Tag Archives: people

Busy, lazy, old and new – Bangkok has it all

April 2016

Bangkok has given me everything that I needed without even knowing what that was. For a while now the city had been the goal we kept moving towards. Our list of errands was higher than ever and we were also looking for a little break from cycling. After being seriously overwhelmed by all the warmshowers and couchsurfing hosts on the two sites we took our friend Anselm’s advice and asked his friend Toom if we could stay with him for a while. I felt a bit nervous about that as we never actually met Anselm himself, let alone Toom. Oh boy was that unnecessary!

Toom’s couchsurfing / warmshowers / friends paradise


Toom has an apartment in the north of Bangkok and there are almost always people staying at his place. For some reasons that are his story to tell he likes having guests and friends around and due to the relaxed and inviting atmosphere most of those people tend to stay a bit longer than planned.


There is not a lot of privacy as everyone shares the available rooms. We slept on beds or mattresses on the floor, as close to the fans as possible to get some relief from the April heat wave. And I absolutely loved it. Usually I need some time to myself and some privacy at that. But somehow at Toom’s place I did not miss it at all. First of all, Toom is an amazing person. Funny, softspoken, interesting to talk to, he is one of these people who manages to include people into the group so that everyone feels welcome. And we met so many more awesome people during our stay and I loved all the talks, the cooking and eating together, the time to just relax and not do much. The feeling of having a home base for a while is something that we don’t have very often during this journey and thus enjoye even more.

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Cycling in Bangkok

We had quite a few errands to run during our time in Bangkok. From finding affordable sunscreen with a high SPF to finally getting our Chinese Visa and repair / replace my waterlogged phone.


At first we tried using public transport which was partly fast (Metro) / fun (boat) / not moving at all (several busses) / not showing up (busses again). So in the end we cycled mostly everywhere. From reading many blogs I had thought that cycling in Bangkok would be a nightmare but it was actually fine. We were usually faster than public transport (excluding the metro maybe) and the traffic didn’t bother me too much. Yes you have to be a 100% alert at all times and listening to your favourite drum n bass band at high volume is probably not the best idea.


But given that traffic was either stuck in gridlock or slow moving most of the time it was actually fine for cycling. We’re not talking fine as in meandering along a quiet country lane, it’s still Bangkok. But you know, fine. Overall traffic here is really just too much in my opinion. Too many cars, too many traffic jams.

High and low, old and new

p1180751 We didn’t really do any sightseeing per se but cycling through the city we still discovered a lot. To me Bangkok seems to have it all. There are the huge skyscrapers but also small wooden houses nestled in between sometimes.

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There are crazy busy 8 lane roads and then you take one or two turns and find yourself in a narrow motorcycle road in old Chinatown. There are touristy areas but it’s not hard to avoid them.

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There are western supermarkets and a myriad of local markets which are absolutely amazing. Lots of parks, gardens, nice cafes, museums and so much more. My tip to stay sane: Don’t try to do it all, it might overwhelm you. Take it slow, get lost in it all and find a thousand big and small surprises.

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In the end we stayed for a full two weeks. When we noticed we were both surprised as the time had passed in an instant seemingly. There was just so much to see and do, people to meet and talk to, coffee and beers to be drunk and food to be eaten.

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For all of that, thanks to everyone of you and especially to you Toom!! Never ever would it have been the same without you and your oasis of friends. Thanks heaps and please do come visit us anytime!

It was also fantastic to meet May, one of Torsten’s friends back from his studies in Bangkok and to see Lily, our friend from Penang again!


On off road touring, planting trees and community based tourism in southern Thailand

April 2016


After a few days of rest in Suratthani it was a bit hard to get going again – the rattan bungalows were just too comfortable. But once on the road we kept enjoying cycling in Thailand. I know I’m repeating myself but look at those roads and all the beautiful nature / rubber plantations around.

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We planned on cycling until Ranong and then staying a few days on Koh Payam. After that we wanted to do a visa run to Myanmar to extend our stay in Thailand.

With the help of GoogleMaps we cycled a two day stretch to our couchsurfing host Weena, some 40k before Ranong. While it had still been quite enjoyable temperature wise in the South around Songkhla it started to get really hot during the day.


So ice cream and pitchers of iced coffee helped :). A lot.


On our way we asked to stay in a temple for the night as there was no accommodation around. We were invited to sleep on a wooden platform and to join the evening meditation. I enjoyed learning a little about meditation and how it works to train the mind. Not an easy thing to do after cycling all day.


