Asia 2009 Tour

In early 2009 it was about the time to make one dream come true. I had been thinking about a trip of a several months for a long time already... Having worked for the same company for 10 years I realized that it is about the time to take a break. So I applied for a leave of absence from my boss and started planning. My application was accepted and I had the opportunity to spend about three months traveling in February - May 2009.

It was clear from the beginning that I did not want to plan too much - I had just a number of destinations that I wanted to visit but the schedule and route was more or less open. The whole idea of drifting away in some remote destinations was so fascinating! So I just booked flights to Hong Kong and applied for two visas (China and Russia visas should be easier to get in Finland). One of my 'mandatory' destinations was North Korea - getting there required booking a tour so that was also something to be done in advance. Apart from that I did not really have a fixed itinerary.

Here's a summary of the countries I visited, see diaries and photo gallery pages for more details! The original travel blog can be found from http://303tours.blogspot.com/. The diary pages here are just copy-paste from the original blog. The entries are a combination of English and Finnish - let's see if I find the time to translate everything to English. Anyway it was easier to express my feelings with my native language so therefore many of the entries are in Finnish.

  1. China: Hong Kong
  2. Philippines: Manila and Puerto Galera
  3. Singapore
  4. Indonesia: Batam
  5. Indonesia: Bali, Gili Islands and Lombok
  6. Thailand: Bangkok
  7. Myanmar: Yangon, Bagan and Inle Lake

China - part 1 (Hong Kong)
My first destination... Did not really know what to expect but anyway Hong Kong is one of the 'easier' destinations in Asia - things are rather organized there. I spent just a couple of days in this interesting city - had actually really good time there but wanted to move to warmer climate soon. The city is an interesting mixture of Chinese and British culture and even though the area is not that big there are lots of interesting sights. And surprisingly there are really laidback places very near the busy downtown area - just take a ferry to some of the outlying islands!

Photo gallery
Diary

Philippines
After Hong Kong I decided to continue to Manila. Booking the Cebu Pacific Air ticket there was more than challenging but eventually I arrived in this crazy city. This huge place is pure South East Asian madness at its worst - unfortunately not the number one tourist destination in the area. I spent actually quite a lot of time exploring the city and the surrounding areas but I still have mixed feelings... Manila is big, noisy and chaotic with few attractions compared to other capitals in the area. But there are interesting destinations just a couple of hours away - for example Taal volcano and the beaches of Puerto Galera. I thought about doing a longer tour to the more remote islands but somehow ended up spending about two weeks in Manila and the nearby beaches...

Photo gallery
Diary

Singapore
My favourite Asian city! This was the third visit to this beautiful place - I knew most of the sights in the downtown area already but just strolling around there is so cool! And actually there were a number of interesting sights yet to be discovered - for example Singapore Zoo and Sentosa area were really pleasant experiences. I just spent a couple of nights here but had really good time - after the chaos in Manila it was nice to be in a place with traffic rules and no noise!

Photo gallery
Diary

Indonesia
I had not visited Indonesia before but was expecting some beautiful beaches and nature from there. Did not realize that Indonesia was just an hour's ferry ride away from Singapore. I spent an interesting weekend on an island called Batam before booking a flight to Bali. Bali and the nearby Gili islands and Lombok turned out to be exactly the kind of paradise islands I had been looking for. I just ended up spending almost three weeks there - doing nothing special apart from the diving school that was an unforgettable experience! After Bali I visited all of the three Gili islands and spend some time on Lombok as well. Definitely one of the places where I would like to return some day!

Photo gallery
Diary

Thailand
Another one of my favorite Asian destinations... I had to visit Bangkok to get the Myanmar visa and it was good fun to enjoy some city life after some more remote destinations. Interestingly I ended up visiting a number of sights I had already seen before - for example the Royal Palace and some temples. But those places are just so fascinating and even though Bangkok is a bit chaotic it is still one of my favorite mega cities in Asia! After Myanmar I had to return here for a couple of days, that was actually the period when I felt like taking a break from traveling for the first time. So I just spent some time parks, relaxing at the hotel and watching funny Thai movies at a nearby cinema...

