, the Hibiscus and Orchid Gardens inside the botanical garden were closed for renovation. We heard that the gardens will be closed at least until September 2020. However, the deer garden is open but with only a few deers currently living in the garden.

Batu Caves

Just around 12 km in the North of KL near the highway, lies a must-see. The Batu Caves with its impressive around 42 meters high golden statue of god Murugan – son of Shiva and Parvati. 272 colorful steps lead to temples inside the limestone caves. During the walking up, please take care of your water bottles due to the monkeys all around. We have even seen that one monkey was steeling one shoe from a woman just wanted to relax on the stairs.

Cameron Highlands

From Batu caves we continued our trip to a cooler area: Cameron Highlands. Impressive to see such large tea estates with an incredible number of different green colors. Also, seeing and learning about the way tea is produced is very interesting. Certainly, for us this was one of the highlights on our trip. We first visited BOH Tea Estate.

On the next day we were walking around the central city Tanah Rata of Cameron Highlands and started with another tea tasting at Cameron Valley Tea Estate. But unbelievable how bad the touristic centers of the Cameron Highlands are with it’s huge hotels…

Finally, we bought a lot of tea on both factories and will think of this vacation with every cup of tea enjoying back home.

Saskia Hohe shopping Malaysian Tea - Malaysia Travel Tips

Cameron Highlands has with about 7.000 Land Rovers the highest concentration of these legendary off-road vehicles in the world. They can be easily repaired and have been left by the British. Some examples we have seen already look like antique cars.

Lenggong Valley

After saying good by to the Cameron Highlands, we were heading to our next UNESCO world heritage site, officially called the Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley. Probably not one of our UNESCO highlights, the site consists of some caves and the archaeological museum in the village of Kota Tampan. Its highlight is the prehistoric skeleton of the Perak Man who was found in 1990 in the cave site in Gua Gunung Runtuh. The Perak Man lived 11,000 years ago and his ancestors had settled in the Lenggong Valley after they migrated from Africa, crossing Middle East and finally arriving in South Asia.

Also, we learned that you can access the caves after arranging an appointment with the museum. However, not being the biggest fans of prehistoric sites, we enjoyed a quick picnic at the museum’s parking before finally navigating to our next travel destination.

Ipoh

Leaving the Lenggong Valley, we recommend stopping for a day on Ipoh. It is a good impression of what you will see in Penang / Georgetown but not so crowded. It still looks very authentic and we recommend the following heritage walk:

1. Jalan Bijeh Timah

First of all, start at Jalan Bijeh Timah with the Han Chin Pet Soo that was founded as a miner’s club in 1929. Even before is was used by the hakka-Chinese miner’s for gambling and smoking.

Han Chin Pet Soo Ipoh Malaysia - Malaysia Travel Tips

2. Panglima Lane

Afterwards, continue through the Panglima Lane better known as Concurbine Lane. The name is based on the story that due to a fire in 1892 three new streets were built for the wives of a rich tin baron. Today there a several souvenir shops and art galleries that are worth visiting.

3. Jalan Sultan Yussuf

In the Jalan Sultan Yussuf (Belfield Street) several historic bank buildings are located and further beautiful buildings around the park Ipoh Pedang. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation first opened an office in 1910 in a modest wooden building provided by the government. The FMS building is said to be the oldest restaurant in Malaysia which begin operating on its current site in 1923.

4. High Court & Railway Station

The area around the central station show the richness the colonial area with its High Court and the clock tower that was built in 1909. The railway station is a perfect example of colonial architecture and was built as a hotel and looks similar to the railway station in Kuala Lumpur. On the fore court is planted an Ipoh tree that has given the name to the city. It looks like a rubber plant at the first sight however the poisonous sub used for darts was obtained by the trees.

5. Jalan Dato Maharajalela

Finally, following the Jalan Dato Maharajalela (Station Road), we passed the impressive Standard Charted Building form 1924. At that time Standard Chartered Bank was the leading bank for the tin industry and the major bank for the Straits Trading Company, a big tin-ore exporter, whose former office lies directly across the street. This building is now occupied by OCBC Bank.

Standard Chartered Bank in Ipoh Malaysia

Georgetown / Penang

Next on our route was the UNESCO World Heritage city Georgetown. Georgetown is a living museum where we walked around a full day and could continue for more days to explore all the colonial buildings. You should not miss to visit the houses of the Clans called Kongsi. The houses were established by rich Chinese people with the same family name. Some of the houses are more than 250 years old. The Khoo Kongis we have visited in the street Lebuh Armenian has an impressive museum telling the story of the Chinese immigrants and the roof of the house is with all its colorful decoration awesome.

The major sights are all in a walking distance but in the inner center a free tourist bus is available.

At the riverside old clan houses are located with a beautiful view on to the first Penang bridge with a length of 13.5 km.

Penang Georgetown Malayisa bridge

In the so-called Street of Harmony (Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling) it is visible what makes Malaysia a unique country – buildings from all religions are standing side-by-side: St. George’s church, Chinese goddess of Mercy temple, Hindu Sri Mahamariamman temple, Kapitan Keling mosque and Teochew Chinese Han Jiang temple.

Eastern peninsula Malaysia

Finally, we left the western part of Malaysia. Crossing peninsula Malaysia from West to East the appearance of Malaysia has changed to a dominated Muslim country with even being the street signs also in Arabic. The area Kelantan in North East of Malaysia was until 1909 under Siamese control.

Kota Bharu

We stayed one night in Kota Bharu – the center of Malaysian culture. Beautiful pictures can be taken especially in the market of Pasar Besar. In the lower level, fruits and vegetables are sold and from the 1st floor you have certainly a good view on the market activities.

Around the central place of independence representative buildings like the Muhammadi mosque of 1922 can be found. Go up the prominent tower at the river side to have a perfect overview of the city.

Kuala Terengganu

On our way back to Johor Bahru along the East coast we stopped at Kuala Terengganu. A very beautiful city with colorful shop houses in the street of Chinatown.

Kuala Terengganu has extraordinary mosques where two of them can be found outside of the city. The Crystal mosque made of steel and tinted glass is located on one of the islands. When the river has a high tide, the mosque located on pillars in the river looks like it is floating.

Traditional dishes in Malaysia

Eating in Malaysia is a very spicy experience!! However, it is really worth and an incredible taste. The variety of Malaysia is also visible in the food.

Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak is a typical Malaysian breakfast. The white rice is cooked in a thin coconut milk and served with a spicy curry and meat. Additionally, a half egg, salty dried fish, cucumber and roasted peanuts complete the Malaysian breakfast. It is a really delicious dish however, we had it as lunch and not as a spicy and fishy breakfast.

Nasi Lemak traditional dish in Malaysia breakfast

Laksa

Laksa is a famous dish in Singapore and Malaysia. In general, it is a Nyonya noodle soup with different ingredients. Assam Laksa with a fish stock, Penang Laksa with spicy fish paste including coconut milk and Singapore Laksa as a “mild” alternative with fish cake, cucumber, bean sprouts and fried onions.

Indian food in Malaysia

Restaurants serving Indian food can be found everywhere – but be especially careful about the spiciness.

Steamboat

Fondue exists all over the world with lo cal specialties. We are fans of the Japanese Shabu-Shabu and Chinese Hot Pot so, of course, we wanted to try the Malaysian version: Steamboat with a lot of raw fish.

Our recommendations for Malaysia

Travel guide / Travel book

To identify all these lovely places and Malaysia travel tips we read the following Lonely Planet Travel Book for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei:

In addition there are two nice books to read about Malaysia, a love story set against the turmoil of mid-twentieth century Malaysia and a compelling story on the captivatingly exotic world of myth and magic:

 

Book for food lovers

Unfortunately, some of the dishes were too spicy to enjoy them completely, we bought a new cooking book to prepare them at home. We can recommend the following:

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Packing List for Travelling light and easy

Packing List for Travelling light and easy

Packing list for travelling – how to travel light and efficient

During our travels we have recognized that travelling with a light backpack is one of the key drivers that makes trips more efficient. Therefore, we want to share our packing list for travelling with you.

Having a light backpack is also important when you are renting a car as we prefer to do it on our trips. We experienced that taking every evening the backpacks from the car into the guesthouse is annoying, especially when we hardly managed passing through the door and even harder to take the stairs up to the room. Therefore, we removed with each travel more and more items from our backpacks.

