Tomáš Kohout's blog

Life, unicorns and everything else

Author: Tomáš Kohout (page 1 of 2)

Who stole my unicorn?

Some of you might know that I have a website Who stole my unicorn? I am trying to learn how to say Who stole my unicorn in as much languages as possible. If your question is Why? You can check the appropriately named “WHY?” section on the website.

I recently went to the trip around Southeast Asia and learned many new languages. I just added them to the website, some of the languages are: Portugese, Irish, Estonian, Norwegian, Lithuanian, Icelandic, Korean, Danish, Italian, Greek, Malaysian and Chinese (Simplified).

The website proved to be very useful when travelling. The Wi-Fi is scarce in Southeast Asia and do not always work. When I meet some people and want to stay in contact, I can just point them to the website where they can find my profile information.

After the trip, I checked the Google analytics for the time when I was on the trip. I found out there was about 60 visits to the website. That doesn’t sound like much, but if you think of it as every unique visitor is a single person I met on the trip it is kind of amazing. I can even track the visits by country or city. It shows how I moved around the Asia during the time and also sometimes which nationalities I met. Some people looked up the website only after they got back home.

 

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Koh Ta Kiev

It’s sometimes funny how different are your expectations before the trip. Back in Taipei, I was planning to go to Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia to witness  the full moon party on Koh Rong island. The full moon party – as the name suggest – occurs when the Moon is in the full lunar phase. The party originated in Thailand and is now blown up to ridiculous proportions (about 10 000 – 30 000 people on Koh Phangan). Koh Rong should still be less touristic and resemble the full moon party in its beginnings few decades ago. Later I discovered the party is going to be in 14 days and I won’t be able to make it. I was ready to skip the place completely. But I was convinced by a friend that Sihanoukville is still a great place to visit.

Good old beerpong

When we arrived at Sihanoukville it was a typical party place for foreigners. The bars offered Happy pizza with special weed ingredients. And if they didn’t have it on the menu, you could just ask them to make the normal pizza more “happy”. There was even a bar selling rolled up joints. In the evening the bars on the beach get loud with all different types of music. There was even a bar where you could play the beer pong.

Very happy Hannah

Back then I was travelling with my friend Hannah from Taiwan, group of Icelanders and Swedish girl we met in Siem Reap. We decided to take a trip to “some small island near Sihanoukville”. The actual name is Koh Ta Kiev. I didn’t know anything about it but I expected we will spend one night there, enjoy the beach and head back on road to see northern Cambodia. Little did I know that the island had completely different plans with us.

We took a “party” boat there. Actually there was not much of a party, just a few beers and some snorkelling on the way to the island. The beach looked beautiful and we got couple of hours to stay there. This is what most of people get from the island. They spend few hours on the beach and head back to Sihanoukville. But we discovered there is much to the island than just a beach.

The party boat

The party boat

Hidden in the jungle – there is the absinth distillery. Its owner Johann build the high tech distillery in the middle of nowhere. Now it has two floors with chill-out area for visitors. I am not even trying to pretend that I understand the process of distilling the main ingredient – thujone (or wormwood). Johann once made  95% pure thujone extract. That’s quite impressive in the middle of the jungle. Even Walter White had better conditions.

Absinth distillery thingy

Absinth distillery thingy

The absinth is quite different than the Czech one. Czech absinth is mostly high volume alcohol with some thujone. According to bartenders Czech absinth is shit. And if you try the Syn Absinthe you will know the difference. They usually serve it with cold water and sugar to balance the bitterness. It’s very relaxing drink, almost different kind of alcohol. I have to disappoint you though, the hallucination effects are mostly myth. They said you might get some if you drink it maybe few weeks straight.

Magic in the bottle

Magic in the bottle

The guys who work here are volunteers – they work for free accommodation and absinth. Some of them are there for 2 months already. The whole construction is made from bamboo and you can feel it’s not the most stable thing in the world. I was there once with 20 other people and the distillery tilted as people walked around.  “Aren’t you afraid it will fall on your head one day?”, I asked. “Well yeah, sometimes I think about it … ” one bartender told me while sipping his absinth.

The best place on the island though is Crusoe island. The place is a bit distant from the harbour, maybe 10 minutes walking. That’s why a lot of people miss it. Crusoe island is run by Cambodian owner and is operated by volunteers from around the world. Same as distillery they work there for free accommodation, meals and drinks. I noticed that there is a shadow economy on the island. There are also few other places on other side of the island with volunteers. In Last Point they get free pizza, which can be exchanged for cheap beer on Crusoe island, free soft drinks, some food or absinth from the distillery and the other way around.

Sunsets never start to be boring at this place

As a regular customer everything you drink or eat on Crusoe island is added on tap which is very convenient but also quite dangerous. One time I went to check my tap to find it was 13$ after night drinking. My friend also checked hers and it was 65$ for the same night.

