Today, I’m leaving Asia, where I’ve spent the last five months. Before flying to Oceania, let’s have a retrospective look at this 153-day long experience, in the form of a self-interview. And let’s start with a “best of”…
The most breathtaking view / place?
The rice terraces of Banaue. Reaching them was a pain in the neck, so the first day I spent walking around I didn’t really enjoy that much. BUT. When I woke up the following day, and went to the terrace of the Rita Guesthouse right in the middle of the rice fields, I couldn’t retain a “waouh”. It’s supernatural.
And the Olkhon Island. This place is simply unbelievable. It looks like a far-far west movie, the only difference being the temperature and the heroes’ names: Olga and Sergueï would replace James & Marilyn. And instead of Monument Valley you have the Central Asia steppes… Another “waouh”.
The most beautiful human footprint?
The Taj Mahal is breathtaking. You have seen pictures for years, and here it goes, you are there. I thought I wouldn’t like it that much, because of the tourists flows notably. But when I finally passed the front door and got to see it, I freeze. And when I left the place, I stepped back, so that I could see this white profile as long as possible, thinking that I would probably never see it again.
And Singapore’s crazy constructions: the boat building, and moreover the Gardens by the Bay, that gave me the impression to be an Avatar character.
Those are really the three times I was gob-smacked (bouche bée) !!!
The best food? The worst food?
Korea offered many amazing food experiences, I talked a lot about it at the time.
Everyone had told me that food in Russia would be awful, but in fact it was quite tasty and less fat than I thought. Indian food is as spicy as usual. But in general I didn’t have to taste anything awful.
The most interesting fauna and flora?
I will never forget the amazing bird reserve in South West Korea. Small organisms crawling in the mud, birds over the swamp, view over the peninsula plains…
And I will also remember snorkeling on the Filipino shore, in Moalboal, on the Cebu Island. People talk about Pescadora, but it’s so much better a few kilometers from that famous dive spot. Vivid coral, sea snakes, huge multicolor fishes, the abyss ten meters from the shore… I felt like Cousteau for a moment, I just missed the red hat!
The most amazing experience?
Crossing entire Russia with the Trans-Siberian, from Moscow to Vladivostok.
You see how landscapes change, how people change, and you finally get to Asia without even noticing it. A slow way of translating yourself from one part of the world to another…
The most challenging experience?
I was anxious about riding a bike through Rajasthan because I had only passed my bike license a year ago and had never rode anywhere but in Paris, on a 125 cc. So, of course I couldn’t sleep the couple of nights before I finally got to seat on my Royal Enfield.
The first day was hectic, I didn’t even finish the day on my bike, as it felt on the floor when I was trying to start the engine with the F******* kick…
But then, when I finally mastered the beast, it was a pleasure of every single second. We had a chance to ride on the mud, on the sand, on salt… You know, I was most of the time very focused on the road and traffic but from time to time I was taking the time to think: “look, here you are”, and, under my helmet, I couldn’t retrieve a large smile of happiness and self-satisfaction!
Any moving place?
Benares is definitely a place that doesn’t let you indifferent. I let you read my post about it, as I couldn’t explain it differently than I did.
A nice surprise?
South Korea. I wasn’t planning to visit this country but we left China prematurely, because of the Chinese domestic holidays and censorship. And I’m so glad we made that choice. Seoul is a dynamic capital city and still friendly. Arty and trendy like Tokyo but less speedy and expensive. The countryside is neat and quiet – I’ll never forget our bicycle ride among the fields and villages. Icing on the cake, people are so helpful and open.
A disappointing place?
Bali. I wouldn’t say it is not worse it but probably a little bit overrated, at least for someone who has already travelled a bit in Asia. To me Bali is like a mini-golf course or a Japanese garden: A little bit of everything. A little bit of rainforest but less impressive than in Thailand, a little bit of rice terraces but less than in the Philippines, a little bit of volcanoes but less than in La Reunion, a little bit of snorkeling… let’s say it’s a nice introduction, with cool samples.
