(Vegan recommendations for these parts of the world can be found at the bottom.)
The shit hit the fan (might be explored at some later point), and I decided to run – for all that I had left to run with. I quit my job, handed in my one-room flat and gave away most of my stuff (still not everything as I had originally intended to – as much as all that stuff bothered me, it’s just not that easy to part with all the memories and your loved belongings as I would like it to be) – oh, and I bleached my hair and colored it pink, for a start. I went wherever people would have me or where something would draw me to. First, I travelled for about half a year on and off within Europe, where I went to festivals and visited friends in Berlin, Vienna, Helsinki and Edinburgh, walked for two weeks the Way of St. James (still within Switzerland), got robbed (still within Switzerland, too), then instead ended up staying in a villa on Iceland, where already Tom Cruise and Ridley Scott had stayed at – with three bedrooms and three bathrooms, a sauna and a jacuzzi all to myself for three whole weeks <3, and visited at least twenty Christmas markets throughout Germany.
(I have a really hard time adding pictures to this blog format…and am terribly annoyed by it. They never end up where I want them to be. Sorry if it’s messy!)
The day that Switzerland voted „against mass immigration“, I bought myself a one way ticket to Koh Samui with a stopover to visit a friend in Dubai. Dubai, I must say, is probably the most boring and least inspiring place I’ve ever been to. Not much more to add to that. That’s why I decided to head to Oman for a bit instead. On a bus with unbearably loud music, many Arabic men, three women in black burqas and me with all blue hair by then. Five customs checks later, I arrived in Muscat, where one of the women on the bus called her husband to give me a ride to the hotel. I got to know the Omanis in general as very friendly people and can definitely recommend a trip to Oman, a country I never had on my radar.
I had booked my first flight to Koh Samui because I wanted to volunteer at the Dog and Cat Rescue Samui, which I did for exactly one week before I couldn’t take it anymore. Having studied and worked in social work, I’ve pondered a lot over the distinction between helping as a boost to my ego, my self-image as a good person, something I’m only doing for my own good, and helping for the sake of the one I am actually trying to help. What I saw at Dog and Cat Rescue Samui mainly seemed to belong to the first category and was not necessarily in favour of the animals, who were caged in and sometimes put through a massive amount of surgeries for what…staying in a cage with too many others? The German owner was very rude to the volunteers – she badmouthed every single one already on my first day – and very disrespectful towards the Thai and their culture. Maybe she had been doing it for too long and had gotten very frustrated by how things run in Thailand and how little people care about the well-being of animals. But I just couldn’t support it and therefore left.
Since I was already on Koh Samui with no further plans, I stayed on for a little while, not being too fond of such touristy places though. I rented a scooter – my first scooter ride ever, in which I hit two palm trees, but was extremely lucky, since neither the scooter nor I got damaged – and explored the island, looking for a quiet spot. I was blessed enough to find this lovely hut on the beach that I rented for a while, where two stray dogs joined me. I’m not sure which of us strays adopted whom, but they followed me wherever I went. It was simply impossible to go out without them. One of them would jump onto my scooter before I could even get on and drive off, and the other one would run next to us for miles. At the same time it was heartbreaking though, since I knew that I would leave at some point and that I wouldn’t be able to take them with me – and it still brings me to tears thinking of them. I might have made the big mistake of bringing them to another shelter before I left. The owner of the guesthouse threatened that she or rather some of the other Thai guests would poison them as soon as I’d be gone, so that I felt responsible for finding a safe place for them, which I did. Another shelter that made a way better impression but still… There’s the question of what’s better: being in a shelter as a dog that used to roam freely or being free with a chance of starving, being hit by a car or poisoned – I wish I could have asked the dogs what they „preferred“. I’d probably choose freedom…
I left Koh Samui to do a 10-day silent retreat at Suan Mokkh with another 128 people from all over the world. All looking for peace of mind, silence, answers within. I arrived a day earlier, and while I had intended to stay on after the retreat, since I was so desperate for silence and having a chance to meditate, I knew after the first night that I’d want to get away as soon as I could once I had survived this. There was no mattress, just a stone bed, and a wooden block as a pillow. After one night only, my legs were covered in mosquito bites – and I’m not exaggerating. (As they so lovely put it at registration that day: Open up your heart to the mosquitoes…). We had to get up at 4 am, and they would lock the dorms after us to make sure that no one could stay in – which really annoyed me, especially when I had forgotten my water bottle in the room or when I hurt my food and wanted to get some plasters during one of the short breaks, but then again, they did have a point doing that… We’d sit or walk and meditate pretty much all day long up until 9 pm, interspersed with a few talks by what seemed to me some rather frustrated monks and nuns. My highlight of the day was always lunch, with only breakfast and lunch being served (at the end only breakfast), and while breakfast was some slimy rice soup that I wasn’t too fond of, lunch was the real deal, the treat of the day. Before eating, we had to recite a prayer reminding us to eat for the right reasons, „only to maintain this body“ and neither for pleasure nor for fatting or whatever else, but it just didn’t work for me. I found this very greedy person inside of me scared of not getting enough or as much as the others, so that I was always one of the first ones at the buffet and enjoyed that part of the day tremendously. I did pull through, stayed on for the 10 days, while quite a few people left or were asked to leave. I wasn’t too proud of myself though, since I felt like I had broken pretty much every rule there was to be broken at some point. (I’m aware of the fact that my description of the retreat might not sound too tempting, but go for it :). It’s not meant to be a walk in the park…)
I traveled on to Bangkok – from one extreme to the other -, where I had the immense pleasure of visiting during Songkran, Thai New Year. Probably my least liked holiday ever, and that year it took even longer than usual. Songkran means that Thais will poor water over you non-stop for several days, wherever you go. As soon as you will have got changed, the next bucket or hose will be waiting for you, promise.
