Geld verdienen mit dem Texte-Schreiben

Geld verdienen von zuhause oder auf Reisen – das ist für viele ein Traum. Viele Reisende führen einen Blog, den sie liebevoll pflegen. Warum also nicht für andere Leute schreiben und damit Geld verdienen? Ich verfasse seit etwa einem Jahr Werbetexte im Bereich Tourismus und bestreite damit inzwischen nicht nur auf Reisen meinen Lebensunterhalt. In diesem Artikel will ich euch zeigen, wie das geht und wie viel ihr damit verdienen könnt.

  1. Wer bezahlt für Artikel im Bereich Tourismus?

Reiseanbieter und Hotelseiten benötigen alle eines: eine gute Platzierung bei Google. Logisch: Wer auf Seite 1 der Ergebnisse landet, wird angeklickt und verdient damit bares Geld. Um ihr Suchmaschinen-Ranking zu verbessern – Search Engine Optimization oder SEO ist das Stichwort – brauchen diese Seiten gute Texte. Diese sollten bestimmte Key Words beinhalten, denn jedes Keyword generiert im Durchschnitt einen bestimmten Gewinn für die Website, wenn Kunden draufklicken. Gleichzeitig müssen die Texte hochwertig sein, denn niemand liest gerne einen stinklangweiligen, schlecht aufgebauten Artikel, der vor Rechtschreibfehlern nur so strotzt. Aufgrund dieser Nachfrage nach guten Artikeln haben sich einige Agenturen etabliert, die Auftraggebern mit selbstständigen Textern zusammenbringen. Und hier kommt ihr ins Spiel.

  1. Was muss ich mitbringen?

Um mit dem Schreiben loszulegen, braucht ihr eigentlich nur einen Computer und einen Internetzugang. Da ihr eure Artikel online abschickt, könnt ihr von überall arbeiten. Wenn eure Texte angenommen werden, erhaltet ihr das Geld auf euer Bankkonto. Was ihr natürlich mitbringen solltet, ist Freude am Schreiben und eine sichere Beherrschung der deutschen Sprache, denn: ihr seid Freelancer und werdet pro Wort bezahlt. Euer Stundenlohn richtet sich danach, wie schnell ihr schreibt. Gleichzeitig sollten die Artikel natürlich qualitativ hochwertig und fehlerfrei sein. Aber keine Angst, mit der Zeit werdet ihr sicherer werden und vor allem schneller. Auch kritikfähig solltet ihr sein, denn es lässt sich nicht vermeiden, dass mal ein Artikel mit Änderungswünschen zurückkommt. Denkt dran: Ihr schreibt für Kunden, die euch dafür bezahlen. Ihr solltet also flexibel sein und euch unterschiedlichen Wünschen anpassen können. Das kann herausfordernd sein ist aber, wie alles andere, eine Frage der Übung.

Es gibt inzwischen mehrere Seiten, auf denen ihr euch anmelden könnt, um als Texter zu arbeiten. Ich stelle im Folgenden drei Webseiten vor, mit denen ich selbst Erfahrungen gemacht habe:

Content.de

Mit dieser Seite habe ich angefangen. Um euch anzumelden, müsst ihr einen Rechtschreib- und Grammatiktest bestehen sowie einen kurzen Probeartikel einreichen. Dann werdet ihr vom Content-Team je nach Qualität eures Textes eingestuft, von 2 bis 5 Sternen. Dies ist wichtig, denn jeder Kunde kann entscheiden, welche Stufe sein Auftrag haben soll. Als Stufe 4-Autor könnt ihr auch nur Aufträge der Stufe 4 oder niedriger annehmen. Je nach Stufe erhaltet ihr einen bestimmten Betrag pro geschriebenem Wort: Auf der niedrigsten Stufe sind es 0,80 Cent pro Wort, auf der höchsten 4,50 Cent pro Wort. Kein großes Taschengeld. Daneben gibt es die Direct Orders, bei der euch Kunden direkt einen Auftrag erteilen. Hier könnt ihr den Wortpreis selbst festlegen. So weit die Basics. Ich habe für content.de nur wenige Texte geschrieben, weil der Auftragspool im Bereich Tourismus sehr mager ist. Darum gehe ich gleich weiter zur nächsten Textbörse:

