Summary of the trip 2000-2001

in chronological order :


IrelandBrittanyFranceCorsicaItalyCroatiaAlbaniaGreeceTurkeyNorth CyprusTurkeyBulgariaRoumaniaHungarySlovakiaPoland LithuaniaLatviaEstoniaRussiaMongoliaChina (North-East)South KoreaChina (provinces Guangxi and Guizhou)Hong-KongMacao China (Yunnan)LaosChina (Yunnan – Western Sichuan - Xinjiang)PakistanIranTurkeyNorth CyprusTurkeyGreeceItalyFrance


Country: Ireland PHOTOS

Dates: .... - 26 / 05 / 2000

Stops: Dublin

Comments: I had been working in Dublin for one year. The contract was finished at the end of May and I had in mind to leave for a long trip rather than getting another contract.

Country: Brittany PHOTOS

Dates: 27 / 05 - 07 / 06 / 2000

Stops: Locmine

Comments: A 18 hr crossing from Rosslare in Ireland took me to Roscoff and I spent some time at my parent's home in Brittany.

Country: France PHOTOS

Dates: 07 - 23 / 06 / 2000

Stops: Rennes-Angers-Paris-Varey (near the Jura Mountains)-Grenoble-Grasse

Comments: I am off, first travelling through France visiting friends and relatives.

Country: Corsica PHOTOS

Dates: 24 - 30 / 06

Stops: Ajaccio - Zonza (col de Bavella) - Sartene - Bonifacio - Iles Lavezzi

Comments: I crossed from Nice to Ajaccio. In a campsite in Zonza, I met a group of 30 cyclists from Sardinia who were biking 500 km in 25 days through Corsica, in order to fight their addiction to hard drugs. They were having a day off, and the leader of the group proposed me to borrow a bike for the day. Some spoke a little french or english, it was nice anyway to have dinner with them, and it was a great day biking. Very hot though. I visited Sartene, Bonifaccio and the Lavezzi islands. Great scenery, beautiful coast.

Country: Italy

Dates: 30 / 06 - 07 / 07

Stops: Palau (Sardegna) - Pisa - Lucca - Firenze - Bologna - Ferrara - Ravenna

Comments: Crossing from Bonifacio to Santa Teresa di Gallura, night in Palau and then night-crossing from Golfo Aranci to Livorno. I could not resist to stop in Florence to see the frescoe in the Duomo which was under restauration last time I was there. Visiting friends in Bologna and Ferrara who nicely took me around the two (equally) nice cities.

Country: San Marino

Dates: 07 / 07 / 2000

Stops: San Marino

Comments: Brief afternoon visit in the little state of San Marino

Country: Croatia PHOTOS

Dates: 08 / 07 - 13 / 07 / 2000

Stops: Zadar - Trogir - Split - Hvar Island - Korcula Island - Dubrovnik.

Comments: Ferry from Anconna to Zadar. The dalmatian cities are unique, with their historic centres, and their small streets covered in smooth shine white stones. The coastline is dotted with many islands and travelling south to Dubrovnik by boat and by bus took me through some great scenery. The view over old Dubrovnik is so impressive from the city walls that I walked several around.

Country: Albania PHOTOS

Dates: 15-18 / 07

Stops: Durres - Tirana - Korce

Comments: To go to Greece, I had to go from Dubrovnik to Bari (Italy) as there are no more direct crossing from Croatia to Greece. I met an australian and an islandic bloke, and in Bari we saw the ferries going to Albania and we thought... why not. An unexpected detour, decided in a few hours, this is the spirit of travelling. Albania was quite a trip, not one cash machine in the whole country, bad roads, concrete bunkers all over the countryside, horse drawn-carriages amongst cars, etc... and a bad surprise at the entrance port : like they said in Bari, a visa was not necessary but there was a "border tax", 40 USD please....glp !

Country: Greece PHOTOS

Dates: 18 - 26 / 07

Stops: Florina - Meteora - Santorini - Creta - Rhodos

Comments: Just one-night stop over the border from Albania in Florina. Then I wanted to see again Meteora, monasteries on top of rocky peaks. From Pireaus, I took the ferry to Santorini (marvellous island, white houses on top of very high volcanic cliffs, blue dome of small chapels), and I continued to Crete (Minoan Palace of Knossos, and Agios Nikolaos) and Rhodos (very nice medieval old town but way too many tourists).

Country: Turkey PHOTOS

Dates: 26 - 31 / 07 / 2000

Stops: Olu Deniz - Olympos - Antalya - Alanya

Comments: After a quick crossing from Rhodes to Marmaris, I went to british-invaded Fetiye and Olu Deniz. More quiet was Olympos, in a small valley where accomodation is in the form of "tree houses", with old Lycian ruins in very green surroudings and a beaufiful pebble beach. Antalya, the nearby greco-roman ruins of Side and the waterfall of Manavgat was a very pleasant and interesting stop. Turkey was one of the countries I absolutely wanted to visit in this trip and the first impression was very good, inspite of the heavily touristy summer season.

Country: Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (KKTC) PHOTOS

Dates: 01 - 03 / 08

Stops: Girne - Lefkosa - Famagusta (Gazi Magusa)

Comments: I took a ferry from Tasucu to Girne. The island of Cyprus has a troubled past and is divided in two, and the north part (turkish) is only recognised as a country by Turkey. The capital (Lefkosa) is split into turkish and greek parts by a so-called "green line". Turkish Cyprus is not very developed and few tourists come here. There are however some interesting buildings and history (churches converted to mosques, ruins, city walls in Famagusta). Beside the sightseeing, I came here to visit a friend in Famagusta.