After that, I was longing for peace and quiet again and travelled south to some beaches, since I had to wait for a friend that was about to come visit for a couple of weeks. I mainly suffered from all the tourists and the Thais trying to sell me something or ripping me off as well as from the heat that was getting worse and worse. I got myself into a snorkeling trip to Surin Islands, what looked to me more like a coral graveyard than anything else, and since my friend wanted to visit places like Phuket and Ko Phi Phi, I ended up in too many places I hadn’t particularly wanted to be – for good and valid reasons I would say -, and it made me dislike mass tourism even more than I already did.
Once she had left – or rather we had separated due to unbridgeable conflicts of interest and since I had this immense longing for solitude which was not particularly helpful when traveling with someone else -, I got myself a time-out on Koh Lanta, the place I liked best from all the places visited in southern Thailand (my next Thailand trip would definitely be to the north), before I moved on to Penang, Malaysia. And I just loved it. I especially loved how friendly people suddenly seemed after Southern Thailand and, of course, the food. And the street art in Georgetown. It’s a place I would definitely recommend people to go to when in the area and to stay more than just one or two days. From Penang, I flew to Sumatra because I really wanted to see wild Orang-Utans and ended up staying in Indonesia on and off for a total of 7 months. Which will be told and continued at another time…
Vegan places from these parts of the world worth to be pointed out:
There are sooo many great vegan places in Berlin that a separate post will hopefully follow soon. Some recommendations on vegan food in Berlin can already be found in German on the blog or in English on Instagram and in the pictures on Facebook.
I do have a thing for cupcakes, so that’s what stuck with me in Vienna (http://www.cupcakes-wien.at) – and I was in this mood where you desperately need them… Just the other day I found this link with a list of so many more new vegan cupcake places in Vienna that I will definitely have to visit at some point preferably soon: http://www.veganblatt.com/vegane-cupcakes-wien.
Helsinki ❤ will hopefully get its own post, too, at some point. I just have to mention once in a while that it’s the most amazing city in the most beautiful country! My vegan highlights that time around were probably its coffee culture – always with some plant-based milk alternative in beautiful spots -, the fresh berries at the market and vegan frozen yoghurt at Kippo (http://cafekippo.fi), which has meanwhile moved to a new location where they now also serve smoothies and lovely vegan sandwiches.
On Iceland, I’m a huge fan of Café Babalú (Skólavörðustígur 22, 101 Reykjavík) and the Bláa Kannan (Hafnarstræti, Akureyri) – I just love cozy coffee places. And while the Bláa Kannan doesn’t have too many vegan options (and some amazing looking unvegan cakes), Café Babalú has more on offer.
In Copenhagen, I especially liked Kalaset (http://kalaset.dk) and Botaniq (http://botaniq.com/en/), where I had this lovely raw liquorice cheesecake with blackberries and beetroot. Even though I don’t like beetroot too much, I worked together beautifully.
From Edingburgh, I mainly remember the vegan Haggis, which doesn’t have a lot in common with real Haggis I suppose, but – or because – it tasted quite nicely… I had two versions of it, both at Henderson’s (http://www.hendersonsofedinburgh.co.uk). I also quite liked the Baked Potato Shop (56 Cockburn St, Edinburgh, Midlothian EH1 1PB), where even the small portion is huge. Oh, and now I almost would have forgot, but this place definitely has to be mentioned as well: the Mono Cafe Bar in Glasgow (http://www.monocafebar.com), just loved their food!
My favorite vegan places in Thailand were Sweet Sisters on Koh Samui (4170, Na Mueang) with several vegan and gluten free options, Mango (https://www.facebook.com/pages/MANGO-Vegetarian-Vegan-Reastaurant-and-Art-Gallery/821759707838666), where I hid from the crazy Songkran crowd, and Ethos (http://www.ethosnet.biz) in Bangkok, where the menu comes with interesting health advice.