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My last ‘personal’ blog titled ‘On work and wanderlust has a publishing date of almost two years ago. Therefore, time for a small update on my personal life and also to reveal new exciting travel plans!

On a personal note

In september, I finally obtained my Ph.D. degree, which I celebrated together with friends, family and colleagues. It was an amazing day!

After that, it was time for relaxation, so I flew to Canggu in Bali for 1,5 week of surfing, diving, yoga and good food. It was all very ‘eat pray love’ like, but exactly what I needed! My favorite moments included diving with massive manta rays in Nusa Penida, catching my first ‘green waves’ and falling asleep during the yoga and meditation classes. It was my second time in Bali and I loved it. I was also ‘recognized’ by someone who knew my blog, which was the first time ever!

Didn’t bring camera’s (or guidebooks) on this trip and I only took a handful of photos with my mobile in Bali, including this one!!

Because of work, I lived in Amsterdam for the past six months, where I worked as a medical doctor in the university hospital. However, this december I will already move back to Rotterdam. I truly enjoyed living in Amsterdam. I was fortunate enough to find a beautiful house where I lived together with 7 cool roommates (including friend and travel vlogger ‘Travel Gretl’!) and 2 lovely cats. Other than that, I spent my days visiting music festivals with friends, occasionally volunteering (language lessons), reading books (e.g. Congo by David van Reybrouck), watching series (Stranger Things) and of course, exploring beautiful Amsterdam!

The Rembrandt House in Amsterdam.

I also got some cool presents at my Ph.D. party such as the Atlas Obscura (an atlas with strange and obscure places), a Jimmy Nelson photo book and a ‘surprise city trip’! The destination of this city trip was only revealed when we were at the airport. So exciting!! I just hoped it wouldn’t be Edinburgh, because I had already planned a visit to Edinburgh. But, what are the chances…? Edinburgh it was! Of course, I absolutely loved it! It all worked out quite well, because during my next Edinburgh visit I won’t have time to explore the city anyway as I will attend the World Extreme Medicine conference (which is all about practicing medicine in extreme and harsh environments e.g. space, desert, war zones).

Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh Me and my friends in Edinburgh! Thanks girls!! Upcoming winter adventures

Ready to announce my travel destinations for this winter!

As you know, I considered the three following options:

  1. Ecuador/Colombia
  2. Philippines/Indonesia
  3. Ethiopia/Djibouti

Ecuador and Colombia were high on my list. I was quite keen to take part in one of the glacier schools in Ecuador, climb some vulcanoes and try to surf some waves again. But, Ecuador would have been quite expensive with the Galapagos islands and somehow, South America just doesn’t appeal to me as much as Africa and Asia. Am I missing out? Probably! Still, I’m quite certain I’ll get there again soon. The Philippines and Indonesia were also in the race to become my next destination. However, I just came back from Bali and because I have a little bit more time to spent, I figured it makes sense to pick a more adventurous destination for this trip.

I’ve already been close to Ethiopia. This photo was taken in remote northern Kenya in the dusty town of Lodwar, near the Somalian/Ethiopian border.

So, Ethiopia it is!! But that’s not all. Instead of flying to Addis Abeba, I decided to fly to Cairo and to explore Egypt and Sudan as well. And there is more! Directly after Ethiopia, I will fly to Mexico to explore Yucatan for two weeks with friends. Not bad, hey? Here are some things to look forward to:

  • learn about ancient Egypt
  • diving in the Red Sea
  • admire the Merou pyramids in Sudan
  • enjoy the famous Sudanese hospitality
  • trekking in the Simien mountains in Ethiopia
  • explore the vulcanic Danakil Depression
  • witness the famous Timcat festival in Ethiopia
  • swimming in the ceynotes in Mexico
  • see the ancient Maya temples

Anyway, I can’t wait to start this new mini adventure. It gives me a feeling of excitement in my stomach, which is always a good sign! I already leave december 7nd, which is soon! I intend to give some updates via Instagram and Facebook, so if you’re interested, make sure to follow me!

Ready for more diving adventures after enjoying the underwater world in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and South Africa!

Would you like to travel to these countries? Or have you already been to Egypt, Sudan or Ethiopia? Or Yucatan in Mexico? I would love to get your tips!

Zou jij op reis willen naar deze landen? Of ben je er misschien al geweest? Zo ja, dan ben ik benieuwd naar je tips!

The post On new travel plans and more… appeared first on Bunch of Backpackers.

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It was quite a spontaneous idea to visit Tibet. I was traveling in China and Tibet was so close, I just couldn’t resist. So, shortly after arriving in China, I also arranged my trip to Tibet.

I’m forever glad I did.

No country has ever kept me under its spell as Tibet. The unsurpassed beauty of the Himalayas, the ancient monasteries and stupa’s, colorful praying flags, the sound of mantra’s and prayer bells, the epic Potala palace, the bluest sky you will ever see and the warm and friendly Tibetans with their beautiful smiles.

Below is a small selection photos showing you Tibet, the roof of the world, throughout my lens.

Are you having doubts about traveling to Tibet, because of the support to the Chinese government? Read more about my opinion about traveling to ‘controversial’ destinations here!