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The bar. Volunteers usually change the sides on daily basis

The accommodation is either in bungalows, tents or hammocks. I slept in the hammock for three days and it was the best sleep I got in weeks. There is number of activities you can do, including jumping from cliff, walking to naked beach (just a name, no naked people :P) or to the fishing village. But the atmosphere is so relaxed that I had no need to leave. The omnipresent weed might be also one of the factors.

My badly hung hammock, still amazing though

My badly hung hammock, still amazing though

There is no wifi, no ATM and no worries on this island. There are only few boats coming to and from island every day. You’re stranded on an island but with awesome people. It’s kind of summer camp but for adults and without supervisors. I met some unique characters in Koh Ta Kiev. I can’t name everybody but there are few examples:
There was one Finnish guy who wanted to take a boat back to shore to get more money from ATM. There was no other boat coming back the same day, so everybody expected him to stay one night on the mainland. But instead he rented a jet ski and arrived in the afternoon. He paid more money but he didn’t want to spend night out of the island. The journey that takes 1,5 hours by boat he made in 15 minutes.
There was also a guy from Canada who was trying to take a morning boat at 8:30 AM to shore to also get money and go back. He didn’t have any alarm clock so every day he woke up and sprinted to the Crusoe island. “Did I make the boat?” he asked every day. “No, it’s already 11″, they responded. When I met him, it was his third failed attempt.
In the distillery, I talked to the bartenders about the Absinth, I started to talk about Czech absinth and discovered they are from Slovakia. Alan and his girlfriend Lenka worked there for 2 months already and didn’t have plan to leave soon.

 

No ATM, no wifi, no worries

No wifi, messages, worries or ATM

In the night everybody gathers around bar, drink beers, play guitar or go try to find fluorescent plankton. The plankton appears all around island and lights up when disturbed. One night was the moon covered with clouds and I found big group of plankton. I swam in it for an hour and with every stroke the water just lid up all around me. It felt like in Avatar movie when they running through the jungle in the night.

The island felt like combination of The Beach and Lost. The Beach is one of my favorite movies and even though Crusoe Island is still far fetched from Phi Phi Leh where The Beach was filmed it certainly felt like it. I made a video and recommend you to watch it, it is no accident I used voice-over from the movie (thanks Leo).

And why Lost? The island doesn’t let you leave. It took me 3 days to do that. There are few options how to leave the island. Either morning boat at 8:30 or afternoon boat at 2 pm. But everyday I went to say goodbye to all the people and lost track of time and miss the boat. In the end it was simple procrastination. Either I will take my luggage and walk to the harbour to hassle with boat captains about the price or I will just stay one more day. No wonder some people stay for weeks or months. My friend Hannah and two more friends decided to stay and work at Crusoe Island. That made the departure even harder. I wasn’t travelling “for indefinite time” and had to be back in Taipei in a month. I still wanted to see Laos and Thailand in the meantime.

Sign on the top of the bar. Didn’t understand when I arrived

I am sad to have to end this article on a bad note. As a lot of islands around it is rented by foreign companies. One of them is Chinese and they decided to build a casino on the other side of the island. Here is an excerpt from the blog of Crusoe island.

Two years ago while we were putting the finishing touches on Crusoe, we witnessed a Cambodian naval landing craft unloading a handful of excavators, bobcats and other equipment onto our beautiful, then untouched beach.  The destruction that followed was heartbreaking. The original dense jungle paths were obliterated into bare, wide roads to make way for the Chinese development.  Every day we would wake the the “beep, beep, beep” of an excavator in reverse, then listen to trees being felled and general mayhem for the rest of the day.

The development now stopped, but who knows how long it will take them to start again. I recommend you to visit this paradise while its still there.

Southeast Asia – Introduction

Hello everyone!
As some of you might know I spent last month and a week travelling the Southeast Asia. I was in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. I used aeroplanes, trains, buses, boats, motorbikes, bicycles and my own feet as transportation and slept in 28 different places  (hostels, guesthouses, couches of fellow couchsurfers and hammocks). I rode a motorbike on one of the best roads I’ve ever been to and got lost in a cave. I made a lot of new friends and got to know the old ones better. It was the best trip I’ve ever been on and I am glad I got the chance to do it.

Driving bike in Laos

Driving bike in Laos

Some things surprised me about Southeast Asia. I had really different notion about it. I expected  to be less touristic and generally exotic place to be. I expected to be talking mostly to locals and occasionally run into foreigners. But it was high season and most of places I visited was full of foreigners. And it was not a bad thing. Most of people I met there were backpackers. openminded and friendly. After all if you decide to take your backpack and travel around Asia for next 3-4 months you have similar mindset as me. Yes, as I realised later,the length of my trip – one month and a week was actually really short. Most of people travel for “indefinite time” or “until money run out”. I met a guy who wants to travel the world in 1 year – including Asia, South America and Europe.