Textbroker.de

Die älteste Textbörse im deutschsprachigen Raum funktioniert ähnlich wie content.de, auch die Verdienstmöglichkeiten sind in etwa gleich. Ihr erstellt euren Account und reicht einen Probetext ein. Anschließend erhaltet ihr eine Einstufung von 2 bis 5 Sternen, die sich verbessern kann, wenn ihr konstant gute Qualität abliefert. Eure Texte werden nämlich nicht nur von den Auftraggebern, sondern auch vom Textbroker-Team bewertet. Ich wurde nach etwa 6 Monaten auf 5 Sterne hochgestuft, womit mir besser bezahlte Aufträge zur Verfügung standen. Was mir erst einmal nichts gebracht hat, denn ähnlich wie auf content.de existieren im Bereich Tourismus kaum Aufträge mit 5 Sternen. Beim Großteil handelt es sich um 4 Sterne-Texte, die mit 1,5 Cent pro Wort bezahlt werden. Der große Vorteil an einer 5-Sterne-Bewertung ist, dass Kunden auf euch aufmerksam werden und euch mit etwas Glück sog. Direct Orders erteilen. Aber dazu in einem eigenen Abschnitt mehr.

Nach eurer Einstufung könnt ihr Aufträge aus dem Pool annehmen. Die Kategorien entsprechen ungefähr denen von content.de, nur dass im Bereich Reisen und Tourismus deutlich mehr Aufträge zu finden sind. Seit ich angemeldet bin, waren immer mindestens 20 Aufträge gleichzeitig verfügbar. Reiseanbieter scheinen also Textbroker.de zu bevorzugen. Habt ihr euren Text geschrieben und alle geforderten Keywords untergebracht, schickt ihr den Artikel ab. Die Plagiatprüfung läuft im Hintergrund. Wenn sie Alarm schlägt, bekommt ihr den Text zur Überarbeitung zurück. Ein wichtiger Unterschied: Anders als bei content.de könnt ihr hier nur einen Auftrag gleichzeitig annehmen. Erst wenn ihr ihn abschickt, ist der Auftragspool für euch wieder sichtbar. Nimmt der Kunde euren Text an, erhaltet ihr das Geld gutgeschrieben. Ansonsten bekommt ihr ihn zur Änderung zurück. An dieser Stelle wird es Zeit für einen kleinen Exkurs.

Was passiert bei Uneinigkeiten zwischen Auftraggeber und Autor?

Als Texter versucht ihr natürlich, die Vorgaben des Briefings zu erfüllen. Dennoch kommt es manchmal zu Unstimmigkeiten, wenn der Artikel nicht den Wünschen eures Auftraggebers entspricht. Wenn ihr mit den Änderungswünschen nicht einverstanden seid, könnt ihr euch an den Textbroker-Support wenden, der versucht, schlichtend einzugreifen. Das ist mir persönlich bisher nur einmal passiert: Ein Kunde gab einen Text über die 10 schönsten Sehenswürdigkeiten in Dubai in Auftrag und lehnte meinen Artikel ab, weil er zwei Sehenswürdigkeiten nicht enthielt, die der Kunde gerne drin gehabt hätte. Stattdessen sollte ich zwei andere Sehenswürdigkeiten streichen. Der Support riet mir, das mit dem Kunden zu klären, was ich auch tat. Ich schrieb zurück, dass ich es nicht einsehe, etwas am Text zu ändern, das aus dem Original-Briefing nicht ersichtlich ist. Aus Kulanz änderte ich jedoch eine Sehenswürdigkeit und der Kunde nahm den Text schließlich an. Ob der Textbroker-Support zu seinen oder meinen Gunsten entschieden hätte, kann ich nicht sagen. Ich denke aber, man sollte eine gesunde Mitte finden: Einerseits sollte man sich auch als Auftragnehmer nicht alles gefallen lassen und nicht jede ungerechte Forderung erfüllen. Etwas Entgegenkommen ist jedoch angebracht, denn: ein unzufriedener Kunde könnte euch mit einer schlechten Bewertung eure Statistik versauen und: Zufriedene Kunden sind eher bereit, euch Direct Orders zu erteilen, die eure Verdienstmöglichkeiten steigern. Wie gesagt, das war der einzige Konflikt mit einem Kunden. Ansonsten bin ich mit Textbroker.de sehr zufrieden. Das Interface ist übersichtlich und einfach zu bedienen, der Auftragspool ist immer voll und die Kunden meistens sehr umgänglich. Der Verdienst kann zu Beginn etwas mager ausfallen, steigert sich jedoch mit der Zeit.