The next morning we got up relatively early and set off to do some off road mountain biking. Well actually that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do at that point but you can’t always completely avoid that. So we pushed a little bit…

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…and found some really rutted and washed out roads to get our mountain biking skills to the next level.

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As I said in the last post my tolerance level for challenges like that is a lot higher now but at some point it still gets plain exhausting. So we took a break, ate all the sugary things we carried and when there was nothing left to do we kept on riding. Eventually it got better (as it always does) and I’ve never quite been so happy about the sweet tarmac road.


Back on the highway one of the screws from Torsten’s rack broke again and this time it was stuck in a way that we couldn’t fix it ourselves. Conveniently this happened right next to a coffee and motorcycle repair shop. So, first things first, a big coffee and then the mechanic welded some piece to the screw to unscrew it. Worked like a charm! In the end he didn’t even accept any payment (neither money nor coffee/food, we really tried!) – how kind!

After some more cycling we came closer to Weena’s place. We had a description and thought it would be easy to find. Unfortunately we asked a lot of people and got confusing directions. We never heard a “no, I don’t know where it is” but people sent us in different directions instead. It took us a while to understand that saying “no” or “I don’t know” is not frequently done here. In the end we cycled up and down a lot more hills and kept on cycling even when it got dark. We kept asking people because there was really nothing else we could do. And after a long time it finally worked! Someone actually knew Weena and brought us to her house.


As exhausting as the day was I still did not totally melt down as I undoubtedly would have at the beginning of our tour. I did start crying of exhaustion at some point but that was more physical than mental. My trust that all the challenges that we encounter will pass at some point is getting bigger.


Weena’s house is an absolutely beautiful place. Out in nature, surrounded by all shades of green, no internet and no phone. We had planned on staying for one night but Weena invited us to relax for a day and that seemed like the right thing to do after the day before.

Weena invites couchsurfers to her home to learn from them and with them including all of her family. So we spoke English, tried to learn a little more Thai and as per request cooked some pancakes on our stove. Weena also made beautiful dishes with ingredients from her garden and fish pond and told us about their initiatives in tree planting. From what I understood they are trying to get the government to help farmers plant trees for wood. That would benefit the farmers financially but also the communities around with better air quality. Very interesting to see local initiatives like that!


A stroll around the property revealed some fruit plants and tiny trees growing. Oh and we saw a lot of betel nuts drying by the side of the road!

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For the next day Weena and her husband were planning to go to an nearby island to check up on their community tourism project. They are building a school for locals to teach interested people how to use traditional longboats. It is mostly supposed to be for local tourists and later maybe also for international ones. The project is aiming at helping with income as fishing is not providing enough for the families. Once again we could not refuse an invitation to stay one more day as this sounded way too interesting to pass.


So we joined Weena and her husband on a boat ride…

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…towards one of the many small islands on the west coast of southern Thailand.

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We had time to wander around the island, have lunch and just hang out for a while.

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Construction for the boating school was in progress:


It was amazing to see Weena and her husband work and get some insight into problems which local communities are facing.

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On our way back Torsten got to try himself at steering a boat which was not as easy as it looks :): p1180230

Thank you so so much Weena and family for letting us stay with you and including us into your projects!! Learning about local initiatives and ideas is a great way of learning about communities and their challenges. Thank you!

Lots of love and laziness in Penang


I really love the cycling part of our journey. Not that getting up at 5am is all that enjoyable to me but once I’m on the bicycle I relish the cool morning air and love being witness to my surroundings slowly waking up. Going along quiet rural roads, huffing and puffing uphill and coasting downhill, catching my breath after a hill and soaking in the views, turning turning turning the pedals and completely loosing myself in my thoughts, feeling the wind cool my body down on a particularly hot day – all of those sensations are part of cycle touring and I mostly enjoy them a lot.

But then there are the times when we don’t cycle. Times like our stay in Penang. And people like Virgina and Tyrone, who agreed to hosting us because the fabulous Barbara, a mutual friend, asked them to.
These times and these people are like the ice cream on a hot summer’s day, like food after two hours of uphill cycling or like having real coffee after going instant for a while. Like most of the examples – you could theoretically live without them, but they do make live so. Much. Better.

When we arrived in Penang after a 125k day of cycling I was pretty beat. Not in a bad mood, just really really ready to not cycle for a few days. I also always wonder how non-cyclists look at us when they see us after a day on the road. Sweaty, dirty with road grime, red faced and exhausted. Oh well, most people just offer us a shower quite fast ;).

