Hangover Pygmy cave: the 4th largest cave in the world

Dear readers,

during May 2022 I had the chance to explore the 4th largest cave in the world whose the name are Hangover Pygmy.

These caves are in Vietnam and are located in Phong Nha national park which belongs to Dong Hoi province, it is situated in the centre-north of Vietnam.

In order to reach them you need to go for a long strenuous trekking through a muddy and wet jungle, the trail itself is generally recommended for people who have good health conditions because not only are you supposed to watch your steps but also deal with lot’s of uphill with huge stamina, if you don’t have good physical condition then you’d better off!

That being said, if you feel in a shape, then you need to prepare yourself with some equipment and precautions:

  1. Bring long sleeves t-shirts
  2. Bring two pairs of long hiking trousers (you will need for a change the second day of trekking)
  3. Bring two pairs of long warm socks (same as above)
  4. Have a waterproof softshell jacket (better if GORE-TEX) because you may expect rainstorm at anytime
  5. Trekking shoes
  6. 1x vial of hydrogen peroxide (in case you accidentally touch a spiky trunk tree)
  7. 1x vial of iodine tincture

On top of that, there is some additional equipment to be taken in consideration but no worries: the tour guide will provide you with, because you are not allowed to trek to those caves by yourself 🙂

As for the tour guides, there is a choice of two companies: Jungle Boss and Oxalis, each of them proposes different tours since they have the exclusive license for exploring certain caves. Having picked up Pygmy cave I had to go with Jungle Boss. The interesting fact is that both tours have an ECO resort to accommodate the visitors, here below there are few pictures about Jungle Boss homestay:

They provide you with all the needful including the leeches repellent and two bottles of water each day of your stay 🙂

Coming to the tour itself, we were five attendees: four Vietnamese girls and I, of course I am not including the tour guide. We all were keen to start the adventure! The tour guide was very knowledgeable and recommended us to tuck your hiking trousers into your long socks to prevent the leeches from attacking your legs (but even so one attacked me). Be prepared to get dirty more and more, the jungle is wet and therefore muddy, staying clean is a kind of ‘mission impossible’, another thing the tour guide also provide you with waterproof gloves to avoid contact with dangerous bacteria!

After three hours of trekking with all the difficulties, we stop for having a lunch break, I personally slightly fell down twice, so always watch carefully your steps!

After the break we resumed our trekking to get to the entrance of Hangover cave, the scenery was simply amazing and breathtaking, see the pictures below:

The reason why it is named ‘Hangover’ is that this cave was discovered on the 20th century by a local guy who got drunk after discovering it!

We got through the first cave by walking, the shape is very wide, we could observe lot’s of stalactites and stalagmites, after crossing the first cave we got a way out to a short jungle path to enter Pygmy cave which was the main challenge! Here we were provided with helmet and fail-safe equipment because we were supposed to hike through a narrow and slippery trail through the stalagmites, on each passage we were required to attach one-by-one double carabiners to the next via ferrata, it took us forty minutes to get across till arrive to the abseiling point! Yes, we also had the greatest experience of abseiling 10 metres of gap!

Although I thought it is going to be a ‘mission-critical’, I managed to abseil with a good technic and smoothly till the bottom point. Once we passed the abseiling point, the only left experience of sch a riveting day was to swim at lake pool to chill-out ourselves and get ready for the dinner at the campsite by the exit of the cave. Here below there are few pictures about our camp site party 🙂

Finally, the second day we exit the cave and we came back to the outdoor life 😀 by trekking down to the to the valley through a steep and muddy jungle, it took us about five hours to get back to the starting point by a different trail.

In conclusion, it was a deep experience in the wild life, even if it costs some money (300$ approximately), it worth every single $ to give it a try! Just be mentally prepared to be out of the urban civilization and get very dirty and being bitten by one leech at least and all the rest will go swimmingly!

That being said, I will be gladly available to answer you about any concern. Do not hesitate to contact me or leave a comment!

Giuseppe

Chao Lao Beach: the hidden spot surrounded by pink rocks

Dear readers,

back to December 2021, I had the opportunity to come back to Thailand to visit some new secluded areas. My focus was on the eastern coast toward Cambodia, after having visited Pattaya and Rayong, I decided (as always) to get out of the ‘comfort zone’ and I headed to Chao Lao beach which is situated in the province of Chanthaburi, you can see the snapshot of the map below:

Overview map above

Unlike the very popular Pattaya city, this is a village where there are lot’s of affordable SPA resorts and now being the post-pandemic time there are very few foreigners (Thai people call them ‘farangs’) getting to this area. I stayed over three days and I did a deep exploration of the surrounding nature. The beach itself is really quiet, cleaned and like the old days, you can have a coconut juice or a lemonade while enjoying the beach, the surrounding sea is shallow which is ideal for families with kids. It is approximately four hours of driving or riding from Bangkok.