Country: Turkey PHOTOS

Dates: 04 - 16 / 08 / 2000

Stops: Cukurbag - Goreme - Bogazkale - Amasya - Inebolu - Amasra - Safranbolu - Istanbul - Edirne

Comments: I returned to Turkey from Famagusta (North Cyprus) to Mersin, then, in need of some fresh air (summers are hot here !), I went to the mountains Aladaglar near Cukurbag (the name Aladaglar means the crimson mountains, as they take a red colour at sunset). I met two turkish lads at the pension and went hiking with them. We split at a 3400 m high pass, they continued to some lakes, and I continued to a 3723 m high peak (Engin Tepe). Great 15 hour walk. Then in Goreme (Cappadocia), I hired a bike to visit this amazing place. The next stop was in Bogazkale, were there are some hittite ruins from 1300 BC. I continue north to Amasya, an old town facing a cliff with Pontic tombs carved out in it. Then, I suffered long hours of travelling along the Black sea coast, on windy bumpy roads in packed minibuses. Nice scenery though, very different lanscape, much greener and more hilly than the centre of Turkey. I left the Black Sea after Amasra, an old town with a great location on the coast. Safranbolu was one of the prettiest towns so far in Turkey with many well preserved traditional houses. And at last, I came to Istanbul : the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, the bazaar, the views on the Bosphorus, etc... great place. Edirne, interesting old town and more nice mosques, was the last stop in Turkey. These 3 weeks were most enjoyable (excellent bus services, great food, friendly locals). A pleasant country where will surely return.

Country: Bulgaria PHOTOS

Dates: 16 - 22 / 08 / 2000

Stops: Plovdiv - Koprivshtitsa - Veliko Tarnovo - Balchik

Comments: Nice start in Bulgaria : at the turkish border (very slow crossing), I got a lift to Stara Zagora by a friendly french couple on their way back from Iran, and then I got help for the train to Plovdiv by chap who then showed me around the nice old town of Plovdiv and put me up for the night. I continued by train to Koprivshtitsa, a "national revival" village where houses have been preserved or restored in the traditional style. Then followed a long journey for not so much distance (including 4 hour wait in tiny station) to Veliko Tarnovo (historic capital of Bulgaria, interesting ruins). I wanted to see the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, so I went (by bus this time) to Varna, and then to Balchick, a small town with some pretty sights.

Country: Romania PHOTOS

Dates: 22 - 28 / 08 / 2000

Stops: Bucarest - Brasov - Sighisoara - Sibiu (Paltinis) - Alba Iulia - Cluj Napoca - Oradea

Comments: At Ruse, the bulgarian town at the border with Romania, I met two Russians and a Slovak who where waiting for a lift. The Slovak had been waiting for ages to go straight to Slovakia because he thought Romania was not safe. The russians had 8 USD to make it to Saratov. After a little while, a romanian man accepted to take me and the russians to Bucarest. The Slovakian man may still be waiting there now.... This confirms a french proverb "qui trop se hate reste en chemin" (basically : if you want to go too fast, you get stuck). Bucarest was an interesting stop (the history after the revolution in 1989, the contrast between the interior of the Parliement Palace and the unfinished other end of the Boulevard). I continued with the well preserved, medieval, beautiful cities of Transylvania and a short hike in the Carpathian mountains. Very nice country, scenic train rides, friendly people but I certainly went too quickly across.

Country: Hungary PHOTOS

Dates: 28 - 30 / 08

Stops: Debrecen - Tokaj

Comments: Short visit in Hungary, in the pleasant town of Debrecen, where I met two swiss girls on their way to Egypt by! They later cancel their plans due to trouble in Israel. After a brief stop in Tokaj (and a little wine tasting), I moved on to Slovakia.

Country: Slovakia PHOTOS

Dates: 30 / 08 - 02 / 09

Stops: Kosice - Dedinky - Tatranska Lomnica

Comments: After another lift by some french people, I arrived in Kosice, with a old and pretty town centre. I went to the hilly and foresty area called Slovensky Raj (slovakian paradise), a name it deserves well. Unfortunately, the sun was not there... The high Tatras however were fantastic, and the sun came out just at the right time. Great views from those gorgeous mountains. I was talking one evening to Slovaks and Czechs who were sleeping out in a park. They both agreed that splitting Czechoslovakia was not a good idea and both blamed this slovakian politician. They were saying "we are brothers, we should be one country".

Country: Poland PHOTOS

Dates: 02 - 12 / 09 / 2000

Stops: Krakow - Kazimierz - Warsaw - Torun - Gdansk - Bialystok - Bialowieza Nat. Park

Comments: I revisited the wonderful city of Krakow. The small old town of Kazimierz made a nice stopover on the way to Warsaw, where I stayed for a few days with a friend I met in Istanbul. I tried to see if I could arrange a visa for Russia but the only solution was via Intourist (either shooting straight through to Mongolia on a transit visa, non-stop, or with a 2 weeks visa, stopping at 50-60 USD a night in designated hotels arranged those useless money suckers, no thank you very much...!). So I moved on, first to another nice old town : gothic Torun, and wonderful Gdansk. I met here some Aussies who told me they easily got a russian visa in Tallinn via an agency. I finished my visit of Poland with a nice sunny day in the Nat. Park near Bialowieza, with one of the last remnant of the european primeval forest (and I could not resist renting a bike for a few hours).

Country: Lithuania PHOTOS

Dates: 13 - 15 / 09

Stops: Kaunas - Vilnius

Comments: I must have travelled too quickly here, the sun did not follow me... it was rainy and cold when I arrived in Kaunas and Vilnius. I crossed the border from Poland by bus, thus avoiding Belarus (and 20 USD for a transit visa if I had travelled by train). I had quick look around the old towns Kaunas and in baroqueVilnius.

Country: Latvia PHOTOS

Dates: 15 - 17 / 09 / 2000

Stops: Riga

Comments: I spent a few days in the largest town of the Baltic states, an old and lively city.