I won’t bore you with what we did do in that week in Penang. As usual it was a mixture of relaxing, doing nothing, reading and some activites / shopping / city wandering. Oh and eating of course. Here are some pictures:

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What I want to say is that I enjoy the cycling part of our journey. But I absolutely could not do that long term without the fabulous people we get to meet and stay with. I could not relax and feel at home without making that kind of connection to people on the road.

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When we thought of names for our homepage, “wandering thoughts” seemed to fit as I reflect a lot on what happens during our travels. The “cycling home” part was added later for the Facebook page. As we’re going home it seemed like a good extension. But it has become true in more ways than the original one. We’re not only cycling home to Germany,  we also keep finding places and people we feel at home with, over and over again. This really is the beauty of travelling: My world gets bigger with so many more human connections in it.

Picture courtesy of Tyrone Fowler

Thank you, Virginia and Ty, thanks you so much everyone else who has been a part of our journey so far!!

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Cycling Coast to Coast in Peninsular Malaysia: Coconuts, Cameron Highlands and Street Art

March 2016


One thing you can be entirely sure of when cycle touring: After a flat stretch – however long it may be – the hills and mountains will always reappear. Always. In our case the hills started maybe a day after we left the East Coast behind. Ever eager to avoid the main road we found a small one and pretty steep one at that.

It’s hard to choose sometimes: The big roads are usually busier but the gradient is gentler. The small roads are quieter and the people tend to be more open and friendly. But if there are hills, the gradient is usually a lot steeper. However exhausting that may be and however much I curse about that sometimes – people like Sambi and his family make choosing the small roads all worth wile:


When we stopped at the road near their property they joined us for our break after giving us some time to relax (very thoughtful and much appreciated). We talked, drank several coconuts and joined forces in getting the hard meat out of the nuts. We laughed, hung out and got heartfelt invites to stay or come back whenever we wanted. Sambi told us that the road we were cycling on had just been paved a while ago and made a big difference for them. He showed us his property with all the coconut trees and the several houses of family all around.


This is why we take the smaller, steeper roads. The people we keep finding there are just something else.


After cycling over a few more (bugger of ) hills we had one long climb to go before we would be up in the mountains, the Cameron Highlands.


p1170522After leaving Kuala Lipis we camped at about 200m at a hospital and started really early for the big climb of about 2000m (including a lot of up and down). To our surprise it was actually quite enjoyable. The gradient was easy, the road big but also with a wide shoulder and there was almost no traffic.

p1170523The morning was absolutely beautiful…


… as was this cicada up close. Here are some more pictures of our ride up:

p1170534 p1170535 p1170537 p1170541 p1170542Going up there are not too many places where you can get water and you need a lot in this climate! But lucky for us there was a lot of water coming down the mountain. Mostly we were sure enough that there was no contamination somewhere above as there was nothing around.  If we weren’t sure we used our Steripen to treat it before drinking.

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Near the top we marvelled at the huge tea plantations and the masses of tourists flocking to them. But the best surprise was definitely the awesome Indian food we found. Cycling uphill makes hungry! Another novelty was the sudden change in climate: As we came closer to the top clouds started to cover the sky and it was suddenly downright cold! Don’t get me wrong – I’m certainly not complaining. What a glorious feeling not to sweat for once.


And then the biggest novelty of all – a real camp site! Due to the hot and humid climate and our scotish tent we hadn’t been camping a lot in the past few months. So we were both eager to tent and have cold nights once again. We found Sungai Pauh Campsite easily and set up our tent in a corner, a bit away from all the school groups.


We met Greg, a very nice teacher whose students had just left and spent the evening talking until midnight. Surprisingly I wasn’t the tiniest bit tired even after all that climbing. Maybe the cold weather?


Strawberries seem to be the big thing in the Highlands which meant that we just had to try some strawberry ice cream. What can you do? The Highlands were originally a place favoured by the British as they appreciated the colder climate. That fascination seems to hold steady until today and is probably also fired by all the produce you can find here: There is a lot of fruit, vegetable and tea growing around here.

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To put it mildly, the Highlands are touristy. Crowded would be a stronger word, especially as our visit coincided with school holidays. But I couldn’t have cared less. We spend so much time outside of touristy places and so much time in nature, that I sometimes relish things like these…


There is really not much a relaxed day with Indian food and cheese cake for dessert can’t fix. When our bodies had recovered from the climb we also did some hiking. There are some pretty good trails where you can once again hike without a guide as they are marked.