The second day that I was there, I decided to rent a motorbike for a further exploration to the very south of peninsula, I entered a national park by paying 200Baths, I parked the bike and I continued hiking to the Pink Stone spot. (See the map below)

The hiking itself is not so difficult and it takes max. half an hour, just you need to have proper shoes or hiking sandals to be safe, and obviously December falls on the dry season so just be prepared to sweat 🙂

Here below there few pictures of the Pink Stone spot:

The most surprising thing of this attraction is a shelter which is built by green glass bottles, I ventured to visited it inside and it looks weird and perhaps a bit scary if you get there at night! If you wish to learn more about the mysterious shelter, I have made a video-reportage by my action camera in which I lively visited it inside 🙂 Here below I have embedded the YouTube video:

Other than this intriguing shelter, I show you few pictures about the sandy beach of Chao Lao:

Usually, during the morning the sea water laps against part of the beach, however in the afternoon the sea water deflects further out to sea and the beach widens out: the last two pictures were taken in the morning time whereas all the others were taken in the afternoon, the difference is clearly visible 🙂

All in all, Chao Lao is a great compromise between having a rest away from the ‘city-life’ and a good opportunity for a soft-hiking, my guess it is ideal for family with kids and for couples on a romantic gateway. The only cons you may experience is that (if you are picky with the food) here you can’t get more than seafood, and last but not least be careful where you go to eat seafood and what you eat, some BBQ seafood may look tasty but then it might be painy to digest it, that was my case one evening: I got intoxicated by some sea snails which I guess were not properly washed out.

That being said, enjoy your experience in Chao Lao beach!

PLAYA ESCONDIDA: a secluded and almost inaccessible beach of Dominican Republic

Dear readers,

I am just back from having discovered Dominican Republic with its pros and cons: the first approach was very tough especially when it comes to dealing with the public safety and cleanliness. Before starting my tour I decided to rent a vehicle instead (I usually rent a motorbike), however this time nobody in the capital city Santo Domingo rented one due to the high volume of daily road accidents so I gave it up. One of the stops in my itinerary was Playa Escondida which means Hidden beach. This beach is situated approximately 3.4km away from the municipality of Las Terrenas.

There are theoretically three ways to get to Playa Escondida:

  1. By trekking through a wooded jungle trail with a muddy swamp in-between (the hardest and dangerous one)
  2. By trekking around the hilly landscape from a gate (if it’s open)
  3. By a boat from Las Terrenas beach on the other side (the safe way)

On top of that, my recommendation is to get as close as the Sailing Club which I highlighted in the snapshot of the map below. Here you can park your car or motorbike since by the area with limited access is not allowed to park.

Because I am a stubborn I went for the hardest choice and while I was starting to figure out how to get through, I met a Czech guy on the way (Martin) with a female friend, they were trying to figuring out and achieve the same goal as I was, after a short introduction we spontaneously took the challenge together, and here we run in to the first incognita:

After walking up to calle Loma Bonita we end up at VILLA CACIQUE OCEAN VIEW with a closed gate and we asked ourselves: what now?

We thought that the beach was only privately accessible from the villa and therefore we tried to talk to some rangers working at the Villa, they said that there was no access and the only way to get there is to override a boundary wall, hike down through the bushes and get through a muddy swamp. The Czech guy and I were eager to start off whereas the female fiend of his NOT. That said one of the rangers offered to us his help by cutting off some bushes on the way, I started hiking down until we get at the edge of the swamp and here the big fun came: the swamp was like a 10-metres gap between the wonderful beach and the jungle, however we couldn’t hike by any means straight through because we would have dived down at the first badass muddy watered spot.

I happened to put my left foot in such a invisible muddy spot and it was very scary since I had to try hard to release it, fortunately the ranger was nearby and rescued me immediately with his hand.

Here below there is a picture of the high bushes very close to the swamps

Meanwhile the Czech guy came down to the edge of the swamp with my backpack 🙂 We gave him the full awareness of the big danger to overcome in-between, to make it short we managed to find out a convoluted zig-zag path to minimize the big risk of diving down with the legs, it took us nearly one hour but it was truly rewarding! The rangers were with us and let us enjoy the most of it by cutting two coconuts from the palm tree so that we could have more liquids in our roaring stomachs 😀

Here below a stunning scenery of Playa Escondida and myself captured drinking the coconut:

While being on the beach I took the advantage of having some squat exercise to support the leg muscles, this is an exercise which I recommend it to everybody adult like me to do it on daily basis.

To sum it up, when you lie the beach you may be feeling in a small paradise which is the ideal to be there for a romantic and exotic day with a girlfriend 🙂 I strongly recommend of getting there by boat, or if you really have to hike, never go alone, always keep in mind that you can not be the best expert of the local nature :O Hike through the swamps is an hellish experience, let’s be wise with our life, so just have ranger with you who knows how it is the situation. Last but not least, I did it during the beginning of the dry season, during the wet season it would be a sort of mission IMPOSSIBLE to get across. For your reference the dry season in Dominican Republic is usually from November through March.

Having said that, enjoy the trip with precautions!

Giuseppe

Sihanoukville: a future coastal paradise or a town in disarray?

Dear readers,

following my last travel experience spent in Cambodia of which three days in the coastal city of Sihanoukville and some latest news about the renovation process of the town, I have gained some insights to deal with such a hot topic.

This town is the landmark to transfer by ferries to the Koh Rong islands and until two years ago used be a lively and ordered town in which most of Cambodians spent some relaxing holidays, however later on 2019 some radical changes started occurring, some Chinese investors had come to the place to finance a huge project to transform the city into a temple of luxury Hotel Casinos, brothels and shopping malls, for not talking about wild yields and clay roads, although my expectations were positive as I just landed at the airport, at first sight I noticed that something was wrong and on the way to city by a taxi cab it was more and more negative impressing, and when I reached my accommodation they delivered me the bad news that there was no water supply in that street since two days ago, nevertheless I didn’t give up and I started taking a look around, it didn’t take me much to realize that town itself is ruled by Chinese people which are more than 50% of the residents, moreover it is under the anarchy of the yields and the bulldozers which suddenly can block the access to the streets or narrow the lanes.

