This is the route we planned to take around the world. It doesn’t include every stop we made, but most of them are shown. The colors of the route represent the mode of transportation. Most of the routes in red were planned far in advance so we had fixed dates where we knew we needed to be.
Our Overland Legs
We couldn’t backtrack all of our surface routes to return to where we landed. Most of our flights were one-way or open-jawed, with many of our long-haul routes between continents using air miles awards. Where possible and to see the most of a continent, we would travel overland using rail or car.
Overland in Southeast Asia included rail travel from Singapore to Chiang Mai, and originally Chiang Mai to Mandalay, but the Myanmar border was said to be sketchy so we went safely by air. And finally a multi-modal trip inside Myanmar, from Mandalay to Bagan by boat down the Irrawaddy River, and from Bagan to Yangon by bus. In China, we traveled by train from Shanghai to Lhasa on the train from hell, and car and train from Northern India to Mumbai.
70 years of customer dissatisfaction. This airline is an embarrassment to Ethiopia and the entire African continent.
“No Problem.” I really began to hate those two words.
Let’s just start by saying that after flying 35 flights so far on our around-the-world trip, Ethiopian Airlines is by far the worst airline in the world and Addis Ababa airport is THE worst airport in the world. Our original flight reservations were on South African Airline, but without explanation, it was changed to Ethiopian Airlines. Not only did the airline route us with a 27 hour layover, they wanted to charge us an additional $70 per person to accommodate us overnight outside of the airport for an issue they created. We told them we already had a paid hotel room and only needed a transit visa, but were told they couldn’t issue just the transit visa. We finally had to go to immigration and buy a standard visa costing $50/person. At least it was twenty dollars cheaper than the airline arrangements.
It’s an airline operating first-world technology with a third-world mentality.
We decided to do a self-drive safari of Tanzania after I read all the reviews and blogs of other people’s self-drive experience. I figured that it wouldn’t be as difficult as many people have made it out to be, however, I was basing that on just the driving experience. If you haven’t already read my other post, Should I Do a Self-Drive Safari, you should read about the actual driving experience. What I didn’t take into account were the many other factors that come into play when dealing with a third-world country.
Whenever we told any of the locals that we planned to drive ourselves to the Serengeti, we received surprised looks, followed by concern. A couple of people said we weren’t allowed to go into the national parks without a guide or driver. Don’t believe them. A couple of places where we inquired about renting a 4-wheel drive, quoted us a much higher price, up to 50% more, for self-driving than with a driver. Even many of the people commenting on TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet warn against driving yourself. These are all scare tactics meant to encourage using tour operators. You can rent a vehicle and you can enter the park without a guide. It will cost you quite a bit for the 4WD rental, especially with places that don’t specialize in it.
We went with Arusha Fortes, because they have been renting self-drive vehicles for over 30 years. They were very good at explaining a lot of the complexities of entering the national parks. Their vehicles were well equipped with two spare tires, a high-lift jack, and pop-up rooftop tent. For our convenience, they let us use their Ngorongoro Park card, for a $20 convenience fee, preloaded with enough to cover our costs. The vehicle was tough and we drove it like the locals. Everything on the vehicle survived the journey, but some things were a little worse for the wear. The parking brake cable seemed to stretch out, the brakes squeaked something awful for a while after sitting in the mud for 3+ hours. All the bumpy roads also took their toll. The high-lift jack lost a very essential pivot pin, making it almost unusable. And a metal door alignment stop simply sheered off. Continue reading
Our self-drive safari was an incredibly unique and rewarding experience, though a bit frightening at times and not without a few challenges. Depending on why you want to self-drive, it may be worth doing, but it’s a lot of work and definitely not for everybody. Let’s weigh the pros and cons.
The road out of the Ngorongoro Crater is one of the few paved roads inside the park.
