Tag: Islands visited in 2016

The island of Penang, Malaysia. Island number 11 (out of 100), country number 10 (out of 25), months number 5 (out of 100.)

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The password to access the WIFI in the E&O hotel is “heritage”.
I find that funny.

This old hotel founded in 1885 – more than 130 years ago! – has introduced a relatively modern technology – wifi internet access – but to get access to it you have to write the word “heritage” …

According to the dictionary “heritage” means: “valued objects and qualities such as historic buildings and cultural traditions that have been passed down from previous generations.”

And yes, E&O gets many of its guests from tourists who want to experience the old, historic buildings of George Town, the main city of the island of Penang.

The “oldness” is what draws the tourists to the island.

And E&O is an iconic landmark in George Town. Situated just next to the water, and with loads of character reminding visitors of its long history, it is in many ways like stepping back in town to step into the halls of the “Eastern & Oriental Hotel”. In its heydays is was know as “the premier hotel east of Suez.”

In 2008, it was listed as one of Malaysian UNESCO World Heritage Site for its long history as a cosmopolitan city.

And here is where the paradox occurs.

Because the definition of “cosmopolitan” is “familiar with and at ease in many different countries and cultures.”

So George Town was included into the list of World Heritage Sites (a list of historic buildings and cultural traditions) because of its history of being a city that is “familiar with and at ease in many different countries and cultures.”

Sounds like a paradox to me.

A city open to new ideas from foreign lands is celebrated as a place that should be protected to be kept the same as it has been…

Personally I love the E&O hotel (even if it has lost some of its glamour from the past), and I love the historic sites of old George Town – but I also love the concept of innovation, creativity and new ideas.

To have progress – to make the world better – we need to constantly strive to improve and make things better.

At the same time we need to know when to slow down and protect what we have.

Logging in on the WIFI to write this column while sitting in a very old chair in a very old hotel has given me the dual sensation of inspiration from new technology and inspiration from history.

That is the dual sense of emotions that hit me while visiting the island of Penang today.

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 Penang was island number 11, country number 10 and months number 5.



Rhoda island, Cairo, Egypt, Island number 8 (out of 100), country number 7 (out of 25), months number 4 (out of 100.)

“There are islands in Cairo?”

I got that question earlier this week when I answered “Cairo” to the question “Which is the next island you are going to visit in your island world tour?”

And yes, there is. In the Nile. (Which means, I guess we can call them “Nileands”… 🙂

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To access map and read more about the Nilometer click here.

I am in Cairo for work but find time to visit Rhoda Island to go and visit the historic “Nilometer”.

A Nilometer was a “structure for measuring the Nile River’s clarity and water level during the annual flood season. It was a step-like structure that measured how high the flood would be. If it was low, there would be famine. If it was too high, it would be destructive. There was a specific mark that indicated how high the flood should be if the fields were to get good soil.” (Source Wikipedia.)

The Nilometer on Rhoda island is beautiful.

It was build way back in AD 861 and you can just see how important it was at the time. (Today the Nile is not flooding so uncontrollable anymore since Egypt has build damms to tame the mighty river.)

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When I see the workmanship, the effort and the attention to detail that went into the building of this amazing structure I am reminded of the greatness of the Egypt of the past. (Like you are over and over again when you visit the pyramids, the temples and the museums of Cairo and the rest of Egypt.)

But at the same time I can not but think about how a country that used to be so great can be so dysfunctional today.

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It is almost like if there is a curse on some countries where their once-greatness is stopping them from realising their full potential today.

You would think that someone growing up in a country that has a history such as Egypt would be inspired to want to build his or her country up to glory again. That the parents of these children would work hard to make it happen.

But time and time again when I come to Egypt I get the feeling of the opposite.

It’s like their history is holding them back, instead of pushing them forward.

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While here in Cairo I take time to listen to a powerful TED-talk by Wael Ghonim of Google Egypt who was instrumental in creating the “Arab Spring” in Egypt. Wael created a Facebook page that got more than 1 000 000 (!) followers and which got more than 100 000 people to go out and demonstrate to create a new and democratic Egypt in an event that escalated to a country wide uprising towards the regime. At the end Wael got thrown in jail and put in 11 days of total isolation and darkness until his colleagues in Google and Facebook friends got him released just days before Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign.

In his speech Wael talks about how disappointed he was over how the Internet and social media – which had started of as a tool to create positive change – had turned into an instrument that tended to create polarisation.

At the end of his speech he says: “(We have to) make it socially acceptable that we change our minds. Or probably even reward that.”