1. Arrived in Tibet after a 43-hour train ride from Chengdu to Lhasa. It’s the highest railroad in the world, passing by the Tangula pass at 5072 meters. The train ride is quite comfortable and if you’re lucky like me, you will share your cabin with two friendly Tibetan grandma’s. Here we were warmly welcomed at the train station by our Tibetan guide and driver in Tibet. ©Bunch of Backpackers. 2. Passing by a pretty lake with yaks! ©Bunch of Backpackers. 3. Prayer wheels around a shrine, which is are set in motion by Tibetan pelgrims who go around in a clock wise direction.©Bunch of Backpackers. 4. & 5. On the right: A young monk at the Drepung monastry (it used to house more than 7000 monks, these days there only are about 700). On the left: Another monk at the Drepung monastery. ©Bunch of Backpackers. 6. Gorgeous fertile highland valley. ©Bunch of Backpackers. 7. On the road! Yaks are important to the Tibetan people (especially to the nomads) as they provide food (milk, butter, meat) and wool. ©Bunch of Backpackers. 8. Palcho Monastery with its unique and impressive Kumbum, Tibet, China. ©Bunch of Backpackers. 9. & 10. Lhasa laughter. 11. Full of history: Jokhang square in Lhasa. ©Bunch of Backpackers. 12. In front of the Potala Palace. As you probably know, it used to be the residence of the Dalai Lama. It is now a museum and World Heritage Site. Even though, it has an ugly grass field and giant grey square in front of it, it still beautiful and impressive. ©Bunch of Backpackers. 13. Praying. Lhasa, Tibet. 14. One of my favorite photographs from the Roof of the World. The view from the Potala Palace! The skies in Tibet are absolutely amazing. ©Bunch of Backpackers. 15. & 16. At the Drepung monastery. ©Bunch of Backpackers. 17. A Tibetan family. ©Bunch of Backpackers. 18. The roads… ©Bunch of Backpackers. 19. Overlooking Shigatse. ©Bunch of Backpackers. 20. Everest Base Camp at 5200 meters in Tibet. My (rough) route through Tibet

Day 1: On the train (highest train ride in the world, where you’ll be riding a train at 5,072 m)
Day 2: Arrive in Lhasa
Day 3: Visit Norblingka and Sera temple.
Day 4: Visit Potala Palace, Jokhang temple, wandering around Barkor Street.
Day 5: Visit Yamdrok lake, Gyantse Kumpum, stay in Shigatse.
Day 6: Early morning start driving to Rogbuk via Shegar. Stay at Everest Base Camp. Read about my stay at the Everest Base Camp!
Day 7: Back to Shigatse.
Day 8: Visit Tashilunpo monastery in Shigatse then drive back to Lhasa. Stay in Lhasa.
Day 9: Leave Lhasa.

How to avoid altitude sickness? 

Since most places in Tibet are above 3000 meters, altitude sickness is a serious risk. Altitude sickness is quite unpredictable. However, there are few things you can do to avoid it:

  • Acclimate!
  • Make sure to drink enough water
  • Take it easy! I remember, I had to walk stairs to the first floor of the hotel and I was completely out of breath. If you feel fatigue, dial it down.
  • You may consider to bring Diamox. Fortunately, I did not suffer from altitude sickness, and the only thing I noticed were vivid dreams in Everest Base Camp and being short of breath more quickly. I did not need any Diamox.
Other general tips for your Tibet trip
  • Make sure to get a Tibetan guide and driver. Try to eat in Tibetan restaurants, buy in Tibetan shops etc.
  • Be careful in discussing political issues. You may put Tibetans in a difficult (or dangerous situation)
  • Some basis stuff: ask for permission to take photographs in temples of people. Keep in mind Tibetans are deeply religious, please follow their customs and manners. Learn and read about the historical and cultural background
  • Don’t take photo’s of military people/buildings or official checkpoints
  • Prepare for very cold nights!
  • As a solo traveler, I contacted some hostels in Chengdu to hook me up with other travelers for this tour.

The choice to whether or not to travel to Tibet is not an easy one. Read this ‘travel guide’ of Free Tibet before you go. You can find my opinion here.

Let me know if you have any questions about traveling in Tibet!

The post My trip to Tibet: 20 photographs from the Roof of the World appeared first on Bunch of Backpackers.

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When preparing for BoB’s Epic Adventure, Zimbabwe was probably one of the countries that intrigued me most. Its neighbours, Zambia and Botswana, always sounded ‘friendly, happy and green’, but this was not the case with Zimbabwe… Somehow, to me, Zimbabwe sounded adventurous, rough and even a bit dark.

However, even before getting to Zimbabwe, my views had already changed as I met many Zimbabweans in South Africa and Namibia. They worked as taxi drivers, tour guides or truck drivers. It was actually a Zimbabwean truck driver who offered me a ride during my first time hitchhiking ever and I quickly discovered that Zimbabweans are (street)smart, caring and very friendly. Backpacking in Zimbabwe turned out to be a breeze. It was indeed adventurous, but instead of rough and dark, it was pleasant and bright.

Due to bad trip planning, I ended up having only 10 days in Zimbabwe. Although, it was only a short backpacking trip, I would like to share my experiences anyway, as there is an absolute lack of Zimbabwe independent travel information on the internet.

Why should you go backpacking in Zimbabwe? 
  • Be amazed by the massive Victoria Falls, explore the greatest medieval city of Sub-Saharan Africa, enjoy vibrant Harare and much more!
  • A chance to get away from the ‘crowds’!
  • Friendly and welcoming people :)
My route through Zimbabwe
  • Day 1-3: Stayed at Shoestrings Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. From here I went to Zambia.
  • Traveled around in Zambia
  • Day 4: Back in Zimbabwe. Crosssed the border from Siavonga (Zambia) to Kariba (back into Zimbabwe). At Lake Kariba, I relaxed at the Warthogs Bushcamp for a few hours. Here, I met a Zimbabwean couple who were willing to give me a ride to Harare
  • Day 5: Took an Intercape bus from Harare to Bulawayo. Here, I stayed at Burke’s Paradise, and I cooked Dutch pancakes wit another Dutch traveler.
  • Day 6: Matapos National Park including a visit to Rhodes memorial, the founder of Rhodesia.
  • Day 7: Chilling in Bulawayo!
  • Day 8: Traveled from Bulawayo to Masvingo by local buses. Visit to Greater Zimbabwe!
  • Day 9: From Masvingo back to Harare.
  • Day 10: Explored Harare and visited the tabacco auction.
  • Day 11: Flight from Harare to Istanbul for my Silk Road adventure

Backpacking costs in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is expensive. In 2009, the government switched to US dollars and due to internal issues in the country they are largely dependent from import from surrounding countries. I spent about 60 USD per day. It’s recommended to bring enough USD’s for your entire trip.