In the end we stayed for three days. Mostly because of the climate. As much as we like South East Asia, we both look forward to cycling in less than 30 degrees sometime again.

p1170589Cycling down was also beautiful, especially as the road was closed off in intervalls for construction and we enjoyed a mostly traffic free coasting downhill.

p1170596 p1170603 p1170612My mind was set on reaching Penang in a few days. There we would meet friends of Barbara, our host in Sabah. I was looking forward to that as we hadn’t stayed longer with anyone since Kuantan and I needed to be with friends again.

p1170624 What I didn’t expect was, that I enjoyed both Ipoh and Taiping, the two cities we stayed in between, a lot. Both have interesting architecture – for example old train stations – and a lot of street art.

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And if you’re into strong coffee – we usually liked the coffee in the Chinese run coffee houses the most. Very strong and tasty.


And then it was just one more monstrous cycling day to Penang.


125km, hills, monkeys and our first real wrong turn which added an extra 15k.


But it was still an awesome day of cycling and after leaving these peaceful roads behind…


… we finally saw Pulau Pinang in the distance. More about our awesome week with the fabulous Virginia and Tyrone in a little while!



Meeting old and new friends: The Malaysian East Coast

February / March 2016

Some places are all about nature. About quiet peaceful scenery,  singing birds or chattering monkeys. Other places are just all about the people you meet.



While we cycled past some nice beaches, lovely roads…


…and impressive bridges, the Malaysian East Coast was definitely all about the people. We had so many touching, heart warming and beautiful encounters which made cycling in this area incredibly awesome. So, get yourself some coffee or whatever your drink of choice is and settle in to meet some of our friends!

Bob’s paradise

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After getting out of Singapore and Johor Bahru’s traffic we arrived at the relatively quiet East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. There we stayed for three nights in Bob’s green paradise.

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Bob is an amazingly generous person: He doesn’t cycle himself but still likes to invite cyclists over to his place and lets them stay for a few days. He is interested in a lot of topics and we talked about politics, the recent government scandal, nature, birds and the environment.

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When I felt a cold coming down, he taught me to open my own coconut to drink the water which is a lot harder than it looks like! I loved watching the Hornbills enjoying the Papaya trees and also did some bicycle maintenance: The pulleys needed replacement:

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I felt very accomplished after exchanging them. It was one more bicycle maintenance thing that is not hard to do. But if you’ve never done it, it takes some time to learn.

Apart from that we ate a crazy amount of food. Bob and his family spoiled us with food in regular intervals of about two hours which was almost too much even for us. Almost :). When we asked Bob why he hosts people, he said that he realized that a lot of people seem to be scared of Muslims. So with him being a Muslim he wants to get to know people and show that he’s not scary at all. It wasn’t the first time to hear an explanation like that but it still left me with mixed emotions: It makes me sad that someone feels compelled to do that and that there are people who have all kinds of prejudices against Muslims. Getting to experience Bob’s generosity and openness on the other hand is just something else. It is one more human connection that we made, one more friend, one more argument against fear of strangers and discrimination. Thank you so much for that, Bob!


Travellers welcome travellers


Further down the road we reached Mersing. We cycled past some camp sites and considered staying on one just because of the novelty of finding a camp site in Malaysia. But as we still wanted to check out the ferry schedule for the boat to Tioman on the next day we went into Mersing. Once there we weren’t quite sure what to do, asked at some hotels for prices and looked for more camp sites further on. It was already getting dark when we stopped at a house with a few guys sitting on the porch to ask for a place to set up our tent. And that’s how we met Raja, Arab, Mahmood and Jo.


They immediately invited us to stay with them, to share all their food, to have a shower, to wash our clothes and just about everything else we could ever need or want. I have no words for their impromptu generosity! We were pretty lucky in meeting them as the house was Raja’s home and all the others just come on a semi regular basis on weekends.


They had all previously lived and travelled in most parts of the world and completely understood what traveller’s need. For me that always gets very clear when someone offers you to do laundry ;). So we took a shower, got comfortable, talked and shared stories and discovered that we have similar ideas of travelling and living in places. And once again I was reminded why we travel the way we do. It is very unlikely that we would have met the guys in a hostel and I am so very glad that we stumbled upon them.


An impromptu bus ride to Kluang

In Mersing we also spontaneously decided to take Banghui up on her invitation to visit her in her hometown Kluang. We had previously met up with her in Singapore and as she is actually from Malaysia, she often goes back on weekends. As I wasn’t very keen on cycling the 100k back and forth we decided to just take the bus. It was a nice change of pace and I enjoyed the scenery from up above.