If you have already been on an African safari and seen most of the animals but felt like you wanted to be more in control, then you might enjoy the self-drive experience. You can determine your own route and what you’d like to see. You can delight in the freedom of not being on anyone else’s schedule. Leave anytime you want in the morning and return to camp whenever you wish. If you’re a photographer, you can stop at any time for photos, move to just the right position that you want, spend as much or as little time watching animals. If you wish, you can follow the crowds, or you can go to places less traveled to just enjoy the view. And while you’re waiting, the animals may just come to you. And finally, you can have the rewarding experience of being self-sufficient. Continue reading
Our shared second class (hard sleeper) cabin with six bunks.
The bunk was about a meter wide, and true to its name it was a hard sleeper with very little padding. My head hurt from the high altitude of the Tibetan plateau and my back was aching from sleeping so much, but I was also fighting a cold and there wasn’t much else to do for 48 hours. The scenery did little to help pass the time. Hills became mountains and the vegetation grew sparse and brown. The occasional town or scenic lake could distract us from our misery for a minute, but eventually seeing our own reflection staring back at us in the window quickly reminded us of where we were for the next day and a half: a cramped little bunk in a rolling tin can. There were six of these bunks in our little shared compartment. The uppermost bunk required gymnastics to reach and later dismount. The top and middle bunks didn’t have enough headroom for me to sit up without hunching over. Even Sheri couldn’t sit up straight. Never have I felt more like cattle packed into a livestock car. Continue reading
Sheri and I have been on quite a few adventures and taken all sorts of different transportation—from a horse-drawn cart in Bagan to 150 kph bullet trains in Malaysia. One never knows what the transportation will be like. It could be very pleasant. It could be extremely uncomfortable. Occasionally, the ride is thrilling. Our road trip through New Zealand, our tuk tuk ride in Cambodia and our motorbike ride in Chiang Mai come to mind. However, I was confident in my own driving abilities or those of our driver.
Myanmar, by our standards, is definitely third-world. In the more remote areas, such as Bagan or Inle Lake, it’s what makes it charming. In these areas, roads barely qualify as such. Sure, they’re paved, but that’s where the similarities end. They are bumpy, dusty, full of obstacles and often dangerous in the mountainous areas. There are no lane markings, no guard rails, and no signage. I’ve driven on gravel forest service roads that are better than some of the roads in Myanmar. However, when I’m driving, I maintained an appropriate speed for the road conditions. Continue reading
On our RTW trip, whenever we go somewhere I’ve been already, it’s tough not to make comparisons of how places are today versus the last time I was there. In most locations, I’m surprised that things haven’t changed much. I had optimistically thought that 16 years of progress would alter most places for the better. Such was my hope for Indonesia.
I went to Indonesia about 16 years ago to visit my friend, Don. It was an unforgettable experience, mostly for all the wrong reasons. I came down with a bad case of dysentery from some bad food I had in Jakarta and spent a couple days between the bed and toilet at Don’s parent’s home. Even with such wonderful memories, I still decided that Indonesia was worth a repeat visit. However, I didn’t want a repeat of what happen to me to happen again with Sheri during this visit so we took the usual precautions to avoid stomach problems. Continue reading
This large lake is a prominent feature on maps of Cambodia. Its water levels and volume change dramatically from the wet to dry seasons, filled and drained by the ebb and flow of the Tonle Sap River and its confluence with the mighty Mekong. The size of the lake swells to nearly 5 times its dry season size during the rainy season. We went here based on the recommendation of our AirBNB host, Thony, and it’s unique ecosystem and water culture were a complete surprise to Sheri and me. The lake is only 15 km. from Siem Reap, but the roads are only partially paved and took 45 minutes to get there in our tuk-tuk. Our driver brought us to a harbor late in the afternoon where we bought our $20 tickets per person and proceeded to our boat. We later found out that this price is negotiable depending on the boat operator. The boat launch reminded me of our trip up the Little Yangtze River in China; lots of boats trying to dock somewhere that could barely accommodate them all. Continue reading