Some example prices:

  • Camping ‘Small World Backpackers Lodge’ in Harare 8 USD
  • Camping Burke’s Paradise in Bulawayo 7 USD
  • Camping at Greater Zimbabwe, near Masvingo 7 USD
  • Camping at Shoestrings Backpacker & Bar in Victoria Falls 8 USD
  • Simple meal 4-6 USD
  • Entrance fee Matopos 15 USD
  • Entrance fee caves Matopos 10 USD
  • Entrance fee Great Zimbabwe Monument 15 USD
  • Entrance Victoria Falls 30 USD
  • Rent of taxi for a half day 40 USD
  • Bottle of coke 0.9 USD
  • Beer 2 USD
  • Mini bus long-distance 7 USD
  • Harare-Bulawayo Intercape Bus (luxury bus) 30 USD

Accommodation in Zimbabwe

As in most in African countries, it’s either camping OR expensive lodges, with little choice in between. There are only a handful of ‘hostels’ in Zimbabwe and to be honest, none of them are great. To save money (and because it’s fun), I’d highly recommend to bring a tent. Budget accommodation is quite popular with overland tours, so you might want to check availability beforehand.

Transportation in Zimbabwe

The public transportation network is limited. I used luxury buses like Intercape, local minibuses and a bit of hitchhiking. Some of the tourist sights are quite difficult to get to.

The backpacker scene in Zimbabwe

Although Southern Africa (find my Southern Africa backpacking overview here!) has become quite popular with backpackers, Zimbabwe remains relatively off the beaten path. At the Greater Zimbabwe camping field, there was one large overland company group with tents, but other than that I was the only one. The Small World Backpackers Lodge in Harare and Shoestrings in Victoria Falls were both quite busy when I was there and seemed to be the best places to meet other travelers in Zimbabwe. However, everyone there seemed to stick themselves.

Today at the Bulawayo busstation looking for a bus to Masvingo! #zimbabwe #BoBsEpicAdventure

A post shared by Bunch Of Backpackers – Manouk (@manoukbob) on Apr 18, 2016 at 9:39am PDT

Safety in Zimbabwe

Similar to surrounding countries. Try to avoid arriving after nightfall at a new destination. Don’t go out at night by yourself. If you do go out at night, make sure to use a (reliable) taxi driver (even for very short distances). Stick to a friendly local person. As I solo traveler, I haven’t felt unsafe in Zimbabwe.

General backpacking tips for Zimbabwe:

Backpacking highlights: Victoria Falls (Find tips for your visit to Victoria Falls here), the archeological sights of Greater Zimbabwe and vibrant Harare

If you need specific info, you might want to email the Shoestring Hostel in Harare or Burke’s Paradise in Bulawayo

Police bribes are quite common in Zimbabwe. It happened to me twice, I was in a car and we were stopped for no reason by the police. Both times we paid a bribe (one time this included a bottle of water).

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to do this, but these are some other tips:

  • Sailing trip on Lake Kariba (150 USD for a boat which you can share with others)
  • Catch the bus to Miombo Lodge to spent time at Hwange National Park
  • The Antelope Park in Gweru was also recommended
  • Exploring Mana Pools on foot
  • Hiking and trekking in the Eastern Highlands
  • For the dare devils there are plenty of activities around Victoria Falls (ziplining, swimming in Devil’s pool) or you can go kayaking the Zambezi river!

Obviously, Zimbabwe is not all bright and happy. When I traveled to Zimbabwe in 2016, the country was in a state of national emergency due to a massive drought. Also, there are also many internal issues, which I won’t discuss in this particular article. Still, like I already mentioned, I truly enjoyed getting to know Zimbabwe better. Read more about my vision on traveling to ‘controversial countries’ here

Let me know if you have any specific questions about backpacking in Zimbabwe!

The post Backpacking in Zimbabwe: Route, costs and general tips! appeared first on Bunch of Backpackers.

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Venturing into the Pamirs, also called the ‘Roof of the World’, means venturing into a landscape of ancient fortresses, natural springs, glaciers and breathtaking lakes. It’s one of highest mountain ranges in the world, with several 7000+ meter peaks and the home of snow leopards and the Siberian ibex.

The best way to explore the Pamir region is by 4×4 jeep, which you will need on the rough, and sometimes heavily damaged roads. In the summer of 2016, I backpacked in this region, staying in homestays along the way. Here I had the chance to meet Pamiri people, mostly Ismaili Muslims, but also “Kyrgyz’ and ‘Afghan’ people, and to learn about their history and lives. These are some of my favorite portraits of the Pamirs, all taken in the Pamir region of Tajikistan.

A man in front of the 12th-century Yamchum Fort, now being used as a Tajik military post with the Afghan mountains in the backdrop. © Bunch of Backpackers A woman selling herbs at the Afghan cross-border market in Khorog. During this market Afghans are allowed to come over to Tajikistan for one day in a designated and closed area to sell their goods. It is a way to meet people from Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The other cross border market in Ishkashim was unfortunately closed due to Taliban threats. © Bunch of Backpackers Men at the Afghan cross border market in Khorog. © Bunch of Backpackers ‘Can you take a picture of us’? – Girls in Khorog, Tajikistan. © Bunch of Backpackers My homestay with Gulsha in Jizeu in Bartang Valley. All food was cooked outside. The only way to get to this homestay in Bartang valley is via a 2,5-hour walk up a steep valley! There are no roads leading there, just a narrow walking path. This area is also terrorized by heavy landslides, so the walking path often changes. I’d say it absolutely worth visiting this place and stay overnight. © Bunch of Backpackers Kids riding a yak near the remote and sleepy town of Alichur at 3991 meters. Playing in the colorful blankets! Grandpa and son in front of their temporarily home. Brothers. Grandma in her home in the small town of Bulunkul, reportedly the coldest place in Tajikstan. In winters it can get minus 40 degrees! Girl in Bulunkul

Want to read more about my Silk Road trip? Check out these articles: 

Backpacking the Silk Road, the ultimate overview

Silent & Spectacular Kyrgyzstan: 5 top adventure picks

40 photos that will inspire you to visit Tajikistan

The post Portraits of the Pamirs appeared first on Bunch of Backpackers.