Here below I have embedded an impressive YouTube video about what it is going on Sihanoukville, watch it carefully:

Overview picture of the serious decay in Sihanoukville

Now, we all know that ‘fortunately’ and ‘unfortunately‘ the power of the business leads and rules most of the globe, however the question is how can they have run multiple yields at once throughout the town without a structured organizzative plan and moreover with no control from the state?

As for my short experience of staying in Sihanoukville, I would say that most of streets are land of nobody then especially in the night time, besides that, I was personally advised by the guest house owner of not leaving the motorbike parked outside the guest house hall because of the raised level criminality around town, so I had the feeling I was in the wrong place.

What appeared to be clear is that the Chinese investors corrupted the political representatives and therefore they gave them the power to do whatever they wanted no matter if this causes serious pollution and environmental disruption, they just concern about to speed up multiple constructions such as buildings, renewal of the water supply pipes and canalize the traffic in most of town streets. As a result all this at once turned out a serious mess.

Look below at the emblematic paradox at the landmark picture of the roundabout by the beach:

From this perspective above, we would say that there is apparently nothing wrong with the town, however when turning round the corner the enormous mess will show, here below there are few picture of the dark face of Sihanoukville:

I believe that this is enough impressive to show the huge contradiction between of the landmark symbol of the town and the disaster just few metres away. This photo report was made on the period February 29th to March 2nd. I know that I might have missed some further details, however having rented a motorbike I believe that this scenario is representative of what it is going on.

One side note is that I personally had the feeling to be one of the few daredevil adventurers, but on the other hand to be fair if I had made a deep research of the region itself, I would probably have avoided such a destination, so the learned lesson is ‘Always do your own deep research‘ and do net rely on what Google maps shows you.

The only attraction I feel to recommend (perhaps one day when the order is restored) is gorgeous Buddhist pagoda called ‘Samathi‘ which is about 20km far from the town, here below I have attached two pictures:

Such an attraction is ideal for chilling and meditating 🙂 behind the pagoda there are some walking stairs to a nice Chinese Buddha statue 🙂 and few more shadowed spots around.

Here below you have the google map link: https://goo.gl/maps/JCGW38RENcuw6BAD7

To sum it up, the running of multiple constructions does not work out by any means but instead put into serious healthy risks the living community by raising Luxury Hotel and Casino with gambling, is really that what we want? If the intention of the Cambodian government is to turn the town into a VIP destination ruled by an oligarchy, the question is:

Are we sure that both foreigners and Cambodian will be still willing to travel here?

Here below in this detailed articles we find some answers with some detailed explanations of the wild mafia of investors is dealing with the transformation of Sihanoukville:

https://www.voacambodia.com/a/a-pandemic-and-gambling-ban-has-left-cambodia-new-shenzhen-unfinished/5458750.html

https://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/long-reads/article/3051344/sihanoukville-cambodian-magnet-chinese-casinos

Whatever the future of Preah Sihanouk region will be, the huge clutter spreaded all around will not be cleared any time soon and the local community will sadly suffer out of it.

Any remark is welcomed on this HOT topic!

Giuseppe

Patterns of Journey for travelers who likes the ‘sense-of-discovering’

Dear readers,

since the COVID-19 outbreak started off, most of the ordinary businesses for the tourist industry were forced to disrupt its activities, now after three months of such a pandemic outbreak, each Country of the globe is considering to re-open some activities by categorizing it into a number of phases, however so far nobody knows whether the corona virus will be defeated any time soon.

Let’s assume we will get soon over the ‘COVID-19‘ tunnel, for our future travelling challenges we may want to consider a new pattern of exploring journey which puts us out of the so-called ‘comfort-zone’ 🙂 For instance: during one of my past travels I met a Swedish guy “Tariq” who ventured to travel all the way from Sweden to Malaysia by a cross-trail bicycle, it took him approximately nine months to get through by taking several stops in many Countries in-between, even it may sound extreme this is a great example of an ECO-friendly and riveting globe trotting 😉 of course this choice does not fit everybody, it involves us to have a strong mind-set as well as a very-flexible attitude.

In this regard, we can identify three categories of travelers out of the comfort zone:

  1. Temporary traveller
  2. Medium-long term traveller
  3. Permanent traveler

Let’s pick up the first category which is likely the one concerning most of us:

First of all I would classify as a temporary traveller whoever travels for 30 days maximum, here since we perceive the time-pressure, we are supposed to know what we want get from our short ‘adventure’ by excluding any unnecessary thing as much as possible.

In order to achieve this, we need to set up a structure which helps us to decide what it is for and where we can do this and that, e.g. if we are in for the outdoor sports, then we would be focusing on where and when you could get the most of it, we would be neglecting unrelated activities such as nightlife. Short-term travel might look like over-planned because of the narrow time frame, however if we carefully focus our attention on few activities we can still have a room for some creativity, perhaps some of us may be asking, how can we?