Team Orders und Direct Orders zur Verdienststeigerung

Zusätzlich zu den Open Orders, die alle Autoren annehmen dürfen, solange sie die erforderliche Einstufung haben, gibt es noch zwei weitere Kategorien: Team Orders stehen einer bestimmten Gruppe von angemeldeten Textern zur Verfügung. Es gibt offene Teams, denen jeder beitreten kann, und geschlossene Teams, in die man eingeladen wird. Die Honorare in den geschlossenen Teams sind meistens, aber nicht immer, höher als die Vergütung für Open Orders. Direct Orders erhaltet ihr, wie der Name schon sagt, von Auftraggebern, die euch direkt anschreiben. Das Interessante: Hier könnt ihr den Preis selbst bestimmen. Standardmäßig werden Direct Orders mit 2,8 Cent pro Wort vergütet: Das ist doppelt so viel wie das Honorar für offene Aufträge.

Trips by Tips

Diese Berliner Webseite unterscheidet sich von den doch sehr ähnlichen Seiten content und textbroker. Es handelt sich um eine Textbörse, die sich ausschließlich an Kunden im Bereich Touristik und Reisen wendet. Ideal also für Reiseautoren wie mich. Das Bewerbungsverfahren ist ähnlich: Ihr schreibt einen Probetext als Bewerbung. Jedoch erhaltet ihr hier keine Sterne-Einstufung, ihr werdet entweder angenommen oder abgelehnt. Wurde euer Text akzeptiert, seid ihr in der Probephase. Das heißt, ihr nehmt aus dem Auftragspool drei Aufträge an und bearbeitet diese. Werden diese Texte ebenfalls angenommen, habt ihr die Probephase beendet und könnt so viele Aufträge gleichzeitig annehmen wie ihr möchtet. Der größte Unterschied zu anderen Textbörsen ist, dass Tripsbytips eine eigene Redaktion besitzt, quasi als Bindeglied zwischen Kunde und Autor. Das heißt, ihr habt mit dem eigentlichen Auftraggeber nichts zu tun. Zu jedem Artikel erhaltet ihr ein Feedback mit Anmerkungen und einer Sterne-Bewertung. Warum es diese gibt, hat sich mir bisher noch nicht erschlossen, da die Sterne keine Auswirkungen haben, welche Aufträge ihr annehmen dürft. Entspricht euer Text nicht den Wünschen der Redaktion, müsst ihr ihn überarbeiten. Ein weiteres Charakteristikum von TripsbyTips ist das Bonusprogramm. Besteht euer Text auf Anhieb die Prüfung der Redaktion, erhaltet ihr 1/3 des Honorars als zusätzliche Prämie. Gewissenhaftes Arbeiten lohnt sich also. Glücklicherweise scheint diese Regelung nicht in Stein gemeißelt zu sein. Ich habe zum Beispiel einmal einen Artikel zur Bearbeitung zurückerhalten und den Bonus trotzdem bekommen – wahrscheinlich, weil es ein recht langer Artikel war (1300 Wörter) und sich die Änderungen in Grenzen hielten. Oder TripsbyTips will seine erfahrenen Autoren mit guter Bewertung bei der Stange halten, denn – und das ist das Erfreuliche: Der Auftragspool ist immer voll. In 6 Monaten habe ich ein einziges Mal eine Flaute erlebt, die jedoch nur einen Tag anhielt. Teilweise wurde ich sogar mit der Bitte angeschrieben, etwas mehr zu schreiben. Arbeit gibt es also genug. Auch die Verdienstmöglichkeiten sind besser als bei textbroker und content. Pro Wort erhaltet ihr hier, je nach Auftrag, fast das Doppelte. Den Qualitätsbonus habe ich bereits erwähnt. Dazu kommt noch der Vielschreiber-Bonus: Schreibt ihr mehr als 10 Texte im Monat, erhaltet ihr noch einmal 10% des monatlichen Honorars obendrauf, bei 50 Texten sind es 15%. Alles darüber hinaus halte ich für unrealistisch, allein schon, weil die Redaktion teilweise 2 Wochen braucht, um einen Text abzunehmen. Trotzdem verdient ihr mit TripsbyTips besser als bei den anderen Seiten. Die Kehrseite der Medaille: Meiner Erfahrung nach sind die Aufträge auch deutlich anspruchsvoller. Seitenlange Briefings mit engen Vorgaben und vielen spezifischen Keywords sind keine Seltenheit. Es sind vor allem die großen Reiseanbieter und Hotelseiten, die sich bei Tripsbytips Texte kaufen, dementsprechend muss die Qualität stimmen. Die Redaktion würde ich als streng, professionell und fair bezeichnen. Ich musste oft Texte ändern, jedoch immer mit guter Begründung. Auch habe mich meistens ausführliches Feedback erhalten und konnte somit meinen Schreibstil weiter entwickeln. Alles in allem bin ich mit Tripsbytips sehr zufrieden. Durch den Qualitäts- und den Vielschreiberbonus lässt sich hier gutes Geld verdienen, wenn man sich erst einmal eingearbeitet hat.