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Meeting Banghui again was perfect: We got to meet her family, enjoyed cheese cake with her siblings, ate at a Chinese restaurant with the whole family, walked up a hill, talked a lot and got to know each other better.

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After we had a yummy breakfast at the Kluang Railway station on the next day, she and her sister Jo-Ann even drove us back to Mersing as we missed the bus to get to our ferry in time. Thank you so much Banghui and family, we’re loved being able to just pop over and visit you!!


Rainy season in Tioman

Well, our time in Tioman doesn’t really fit the bill for this article but it was too nice not to include it. We loved being there in rainy season: Not many people, cheap prices and even if the water wasn’t very clear for snorkelling there is something about being in places in the off-season. The vibe is different somehow and I love it. Maybe you understand when you see these…

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A night in Nenasi

After Tioman we stayed one more night at Raja’s place – this time in our hammock and a cot:


With the wind coming from the sea it was so comfortable! After that we cycled on…


… until we reached Nenasi when it got dark. A small village where we wanted to look for a place to camp. As the beach was rather busy we ended up asking at the local Chinese school. And we couldn’t have found a better place! After the guard allowed us to set up camp we washed ourselves in the bathrooms and then met Mei, one of the teachers.


She was so very kind and offered us a lot of her food and we talked for a long time about the school and our travels. There are a lot of Aboriginal children coming to this school and Mei invited us to come with her to visit them in their villages the next day. We would have loved to do that but unfortunately we had already arranged a couchsurfing stay for the next day. But still, it was very interesting to talk with Mei and we felt like staying in a camp site: A kitchen, bathrooms, grass to set up our tent – it was all there :).


Palatian days in Kuantan

“Welcome to my palace” – that’s what Stefani answered to my couchsurfing request. So we cycled to Kuantan, found her place easily and were warmly welcomed with cold water and muffins (a dream coming true after a day of cycling in hot Malaysia). Her house really did feel a bit like a palace – a lot of space and beautifully furnished. Stefani was awesome: Very warm, interested, a lot of stories of her life in different places to tell and one of those persons you immediately feel comfortable with. We enjoyed a few days of rest, getting things of our to-do-list done and having wonderful food and South-African-Cider – of all things! Thank you so much, Stefani!!

All the things in between

And then there are all the encounters in between that make cycle touring so special: We met many more people on the road, had long and short talks and it happened often that we wanted to pay for coffee or food and someone had already taken care of that. All in all it was a beautiful stretch to cycle and travel and the people really made all the difference. When I look at those pictures above, my heart opens up to those people who just opened their heart and home to us strangers. There really is so much beauty in this world if you want to see it.

Singaporean Swings

February 2016


When we stepped out of the ferry from Pulau Bintan it felt like we had returned to Australia. The port of Singapore reminded us of an airport and we marvelled at the concept of an actual bicycle lane. We cycled towards the spacious and luxurious apartment of our fabulous hosts Ivy and Martin and were welcomed with beers and very tasty food.

We spent almost a week in Singapore and it passed in a blur. Like sitting in a swing there were some Ups and also a few Downs.

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We had great conversations with our hosts, lots of tasty coffee, we cooked and baked and worked and relaxed.

We cycled into the city, went to the Marina Bay Gardens and strolled around in Chinatown and the Financial district.

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We were stuck in traffic with busses and a car, we used the MRT and cycled some more. Sometimes we found interesting (and a bit confusing) things by the side of the road:



Meeting SK who runs the Tree In Lodge, a bicycle friendly hostel in Singapore, was one of the best experiences: He is a well of information regarding cycling in the area, route options and visa applications. But most importantly he is just an awesome and very friendly guy! SK connected us with two Italian cyclists (Alessandro and Stefania from Godimundi) staying in the hostel and we had fun talking about our routes and cycling and further plans.


Together with our hosts Martin and Ivy we went to dinner with Stefania and Alessandro and their cyclist friends (Simona and Daniele from BeCycling) and we met a few more times for eating and walking in the city. I loved finally meeting more touring cyclists, exchanging experiences and understanding about the fascination of this mode of travel.

We also met up with Banghui again, a very good friend we’ve known from New Zealand. She is Malaysian and works in Singapore now. It was interesting to hear her perspective on working in the city and just to reconnect.

Singapore as a city on the other hand was rather overwhelming sometimes. I just couldn’t wrap my head around all the tall shiny buildings and the well dressed people in the financial district. This was quite the difference to the areas we had been cycling through in the past months. Things like chain oil and gear cables were crazy expensive coming from Indonesia and we had to look a long time to find affordable alternatives. For eating out on the other hand you had the whole range of cheap hawker stalls and fancy expensive restaurants.