In this regard, I am glad to share with you a draft plan that I prepared before travelling to Vietnam earlier on 2019, I used to make such an itinerary plan for 15 days, so it falls under category 1. (use the bottom horizontal scroll bar to display all the other days)

DAY/StagesFri 26th Apr.Saturday 27th AprSunday 28 AprMon 29 Apr.Tue 30 Apr.Wed 1 MayThu 2 MayFri 3 MaySat 4 MaySun 5 MayMon 6 MayTue 7 MayWed 8 MayThu 9 MayFri 10 MaySat 11 MaySun 12 May
1Regiojet bus Bratislava —-> Vienna airportFlight Bangkok —> Ha Noi 7:45am – 9:35am
by Thai Airways
Check-out at the hostel and morning photo-tour (free improvisation)If Sapa, then the challenge will hopefully be: http://sapaochau.org/sapa-trekking-and-homestay/sapa-trek-and-tour/trekking-tours/off-the-beaten-track-2-day/Off-beten trekking tour part 2Morning arrival at Ha Noi: Stay at Ha Noi or further bus to Cat Ba island?Fulld-day Jungle trekking tour in CatBaFull-day of kayaking around Lan Ha Bay by exploring the floating villagesBus back to Ha Noi, transfer to Hai Pong?
Or 1 more day by chilling in CatBa island?
Back in Ha Noi with a booked accommodationBooked plan to visit Hoi An:
VietJet Internal flight Ha Noi – Da Nang
Full-dive tour around Hoi An, and/or visit to the nearby islands?Ck-out from the Hoi An resort and transfer to the Da Nang airportHa Noi city lifeAs previous dayFinal good-bye dayArrival of inbound flight scheduled at 7:35am Vienna airport
2Flight Vienna – Bangkok 2:35pm – 5:35am (+1day)
by Thai Airways
ETA for Ha Noi: around 11:00am2pm: Bus to Sapa? Or to Cat Ba island? http://greensapabus.com
https://catbaexpress.com/bus-hanoi-to-cat-ba.html
1st full day of off-beaten trekking path tourEnding time: 5pmIf CatBa, then estimated arrival after 11am and check for a last-minute accommodation.Ref. https://www.asiaoutdoors.com.vn/kayak.htmlImprovised soft tours/chilling
time prior to the forthcoming planned flight transfer to middle-Vietnam
Ck-in at a booked resort with poolPhoto-walking, small shopping, chilling at the resort and more.Fly back to Ha Noi. Booked accommodation for the next 3 nihtsPhoto-walking, small shopping, wellness, chilling time, etc.As previous dayAs previous day
PS: need to by a suitcase to carry extra new gadgets bought over the last 3days?
3Ck-in at the booked hostelNo accommodation is bookedas aboveNight bus back to Ha NoiAfternoon time in CatBa:
check and book for jungle trekking tour and for a kayaking trip for the two upcoming days Ref. https://www.asiaoutdoors.com.vn
Trekking ends by 5pm.Kayaking ends by 5pmOverview approaching visit at the city centre of Hoi An UNESCO heritage, full of colorful lights, traditional shops and Cafes.Afternoon time: start of grand-finale with pure improvisation what-to-do and where to goIf so, there are still few hours till 5:30pm to do so 🙂
4Ha Noi overview sightseeing*For Sapa accommodation might be provided by the tour agent http://sapaochau.orgas aboveSleep on the busChlling/sleeping time to get back in a shapeEvening time: (Post-)Sunset photoshooting?One more sunset shooting session?Sunset shooting session in
Ha Noi?
Photoshooting session by the sunset as well as at night5:30pm: deadline to transfet to Ha Noi international airport.
5Get to Sapa O’Chau branch to know details about the off-beaten trek in SapaEvening stroll in Sapa to check the poor ppl villagesSleeping at the planned homestay by the tour agent at half-way of the tourIf stay in Ha Noi, then chilling time and decide what and where-to nextTrekking dayKayaking and evening chil-out around CatBa townChill-out/motorbike tour
(if CatBa)
Photo-walking/chill-outThai Airways flight to Bangkok scheduled at 8:45pm
6Evening chill-out
treno 4/g a sett)
Bratislava –> Vienna airportHa NoiHA Noi –> Sapa? Cat Ba island?Sapa O ChauSapa -> Ha NoiHa Noi? -> CatBa island?CatBa islandCatBa IslandCataba//HaI Pong/Ha NoiHa NoiHa Noi -> Hoi AnHoi An/Islands
nearby
Hoi An -> Ha NoiHa NoiHa NoiHa Noi (final day) – departure back to EU
Ha Noi -> Bangkok -> Vienna
Draft itinerary plan for northern and central Vietnam 2019

It might look cumbersome, however it isn’t 🙂

From this practical example, you might notice several activities which are related to the place you want to explore, i.e. Sapa area is mostly for hiking and trekking, alternatively the town of Sapa offers SPA and other chilling activities, in both cases you may want to include the photography as a hobby 🙂 Besides that, you can break each single single day into sateges, maximum 6 stages would be enough for not making it too cumbersome; some of those stage can be left as a ‘jolly’ so that you would be deciding on the spot about what to go for 🙂

When it comes to the ‘medium-long’ term journey the things are different, we do not need for such an accurate itinerary plan, however we still need to know where we want to go and what we want to do as basic, in this regard I would pick up as example the 37-days journey which I experienced in 2018; here, since my core focus was to enjoy the nature, I came to the decision to dedicate a full month travelling around Indonesia, after that I spent the last 7 days in Kuala Lumpur and then in Singapore, yes just seven days were worthy since the city life was the second concern of my journey 🙂

To be fair, this is a kind of journey which requires some time to make our own research and possibly get inspirations by some locals we meet by chance in our living country, it will help us a lot, for instance, before travelling to Indonesia, I had a chance to meet two indonesian women in my living town, I mentioned them about my travel plan and since I wanted to travel first to Java for 14 days and then move to Sumbawa for just 3 days and finally to Flores for 11 days, they nicely managed to persuade me to cut out 3 days for Sumbawa and I spent three more days in Flores instead.