And then he asks about post in social media: “What if we had a metric about how many people changed their minds?”

I think he is on to something. But I think his insight is much bigger than just social media.

I think that the success of societies, the success of civilisations, is based on their ability to change their minds.

And it is definitely true when it comes to personal success. Realising that what we thought was right is wrong and having the courage to admit it and recalibrate our thinking is what makes us grow.

Regardless if it is something small (like realising that there are islands in Cairo) to something big (chancing your world view or religious belief for example) having the ability to reboot our brains to upgrade our worldview is perhaps the most powerful ability we can have.

To change our minds is not to admit that we were wrong: It’s to show that we know how to be a little bit more right.

Or in the words of the brilliant Winston Churchill: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”.

When I see the kids playing in the Nile next to the Nilometer I hope someone is going to send that message to them. Egypt deserves to be great again.

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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. Rhoda Island was island number 8, country number 7 and months number 4.





Cam Kim island, Hoi An, Vietnam, Island number 7 (out of 100), country number 6 (out of 25), months number 4 (out of 100.)

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“Your hobby is islands?”

My guide, Lucy, is looking at me with a mix of amazement and doubt, like I am a little bit weird.

Which is funny since she just encouraged me to eat a duck fetus (!) – as if eating a semi-developed duckling would be something totally normal. (More about the duck fetus later.)

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Lucy is confused about my request to take a detour from the scheduled food tour that she is taking me on and to skip walking though the old town of Hoi An, and instead take a trip around the island of Cam Kim.

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(Click here to see island on Google Maps.)

Her reaction is understandable. The old town of Hoi An is on the “Unesco World Heritage List” because it is so unique.

On the Unesco’s website it reads: “Hoi An Ancient Town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Its buildings and its street plan reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign, that have combined to produce this unique heritage site.”

And it is lovely. (As hundreds, and hundreds, of tourists walking around the city can confirm.)

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So you would be forgiven if you thought that I wanted to see more of the city too, but I am a “off-the-beaten-track” kind of guy, who happens to have a soft spot for islands, so I ask to shorten the city tour so that we instead have time to go see an island as part of my tour.

Luckily for me Lucy is very open for new ideas and happily improvises a unique food tour, inclusive of island visit, just for me that takes me to Cam Kim island in the middle of Thu Bon River.

She tells me that the island is mainly known for three things: growing corn, growing rice – and the making of bed mats. (They grow the white version of corn, not just the normal yellow one and they just had their annual Corn Festival.)

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Life on the island has recently changed after a bridge (though only open for two-wheelers like motorcycles and bikes) has connected the island to the city. Before you had to take a ferry to the island, which tended to isolate the island a bit, but now you just speed over on a bike and the islands is suddenly just two minutes away from the Unesco Heritage site. Lucy is telling me this and much more while driving me around on the back of her motorbike.

I did the Hoi An Food Tour because of Lucy.

The day before Lucy had held a passionate speech about why the company she works for, www.hoianfoodtour.com, is involved in a social enterprise in Hoi an.

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Every last Sunday all the tour guides in the company (20 of them) go and help cook food for a shelter for the unprivileged. The center has +110 orphans, mentally ill and handicapped people living there.
I heard Lucy speak at a conference where I also had been invited to speak, and her passion for the center made me cry. On the spot i decided to give some money to the center and to sign up for a food tour with Lucy to support her and the company.

As a bonus I got to know Lucy, Hoi An and Vietnam through the food of the country.

This is (some of) what I learned.

Let’s start with that duck embryo.

It’s called “Balut” and is a semi-developed duckling where you can start to see the beak, bones, and in some instances feathers of the duck begin to develop. It’s served with papaya sallad, greens and chili. In Vietnam it’s eaten as comfort food when you are sick and the “hot” chili and ginger is said to be a good complement to the “cold” duck. Yin and Yang in harmony.

For tourists eating the Balut is less about getting well and more about not getting sick by the thought of eating the early-bird-egg-bone-and-feather-mixture staring at you from the egg.

Lucy, or Linh which is her vietnamese name, told me that only 20% of the people on her tour are brave enough to try it.

After I had eaten mine (it is quite tasty actually) I asked her if she had thought I would be one of the 20%? She was honest enough to say “No.” She then explained: “Normally the people who try are the young ones, not the old ones.”


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Another thing she introduced me to was “the husband and wife cake”.

Legend has it that by baking this cake a woman was able to get her husband back again after he had left her for life in the city.

