First 12 months of Living the Dream and going strong - the highlights so far

April 5th 2009
Published: April 5th 2009
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(Day 366 on the road)It is exactly 12 months today that I started my trip with a week of trekking and camping in Turkey. The past year has gone by incredibly fast, and the experiences I have had and the people I met were far beyond even my wildest imagination. More than ever I am sure that I have made the right decision in leaving my old life behind and emerge on this journey. I am also relieved that I did not accept my old company's offer to take a one year sabbatical, or else this trip would now have to end. Instead, only the first 12 months are over, and many more months are yet to come - I am going strong.

I am happy that so far that I have not experienced any major thefts, robberies, illnesses or accidents (or worse), save for a few small things here and there (stolen phone in China, sprained ankle in Russia and so on). And thinking about the great memories I have made until now makes me realise just how fortunate I really am to be able to do this trip. I have worked hard and saved money to do this, but almost every day here in southeast Asia I see people working a lot harder than I ever have and who will never be able to afford such a big trip, let alone a smaller holiday. It is then that I realise how privileged I really am.

I have put down a few statistics of the past year: So far, I have travelled more than 40.000 km overland in 17 different countries. The longest time I have spent in one country continuously was in Malaysia (74 days), closely followed by China (69 days). During the course of my travel so far, I have taken 2500 pictures
that have been viewed about 65.000 times. I have also written 90 entries in my travel blog that have been visited 16.000 times from 93 different countries. Finally, I have spent roughly 11.000 EUR so far, about 915 EUR per month or 30 EUR per day, with the cheapest month being in China (435 EUR) and the most expensive one being in Russia (1375 EUR). This figure is the total including all costs incurred, and had me staying at the cheapest acceptable accommodation (mostly dorm beds in hostels), taking local transport and eating local food.

This occasion also marks a good point to look back at some of the highlights of the past year. I have given the following list quite a bit of thought in the last few weeks and it was remarkably hard to include certain experiences in the list and to exclude others. I was amazed to find just how much has happened, and how distant yet at the same time how vivid some of my memories are. But without any further ado, here are the highlights so far:

Best accommodation: K's House Mt. Fuji - perfect facilities, friendly staff, great location (Japan)

Best camping: Hiking along the the Lycian Way (Turkey)

Best homestay: Spending the night with an incredibly friendly local family near Konglor cave (Laos)

Best sauna: The enormous Dragon Hill Spa in Seoul - as most of the spas in the country are open 24h, they double as accommodation (Korea)

Biggest festival: Experiencing the Beijing Olympics (China)

Cheapest accommodation: 1 EUR for a double room in a small village near the rice terraces of Longji (China)

Closest encounter with local customs: Being invited to attend a traditional funeral in a small village on the Longji rice terraces (China)

Coldest night: In my tent in the Northern Japan Alps at -5 degrees Celsius (Japan)

Friendliest people: The tolerant, open and easy going Malaysians (Malaysia)

Greatest sense of freedom: Blasting through rural Laos on my own motorbike for three weeks (Laos)

Greatest symbol of defiance: The resilience shown by the people who continued to put up crosses at the magical Hill of Crosses, no matter how often the Soviets tore them down (Lithuania)

Longest journey: Riding the famous Transsib from Moscow to Beijing (Russia-Mongolia-China)

Longest stay in one place: Golfing and swimming every day for almost two months in Port Dickson (Malaysia)

Mightiest view: Looking out of my tent while camping on Mt. Fuji (Japan)

Most beautiful old town: The beautiful city of Tallinn (Estonia)

Most challenging trek: Traversing the tough and remote Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse on Hokkaido (Japan)

Most childish fun: Throwing huge rocks off the cliffs at Zhangjiajie National Park, and marvelling at watching them burst into pieces in the valley far below (China)

Most disturbing experience: Witnessing the preventable death of a motorcycle driver after an accident without wearing a helmet and with no ambulance for about 30 minutes (Myanmar)

Most enjoyable dinner: Eating the bus driver's dinner whilst watching the sunset over the karst peaks of Zhangjiajie National Park (China)

Most fascinating underwater encounter: Diving amidst giant turtles on Tioman Island (Malaysia)