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‘What were your experiences as a female solo backpacker in Iran?’ This question I got quite a few times after my trip to Iran last summer. If you have been following my travels on Instagram or Facebook, you know I truly had the time of my life. In Iran I felt 100% free, careless and happy. I sang and danced in cars, ran through flower fields and was invited to so many homes. It was indeed mostly thanks to its warm, welcoming and beautiful people, that Iran was one of the highlights of my entire trip.

It took a while and another lengthy bus ride back to Ankara, but here it is: the Iran visa!! #bobsepicadventure

A post shared by Bunch Of Backpackers – Manouk (@manoukbob) on May 24, 2016 at 8:56am PDT

Let’s start to state the following important things:

  • Iran is an incredibly safe travel destination.
  • If you ask: should I go? I will always answer YES!

Personal experience

However, there have been some minor incidents in Iran, which I can’t ignore. So, time for a few ins and outs on my personal experience. I spent 23 days in Iran and traveled both to the ‘standard tourist destinations’ and more off-the-beaten path rural places. I traveled solo, independently and got around using a mix of public transportation and a bit of hitchhiking (always together with another traveler). Unfortunately, in those 23 days, I had a few minor incidents such as a taxi driver who was touching himself (Eeeeuwww), a hand stroking my bottom in a busy street (Accidentally? I don’t think so…) and a mosque employee touching my cheek (this may seem like no big deal, but remember that a male touching an unknown female in her face is unusual in Iran). I also got a few romantic date requests and even men following me on their motorcycles. It goes without saying that I was dressed according to the local standards and sticked as much as I could to local customs.

Other experiences

I also heard stories from other solo female travelers. For example, one German lady was sexually harassed while hitchhiking and the driver initially refused to let her out of the car, one Swiss girl was harassed while solo hiking and another Chinese girl was groped during rush hour in the subway. Alex Reynold wrote a lengthy account in an Australian newspaper of her harassment experiences in Iran. Maybe you will say: I went to Iran by myself and I did not experience anything like this! Well, obviously I’m glad you didn’t! However, these were my experiences and I felt it wouldn’t be honest to say I had a complete incident-free trip.

Female-only in the subway! You’re allowed to sit in the mixed zones, but you will see that most ladies will stick to the female only compartment.

What about other countries? Why an article about Iran?

So, what about the other countries I visited and what about other travels? As you probably know, I’m quite well-traveled. And, except for the ‘accidentally-bumping-into-you-but-precisely-against-your-breast-or-bottom’ incidents in India, I never had much issues during my travels. I did not experience any harassment in Southern Africa. During my Silk Road trip, I had one incident in eastern Turkey and another one in Kyrgyzstan, but in Iran it was more prominent. That why I decided to write this article specifically for Iran.

What does it mean? 

‘OMG this all sounds scary!’ Well, for me, although sometimes incredibly annoying, these things weren’t a big deal. The only thing that did leave a bit of a lasting impression was the taxi driver incident. Still, I never felt in danger.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to ask Iranians if it is just the foreigners who are targeted. Or is it also a problem among local women? Personally I felt it is specifically aimed towards female foreigners. A reason for this might be that some Iranian men simply have wrong expectations and think of us, like Alex Reynolds suggested, as sex-crazed party animals.

Still, although this may sound controversial, I do consider Iran as a safe country to travel to. Like I previously said, it’s one of my favorite countries on this trip!!

Female seats at the subway!

Safety tips for future solo female backpackers to Iran!

So, what to do. First: GO to Iran! Here are simple tips and tricks, which can help you to avoid any trouble as a female solo backpacker:

– Always sit in the back in taxi’s
– Don’t shake hands with men you don’t know, instead put your hand on your chest as a sign of respect.
– Dress appropriate
– Avoid walking at night in empty, dark streets
– Hitchhiking and hiking alone carry in my opinion the greatest risk. I wouldn’t say ‘don’t do it’ (as I’ve done it myself and had good experiences), but keep this in mind.
– Stick to the local customs
– Sit in the women’s part in the metro, train and bus (especially during rush hour)
– Stay close to the local women! They will take care of you!

Hang out with the ladies

Definitely hang out with the ladies! I probably had most fun with all the Iranian women I met during my trip. It’s very easy to make contact, and most of them will actually approach you. They are quick to laugh. Well-educated, strong and independent. Talk to them and learn about the Iranian society, and how they feel about it.

The headscarf

Bring at least two headscarves. I preferred light, soft scarves. You don’t need a pin, but you can just wrap the scarf around your head. I promise, you will quickly get used to it. I even felt elegant with it! In Iran, you will soon notice that some youngsters don’t like the headscarf and take it off whenever they can. Especially in Tehran, you will find that some women wear the headscarf in a fashionably low way, which actually shows most of their hair. For others, it’s still an important part of their religion and they wear the scarf in a more traditional manner.

My scarves, a black hear band to wear underneath (I did not use it however) and two magnetic pins to keep the headscarf together (sometimes used)

What about the Iranian morality police?