Photo gallery
Diary

Myanmar
One of the highlights during this trip! I did not quite know what to expect but after the initial shock Myanmar turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises so far. Yangon was really chaotic and the heat was really bad for the first three days but the friendly people and the strange going back in time feeling made me have a really good time there! Inle Lake was my favorite destination in Myanmar. Would have been interesting to explore some of the more remote areas as well but I did not feel like taking those 24-hour bus rides...

Photo gallery
Diary

  1. China: Xian
  2. China: Beijing
  3. North Korea
  4. China: Macau and Hong Kong
  5. China: Guangzhou
  6. Mongolia: Ulan Bator
  7. Russia: Irkutsk
  8. Russia: Moscow:
  9. Finland: Helsinki

China - part 2 (Xian - Beijing)
After some recharging in Bangkok it was the time to enter mainland China for the first time ever. I started from Xian that turned out to be a good choice as it is not the biggest city in China - well still huge by Finnish standards of course. After checking out the mandatory sights like Terracotta warriors I continued by night train to Beijing. I did not have much time to spend there before joining the tour group - the next destination being the most awaited on this trip!

Photo gallery
Diary

North Korea
The most bizarre country ever. Period. And one of the most memorable places I have been to - in general this visit was a very pleasant experience! This is a place to be experienced - it is hard to describe the unique atmosphere by words. It is like going through a time warp - so many times you wonder whether things you see are real or not and is this really 2009? The country is definitely not as bad as some news might say - poverty is a problem for sure but you still see smiling faces everywhere. People are very hospitable and even though the infrastructure is in bad shape things still work somehow. Did not see any famine or forced labour there... 

Photo gallery
Diary

China - part 3 (Beijing - Macau - Guangzhou - Hong Kong - Beijing)
After five unforgettable days it was time to return to China. Now I had more time to explore Beijing properly - you can easily spend a couple of days there just because of the size of the area. As it was still a bit chilly there I decided to head back to the south for a while. I checked out the crazy casinos of Macau before going to Guangzhou. It was one of the crazier Chinese megacities - actually one of the most unpleasant destinations during this trip. I headed back to Hong Kong to enjoy some beach life before returning to Beijing for the final leg of the journey. 

Photo gallery
Diary

Mongolia
Trans-Siberian (or Trans-Mongolian) train journey had been on my to-do list for a long time. Even though I had a flight booked from Hong Kong to Helsinki I decided to take the more adventurous route by train. So after a big struggle I managed to book a ticket from Beijing to Ulan Bator, Mongolia. The train journey was quite interesting - very beautiful scenery and time-consuming border crossings. Mongolia was unlike any destination so far - UB was a crazy city in the middle of nowhere. But just a 10 minutes drive away you were suddenly in untouched nature. This was the only destination where I managed to see snow by the way!

Photo gallery
Diary

Russia
I continued by train to Irkutsk - it is basically in the heart of Siberia! It is actually quite charming town with beautiful old wooden houses. I got soon bored with the lengthy train rides and decided to skip the 5-day journey to Moscow - instead I booked an Aeroflot flight there. I spent two nights in Moscow before taking the night train back home. So the adventure of 3 months was finally over - actually time passed very quickly! And the lovely Finnish summer was almost there already!