I liked the green areas and the free camp sites on the shore but overall it seemed to big of a city with too much traffic (for me) to feel comfortable.

Our host’s place was like a safe quiet haven to relax during that time and I’m very grateful for that! We got to chill out, eat Western food again (of which I never thought that I would enjoy that much) and meet a lot of interesting people. After almost a week it was time to move on though.
Deciding on our route in Malaysia went smoothly: As we had enough of big cities for a while we planned on skipping Kuala Lumpur and cycle along the east coast. Off to quieter places!

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A perfect day on Jemaja

February 2016

After almost two weeks on Siantan, the small ferry finally ran again. So we boarded the ship and went to Jemaja, a neighboring island. Siantan and Jemaja both belong to the Anambas Islands, a group of islands which roughly lie between Borneo and Singapore / Malaysia. We spent a day cycling the beautiful island, swimming on several beaches and sharing food with locals. It was an absolutely picture perfect!

Taking the small ferry from Siantan to Jemaja.
Lots of tiny islands.
Yes we had fun transporting the bikes and all the bags over that gap :).
Watching the petrol refilling process.
Village built on stilts.
Marsh lands.
Cycling on beautiful (and flat!) small roads through the island.
Loving the colours.
No one there except us.
Sandy riverbank.
Road leading to the other side of the island.
Trees hiding the beach.
Road construction.
Perfect beach.
Not that perfect sadly.
A lot of rubbish from the ocean ends up on the beaches.
This awesome family invited us to share their lunch with them.
Bad weather coming up.
In need of a wider lens to capture the huge palm trees.
Overgrown stilts.
Morning light.
The Bukit Raya, waiting to go to Pulau Bintan.
The harbour is too shallow, so we board smaller ships which bring us to the big ship. A bit of a challenge with the bicycles but we manage.
Boarding process from above.

Island Limbo: Stuck on Siantan

February 2016

Wanting to go overland (over sea) to Singapore we needed to go to Kalimantan / Indonesia once more.


At first we had a few beautiful days of hilly riding from Kuching to Pontianak. It was nice to go back to Indonesia and we loved finding familiar things again.


We had a lot of Nasi Campur (Rice with mixed things on top), drank sugar cane juice and talked to friendly locals.


One night we stayed in a church as a thunderstorm came rolling in and we slept really well!


In Pontianak we stayed with Leonie, our couchsurfing host. She is engaged in a local NGO working with less privileged children and it was very interesting hearing about her work with them. We would have liked to have more time with her but our next ship towards Singapore was already waiting.

While doing research on the boat Torsten saw that we would pass the Anambas islands while going towards Singapore. When he read up on them he found out that they are supposed to be really beautiful with lots of corals and snorkelling opportunities. So we decided to stop there for a few days. As the PELNI boat runs only every two weeks we confirmed with a local that the small ferry is actually running which it was. At that time.


So we boarded the ship and spent the next 30 hours on sea. Once again I was in love with just being out there, watching the endless water and the sun. It is really peaceful.


When we arrived in Tarempa early in the morning, a few locals invited us to have coffee with them at the harbour which was just the perfect welcome.


A bit later we met with Steve and he showed us to his hotel where we ended up staying for almost two weeks. How did that happen? Oh well. Usually there is a small ferry that sails to Pulau Bintan (close to Singapore) every couple of days. During monsoon season it might get cancelled sometimes. In our case it got cancelled due to strong winds once, twice, many times until we stopped counting. In the end we waited for 13 days.

p1160426 p1160428 p1160479 So, two weeks on a tropical island – that doesn’t sound too bad you say! Yeah well, it doesn’t but for some reasons I still had a hard time.

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Siantan is a small island, far away from the mainland. There are shops and eateries with local food. We found one restaurant which probably had the best Indonesian food we have ever eaten. But what to do when you miss that damn German bread and jam with more fruit than sugar?


Other than being homesick we had a bit of a hard time figuring out what to do on the island. Siantan is not a touristy place. Which is awesome of course as you get to experience local life(s). But it also means that it took us some time to find out what you can do on the islands. We tried to do some writing and working which was not that easy as the internet connection was mostly slow to non-existent.

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In the end we visited a waterfall, cycled around the island over ridiculously steep hills but with awesome views and went snorkelling for a bit.

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The most amazing experience was to meet Titin, a local English teacher who talked to us on the road and invited us to meet up when ever we wanted. We visited her in her family’s home, got to know her mother and children and were offered a lot of local food – yum!

