On March 2nd, I embarked on my longest journey so far – a journey that took me through some amazing countries in Southeast Asia, East Asia and Central Asia. 101 days, 45.000 km., 14 countries, 12 capitals, 20 flights and 57 blog posts later, I arrived back in my home country of Denmark on June 10th with a heavy backpack full of beautiful memories. Today, it’s already four weeks ago that I arrived back in my hometown, but still it seems like 10 years ago that I first arrived in Hong Kong, my first destination on the journey, for a short stopover.
The first three weeks were spent in Southeast Asia, an area of the world that I would usually avoid due to the large amount of tourists that flock to it. But a special event in Indonesia caught my attention and made me book a plane ticket several months in advance to make sure that I wouldn’t miss it. After a thick cloud had covered the totality stage of the total solar eclipse on the Faroe Islands last year, and although it was still an amazing experience, I had been dying to see the diamond ring that appears when the moon covers the sun at totality. In Indonesia, on a small and unknown island called Pulau Belitung, my dream came true and the moment was made even more special by my new friend who I shared the experience with. Before going to the island, I had spent a few days in Jakarta, the crazy capital of Indonesia, which had been a major culture shock and given me a terrible first impression of the country. But Pulau Belitung really surprised me with is natural beauty and friendly and welcoming people, who proved to me that it’s never enough to just see the capital in any country. My last stop in Indonesia was Bali, which I actually only went to to meet with some friends of mine. Apart from the time that I spent with my friends and an awesome volcano climb, I didn’t have a great time in Bali, which was because of homesickness. It was overwhelming when I suddenly realized that I would be travelling alone for such a long time, in a place so far from home, but skyping with my family and friends was a great comfort and got me through the tough times.
I decided to leave Bali two days earlier than expected, partly because I just wanted to leave, but mainly because the only date I could book for the Mount Kinabalu climb in Sabah, Malaysia, on Borneo, was the following day. I decided to just do it and forget about the lost money for the flight tickets, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Climbing Mount Kinabalu (Malaysia’s tallest mountain at 4.095) was another dream come true and it felt like the biggest achievement in the world when I finally got to the top after 2 days of trekking. The remaining days in Sabah were spent seeing orangutans at the Shangri-La Resort and hanging out with three awesome girls in Kota Kinabalu and on Pulau Sapi.
Before leaving Borneo, I decided to do a small trip to the tiny country of Brunei, where I spent an interesting day exploring the slightly weird capital, Bandar Seri Begawan.
The following four weeks were spent exploring the culturally captivating countries of East Asia, starting with Taiwan. After just one afternoon, I found myself falling in love with the country’s capital, Taipei. Taipei had everything; lively and fun streets, temples, a river, beautiful buildings and mountains surrounding it, and even some located within the city limits. I spent most of my days there climbing those mountains, enjoying the stunning views of Taipei and hanging out with my new friend who I actually met on top of Mount Qixing. Taiwan was my favourite country in East Asia and one that I’ll definitely be going back to (and soon!).
Next up was a country that I had really been excited for for a long time – Japan! In Tokyo, I met up with two friends from Denmark, with whom I celebrated my 21st birthday. We had arrived right on time for the bloom of the cherry blossoms, which coloured the city pink. After my birthday, I flew up north to the island of Hokkaido, where I had my first Asian couchsurfing experience, which was great. I stayed in a wooden lodge on a mountain overlooking the city of Sapporo. Much of Hokkaido was still covered in snow, so I enjoyed a few days of Arctic weather in Asia, which I hadn’t expected to come upon. Hokkaido was my favourite place in Japan and a definite must-go-back-to place! In Kyoto, I met up with my friends again and spent some lovely days sightseeing and hanging out with sacred deer in Nara. My last few days in Japan were spent exploring the a-bomb cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, before having the biggest scare of my life, when I experienced two major earthquakes in two nights in Fukuoka.
After the earthquakes, I was happy to be going to Busan, the second largest city in South Korea, although I only spent one rainy afternoon in the city. From Busan, I flew to the self-governing Jeju Island, where my days were spent climbing Mount Hallasan, an extinct volcano at 1.950 m., and chasing the beautiful natural heritage that made the island the most popular honeymoon destination in East Asia. My last five days in South Korea were spent in the capital of Seoul with a day trip to the DMZ, where I got to peek inside North Korea – and it made me want to go there even more (someday!). My days in Seoul were nice and relaxing, and mostly spent on hanging out on the mountains located in the city.
From Seoul, I flew to Macao, where I unfortunately only had half an afternoon to explore. I really liked Macao, not because of its large and shiny casinos, but because of its cosy old town, which reminded me of my beloved Europe. In the evening, I caught a ferry to Hong Kong, where I had two horrendous nights at the worst hostel in the world, and managed to spend an entire day getting lost while hiking to the Victoria Peak with my new friend, who was the only sane person in the hostel besides me.