As a result, I got more than enough time to enjoy a motorbike tour across Flores, if you wish to read more just refer to this article: https://pathsunbeaten.wordpress.com/2018/05/31/flores-the-conservative-face-of-indonesia-with-surprising-people-on-the-way/

One hint I want to give you is that if you are travelling in a not-so-developed country, you will benefit a lot from renting a motorbike because you will have more space for the improvisation and more chance to discover some unbeaten spots 🙂 For your convenience I have embedded a screenshot about what was the motorbike tour I did on the way to the east (I could just fit 10 stops on it, in fact I did more)

10 Key-stops in Flores

Finally, the permanent journey is something which we know when we start but we don’t know whether or if ever ends, honestly in this kind of journey I can’t be helpful because so far in my life I haven’t experienced one, however my guess is that all we need is just answer the following questions:

  1. What is your mission?
  2. How do you want to be globetrotting?
  3. How do you want to live?
  4. What are your expectations out of it?

If you are able to answer these questions above, it likely means that you are ready to take the challenge! Based on my personal experience with the temporary and medium-long term travel, I venture to say that such a journey should be experienced as a backpacker (at least as you start on it), secondly you shouldn’t plan anything in advance but you’d rather go on the spur of the moment which mean pure improvisation, it should be journey which often (if not always) put ourselves out of the ‘comfort-zone’.

Perhaps before taking such a challenge, it could be advisable to experience a one or two-months journey, however each of us in the world have a different life attitude, so even the one who never traveled in his/her life and is going for the first time might succeed his/her mission and have something meaningful to teach or share with other humans 🙂

Having said that that, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments on such three patterns of journey as well as feel free to suggest your ideas 🙂

Giuseppe

Easter time over the COVID-19 outbreak: a great opportunity to research and plan something new

Dear readers,

this Easter (fow who celebrates it) is by no doubt different than any other previous Easter we ever experienced so far in our life, the keen travelers like me are now on stand-by and forced to deal with some other activities, let’s say we are just out of the conventional every-day lifestyle we have enjoyed so far, for instance, our social activities are narrowed as well as the sport activities, however the world is not over, we just need to be more flexible than ever in adapting to a pattern of a new life.

One day, after spending few days at a friend’s place by meditating about ‘what next’, we found interesting the aspects of human spirituality by watching the following YoutuBe video that I share here below for you:

No worries! Just the cover is written in Italian and it means: ‘Arise the level of energy by staying sat down at home‘ , the speech of the video is delivered in english, the guy himself is an Indian yogi and author who raised a foundation focused on various fields of spirituality.

Regardless the religious belief that each of us belongs to, the content of the video is instructive, just don’t get discouraged with the beginning of the video which opens up with spiritual meditation of the body, after that he delivers his speech, during that he points out that the spiritual exercise can be very effective and can help us to re-discover our blissful of joy.

I believe that nowadays most us humans struggle in finding the (real) joy and as a result we let our brain to reason what makes us happy, what we believe that makes us joyful in fact is fake (just appearance) however most of us dislike facing the truth and this is how our ordinary life-style works.

Having traveled to India and few more asian countries where Hinduism and Buddhism are the dominant religions, I venture to say that they emphasize the meditation and spirituality a lot as a part of the ordinary the life-style, by this I do not mean that everybody in India, Thailand, Cambodia, etc. strictly follows this as a rule, the frenetic consumerist life-style contaminated everybody who works for a corporation business, and this is a sort of enemy for our spirituality.

Amongst other things, nobody knows whether we will be able to resume our ordinary ‘life-as-usual’ as it used to be until few months ago, therefore if some of us was entirely focused on making profitable business on the individual basis then we should resize our vision of the world, I believe that we all know that money at the end is just an illusion of happiness, for example people regardless their pockets are naturally supposed to actively contribute for a better collective life environment and we can not expect that someone will do it for us, otherwise the principle of human equality will never be applied 😦

To sum it up, I consider myself lucky enough to have explored thirty Countries of the globe, of which 23 in Europe and 7 in Asia, however these numbers would be meaningless if one doesn’t commit oneself to learn something from someone’s else culture, perhaps now for a while we won’t have chance to explore other cultures, so my recommendation is: let’s try use the best of what we learned out of having visited different cultures and see how it works, I believe that everybody is able to do so 🙂

Having said that, enjoy watching the video and feel free to share your thoughts!

Giuseppe

MTB riding: the unbeaten labyrinth of the Danube river

Dear readers,

It is time to cover a brand-new topic which is the off-road cycling. Being a passionate cyclist I have grown lots of experiences, especially with off-road cycling! Since I live in Bratislava, perhaps not everybody living in the central Europe knows that along the (long) Danube river we can end up finding multiple paths/diversions of the main Danube, that is the case of the area which is enclosed by Hungary and Slovakia.