Yes, there is actually a street called Pub street in Siem Reap

Have you ever been in a bar where  it’s really easy to start conversation to the table next to you? Well, that’s how it felt throughout my whole trip. I am not really extroverted person but I hadn’t had problems with making friends any place I went. That’s why I think it is important to travel at least sometime alone or in a small group of friends. Otherwise you will miss on all of this. And you can meet some amazing characters. As you can imagine, people who are travelling for a few months have some amazing stories to tell. Funny thing is that as you travel you run into random people you already met before. In Thailand I randomly met on street Americans I have drank with 2 weeks ago in Laos – 800 kms away. I also met one Scottish guy three times in different places in Laos and Thailand. I guess it indeed is a small world.

During the day I was trying to travel off the beaten track as much as I could. It is more difficult to dodge the crowds of tourist and it let me many times to some funny (and a bit dangerous) situations. But in the end I have a story I will remember for the rest of the life. There is another upside to this. If you stay out of the tourist tracks, you get to meet more locals. Cambodians and Lao people are the most welcoming and friendly nationalities I have ever met. They are always in a good mood even though they are covering 12 hour shifts in hotels. Of course, there are exceptions. In tourist infested places like Vang Vieng or Don Dhet the atmosphere changes. Some of the tourist can behave very insensitively and locals hate the guts out of them. I entered Laos in Don Dhet and if I would have to make opinion just based on this place it would be very different.

   

The nature in Southeast Asia is ruled by Mekong, the biggest river I have seen in my life. I was already in Vietnam in Mekong delta and it was beautiful. Now I was tracking the river upstream through Cambodia and Laos. The river goes through mountains and valleys. It creates beautiful views and even more beautiful waterfalls. 

There is much more I wanna write about my trip and I will continue in other articles. It’s sad I can’t cover everything. I even started a travel book during my travels (Guys have travel books and girls have diaries, ok?). I will do my best to put together some of the best stuff. Stay tuned for next article!

 

Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh and Mekong Delta

On 26th we had to go back to Ho Chi Minh city and say good bye to Phu Quoc. It was great experience but it’s time to move on. I have relatively lot of experience with Couchsurfing but I have never stayed on anyone’s couch yet. So I sent a few requests and got a positive response. We met Khang in a house in District 10, but there was a problem.  Because he was partying too much, his landlord told him he won’t open door for him when come after 11 pm and before 5 am. He was faced with the ultimate decision every night – do I party on until 5 am or go home? Well I decided to party on, and around 3 am I was ready to go sleep. The party area in District 1 is very close to the backpackers area so I figured it won’t be problem to find a hostel. After waking up 10th hostel receptionist just to receive answer “Fully booked” I realised I might have made a mistake. Finally, I found a place at Pizza Rex which had 24 hour dormitory check-in. I end up drinking with the owners for the next hour. Quite a local experience.

Guys from Pizza Rex

Guys from Pizza Rex

Now on the other note. Everyone in Vietnam will try to cheat you. Even their money are designed for that purpose. Look at the 10 000 (0,5 $) and 100 000 (5$) note. I wonder if there was some meeting for boosting their economy and this was their solution. It’s so easy to make a mistake with the too many zeros on the notes.

Vietnamese way of stimulating economy

Vietnamese way of stimulating economy

The money scams happen all the time. I heard so many stories of this kind. For example girls took a cyclo (bicycle with a passenger seat) and agreed on the price. When they arrived the price was 10 times higher and the driver was getting aggressive. In a way, Ho Chi Minh is like Prague but worse. There are fake taxi companies which are disguising as the trustworthy ones (Vinasun and Mailinh). Of course they will try to rip you off.

One girl was robbed on the broad daylight when motorcyclist took her purse and rode away. Another night Michael was trying to get to the hostel but the scooterist took him way off the route. He wanted him to stop and  but he didn’t listen and when breaking with the flip flops didn’t work he jumped off the moving motorcycle. After that prostitute approached him and touched him in quite aggressive manner and in unguided moment took his phone (the same thing happen also to me, but she didn’t take anything). We were actually discussing if it is case of robbing or pick pocketing. I would like to coin the term “dick pocketing”. Let’s see if it catches on.

Don’t take it the wrong way, Vietnam is still a great country, the people are usually also great and always smiling. There is just something in their mentality that tells them it is normal to cheat on foreigners because in their mind they have so much more money then vietnamese. You just have take care of your things and be careful with money.

One more thing I have to talk about is the traffic. The vietnamese seem to be born with scooter between their legs. They manoeuvre their scooters in the traffic like it is nothing. Now, imagine traffic in your city in a rush hour. Now double it. That’s the normal traffic in Saigon. Then imagine you need to cross the street, but there is no crossing, no traffic lights, nothing. The way you cross it is that you just step in, let the traffic flow around you like you are a stone in a river. It’s terrifying at first but you will get used to it eventually. The biggest problem for me was that I had to put the trust in the driver, there is no other way. You just walk slowly straight, not doing any sudden movements, let the drivers figure it out.