The last six weeks of my journey were spent in Central Asia, which became my favourite area of the three that I visited on this trip. I loved everything about Central Asia; the landscape, the ever-changing weather, the diversity in the nature, the people and the amazing hospitality. The first Central Asian country that I visited was Mongolia, which was the country that I was the most excited for of all the countries that I went to on this journey! I had been wanting to go to Mongolia for as long as I remember, and the country certainly didn’t disappoint. I spent an entire week travelling through the Gobi Desert with the most perfect group, who I had a great time with. We explored colourful cliffs, visited the homeland of the dinosaurs, hiked through ice valleys, climbed sand dunes (which was the hardest thing ever), rode camels and horses through the desert, visited an old monastery and stayed overnight in several gers owned by nomads. The Gobi adventure was epic and one that I’ll remember for the rest of my life! My remaining time in Mongolia was spent in the surprisingly modern capital, Ulaanbaatar, in the cultural village of Kharkhorin and in the beautiful Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, which was covered in a thick layer of snow.
From Ulaanbaatar, I flew to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, where I met my friend Steve, who I had arranged to travel with for my last month. The solo travel tunnel had finally come to an end, and it was great to have a travel buddy in the last three countries, which were definitely the most difficult to travel in. We started off exploring Kyrgyzstan for two weeks, a country that completely took my breath away with its spectacular nature! We went for long treks near the Issyk Kul Lake, explored the beautiful Skazka Canyon, went on a 2-day horse trek to Song Kul Lake, which was an incredible experience, and fell in love with a cat called Molly in the culturally diverse city of Osh.
With the help of the Community Based Tourism in Osh, we arranged for a lovely driver to take us along the famous Pamir Highway, which is the second highest altitude highway in the world. We spent three days driving along the highway, which took us from Osh to the autonomous Gorno-Badakhshan in Tajikistan, stopping overnight in the tiny village of Karakul, located by the lake with the same name, and in Murghab, a surprisingly big village in the middle of absolute nowhere, before arriving in Khorog, the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan. The drive went through the beautiful Pamir Mountains and took us to higher altitudes than I’d ever been before.
We spent a few days in Khorog, not because the city had much to offer, but because we had decided to go to Afghanistan – yes, AFGHANISTAN!, and needed to get the visas in Khorog. Once that was sorted, we were off on the adventure of a lifetime; two days in Sultan Eshkashim, a small village located in the only safe area in the country. Our time in Afghanistan was magical and surreal, and I still can’t believe that we were actually there. Going to Sultan Eshkashim was like going 2000 years back in time. Not much has changed there, and tourists are a rare sight, which made it all the more exciting for us. The Afghans were the friendliest people that I met on my entire journey – and also the most curious. We would often find ourselves in the middle of a big circle of people, who were just staring at us with curiosity. I thought that nothing could beat watching a total solar eclipse, but the two days in Afghanistan is now my all-time favourite travel experience.
As soon as we got back to Khorog, we caught a flight to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, which went through the Pamir Mountains – not above them, but THROUGH them! It was an epic flight and the perfect ending to our adventures in Gorno-Badakhshan. The modern city of Dushanbe was a welcome change and it was weird to finally have internet access again. Because of bad weather, we didn’t stay there for long, but instead continued our travels to the next and last place that we wanted to visit in Tajikistan, the city of Khujand. We spent one evening in Khujand, where we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of big celebrations, which was a fun thing to experience.
From Khujand, we travelled back to Kyrgyzstan, where we spent our last five days together. We decided to go back to Osh for one night, so we could spend some time with our beloved Molly, before going to our very last stop, the breathtakingly beautiful village of Arslanbob. In Arslanbob, we spent our time trekking to a waterfall, horseback riding through the biggest walnut forest in the world and rescuing a ginormous bird of prey, which had been captured and tied to a large chunk of wood for money-making purposes.
Steve and I spent our last day together travelling for over 10 hours back to Bishkek, where we caught a flight to Istanbul and then went our seperate ways, as Steve continued his travels in Sweden, and I flew to Italy for a short stopover in Bergamo, before finally arriving back in Denmark.
By the end of my travels, I was exhausted and I knew that it was the right time to come home. I’ve had some amazing and life-changing experiences, met some beautiful people who I hope to stay friends with for the rest of my life, and as cliché as it may sound, I’ve learnt a lot about myself and learnt to love the world and the people and animals in it even more than I did before.
Now I’m looking forward to spending some time with my family and friends, as well as exploring some more of Northern Europe, which will include the Åland Islands, the Faroe Islands and Denmark, before going to university in Copenhagen in September. Tomorrow, I’m flying to the Åland Islands, where I’ll be biking and camping with Steve for five days; let the new adventures begin!