Assuming you live in Bratislava and you want to start riding from that point, you have a solely choice to reach the labyrinth of ‘green islands’, ride through the green C path via Petržalka-Rusovce-Čunovo. For your convenience just take a look at the map below for a clear overview 🙂

Overview map of cycling route to Danube islands
Ending route from Dunaremete pier (landmark 4)

For the itinerary details you can either refer to the following link: https://en.mapy.cz/s/3sPxV or just follow out the summarized instructions in English below:

(the explanation from mapy.cz is only provided in Czech language so far)

  1. Ride across the Stary Most (Old bridge)
  2. Take left by following the Green C signs (Eurovelo 6) to Čunovo
  3. Once in Čunovo, you are at the border with Hungary: keep riding straight ahead (do not follow the green track to Rajka any more)
  4. Keep cycling on that raised gravel track for apx. 15km to Dunakiliti
  5. At one point, you will notice on the left side a linking path which gets down on the river forest: there you go!
  6. Once down, you will see a cross trail: take right to Dunaremete pier, or take left if you wish to explore more the Danube labyrinth.
  7. Finally, you have two choices: either you take right from Dunaremete or you ride farther straight for apx. 5km and then you will turn on the right as soon as you see and adjacent trail (you will get to cross two bridges in order to get out of the funny labyrinth of islands).

If the instructions are not meaningful enough no worries, I have attached here few key images for you 🙂

https://goo.gl/maps/hZST6jCiGjPvs1Aj6

As shown above, when you are in Dunakiliti take as a reference Vadviz Kemping to lively enter the Dunasziget (Danube isles).

If until that point you had the feeling to be bored, here the big fun starts! As first, you will meet lots of loitering and running deers. It is just incredible how many of them you can meet along the trail; in addition to that, be aware that there can also be few tiny snakes, I have seen one by riding through and luckily by the time I passed it was already aside, that is a bigger concern for whoever ventures in the trails by hiking.

Here below there are some available images from my recent trip in there.

After apx. 15km of riding in the Danube forest from the camp site, you will approach Dunaremete which is a chilling spot with a small pier, it daily runs few small ferries to carry few cars, bikers and passengers to Gabčíkovo back to the Slovakian territory, this can also be a customizing option for your own trips if you are lucky enough to catch it at the right time!

Thanks to my friend Attila, we made the tour very juicy by arriving at Ásványráró village and from there we decided to ride farther to the connecting bridge back to Medvedov in Slovakia, since we felt we had not better choice and ride back all the way round it would have been boring!

Just few quick facts about the bicycles: we had ridden with a Giant MTB Talon 1 27.5″ myself whereas my friend was provided with Trek cross-trail bike, the second one is enough to deal with such a trail as long as it is dry, perhaps when it is muddy then MTB tires are more effective! I do not recommend to enjoy such a forest trail with a race bike unless you want to damage it on a purpose!

Having said that, try your best to plan out a Danube cycling trip based on the mentioned hints of this article and then you will be able to share you experience! Last bu not the least, you can find out many other spots with Danube diversions on the Austrian territory, this is just a riveting one!

If you have any concern or just a remark do not hesitate to leave a comment or just contact me by using the dedicated form from the main menu!

Giuseppe

Cat Ba: natural park, limestone rocks archipelago and caves.

Dear explorers, after some inland exploration now it is time to switch into a different landscape of Vietnam, so I moved from the inland to the island of Cat Ba by travelling over night from Sapa town.

I want to start by saying that May is not the ‘ideal’ month for the weather conditions, as I arrived on the island an early-morning rain greeted me, however it didn’t bother me much, no matter what the weather, it will always be a riveting challenge! Here below you can look at a picture from my accommodation in the centre and an overview map of the island itself.

View from the main street in Cat Ba

My main desire was to go for a two-days trip which covered off the visit to the national park by ending up at the Viet farm village and then get transferred to a boat to reach a floating home-stay to sleep overnight, and then continue on the second day with a boat trip including kayaking and few secluded spots such as caves and lagoon, the tour agent is Cat Ba Green trail, here below I share the link to the trip schedule in detail: https://www.catbagreentrail.com/plan-your-trip/2-day-tour/17-cat-ba-national-park-lan-ha-bay-ha-long-bay-2-days-1-night-trekking-cycling-kyaking-swimming-tour.html

However, because of the rainy weather and that the previous day was 1st of May bank holiday their office was closed and nobody signed up in advance for such a trip. As a result, I got to flexibly adjust my action plan: I rented a motorbike for the first day to explore the natural park on my own and later on the second day I joined their one-day tour which I link it below: https://www.catbagreentrail.com/plan-your-trip/1-day-tour/14-lan-ha-bay-ha-long-bay-monkey-island-boat-tour.html

In spite of the grey clouds and the light rain, the passing scenery was generous. Look at below:

Once arrived at he national park the terrains were rather wet, however the visit was still worthy 101% and to cap it all the top view point is simply spectacular no matter what the weather is, it just requires some great willingness to trek up to there 🙂

After enjoying such a panorama, since the entrance ticket included also a visit to the Trung Trang caves, I headed straight there and I really was surprised how long the cave was all the way through. Few pictures will be available later on Flickr.