Would you change anything in what you’ve done?
I would dedicate less time to Bali and more to Java, where people are incredibly open.
I wouldn’t spend ten days in Delhi waiting for my Vintage Rides to start I should have rather spent that time in Nepal, or in Kashmir, where a woman I had met in the plane had invited me.
An interesting route then?
Of course. I had built the itinerary taking into account climate, distances, my friend’s agendas and interests. And finally everything matched pretty well!
And the funny thing is that, almost everywhere I’ve been, something special was taking place. In Novosibirsk, the yearly roller race and marathon, National holidays in Shanghai, in Seoul the yearly arts festival and fireworks, the International Film Festival of Busan, the Gay Pride, in Taipei, The Diwali in Delhi, the Sinulog parade in Cebu, in Singapore the Chinese New Year’s Eve (this one was planned)… And I’m sure I’m forgetting some of them!
A place you would like to visit again?
I’d definitely go back to Seoul, and Paju book city, a few kilometers north of Seoul. I could stay a week there. And I’d go back to the gardens By the Bay in Singapore;
Any scary moment?
In Perm, when we were looking for the Gulag museums, two women wandering through ghost Russian villages… I thought about survival tips I had read younger: How to survive in cold environments, how to kick a man’s ass. Haha.
Did you fear for your life?
No, not really. I mean, not in Perm. And I am, in general, an animal of cold blood. Though, when I got that checking in issue at Dacca’s airport, Bangladesh, I lost my temper. I was almost crying. No boarding pass, no Wi-Fi, no way to secure my luggage, big mosquitos everywhere, no women around… Gee, I was really freaking out.
The most interesting encounters?
All of them were. The art curator of Novosibirsk, the Birobidjan painter he made me meet; women who survived the Yolanda typhoon in the Philippines, one I met in Banaue, this other one in Cebu… Or this cook, Renel, who had learnt French cuisine with Alain Ducasse. And Paul & Janice (the American cowboy & Miss Cebu)… All of them have a special who to look at life, a sharp perception, another perspectives…
I’ll also remember the special atmosphere of Olga’s guesthouse, on the Olkhon Island. In this hostile environment, all backpackers were close one to each other and I met there amazing travellers…
Besides, this trip also gave me an opportunity to be closer connected with the people I love and bring our friendship to the next level thanks to everything that we have shared together – I’m thinking about Chrystèle, my brother Alex, Fabien, Michelle, Véronique, Guy…
Do you think you have changed?
I am of course more relaxed, but this is a trivial answer, isn’t it?
I think I have also become more flexible. I go with the flows, and I hope I’ll be able to keep it this way when I’m back. And I’ve been lucky that my friends have been on the same page. Alex was supposed to visit inner China and finally we flight to Korea, Fabien was ready to face India’s tough conditions whereas he had never travelled abroad before, Michelle agreed to leave Java when the weather conditions became to harsh… Everything went smooth, in all respects.
What do you miss the most?
Red wine! I had bought a bottle in India, it was worse than vinegar.
So I’m looking forward discovering the Australian vines!!!
Today I’m flying for Australia, where I’ll spend six weeks. Then I’ll spend one month in New Zealand, and then I’ll dedicate two months to Central Asia after a short stop in Kuala-Lumpur. I hope I’ll have time to travel through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kirghizstan… by the way, if anyone is interested, there is a free slot to join me in Kazakhstan – end of May, beginning of June…
So you have finally decided to extend your trip to Oceania?
Yes. At the beginning I thought I would spend more time in China, but when I found out that flying to Sydney wouldn’t be so expensive I changed my plans.
And I’m very excited. I’ve seen a lot of Southeast Asia along the years, whereas Oceania is a virgin continent to me. I’m sure I’m going to be very surprised, and I’m looking forward to it!
Le mot de la fin?
I just wish there wouldn’t be one.
Should you still have unanswered questions, please ask in the comments box !