The essential items are listed here as an indication and guideline for you because we are sure that there is NO master packing list due to individual wishes especially in regards to clothes and technical equipment. Especially the technical equipment is still one of our personnel (and honestly big) discussion points when preparing the backpacks 🙂 We have added here also affiliate links for the products we are really using ourselves and are convinced of the added value and the quality.

Find a best-fit backpack!

The most important element of a comfortable travel is a well fitted backpack. We spent several hours in an outdoor shop to find the one backpack fitting the best to our backs. Do not forget to walk around in the shop with weights included. I am now using for five years the backpack from GREGORY Deva (60 liter) and Paul is carrying also a GREGORY Baltoro with 75 liter.

We are in general using two day backpacks whereas one is from Jack Wolfskin with separated sections to organize the items. In addition, we have a small bag for the camera. Previously, we have used the Salewa bag pack what was very convenient for our trips but this one did not had any special shelf for a notebook.

Packing & Wrapping

We are organizing and sorting all the items with laundry nets and basic bags. We are packing a whole cloth set for one or two days so that we do not need to take out all the items from the backpack and re-pack it every day completely:

Documents

The following documents are very useful for a trip (in some cases copies are sufficient):

  • Passport and local ID cards (original documents but also copies in case you do not want to show or hand-over your official passport or also in case of a theft)
  • Vaccination certificates (we always take only copies of our vaccination certificates)
  • Global health insurance (original letter / certificate and copy)
  • Local driver license
  • International driver license for travelling outside of Europe (please pay attention that the international driver license originated in Germany expires three years after origination and needs to be renewed)
  • Airplane / train tickets or pre-booked hotel confirmations (electronic versions are sufficient) but it is worth to have the address and telephone number of the first hotel at hand on a piece of paper so that the bus / taxi driver can contact the hotel to confirm the address / way
  • Telephone numbers to lock the credit cards in case of the fraudster

We have digital copies of all these documents in a secured area of Dropbox and Google drive.

Clothes

Clothes are a very individual topic. We try to minimize the clothes since laundry shops are all around the world available and are in general cheap. Depending on the climate zone we take clothes for maximal five days. Especially, functional trekking ware is perfect since they are drying very fast and you can also wash them overnight in the bathroom if needed.

Since I cannot live without going for a run, I am in general wearing my running shoes on our trips when not walking around with flipflops. Paul has special trekking shoes but they should be light and breathable to wear them in warmer as well as in colder areas.

There are three pieces of clothes we are always taking with us since they are so multifunctional and good for warm as well as cold weather:

  • Long-sleeve Merino shirt
  • Merino legging
  • Fleece jacket / pullover

Daily utensils & other items

Other useful items we have always with us are the following things (links to our products see below)

  • Light weight sleeping bag
  • Insect Shield Inlet von Cocoon (one in line and one in silk)
  • Mini Swiss set incl. needle, knife, scissor, tweezer, small screwdriver – this was a present from my former company and this is unbelievable helpful and so light (but please put it in your check-in luggage)
  • Money belt to carry larger amount of cash
  • In colder areas we take our sleeping back with us (especially when going camping)
  • Sunglasses
  • Thermos bottle (0.5 liter) and some small packages instant coffee (since we were not always happy with the local coffee)
  • Non-slip bathing shoes
  • Old credit cards as fakes for the wallet (in case of a robbery)
  • Pillow and neck pillow in one (non-inflatable) – yes, indeed, this pillow needs some space in our hand luggage but it is worth due to the comfort and I am using it also in the hotels on our trips
  • Travel clothes line

For colder areas we also take a sleeping bag with us. But since the backpack are already quite staffed with long clothes for us, the weight and the size of the sleeping bag were our important criteria. This is why we have chosen the following one since with its 1.3 kg it is quite light. The recommended temperature is about -9 degree Celsius what was sufficient for our purpose since we are using the sleeping bag in majority in not (sufficiently) heated guestrooms or the campervan.

Washbag

Our washbags are in general quite heavy but we have recognized that cosmetics are in other countries quite expensive. We have in general the following items in our washbag:

  • Toothbrush
  • Tooth paste
  • Day and night face cremes and light makeup
  • Deodorant stick
  • Shampoo
  • Comb
  • Makeup pads / humid face tissues
  • Shaver and shaving cream
  • Sun blocker
  • Hand disinfection tissues and gel
  • Sewing kits
  • Since we are wearing glasses, we always put some packs of contact lenses in our bag

We are not taking any soaps since in general soaps are available in the guesthouses.

Medicine

In general, the main medicine will be available in each country however it is always good to take some basic medicines for immediate intake:

Electronic equipment

Since we are blogging and working from abroad during our travels we might have a longer list of technical equipment:

  • Camera
  • Replacement battery for the camera
  • Several SD cards to save the photos
  • Acer Chromebook (Light Notebook) – Paul is using
  • Apple Ipad mini for me and ear phones
  • Mobile phones
  • Charger for all electronic equipment
  • Kindle Paperwhite
  • Solar Powerbank
  • Car charger
  • World adapter
  • Cable to contact camera to Chromebook and to iPad
  • Garmin for navigation
  • Batteries for Garmin

We have just bought last year a new Garmin for navigation since we are using it the whole time during our trips (when walking around and also for car navigation). We currently using Garmin eTrex Touch 25. This is now for us the first time with a touch display of the Garmin. But after the first three trips, we are very satisfied and it is easier to navigate compared to the small button we had with the Garmin eTrex 20. The handling of the Garmin are comparable between the different versions and the touch screens makes the zooming more comfortable.

 

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Myanmar (Burma) Travel Tips

Myanmar (Burma) Travel Tips

Welcome to our travel guide for globetrotters & UNESCO enthusiasts and discover top Myanmar (Burma) travel tips – the country of gilded pagodas, spirituality and hospitality.

Content

Tips for planning your journey

Our route through Myanmar (by bus and train)

Our Highlights in Myanmar

Mandalay
Bagan (UNESCO World Heritage)
Yangon
Pyay
Bago
Kinpun

Our recommendations

If you want to read more about the country, we can recommend you some books.

First and ever remaining impressions of Myanmar (Burma)

On the 16th February 2017, we arrived in Myanmar – our second to the last country on our round-the-world trip. The first thing we have recognized arriving in Myanmar is the extremely friendly people. Consequently, walking through the streets people offered their help to find what we are looking for. Unbelievable for us: without trying to sell us something or to lead us to their shops or restaurants. We need to get used to not directly rejecting their offers what we have ourselves adopted in the other Southeast Asian countries. In total, we could not imagine a better ending for these two months of being in Southeast Asia. We hope, the Burmese do not get upset of tourists and keep their openness and friendliness. Even monks are looking with an amazing open-mind for contacts with foreigners and took pictures of us or with us.

Together with its cultural highlights like astonishing Bagan and the pagodas in Bago and Yangon, Myanmar is really a unique country.

Our route through Myanmar

We arrived in Mandalay by plane from Bangkok. Unfortunately, self driving is not possible for tourists in Myanmar. Therefore, we have taken for the longer distances buses and trains. The buses and trains were in general all comfortable and very cheap. For example, we have taken a train from Yangon to Bago and paid around 30 cent for a a lower class ticket for the two hours drive which was written by hand. In addition, in the cities and towns we have always rented electric scooter and e-bikes to get around.

Conditions of the roads

However, we have read about the bad condition of the roads due to the small investments in the infrastructure after the colonial era. But we have not expected such bad roads. The journey lasted six hours for approx. 300 km from Mandalay to Yangon with “free massage” as we have been well shaken during the drive. This journey is currently the most shaky we had on our trip. Therefore, we are lucky that we could share this experience with Paul’s cousin Michael and his wife Katrin with whom we are traveling together in Myanmar for one week.

Countryside in Myanmar

The journey lead us through barren landscape and a lot of beggars along the route. This is the other side of the coin for the low tourism. Since 1962, the military is governing Myanmar with focus on the wealthiness of certain group of people. The population has to pay for this mismanagement and inability with poverty. Above all, the name Myanmar was introduced arbitrarily in 1989 by the government without involvement of the people.

Driving in Myanmar – on the left or right side?

Since Myanmar is a former British colony, we have expected a left-hand traffic. However, they are driving on the right hand side but the majority of the cars have their steering wheel on the right side. This is caused by a vision of the former dictator in the 1960’s. From one day to the next he changed from left to right-hand traffic in order to relieve from a British colonial relic. The actual reason was a fortune teller who said that the left side is bad. Due to the fact that many cars are imported from Thailand where the cars drive on the left side, the steering wheels are still on the right side.