I haven’t seen or met them, but I heard they are still around. They are women dressed in normal clothing, keeping check on the dresscode. Supposedly, they won’t give tourists a hard time (unless you maybe walk around in a miniskirt). Often a local will point out any dress code violations. One time the top button of my shirt was undone at the backside, and an Iranian girl approached me to fasten it. Sometimes it would happen that my scarf would slide down to my shoulders, without me noticing it, but there would always be a friendly person on the street to point me to this.

Also, some other general female Iran backpacking tips:

– In terms of clothing: it’s better to be on the safe side. I usually wore either a baggy trouser and a wide shirt (long sleeves, no deep V) that covered the bottom or a long dress and a legging/jeans. And of course, a headscarf! Sandals are supposedly ok, although I didn’t see many.
– Try to respect the dresscode even if you’re in your hotel (e.g. the courtyard). In someone’s home or in the mountains, you can be more liberal with regard to the dresscode.
– If needed, bring tampons (they are supposedly difficult to get in Iran)

Hitchhiking in the Alamut region! New friends!

I’m Iranian, why are you offending my country?

I have no intend to offend Iran or Iranians of course. Although Iran was the country where I experienced most sexual harassment, it was also the country where I made most new (local) friends. However, I feel it is my responsibility to share my experiences. Both the good and the-not-so-good ones. I trust you understand. However, the not-so-good-experiences did not keep me from loving Iran anyway :)

Are you Iranian? How do you feel about this topic?

If you have been to Iran, what were your experiences? 

How much does it cost to travel in Iran? 

What are the best hostels of Iran?

Please let me know if you have any questions! You can leave a comment or send an email to bunchofbackpackers[at]gmail[dot]com

The post Female solo backpacking in Iran: Experiences and tips for future travelers appeared first on Bunch of Backpackers.

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TAJIKISTAN – “Never heard of it. No idea where it’s located. Isn’t that a dangerous country?…” Just a couple of responses I got from people when I told them I traveled through Tajikistan, a country you generally don’t hear a lot about. Undeservedly so. Tajikistan is absolutely stunning and the people are incredibly friendly and hospitable. Even though you will only meet a handful of other tourists, it’s quite easy and safe to get around. About 50% of the country lies above 3000 meters, so it’s a true trekkers paradise! I definitely want to return to Tajikistan one day, and I truly hope others will join me in visiting this beautiful, wild and unspoiled country! Are you in?

Lake side camping at the Alaudin lake at 2780 meters. Alaudin lake marked the start of my trek through the Fann mountains! © Bunch of Backpackers When you arrive at a (tea)house in Tajikistan you are welcomed with candy, cookies, bread and a cup of hot tea! The white candies in the middle are supersweet, but delicious! © Bunch of Backpackers Conquered the Alaudin pass (about 3860 meters)! About 1060 ascent in 7 km! But what a view, hey? I did the trekking without a local guide, but I teamed up with two experienced trekkers who had all kind of equipment/navigation. The mountains (as in Lord of the Rings) can be treacherous, so do not underestimate the level of trekkings in this area. © Bunch of Backpackers Ready to go after another night of lake-side camping!  © Bunch of Backpackers The surreal beauty of the Kulikalon bowl at about 3000 meters. Absolute magic! © Bunch of Backpackers Crossing a small stream! Not as easy as it looks with a heavy backpack! © Bunch of Backpackers View from my tent in the Fann mountains! © Bunch of Backpackers Lada Niva’s 4×4 are old Russian cars you will see everywhere in Central Asia. They’re strong and will take you anywhere! In the background you see one of the homestays in the Seven Lakes area :) © Bunch of Backpackers One of the houses at the Seven Lakes. Unfortunately the Seven Lakes are terrorized by heavy landslides which destroy both roads and houses. © Bunch of Backpackers The market in Khorog! © Bunch of Backpackers We stayed in a busy old Sovjet bungalow park at Iskander lake, with loads of local tourists enjoying their weekend. These guys were friends from high school. I spent two evenings with them and had lots of fun! © Bunch of Backpackers Picknicking at Iskander-Kul at 2195 meter with beautiful mountain shapes in the background. © Bunch of Backpackers The magnificent Pamirs! While driving you casually pass by breathtaking sights like this! © Bunch of Backpackers In many places in Central Asia and along the Silk Road, bread is baked against the inside walls of ovens like this. It’s round and flat, and beautifully decorated. © Bunch of Backpackers The small town of Bulunkul, and reportedly the coldest place in Tajikstan. In winters it can get minus 40 degrees! © Bunch of Backpackers A local family providing us with an entrance ticket to the lake! © Bunch of Backpackers Enjoying the view of bulun-kul at 3737 meters! © Bunch of Backpackers Walking around in Bulunkul town! Most houses have been made of mud. © Bunch of Backpackers Collecting water! © Bunch of Backpackers
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Stumbled upon some photos of my 2015 Sri Lanka trip! Our Sri Lanka trip was a crazy, beautiful roller-coaster ride full of highs and fortunately no single low. We were surprised by the diversity of Sri Lanka. In our mere 12 days we saw pristine temples, hiked through seemingly endless tea fields in misty mountains, boarded one of the most beautiful train rides ever, beheld elephants, crocodiles and a leopard on safari, enjoyed stunning white-sand beaches, saw whales and a turtle hatching on the beach, learned about the tumultuous history, went scuba diving and surfing, ate many a mouth-watering curry and celebrated the New Year with our new Sri Lankan friends. Check out the snap shots and who knows, maybe you’ll be booking your ticket to Sri Lanka soon?