 

Verdienstmöglichkeiten und eigene Erfahrungen

 

Wie viel lässt sich nun mit dem Schreiben realistischerweise verdienen? Oder konkreter: Wie viel verdiene ich im Moment mit dem Schreiben?

Wie gesagt, verfasse ich seit einiger Zeit nur noch Texte für textbroker und Tripsbytips, nachdem auf content.de nur noch wenige Aufträge in meinem Fachgebiet verfügbar sind. Die schlechte Nachricht zuerst: Am Anfang habe ich mit dem Schreiben fast nichts verdient. Das war zum einen der schlechten Vergütung für Open Orders geschuldet – 1,5 Cent pro Wort sind nun einmal nicht besonders viel. Zum anderen war ich noch viel zu langsam und zu perfektionistisch. Man muss sich schon fragen, wie viel Zeit und Aufwand man in einen Artikel stecken sollte, der einem gerade einmal 6 Euro einbringt. Doch das Schreiben gefiel mir und das positive Feedback ermutigte mich, dran zu bleiben. Mit der Zeit wurde ich schneller: Aus einer Seite in zwei Stunden wurden schnell zwei, aus 5 Euro Stundenlohn immerhin 6, dann 7 und so weiter. Außerdem fing ich an zu recyclen. Natürlich kann ich nicht den gleichen Artikel zweimal abgeben, schon gar nicht, wenn ich am ersten Artikel kein Copyright mehr habe. Aber das schöne an Reiseberichten ist ja: Die Ziele sind oft die gleichen: So brauche ich vielleicht etwas mehr Zeit für einen Artikel über ein Reiseziel, mit dem ich mich überhaupt nicht auskenne. Beim zweiten Text zum gleichen Thema spare ich mir aber schon den Rechercheaufwand und kann bereits vorhandene Ideen einfach umformulieren. Dazu kam nach einiger Zeit der Qualitätsbonus von TripsbyTips, immerhin ein Drittel mehr Geld. Und natürlich noch der Vielschreiberbonus, wenn ich fleißig war.