The next day started early, at 7:00am I gathered at the Cat Ba Green trail office with other participants, we were fourteen of us, the right number to be all in-pair when kayaking! Since the very beginning the tour guide was very professional as well as humorous and well-mannered: he explained all us few basic things about the tour such as the importance of starting at 7:30am which was on the purpose to avoid the rushing (usually all the other tours start at 8:00am). We got on the boat from the Beo pier, and the first hour of shipping was just spent chilling and take some photos.

After that, our tour guide approached us and started telling about his life story, how he ran the business and then told us some historical background of La Han Bay as well as Ha Long Bay, as he was mentioning us such detail, the boat was approaching the first floating houses and so he also told us more about people living in such places. Here below I have linked the video about the passing landscape bay:

Surrounding scenery from the boat

The more the boat was sailing, more floating houses were all around, out tour guide mentioned that those houses are usually set up close to the big rocks in order to be safely repaired from the storms of high waves coming through, moreover for those people in order to be settled there they had to get a permission from the state; finally the ones who have children, they send them to a school close to the harbour by a private boat each day and on the way back to the floating house they also have to wait for the scheduled private boat. See below few pictures about the floating village(s).

After getting over the floating village, we approached the area of the caves (dark, bat and bright cave), here we started the kayaking session by first getting off the boat at a small jetty to get into the kayak, that was my third time kayaking in my life, even I struggled a bit at the beginning in keeping the kayak straight I managed not to flip it over 😀

After kayaking, the boat shortly stop at a dive snorkeling point where there were also some harmless jellyfishes, however because of the weather the view of seabed was rather disappointing, all lasted very few minutes. Finally, we had lunch with served food on the boat was really delicious, congrats to the sailors! And just pity that I did not take any picture of the buffet!

The next destination for the afternoon was Monkeys’ island, by the time we arrived there were some flashes of sunshine which made the landscapes looking with more vivid colours as well as brighty. It was time for some rock-climbing by using the hands (not with the ropes). All of us climbed up to the top viewpoint to enjoy the sunshiny part of the trip.

Finally, the name itself monkeys’ island, Yes, monkey were there at the bottom among the trees jumping around, we did not miss chance to record some of them who indeed played some naughty games, see the pictures below:

In conclusion, the one-day trip was fairly enough with a professional and friendly tour guide, I just cannot remember his name, however you can check their website for any other available tour (the ink is at the bottom). Just be aware that favorable weather conditions in the island are on October-November and March-April, after that rains are frequent, but if you are not that paranoid then you’ll enjoy the Cat Ba experience regardless the weather 😉

For further details about their tours just refer to their web page: https://www.catbagreentrail.com/about-us/contact-us.html

Any remark and comments are warmly welcomed!

Giuseppe

SAPA: second day OFF the beaten tracks among the remote villages

Following my previous post for the first day of trekking, for completion I dedicate this post for the second day of SaPa adventure 🙂

First of all, the home-stay where we slept was nicely arranged for us foreigners and I was surprised since they even had a western toilet with shower (my guess is that they would not have the same toilet in other houses/shelters in the village), the reason behind that is that they cooperate with Sapa O’ Chau tour which is one of the most reliable and best rated tour agent in SaPa and besides that, Sapa has become a popular destination nowadays. However, be sure that if you ever end up sleeping at a casual house in such villages you could never expect a western toilet! The experience in Indonesia (Flores) taught me something.

Secondly, like in every village the morning starts very soon, at 5am you can already observe ‘women at work’ taking care of the chickens, goats and cows already awoken, and myself I caught the chance to get up to record the scenery during the sun-raising , after that I just returned to the bed to sleep a bit more. Finally we all got up around 7:30am to enjoy the offered breakfast and get ready to set off.

Not until we started off, we had to trek further up to a steep hill on a muddy trail, despite the conditions of the trails local people ventures to get through by scooter, I could imagine how often they break the suspensions 😀

When we arrived at the top-point of Soi Thau village there were two kids playing with each other and smiling to us like to say ‘Welcome aliens!’

Once we reached the top point, the trail upfront looked at our eyes long and well-distributed throughout the immense landscape, compared to what we had to trek the day before this was a way easier, after one hour of trekking we got to pass through a weak water-stream originated by a small waterfall see the picture below:

Water pool in-between the trail

it was nothing impressive, we stop by to record some scenery around, then when we continued, we finally got to trek gradually upper and upper, the trail itself had been carved along the perimeter of the hills and it was wide enough so that we were fully-safe 🙂

at one point we end up passing one more farm house, as aliens we said ‘xin chao‘ to the local guy outside the house, however he did not react: our tour guide Su explained us that most of them are rather shy with the aliens and therefore they will barely react, in addition there is the title of the tour itself ‘OFF the beaten track’ 🙂 During the first day of the tour I made an estimation that we met max. three more foreigners who probably were with another tour guide, other than that no one more was around. See below the surrounding scenery 🙂

At one point we arrived at the top point of the last hill, and after that we only experienced downhill, the more we were getting down and more we started observing more and more houses which was the sign we were slowly approaching the semi-rural life, at one house in the outdoor space there were five kids who were fighting to drink from a bottle of water, it was just funny to observe them how cute as well as ‘naughty’, see below:

Here at this point our trekking turned into a walking down to the village of Ta Giang Phing, because we end up being on concrete narrow road which meant the beginning of the conventional civilization had taken over 😦 all the second day trekking lasted about four and half hours.