The Kandy Lake, created in the 1800s by the last ruler of the Kingdom of Kandy. Nearby you will find the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. The lake is a nice place for a stroll! View on lush green tea fields from the train to Ella, one of the most famous train rides in the world. The views are stunning! Ella is a great place for hiking. For example, you can walk to Ella rock, where you’ Family on top of Ella Rock Sri Lankan kids on top of Ella Rock We absolutely loved our safari time in Yala National Park Spotting elephants in Yala National Park! In Yala we also caught a glimpse of a leopard and observed countless crocodiles, monkeys and buffaloes! Dinner and Sunset Tangalle beach (the most beautiful beach we’ve been to)! Monk entering a temple, Sri Lanka Burning candles at the Temple of Tooth, Kandy Stilt fishermen near Mirissa Beach life! One of our favorite beaches was Hikkaduwa. A great place for surfers and backpackers. Hikkaduwa also houses the impressive tsunami photo museum. Entrance to the museum is by donation. Rice and curry (every day)! Sri Lanka is a heaven for foodies, with beautifully spiced dishes! Surfing near Galle! As you can see these waves were perfect for a beginner like me! Thumbs up! Diving in Hikkaduwa!

Happy to answer any questions you may have about backpacking in Sri Lanka! Simply send me an email or leave a comment below :)

The post Snap shots of Sri Lanka appeared first on Bunch of Backpackers.

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You can hike. You can snowshoe. You can go mountaineering, you can kayak, you can even camp out under the stars. There are plenty of ways that you can explore the stark beauty of Antarctica – the rugged landscapes, the drifting icebergs, the determined wildlife that includes lots and lots of penguins. The question about Antarctica trips isn’t why you should go, but how do you get there?

Written by Daniel Fox. 

Choosing an Antartic cruise

Antarctica is a vast place. Different cruises hit different hotspots (so to speak) around the continent, so make sure when you sign up that you’re choosing the cruise that visits the spots you most want to see. For example, some cruises in the Antarctic region are designed to take you to the various remote islands like St. Helena (the island where Napoleon was exiled) in either the Pacific or the Atlantic as you make your way south. These islands are all fascinating places to check out, but if you want to jump right to penguin-related action then you should definitely narrow down the types of cruises in your search. Other factors you might want to watch out for is if a cruise will take you to historic spots (like Shackleton’s hut or old whaling posts), if they’re designed around wildlife (bird-watching trips or crossing known whale migration routes), or if they include the types of activities you want to participate in (camping, diving, photography courses, and so on).

Antartica cruises ©Oceanwide Expeditions Visa

No country actually owns Antarctica, so you shouldn’t need a visa to set foot on our southern-most continent. However you do need permission from your home-country if your country signed the Antarctic Treaty’s Protocol on Environment Protection. Most of the time your tour operator will handle this for you – make sure to ask!
The reason for all of this protection for the continent is that Antarctica, being one of the most pristine places left on the planet, is an important source of information for scientists regarding our impact on the planet’s environment as a whole. So it’s understandable then that governments would want to minimize direct impact as much as possible.
Also keep in mind that you will be visiting a foreign country (probably Chile or Argentina) as your embarkation point. So as part of your preparation check in to see what your own country and those embarkation countries require of you in order for you to pay them a visit. Again, if you’re working through a tour operator they should hopefully be able to get all this info for you. If not, see if your government as a travel advisory website.

Here are a few government sites to get you started:
Australia: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au
Canada: http://www.voyage.gc.ca
New Zealand: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz
UK: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en
US: http://travel.state.gov
Netherlands: https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/reisadviezen/inhoud

Off to explore! ©Oceanwide Expeditions Travel insurance

Travel insurance is always a good idea. Some cruise lines won’t let you travel if you don’t show up with travel insurance documents in hand. At the very least we’d suggest that you get yourself covered for medical expenses and emergency medical repatriation (the costs of getting you back to your home country for sustained medical care).

Under the “better safe than sorry” heading you might also consider covering yourself for loss of luggage, loss of personal effects, curtailment (if your trip gets cut short), cancellation, and personal liability.

View from the boat ©Oceanwide Expeditions The best time to travel to Antartica

Your cruise line is most likely going to visit the South Pole region somewhere between mid-November and early March (Antarctica’s summer). During the rest of the year large sections of the continent are unreachable because of the sea being covered over with ice. It’s also the best time of the year to see wildlife since for most species these months cover the mating season.

Humpback whales Antartica ©Oceanwide Expeditions Antartic temperatures

During the Antarctic summer you can expect temperatures along the coasts to hover around the freezing mark, ranging from about -2°C to +5 °C. It can be considerably colder out in the Ross Sea, with temperatures dipping down to -20°C.

Packing clothes for Antartica

There are two main things you should keep in mind when packing your suitcase – layers and waterproofing.
Most cruise lines zip you from their main ship to the shore aboard a boat called a Zodiac. Zodiacs have low sides which mean that chances are good that you will get splashed a bit. Also, you may have to jump out into shallow water to step from the Zodiac to the shore, so it’s a good idea to have high-topped rubber boots with good gripping soles (some cruise lines will provide these for you).
As for layers, you’re going to want to be doing a lot of temperature regulation depending on what kind of activity you’re involved in. Layers also add more warmth bang for your buck by trapping air between the layers. This air gets warmed by your body and acts as a sort of further insulation.

Antartic activities 

What you do once you arrive in Antarctica depends on your cruise. Some cruises will require you to pay for individual activities separately, while other cruise lines offer “basecamp cruises” that offer a wide variety of activities covered under one cost.

There’s:

• Hikes of varying difficulty and length.
• Snowshoeing.
• Mountaineering.
• Trekking (skiing across a portion of the continent pulling supplies with a sled).
• Visiting scientific stations.
• Visiting historic sites.
• Kayaking.
• Zodiac rides.
• Photography.
• Checking out the wildlife.
• Diving. (Usually for experienced divers only because of the shifting ice overhead.)
• Being checked out by curious penguins.
• Camping out.
• Seeing the Southern Lights (the Aurora Australis).
• Birdwatching.
• Whale-spotting.

Saying hello to Gentoo penguins ©Oceanwide Expeditions

For this article, Bunch of Backpackers teamed up with Oceanwide Expeditions! Can’t wait to explore Antartica one day myself!