Country: Estonia PHOTOS

Dates: 17- 22 / 09

Stops: Tallinn

Comments: Back into this very pretty city, which I visited already 2 years ago. I got a lift to Tallinn by a local couple at the Latvian border, who later proposed me some accomodation. I spent a few days in Tallinn to get the visa for Russia thanks to a very helpful agency (got it overnight, with no restriction where to go or where to stay, but only 2 weeks). From this point, I knew I was on my way to the east, to Asia.

Country: Russia PHOTOS

Dates: 22 /09 - 05 / 10 / 2000

Stops: Moscow - Vladimir - Suzdal - Yaroslav - Moscow - Krasnoyarsk - Irkustk - Ulan Ude


Moscow : I arrived with a night train from Tallinn, spent one night, saw again the Red Square, and got the visa for Mongolia (in 5 minutes). A friend in Moscow helped me buy the train ticket to Beijing (basic ticket all the way + sleeper to Krasnoyarsk only, and I bought the reservation for the each stage as I go along). I had time during the (sunny) weekend to visit a few towns of the "Golden Ring" near Moscow, with very nice architecture (kremlins, golden domes of churches, monasteries).

Going East : The train to Krasnoyarsk was quiet, I had the compartment for myself and spent time chatting in german with a mongol man from the next compartment. After two and a half days in the train, across totally flat land covered by endless forests (nice colours) ar marshland, and 4 hours time difference from Moscow, I reached the siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. I was looking forward for change from the train : some firm ground (the train shakes a lot) and ... I stayed at a ship-hotel ancored on the Yenisey river (in a room that looked very much like a train compartment with bunk beds). Buying train reservations was not always easy, and in Krasnoyarsk took much time. I had not only to find the right office and the rightwindow, but to wait that the clerk arrives, argue that my ticket was valid and then wait as they type in the computer the visa and passport details (not to mention the powercut). The trip from Krasnoyarsk to Irkustk was much different than in the first train. The first was a chinese train, very clean and quiet, with quite a few foreign tourists on board, who do not even stop on the way to China. This second train was a russian train, busier and more lively with vodka and russian folk songs. I was quite tired when we arrived in Irkustk, a nice ciy, with many wooden houses, pleasant tree-lined streets, and an interesting museum about the Decembrists. I went to Listvyanka, on the shore of Lake Baikal : very impressive, with the taiga in full autumn colour and the high mountain peaks around. Unbelievable to be here. I wished I had more time. The bus between Irkustk and Listvyanka passed through beautiful scenery : along the wide Angora river (the only to flow out of the lake), across more taiga, with beautiful autumn colours. I stayed in a wooden house, just 20 m from the lake, but unfortunately the banya was not working. Next day, surprise : it was snowing !!!!... No chance for a walk around, too cold and too wet, so back to Irkutsk.

Welcome to Asia : After a "Short"-8 hrs day train (for a change) I arrived in Ulan Ude, a pleasant town which feels more asian than russian, thanks to the presence of the Buryat people. The landscape is also different now, with more steppe and less forest. On the main square of Ulan Ude, the enormous head of Lenin is a real oddity (biggest figurehead in the world). I visited the first (but not the last !) buddhist monastery of this trip : a very fascinating complex near Ulan Ude (the buryat people, like the mongols, follow tibetan buddhism). On the way back, I met a buryat lady in the bus. She had a lot of patience to talk with me considering my poor level in russian) and then helped me book the train to Ulan-Bator.

Country: Mongolia PHOTOS

Dates: 05 - 19 / 10 / 2000

Stops: Ulan Bator - a number of places in the middle of nowhere in the Gobi desert - Kharkhorin - Ulan Bator

Comments: After a very very slow 24 hr train ride from Ulan Ude leaving at an incovenient 5.20am (and over 5 hours waiting time at the border), I arrived in Ulan Bator at another inconvenient 6am. An easy going city with some beautiful buddhist shrines and monasteries. Some locals are walking around in the traditional dress, along with some buddhist monks dressed in purple or yellow. The owner of the hostel where I was staying arranged a trip with other people (an american lady teaching english, an english bloke, and two swedes). The funny mongolian driver took care of everything and drove us across the steppe south to the Gobi desert and back. It was a rough week bouncing around in a russian 4 wheel-drive minibus. The scenery varied from wide snow-covered valleys in the steppe just south of Ulan Bator, to flat barren, empty desert or mountainous areas and sand dunes further south. The Gobi desert is a very fascinating part of the country : it gave a feeling of immensity. Nomadic people live there in "gers" (round tents) and move around with their cattle according to the season (they herd cows, horses, camels, sheep, goats). Our driver arranged things so we could stay for the night with the locals, and we always enjoyed a very warm welcome. We shared some mongolian vodka with our hosts before going to bed, drunk some airag (fermented mare milk), ate mutton or goat meat with rise or noodles (for dinner and for breakfast). When we left in the van in the morning, the lady would give us a traditional farewell by throwing a laddle of milk in our direction. We saw some wildlife (many eagles on the side of the dirt road, and some vultures), and we visited on the way back some buddhist monasteries that were not destroyed during communist times. During this trip, it was sometimes cold, sometimes dusty, it smelled petrol in the van, we had no possibility to shower for a week, but the welcome of the mongolian people and the beauty of the landscape (apart from those hours across featureless land) made up for the discomfort.

Country: China (1 : northern cities) PHOTOS

Dates: 20/10 - 12/11

Stops: Beijing - Xi'an - Huashan - Shanghai - Zhu Jia Jiao - Suzhou - Qingdao


Beijing : The trip from Ulan Bator took 30 hours by the train, but I was in the very nice company of a mongol bloke studying in the US and two pretty mongol ladies. We passed across some very very flat land in Mongolia, waited a few hours wait at the border to change the wheels of the train, and saw the next day a gradual change in scenery, getting greener by the hour, passing a stretch of the Great Wall on the way. Beijing was much warmer than Ulan Bator but the crowd, the noise and the pollution came as a shock after Mongolia. The streets were jammed with buses, plenty of people on bikes (I love that) carrying amazingly big loads, and soldiers almost at every street corner. However, the food here is varied, excellent and plentiful. Many sights to visit in Beijing (Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Tian An Men square). I went to the Great Wall at Simatai where it is very impressive, with very steep sections following a montain ridge.