Most gruesome journey: The tough 36 hour bus journey from Bagan to Chaungtha Beach on the worst kind of buses and roads imaginable (Myanmar)

Most memorable moment: Greeting the New Year sitting atop an ancient temple in Bagan (Myanmar)

Most remote beach: Spending a week on the deserted east coast of Ko Tao (Thailand)

Most saddening place: Hiroshima with its disturbing past (Japan)

Most savoured food: Baozi - steamed dumplings with various fillings (China)

Most scenic toilet: Watching Tiger Leaping Gorge far below in the valley through the open window of the toilet (China)

Most stunning monument: The breathtaking 2500 ancient temples of Bagan (Myanmar)

Most stunning scenery: The emerald terraced pools of Huang Long National Park (China)

Most thrilling ride: Leaving remote Lugu Lake on a bus across the mighty mountain vistas to the east (China)

Most unpleasant encounter: Being physically attacked, cheated and lied to by various dishonest people on Cat Ba Island (Vietnam)

Most unreal experience: Watching the North Koreans border guards and being watched by them at the Joint Security Area (Korea)

Most unusual accommodation: Sleeping in various 24h Internet caf├ęs as other accommodation was often simply too expensive (Japan)

Only two flights taken: Bangkok to Yangon, as overland travel into Myanmar was impossible at that time (Thailand-Myanmar)
and Berlin to Antalya at the very start of my travels (Germany-Turkey)

Prettiest girls: Japanese - I never expected that, but really! (Japan)

Scariest experience: Shuffling along the planks on the sheer cliff of Hua Shan (China)

Vastest expanse encountered: Driving cross-country across the enormous Gobi desert in an old Russian minibus for a week (Mongolia)

Worst accommodation: A damp, cold and overpriced room at the top of Emei Shan which I we were forced to take as we arrived way to late and everything else was full (China)

Worst toilet: The toilet building that was serving a whole village near Lugu Lake; it is impossible to describe the smell and sight of this highly disgusting piece of the countless notoriously bad toilets in the country (China)

That's it (for now) - more to come for sure in the next 12 months...!

To view my photos, have a look at And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).

Additional photos below
Photos: 7, Displayed: 7


5th April 2009

great post!
Hi Ben! I've been lurking here for quite some time. I got to your blog after looking for info on Myanmar. Thanks for sharing your experience there. I can't believe you're traveling some more after a year. Great that you can afford not working for so long. I'm envious haha! Can't wait to see where you're heading next. Have an awesome journey ahead!
6th April 2009

Congratulations for your success in the past 12 months and wish all the best to you for the following days and nights of the journey. Remember this, we are following your every step and watching your every move, we are just behind you.
7th April 2009

Great Post
What an amazing acheivement... to be able to look back at the past 12 months like that. I think many of us agree that you really are "living the dream"!
7th April 2009

mmm.. those toilets
ah, near the place over looking the valley, they were pretty special I seem to recall. best off without a torch in the early hours. wasn't it good fun though? and my legs are finally recovering from that bike ride... enjoying your blog, see you soon. x
8th April 2009

Hi Ben
Hi Ben! Congratulations - 12 months of amazing travels! I have started to read about your travelling experience only recently, but I enjoy it very much. I like not just your stories, but also your writing style :) Your writing is simple and down to earth (which makes your stories easy to read), and very emotive and beautiful in the same time :) I have heard about you for the first time from your friend Jawad, when he was telling me about you and your decision to travel the world :) So good luck, wish you save journeys and lots of amazing experience during your travels and I am looking forward to more interesting entries at the blog. Lucia
9th April 2009

Hey Ben! This is Aaron from the first time you went to Hua Shan. Thanks for listing your "greatest hits," as many China highlights were included. I haven't been to many of them and I'll have to make sure to see them for myself. Wow, I can't believe that you've only spent that much money for this amazing trip. It just shows that if you buckle down and save, and make the commitment to go, trips like this are very possible. Keep writing.
14th April 2009

Hey congratulations on your anniversary Ben! Hope you're having a good time in Indonesia
30th March 2011
On top of Mt. Fuji (Japan)

Mt. Fuji
I got to climb Mt. Fuji July 4th,1983.When did you all climb it?
24th May 2011
On top of Mt. Fuji (Japan)

Nice ! I wish to be there :o)

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