The post The Antarctica Trip Checklist appeared first on Bunch of Backpackers.

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Most people who visit Kyrgyzstan head straight to its most famous sights such as Lake Song-Kul and Lake Issyk-Kul. However, if you go ‘off-the-beaten’ track, you will discover some of Kyrgyzstan’s lesser known sights and find that those are just as spectacular. I ended up spending most of my time in these relatively little visited places and thoroughly enjoyed it. There were often none or just a few travelers around, giving me the opportunity to fully enjoy the stunning and peaceful surroundings. It may take a few hours on bumpy roads to get to these spots, but I promise it’s absolutely worth it.

Kyrgyzstan was part of my solo Silk Road backpacking adventure. Read more about this trip here.

Kol-Tor 

It only takes a short marshrutka ride from Bishkek, a bit of hitchhiking and a good half day’s hike through a lush green valley to reach spectacular Kol-Tor. The lake’s color was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. You can stay the night at the lake and hike to some huge glaciers the next day. Although the local Trekkers Union of Kyrgyzstan organizes monthly trips, the lake is still relatively unknown. There is big chance you will have the lake and glaciers all to yourself (like we had!).

To get there: take the 09.30 bus to Kegeti from Bishkek East terminal. Follow the directions on Stephen’s website Monk Bought Lunch. Just let the other people in the bus know that you’d like to go to the gorge. Stay right from the TUK guesthouse and then remain left of the river. When the river stops, cross the river to the right and then make your way on the path again to the left. Stay in the valley on the path, cross three or four hills and you’re there! 

Hiking to the glacier from Kol-Tor. ©Bunch of Backpackers. Camping at stunning Kol-Tor lake. We had the lake to ourselves! ©Bunch of Backpackers. The crazy turquoise-whitish color of Kol-Tor lake ©Bunch of Backpackers. Sary-Chelek

Surrounded by green mountains, Sary-Chelek is quite difficult to reach, which is probably the reason why many travelers give it a miss. However, the lakes are gorgeous! You can stay in a homestay in Arkyt village and walk or hire a car to reach the main lake. Make sure to bring enough supplies as there are only two (very) basic shops in town. I hiked for a few hours to the smaller lakes, which was lots of fun! There is path starting on the right side of the house.

Enjoying the view over Sary-Chelek, Kyrgyzstan 2016 ©Bunch of Backpackers. Pretty Sary-Chelek lake, Kyrgyzstan 2016 ©Bunch of Backpackers. Hiking around Sary-Chelek lake, Kyrgyzstan 2016 ©Bunch of Backpackers. Sary-Mogol

The adventurers who enter Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan, will pass through Sary-Tash. However, nearby Sary-Mogol is much more interesting. Sary-Mogol is the gateway to reach the mountains from where you can have a glimpse of 7000+ meter Peak Lenin, one of the easiest 7000+ meter peaks in the world for mountain climbers. To get there, you could rent a car from Sary-Mogol (or a horse) and ask if they can drive you to beautiful Turpak-Kol (3500 meter) where you could set camp. From Turpak-Kol, you can do an easy day trekking to the ‘view point’.

Going camping? Check this article with general camping tips! 

On our way to see Peak Lenin, Kyrygyzstan 2016 ©Bunch of Backpackers. A horse around Turpak-Kol, Kyrgyzstan 2016 ©Bunch of Backpackers. Turpan-Kol before nightfall, Kyrygzstan 2016 ©Bunch of Backpackers. Arslanbob

Once upon a time, a local gardener received seed-nuts from Prophet Mohammed. He was given the task to find ‘paradise on earth’. The gardener planted the seeds in a beautiful green piece of land, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. This place is now called Arslanbob and holds the largest walnut grove in the world. Arslanbob is more touristy than the other places mentioned in this article. However, the big advantage is that the local CBT is experienced and well-organized. It was the combination of a cute (Uzbek) village, a huge lonely forest to wander in and a great homestay that made me stay there for five nights!

Arslanbob surroundings are full of small villages, Kyrygzstan 2016 ©Bunch of Backpackers. The famous Arslanbob waterfall, Kyrgyzstan 2016 ©Bunch of Backpackers. Praying near the Arslanbob waterfall, Kyrgyzstan 2016 ©Bunch of Backpackers. Kol-Ukok

The long green valley to Kol-Ukok is full of small turquoise lakes, wild flower fields and free roaming horses. We rode a horse all the way to the lake, accompanied by a guide and an energetic dog running up and down the hills. It takes about 4 hours to reach the lake at around 3000 meters. After a good night in your yurt/ger, I would advice to get up early the next morning and hike to the small, but incredibly pretty Kol-Tor glacial lake. Kol-Ukok is like Arslansbob, relatively more popular with backpackers than the other places mentioned in this article. Still, I only encountered a handful of people on the way.

On my horse to Kol-Ukok, Kyrgyzstan 2016 ©Bunch of Backpackers. Entering our yurts/gers at Kol-Ukok, Kyrgyzstan 2016 ©Bunch of Backpackers. Gorgeous glacier lake Kol-Tor even has a small beach, Kyrgyzstan 2016 ©Bunch of Backpackers. My favorite Kyrgyzstan homestay family, Kol-Ukok, Kyrgyzstan 2016 ©Bunch of Backpackers.

Do you have any questions about backpacking in Kyrgyzstan? Let me know!

The post Silent & Spectacular Kyrgyzstan: 5 top adventure picks appeared first on Bunch of Backpackers.

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Iran is incredibly easy on the wallet since the costs of food, accommodation and transportation are low. The only thing that is (relatively) expensive are entrance fees. Iran is an amazing country to visit and at this moment, still fairly off-the-beaten path. It has majestic mountains, endless deserts, superb mosque’s and incredibly welcoming people! All you need for a beautiful travel adventure! So, how much does it cost to travel in Iran? Find my expenses and costs of backpacking in Iran below!

