"I started my adventure with very little money and a very vague plan. It felt like a head dive into emptiness. I did not know if there would be a net or hard concrete under me," said Katja Grundner, a woman from Austria, who embarked on an epic adventure of a lifetime – one that many people only dream of.
In her 15-month long journey across the foreign landscapes of Europe and Asia, Katja was not alone. Intertwined with a bond of love, trust, and companionship, Momo, Katja's four-legged companion, a female Malinois dog, also accompanied her.
Together, they splashed in Russia's
Lake Baikal, explored the dense jungles in Cambodia, walked along paradisiacal beaches in Thailand, visited an indigenous tribe in Myanmar, got to appreciate Indian culture, hiked to a peak over 4,000 m in the western Himalayas, celebrated traditional festivals with Pakistanis, lived with an Iranian family, and got to know the helpfulness of the Turkish people.
Across The Continent And Into The Unknown
An image showing the route of Katja's travels.
"It has always been a dream of mine to travel to countless countries, especially Asian destinations such as Vietnam and India. I did not want to hear about the world and its many cultures only from the media, but to see and experience the local life on my own," mentioned Katja describing her motivation for the journey.
Momo was always part of her plans.
"Momo was adopted from a shelter. She is a working breed and loves action. Momo and I cannot imagine being separated for more than a few hours. So leaving her behind was never an option," said Katja.
Before the journey, there was plenty to do. Katja meticulously took care of it all while Momo cheered up the hard-working Katja with her warm and loving presence. Visas and vaccinations were at the top of their list. Arranging transport was also vital. Katja wanted to ensure that her beloved Momo enjoyed the trip as much as her.
It goes without saying that transporting an encaged Momo in the luggage compartment of an airplane was nightmarish to her. So, she bought a transporter months before the trip and set it up herself to serve as a caravan on their long journey from Austria in Central Europe to Vladivostok, Russia, at the
eastern edge of Asia.
Katja, Momo, and the van.
And so began the adventure of the inseparable duo. They left the comfort of their home in Austria on May 30, 2018. Due to the validity requirements of Momo's medical documents, they had only ten days within which they had to enter Russia. After spending a night in
Czechia they headed towards Poland where they spent around five days. During this time, their only worry was a breakdown of their bus. They repaired it in no time and continued on their journey. After traversing through Lithuania and Latvia for three days, they entered Russia on June 9, 2018.
The Serene Shores Of Lake Baikal In Russia
Katja and Momo at Lake Baikal.
In Russia, Katja and Momo spent a memorable time by the shores of Lake Baikal.
"It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited! The oldest and deepest freshwater lake in the world has tranquil shores and clear water where you can sit for hours and just listen to the gentle rippling sound of the water. I parked my camper directly at the shore and had this view when I woke up," Katja shares an image of her picturesque surroundings.
In For A Big Shock!
Leaving the serenity of the lake behind, the duo continued on their journey. Once they reached Vladivostok after about a month of traveling through Russia, Katja and Momo were looking forward to visiting their next destination – Vietnam. But, hardly did they know that they were in for their first big shock! According to Katja's original plan, they would be traveling to Vietnam via the sea to avoid traveling by airplane with Momo. However, once in Vladivostok, Katja came to know that there were only ships to China, South Korea, and Japan.
"Since my Russian visa would have expired in a few days and China mandated a very long quarantine for dogs, I decided to go to South Korea instead – without my bus, this had been shipped back to Europe," said Katja.
Katja and Momo.
The two took a ferry ride from Vladivostok, Russia, to Donghae, South Korea, on July 6.
Days in South Korea were not rosy for the duo and Katja soon had to face a disturbing situation and take a difficult decision.
"In South Korea, I ran out of money and felt extremely lost. Luckily, I found an online job as a writer and my dream trip could continue. Since there were only ships to China again, we had to take the airplane to Vietnam, for better or worse. Momo did not like it, of course, but she was fine. I promised her, that this would be the first and the last flight that we took on this journey."
A Dream Come True In Vietnam
Katja in Vietnam.
Once the twosome landed in Vietnam on October 1, they forgot all their concerns. Vietnam was divine.
Katja and Momo spent two weeks discovering the sights and sounds of Hanoi, the Vietnamese
capital. They also stayed at the Cat Ba Island for about a month. It is the largest island in the Cat Ba Archipelago and one that is renowned for its astounding natural beauty. Later, they also visited Ninh Binh, Nha Trang, and Ho Chi Minh City, each place associated with a host of natural and cultural attractions.
"In Vietnam, it felt like a dream had come true for the first time. We lived in the heart of the national park of Cat Ba Island in the famous Halong Bay, which I wanted to see for a very long time already!" exclaimed an excited Katja.
"Here, we lived in a tiny village called Viet Hai - within a few hours' walking distance from the Ben tau Viet Hai port. Surrounded by mountains and the dark green jungle, the place is surreal. Isolated, and with barely any visitors, and hardly any traffic. It seemed that time had stopped in Viet Hai."
"However, that does not mean there is nothing much to do there," continued Katja. "In fact, it is quite the contrary! We hiked up the mountain and into the forest, kayaked and swam in the sea, had our lunch on a boat as we observed the spectacular cliffs looming all around us, and also visited the fascinating Monkey Island."
Exploring The Exotic In Cambodia
Katja in Cambodia.
From Vietnam, Katja and Momo traveled to Cambodia, home to the world's largest temple complex, the
Angkor Wat, and numerous other attractions. They reached the country on December 30. They traveled extensively through the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh and of course, visited Siem Reap and its marvellous temples. In Siem Reap, living outside the city with a local family was a bonus.
Katja at Angkor Wat.
"It was a thrill to live on an old wooden house on high stilts. Wide fields, local eateries, and markets surrounded us," recounted Katja.
"Of course, I visited the Angkor Wat although the ticket there was a bit expensive, 37 dollars a day for foreigners! However, it was worth it and the architectural beauty of the temples there was simply jaw-dropping!"
While Cambodia is steeped in history and rich in culture, it is also endowed with great natural beauty. Katja and Momo experienced this green side of Cambodia as they visited the Phnom Kulen National Park.
Katja exploring the nature in Cambodia with Momo at her side.
In Phnom Kulen, we slept in a tent at a friend's place where many dogs and chicken were running around everywhere! We sat around a campfire all night long, drank some tea. We also drove with the motorbike, as Momo was running beside us, into the deep jungle. There were banana, mango and pineapple trees everywhere."
"We visited an ancient archeological excavation site, one from a tribe long before the time of Angkor Wat. Chiseled figures in big stones, fascinating holes in stones made by human beings (for their buildings) and the interesting story behind it thrilled me to the core. We also visited enchanting waterfalls which were just astounding! We even took a bath in the basin of the Phnom Kulen Waterfall - too great, it was like in a dream!" mentioned a super-excited Katja.
But before anyone gets all excited and heads out to explore Phnom Kulen on their own, Katja warns them of the dangers that lurk in the unknown.
"It is believed that most of the national park except for the touristic places are still riddled with landmines left by past wars. These areas are yet to be declared landmine-free, and venturing out alone to such places can have a fatal outcome."
Although their heart desired for more, Katja and Momo left Cambodia on February 27, 2019, for Thailand.
The story of their amazing adventure to be continued......