This is only one story about the dictator’s superstition. Another one is that he introduced 45 and 90 Kyat bills and voided all others since the number nine was his lucky number. Consequently, this resulted in math exercises during shopping.

Our ultimate Myanmar (Burma) Travel Tips

Mandalay

Mandalay as the second largest city in Myanmar is Myanmar’s religious center with its many monasteries and monks. Moreover, Mandalay was the former royal capital before the British defeated the Upper Burma. The city was named after the Mandalay Hill that you should climb up to get breathtaking view of sunset or sunrise.

Myanmar is the first country where we are taking less pictures from the locals compared to the pictures the locals are taking of us or even ask us for pictures and selfies. We met a group of monks in one of the pagoda in Mandalay and every one wanted a pictures with us together.

Monks in Mandalay Myanmar
Gold Leaf Manufacturer

One gold leaf manufacturer next to another can be found in the 36th street. Small gold nuggets are transferred into extremely thin gold leaves through rhythmic hammering by well-trained men. Despite this hard work, it is a popular job because the gold leaves are used for higher purpose: it is used to stick on Buddha statues to earn points for the reincarnation. Some Buddhas are covered with so many gold leaves only that their shape is already gone.

Kuthodaw pagoda

The Kuthodaw pagoda consists of 729 small stupas containing each a marble board with stories about Buddha’s life and doctrines. This pagoda is also called the biggest book in the world and the construction lasted more than seven years. If someone would read every day for eight hours, he would need probably 450 days to read the whole book.

Royal Palace

The golden Royal Palace in Mandalay was built 1857 and contains more than 130 buildings. Since the king feared leaving his palace, a 55 meters high tower was built as the single possibility to watch the outside life. However, most parts of the palace were destroyed by the colonial power as well as during the war against the Japanese occupying forces. For the restoration, corrugated iron roofs and golden color instead of gold leaves were used.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bagan

Bagan is one of the architectural highlight in Southeast Asia. But compared to Angkor, Bagan has still something magical and mysterious. There a no huge crowds of tourists and exploring the area is mainly possible by horse carts or electric bikes. Big buses are rare. And so it happened that we were completely alone visiting some temples. Pictures from Bagan temples and balloons are the most popular picture of Myanmar and one will have it in mind when thinking of Myanmar. Around 2,200 temples, pagodas and stupas are located in Bagan. Bagan was listed recently as UNESCO World heritage. The reason for this long waiting list was that Myanmar did not adhere to the specifications for historical landmarks and the restoration was done with cheap construction material not matching to the original one. In 2019, the UNESCO finally added Bagan to the list of cultural heritage sites.

Recommended horse cart tour

We started our exploration tour of Bagan with a traditional horse cart ride. For one full day we went from the most popular temples with a horse cart. Unbelievable, entering the temples and pagodas is only possible without shoes and socks. Walking around barefoot in these around 800 years old temples and pagodas was a challenge due to the sun heated stones as well as the many small stones and sand on the ground.

Sunset and sunrise in Bagan

For the sunset on the first day we have chosen a stupa where we could climb up to the third level with an amazing view over its temples and stupas scattered area. However, this spot is quite popular and so we were already climbing up the temple around 4.30 pm to get a good place for the sunset around 6 pm.

For the sunrise the next morning we have identified another temple off the beaten path with less tourists (maybe also due to the early sunrise at 5.45 am). It was astonishing when the balloons started and were flying over the temples. This view has more than paid off the early getting up.

Remote temples at Bagan

For the second and third day in Bagan we rented e-bikes to explore the more remote temples. E-bikes are (rather electronic scooter) a good idea in this dry and hot area of Myanmar. The temples with only one level at the ground floor are older compared to them with several levels. The main material was brick stones brought to Bagan by boat. All still existing buildings had religious purposes, the palaces and the houses of the kings have not survived the long time and especially the fights against the Mongols. Even after the period where Bagan was a royal city, Burmese kings donated bells and gold for the stupas and even two new temples were built in the 18th century. Uncountable are the Buddha statues in the temples in many different sizes and colors.

Mount Popa

We hired a private taxi to get from Bagan to Mount Popa for a half day. The reason for the private taxi was mainly due to time constraints and we wanted to enjoy another half day at least in Bagan. 787 steps lead to the top of the mountain but also here we had to walk barefoot. Another challenge were the many monkeys running and jumping around and their poops on the stairs. But the view from the top and the small temples were worth climbing up.

Pyay – non touristic place

A huge adventure was our trip to Pyay. From Yangon Pyay can be reached via bus (approx. seven hours drive). Sri Ksetra located just a few kilometres from Pyay is an ancient capital. Not many buildings have survived since the 9th century when the center was relocated towards Bagan. The Baw Baw Gyi Pagoda remained with its 43 meters tall stupa. The last king has taken some relics away and brought them to one of the pagodas in Bagan. To avoid further theft the ‘Grand Lady’ is watching the pagoda sitting on a swing. Devouts donate scarfs to the Grand Lady.

Pyu (Pyay) Ancient Cities – UNESCO World Heritage Site

To get to the area of the ancient capital in Pyay we have rented a motorcycle directly at the hotel since we arrived quite late with the bus from Yangon. Besides issues starting the motorcycle, changing the gears felt like riding a horse. Paved roads are not really existing in Pyay and so we had to cross sandy roads – sometimes with so many sands that we had trouble to not fall down – with wild dogs everywhere around. Due to the late afternoon we only stopped for some minutes at each pagoda to avoid driving during darkness through this countryside. We have the impression that not many tourists visit this site since we haven’t met anybody else and the choice of hotels is very limited. And why did we do all of this? For extend our lovely bucket list of UNESCO sites.

Bago

Bago is just 80 km from Yangon and so we decided to take a train to get there. Our train didn’t had windows and also the door was not closing during the journey but due to the low speed of the train it was perfect. The train station looks like an original heritage from the colonial era.

Taking the train from Yangon to Bago revealed a side of Myanmar that we haven’t seen before: the extreme poverty of the Burmese people and the non-existence of a waste management system.

No other city in Myanmar has such a density of religious sites like it is the case in Bago. We rented e-bikes to visit the pagodas in this non-touristic city. It seems that e-bikes are not common in Bago since the locals were surprisingly looking at us. To confuse them even more, when passing slow motorcycles we started pedaling as much as possible despite the electric engine.

Saskia Hohe ebike Bago Myanmar BurmaFour Buddhas in Bago

In the South of Bago four sitting Buddhas are located. Of course there are many Buddha statues in Myanmar and one is bigger, more beautiful or more golden like the other but these Kyaikpun Buddhas are special. They are sitting back to back and looking into the four cardinal points. The one looking to the North is the current Buddha Gautama and the other three are his predecessors. The statues are originally from the 15th century but have been restored in the last years with brilliant fingernails, white skin and deep red lips.

Shwethalyaung Pagode

The reclining Buddha inside the Shwethalyaung Pagode is with its length of more than 50 meters one of the largest Buddhas in the world. This position symbolizes Buddha shortly before his death. This Buddha was standing outside but to protect him, a roof construction (inconvenient for pictures) was built.

reclining Buddha inside the Shwethalyaung Pagode Bago Myanmar Burma

Directly next to the Shwethalyaung Pagoda lies another huge Buddha statue – but this time, in the open air. This Buddha was built around ten years ago. Since there are no big trees around to provide shade, our feet were grilled walking around barefoot on these green tiles.

Shwemawdaw Pagoda

The Shwemawdaw Pagoda has the highest stupa of Myanmar and was restored several times due to earthquakes. And every time the pagoda was getting bigger and more beautiful. The once fallen down top of the pagoda has now been integrated into the structure in a way to remind of this occurrence.

Kinpun

The Golden Rock in Kinpun is one of the most important Buddhist sanctuary in Myanmar. The rock is only held tight by Buddha’s one hair that is positioned inside the golden stupa on top of the rock. To get up on the mountain you can either walk three hours or take a truck for 40 minutes. A truck starts when the benches on the loading area are more than full (approximately 40 people). Going up the around 700 meters is fine due to the ascent but for going down we have kept the fingers crossed that the breaks will make it.