Nowadays it’s a tradition that the wife to be needs to bake 100 pieces of the “husband and wife cake” to give to the family of her future husband (together with, if I understood it correctly, 100 different pieces of fruit and a pigs head.)

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In Vietnam it was traditionally considered “better” to have a son than a daughter (and Vietnam has the same problem as China with more boys than girls being born after ultra sound technology made it possible for “human selection” to replace “natural selection” for which gender should be born. In Vietnam 112.4 boys are born for every 100 girls born (up from 106.2/100 in 2000). The reason you wanted a boy was that when a daughter is married off she becomes the “daughter” of the new family.

But there is an anti trend happening with more and more families starting to appreciate having a girl.

Lucy is a 23 year old, single and strong woman, and she told me that her father, who had three daughters, is now happy he got girls.

“In todays Vietnam it is better to be a woman”, she told me. “Women can make better careers, have better jobs.”

When Lucy gets her own kid she wants a girl.

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Some traditions change, some remain. Some evolve.

Lucy takes me to the Bong Hong Trang dumpling restaurant.

The name means “white rose” and the same family has been making dumplings for three generations. It was started by their great grandfather who brought the recipe from China. But over the years the dish evolved and it is now “Chinese dumplings” served with “Vietnamese fish sauce” (instead of soy sauce) and “Vietnamese dried onions.”

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They make 5000-6000 dumplings per day – by hand – and it was some of the best dumplings I have ever had, and I have lived in China.

Another “mix of traditions” Lucy took me to was a vietnamese baguette shop serving a“french baguette” filled with the local pork and vegetables.


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What I especially liked with the baugett stand was the small “extra stand” outside the restaurant where poor people could go and get a baguette for free.

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When my tour was done I had snacked on Water Fern Cake (Banh Beo) in a hole-in-the-wall, eaten everything from noodles dipped in ash to home cooked – and home served – spring rolls in the private home of a Hoi An family and much more.

I have gotten to know Vietnam a little bit better via my taste buds and my stomach.


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But more importantly I had gotten a better understanding of the heart, spirit and mind of the Vietnamese people by having Linh show me her country.

I loved all aspects of what I learnt, but there was one thing which stuck with me a little bit more: It was with what ease the Vietnamese seemed to adopt the concept of helping a fellow human in need regardless if it was a small tour company cooking food for the disabled, a restaurant making it easy for the poor to pick up a free meal, or how the Hoi An food tour offers free city tours hosted by students who want to improve their English.

Caring for the less fortunate is of course not just a Vietnamese trait, but a human one – perhaps even the trait which makes us humans?

But during my short stop in Hoi An I got reminded by the friendly and caring Vietnamese people I met how simple it can be to care a little bit more.

For that I thank Lucy.

Now imagine if we as humans all became a little bit better at being a little bit more humane.
That’s food for thought.

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. Cam Kim island was island number 7, country number 6 and months number 4.



The island of Vadoo, The Maldives: Island number 3 (out of 100). Country number 3 (out of 25). Month 2 (out of 100)


The chef approached us last night at dinner with a big, friendly smile as he asked us: “Since you are staying for so long, can we treat you for a free dinner surprise?”

We were, needless to say grateful, but also a little bit puzzled – we had just told him that we were only in the Maldives for 5 days.

But it turns out that makes us long-stayers in the world that Maldives now finds itself in.

Our butler, Deepu, later explained to us that the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka has changed everything.

So how did peace in Sri Lanka transform the tourism industry of the Maldives?


Let’s start from the beginning.

It used to be that the foreigners from far away lands (like Europe, USA – and lately China) flew in the Maldives and stayed for 10, 12, 15 days – or longer – before going back home.

The Maldives has, for the longest time, been the definition of paradise. It’s THE honeymoon destination of the world.

It has a very strong brand as the number one tropical island vacation spot in the world. As it should, it’s an awesome place to experience.


But it is expensive.

So historically the people who came to the Maldives where wealthy people who could afford to stay two weeks or more once they had arrived from the long, and equally expensive, flight.

But then the war between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government ended.
After more than 25 years of bloody fighting the civil war had almost torn the beautiful island of Sri Lanka apart, and the killings, bombings and terrorist attacks had scared away almost all tourists for decades.

When peace finally arrived the island exploded with tourism developments.

Sri Lanka is an island, it’s as big as Ireland, full of culture, and with a beach that virtually goes around the entire island.
The country formally known as Ceylon is now trying to get tourists to discover that peace has arrived in paradise and that it is now safe to come and visit all these new resorts that they have built.
Which means that Sri Lanka is currently cheap.
Very cheap if you compare it with the Maldives.