 

At this point we split with Michael who went to Indonesia and I went to Can Tho, the capital of Mekong delta. It’s about 3-4 hour drive from Ho Chi Minh city. Now, as it goes with the long distance buses they usually stop so you can go to a toilet and have something to eat. We stopped at huge bus stop with other 20+ buses. When I came back from WC I realised the bus is gone. They probably took it in the back to refuel, or to make space for other buses to arrive. It was apparent they will come back with it after some time. The main problem was they all looked the same and I didn’t remember the bus number (which is something I supposed to do). My backpack and passport was in there so it wasn’t really pleasant situation. I finally found the right bus, but only on expense of near heart attack.

Stupid red buses!

Stupid red buses!

When I finally got to the Can Tho it was already night. The biggest surprise was the hotel. I haven’t find any hostels so I booked normal hotel room just for $7. The room has its own bathroom and the hostel servant actually took my dirty old backpack inside the hotel from a taxi like it was some luxurious luggage or something.

The next day I rented a motorcycle and went for a ride to Vinh Long, smaller town in Mekong delta. From there you can take a ferry to one of the islands dotting the river. As usually I was the only foreigner here so I got a lot of attention, but the ferry ride was very nice. I was riding on the island for an hour or so when I realised I won’t make it back in a daylight. And that was a problem because on the way back to Can Tho there was a big ass highway. I enjoyed the sunset on the ferry back, but the night ride was inevitable.

Awesome sunset on Cổ Chiên River

Awesome sunset on Cổ Chiên River

The other thing is the taiwanese helmet doesn’t really have protective glass in front. That was ok because I usually used my sunglasses to cover my eyes. Not so useful in the night though. So there I was, riding on the motorcycle through night full of trucks and other scooterists. I could see only little which was further reduced by the insects flying into my eyes. It was still manageable because the highway was almost fully lighted, but there were few kilometres long strip without any lights at all. At that point I was just honking every five seconds whether there is something behind the reach of my dim head lights. You can’t drive really slow either because than you can be overtaken by scooterist behind you. And that’s something you don’t wanna do. Some of them gets even more creative and overtake you from the wrong side, probably just for the fun of it. In conclusion, night driving in Vietnam – don’t try it.

Next day, I went to check out the main tourist attraction in Can Tho – the floating market. Basically people wake up around 5 am and take a boat to the market in the middle of the river near Can Tho. They sell mainly fruit like water melons, pineapples or bananas. The trick is in getting to the market before the main tourist flow. That means wake up around 5 am, head to the city port and find a boat that takes you to the market. I managed to arrive early and for my satisfaction there were no tourists except few vietnamese tourists from the north. The market looks impressive, though I have to question it’s practicality. If you limit your customers only to the ones with the boats, doesn’t it cut down you earnings significantly?

You put the sample of what you sell on the top of the pole so everybody can see it. I wonder if you could make a drug market like this.

You put the sample of what you sell on the top of the pole so everybody can see it. I wonder if you could make a drug market like this.

Brace yourself. The tourists are comming

Brace yourself. The tourists are coming

So that was the Mekong delta. Nice change of pace from the constant 8 days hangover. Well that days is over because I head back to Saigon for the New Years Eve. I went back to my favorite hostel – Saigon backpackers hostel. If you are in the city definitely stay there, they have nice staff and friendly atmosphere. I spent the first night driving around on scooter with another couchsurfer who showed me the city. It was great introduction to the real Saigon, not the one where people get robbed and scammed. The one where you can actually live in. I think it has to be same for Prague tourists. Prague is an awesome city but now I see how it might sometimes seem to them.

Anyway, next day is finally the 31st. I met some other backpackers in the hostel, took some beers and head to the park to celebrate and see the fireworks. The traffic was in a complete jam and we were following the crowds towards the park. I felt like we were in the Jurassic park movie because we were constantly loosing people in the back of the group. When we arrived at the place we were about half in numbers.

Never mind, we finally got there. There was a stage in prepared for the NYE after party. So we climbed up there to have a better view. There was whole lot of vietnamese who followed us, so the security guys gave up after a while and let us enjoy the New Years firework.

When I say the traffic was in complete jam I mean that even scooters could not get through. Even for us was very hard to get through as people started to party in the middle of the street. We finally climbed the crowd and got to the second floor of one bar to watch the crowds flow and party through the street.

That was Vietnam for me, awesome country, amazing locals and awesome travellers I met on the road. It has its flaws, but I am definitely going to explore more in April. Let’s end with the theme song of this trip (or as Michael call it “The theme of my life”):

 

Vietnam – Phu Quoc

Hello again, I am back from Vietnam and that means only one thing: New blog post! Well, I expected applause or something but I guess I can’t have everything.