Yangon

We spent our last two days in Myanmar in Yangon. Yangon was Myanmar’s capital until 2006 when the army declared surprisingly the newly founded city Nay Pyi Taw as the new capital. However, the new capital is located in a region that is still closed for foreigners.

Shwedagon pagode

The Shwedagon pagode in Yangon is one highlight of our trip so that we spent a lot of time there to see the sunrise and the sunset. It is said that the pagoda is around 2,500 years old. The stupa is around 100 meters high and with the gold leaves on it, the stupa weights around 150 tons whereof around ten tons are pure gold. Every third year, the gold is taken away and the stupa gets completely new gold. The umbrella on top has several thousands of diamonds and little bells.

Sule Pagode

What you should not miss in Yangon is the visit of the downtown area. We have taken a bus from the Shwedagon Pagoda to the city center. In the middle of a roundabout, there is another beautiful golden pagoda (Sule Pagoda).

Colonial houses

Yangon’s second face consists of respectable colonial houses. The majority of the houses were built at the beginning of the 20th century. Despite the tendency to modernize Yangon, the locals renovate the ancient houses on a regular basis. Still in use is the baby blue City House with Yangon’s government and the post office. In the latter we have learned that the post office for parcels is only open 2.5 hours per day – despite many employees have been around four hours after the official closure.

Myanmar from another time

The man on the picture looks like from another time. We found him sitting in front of a house with this old typewriter. What an impressive end of the really stunning visit of Myanmar. Highly recommended to visit Myanmar to all of you.

Colonial area Yangon Myanmar Burma

Thanaka paste

You might have seen a bright crème in the Burmese’s face and may ask yourself: what is this that they put on their face? This is Thanaka paste – the most widely used skin lotion in Myanmar. The Thanaka tree grows mostly in the sandy regions of Central Myanmar and needs about 30 years to be harvested. The locals use Thanaka as a protection against the sun. Moreover, the paste lightens the skin and many say that it is the secret for their anti-aging.

Our book recommendations

 

Travel Guides

As a English guidebook we have made good experience with the Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma) guide. It has a good overview of country highlights, some maps and useful accommodation tips.

Novels

The following novels have we either read by our own or they have been recommended to us.

Burmese Days – George Orwell: Orwell draws on his years of experience in India to tell this story of the waning days of British imperialism. A handful of Englishmen living in a settlement in Burma congregate in the European Club, drink whiskey, and argue over an impending order to admit a token Asian.
The Art of Hearing Herat Beats –  Jan-Philipp Sendker: When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be…until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never heard of. Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father’s past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion. It will reaffirm the reader’s belief in the power of love to move mountains.
The Long Path to Wisdom –  Jan-Philipp Sendker: These moving stories speak to the rich mythology of the diverse peoples of Burma, the spirituality of humankind, and the profound social impact of Buddhist thought. Some are so strange he couldn’t classify them or identify a familiar moral, while others reminded him of the fairy tales of his childhood. Except that here monkeys, tigers, elephants, and crocodiles inhabited the fantastic lands instead of hedgehogs, donkeys, or geese. Their morals resemble those of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen, illustrating how all cultures draw on a universal wisdom to create their myths.
Saving Fish from Drowning – Amy Tan: San Francisco art patron Bibi Chen has planned a journey of the senses along the famed Burma Road for eleven lucky friends. But after her mysterious death, Bibi watches aghast from her ghostly perch as the travelers veer off her itinerary and embark on a trail paved with cultural gaffes and tribal curses, Buddhist illusions and romantic desires. On Christmas morning, the tourists cruise across a misty lake and disappear.

Further reading

Myanmar (Burma): Temples of Bagan  – David Raezer: We have read this book by ourselves during the visit of Bagan. Bagan, the ancient Buddhist capital in central Myanmar (Burma) that thrived from 850-1300, is one of the most magnificent and inspiring sites in Southeast Asia. It is yours to uncover.
The River of Lost Footsteps – Thant Myint-U: How is interested in Burma’s history and political system, should not miss this book. hant Myint-U tells the story of modern Burma, and the story of his own family, in an interwoven narrative that is by turns lyrical, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Through his prominent family’s stories and those of others, he portrays Burma’s rise and decline in the modern world. From the time of Portuguese pirates and renegade Mughal princes through a sixty-year civil war that continues today―the longest-running war anywhere in the world.
Freedom from fear- Aung San Suu Kyi: Aung San Suu Kyi is the most popular person of Burma. How wants to read more about her life as opposition politician and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate should read this biography of the Swedish journalist Jesper Bengtsson.

 

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Vietnam Travel Tips

Vietnam Travel Tips

Arriving in Vietnam from Combodia via bus

From Camboadia we continued our Around-the-worls-trip towards Vietnam. We have taken a bus from Phnom Phen in Cambodia to Vietnam. The bus drive was very convinient with an easy boarder crossing. At the boarder we had to take out the luggage and cross the boarder with our luggage and went then back to the respective bus. We have applied for the Vietnam visa in Phnom Phen at Vietnam’s embassy. This has last only 24 hours but there were also possibilities to receive a Vietnam visa even within several hours in case you are in a hurry.

Being a millionaire has never been easier on our trip than in Vietnam: the exchange rate is about 25,000 dongs (Vietnam’s currency). This means that with 40 Euro we are already a Dong millionaire and ending up with more than a wallet full of bills.

Our route through Vietnam

We have chosen the direction of travel from the South starting in Ho-Chi-Minh City (Saigon) to the North ending in Hanoi resp. Sa Pa. Vietnam’s size from North to South is around 1,650 km but at the most narrow area from East to West the size is only around 50 km. Since my parents-in-law are joining us for two weeks through Vietnam, we decided to rent a car with a driver instead of taking buses and trains. Self-driving even with an international driver license is unfortunately not possible in Vietnam.

The honk and the high beams are the two main elements of driving in Vietnam. Motorcycles, cars and pedestrians are entering the street no matter whether somebody else is already driving on this street. Signs for touristic sights are not common on the streets. Despite that our driver is driving without a navigation system and he is not trusting our Garmin navigation. This ends up in long hours in the car to find the right way, asking locals who also send him in the wrong direction and taking small gravel roads.

Our travel tips for Vietnam

Ho-Chi-Minh City / Saigon

The first stop is Ho-Chi-Minh City named after the leader of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam after 1945. But the old name Saigon that this city had before the reunification of Vietnam in 1975 is still used. The traffic in the city is dominated by motorcycles and we have seen curious things transported on motorcycles: two dead chickens, big flower pots, several buckets with fruits and of course the whole family. Like in Cambodia, crossing the street safely is a challenge and the majority of the streets do not have sidewalks for pedestrians. And in case there is a sidewalk, motorcycles also use it due to the crowded streets what didn’t make our life as pedestrians easier.

Post Office (Government quarter)

The post office of Ho-Chi-Minh City was built at the end of the 19th century based on a plan by Gustave Eiffel. Ho Chi Minh is watching the employees of this post office from a huge portrait on the wall.

Notre Dame Cathedral (Government quarter)

Next to the post office is the Notre Dame cathedral – one of the most important colonial building in the city. The cathedral with its two 40 meters high towers tipped with iron spices was built between 1877 and 1883. In front of the cathedral is a statue by Virgin Mary.

Jade Emperor Pagode

The Jade Emperor Pagode is built by the Cantonese Congregation and is one of the most colorful pagodas in Ho-Chi-Minh City. This pagoda has a nice brick structure on the roof.

Reunification Palace

In the Reunification palace the time seems to have stood still since 1975 when it was the governmental building of South Vietnam. The rooms in the Reunification Palace used for conferences or welcoming guests are still equipped with the original furniture. This was one of the most fascinating place we have visited in Ho-Chi-Minh City.

Skyscrapers of Ho-Chi-Minh City

Besides these colonial buildings Ho-Chi-Minh City has a modern and commercial area with skyscrapers, luxury hotels and brand shops. From the rooftop bars in one of the hotels we had an amazing view on Ho-Chi-Minh City enoying cocktails with the parents-in-law.

Central Market

The central market of Ho-Chi-Minh is worth visiting. Besides the delicious fresh fruits you can buy almost everything what you need – from meat and offals over clothes to shoes.

War Remnants Museum

This is one of the most popular museums for tourists but it shows the brutality of the war and that the victims are always the civilists.

 

Drive from Ho-Chi-Minh to Nha Trang

Vietnam is referred to a “bamboo bar with two pots of rice” due to its shape: in the North and the South of the country there are fertile rice fields and in between a narrow countryside with forests, mountains and beaches along the coast.