Photo gallery
Diary

My locations by date

7.2.2009 Helsinki / London / Hong Kong
8.2.2009 Hong Kong
9.2.2009 Hong Kong
10.2.2009 Hong Kong
11.2.2009 Hong Kong / Manila, Philippines
12.2.2009 Manila, Philippines
13.2.2009 Manila, Philippines
14.2.2009 Manila, Philippines
15.2.2009 Manila, Philippines
16.2.2009 Puerto Galera, Philippines
17.2.2009 Puerto Galera, Philippines
18.2.2009 Puerto Galera, Philippines
19.2.2009 Puerto Galera, Philippines
20.2.2009 Puerto Galera / Manila, Philippines
21.2.2009 Manila, Philippines
22.2.2009 Manila / Tagatay, Philippines
23.2.2009 Manila, Philippines
24.2.2009 Manila, Philippines
25.2.2009 Manila, Philippines / Singapore
26.2.2009 Singapore
27.2.2009 Singapore
28.2.2009 Singapore / Batam, Indonesia
1.3.2009 Batam, Indonesia
2.3.2009 Batam / Kuta, Indonesia
3.3.2009 Kuta, Indonesia
4.3.2009 Kuta, Indonesia
5.3.2009 Kuta, Indonesia
6.3.2009 Kuta / Ubud, Indonesia
7.3.2009 Ubud, Indonesia
8.3.2009 Ubud / Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
9.3.2009 Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
10.3.2009 Gili Meno, Indonesia
11.3.2009 Gili Meno, Indonesia
12.3.2009 Senggigi, Indonesia
13.3.2009 Senggigi, Indonesia
14.3.2009 Gili Air, Indonesia
15.3.2009 Gili Air, Indonesia
16.3.2009 Gili Air, Indonesia
17.3.2009 Gili Air / Kuta, Indonesia
18.3.2009 Kuta, Indonesia / Bangkok, Thailand
19.3.2009 Bangkok, Thailand
20.3.2009 Bangkok, Thailand
21.3.2009 Bangkok, Thailand
22.3.2009 Bangkok, Thailand
23.3.2009 Bangkok, Thailand
24.3.2009 Bangkok, Thailand
25.3.2009 Bangkok, Thailand
26.3.2009 Bangkok, Thailand
27.3.2009 Bangkok, Thailand / Yangon, Myanmar
28.3.2009 Yangon, Myanmar
29.3.2009 Bagan, Myanmar
30.3.2009 Inle Lake, Myanmar
31.3.2009 Inle Lake, Myanmar
1.4.2009 Yangon, Myanmar / Bangkok, Thailand
2.4.2009 Bangkok, Thailand
3.4.2009 Bangkok, Thailand
4.4.2009 Bangkok, Thailand
5.4.2009 Bangkok, Thailand
6.4.2009 Bangkok, Thailand
7.4.2009 Xian, China
8.4.2009 Xian, China
9.4.2009 Xian, China
10.4.2009 Beijing, China
11.4.2009 North Korea
12.4.2009 North Korea
13.4.2009 North Korea
14.4.2009 North Korea
15.4.2009 North Korea
16.4.2009 North Korea
17.4.2009 Beijing, China
18.4.2009 Beijing, China
19.4.2009 Beijing, China
20.4.2009 Beijing, China
21.4.2009 Beijing, China
22.4.2009 Macau, China
23.4.2009 Macau, China
24.4.2009 Guangzhou, China
25.4.2009 Guangzhou, China
26.4.2009 Guangzhou, China
27.4.2009 Hong Kong
28.4.2009 Hong Kong
29.4.2009 Hong Kong
30.4.2009 Hong Kong
1.5.2009 Hong Kong
2.5.2009 Hong Kong
3.5.2009 Hong Kong
4.5.2009 Beijing, China
5.5.2009 Beijing, China
6.5.2009 Beijing, China
7.5.2009 Ulan Bator, Mongolia
8.5.2009 Ulan Bator, Mongolia
9.5.2009 Ulan Bator, Mongolia
10.5.2009 Ulan Bator, Mongolia
11.5.2009 On the train to Irkutsk
12.5.2009 Irkutsk, Russia
13.5.2009 Moscow, Russia
14.5.2009 Moscow, Russia
15.5.2009 Helsinki, Finland

 

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