Saga info! + leaving Thailand, visiting Laos and reaching China (country 175)
Day 1,975 since October 10th 2013: 175 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross)
Welcome everyone new!
So the Saga recently had its second largest influx of friends, fans and followers across social media. With that in mind I’ll begin this entry with some general Saga information which should come in handy for everyone new. And then I’ll head on into telling you the highlights of the week which has passed.
I suppose I should first of all say: WELCOME!! :) I hope you will enjoy the last leg of the adventures within the Saga which is estimated to end in January 2020 (Maldives). If you’re new then you should know that there is a “Frequently Asked Questions” page (FAQ) which is likely to answer many of your questions. The Saga recently gained a lot of attention due to the fantastic video which Drew Binsky made about me and the Saga. Drew is a celebrity world traveller who is very gifted when it comes to creating videos. He does a video every day, which he releases to his more than 1.6 million online followers and I think he might just work harder than I do!! I rarely work less than fifty hours a week and sometimes above a hundred when the Saga gets crazy. There’s a lot of work involved in reaching every single country in the world in an unbroken journey completely without flying. I can summarize most of it as logistics and bureaucracy. However I also spend a lot of time on research, generating content, managing social media and promoting the world’s largest humanitarian organization as a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross. For more information about the Saga and the Red Cross you can head to the Red Cross Red Crescent section on this website. Drew spent around EIGHT hours editing his 4 minute and 44 second video that he and his camera guy (Michael) filmed of me. Drew has reached 161 countries so far and aims at reaching all of them. He’s flying so it’s easier but still not easy! He needs to apply for visas, organize transport, accommodation and do the actual traveling AS WELL as produce a video EVERY DAY! When does that man sleep? The hat comes off to you Drew. Keep on keeping on! ;)
Here's the video. Click on the image or right HERE to start the video! ;)
Yeah, so I’d like everyone new to know that I’m not a tourist, I’m not on a gap year and that I’m generally not having fun. At least I don’t believe I have more fun doing this than what any of you have living your lives. I am however absorbing an immense amount of information from around the world and I fell twenty years older in life experience although it has “only” been five years and five months since I left home (Denmark). I’m traveling alone and I manage all the social media myself (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and blog). I’m not a YouTuber per se. The channel mostly features interviews and a few curiosities. My main focus has been on sharing photos and adding written words to them. These blogs also run pretty long.
A standard week on Facebook looks like this:
Usually a link to an old blog released in consecutive order. We are up to Djibouti, Africa, now (January 2017).
The Friday Blog:
You’re reading one right now. I try to have one ready every Friday.
The “RC” stands for Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Crystal. Those are three emblems which all represent the world’s largest humanitarian organization which was founded in 1863 and spans across 191 countries today. Every Sunday I post about the most recent visit I did at a National Society or some general information about the organization. The last visit I made was at the Laos Red Cross.
(the Friday Blog and RC Sunday posts are also posted on Instagram)
It was a pleasure meeting these guys! Ric has done a few podcast interviews with me and Drew and Michael just did the YouTube video profile of me. Well travelled people like us can sit a talk for hours! :)
The rest of the week is simply filled up with posts from whichever country I am in. I rarely post about countries I have already been too. As such there won’t be a post from Venezuela, Cameroun or France now that I’m in China. I do however plan to post randomly from all the countries I’ve been to (every country in the world) every day after this project is completed. As such the Saga will keep going for many years after I return home. I also intend on becoming an author and making a career out of motivational speaking once I get back home to my fiancée. Yes that’s right! I’m engaged to a beautiful woman and she does her best to visit me whenever time and money allows for it. That’s 19 times so far.