This article is part of the Money Matters series in which we ask travelers to keep their expenses for Bunch of Backpackers. Real travelers, real expenses.  

COSTS 24-DAY IRAN TRIP*: 525 EURO (592 USD) DAILY TRAVEL EXPENSES IRAN: 21,90 EURO (24,70 USD)

*These daily travel expenses are per one person per day. Including all tours, domestic flights, souvenirs, lodging, food, drinks, entrance fees, tips etc. Excluding international flights and visa costs.

Newly weds in traditional clothing! Iran 2016. Photo by Bunch of Backpackers EXAMPLES OF PRICES IN IRAN:

These prices are per person unless stated otherwise.

Standard Iran expenses

One night in a hostel dormitory: 8,8 – 13,3 euro (10 – 15 USD)
A short 10-minute taxi ride: 1,3 euro (1,5 USD)
Lunch / dinner in a cafe or restaurant: 5 euro (5,6 USD)
Entrance fees: often around 5 euro (5,6 USD)
Small water: 0,13 euro (0,15 USD)
Return metro ticket Tehran: 0,28 euro (0,31 USD)

Notable Iran expenses

VIP bus Tehran – Esfahan (6 hours): 5,4 euro (6,0 USD)
6-hour tour around Yazd with private taxi: 12 euro (13,6 USD) per person
National Museum of Iran: 8,5 euro (9,5 USD)
Train Yazd – Kashan (3h): 7,4 euro (8,3 USD)

Traveling Iran was part of my Silk Road adventure! Read more about this trip here!

Costs of my hostels and guesthouses in Iran

Pars Hotel in Tabriz (single): 300.000 rial or 7,7 euro (8,7 USD)
Mehman Pazir Kenareh in Rasht (single): 450.000 rial or 11,5 euro (13 USD)
Khaksar Hotel in Qazvin (single): 600.000 rial or 15,4 euro (17,4 USD)
Koorsaran Hotel in Gazor Khan/Alamut (dorm): 300.000 rial or 7.7 euro (8.7 USD)
Khazar Sea Hotel in Tehran (single): 300.000 rial or 7.7 euro (8.7 USD)
Amir Kabir Hostel in Esfahan (single): 500.00 rial or 12,8 euro (14,4 USD)
Amir Kabir Hostel in Esfahan (dorm): 300.00 rial or 7,7 euro (8,7 USD)
Tak-Taku Guesthouse in Toudeshk (single): 800.000 rial (inc meals) or 22,7 euro (25,6 USD)
Orient Hotel in Yazd (single): 750.000 rial or 21,2 euro (24 USD)
Orient Hotel in Yazd (roof): 350.000 rial or 9,9 euro (11 USD)
Eshan Hotel in Kashan (dorm): 500.000 rial or 12,8 euro (14,4 USD)
Morvarid Hotel in Qom (single): 600.000 rial or 15,4 euro (17,4 USD)
Firouzeh Hotel in Tehran (single): 680.000 or 19,3 euro (21,7 USD)

Most have shared bathroom/toilet. In some cases, breakfast was included. I also slept a few nights for free at people’s houses or outside!

Check out the article with all my favorite IRAN hostels! 

The big toman/rial confusion!

This is important to know before going to Iran! The official currency of Iran is in rial. However, prices are usually quoted in toman. So, when a taxi driver says 7… He means 70.000 toman or 700.000 rial. It’s very easy, and I promise you’ll get the hang of it on the first day! In hostels/guesthouses, the rates are sometimes quoted in USD. Always ask the price in rial as well.

1000-year-old Kharanaq village. Iran 2016. Photo by Bunch of Backpackers Bring plenty of cash!

Unfortunately, at this moment it’s still pretty much impossible to get money in Iran. This means no bank transfer and no ATM to use. Therefore, it’s important to bring enough travel money plus some emergency money. The exchange rate in Iran is much better than the international exchange rates quoted on for example xe.com Thus, change euro’s in rials when you’re there!

If you do get into problems and you run out of money in Iran, then these are your options:

  • Borrow money from other travelers (you’ll need VPN to transfer the money though… so download a VPN app like Vypr before you go)
  • Buy a carpet and ask for extra cash money (20% commission. so hardly a solution)
  • Visit all banks. An Italian couple somehow managed to get cash with their credit card, so there may be some possibilities.
  • Try the reception desk at the Firouzeh Hotel in Tehran (more likely to help you when you’re actually staying there).

In this post I used the current exhange rate in Iran: 1 euro: 39.000 rial (june 2016)
Not included: the 700 USD that was stolen from my backpack :(

Some details on this trip

About the backpacker: Manouk, the Netherlands, 30 years
Destination and travel period: Iran in June 2016
Visited places: Tabriz, Rasht/Masuleh, Qazvin, Gazor Khan/Alamut, Tehran, Esfahan, Yazd, Toudeshk, Golshan (family stay), Kashan en Qom.
Type of trip: Solo, independently
Accommodation*: budget (mainly hostels and guesthouses)
Transportation*: budget (cheapest available mode of transportation)
Food*: superbudget (local restaurants/markets, I traveled during the Ramazan, so often bought simple food at a market or was invited to eat at a family)
Currency rate: 1 euro = 39.000 rial (unofficial currency rate)

*4 options: basic, budget, standard and luxury

Nomadic girl from the Zagros mountains in her most beautiful clothes. Iran 2016. Photo by Bunch of Backpackers Esfahan bridge. Iran 2016. Photo by Bunch of Backpackers Alamut, Iran 2016. By Bunch of Backpackers. Iran 2016. By Bunch of Backpackers.

Have you been to Iran? Can you relate to these travel costs?

The post Money Matters: Costs of backpacking in Iran appeared first on Bunch of Backpackers.

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