Xi'an : a big provincial town, with well preserved city walls, and an interesting Taoist temple. There is also a muslim minority (this city was on the Silk road), and it was interesting to walk around this part of town with some mosques built according to traditional chinese architecture. I had not been in muslim surroundings since I left Turkey, this is the other end of the muslim world. Not far from Xi'an are the famous Terra Cotta Warriors. Each is unique in the expression on their face, and their posture, very impressive. Next day, at last I escaped the city and the pollution : I walked up one of the sacred mountains of China, near the village of Huashan. Great day with pure blue sky above from the summit at about 2000 m. Nevermind that the way was paved all the way (some very steep steps were quite good fun in fact) and lined by groups of loud chinese tourists and tacky souvenir shops. This part of China, though interesting, was the most unpleasant : the foreign visitor here is seen as a walking dollar, and it was a pain to be always on guard to avoid rip-offs.

Shanghai : a huge and very impressive city with many faces and so much contrast : modern shopping streets all lit up at night, tall new sky-scrappers (many under construction) next to old small houses, the old british buildings on the Bund facing the ultra-modern Pudong developement area across the (filthy) Huangpu river. With a friend from Germany working in Shanghai, we went to Zhu Jia Jiao, a small old town next to Shanghai, with narrow streets, wooden houses and old stone bridges over small canals. This was a very pleasant day away from the noise of the big city. Next day I visited the poetic traditional gardens of Suzhou. Sometimes China can be so nice and quiet, so peaceful (with traditions like people practicing their Tai-Chi in the morning), and then you hit the street again with its chaos, it's noise, people pushing in buses etc.... Where is Confucius, where are their poets ?

Qingdao : my last stop for this first visit in China was the former german colonial city on the coast facing Korea. This town understandably produces the best chinese beer. It feels weird to find german architecture here, and it was also nice to see the sea for the first time since I left Estonia. The last leg of my trip in China (train from Qingdao to the ferry port of Weihai, departure for Korea) was very pleasant as a chinese couple invited me to sit with them, and we "talked" all the way, mostly with the phrase book, pen and paper, and a bit of english.

Country: Korea PHOTOS

Dates: 13 / 11 - 13 / 12 / 2000

Stops: Seoul - Soraksan - Kyongju - Iksan - Maisan - Mokpo - Cheju Island - Pusan - Tongdosa - Yangdong - Kampo - Pusan - Seoul

Comments: The crossing from Weihai (China) to Inchon (Korea) was very quiet. In contrast to european (and in particular scandinavia ferries) not much drinking takes place (there is only a small karaoke bar, no thank you ...) and most people just watch TV. After a short train ride, guided by a korean man on business met on the ferry, we arrived in Seoul. There is an interesting mix of modern tall buildings and a few palaces and old city gates. It felt a lot more orderly and cleaner than China, people being more polite and more respectful, no rip-offs, such a relief. Then, I went to Soraksan National Park, but unfortunately it was raining heavily the first day. Next day cleared up and I had a nice and sunny day in the mountains. After a long bus ride along the beautiful eastern coastline, I arrived in the historical city of Kyongju, with many tumuli and temples. Having heard of quite good conditions, I considered for a while taking up a job as an english teacher but it turned out that work visas are only granted to UK, US, NZ, Canadians and SA nationals. So the sightseeing continued, with a short stay in the Maisan Provincial Park. In this park is the T'apsa buddhist temple with about 80 dry-stone columns or pagodas, some 3-4 m tall, which withstand strong winds since they had been erected by a monk 100 years ago. The trip onwards to Mokpo deserves a special note for the record of the fastest bus connections. I never waited more than 10 min for the next bus at each of 4 changes. Korea (along with Turkey) is the easiest country to get around, just turn up at the bus station and there is usually a bus within half an hour for your destination. From Mokpo, I took a ferry to Cheju Island. This place has extinct volcanoes and a very mild climate (it's end of november and I am walking around in a T-shirt). I also managed to hire a nice road-bike for a day, and it was great to get away from tacky tourist. In some parts, the scenery reminded me of Ireland (the sea, the small fields surrounded by stone walls, the very green and hilly landscape, the small fishing harbours), but unfortunately there was not a pub in sight. The overnight crossing from Cheju to Pusan went smoothly, and... surprise... I met an irish lady on the boat (there are very few travellers in Korea, most westerners here are canadians, teaching english). Pusan is a big sea port city of 4 millions which speads between the hills and the sea. I had thought about going to Japan to look for a job there teaching english as there are no nationality restrictions but in Pusan, I met a greek bloke and an irish girl who have been travelling (rough) for several a few years. They were coming back after some months in Japan and told me how expensive things are. He also mentioned minority ethnic groups in the south of China and Laos, so in the end I decided to keep on travelling, going straight to the south of China. While waiting for the visa, I visited Tongdosa, an important buddhist temple near Pusan. I was invited to stay for dinner and overnight as there was many people there for some celebrations. In the surrounding areas are more temples set on a background of bamboos and mountains. Then I went to Yangdong, a wonderful genuine village where there are many traditional thatched houses. I continued along the coast and could go for a swim in the sea of Japan (water about 12 deg I guess, no problem) in Kampo, a fishing harbour. Back in Pusan (to pick up my chinese visa), it suddenly got really cold. Time to go south. After one month in Korea, this country was one of the most friendly and welcoming, locals telling me "korean people feel they have a duty to help foreign visitors". This materialised with lifts, sponteneous help with directions, etc and even once someone offering me some money after giving me a lift. I did not expect I would stay that long in Korea, but it has been a very pleasant stay.