When my beautiful and multi talented fiancee visits it's always a good occasion to shave ;)
Now, this project exists because nobody in history has ever reached every single country in the world completely without flying. Nobody. Ever! And reaching every country is already a pretty exclusive club with less than 200 members. In perspective more than 550 people have been to space and Mount Everest has been summited by around 5,000 people. I aim at becoming the first person in history to reach every country without flying. That is purely about achievement and can be seen in the same light as when the first men reached the South Pole or similarly to setting a world record at the Olympics. It is down to the bone egoistic and something which requires a lot of discipline, dedication, focus and grit. Having said that, there are many good things in the tail water of achieving that goal. I aim at promoting every country as if it was the best in the world. In fact every country IS the best country when I’m in it and it’s up to me to prove it. This positive promotion is a counter balance to all the negativity which can be found across mainstream media every day. First of all I don’t think mainstream news is representative of the world I’ve seen but moreover the media generates fear, distance, distrust and despair for almost everyone. So I aim to remind you all that even in Syria and Yemen selfies are taken and people fall in love. And also that in my opinion people are just people everywhere. The most important things seem to be family, sports, food, safety etc. People around the world spend an awful lot of time starring into smartphones, stuck in traffic or talking about the weather ;)
Click on the image or HERE to listen to the 2nd podcast with Ric and I and click HERE to find the 1st one. Also just check out some of all the amazing podcasts he has made with around seventy fascinating world travellers! Counting Countries is quickly becoming my favorite podcast channel! :)
I also spend a disproportionate amount of time within this project on the RC. As the organization is found in 191 countries around the world, “just” the task of establishing contact and setting up meetings is a job on its own. It takes time to meet with representatives from various countries and generate the promotion across social media. On average I spend more than a day at each National Society (Canadian Red Cross, Brazilian Red Cross, Kenya Red Cross, Qatar Red Crescent, Spanish Red Cross, Pakistan Red Crescent etc). So that’s at least 200 days of this project which is spent on that. In return this project (the Saga) has generated a lot of global awareness, has invited people all over the world to join as volunteers, has provided reason for people to donate money and has called for positive shares across social media to generate good will for the humanitarian work. And it works. I have received positive feedback from many people over the years :) As I have now visited the RC in 170 countries the Saga can easily be considered history’s greatest attempt to unify the movement in a single journey.
Thomas works at Blue Water Shipping and wanted to help me in Thailand. So among other things he arranged for Khun Bob to drive me in the company car to the border with Laos. People are amazing!
Another grand benefit from the Saga has been all the people who feel inspired and motivated in various ways. People who have added far flung destinations to their bucket list, those who have seen countries and people in a different light...but very importantly also those who have gained strength from that I have never given up and gone home, that I have never bribed anyone, that I have always found a solution and that I can share something good and interesting about each country. That has over the years been powerful in so many lives and I have been fortunate to hear it first hand in many, many messages. For that I will never give up and keep on keeping on! Because now...what else can I do?
Entering Laos: country number 174.
Right...that was a 101 on the Saga. Now let’s get to what happened in Laos. It was raining as I approached the border. I had not seen rain since some time last year? It was refreshing. Khun Bob who had brought me safely to the border waved farewell and I proceeded north on foot. It was almost 08:00am and we had left Bangkok around midnight. Crossing the border was easy. I carefully filled out the immigration forms but afterwards realized that I could have written my name down as Donald Duck and nobody would have cared. It cost me $36 USD for my visa and I paid in USD. Across the border I got into a shared van and we headed into the country towards its capital Vientiane. It could have been a short 20 minute ride but it was raining, there was traffic and the van broke down. The driver called for someone else to collect us. It took its time but the other driver arrived and it all went seamlessly. Welcome to Laos. The “s” is silent: Lao. It’s one of the world’s few remaining communist countries but as a tourist you’ll hardly feel a difference. Laos is a very laidback and relaxed country. Vientiane lies on the Mekong River with Thailand on the other side. I found my hostel, checked in and had a few hours of sleep before I headed out to meet the Laos Red Cross (LRC).
Ko and I at the LRC HQ in Vientiane.
It was under blue skies that I set out to find the LRC in Vientiane which has no shortage of Buddhist temples and the LRC happened to be located right next to one. I sat down with Mrs Phonedavanh Sanbounleuxay (or Ko for short) who is the International Relations Coordinator. She invited me to sit down for a bit while we got to know each other a little better. She told me that they were established on January 1st 1955 and are now found in every province of Laos. Apart from first aid, heath and sanitation the LRC also promotes gender equality and advocates for the role of women in society. A really large part of their humanitarian engagement is disaster risk reduction, preparedness and response. Most people only hear about the response part as that’s what makes it into the media.
In Luang Prabang I found this flyer on the ground. LRC has a blood and transfusion center and promotes blood donations nation wide. It also turned out that the LRC runs a massage and sauna center in Luang Prabang.
