The Tenderloin, more than meets the eye [San Francisco]

“The Tenderloin? Don’t go!”

This is what you can read on most websites and in most guidebooks. It is true that the neighborhood looks pretty dodgy despite its 433 (!) historical buildings. However, it has been on the vanguard of sweeping social changes for over a century… Keep traveling!

Walking Madrid with a local

If Madrid is the capital of Spain, its most touristy city is Barcelona. For the traveller who has visited the harbour city, Madrid may look a bit severe far from the charming medieval streets and eccentric Gaudi buildings of the capital of Catalonia. Follow us and walk Madrid with a local to find the real soul of Madrid, behind its wide avenues and majestic façades…

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District Six museum, Cape Town: a commemoration ground

“We were told that we didn’t qualify to live there anymore because of the colour of our skin.” – Joe Schaffers, ex-resident of District Six. Removed in 1967 at the age of 28.

“Every day to work I would pass by my house, out of which my wife, kids and me had been forcefully removed. Every day I would stop and look at it, seeing the bulldozers getting closer. Until one day our house was gone, just a vacant plot remained, on which I stood with an empty heart.” – Noor Ebrahim, ex-resident of District Six, Cape Town. Removed in 1970 at the age of 26.

“Many streets from which people were removed and houses demolished are still empty today. The goal was to divide people and break us.” – Ruth Jeftha, ex-resident of District Six.

Today Joe, Noor and Ruth are here, at the District Six museum in Cape Town, South Africa. Housed in a former church and the only original building of the District Six that is still standing, more than a museum, it is a commemoration place where former residents reaffirm their identity by sharing their life stories with visitors, celebrate their heritage, confront the complexity of history, and try to come to terms with their forced removals.

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Offbeat Cape Town, beyond the Waterfront and Table Mountain

Parading the V&A Waterfront, going wine-tasting in the vineyards, exploring Cape Point, Boulders Beach, Robben Island and Table Mountain, just a grab of the many must-do’s when visiting Cape Town. But before soaking up South Africa’s moving history on Robben Island, indulging yourself to good food, delicious wine or taking selfies from the top of Table Mountain overlooking the magnificent views of the City Bowl, there is one activity that deserves a little more attention: discovering the real Cape Town with a local.

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Change a Life

Port Alfred, South Africa. A town like many others. With its township like many others. The perfect example of apartheid with its wealthy “first-class-citizen” suburb for whites, Station Hill for the “second class” coloured residents, and the township for the blacks. Although the only township in Africa that bears the name of the iconic Nelson Mandela, nicknamed Nemato.

Nemato looks like your average South African township. Though most of its 25,000 or so inhabitants enjoy electricity, whether it be the legal way or illegally Keep travelling!

Cambodia’s floating villages

The narrow straight road reminds me of one of the Dutch roads being laid out on a narrow dyke not far from where I was born. It prevents the water from flowing from one field to the next. Just the hordes of cyclists are missing. Around me, the landscape is as flat as the one I grew up in, and a smile appears on my face when I observe a familiar bird, the Common Snipe (gallinago gallinago) wading through the muddy shallows of water parallel to the road, searching for food. This bird used to be printed on the former Dutch notes of 100 Guilders, a wader I haven’t seen in a while. It is not the only one searching for food. Bare chested, tanned fishermen make their way through the murky waters, ready to throw their nets while a kingfisher strikes from the air. The road is rebuilt every year when the water of the massive Tonlé Sap Lake resides several kilometres in the dry season. It ends in a dusty parking lot bordering the stream that is connected to the lake. We are about ten thousand kilometres away from the Netherlands when the captain of a characteristic wooden boat welcomes us on board to explore his floating village, Kampong Phluk, in the heart of Cambodia. Keep traveling

Reviving Cambodia’s pride: Khmer golden silk

Born and raised in Paris, I am familiar with the haute couture stores of Avenue Montaigne or Rue Saint Honoré where the highest end luxury shops in the world can be found. The finest silk pieces I have ever seen are sliding through my fingers and I feel their soft and delicate textures. The shiny fabrics reflect the light delicately. The relief of the silk gives it an unexpected depth. However, I am not in the upscale heart of Paris, I am in rural Cambodia a stone’s throw from the temples of Angkor where this rare Khmer silk was made just for the king: “It took more than 10 years of research, and trial and error to revive the century-old forgotten techniques of silk weaving of the Khmers!” says Sophea Peach, the founder of Golden Silk, and it all started with the devata‘s sculpture of Angkor… Let me show you…” Keep travelling

Phare the Cambodian Circus, Siem Reap, Cambodia

A mind blowing blend of drama, dance, modern circus techniques and real-time painting on live music tells the true story of how art could empower a generation marked by the Khmer Rouge regime and the Cambodian genocide.

Sokha, an elderly bent woman slowly walks towards me. Her legs are shaky, her pace slow. Once close, she carefully sits down, opens a thick book and cautiously blows the dust from the pages that have not been opened for a long time. Our eyes meet. Keep reading

Travelling by river in Laos

Many rivers flow through Laos, making them one of the main ways of transportation in the country. Beyond just going from point A to point B, travelling by river is also a way of adjusting to the Laotian pace and discovering life in settlements along the banks. If it is very popular among travellers to take a slow boat along the majestic Mekong River to or from Luang Prabang, other rivers offer a more peaceful and authentic way of travelling (and far less crowded!).