Country: China (2 : Guangxi and Guizhou) PHOTOS

Dates: 15 / 12 / 2000 - 09 / 01 / 2001

Stops: Shanghai - Yangshuo - Longsheng - [Zhaoxing, Xijiang and other villages] - Kaili - [market in Chong'an] - Guiyang - Guangzhou (Canton)

Comments: After 1 night, 1 day and 1 night on the ferry from Inchon, I enjoyed a cruise - like arrival up the Huangpu river (through an industrial lanscape of cranes and shipyards) into the morning mist to Shanghai. I took the train the same evening to Guilin (in the pleasant company of 2 chinese men who spoke very good english). Another one hour, in the bus for a change, and I arrived in popular little Yangshuo. Great place for cycling amongst the rice fields, the little villages and the karst peaks. After the larger northern cities, I wanted countryside and I got some. Winter had arrived in Korea when I left but here the landscape was still green thanks to abondant bamboo. Then, during a rough 10 days in dusty local busses up and down bumpy dirt roads, I continued through more beautiful places. I visited the impressive terrassed fields near Longsheng, the lovely villages of Zhaoxing (Dong people), Xijiang (Miao people). It was quite rough (even a bit scary when one bus driver was racing with another bus in order to be first to pick up passengers, all on windy bumpy dusty dirt roads on steep hillsides) but this part of China is so much more interesting than the northern cities I saw earlier. I caught local markets in Kaili and Chong'an. The latter was particularly interesting and colourful, as almost all the Miao and Gejia women were dressed in the traditional way (blue and orange colours dominated). Street scenes included for example a man selling rat poison (with living and dead proof of the efficiency of his products) next to people getting their hair cut. There were also street dentists, old men selling birds in cages near the slaughtering of pigs and buffalos. Other locals were selling ducks, chickens, dogs, rabbits, vegetable, meat, spices, clothes, etc... This was on New Year's day (nothing special here, but best wishes to all anyway !). I took the train to Guiyang, and it feels odd to be in a major city after over 10 days in little villages. On a day trip I visited the small untouched traditional chinese village of Qinyan. Then I intended to go from Guiyang, first to Liuzhou by train, then Wuzhou by bus, and then Guangzhou but I ended up continuing directly to Guangzhou with the same train for several reasons (friendly girl sitting next to me amongst others...). Long tiring trip in hard seat, but good company.... I had a quick look at Guangzhou which has pleasant side streets, some old architecture from the time part of this town was a british and french concession. The trip in the small villages and markets of the minority groups was what I found the most interesting so far in China. I knew then that I want more of this, rather than big chinese towns, and Yunnan would be very rich on the subject.

Country: Hong-Kong PHOTOS

Dates: 09 - 11 / 01 / 2001

Stops: Hong-Kong - Tai O

Comments: I arrived in HK after a few hours in the bus from Guangzhou (a modern one, and the nicest bus since ... Turkey,...). Before going back to some villages, I had to come here to obtain a one-month visa for Laos. All those tall buildings so closely packed between the hills and the sea make a very impressive sight, especially at night with all the lights. However, the air pollution was terrible so I escaped the big city and went to Lantau Island where I visited the little fishing village of Tai O. I left as soon as my Laos visa was ready.

Country: Macau

Dates: 11 - 14 / 01

Stops: Macau

Comments: A short fast ferry trip took me to more easy going Macau, with its interesting mix of chinese and portuguese styles. Chinese buddhist temples here actually see worshippers, not only tourists like in mainland China, and portuguese language can still be heard on the street, in shops and in the several catholic churches.

Country: China (3 : Yunnan) PHOTOS

Dates: 14 / 01 - 13 /02 / 2001

Stops: Zuhai - Kunming - Jianshui - Potou - Tonghai - Jinghong - Menghai - Menghun - Damenglong - Ganlanba - Mengyang - Jinuo - Menglun - Menglan

Comments: From Zuhai near Macau, I caught a sleeper bus to Zhanjian and a train to Kunming thus avoiding the chaotic busy station in Guangzhou. I arrived in Kunming which, as chinese cities go, was rather pleasant place with some interesting old streets still left amongst newer buildings. South of Kunming, I continued to Jianshui (busy old streets and a large temple to Confucius), Potou (I saw the small Sunday market and some villages with Hani people, who have built impressive terrasses) and Tonghai (a pleasant traditional town). Near Tonghai, I was guided by a local girl around a fascinating village whose inhabitants are descendants from Mongols who came this far south over 700 years ago. They have their own language and dress and there is even a temple to Genghis Khan, with the words "He never died in people's heart". I spent the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) with the family of this local girl in Tonghai : many firecrackers, a firework display, street parades, and much food. I continued south to Xinshuangbanna, a tropical, exotic part of China. I visited the area around Jinghong and Menghai, dotted with interesting markets, temples and pagodas, and home to Dai and Hani people. Damenglong is another small town, not far from a border point to Myanmar (only for locals). The area is very green with rice fields in the valley. I could hire a bike and make my way to a small remote Bulang village in the hills, where a local invited me for some tea, some food and eventually to spend the night. I continued to more such places, including Jinuo, Menglun (very nice tropical plant gardent) and Menglan where I was invited to spend the night in a Dai village near Menglan.