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Another day she organized one more scooter to go to the waterfall and it was a lot of fun swimming in it and climbing around. And oh – the views!


But the best part was to talk and exchange a lot of stories about all our lives. Even if we have different views on religion, family life and more – our conversations were full of interest and acceptance for the other person. On our last day Titin told us about an island close to Siantan where you can camp overnight and see turtles. And it is possible to go there with a small inexpensive local boat. Oh well. That did sound awesome but we really didn’t want to be stuck on the island for another two weeks.

It was interesting to experience that tourist infrastructure can have its benefits sometime. Just in the way that there is information on what to do and how to get there. It took us a long time to find out that we could have gone to the turtle island and how to get there. It also took us a long time to find out that there are local ferries to some nearby islands because we didn’t think to ask that specific question. I don’t think that many people from Siantan go camping or snorkelling in their free time . Which is maybe why it takes longer to find out about these things.


Anyway. Maybe we didn’t spend our two weeks on the lush tropical island as you would expect it from a western travel brochure. But we did most definitely get a glimpse into island life: An island that is far out there and relies on big supply boats. A place where it’s difficult to get fresh fruit and vegetables because not much grows on the hilly lands. (Of course there is fish in abundance.) A place with stunning natural beauty but also a place where you need to travel at least ten hours to get to a bigger hospital. A place with lovely, interested locals and the best Nasi Campur.


A place where things might just not go as you had previously planned. But then again – when does that ever happen?


The many face(t)s of Brunei

December 2015


In the middle of Borneo lies the small sultanate of Brunei. As there are no roads around we were planning on cycling right through. Also we were quite curious about the place. Rich through oil, mostly Muslim and the Sharia in place again. That’s what most people know about Brunei. But what else is there to know?

Albeit short we had a few very interesting days. Right after Christmas we crossed the border once and then back into Malaysia (as Brunei consists of two separate parts) and then back into Brunei. In the matter of a week we collected seven stamps in our passport!


Crossing borders seems arbitrary in a way and often I have a hard time believing that people are supposed to be different on the other side of the line. There are so many different factors influencing our socialisation and the place where we are born is only one of them. As we keep crossing borders (land borders, sea borders, city or province borders…) we usually do notice a few things that are different though. Cycling in Brunei was comfortable for us, as the roads suddenly had wide shoulders where we could cycle. Also there were parks and picnic areas with tables and chairs where we could take a rest.

On our way towards the capital we saw houses made from wood and some very fancy villas.


But the most obvious change was probably the forest next to the road. It seems that Brunei is able to afford keeping the forests instead of turning them into palm oil plantations. For cycling that is just beautiful: The huge trees protect us from the sun and you see a lot more monkeys jumping around. Cicadas are singing and birds chirping.

IMG_3603_v1We planned on staying two nights in Jerodong, a city near the capital, with our couchsurfing host Jay. Albeit brief, our stay provided us with a lot of impressions that question the conservative picture Brunei gets in the west. Yes, the sharia is in place and yes, alcohol is legally banned if you’re muslim.

IMG_3604_v1But there is also a lot of young people interested in change and working towards creating their own culture. There are locals wearing short pants and there are activists working for fair labour conditions. These road signs for example are from an exhibition for the rights of migrant workers. 


And yes, there is also a lot of wealth on display, especially when you visit the capital and one or two of it’s museums.


But go to a local market or hop over to Air Kampung (Water Village) and we saw a lot of parallels to life in Malaysia (Borneo): the local home made ice cream, the small shops or the houses built on stilts.

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After we spent a quiet New Year’s Eve at Jay’s place we cycled off the next day. It was Friday and our host warned us that everything would be closed between 12 and 2pm for prayer. We just managed to buy some groceries and get breakfast/lunch before really everything shut down. It was definitely interesting to see. Apart from that we had almost empty roads for a while ;).


We cycled further west where we would meet Amzah, a friend of a friend. We met up with him in the afternoon and – without knowing him before – stumbled into one of our most heart warming encounters of this trip so far.


He treated us to a beautiful room, invited us to a wedding ceremony held by his family and showed us he local beach just in time for sunset.


We met his extended family and tried all kinds of food. On the next morning we ditched our cycling-early-to-avoid-the-heat-routine once more to visit his coconut farm.

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I loved the farm and Amzah’s enthusiasm for organic growing methods.


The family also started another business where they produce organic soaps, shampoo, perfumes and more from coconut and other plants. Amzah, thank you so much for your hospitality and the tour!


