Berlin-Saigon-Express The great post-socialist venture

Rain and fever on Phu Quoc
Muddy Mekong Delta
Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Amazing Hong Kong
Beach life on Lamma Island
There's no blue sky in Xi'an
Ancient Tourist Trap of Pingyao
The great Great Wall
Bejing: Beneath a gray sky
Exotic delicacies of Mongolia
Rural Mongolia
Urban Mongolia
Ulan-Ude
Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal
Irkutsk: Don't eat pizza in Siberia
Wedding time in Ekaterinburg
The Transsiberian demystified
Thoughts about shoes...
Kazan, Tatarstan
3 days in Moscow
Berlin to Moscow
Rain and fever on Phu Quoc
Rain and fever on Phu Quoc

We reached Phu Quoc via bus and speedboat (aptly named “Superdong”), but the signs did not look fortunate for us. Our check-in at the small family-run hotel was accompanied by a light drizzle outside and Lisa feeling a little tired inside, but both worsened in the course of the next 48 hours. The view from [...]

Muddy Mekong Delta
Muddy Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta presented itself as wet and muddy – little wonder as it was the end of the raining season! We reached our first stop in Vinh Long after a torturous back and forth with buses and taxis in Saigon; a memorable lesson in language barrier and outdated travel guides. Vinh Long is a [...]

Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Hà Nội, Việt Nam

Hanoi (or at least its Old Quarter) is how you imagine Southeast Asia to be: Streets are packed with mobile vendors in conical hats and colorful pyjamas selling fruit and vegetables, street restaurants with small plastic chairs were everyone slurps pho or sips ice tea, and millions of motor scooters zooming by. Tall trees line [...]

Amazing Hong Kong
Amazing Hong Kong

We explored Hong Kong in just two days, reluctant to leave our beloved Lamma Island even for just some hours of the day. Our first destination was Victoria Peak, Hong Kongs highest mountain, to see the skyline. As we were not inclined to hike up there in the heat of a tropical noon, we took [...]

Beach life on Lamma Island
Beach life on Lamma Island

Lamma Island (also known as Pok Liu Chau) is the biggest outlying island of Hong Kong and just a 20 minute ferry ride from downtown. So we thought it was perfect to escape yet another city full of traffic, consumerism and smog. Lamma has a significant amount of western and international population and is well-known [...]

There’s no blue sky in Xi’an
There's no blue sky in Xi'an

In retrospective, our stay in Xi’an seems to have been one extraordinarily long traffic jam, with us on an overcrowded public bus and constant rain outside. We came there to see the origins of China, Chinese Muslims and, of course, the Terracotta Army. While we managed to do all of that, Xi’an didn’t grow dear [...]

Ancient Tourist Trap of Pingyao
Ancient Tourist Trap of Pingyao

It was a spontaneous decision to go to Pingyao. When we tried to buy tickets to Xi’an at Bejing Main station and we were told that there were only hard seats left for the next few days, Basanta remembered reading about Pingyao in the Lonely Planet. There, it is advertised as the best-preserved walled city [...]

The great Great Wall
The great Great Wall

Instead of taking a tour, we were brave and explored the Great Wall of China on our own (true backpacker style!). The Wall itself was not the biggest challenge though – getting to it was. There are a lot of spots where you can visit the Wall – the closer to Beijing, the more touristy. [...]

Bejing: Beneath a gray sky
Bejing: Beneath a gray sky

Of course, all direct trains from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing were already booked by more organised travellers. So we had to take the train to a Chinese border town and then go on with a Chinese sleeper bus. The former was quite comfortable, the latter was not. In both modes of transportation, we had friendly encounters: [...]

Exotic delicacies of Mongolia
Exotic delicacies of Mongolia

One evening, when Basanta got back to the hostel, he brought along Haribo Lakritzschnecken, something I had longed for since my first meal in Russia. I was speechless and, of course, grateful (even though I ate the whole thing in less than an hour). Basanta was all excited: “They don’t just have Haribo, Lisa. They [...]

Rural Mongolia
Rural Mongolia

As much as we liked UB, when in Mongolia you have to see the countryside: An estimated 41 million of livestock share the country with just 3 million people. Having spent a lot of time in trains and busses, we decided to pass on Gobi desert and other far away destinations and went for Terelj [...]

Urban Mongolia
Urban Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar is supposed to be the ugliest city in Asia, if not the world. This did not stop our euphoria when we arrived via bus from Russia: We had finally arrived in ASIA To relax from a dreadful journey and the hardships encountered in Russia, we decided to stay in UB (as cool people call [...]

Ulan-Ude
Ulan-Ude

We did not know much about Ulan-Ude: It boasts the world’s largest Lenin head on its central square. Somewhere close is Russia’s largest Buddhist monastery which is the reason for the Transsiberian railway’s sharpest bend. Plus, it is the starting point for buses and trains to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia – the very reason we went [...]

Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal
Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal

All we wanted was to get off the rails for a few days and relax from our journey. What place could be more adequate for this purpose than a remote island in Lake Baikal with only 1200 inhabitants (according to the last Soviet census in 1989)? Plus, Olkhon island is supposed to be one of the [...]

Irkutsk: Don’t eat pizza in Siberia
Irkutsk: Don't eat pizza in Siberia

  “Des is doch des Wenedich – äh nee ich mein, des Baris von Sibirien, gell?“ („Isn’t that the Venice – ahem, Paris of Siberia?“) was the comment of a Franconian lady on the platform in Omsk when we told her about our next stop: Irkutsk!Irkutsk truly proved to be a gem among the Russian [...]

Wedding time in Ekaterinburg
Wedding time in Ekaterinburg

Just one hour after our arrival in Ekaterinburg by train from Kazan, our CouchSurfing host Nadia took us for a three-hour walking tour of the City. The leitmotif of our stay is set as soon as we enter the first park: On a small bridge, a wedding ceremony is in progress and we just came [...]

The Transsiberian demystified
The Transsiberian demystified

Travel agencies and guidebooks spread many clichés about the Transsiberian. In this post, we reality-check some of them. Babushkas sell home-made, traditional Russian snacks on the platforms. No longer: These women got kicked out of the big city stations, so that Russia doesn’t look like a third world country. Instead there are small shops on [...]

Thoughts about shoes…
Thoughts about shoes...

Many women in Russia like to wear high heels. This is neither strange nor extraordinary: They share this preference with a lot of other women (and also with some men) around the world who like their heels high. However, from my observation, Russian women like them to be very high, a good deal higher than [...]

Kazan, Tatarstan
Kazan, Tatarstan

After a quite comfortable 15-hour-trainride, we arrive early in the morning in Kazan. Out of regard for our CouchSurfing hosts beauty sleep, we had breakfast in the small Black Lake Park. On a bench, watching the fountains of Black Lake spring to life and people hurrying to work, we eat the leftovers from our train [...]

3 days in Moscow
3 days in Moscow

Moscow in three words: hot, noisy and huge. Moscow in three days: Day One Our first face-to-face experience of Russian service culture: At Kazansky Station we try to buy train tickets to Kazan. Even though Basanta’s flatmate Olga had warned us, we are quite shocked when the railway staff only shakes their heads and avoids [...]

Berlin to Moscow
Berlin to Moscow

We depart from Berlin’s Ostbahnhof at 15.49 on wednesday, 27 July: Our first taste of Russia is served as soon as we enter the train. Nobody speaks German nor English, as it is a Russian train with a Russian conductor in his light gray uniform who takes our tickets and only returns them when we [...]