Country: Laos PHOTOS

Dates: 13 / 02 - 14 / 03 / 2001

Stops: Luang Nam Tha - Muang Sing - Udomxai - Bun Tai - Phongsali - Muang Khua - Muang Ngoi - Nang Khiaw - Luang Phabang - Van Vieng - Vientiane - Van Vieng - Luang Phrabang - Pak beng - Huay Xai - Nam Tha

Comments: I crossed the border from Mohan in China to Boten. In Laos, transport is done by truck or by boat (rarely by bus). Towns here are rather villages, as it is not a very populous country. Besides the bumpy dusty truck rides, Laos is a very relaxing and the pace of life is very slow. There were many travellers around (I had not seen a westerner in one week just before in China). The north of Laos, like just over the border in China and Vietnam, is populated by many different ethnic groups, some like the Akha (or Hani) dress in a very colourfull way. My best time in Laos was surely the boat trip down the Nam Ou, passing great scenery of steep hills, small villages of bamboo houses, a few poppy fields (opium), keeping cool with water splashing from the occasional rapid. The green colour of flooded rice fields at was beautiful. In Luang Phabang, there are many superb temples and a number of houses in french style left from the colonial time. Van Vieng, on the way to Vientiane has some fine scenery with tall peaks shrouded in the morning mist. Vientiane is not an extraordinary town, but there are a few temples and some french houses and for a capital city, it's very quiet. Here I decided to turn back (going to Thailand would take me the islands, to Cambodia, to Myanmar, to Indonesia..... I would get carried away. I went back to Luang Phrabang and then, I took a boat up the Mekong to Huay Xai. From there, it was long 12 hr ride (for 200 km) in the back of a pick-upa across jungle and villages on a muddy slippery tortous road (it started raining a few days before). Next day I reentered China at the same border as a month ago.

Country: China (4 : Yunnan - Western Sichuan - Xinjiang)

Dates: 14 / 03 - 02 / 07 / 2001

Stops: Jinghong - Menglian - Shangyun - Lincang - Fengqing - Baoshan - Luxi - Wanding - Ruili - Husa - Yingjiang - Tengchong - Baoshan - Dali - Lijiang - Zhongdian - Xiancheng - Litang - Kangding - Lixian - Aba - Hongyuan - Zoige - Langmusi - Xiahe - Tongren - Xining - Dunhuang - Hami - Turpan - Urumqi - (Kuytun - Jinghe) - Yining - Gongliu - Kuqa - Wushi -

(Bachu) - Kashgar - Karakul lake - Tashkurgan


Yunnan (see PHOTOS)

Back in China again, and I had at this point in mind to return to Europe via Central Asia. I stopped for a rest-day in Jinghong where I met Evelyne, from France who was also going to western China, but then Pakistan. I travelled slowly for several weeks in the south of Yunnan across minority areas. I started in Menglian. This was one of the best and most friendly places in China so far. I visited a number of villages of various ethnic groups (Dai, Lahu, Hani or Akha, Wa), and sometimes got invited for tea, some food or to spend the night. Wonderful people. I made my way to Baoshan in small stages, stopping in Shangyun, Lincang and Fengqing. The latter is a nice traditional chinese town with great scenery around (terrassed valley, and a big white stuppa on a hill). The region is very beautiful and montainous. From Baoshan, I went south to the Dehong region where there are more minorities. I spent a day around Ruili, a very very lively town near the Myanmar border. Near Yingjiang, I came across a Dai village festival by pure chance. The kindness of the locals, the atmosphere, the colours, the beauty of the Dai girls made this day one of the most memorable of the whole trip. I spent the next few days with a Dai friend who took me to a nearby Jingpo village where the locals dressed us in their beautiful festival clothes. The Jingpo (like the Lahu near Menglian) are christian since they were converted by english missionaries. It was hard to leave, but I continued to Tenchong where there are volcanoes and hotsprings. However, the interesting nature here is sadly converted into tacky tourist resorts and it was rather disapointing. After a long bus ride, I arrived in famous Dali, an old town with a population of Bai people and many tourists. I went to interesting markets of Bai and Yi people in nearby villages. I continued to Lijiang, another (larger) old town of Naxi people. I walked the well known and absolutely fantastic Tiger Leaping Gorge. Amazing and very impressive scenery, with friendly villages on the way. From here start the mountain areas and the tibetan places : first, Zhongdian, a town at 3200 m with a very important monastery. From here I travelled with Evelyne.

Western Sichuan (see PHOTOS)

Xiancheng was the next destination, a very traditional tibetan village surrounded by small green fields and dry mountains. After another difficult arduous ride on a dusty dirt road over

mountain passes at 4500m, we arrived in the town Litang, set on the high plateau at 4000m. The tibetans here are Khambas and gave the fiercest resistance to chinese invasion a few decades ago. Their wild looks (darker skin from the harsh sun, long hair, tall size) make them very impressive to look at. Europeans are also exotic for them so we all stop walking to look at each other. The sky at this altitude, the light on the plateau, the mountains, the yaks, the architecture of the houses and temples, the chanting in the temples, the kindness of the locals ... no wonder Tibet has fascinated so many people and still does. The next stop was Kangding, in the valley, where the festival to celebrate Buddha's birthday was held at the tibetan monastery. Many visitors, tourist (chinese and foreign) and travellers came to watch the sacred dances by the monks dressed in very colourful clothes and wearing elaborate masks. Chengdu was just a necessary halt for a bank, it's just another big chinese city, nothing special and we left quickly for Lixian where Qiang people, related to tibetans live in large stone houses villages set in green pretty valleys. After this, I was back in tibetan areas, on the high cold plateau. Some trips were quite hard (early buses, long rides, breakdowns, flat tyres, stuck in the snow in the blizzard on the first of May, etc....). Aba (nothing to do with my most despised music group from Sweden) was worth this trouble, to visit the large monastery. After more hours in buses, we reached Hongyuan and Zoige, small towns in vast grasslands.

Gansu, Qinghai

In Langmusi, Xiahe and Tongren, there are also more important monasteries. This is the limit of the tibetan world, and the presence Hui people (chinese muslim, who make the majority of the nearby Ningxia province) is noticeable. Xining is yet another big city, necessary stop from where we changed direction making a westward turn.