During lunch time we finally cycled off and didn’t quite make it to the Malaysian border on that day. But oh well, it was so worth it. I still have a hard time believing what we managed to see and experience in those 4 days!


So of course, I cannot provide you with a deep insight into life in Brunei – our stay was way too short for that. But what I want to say is that people might be different from the picture they get in the media. Meeting people and making friends is always worth it in order to get over media images. I’m not saying that that will make everything better in the field of politics or economics but it will be the first step towards a more connected society. So please try and make the first step!

On making friends, train rides and a fabulous christmas celebration

December 2015

Sometimes everything just falls into place. You might have had a hard time before or even for the briefest of times thought about quitting but then something happens that makes everything perfect. In my case I get that feeling almost exclusively when I meet people. The beauty and sadness of travelling as we do  is that we know that we only have a few days with mostly everyone. So meeting someone new and becoming friends can happen very quickly and intensely. This is a story on making friends and absolutely loving it!


When we were in Keningau, Torsten’s achilles tendon hurt even during the 500m walk to our breakfast place. So we called our warmshowers host in Tenom to ask her about hospital options or any other ideas. Barbara generously offered to pick us up and after some consideration we accepted. We could have cycled but most likely it would have made matters worse. She arrived about an hour later and we drove over many more hills to Tenom. The small town nestled in the mountains became our cosy home for the next week. Barbara’s house was a haven to recover from the exhausting ride and my first two days were spent with doing a lot of nothing except for reading and eating. It was glorious.


During the following week we took turns cooking wonderful and diverse meals and satisfied our hunger for cheese and all kinds of food we hadn’t had in a long time. I’m talking quiche, curry and muffins and feta salad here. I can’t begin to describe how happy I was! It’s quite interesting how I get homesick for food sometimes…

p1150197 We also did a bit of bicycle maintenance. As my cassette was quite worn for some time now I exchanged that and finally put our cassette tool and chain whip to use.


It was actually really easy to do that! Over time I’m gaining a lot of confidence to do bicycle related stuff on my own or with a little help from Torsten. I like that most things are relatively easy – not like a car with complicated electronics and such.

As Barbara was busy setting up her new language school in Tenom we helped with painting one of the classrooms. I really enjoyed doing something with my hands for once and it was nice to see the change on the walls right away.


Apart from that we didn’t do a lot. We panic visited the botanical garden on our last day which was quite beautiful.


But the most important thing for me was the feeling of being at home somewhere. I like travelling and all the experiences it brings but I also miss spending time with friends and family a lot. In Barbara we found a very good friend and after a few days it felt like we had known each other for a very long time. We felt entirely comfortable there, sometimes spending time together talking, sometimes reading or working a bit, sometimes having coffee or a beer and watching TV. It was a relaxing holiday with the best company we could have wished for.


When it was time to leave an intense feeling of sadness overcame me and stayed with me for a while. Sometimes the part where we leave people and places behind is really hard. Then again this wasn’t going to be the last time to see Barbara! As Christmas was coming up she invited us to spend it with her and a friend at the beach and we gladly accepted. I was happy about the prospect of being with friends during the time of year where I would miss my family a lot.


So we took the fabulous rickety train out of Tenom towards Kota Kinabalu and enjoyed the hell out of it.

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The train has open wagons and slowly meanders through a river valley lined by small villages.

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It is a truly awesome experience!


After that we spent a few days in Kota Kinabalu. We met up with John, a warmshowers host and he introduced us to his friend Alex who’s sister would host us for a few days. Confused? So where we at first but it actually was a lot of fun. Henny and her family invited us into their home, gave us yummy food and let us try their home made ice cream! From that moment on I was won over… 😉


Alex invited us to a cycling city tour on the next day which was awesome as we didn’t have to navigate for once.


He also showed us a cheap bicycle store where I exchanged my chain rings.


On Christmas day we left the city and cycled a short 20k to the beach.


We were welcomed with a Christmas cookie buffet, coffee and mango juice. With the taste of home in my mouth and the beach right in front of me it was the perfect combination to celebrate Christmas on our tour.


We then met Barbara and her friend Louise and had loads of fun and more good food and drinks. It was heaven on earth!

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So sometimes everything just falls into place. You meet someone and get along instantly and all the hard times of cycling uphill in the jungle are forgotten. Thanks heaps, Barbara, that was all (and a lot more) that we needed!

p1150464(As we had the chance we actually surprise visited her once more a few days later. We rarely get to just pop by someone’s house with our mode of travelling. So we jumped on the chance of using the train one more time and I loved the look on Barbara’s face when she saw us sitting in her driveway!)