Here’s a little update on the itinerary I followed these last weeks. After my journey on the cargo ship I arrived in Singapore on the 28th of November. Singapore didn’t really manage to conquer my heart. I found the city to be very formatted to western standards and after my stay in Australia, I was impatient to discover a more authentic side of Asia. So I stayed only two days, just enough time to meet Ruth, Inna and Jean, three good friends from Google in Dublin who were in Singapore then. I also had the opportunity to meet Carlina, a very talented Canadian photographer, who showed me some great sights in the city. She also recommended me warmly not to miss Indonesia, and I’m very grateful she did!
From Singapore, I took a four hour bus to Melaka, a pleasant colonial city in Malaysia. I could sense that the athmosphere became different. I had my first meal of the trip on the streets, the traffic became more chaotic,… But this was only the start of a more radical change.
After a three hour ferry from Melaka to Dumai I arrived in Sumatra, Indonesia. Coincidently, I met a group of people who were on the the Oz Bus, the famous bus going overland from London to Sydney in three months. Honnestly these people looked exhausted and didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves much. “We spend most of our time in buses”, a middle aged Englishman from the group told me. Of course, I’m not surprised: three months is really too short for such a journey, and in an organised tour you lack the freedom that is one of the most enjoyable things in a long term travel.
When I arrived in Dumai, I was ‘welcomed’ by a hord of touts who were particularly difficult to dismiss. In Indonesia the traffic now was a total chaos, but luckily the smiles on people’s faces were growing too. Indonesia is really the first country on the trip were locals have been extremely friendly. Wherever I was, it never lasted long to have a local coming curiously: “Where are you from?”, and then starting a conversation. Several times I was stopped on the streets and asked permission to be photographed.
The next few days, I relaxed at Lake Maninjau, in a volcano crater. This area was hit in September by a major earthquake, and the destruction caused to the houses was heart-gripping to witness.
From the nearby town of Padang, devastated by the earthquake, I took a ferry to Siberut Island for my trekking that I discussed previously. So far, it is without a doubt the highlight of my trip . Interestingly, even though Siberut was shaken just as badly as Padang, there have been no casualties on the island, and I didn’t witness any damage there. The Mentawai people told me it’s because they know how to build earthquake resistant huts, made only of wood and with foundations going deep in the ground. The second reason according to them is that the jungle, with the deep roots of the trees, absorbs the shock very effectively, unlike the area of Padang, where the jungle was burnt long ago by the locals. A pity that a knowledge that took millennia to develop is ignored today.
From then on, I went a little faster and did the exact opposite route to Melaka, then took a bus and spent a day in Kuala Lumpur, another modern town, not much different from Singapore even though I found it to be a little more friendly. To arrive on time to meet my Belgian friend Idesbald in Bangkok for Christmas and New year, I had to take a bus to Hat Yai in Thailand, and then straight away another bus to Bangkok, making it an exhausting 22 hour journey! I certainly don’t recommend doing this by bus, but in my case all trains were full due to the holidays.
I celebrated Christmas in Koh Samet, an Island close to Bangkok, and then relaxed in the city and arranged my visas for China and Vietnam. I would have liked to spend more time in Thailand, but the government has decided to only give 15 days visas to overland travellers, forcing me to shorten my stay and to reach Cambodia earlier than planned. It’s a pity!