Xinjiang (see PHOTOS)

After a long bus ride, we got to Dunhuang which is an oasis town in the middle of the desert. Total change in scenery, the tibetan plateau is miles behind. Towards the south, the oasis (poplars, fruit trees, fields...) suddenly gives way to very high sand dunes. Near Dunhuang I visited buddhist caves with paintings dating back to the arrival of the buddhist religion in China (4 - 5th century BC). Hami was the next stop to break the trip to Turpan. This town (located in a depression below sea level) is populated mostly by Uighur people (related to the turcs). This other oasis town gets its water from the nearby mountains since ancient times. The old part of town was very interesting with traditional mud-brick houses, donkey carts on which locals were kindly offering lifts, street bakers. Near Turpan are ancient cities dating back to silk road times. Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang is yet another ordinary big modern city, but nearby is the beautiful Tianchi lake, set in the Bogda mountains, where we spent a few days sleeping in a Kazakh yurt (round tent, a bit like the mongolian ger). From Urumqi, we went to Yining and Gongliu (nice valley, but this last town was closed to foreigners and we got sent back to Yining with a "warning", happy enough to have avoided a fine). When we asked the chinese lady at the police station "why is this area closed ?", she replied "because it not open." There was then no choice but to go by night bus straight to Kuqa, which like Yining has an interesting traditional part of town, where we had a good time with friendly Uighur people learning hard the english language. There is much desert around here with the occasional oasis town, and some dust storms sometimes blocked the view from the bus as if we were in the fog. It was hot at this time of the year (June) and an afternoon break was often welcome to escape the heat. Finally we arrived in famous Kashgar : the west-end of China (big market, mosques, many buildings of muslim architecture, and a fantastic old town). Here Evelyne continued to Pakistan and I stayed a little longer. I changed my mind and decided not to go to Kyrgistan and Central Asia (need of a visa and no consulate around, need to arrange expensive transport over the Torugart pass) but to go to Pakistan (no visa, public bus, easy). The road back to Europe was then set : it will be Iran and Turkey. On the way to the border with Pakistan, I stopped at the beautiful Karakul lake, at the foot of two BIG mountains (7000+ m). Tashkurgan is the end of China. Most people here are Tajik, and it was amazing to see this little girl with curly blond hair and blue eyes. That was it for China, as the road to Pakistan culminates at 4700 m at the Khunjerab pass and descends into Pakistan.

Country: Pakistan PHOTOS

Dates: 02 / 07 - 28 / 08 / 2001

Stops: Pasu - Gulmit - Karimabad - Minapin - Chalt - Gilgit -Skardu - Khaplu - (Gilgit) - Rawalpindi/Islamabad - Peshawar - Dir - Chitral - (Kalash valleys, Garam Chasma, Reshun) - Swat - Peshawar (Darra Adam Khel) - Rawalpindi - Quetta


Northern Areas : Pakistan this year has decided it's their tourist year, so no visa is required although the cheerful pakistani border guard was joking "yes, you need one since yesterday 1st of July, 50 USD". After the Pamir plateau on the chinese side, the road drops in narrow rocky valley and meets the Hunza river. Rockslides plague this road and we had to get off the bus to walk over a large one, then the bus followed. The first stops were in Pasu and Gulmit, small villages populated by Wakhi Tajik people. They are Ismaili muslims and are women are more comfortable talking with foreigners than in some more conservative villages. Near Pasu are two large and impressive glaciers. Karimabad is a larger and more touristy village with great views on several peaks over 7000 m. People in Hunza speak several languages (Shina, Burushashki, Urdu and english) and most are Ismaili. Nearby in Nagar (Minapin, Chalt), most people are Shia muslim. From both Karimabad and Minapin I enjoyed great one-day walks into the mountains with views on glaciers and snowy peaks. Gilgit is an mandatory passage to go to Skardu. There people are Balti (ethnically and linguistically related to the tibetans but muslim). 100 km east is Khaplu, not far from the Line of Control with India, a pretty village of stone and timber. These areas are very dry, so locals have built some elaborate irrigation channels sometimes cut into the cliffs to redirect glacial melt water into their fields. Therefore, some areas in this barren rocky landscape are surprisingly green. I came back to Gilgit the same way, along the very impressive Indus valley (rather a gorge, with the narrow road twisting on or into the mountainside). After a long bus ride down the Indus valley, I arrived in Islamabad / Rawalpindi. It was very interesting to see the change in landscape from the rocky upper valley to the lush and green (almost tropical) lower areas. Islamabad is the very spead out, new (and boring) capital, adjacent to the older, chaotic and dirty town of Rawalpindi. Here it was very hot and humid at this season (end of July), with some heavy downpours sometimes (with flooding and some victims). Overall this was the most unpleasant stop in the whole trip.

North West Frontier Province : After finally being done with some paperwork (Visa extension, application for iranian visa), I moved on to Peshawar, even hotter, but at least it was interesting. The tiny streets in the bazaar are fascinating with afghani women in burqa, men with long black beards, .... This is the land of the friendly Pathan people ("you are guest in this country") and who are also conservative muslims and openly pro-Taliban. To get away from the heat, I quickly went north to the mountains to Dir and Chitral where it is much cooler. In Chitral and in Garam Chasma (hot spring), there are many afghani people with turbanned heads and long beards. Great looks. I also visited the Kalash were live about 3000 non-muslim people. Women tie their hair in braids and wear a colourful outfit. The area here is part of the Hindukush mountains, dominated by the Tirish Mir at over 7000 m. Eventually, all good things have an end, I left the mountains to return to the heat of Peshawar (after a stop in green Swat valley). I spent only one day there, and took the chance to visit Darra Adam Khel. This is an odd place where the locals are busy making copies of guns from all over the world. Officially, the town is off-limits to foreigners, but in reality, I was welcomed by a policeman and taken around the workshops after paying a "permission". I could also fire a few shots with a kalashnikov (original one "copy not good" said the policeman...).