Which brings us to the logic behind the Paradox of Paradise which goes something like this:

1) Because the Maldives has a strong brand a lot of people want to go to the Maldives.
2) But because of the strong brand and strong demand the cost per night for staying in the Maldives is very high.
3) That means that people want to go – but actually prefer to not stay so long.

When Sri Lanka was still an island at war with itself it meant that the Maldives was just too far away for tourists to fly into only for a few nights, which meant that the people who could afford to come here were people who could afford to pay the expensive rates for many nights.

But now you can comfortably “top-up” your affordable Sri Lanka vacation with a cheap and quick 1-hour flight from Sri Lanka to stay 2, 3 or 4 nights in the Maldives. (Enough so that you can do some snorkeling, have a night in a villa on the water – and most importantly – post on Facebook to your friends: “Look, here I am in the Maldives!”.)

These new guest fly in, check in – and fly out again.

The strong brand of the Maldives drives these tourists to the islands.
The expensive prices of the Maldives resorts drives them away after a few days.

Why spend +1000 USD per night for two weeks in the Maldives when you can have 10 days on the beaches of Sri Lanka for a fraction of that cost and then still end your vacation with 3 or 4 nights in the Maldives, so you can still say that you have been there?

That is what I learnt from visiting the island of Vadoo in the Maldives today: That peace in one paradise can change the business dynamics of another country. We are all connected – our worlds more interconnected – in more ways than we think.


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 Maldives was island number 3, country number 3 and months number 2.


The island of Kungsholmen (and a few hundred other islands in the Stockholm Archipelago), Sweden.

Island number 2 (out of 100). Country number 2 (out of 25). Month 1 (out of 100)


The famous poem by John Donne begins:

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent.”

I have a slightly different way of looking at it, probably influenced by the fact that I spend a big part of my life living on or visiting islands.

I do think that islands are separated from each other.

I think the same is true for people.

And I think that is a good thing.

I think the beauty of islands is that they, in a way, are easily identified individual identities. And I think people who learn to distance themselves a little bit from the mass of others have a better chance of developing a clear idea of who they really are in a way that is built on integrity and own thought.

But I do not believe that means that islands (or men) are disconnected.

We might have to look under the surface, we might have to look deeper – but it is a fact that all islands are connected to each other – it’s just done in a way that is not so obvious.

An island is nothing but the tip of a mountain submerged in water. And all mountains are part of one landmass called Earth.

Just like all people are nothing but individuals contained in our own bodies and brains, but we are all part of humanity.

And nowhere does this insight get clearer than when you go skating in the archipelago of Stockholm during winter.

Which is exactly what I did today.

For hours we raced between literally hundreds of islands. Our skates cut into the black, thick and beautiful ice to propel us forward at remarkable speed.

Long distance ice-skating in the Stockholm Archipelago is a unique – and amazing – way to experience the blend of nature and city that is the Swedish capital.


To be able to experience, like we did today. serene nature with tracks of beaver and even a close encounter with a huge eagle and then just a short while later skate into the absolute city center of Stockholm with sky scrapers, traffic jams and city dwellers all around you while you silently skate on the water while the ice sings under your feet is a nature experience that rivals anything you can do on this planet.
And then it hit me: When the water has frozen into ice the whole landscape magically turns into one.
The big mirrorlike ice sheet and all the separate islands blend into one piece of “land”.
One surface that we quickly could cross to go from one place to another.
The hard ice made it so easy to go from islands to island – and, even more interesting, made it so easy, both physically and mentally,  to step onto any island we wanted to stop at.
When the water froze to ice it made it easier to see that:
Yes, every man is an island
But – all islands are connected.
That is what I learned today, that thanks to the solidification of the water it was easier to notice what was always there: that we are all more connected than we think. We just have to stop and take a closer look to see it sometimes.
Oh, and I think John Donne was wrong when he wrote:
“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent.”
Because we are not just part of a continent. We are part of the planet. And that is the primary way we should think of ourselves.
(Video below from our trip today.)


(PS. We even skated by one of my own islands (Vifärnaholme, see www.ideasisland.com) where we stopped for a quick coffee break. And here is an interesting observation: If you own an islands in Sweden you have to be much more prepared to have uninvited guests on your island in the WINTER than in the SUMMER – because in the summer the water creates a small barrier between the “water” and the “land” that makes people think twice before stepping on your island. But in the winter that border is gone. Ice and Land become one and it is nothing stopping you from stepping on to the land.


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.
Kungsholmen was islands number 2, country number 2 and months number 1.