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From refugee kid to Cirque du Soleil star

Battambang was a flourishing city before the horrific Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, dramatically jeopardized the lives of its inhabitants. Many of them ended up slaughtered in the killing fields or neighbouring killing caves for no reason, whilst others were luckier and made it to close-by Thailand. Most of them spent years in refugee camps under harsh conditions. Kids grew up traumatised with hardly any access to proper education. In 1986, Véronique Decrop, a French art teacher, volunteered at the Site Two Refugee Camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. She used drawings as a therapy to help traumatised children express themselves. That was the spark to what will become Phare Ponleu Selpak (Cambodian for the brightness of the arts), a non-profit organization improving the lives of Cambodians through arts and education, its highlight being one of the best circus schools in the world. Keep reading

Controversial morning alms ritual in Luang Prabang

It is 4:30 am in the dark streets of Luang Prabang, and I feel the chill air on my cheeks. I am still wondering if all this was a good idea, as we are walking the empty alleys of the former capital of Laos before sunrise. Somehow, I still want to form my own opinion about the morning alms ritual that is so famous in Luang Prabang and try to answer the question that has been bugging me for a while: how can an ancient religious tradition of meditative nature become a controversial tourist attraction? Keep reading

How a legend saved thousands of lives

“There is a big hole in the ocean where all the fish sleep. When these millions of fish wake up every day, they are hungry and come out of the hole to eat. As they empty this hole, the sea water gets into the hole instead and the sea level lowers: this is low tide. After eating, they get back into the hole to rest, squeezing the sea water out, and raising the ocean level as a consequence: this is high tide.” Lena passionately tells us the story the way she learnt it from the Moken people. These sea nomads of the Adaman Sea have been passing this legend on for generations, saving thousands of lives. Keep reading

Japan’s saviours: women or robots?

JR train from Tokyo to Sapporo: the little cart approaches, loaded with coffee makers, soft drinks, bento‘s and sweets. The young Japanese female train attendant asks us what we would like in a perfect English with an American accent. We are puzzled! Keep reading

How to bamboo weave your way through Luang Prabang, Laos

“Under three, over three, under three, over five, under three, over three and under three again”, Oun explains calmly. “And now the same on the other side again.” I look at the maze in front of me while I am counting the colourful flexible bamboo pieces in desperate search of a pattern that seems so obvious to him! We are Keep reading!

The Panama Canal unlocked

The Panama Canal took global trade to the next level, putting San Francisco only 9 000 kilometres from New York City instead of 22 000 via the dangerous Cape Horn. In a global economy, the canal is also used to link Asia to Europe: if you are sitting in Europe or the east coast of the USA eating a banana from Peru reading this article, or using a cell phone or laptop made in Asia, chances are they went through the Panama Canal. However, the construction of this engineering masterpiece came at a high price. Keep traveling

Beyond the postcard of Central America, another reality

Central America is a big playground for travelers: stunning and varied landscapes, rich ancient history, beautiful ruins, good food, kind people, and often more affordable than western countries. The other side of the coin is the recent history of most countries, between political instabilities, civil wars, military coups, revolutions, corruption, drug trafficking, gangs, and refugees. Keep reading

The vibrant markets of Guatemala

“How did you get here?”, asks a friendly woman in a white blood-stained apron in Spanish, while feeding her granddaughter, as we are sipping a coffee in the comedor (the food area) in the heart of the bi-weekly market in the rural Guatemalan village of Totonicapán. “By chicken bus“, we answer, onto which the women looks surprised and slightly concerned realizing we came alone. Keep reading

Hike and Help: Reach the ultimate view on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

A light is switched on, waking me up. With earplugs in my ears, my jacket and bonnet on, I am slowly extracting myself from my sleeping bag. It is early! 3:15a.m. Around me, other sleepy trekkers start to pack their sleeping bags and mattresses that cover the floor of Don Pedro’s dining room in a remote village in Guatemala. Only a few hours ago, the 15 of us from all over the world were singing songs Keep reading

Chicken buses of Guatemala

“Make sure you don’t take a chicken bus!” screams Marco who is desperately trying to sell us a trip up a volcano and a shuttle ride in a touristic van. In the streets of the lovely city of Antigua, travel agencies compete to get business from the many tourists. This is precisely what we needed to hear to explore the local transport alternatives… Keep reading

How to preserve the rainforest of Central America: by chewing gum, the organic ones!

It has been four hours and a half, and my butt has been hurting for more than two hours, as I jump off my rather uncomfortable seat regularly, breathing the diesel fumes! Starting at 5AM, the bus headed out in the night Keep travelling!

Japanese religions: Temple or Shrine?

Even if you have read our shrine for dummies article which give a basic understanding of these places of worship with their do’s and dont’s, you can still be a bit puzzled Keep reading

The Buddhist sacred flower: lotus

Lotuses literally rise from the filthy mud to become beautiful flowers. For Buddhists, this is a sacred symbol reminding them to reach for the highest Keep traveling!

Shrines: a brief manual for dummies

Visiting a shrine for the first time, one can feel a bit lost, sometimes even confusing a shrine for a temple. Respecting these places of worship and their believers means understanding a few of the following basics. In this post, the focus is on shrines. Keep reading

Tsukiji fish market and tuna auction, Tokyo

2:35 a.m. A soft knock followed by “hello, good morning”. I slowly emerge from my capsule. Keep traveling!

Earthquake in Tokyo!

We are on the 4th floor of a building in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, just a few minutes after arriving in town. Seated at a table, suddenly, the ground under our feet starts shaking. We are hearing screams, the pieces of furniture are moving around Keep reading

Spectacular festivals of Japan: The Hakata Gion Yamakasa, Fukuoka

Festivals are very important in Japan, keeping ancient traditions alive and passing them on to younger generations. They occur all through the year, and more specifically in the summer. Some are extremely popular making it hard to travel and stay in the hosting cities during these days. As such, the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival is said to be one of the most impressive ones of Japan. Keep traveling!