I’ve spent 15 days in South Vietnam over Christmas na New Years Eve. Why Vietnam? Well, to be honest, I just wanted to get out of cold Taiwan to get more sun and Vietnam was the cheapest option (just 100 euro for return ticket).

Me and my dorm mate Michael arrived to Ho Chi Minh city and  head out  to Phu Quoc island near Cambodian border. The plan was to enjoy beaches, have some party and celebrate Christmas here. And I have to say – we wouldn’t  find better place to do so. The island is quite big but the main area is concentrated in Duong Dong city. It’s quite easy to meet new people, just head to a first of many bars near the beach. That’s where we met the Swedish people. And that’s when things started to be a little bit crazy.

Now, we met a lot of people on the island, heard a lot of stories and most of what happened on the island stayed on the island. But this is too hilarious to be forgotten. For the sake of anonymity, I won’t be stating real names (After all, there might be some law implications :D).  The Swedish guys consist of couple Jörgen and Cecilia and Cecilia’s step sister Inga.  The second night we went with the Swedish guys to the Rory’s. Rory’s bar is the party centre of the island. If you meet someone during the day, you will probably find them in the evening hanging out in the bar.

The night went down nice, I’ve met some people, had a few beers, played some pool. Only after I left the party, things went bad pretty quickly. Jörgen had a fight with some Russians (probably) and after that Vietnamese who tried to stop them (as later commented “These asians know their karate shit”). Finally he and his girlfriend were thrown out and went home.  It was Jörgen’s birthday that day. The hotel staff was so nice that they made a birthday cake for him. They had no idea what a huge mistake it was. After dragging her boyfriend to the hotel room Cecilia was so angry with him, she took the cake and smashed it into his face. I always thought that this kind of stuff only happens in cartoons. What they don’t show in the cartoons is the aftermath. The cake was everywhere in the room and Jörgen couldn’t hear on one ear for the next few days. He actually had to go to doctor to take out peace of strawbery out of it. Next time, use the vanilla cake. You would probably think this is the end of the story. Well not quite yet.

For illustration purposes. Friendly advice – don’t use chocolate cake in a cake fight

After the incident, Cecilia left the room looking for some other place to stay. After all, the room was full of cake and one angry boyfriend. But when she couldn’t find any place she went back. The doors were already locked and Jörgen was in a deep sleep. He didn’t react to banging on the door, but the neighbour did. A big Russian guy just in his boxer shorts came out of his room and without saying anything kicked in the door. The lock flew to the other side of the room and Russian guy went back to his bed. So much for the Russian stereotype. The Russian probably looked like this (haven’t arrived on cookie though).

So that was our second day on the island. The rest of days went in a similar fashion. I still managed to travel most of the island on motorcycle, but rest of people just relaxed on the beach, preparing for the next party. Even though the island is not really big, there are still places to see. I went to the north of the island on the four lane highway occupied by nobody but cows. I went to explore the waterfalls and springs on the island and tasted the rice wine with locals. Actually I tasted the rice wine twice, once on the way up to the spring and then on the way down. So I was driving back home a little bit tipsy.

Rice wine with locals

Rice wine with locals

On Christmas day (24th) me and Michael booked a ticket for a boat ride to the southern islands with booze and food included. As always, Michael couldn’t make it because the tour started too early, at 10 am. But it was a lot of fun anyways. The important thing is to book the tour at the right place. I booked it at the hostel where all the backpackers stayed. So the boat was full of young people and it was much more fun. First, we stopped on the abandoned tropical island, made Christmas tree and a snowman out of coconut (named Wilson). On the boat there were mostly people from Europe: Germany, Netherlands, Ukraine, Italy and Ireland. It kind of reminded me the family meeting on Christmas, because there is always this family fuck up who ruins the Christmas for everyone. And if Europe would be the family, Ireland would be most definitely the fuck up. They got so drunk that one of them wanted to go “to the woods” but choose route directly through floor on which were people eating their fish and stepped on it.  In the end we had to drag him back on the boat and also keep him from molesting the tour guide.

 

On 26th we unfortunately had to say good buy to Phu Quoc and go back to Ho Chi Minh city. It was great experience but it’s time to move on. I cover the rest of the trip in the next article, so stay tuned!

One last story in the end:

Remember Cecilia and Jörgen? We met them again in a bar Ho Chi Minh city. While we went for a beer outside they stayed in for some pool game with Chinese. After 20 minutes we see them half walking, half running from the bar.  “We had some dispute over the pool game with the Chinese and Cecilia threw handful of pool chalk in their faces. So we are kind of in hurry. See ya! “

Philippines Part II – Malapascua and Carmen

So, my Philippine adventure begins. I got very cheap tickets to Manila (about $110 return ticket). I have to admit that the price was my main motivation to visit Philippines. I didn’t know much about it neither make any research to speak of. The plan for the trip was a bit rough around the edges to say at least. The details were left to our future selfs to worry about.  Anyway, the first  destination was decided – we fly  south to Cebu city and head to the island named Malapascua.