On July 23rd 2018 a tragedy occurred as the Saddle Dam D, which was part of a larger hydroelectric dam system under construction in southeast Laos's Champasak Province, collapsed and cost more than 40 lives while 1,100 went missing. The dam collapse also lead to widespread destruction and homelessness among the local population in neighboring Attapeu Province. In the media it became known as the “Laos dam collapse”. LRC responded swiftly to the needs of the most vulnerable people and that work continues until this day long after the reporters have stopped reporting. I left the LRC thinking about what the world might look like without more than 12 million volunteers worldwide tirelessly carrying out humanitarian work?
I've been missing good soups for a while. But there has been no lack of them since I reached Myanmar, Thailand and Laos.
Back at my hostel I organized a bus to bring me the 12 hour ride up to Luang Prabang the following day. Then I organized myself, got a local simcard, managed social media and signed yet another document for my latest new tenant in my apartment back home. This is the fourth person to rent my apartment since I left home and it would be a sheer nightmare to organize it if it wasn’t for Home Connector. They have saved me three times before and I really mean that!! I absolutely cannot pay for that apartment being empty while I’m out here pulling of mission impossible. Thank you Rasmus and Malene!! You’re the best! Vientiane generally doesn’t get much credit for being more than a stopover and that’s also what it was for me. I however found it to be a pretty nice capital and there was lots I could have seen but didn’t have the time for. I didn’t get much sleep that night. Laos is tourist territory and very popular with the partying youth. My hostel apparently offered free vodka and whiskey between 6-8 pm. So it got pretty noisy! A curfew is imposed across Laos and starts at midnight. But it doesn’t seem to be enforced for tourists and mainly effects businesses. I left the next morning at 06:00am.
Landslides, road construction, accidents...there's always something to delay the ride.
No matter what - it is hard to complain about the scenery.
Laos is remarkably green and very beautiful to look at. It could have been the setting for the Lost series, for Jurassic Park or any of the King Kong movies. There are rivers, hills and mountains and it’s all covered in green. However twelve hours in a bus is definitely twelve hours in a bus and I was tired when we rolled into Luang Prabang. It is a beautiful city which lies in a valley at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. It was inhabited for thousands of years and was the royal capital of the country until 1975. Luang Prabang is known for its many Buddhist temples, including the gilded Wat Xieng Thong, dating to the 16th century, and Wat Mai, once the residence of the head of Laotian Buddhism.
Laos is predominantly Buddhist however also with a large population that adhere to animistic beliefs.
In fact the city was so nice and relaxing that I opted for an extra night there to set my mind right. Contrary to what many might think there is a lot of stress which goes along with pulling off this project. There is indeed much which goes on behind the curtains of this show. As an example we are approaching North Korea (DPRK) now and that is not the kind of country you enter unprepared. In fact I had to set everything in motion more than a month before I intended to enter the country. I booked and paid for everything through Koryo Tours while I was still in India (end January). Back then I knew I would need to reach Beijing (China) on March 11th for my briefing and train ride into DPRK. So back then I already knew I would need to master the logistics of...wait for it...getting into Bangladesh, making it back to India, crossing into Myanmar, covering great distances, getting into Thailand, applying for the Chinese visa, head up into Laos, get inside China and cover further more vast distances in order of reaching Beijing on time. Keep in mind that I was meeting with the RC in all these countries, made presentations at Maersk in three of them, wrote several blogs, did interviews, kept social media updated, met with people, handled the bureaucracy and remembered to eat, sleep and breathe ;)
Fun running into Rebecca and Oscar. If you have an Instagram account then why not check them out: @travelevers
However while in Luang Prabang I saw that I had made excellent time and could afford an extra night at the hostel. It was a nice hostel and I was by far one of the oldest guests. Tourists posing as travellers in their late teens and early twenties were showing off their perfect bodies and sharing stories of sex, drugs and spirituality. Fortunately my dorm room was a quiet one. While out and about exploring Luang Prabang I met Rebecca from Sweden and Oscar from Spain who both live in Barcelona and were on their third six month journey. I noticed Rebecca was waiving at me and I first thought she wanted me to help her take a photo. But it turned out she had been following the Saga for a long time and simply recognized me. Yes! I’m a big superstar!! That reminds me about something which happened while I was still in Bangkok with Drew and Michael. Drew is actually famous as his videos have now accumulated over a billion views! So while they were filming me, a kid (no more than ten years old) shouted: “Hey Drew Binsky!!” I asked the kid how he knew him and he replied: “from YouTube”. It was clear that it was completely normal for Drew. It rarely happens to me ;) Back in Luang Prabang Rebecca, Oscar and I got to talk a lot about the world, traveling and what the future might hold. They have both been to 51 countries and you can find their amazing photos on Instagram as @travelevers.