Nha Trang

The route from Ho-Chi-Minh City to our first sight in Hoi An is about 1,000 km. Therefore, on approximately half of this route we stopped for an overnight in Nha Trang at the coast. Due to its several kilometer long beaches and its colonial houses, Nha Trang got the name “Nizza of the East”. Nha Trang is a very touristic place and very popular for Russian people. It looks like Russian is a third language in Nha Trang since every menu in restaurants and every price tag in shops is in Vietnamese, English and Russian.

Hoi An

The distance from Nha Trang to Hoi An is about 500 km. But due to road conditions, traffic and construction sites it took us 12 hours to get to our destination. But is was a worth trip – Hoi An was one of our highlights of Vietnam. Hoi An is a picturesque former trading center of Southern Vietnam. The port has been opened for foreigners in the 16th century. Traders from China and Japan settled in Hoi An and built their own quarters since their countries closed their ports. The city was divided in two parts: the Japanese were living on one side of the Japanese bridge and on the other side of the bridge, there were Chinese settlements. The historic city center was not bombed during the Vietnam war and therefore, the old town is remarkable intact despite its age and the houses, assembly halls, communal houses and temples are well maintained. Walking through the narrow but atmospheric and almost motorcycle free streets is like a journey back in time. However, the many souvenir shops, tailors and restaurants are blocking the view to the historical signs.

My Son

My Son is located approximately 60 km from Hoi An and sometimes described as Vietnam’s Angkor Wat but that is hardly fair: My Son contains fewer and more destroyed ruins compared to Angkor. It was a religious center starting in the late 4th century and dedicated to kings. The monuments are created with bricks and after finishing the decoration was carved into the stones. During the Vietnam War, Vietcon used My Son as a base and therefor American’s bomb attacks destroyed the buildings.

Hue

Hue was Vietnam’s capital from 1802 until 1945 and is located at the sea and near a mountainous area. This means it is a quite rainy city what we experienced during our two days we spent in Hue. The citadel in the old town was the emporer’s palace and it includes the forbidden purple city. The forbidden city was originally constructed based on the model of its big brother in Beijing. Hue was unfortunately seriously damaged by the North and South armies during the Vietnam war due to its location at the demarcation line. But some buildings have been completely reconstructed.

Just some kilometers outside of Hue lie the imperial tombs of the Nguyen dynasty and several pagodas. We visited the Thien Mu Pagoda which is with the seven levels the highest temple of this kind in Vietnam and located at the Perfume River. The pagoda has another rather uncommon sight: an old Austin – a small car standing in a garage. This car was used 1963 by a monk driving to Saigon who burnt himself on the street to protest against the persecution of Buddhists.

The tomb of the last emperor Khai Dinh is a huge area with the main building in a combination of Vietnamese and French architecture. The mandarins and the animals are guarding the tombs in a way similar to the Terra-cotta warriors in China. These stone mandarins are all quite small since it was not allowed that they are bigger than the emperor. The tomb itself looks rather like a palace with its impressive mosaic decoration.

Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

Going further to the North we have crossed the 17th parallel where a DMZ has been established in 1954. This zone is along a corridor of 5 km on both sides of the Ben Hai river. During the Vietnam war the DMZ ironically became one of the most militarized zones in the world. The majority of the bases and bunkers have already vanished but monuments and small museums have been established on both sides.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

On our way we stopped at the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Unfortunately, the park lies also in an area with a lot of rain. But the boats we had to take to get to the caves of the park are fitted to the rain and have a roof. The cave is the largest one in Vietnam with its 55 km but only the first kilometers are accessible by tourists.

Vietnam had many different names in the past and with this also the capital of Vietnam changed several times. On our way to the North of Vietnam we passed by some other ancient capitals. All of them we visited are recognized as UNESCO world heritage and this is the reason why these sights are on our itinerary for Vietnam. Since some of the citadels of the dynasties are in the middle of nowhere and some of them are quite ruined this ended up in an odyssey to find them. We saw the citadel of the Ho Dynasty only shortly before the sunset. But this wasn’t too bad since all the signposts were only in Vietnamese and the building itself is quite ruined. Nevertheless, somebody was there to request an entrance fee from us – just to view from the outside…

Hoa Lu

Hoa Lu was twice the capital of Vietnam and the citadel covered an area of about 3 sqkm. Many of the buildings and the royal throne are maintained. Our travel book suggested to hike up the hill for the best view on Hoa Lu what Paul did alone. According to his stories, he was risking his life due to the gravel and ot available paths to get these beautiful pictures.

Halong Bay

The Halong Bay consists of a dense area (approx. 1,600 sq km) of around 1,600 limestones monolithic islands rising from the sea and each is topped with vegetation. Several islands have caves and on two big islands people are living as well as touristic hotels have been built on these islands. On the sea, a community of fisherman is living on floating houses including a school for their children. The islands have acquired their names as a result of an interpretation of their shapes. Such names include the cat island, the turtle island, fighting chicken island and saddle island. The latter is also shown on 200,000 dong bill.

Arriving in Halong City at one of the uncountable ferry terminals, we tried to catch a boat to cruise the Halong Bay. After determining the price of only around 25 USD per person we inspected the promised boat. We could not believe that the big boat usually used for tourists groups of around 40 people will be our private boat taking us around the Halong Bay for this price. But indeed, we were the only four people on this boat for the three hour cruise. Unbelievable!!

Hanoi

After approximately 2,500 km and ten days after starting in Ho-Chi-Minh City and driving through Vietnam, we arrived in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi. Despite this, Hanoi is also Vietnam’s cultural center with many historical sites. The Old Quarter has the original street layout and architecture of ancient Hanoi. In the beginning of the 20th century, Hanoi only consisted of about 36 streets that nowadays form the Old Quarter. Merchants and households of each street were specialized in particular trades, like silk, jewelry, bamboo ladders or shoes. The names of the streets still reflect this even though the business of the habitants has changed.

Since Hanoi was also the administrative center of the French colony of Indochina, many buildings in French colonial architecture are still present in Hanoi, for example: opera house, presidential palace and St. Joseph cathedral.

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới from Vietnam – Vietnamese new year (Tết) allowed us celebrating a second new year within four weeks. We were lucky visiting Hanoi during Tết since less motorcycles were riding through the streets, almost all shops were closed and so we had an incredible view on the ancient houses in the Old Quarter. However, this created the challenge to find something to eat for reasonable prices and a travel agency to buy bus tickets for our further trip. A bizarre tradition during Tết is to burn money as offerings in the streets (and we really mean in the middle of the streets) but it seems to be fake money. Producing paper offerings and especially the fake money is quite a big industry in Vietnam and China.

Due to the plenty fake money, we were scared receiving a never seen before two Dollar bill from the money exchange counter. But we found out that this bill is quite rare but really exists. So, we will keep as a souvenir from Vietnam.

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Eating in Hanoi and Vietnam

In Hanoi we enjoyed every day the tasty street food. Walking through the streets of Hanoi we found people eating and sitting on plastic chairs on the sidewalks next to people preparing and cooking food. We are now real fans of a Vietnamese food especially the delicious and healthy Pho soup was our favorite for breakfast or dinner (almost every day).

Due to Tết we had problems finding an open travel agency for a bus to Laos. Therefore, we decided to book a flight by our own which was the more expensive but shorter option. This also allowed us to extend our stay in Vietnam in order to do an excursion into the Vietnamese mountains near the border to China.

Sa Pa

Sa Pa is a very scenic region with its rice terraces where we were trekking for two half days and approx. 20 km in total to the minority villages Cat Cat, Lao Cai and Ta Van. All these villages had dozens of small shops with homemade clothes, bags and jewelry. Parts of the tour went through narrow slippery paths, steep downhill muddy trails, through thick fog with small drops of rain, across rivers and next to pigs and huge water buffaloes. On the first day, the hike down to the first village was very steep and we were suddenly well aware of the strenuous walk upwards back to Sa Pa. Walking down with a guide and in a group ended up with climbing up alone with the guide – all except of us were taking a motorcycle back to Sa Pa. The cooler temperature in the mountains however made it a very pleasant walk and we enjoyed these two challenging days.