Baluchistan : Then, I returned to Rawalpindi and, after one more day wait, I got my iranian visa : 30 days !!. This will save the trouble of getting extensions on a 7-day transit visa, thank you my friends. After over 35 long hot hours in a bouncing train (the worst leg of the whole trip because of the heat and humidity and insufficient ventilation), I reached Quetta. Less hot and not so awfully humid, this town is more pleasant than Rawalpindi / Islamabad. The locals have great faces, baluch people wear colourful caps and some of the many afghan refugees have asian features (Hazara people, descendants of the troops of Genghis Khan and do look like the mongols. They are shiite muslims and therefore opposed to the taliban). I left Quetta by bus in the company of Kumiko from Japan which whom I travelled till Esfahan and we reach Taftan, the iranian border after a long long 12 hr trip, but fortunately an easy border crossing.

Country: Iran PHOTOS

Dates: 28 / 07 - 21 / 08 / 2001

Stops: Bam - Kerman - Yazd - Shiraz - Esfahan - Khorram Abad - Sanandaj - Hamadan - Ghazvin - Masuleh (near Rasht)- Ardabil - Kandovan (nearTabriz)

Comments: It was a long trip again after the border and it was so good to arrive in Bam (well preserved ruins of the ancient city and the citadel). After more desert : Kerman (kilometre long bazaar), Yazd (very nice old town of mud houses and some beautiful blue-tiled mosques), Shiraz (more mosques and nearby Persepolis, ruins of the ancient capital of the persian empire), and Esfahan (the most elaborate of those beautiful blue-tiled mosques, the huge Khomenei Square, an armenian church where we met a very friendly iranian family). After Pakistan, Iran gave the feeling of a rather organised, modern, clean, and I'd even say western society. People are generally very friendly "Welcome to Iran, welcome" and I none of the people I talk with had anti-western opinions, on the contrary : "Fransa khub (good), Amrika khub". Actually there are common points with the US : fast food is popular (burgers, sandwich) and they love coca-cola (fake one here of course, called Arso-Cola or Coffy-Cola). I continued west in order to avoid Tehran (huge polluted uninteresting city). The most interesting places were Sanandaj where there are many Kurds, most of them in traditional dress (more exotic than iranians who dress like europeans). Near Hamadan I visited a big cave (Ali Sadr) in company of a friendly Mullah very keen on meeting foreigners. Ghazvin, further north, had a few nice mosques and mausoleums. One of the most beautiful villages I saw was Masuleh, in the very green Caspian region. Near Tabriz is another one where locals live in houses carved into the rock, in a landscape similar to Capadoccia in Turkey. From Tabriz, I got to the turkish border at Bazargan, in company of other japanese people. Apart from being assailed by money changers like by sharks, this was another easy border crossing, out of Iran through a small door, just like I entered.

Country: Turkey PHOTOS

Dates: 21 / 09 - 05 / 10 / 2001

Stops: Dogubeyazit - Van - Tatvan - Mardin - Sanli Urfa - Nemrut Dagi (Kahta) - Ganziantep - Antakya

Comments: I said last year when I left for Bulgaria that I would be back in Turkey. Good to be here again, things are easier suddenly, signs are in roman characters, hotels are easy to find, good turkish food is everywhere, but transport is more expensive (well, how can you beat Iran where petrol sells for a few US cents a liter...). The first halt was in Dogubeyazit, just over the border where the Ishak Pasha citadel on a hill offers great views on the surroundings. Also nearby is the impressive Mt Ararat, an extinct volcanoe over 5000 m high. Near Van I visited a the ruins of armenian church on a small island on lake Van, with well preserved bas-reliefs. Mardin, not far from the Syrian border is a nice old town on a hillside. I walked to the nearby christian monophysite monastery where the liturgical language is still aramaic, the language of Jesus. The Bible is writen in an early arabic script. Sanli Urfa, also near the syrian border shows some arab influence especially in people and how they dress. This interesting old town is supposed to be the birth place of the prophet Abraham (Ibrahim for muslims). The next destination was the famous Nemrut mountain, where giant statues were erected by the king of Commagene. I was for sunrise on the cold windy summit when the first rays of sun illuminate the giant head of the greek gods. Then, after a stopover in Gazi Antep I came to Antakya (Antioch), interesting old town with many old houses and one of the first christian churches (St Peter's church). Then I was off to Mersin for the ferry to Cyprus.

Country: North Cyprus (KKTC) PHOTOS

Dates: 06 - 08 / 10 / 2001

Stops: Famagusta

Comments: This detour was a quick trip over to visit a friend over the weekend. Then I went back to Turkey from Girne to Tasucu.

Country: Turkey PHOTOS

Dates: 08 -16 / 10 / 2001

Stops: Konya - Egirdir - Pamukale - Selcuk

Comments: From Tasucu I went straight to Konya, where I met a friend from Antalya whom I met in Pakistan and I stayed there 3 days, shown around by her and her friends. Turkey is not short of interesting places and I made my way west stopping first in Egirdir (small lake side town), then Pamukkale (white limestone terrasses and roman ruins of Hierapolis) and finally Selcuk. Here, I visited the roman ruins of Ephesus. Then I was off to Greece from Kusadasi, an expensive short ferry trip considering the distance.

Country: Greece PHOTOS

Dates: 16 - 21 / 10 / 2001

Stops: Samos - Paros - Naxos

Comments: I absolutely wanted to see a few of these irresistable greek islands with their little white houses, the small churches with the blue domes and the sea and I surely enjoyed Naxos and Paros, especially off-season. Then it was a quick trip to Piraeus by ferry where I arrived at 5am, then to Patras by train and direct to Ancona in Italy by ferry.

Country: Italy PHOTOS

Dates: 22 - 25 / 10 / 2001

Stops: Bologna

Comments: I visit again my friend in Bologna, like last year on the way and I took the chance to make a day trip to Venice, great place to finish the trip. In the end I still have not seen Rome...

Country: France

Dates: 26 / 10 - .... / 2001

Stops: Varey - Locminé

Comments: After a day in the train from Bologna, I am back at my sister's place where I stayed for a week, meeting for the first time my 3 month old smily nephew. We drove to Brittany to my parents place and I was back one the 2nd of Nov. The trip was finished after a total of 17 months, countless miles and 23 countries.





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