Laos is one of the world's five remaining ‘communist' countries. After the civil war ended in 1975, the communist government over threw the monarchy and has been ruling since.
The tuc tuc's in Laos look like something out of a Mad Max movie!
The night market in Luang Prabang is quite interesting, very varied and it goes on forever.
I am getting old. I’m not much for being around teenage tourists and I frown when I see them disrespects religious sites in their sheer appearance or in achieving the “perfect selfie”. And I’ll use that as a segue to a thought I’ve recently had about age. Are we measuring age in the right way? A trip around the sun and then you’re a year older. But how is that useful? Someone might have been in a coma for that entire year. Someone else could have lived a thousand lifetimes. I’ve met people in their thirties who are not mature enough to vote while I’ve also met children in their early teens who were competent behind the steering wheel of a car. I have a friend in his 60s who’s barely been outside of his mountain village and yet he speaks as if he has seen the world. I don’t know...I feel old...and when I look at these teenage tourists I wonder: “what are you traveling for? Content for social media and partying?”
These tourists are "enthusiastically" waiting for the sun to set from a holy Buddhist sight.
My next bus was a 24 hour journey from Laos to China. In Laos the roads were narrow and curved. Some of my fellow passengers fell sick. It wasn’t like in Myanmar though. I figure I was the only foreigner in the bus. Most were Chinese I think? It was beautiful outside the bus. The rural roadside villages appeared similar to the ones I knew from Nepal. I was leaving Laos far too early. Laos is a brilliant country with an abundance of adventure, ancient temples, good food, kind people, nature, waterfalls and picturesque villages. I found the prices to be a lot higher than in Thailand and much higher than in Myanmar. But I still managed to stay at a $6 USD hostel with breakfast and Wi-Fi included. So everything is relative.
Approaching the Laos/China border.
Here I'm mostly wondering about why the bus smelled SO MUCH of feet?
No mans land. Approaching China...
Crossing into China was easy. The Chinese side was state of the art and had scanning equipment similar to what I had only seen in Israel. The side of the border I just came from was more basic. In Laos a huge construction project was ongoing which to me looked like a casino/mall/hotel sort of arrangement. And possibly a large artificial lake under construction? Lots of dust to say the least and plenty of dump trucks. Once in China the roads turned wide and smooth. The infrastructure was massively impressive. Everything appeared well thought out and efficient. I doubt I’ve ever been to a country like this before? And I’ve been to China before. I once visited Hong Kong on a solo trip (on a mission to try every ride at Disneyland). And I’ve once been to Beijing with a good friend. Back then we saw the Olympic Park, the Forbidden City and walked on the Great Wall.
The metro in Kunming was impeccable! And even in China people on metros are just people ;)
Kunming is one of many Chinese cities with ten million people the world doesn't know.
China is indeed a country where the old meets the new.
This time the bus brought me to Kunming which is known as the "City of Eternal Spring". Kunming lies at an almost tropical latitude but its 2000m (6600ft) altitude gives it a very temperate climate. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Kunming before I began planning my detailed route through China? And yet it’s a city with roughly 10 million people!! That’s China for you. The spitting, yawning, grunting and burping when some of these people eat has been unreal!?! How different cultures can be. If I did that as a kid my mother would smack me over the head!! Well...now we are well into China and still have a great distance to cover before I reach Beijing. China is roughly the same size as USA which I think most people understand is large and diverse. Well China has a BILLION more people than the USA!?! It’s that just mind boggling? And China has a very diverse population with many vastly different ethnicities. Oh well...I’ve just arrived...for now I’m simply awestruck in terms of how well everything seems to function…I like China…
Off to Beijing on yet another train.
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Happy but so tired!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga