Islands visited in 2017

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The island of Tioman, Malaysia. Island number 15 (out of 100), country number 12 (out of 25), month number 15 (out of 100.)

This is a post about trying to see humans as humans.

You reach Tioman island via a one hour ferry ride off the East cost of southern Malaysia.

We arrived at the rustic but charming resort for a few days of swimming with stingrays, swinging in the tree-swing and playing in the sand.

While there I got chat with a woman who worked in the spa, a woman who’s story inspired me to this post.

The woman, let’s call her Mrs Human, was from Indonesia but had left Indonesia for Malaysia at the early age of 16.

“I am a christian”, Mrs Human explained.

A catholic woman from the Philippines, living in Malaysia, had taken it upon her to train Mrs Human how to be a masseuse and by doing that given her a job and a career so she could make her own living.

Mrs Human’s life had turned out good, but it was clear the her the reason she had left home – and her home country – at such a young age was because she had decided to convert to another religion than her family – and that her family had pushed her away because of her decision.

Her faith had turned her family away from her.

I find it sad how differences in religions can push family apart.

On our way to Tioman island we had booked a car for our little group. (We had decided to go the whole family, including our two helpers so all in all we were 10 people with my mother and my wifes sister and her son joining us for the trip.)

When the driver came to pick us up it turned out that our 10 seater van only had nine seat-belts, the seat that one of our helpers was sitting in did not have a functional seat belt. When we pointed this out the drivers respons was: “Just let the helper ride without the seatbelt.”

As if a helper was less of a human than the rest of us, as if a helper did not need to wear a seat-belt.

As we were late for the ferry we had to get into the car and ride with just nine seatbelt, but we made sure that the van which would come and pick us up for the return trip with have seatbelt for everyone. (and it did).

To have to point out that a helper should also be expected to get a seatbelt when you rent a van made me uncomfortable.

The fact that people can make a decision like who should and should not wear a seatbelt based on their occupation makes me sad.

These two stories from Tioman island are, for me, two different examples of how we as humans for some reason are not able to look at humanity without looking down on some. It might be a human behaviour to want to do that, but it’s a sad human behaviour and I am absolutely convinced that it’s a human behaviour that we can train ourselves to be less and less affected by by making a deliberate decision to try not to judge people based on their religion, their job title, their skin color etc – but by their character and their actions.

We are, after all, just 7.5 billion people clinging on to a small, little, tiny speck of an “island” called Earth. We might as well try to work together as best we can while we are here.


Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life. The island of Tioman was island number 15country number 12 and month number 15. (Countries visited so far: China, Sweden, Maldives, Austria, Nigeria, Vietnam, Egypt, Indonesia, USA, Malaysia, Thailand, and Hong Kong.)

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The island of Lantau, Hong Kong. Island number 14 (out of 100), country number 12 (out of 25), month number 14 (out of 100.)
Hong Kong is one of the most populated places on earth with 6,735 people per square kilometer it is actually the 4th most populated country (or territory) on earth.

But Hong Kong actually consists of 263 islands (and the Kowloon peninsula.)

I met with Rob Liwall, a British adventurer who live in the town of Mui Wo on the island of Lantau (the biggest island in Hong Kong) with his Chinese wife and newborn son Magnus.

Mui Wo is a 30 minute ferry ride away from the bustling, crowded, metropolitan metropolis that is Hong Kong. The ferry ride might be short, but the two places are worlds apart.

On Mui Wo there are very few people, even fewer cars and mostly people commute on bikes. The houses are small and low, the pace is slow and time seems to have stood still (or at least moved very slow) for the longest time. The cows and buffalo literally roam the streets; their slow and un-stressed pace sets the tone for the whole place.

If Hong Kong is a metropolis, Mui Wo is a “minipolis”, if there is such a word.

But things are changing.

In the last few years the speed of Mui Mo has been picking up. Fueled by the rumors of the city extending the subway line to Mui Mo, land prices have sky rocketed and construction companies have moved in building shiny new apartment blocks on what was, until recently, farm land.

Where there is money to be made development happens.

Some people here love it. Some hate it. Some see it as progress. Some as the end of the world. Or at least as the end of the world as they knew it.

Right now Mui Wo is both the new and the old at the same time: just look at the picture of the cow grassing freely just next to the brand new and modern apartments buildings, so new that no-one has moved into them yet.

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Going from the crowded Hong Kong to the, still, remote Mu Woi reminded me of a trip I did a few weeks ago to Namibia.

Namibia is the second least populated country in the world. It has just 2,9 (!) humans per square kilometer.

You can drive for hours without seeing a human, and without even seeing any trace of humanity (a part from the road you are driving on of course).

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Vast parts of the country side is desert and many corners of the Namibia has most likely never seen a human.

When you spend time in a country like Namibia you get pulled back to a time when human beings did not rule the world – when we were just one animal species amongst many others.

It is a humbling, and surprisingly refreshing feeling.

Like we are guests on this planet, not the owners of it.

When I walk around Mui Wo I think about how mankind is spreading out our footprint over our planet. And once our foot have been planted we tend not to go away.

Is it a blessing or a curse that Mui Wo is now transforming?

The jury is out.

And I leave this place and go back to the chaotic melting pot that is Hong Kong to fly back home to Singapore – an crowded island that just 50 years ago was nothing more than a small trading post and a huge swamp and rainforest.

Is Singapore better or worse now?

It depends on who you are asking.

Most people would probably, all things considered, say that it is.

Most animals would probably disagree. And the buffalo that onces walked freely in Singapore are long gone.


Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life. The island of Lantau was island number 14, country number 12 and month number 14.

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The island of Phuket, Thailand. Island number 13 (out of 100), country number 11 (out of 25), month number 13 (out of 100.)

The JW Marriott Phuket Resort and Spa is “set in 27 acres of lush tropical gardens with natural swimming pools, freshwater ponds, and natural preserved coastal wetlands” and “offers seclusion and tranquility overlooking the Andaman Sea.”

A 60 minute massage in their Mandara Spa will set you back Bath 3200++.

Just outside the property of the JW Marriott (meters away from the Marriott spa) a group of thai women have built a simple hut, a structure without walls but with a leaking roof. Under that roof they are offering one hour massage on the beach for 400 Bath – no “plus plus”…

For the last few days I stayed in the Marriott and had massages on the beach. The difference between the luxurious resort spa and the simple hut on the beach is vast. Yet, both offer the same service. (The experience of laying outside on the beach, listening to the waves is, in a way, more luxurious that laying inside in the air-conditioned and controlled environment.)

Seeing the same service being offered under so different circumstances, and at such different fees, makes you think about how un-evenly the wealth of humanity has been distributed.

Millions of foreign tourists visit Phuket every year – more than 33 million tourist visit Thailand each year, and about 1/3 of them go to Phuket – and they spent 1.71 trillion (!) Bath in the country.

And even if the average Thai salary has gone up, from 9000 Bath in 1999 to 14 000 Bath in 2016, that still only means that the average Thai person earns just 282 USD per month.

The JW Marriott Phuket Resort and Spa is controlled by the Marriott family, which, according to Forbes, is the 42nd riches family in the USA with a wealth of around 7 000 000 000 USD.

I am not, in any way an opponent of the Marriott operating in Thailand, on the contrary, and they can charge what they want for their massages. I believe in trade and business as a driver of good and positive development in many ways (I have been to North Korea and seen with my own eyes what a closed world and strict limitations on business can do to a country.) And I am thankfully aware that I belong to the very top percent of people on earth when it comes to access to financial means.

But I do think that a more efficient model of reducing the income differences between the rich and the poor is needed.

It’s easy to see.
It’s easy to say.
It’s quite difficult to know how it should or could be done.

Walking by the expensive Mandara Spa to get my massage on the beach I was reminded of the two world that are living worlds apart – just next to each other on this Thai island.

It served as a reminder of how we all – the entire humanity – are all living just next to each other on this small, little “island” called “Earth” which is floating in the big, black, vast, empty ocean of space.


Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life. The island of Phuket was island number 13, country number 11 and month number 13.