We stop at a typical open-air Vietnamese tavern to enjoy a pork noodle soup spice with lime, chili and mint!

All in all, this is an experience I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to get away from the agitation of the conventional civilization, it is worthy for the money, moreover if personally I were to travel back to SaPa, I would surely go for a motorbike tour off the beaten track.

As for the tour agent trips, check out their website here below:
http://sapaochau.org/sapa-trekking-and-homestay/

Any remark is welcomed!

Giuseppe

SAPA: first day OFF the beaten tracks in the rice fields terraces and rural villages

Dear explorers, I have finally completed out my 6th journey mission in South-East Asia, this time I dedicated my attention to Vietnam.

Unlike my previous deep experience with Indonesia, here I had less time to spend and so I had to draw a narrowed draft plan out of a total of fifteen days, perhaps here some might argue by saying that it is enough time, however unfortunately it is not enough for all Vietnam 😦

Because the time frame of my exploratory holiday was just fifteen days, I decided to divide it in two parts: the challenging part and the soft part.

Why that?

The reason behind is simple: if you first challenge yourself with a hard task then you will be able to appreciate the chilling part, on the contrary it would not work out much.

After making some research, I decided it was worthy to visit the SaPa area with its breathtaking nature characterized by rice fields terraces, because I always like to get off the beaten tracks (suitable for the lazy ones), I booked the following two-days tour by Sapa O’Chau tour:

http://sapaochau.org/sapa-trekking-and-homestay/sapa-trek-and-tour/trekking-tours/off-the-beaten-track-2-day/

Overview map of SaPa

Despite the attendance for the tour was only myself with the tour guide ‘Laju Su’, as soon as I arrived at the Sapa O’Chau office I found out that one more attendee signed up at last minute which was a pleasant news for my pockets since the actual price was decreased of almost 50%, in addition to that, as a nice coincidence the other participant was an Italian compatriot woman called ‘Elena’, I never imagined to be trekking with a woman solo traveler as a companion however we all know that at this world there are also brave women up for such an amazing trekking 🙂

As first, we were brought by car to the starting point of our trekking which was the Ta Phin village, while starting the hike in the village some local ladies approached us by asking to buy their hand-made hats, however since we were keen to enjoy the nature we did not buy any, perhaps on a next time!

As we approached the first uphill we enjoyed the first amazing landscape view with rice field terraces and a village nearby as shown above, and soon we had to deal with a broken path, probably caused by a natural disaster, fortunately there were two bulldozers in action which tried to pave and clear the broken path in front of us, however we had to carefully watch our steps, see image below:

Blocked trail

the more we trekked uphill the more we got into the a secluded valley, on the way we met few women as farmers who were carrying vegetables and few locals riding a motorbike through the path.

After three and half hour of trekking we reached the first remote village named Phin Ho, we stopped at a farm house where our clever tour guide managed to prepare for us two maxi-sandwiches (just look at it below), in addition to that, we noticed that the owner of the house was chilling out by smoking some herbs by using a big bamboo pipe which was really funny for me as a non-smoker guy 😀

After our lunch break, we resumed our trekking by getting a bit to the bottom of the deep valley, the scenery on the way down was more and more breathtaking and at one peak viewpoint we decided to take one more break with a short nap. Here, I caught the chance to record such a video of such amazing surrounding scenery, just watch it below!

Deep valley on the way to Suoi Thau village

After our chilling break we continued on the trail to Ta Giang Phing village (final destination on the second day) and here we approached the deepest point of the green valley:

We got to cross two bridges, the first one was a bit challenging because rope-less, only one person at once could traverse it to avoid the risk of collapsing, moreover the frame was made by bamboo pipes not fixed but shaking instead! Having had similar challenges in the past in the first moment I believed I could make it with hassle-free, however my first approach was not such good one: I approached it by putting down my feet almost straight in-line on the pipes, as a result my body balance was getting compromised, the tour guide realized it and invited me to reverse myself and step back, the spring of nervousness tripped out :-O although the guide wanted to convince me to get down by the small channel and then up, I stayed focused on the bridge challenge by letting the Italian girl to go first, I just observed her relaxed approach and as she crossed it, I acted accordingly by counterbalancing the second half of my body and angling my feed to keep safe my balance on the shaking bamboo pipes, even slow, the challenge was accomplished with no need to get down by the channel 🙂 Safety is never enough when dealing with the wild nature ;-D

After that, we got to hike farther until we end up crossing a proper safe pedestrian bridge.

After one more hours, we approached our target destination of the first day
Soi Thau village. Here we observed such an amazing rural life of the local people taking care of their goats and buffaloes as well as people who were building up a brand-new house.

That was the beginning of the destination village of Suoi Thau, we had to trek up farther over a hill to reach our home stay, the trail was aggressively steep up to the hill with some spread-ed mud around, I started feeling a bit powerless, nevertheless we achieved our day target by arriving there around 4:30pm, where we chilled-out at the home stay and we were provided with such a proper delicious Vietnamese BIO-food 🙂

Our first trekking day was nicely over, all we needed was just a good dinner and a sound sleep what we got.

A new post will follow soon by covering the 2nd day of trekking. GoPro movie session is now available at the video section of my blog: https://theblogofeggiamp.com/video-posts/

Flickr images powered by Sony alpha 6000 are availabe at my Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/giuseppegiampino/

Any remark is warmly welcomed 😉

Giuseppe