We experienced the chaotic way of Vietnamese travel on our way back from Sa Pa to Hanoi. We were not allowed to enter the booked bus since the bus company told us that our travel agency had not paid our trip back (only one way). 30 minutes and four phone calls with our travel agency later we were allowed to get onto the bus, however, in the meanwhile many other people got into the bus so that there were no seats left for us. This meant either sitting on the floor of the bus for six hours or to take a night bus leaving seven hours later. We decided to take option one…

 

Our Favorite Dishes

Pho Soup in Pho 2000 in Ho-Chi-Minh City / Saigon

We have tried the typical Vietnamese Pho soup – for breakfast, for lunch and also for dinner. The soup with its rice noodles is very delicious. In the Pho soups specialized restaurant “Pho 2000” in Ho-Chi-Minh City, the former president Bill Clinton also stopped by for a bowl some years ago. This one is located near the Central Market.

 

 

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Georgia Travel Tips

Georgia Travel Tips

Georgia was for a long time on our bucket list for visiting after exploring Armenia which shares together with Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia its boarders. However, it took us six years after our trip in Armenia to get to Georgia. Welcome to our travel guide for globetrotters & UNESCO enthusiasts – discover the top travel tips for Georgia – we promise to you that you will love Georgia’s impressive monasteries,  landscapes and the super delicious food.

Content

Tips for planning your journey

Our route through Georgia by rental car

Our highlights in Georgia

Tbilisi
Mzcheta (UNESCO World Heritage)
Stepanzminda
Kutaisi (UNESCO World Heritage)
Mestia (UNESCO World Heritage)
Rabath
Warsia
Bolnisi

Unsere Empfehlungen

Unser Lieblingsessen in Georgien
Unsere Empfehlungen für Reiseführer, Kochbücher und weitere Literatur über Georgien

How to get to Georgia

Flights from Germany to Tbilisi are available directly from Munich. But can also be reached with stop-over flights via Vienna, Istanbul, Warsaw. The direct flight from Munich lasts about four hours. I need to admit that during our travel through Georgia I was quite busy working with very kind but ambitious clients. Consequently, I also had to take my laptop with me to continue working (what by the way I did during the time Paul was driving – so the roads are really convenient).  As always when you do not need further trouble, the following has happened: On our arrival in Tbilisi in the early morning hours our both luggage were left behind in Munich. However, Lufthansa was very eager to get our luggage to Tbilisi what indeed happened only one day later. In the meanwhile we shopped the most necessary utilities like underwear and cosmetics.

Our travel route through Georgia

We stayed in Georgia for ten full days whereof 2.5 days in Tbilisi. Our visit took place from mid until end of July 2018. This time was really perfect due to the wonderful whether we had all the days and could also sit outside in the nights. Georgia is getting more and more popular as a touristic destination so that it can get very crowded during the summer time. Route Georgia by car

Our experience of self-driving in Georgia

Exploring Georgia and especially the sometimes far away UNESCO World Heritage sites by self-driving is a really good way. The international rental companies are also available in Georgia, e.g. like Avis. Avis is located next to the Marriott Hotel at a central square. The roads in Georgia are in good conditions. We have chosen a standard rental car without four wheel drive what was sufficient for the tour we made except for Ushguli. To get from Mestia to Ushguli you need a 4WD car. The rental company called our attention that the car is equipped with GPS to track our route. They wanted to ensure that we are not damaging the car intentionally and are not going to the restricted areas. Rental car in Georgia

Our ultimate travel tips for Georgia

Tbilisi

There are many ways to get around in Tbilisi: buses, taxis, local Uber but also by foot. We have chosen the last option. But be careful: it is really easy to get lost in the beautiful old town with its narrow but picturesque streets. Well the list of things to do in Tbilisi is incredible long.

How many days should you stay in Tbilisi?

From our point of view the absolute minimum is two days for Tbilisi. But due to the many sights the more days you can spent in Tbilisi the better. We also have heard of a really good nightlife in the capital.

1. Abanotubani (Sulphur Bath / Thermal Bath) and Leghvtakhevi waterfall

The style of the Old Town is a mix of Asian and Arabic influences interwoven with European and traditional Russian architecture. Some parts are comprehensively renovated so that it looks a bit kitschy though far more of the area is untouched. Wandering through the alleyways and the ancient churches feels almost like a walk back in time. Although we didn’t go for any treatments, we wandered around the area with the mixture of different cultures and its specific treatment types like hot baths. The name Leghvtakhevi comes from the Georgian word “Leghvi” which means fig. There were so many trees of fig around this place.

2. Take the cable car (or walk up) to Narikala Fortress

In case you would like to walk up, take the small path next to the Armenian church St. George. You will have an incredible view on Tbilisi from the hill of Narikala Fortress. The original fortress dates back to the end of 4th century but has been destroyed several times during the history. With each reconstruction the fortress has been enhanced by different people. Nevertheless, only ruins remain after a lightning strike into the powder magazine of the fortress in 1827. The fortress was not rebuilt after that event.

The visit of the ruins is free of charge and really worth wandering around. Just a short walk away along the many souvenir stalls you reach the Georgia’s Mother. It is a 20 m high statue made of aluminum. In her right hand she holds a sword for the enemies and in her left hand coming from the heart wine for the friends.

3. Puppet Theatre Rezo Gabriadze

The clock tower is the new symbol of the state-owned puppet theater. The clock tower was built in 2010 and looks like messed up stacked boxes. Each hour a small angel puppet comes out of the door and rings the bell. You can enjoy a greater show. At the time we visited Tbilisi it was shown at 12 pm and at 7 pm.

4. Zminda Sameba Cathedral

We have spotted this cathedral from the Narikala Fortress since it is illuminated in the night and also situated on a hill (Elias hill). Zminda Sameba Cathedral is the largest church in the region of Transcaucasia (i.e. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan). It was finished in 2004 after nine years of construction. The bells of the Cathedral were created in Germany. You can reach the cathedral by a walk from the city center.

5. Bridge of Peace

This bridge catches your eyes immediately. For the Georgians, the bridge was controversial due to the high building costs in 2009/2010. Nowadays the bridge is a popular photo-stop.

6. Liberty Square (Tawisubleibis Moedani)

Formerly know as Lenin square the statue has been exchanged in 2006 with the gilded dragon slayer George. We used the liberty square as a central point for our orientation since also our car rental company is located at the square. On the other corner the city hall dominates the square.

7. Kwaschweti Church

On the opposite site of the School no. 1 in the Rustaveli Street we found this beautiful church. The church consists of two levels and includes a small museum. We also enjoyed sitting in the park that surrounds the church since it is a bit away from the busy Rustaveli Street.

8. Monument to the Lamplighter in Barataschwili Street

You might need a lot of patience when you also want to climb the ladder of the lamplighter since everybody is doing it. Not sure why everybody is touching his butt. But no worries there a lot of different bronze statues all over the city. Monument to the Lamplighter Tbilisi Georgia

9. Rike Concert Hall in front of the Presidential Palace

The futuristic concert hall is together with the Bridge of Peace is located next to the Mtkvari River. The concert hall reminds of a lindworm due to the tubes that is monitored by the Presidential Palace.

10. Sioni Church

On our way from the vivid street Kote Abchasi (better known with its former name Leselidse Street) with all the cafés and restaurants we found the Sioni church, built in the sixth century. Despite being the main church of patriarch of the Georgian church, the Sioni church is quite small. During the siege by the Persian, the church was transformed into a mosque. The dome is from the 18th century.

Historical Monuments of Mtskheta / Mzcheta

We have included the UNESCO World Heritage Historical Monuments of Mtskhetaon our trip to Stepanzminda. But you can also make a day trip from Tbilisi to Mtskheta (just around 25 km). The UNESCO recognizes the ensemble of churches of Mtskheta as outstanding examples of medieval religious architecture in the Caucasus. We have visited the three main churches: Jvari Monastery, Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral and Samtavro Monastery. The Jvari Monastery will be the first one you will recognize arriving in Mtskheta since it is located on a hill. However, especially the Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral impressed us with its modest interior . It includes a very small church inside that is a copy of the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jersualem in its former construction. It is said that Jesus’ robe is inside.

Stepanzminda

We spent one night in Stepanzminda to visit the Zminda Sameba Church. The church on top of the hill is a popular place of pilgrimage. As Paul loves to drive everywhere we had – of course – to go by car. However, due to the heavy rain in the night before and the fog in the morning the muddy gravel roads were slippery and with passing buses we decided to turn around and to find the walking path that was described in our guide book. Finally, we reached the church in approx. two hours by foot.

