Åndalsnes, Norway

Spent several days in the awesome Norwegian fjords with hundreds of waterfalls and peaceful surroundings. The magnificent scenery was shaped by past glaciers that have eroded the rock to form steep U-shaped valleys. When the glaciers retreated, some of the valleys became filled by the ocean, creating the sublime fjords of Norway. Some of the fjords are over 1300 meters deep! Thousands of waterfalls dot this pristine and rugged landscape making it a heaven for outdoor sports such as hiking, skiing and fishing. The train ride from Dombås to Åndalsnes was one of the most scenic train rides I have ever experienced. Particularly towards the end when the train descends to sea level towards the foot of the fjord at Åndalsnes. The nearby Trollstigen and Trollveggen and are the two main highlights of the region. Trollstigen is a 20km breathtaking zigzagging road that crawls up over a mountain pass crossing many waterfalls along the way. Tourists from all over the world come to Trollstigen during the summer to witness it for themselves. Trollveggen is in the adjacent valley and is Europe’s highest vertical cliff at over 1000 meters high. At the top of the of the cliff several sharp rocks can be seen which are referred to as the “trolls teeth”:P. Base jumping was popular here, but after several fatal accidents this has now been banned.

Romsdalseggen is a 10km hike that is definitely worth doing. From Åndalsnes, take a bus to the other side of the nearby mountain and walk the entire path back to Åndalsnes. It takes approximately 6 to 8 hours and passes through pristine landscape and very steep mountain cliffs. At some point the cliff almost go vertically down left and right of the path. You should not have fear of heights when attempting this walk!

Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world, so in order to save a bit of money you can opt to camp in the many campgrounds for about 14 euro’s for two persons and make use of the facilities. We stayed at the Åndalsnes camping ground which was a pleasant place to stay 🙂

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Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm is such a nice place to be with many historical buildings, picturesque cafe’s and interesting museums. Stockholm is situated on 17 islands surrounded by greenery. The city is rather expensive compared to other European capitals, but the experience you get from paying the entrance tickets to attractions is definitely worth it. If you don’t understand Swedish, there is always English provided at information displays (unlike in France!).
We spent 3 days in Stockholm and went to the following places: 1) Skansen, a pleasant park / zoo on the island of Djurgården, 2) Vaxholm, a beautiful island in the vast Stockholm archipelago, 3) Drottningholm, the official residence of the Royal Family, 4) Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm dating back to 13th century 4) and Södermalm, the hippie district of Stockholm. I can highly recommend all the place! I have attached a photo with each number below 🙂

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2) Vaxholmwp-image-1997244500

3) Drottningholmwp-image-1368348900

4) Gamla Stan

5) Södermalmwp-image--1687707842
 

 

Anambas Archipelago, Indonesia

The remote Anambas Archipelago in Indonesia has rarely been heard of, but that is part of its beauty as it still has pristine beaches with healthy corals! The archipelago consists of 240 islands and can be accessed either from Bintan or Batam by ferry which takes approximately 8 to 9 hours.

There are two main islands, Pulau Jemaja and Pulau Siantan. The ferry will most likely arrive at P. Jemaja first. P. Jemaja is a very laid back island with friendly locals. There is a long 7 kilometre beach called Pantai Padang Melang which has white sand and calm waters. Nearly all villages on the island can be accessed by road so renting a motorbike for a day is a good idea. In the capital of the island, Letung, a local boat can be hired called pompong to sail to nearby islands. I managed to strike a deal for Rp. 700.000 for one day (about 45 euro’s), which was considered cheap. With the boat captain and guide onboard, we went to three islands: P. Mangkai, P. Mubur and P. Impol. Along the way we saw numerous other islands as well. The snorkelling at P. Mubur was amazing with pristine corals and a lot of coral reef fish! P. Impol had beautiful green hills with palm trees and P. Mangkai had impressive rock formations.

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Coral reef at P. Mangkai
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Pantai Padang Melang at P. Jemaja
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On the way with the Pompong!

Pulau Siantan is home to the capital of the Anambas region, Tarempa. This is a rather crowded place compared to Letung, but the people are just as friendly. There are more accommodation options and restaurants than in Letung. I stayed in the comfortable Sakura Hotel and Laluna Resto was my personal favourite for meals. The island of Siantan is rather mountainous so road access to other areas is rather limited. An impressive waterfall can be reached called Air Terjun Temburun. This waterfall has is a series of small lagoons where water flows slowly from one to the next. I went there during a dry period so the water level was not that high. Arung Ijau in the west of Siantan island is the best place to watch the sunset. Also in Tarempa pompong’s can be hired to go to nearby islands. Pompong’s are more expensive in Tarempa than in Letung and you will have to pay more than Rp. 1.000.000 for a days hire. On the day that I hired a pompong from Tarempa, we visited three islands: P. Nongket, P. Penjalin and P.  Mangkian. P. Nongket was a very peaceful place with large boulders where one can swim through. Corals were very good here and it’s a good place for photography with calm clear waters, large boulders and underwater life. P. Penjalin is one of the remotest islands in the Anambas Archipelago and had spectacular rock formations. One of which had a rock that was one push away from falling down! The snorkelling was excellent to the south side of the white sanded beach. I spotted a school of Napoleon Wrasse! P. Mangkian also had good snorkelling, but the current was quite strong due to deep waters around it. Also here, I spotted a school of Napoleon Wrasse. Watch out for the black sea urchins as they can pierce your stomach if you don’t watch out! On the last day of my stay we chartered a small speedboat to the island of Rengek where there was good snorkelling at the south side of the beach close to the drop-off. P. Rengek is near Tarempa so chartering a boat to this island costs about Rp. 350.000. I shared this with friends so it became even cheaper than that.

All in all, a very worthwhile experience travelling to these lovely islands. I can highly recommend it! Friendly people, good corals and white beaches. Remember to always bring your plastic and other types of waste with you and don’t touch the corals in order to preserve this place!

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Boulders at P. Nongket
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Butterfly fish at P. Nongket
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Coral reef at P. Penjalin
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Rock about to fall at P. Penjalin!
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Clown fish at P. Rengek

 

Similan Islands

The Similan Islands are nine beautiful tropical islands dotted in the Andaman Sea, not too far from mainland Thailand in Khao Lak. Established as a national park in 1982, they offer some of Thailand’s best snorkeling and diving. Above water, there is also substantial wildlife, like nicobar pigeons, mangrove monitor lizard and flying fox! Islands number 1-3 are closed too all tourist activity as they are protected for turtle conservation. Island number 3 is even owned by the Thai princess. Islands number 4 and 8 are the only two islands where you can stay overnight. This can be done in simple bungalows or in tents that are already set up for you when you arrive. Similan can only be visited from November – April, since it is closed during the monsoon season. Fishing is illegal in the Similan National Park. Sadly during the monsoon season in particular, fisherman enter the park and damage coral reefs and local fish stocks. Let’s hope this situation will improve in the future. Otherwise it is an amazing place. The huge rock formations are simply stunning below and above water. I can highly recommend these islands! Try to take smaller tour operators as the larger ones are very commercial and bring with them 30+ tourists (half of them usually can’t swim :P) on one boat.

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