One thing that surprised me was how accessible is the mobile Internet in there. The week of unlimited(!) Internet costs about 12$. And the coverage is quite good (at least on bigger islands). It’s quite surreal to check your Facebook while riding through village full of sheds with tin roofs. You can also go to Internet caffe which usually is full of young Filipino’s playing online games.

 

Malapascua is a small island north of Cebu. We first had to go to Maya in the north of the Cebu island and then sail for 30 minutes on a catamaran. Just a little note – when you are on a bus station and some Filipinos are shouting at you to get in their van because they can get you faster to Maya – just don’t. Unlike normal bus the van should take about half the time to get there (it didn’t) because it doesn’t stop all the time (it did) and it leaves right now (it didn’t). Instead we waited next half hour to fill up the van with other people and then we stopped not at every bus station but by every pedestrian to ask whether they don’t want to go to Maya. And you wouldn’t believe how much people you can fit in a small van.

But when we got there it was all worth it. Malapascua really look like a paradise. White beaches, tall palm trees, almost no tourists whatsoever – it got it all. Right on arrival we’ve been taken care of by local tourist guides, who showed us where to buy rum, where to dive and where to sleep. It felt like a whole village was waiting for us. There were few other foreigners, but otherwise most of the  restaurants and businesses were empty. We spent just one night there but it was nice introduction into the Philippines.

Terrible weather

There is also insane amount of children in Philippines. Because of the catholic no anti-conception beliefs of the Filipinos, average amount of kids in family is around 10. If you heard about middle child syndrome imagine you are the 5th out of 10 kids in family. Anyway, these kids are everywhere. Some of them trying to sell you their overpriced homemade souvenirs. When 5 year kid ask you “Sir, would you like to buy one of the bracelets?” it’s hard to say no. When I said I will buy something later they camped in front of the hotel shouting “Later? Later?” when I went out.

Emotional piranhas

Btw, if you happen to be there, don’t forget to go to the bar called Maldito. It’s one of the coolest bars I have seen in the while. Apart from the fact that the triple shot of rum is cheaper than the single shot, it has really awesome atmosphere. It was in the bar where I realized that instead of staying last summer in Prague and working from home office for US employer I could be working from Malapascua. Probably even saving money by drinking triple shots. Damn you past Tomas …

 

Obvious place to hang laundry

Obvious place to hang your laundry

It’s time to leave and head for our next destination – island Bohol. After a short stop back south in Cebu city, we took a ferry (called Starcraft) to the city called Tubigon. Because it reads the same way as “To be gone” (and never come back), there was always possibility it is badly disguised trap for kidnapping tourists. We decided to take the risk anyway. From Tubigon it’s just an hour to Carmen. Carmen is known for an area called Chocolate hills. It’s formation of many hills created by vulcanic activity. Personally I don’t get the analogy with chocolate. If something, I would name them after certain part of women body.

Chocolate hills

Chocolate hills

After we went up and down the chocolate hills, it was already dark. And because it was Saturday evening it meant only one thing – the cock fight. Every weekend there were cock fights all around  Philippines. Even though it might seem cruel, for Filipinos it’s part of their culture and also more creative way how to prepare dinner. You can’t miss the arena. The load shouting of Filipino men trying to bet on a cock can be heard from a distance. Obviously, as the only white people in the arena we attracted a lot of attention. We wouldn’t have any idea how to bet or what are the rates without our trusted guide Kim. The system is really crazy, you shout your bet on a cock and then put your money in a small ball and throw it on the other side of arena. When you win, they will throw the money back with the extra amount. Even though, it can be cruel sport, I am glad I have been part of it. It’s one of my few truly local experiences in Philippines.

Angry birds in real life

That will be all for now. When I force myself to write another article (sometimes between tomorrow and the end of this decade) I will tell you about sailing the river in Loboc, the crazy Alona beach, the swiming with the whale sharks and many more.

Philippines Part I – Introduction

I am back from my first out of Taiwan trip and you are naturally anxious to hear about it. Yes, I understand, but there so much that happened there, so I decided to divide the article in parts. This is just introduction for a longer series of Tomas’ Philippine Adventures ™.

The Philippines is a bit over 1000 km south from Taipei, flight takes just about 2 hours. It has 7,107 islands. I have visited exactly 4 of them, so I think I can say I am on good way to explore  most of the Philippines.

 

I arrived a bit off season, but the weather was still very warm and humid. Even though the forecast promised storms, rain and cloudy weather, it was sunny all the time. If you can, try to arrive off high season. The high season starts in December because  Europeans are cold and continues until June. So the end of October was really the best time to go there (not that I made research in advance or anything …). There is almost no tourists in the resorts and the few that are there are usually young people eager to meet new people (and get drunk).

Anybody in there? Image: Dominik Petr

Anybody in there? Image: Dominik Petr

Speaking of drinking, the Philippines is really a paradise. A bottle of rum costs around 80 ₱ ($1,75 !!). And I am speaking about full litre bottle of good quality rum. In a pub you can get rum and coke for 50 ₱ ($1) and the price actually can go down when you order double or triple shot of rum because the coke is more expensive than rum. Nice way of saving money if you ask me. The beer is sold mostly in bottles – speciality is a litre bottle of Red Horse. Extra strong beer (7.5 %) for about 80 ₱ ($1,5). My friend later changed it’s name to Dark Horse because everything goes dark after few bottles. You can imagine things got a little bit crazy in the first days (week).

Seems like I have no other option than triple shot

Seems like I have no other option than triple shot

 

For this price it would be sin not to get drunk

For this price it would be sin not to get drunk

The cost of living is also very low, the accommodation ranges from 300₱ – 500₱ ( $6,5 – $11) per night. For example this is what you can get for just 300 ₱.

Germaroze Guesthouse. Image: Dominik Petr

Germaroze Guesthouse. Image: Dominik Petr

The Filipino people are one of the most friendly and welcoming people I have ever met. English is very common there, every sign on the street is in English. And I don’t mean everything is translated. The english is the only language you will see written there. That’s mostly welcomed change after taiwan’s Chinese signs. The elementary school is taught in English in Philippines, so the level of English is really high and most of people speak the language really well. And I love their sense of humour, they can be really funny, sarcastic and they love to laugh. Also a thing I am missing in Taiwan.

 

Fuck it. Who needs wheels, anyway? Image: Dominik Petr

Fuck it. Who needs wheels anyway? Image: Dominik Petr

 

The thing I had to get used to was the weird reversed racism. When you are white, you are something special. Different groups of people are trying to offer taxi rides, trips to touristic destinations, rental bikes etc … On the street, everybody is saying Hello to you including little children.  Everybody calls you Sir or Ma’am and if I asked them to call me just Tomas they started to call me Sir Tomas. And I know, this is common in all Asia, but in big cities like Taipei it’s not that obvious.

I have never been in a country that is a whole lot cheaper than Czech Republic. Although people are always bitchin’  about it, compared to the most of Europe our country is still very cheap. So when I am travelling I am always aiming for the cheapest. But Philippines was quite unknown situation for me.  This allows you to take shortcuts. You can either take a bus and wait half an hour for it or you can take faster taxi which is still relatively cheap. You either explore the island on your own, risking you get lost and you don’t get to see everything or you hire a guide who will drive you around. I think you should always aim for the cheapest, not only you will save money but you will also receive more sincere treatment. When you act like a tourist, you will get treated like a tourist and people will try to get advantage of you. I have to admit, I took more shortcuts than I would want to. Let it be lesson for the next time.

Well, that would be enough for today, stay tuned for the next article about my first days in Philippines.

Chinese menu cheat sheet

IMG_2427

As I already wrote before, ordering stuff in restaurant can be quite tricky. They have neat system of paper lists where you can check food you want. The upside of the lists is that you actually don’t have to speak Chinese. The downside of this is you have to know how to read Chinese.

They are some translation apps that can actually read the letters (like Waygo ) but are a bit expensive. And you don’t wanna OCR the menu everytime you go to the restaurant.

So I made a little cheat sheet with translations of some common ingredients. The point is to know roughly what will land on your plate, but still leave a room for a little surprise. So for example – you know you order chicken with rice, but the surprise is that you have to kill it yourself.

 

Here is the list, you don’t have to thank me. I also added sign descriptions so you can memorize them better.

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 9.57.44 PM

Starbucks in heaven AKA how to get to Taipei 101 for free (almost)

Some of you might heard the legend of the secret entrance into the Taipei 101. The story seems almost unbelievable, it goes like this:

You shall have 101 office building upon you and mall on your right. You shall walk through thy doors and continue to 35F. There shall be plenty of coffee, water and pastry. And you will know the name of the place is Starbucks. And it will be good (and free).

Well since I am in Taipei and I don’t really have much to do, I assumed I might as well investigate. There is obviously the official way on top of the Taipei 101, but the cost is quite high – 500 NTD (about  18 cans of Taiwan beer). But there is, indeed, a better way. There is a starbucks on 35th floor. It is not 89th floor where the observatory is, but it is still pretty high. And it is for free (almost).

So how do you get there? Until recently, there was a way how to get there, described here or here. You would just go to the one of the visitor machines on the bottom floor and get special card to get you to the 35F. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work anymore. This secret was probably not so secret anymore, and starbucks had to do something about it. But don’t worry, there is still a way how to get there. You will just need a phone, patience and horse tranquilizer to knock out the building security … I am of course joking. Any kind of chloroform will do.

You need to follow these simple steps:

  1. Make a reservation on number 81010701. If you don’t have Taiwanese number, you call it with the taiwan international calling code  +88681010701. The reservation has to be made one day in advance. The starbucks guys speaks quite a good English so don’t worry.
  2. Get to the entrance to the Taipei office building. That means go to the base of the  tower not to the mall building which is enclosing it like an ugly parasite.
  3. There should be  employee standing in the typical green apron close to the gates.
  4. The employee will take you to the 35th floor. Enjoy the view!

There is a little catch to it, the Starbucks will require you to buy one drink and one piece of pastry on the entrance. But the price can go as little as 120 NT (about 5 cans of Taiwan beer), so still a bargain.

 

Cloudy but still success!

It’s cloudy but still – success!

 

 

 

 

Hello Taipei!

It has been a few weeks since I landed at Taoyuan airport and I finally decided to sum up my first impression of Taipei.  Although I have never been in Asia I thought I was prepared for the culture shock after arrival. I met a lot of Taiwanese people before I also hosted many Asians on Couchsurfing. But the truth is, nothing can prepare you for the transition.

The first thing that you notice is the smothering omnipresent heat. Because of the humidity it gets really hot during the summer. There is, of course, air conditioning everywhere. Taiwanese favorite thing to do is to go to overcooled shopping centers (sometimes 15 °C!). How they don’t get cold every other day is beyond my comprehension. On the other hand for the few winter months the outer temperature can go down to 16 °C but there is no heating at dorms.

Chicken leg

Looks delicious

There is an old Chinese proverb “The chinese eat everything with four legs except tables and everything with two wings except airplanes”.  I think the same goes for the Taiwanese people. There is some amazing food you can find at night markets.  There are great selection of noodle soups, dumplings, rice cakes, sausages, fruits and many, many more. But there also some stuff for people with stronger stomach.  They say it’s best to follow the strongest smell of unwashed socks to get the best stinky tofu. The chicken leg is apparently also consumable thing in here.

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe

But the night markets are only part of the Taiwanese food culture, you can’t walk 10 meters not passing one of the restaurants. The main problem is how to order stuff. Many of the waitresses doesn’t speak English so you are forced to  point at things and hope to get lucky. Or you can always learn chinese. The only thing I can say in chinese is unicorn and fried rice. Though I haven’t find it on the menu yet.

Dinner

How to eat fish with chopsticks

There is also a cafeteria at our dorm. It’s basically a big buffet where you are trying to guess what each of the ingredients is. Of course, everybody eats with chopsticks. You can surely use your own cutlery, but nobody wanna look like a dork. Though I have quite practice with chopsticks, eating fish or noodle soup is true challenge.

What I love about Taiwan is the people. They are always helpful, nice, sometimes shy to speak in English, but in the end  you will get where you want to. They don’t drink alcohol that much in here, I envy them ability to get drunk after one bottle of beer. I was a bit surprised by the restrictions at the place I am staying. There are some ridiculous rules about the dorm. Besides of forbidding usual stuff like cookers, heaters and Mahjong( yep, you can’t play Mahjong at the dorm) you also can’t drink wine (but nothing about beer) or bring visit to your room which is not your relative. I also heard that if you are a guy and you wanna visit girls dorm you have to wear orange safety vest. And when you are late in the evening more than 10 times school is going to call your parents. I would love to hear that conversation. The big event of the day is around 10pm, the crowds gather in the dorm entrance and wait for the the waste collector to come in. Outside trash bins aren’t really a thing here, you have to wait for the trash car yourself. There is also a rule that you shouldn’t flush toilet paper in the toilet, because it might  clog the toilet. Where to throw the paper is left to your imagination. There is no wonder people are so eager to throw away their trash bins at the end of the day.

Although Taiwanese are quite crazy drivers, riding their scooters with a death in their eyes, always trying to run you over when you are crossing street on the green light, the government is obsessed with health and safety in every other aspects. On MRT (Taipei subway) you can find many helpful signs. Besides obligatory Mind the gap, there is also signs about no Sexual harassment (shit … I just wanted to harass someone), not wearing flip flops on escalators, not chewing gum at the stations and many more.

Great, I though the handles are just decoration

Great, I though the handles are just decoration

Apple haters

Apple haters

I don’t want it to look like I am hating on Taiwan, yes – some things really drive me crazy here, but otherwise I absolutely love it here, and I wouldn’t change my destination to any other country. There are many other things I wanna talk about and I will continue in other articles. Lets end the article with picture of another fluffy resident of the Taiwan.

 

Nice dreams, everybody

Nice dreams, everybody

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