Our way to Mestia

On our way to Mestia we have seen such a colorful landscape the we stopped several times. We enjoyed our tea and snack breaks with a beautiful view on turquoise lakes and mountains still with a bit of snow on the top.

Gelati Monastery

From Kutaisi we visited Motsameta Monastery and the Gelati Monastery since both a just some kilometres away from Kutaisi. Gelati Monastery was the second UNESCO World heritage side we have visited. The monastery was founded in 1106 by King Dawit and consists of three churches, one bell tower and an academy.

Kutaisi

We stayed in Kutaisi for two nights to visit Gelati Monastery and in addition, the city of Kutaisi. Kutaisi has outstanding buildings whereof the Begrati Cathedral just a short walk from the city center belongs together with the Gelati Monastery to the UNESCO World Heritage. The cathedral is more than 1,000 years and and can be seen from all over the city. We will always remember Kutaisi due to the delicious food we enjoyed here. Unfortunately, we do not remember the name of the restaurants but they where in the street from the Colchis Fontaine in the direction to the Kutaisi park.

Mestia

Mestia is the touristic hotspot of Upper Svaneti where the excursions to historic and original towns with medieval-type villages and tower-houses of this Caucasus region can be booked. Arriving in the evening in Mestia after a long day but pleasant drive we walked through the town and tried to catch some nice pictures with all the tower-houses.

Some of the villages and tower-houses are inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list (official name is Upper Svenati). Since it was explicitly forbidden to go with our rental car to Ushguli we also had to book a tour with a 4WD car. For the approx. 50 kilometres the drive took almost four hours.

Rabati / Rabath

Something we have not expected to find in Georgia was the historic center and the fortification of Rabati. But Rabati also belongs to one of our highlights of our vacation in Georgia. The fortification consists of a church, a mosque and a synagogue.

Warsia

Arriving in the small town of Warsia, we directly saw our next destination: the cave rock wall of Warsia. The wall is around 500 m high but the paths along the wall are mainly secured with handrails. In the main periods up to 800 monks lived here. In addition, several thousands citizens from the surrounding towns used the wall as a safe haven.

Bolnisi

Around 50 km from Tiblisi in the South into the direction to the border with Armenia, we visited the city Bolnisi. Bolnisi was formerly known as “Katharinenfeld” due to the German settlers around 1818. The area was admired due to the fortified houses as well as the precise and paved roads. The city was renamed to Luxemburg in 1921 and the Germans were dispossessed like the Georgians. In addition, the Germans were forced to displace to Siberia. The road signs are still shown in old German script.

Just some kilometres in the South from Bolnisi we wanted to visit the fortress of Kweschi (Kveshis). It was closed but it looks very nice from the outside.

Traditional dishes in Georgia – our culinary experience

On top of the beautiful country we were allowed to explore, we also enjoyed the food very much. Even so much that we bought the cookbook we recommend below to remind us of the very delicious meals.

Eggplant with walnuts and pomegranate (Nigswiani Badrishani)

Really our most famous starter in Georgia: grilled slices of eggplant, rolled and stuffed with walnut and decorated with pomegranate. Eggplant with walnuts Georgia popular dish

Khinkali – Georgia’s dumplings

These stuffed dumplings made of pasta dough are available all of Georgia. Besides the traditional ones stuffed with spiced minced meat we have also tried the ones with cheese inside. Georgia’S dumplings are bigger than the Chinese ones but also have liquid inside. The knob is to get hold of the Khinkali and it is not intended to eat it. What we by the way, didn’t know at the time we were in Georgia. But nobody told us that we should not eat it. Khinkali Georgia popular traditional dish

Chatschpuri – Cheese Bread / Pizza and Lobiani

Eating Chatschpuri you should not think about your diet due to the amount of flour and cheese that is needed for a delicious Chatschpuri. We have also tried Lobiana that is stuffed with read bean paste. Both are highly recommended.

Lobio

What does not sound so special from reading the description was Lobio. But the beans prepared in a clay pot with a lot of savory is incredibly yummy. We also tried this at home but the secret seams to be the preparation method in the clay pot. Lobio Traditional dish Georgia

Shashlik

Since our vacation in Uzebksitan we are Shashlik lovers. Therefore, it was a must to try it in Georgia. Definitely, we were not disappointed by the meat shashlik as well as by the vegetarian alternative.

Georgian Wine

UNESCO has inscribed the Georgian wine making technique as intangible world heritage. The tradition of wine making is more than 8,000 years old. The grapes and the grape juice are put into a clay pot and buried in the earth for several months with constant temperatures. Almost every guesthouse we have stayed in is creating their own wine.

Our recommendations for Georgia

Georgia travel book

At the time we were visiting Georgia we wanted to have an up-to-date travel guide. This was the reason why we have picked up for one of the first times the guide book from “Reise Know how”. And we can recommend this guide book due to the many travel tips in Georgia, pictures and valid information about best visiting times, restaurant recommendations and well-balanced information about sights and backgrounds.

Georgian cooking book

As mentioned above, Georgia was also a culinary highlight for us. Therefore and since Paul loves cooking at home, we have bought (after a visit of the Frankfurt Book Fair with Georgia as the honored guest in 2018) the following cooking book. The receipts are easy to understand and we were successfully able to re-cook some of the dishes at home.

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Singapore Travel Trips

Singapore Travel Trips

How to get to Singapore?

We have been to Singapore twice. The first time we went to Singapore during our all around the world trip. We arrived on the first Christmas holiday in 2016 from Osaka. The second time we have been to Singapore was beginning of 2020 where we arrived from Hongkong and spent a couple of days before going to Malaysia. Based on this experience, we want to share our top travel tips for Singapore.

We spent the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve on our all around the world trip in Singapore staying with friends. Besides exchanging stories about their and our around the world trip we took some time to explore Singapore. The crew of the Jetstar flight we have taken from Osaka to Singapore has distributed Christmas caps for each passenger. Look how our flight looked like afterwards. The many bags we were carrying on arrival in Singapore are not our normal travel luggage. We have been shopping in Japan presents for our friends and in addition we have left a package in Singapore to send it home together with other staff from our friends.

Singapore Travel Tips

Botanic Garden (UNESCO World Heritage)

Of course, the first thing to see on our list was the botanic garden with its colorful orchids since it is the only UNESCO World Heritage in Singapore.

Enjoying the incredible skyline

What we have done really every day was stunning at the incredible skyline of Singapore. Yes, we have already visited other cities with skyscrapers and we are living in Frankfurt, but Singapore’s skyline is completely different. The skyscraper have very harmonic forms and fit together very well. Moreover, in the night, the colorful and creative enlighten skyline is something what other cities should learn from Singapore.

Marina Bay Sands & Marina Barrage

Marina Bay Sands has a very impressive architecture with the roof looking like a ship. All three pillars are used as a hotel but also include a shopping mall and a casino. The view from the top at the skyline of Singapore is amazing. Take a walk from the Merlion to the Marina Bay Sands along the Waterfront Promenade to get beautiful views on this hotel complex. The last picture was taken from Marina Barrage. Marina Barrage is a dam built across the 350-metre wide Marina Channel to keep out seawater. In the area around the barrage you can enjoy also a very nice view on Singapore with not so many tourists. Our recommendation: Take a picnic with you and enjoy the light show in the Gardens by the Bay.

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay is an artificial and huge park at Marina Bay. One of the highlight of the gardens are the super-trees which are artificially planted with a steel frame. At the time we have visited the gardens in 2016, the Christmas market was still open but due to the weather we preferred cold beer instead of mulled wine. When it is dark the trees flash along the music playing and at the end it starts to snow. This was the moment everybody freaked out and could not make enough pictures. Unforgettable moment since there were so many people really freaking out about the snow. So we did!

Quays

One of our favorite places in Singapore are the quays, namely the Clark and Boat Quay. Walking up and down is something we do every time visiting Singapore.

Sir Raffles at Clark Quay Boat Quay Singapore

Singapore’s harbor

We haven’t expected Singapore as being so green with tropical gardens and parks. Look at the view from our friends’ apartment to the harbor.

Little India

More delicious food is available in Little India. The colorful houses also invite for a nice walk through this area.

 

Singapore has four official languages: Malay, Tamil, Mandarin and English. This is the reason why the main signs are written in these four languages:

Sigapore language Malay, Tamil, Mandarin and English

Sentosa

We have taken the bicycles to get to Sentosa Island. The island is separated from the main island of Singapore by a channel of water but can easily be reached via the Sentosa Gateway. Formerly used as a British military base, the island was created to be a popular tourist destination. You can find many tourist attractions like fun parks, Madame Tussauds Singapore, and the Universal Studios Singapore. During our visit we were amazed by the houses showing wealth of the people. It’s definitely one of our top travel tips for Singapore.

Our favorite dishes in Singapore

We have tried a traditional Singapore Laksa in a hawker center. Really delicious despite the spiciness…

Paul trying Singapore Laksa

Besides the Laksa we can recommend the hawker center for satay, Hainan chicken or the many different dishes from all over the world offered in the centers.

Our book recommendations

Travel books

The first time we have been to Singapore we have bought a comprehensive travel book about Singapore.

The second time we have relied on the combined Malaysia and Singapore travel guide.

If you are interested in a novel, we can recommend Foreign Bodies – a tale of young people who are on the wrong side of the justice system in Singapore.

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Japan Travel Tips

Japan Travel Tips

Welcome to our travel guide for globetrotters & UNESCO enthusiasts – discover the top travel tips for Japan – we promise to you that you will love Japan’s culture,  architecture, landscapes and the exceptionally delicious food.

Content

Tips for planning your Japan trip

Our route through Japan by rental car

Our most beautiful destinations in Japan

Tokyo
Nikko (UNESCO World Heritage)
Tomioka Silk Mill (UNESCO World Heritage)
Kamakura
Fujisan (UNESCO World Heritage)
Japanese Alps / Shirakawago (UNESCO World Heritage)
Kanazawa
Uji (UNESCO World Heritage)
Kyoto (UNESCO World Heritage)
Nara (UNESCO World Heritage)
Horyuji (UNESCO World Heritage)
Koyasan (UNESCO World Heritage)
Himeji Castle (UNESCO World Heritage)
Kurashiki
Hiroshima (UENSCO World Heritage)
Miyajima / Itsukushima Shrine (UNESCO World Heritage)
Hagi (UNESCO World Heritage)
Iwami Ginzan (UNESCO World Heritage)
Izumo
Osaka

Our recommendations

Favorite dishes
Book recommendations

How to get there?

The first time we visited Japan was on our all-around-the-world trip in December 2016. On 7th December 2016, we arrived in Tokyo – back on earth’s northern hemisphere for a long time. Just sweated in Australia at 35 degrees – now freezing in Japan at minus 2 degrees Celsius with the first snow flakes we had in Nikko some days later. From Cairns we have taken a Jetstar Asia flight to Tokyo that took around eight hours. This was our first flight with Jetstar Asia and we can really recommend this low cost airline since we had afterwards a couple more with Jetstar. Our flight to Tokyo was around St. Nicholas’ Day what prompted the airline to distribute Nicholas hats…

Jetstar flght December cairns tokyo

Japan is a cultural shock after the extrovert Latin Americans and the very communicative New Zealanders and Australians. From a technological point of view we can learn a lot: hot coffee cans from vending machines, heated toilets, easy system to choose the dishes without knowing the language… and these are only the things we have discovered in our first days here.

Our route through Japan

We stayed 18 days in Japan and tried to see at last some of the cultural highlights in that timeframe. Nikko was our most northern point and from there we drove to the South with the hope to have a little bit of warmer temperatures.

Our experience of self driving in Japan

For renting a self-driving car we needed a Japanese translation of our international driver licenses. This is available at the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) for around 30 Euros per driver license. This lasts approx. one day so plan enough time before picking up the car. It is not surprising that Japan is expensive. But we were astonished paying the highway fee for 150 km from Tokyo to Nikko with approx. 40 Euros. Based in our plan to drive more than 2,500 km this will sum up to a huge amount.

The amount of money we have spent for toll and parking surprised us definitively: about 500 euros for toll and additional 150 Euros as car parking fee. We had several hotels without free parking. Next time we will also check this option at booking.com. This is in total more compared to the amount we have spent for our meals in Japan. Also other countries had a toll system but this amount exceeds everything what we have experienced so far, e.g. in Chile for comparable number of kilometers we only paid 80 Euros.

We got a typical Japanese car as rental car and it looks like a shoebox. However, we have to admit that the car is practical: in which other car – despite our campervan – is it possible to walk from the front to the back inside the car? But with this car it doesn’t matter that the maximum speed on the quite empty but three lanes highway is only 80 to 100.

Our travel experience and travel tips for Japan

Tokyo

We have started our tour through Japan in Tokyo. Despite our itinerary being fully packed for the three days, we are sure we have not seen all interesting sights of this huge metropole with more than nine million residents. But the metro is very efficient and a fantastic way to get around with trains running every three to five minutes and it’s many different lines. We were surprised seeing not so many people on the streets in the city and cars on the streets as expected in such a populated area. Exciting is also the mixture of traditional temples and fancy skyscrapers.

Kyu-Shiba-rikyu Gardens Tokyo

We started our exploration of Tokyo with a typical Japanese garden. The one we have chosen is close to the Hamamatsucho station. This small beautiful garden allows you to get a sense of what a typical Japanese landscape garden incl. a lake with koi fishes is like in a fairly short amount of time, and is a great place to stop and take a break from the surrounding metropolis. This garden is one of the oldest one in Tokyo. From this park you can also see one of the first skyscraper of Tokyo – the World Trade Center.

Zojo-ji Temple

From the Kyu-Shiba-rikyu Gardens we walked further to the Shiba park with the temples Zojo-ji. The temple was founded in 1393 and is the main quarter of this Buddhist school. At the end of the temple area you can see many small stone figures wearing a red knit hat. These are for deceased early in life children. According to Japanese folk belief, red is the color for expelling demons and illness. The red heads shall help the children in their afterlife.

Tokyo Tower

In the pictures from the Zojo-ji temple you might have already seen the Tokyo tower with its red and white stripes that looks like a copy of the Eiffel tower in Paris. However, if something is copied in Japan, it needs to be better than the original. Therefore, the Tokyo Tower is with its 333 meter around 13 meters higher than the original but has only half of the weight. The tower was finished in 1958. We have taken the escalator up to the viewing platform in 150 meters and enjoyed the incredible sweeping view of Tokyo. There is even a visitor deck at the height of 250 meters however, the view on the 150 meter deck is said to be better.

Shinjuku district

This district combines much of the things that will come to one’s mind when thinking of Tokyo: upscale department stores, swarming crowds, video screens on the streets, amazing skyscrapers with hidden shrines in-between. The train station is used by 2-3 mn commuters every day and is therefore one of the busiest in the world. Tokyo’s municipal government has also moved in this area in 1991. Some really photogenic towers can be seen in that district, like the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower.

47 Ronins of Ako or Ako Gishi / Sengaku-ji

The graves of 47  samurais are located in the temple Sengaku-ji. This grave site is more than 300 years old.

Shibuya Crossing and area

This crossing is an awesome spectacle with giant video screens… Around the crossing you will see numerous neon signs and video screens in an almost uncountable number. Unbelievable also the number of people crossing here every second.

Happo-en Garden

Another traditional garden we recommend to visit in Tokyo is Happo-en. The well-manicured grounds are home to centuries-old bonsai trees, a koi pond, and cherry trees and fall foliage that make for some of the best seasonal views in the city.

Edo Castle / Tokyo Imperial Palace

Unfortunately, we were too late and could not visit the Tokyo Imperial Palace from the inside. Formerly, this castle was the largest in the world though little remains of it apart from the moat and walls. In the garden you can see the massive stones used to build the castle walls end you can even climb on the ruins. The Imperial Palace is surround by a moat. Several bridges and a gate give you access to the grounds.

Senso-ji in Asakusa

Senso-ji is one of the most important and oldest temples in Tokyo in the district Asakusa. The entrance to the temple is via the Kaminari-mon (thunder gate) that brings you directly to the shopping street. Passing the street you reach the five-level pagoda and the temple itself with the sink in front of it.

National Museum (UNESCO World Heritage)

The National Museum consists of several separate buildings in the district Ueno. We visited the main Gallery (Honkan) with a ancient pottery, religious sculpture, samurai swords, kimonos and much more. One of the buildings is registered as UNESCO World Heritage as part of the ensemble of the architectural work of Le Corbusier that shows an outstanding contribution to the modern movement.