Meine größte Verdienststeigerung kam jedoch durch die Direct Orders auf textbroker.de. Die Kunden sehen sowohl eure Bewertung als auch die Anzahl der Texte, die ihr bereits erfolgreich abgegeben habt. Viele Auftraggeber suchen nach erfahrenen Autoren und sind bereit, für gute Qualität ein paar Euro mehr auszugeben. So kamen mit der Zeit Anfragen von Direktkunden, die mir einen erfreulichen Zustrom an Aufträgen bescherten und immer noch bescheren. Ich bin mittlerweile geübt genug im Texten, dass ich an einem durchschnittlichen Tag etwa 1.500 Wörter schreibe – ungefähr 3 Word-Seiten also. Dafür bekomme ich 42 Euro. Meistens schreibe ich 5 Stunden am Tag, 6 Tage die Woche, das ergibt einen monatlichen Verdienst von 1.092 Euro. Nicht schlecht, wenn man bedenkt, dass ich dafür nicht einmal das Haus verlassen muss. Wenn ich im Moment in Deutschland leben würde, und nicht im viel günstigeren Thailand, würde ich auch noch 500 Wörter am Tag mehr schreiben. Mehr als 2.000 Wörter am Tag halte ich jedoch für unrealistisch. Auch das Schreiben ist auf Dauer anstrengend, und das nicht nur für die Tippfinger. Auch würde die Qualität der Texte wahrscheinlich darunter leiden. Obwohl ich mit den hier vorgestellten Textbörsen zufrieden bin, ist es mein langfristiges Ziel, mich von Seiten wie Tripsbytips und textbroker zu lösen und mir einen Stamm von Kunden aufzubauen, die mich direkt bezahlen. Doch im Moment bin ich mit dem Verdienst im Verhältnis zum Arbeitsaufwand mehr als zufrieden.

Habt ihr Lust, selbst Vollzeit als Texter zu arbeiten? Oder wollt ihr einfach nur eure Reisekasse aufbessern. Dann seht euch diese Tipps von mir an, die euch dabei helfen, mit dem Texten anzufangen.

 

 

Koh Larn

Kennt ihr das? Ihr seid im Großstadtdschungel von Bangkok unterwegs und sehnt euch danach, die Füße in den Sand zu stecken? Gleichzeitig habt ihr wenig Zeit oder seid einfach zu bequem, die 8-stündige Fahrt nach Koh Samui anzutreten? Dann dürfte Pattaya euer nahe liegendes Ziel sein. Wortwörtlich, denn der legendäre Ferienort liegt nur 3 Stunden von Bangkok entfernt. Jede Stunde fährt ein Bus, gerne auch direkt vom Flughafen – bequemer geht es kaum. Jetzt ist Pattaya natürlich kein tropisches Paradies mehr – um es einmal vorsichtig auszudrücken. Selbst der ruhigere Strand von Jomtien ist schon recht überlaufen, alles andere als malerisch und einfach nichts Besonderes. Strandfreunde wird es daher auf Koh Larn ziehen, eine kleine Insel vor der Küste Pattayas.

Die Anreise mit der Fähre kostet nur 30 Baht (0,82 Euro). Schneller und teurer ist das Speed Boat. Die Fähre legt am Tawaen Beach Pier auf der Nordseite der Insel an. Rechterhand vom Steg befindet sich dann auch der erste Strand. Das Wasser ist hübsch türkisblau, aber der Badebereich ist dann doch recht klein. Nicht einmal die Fläche eines Fußballfelds ist hier mit Bojen umzäunt. Eher eine große Badewanne, fehlen nur noch die Schwimmflügel. Den kichernden chinesischen Touristen scheint es nichts auszumachen. Den Tamaen Beach könnt ihr getrost in die Tonne kloppen. Hier sind viel zu viele Menschen. Zum Glück warten etwas weiter schon die roten Sammeltaxis, die euch für 30 Baht zu schöneren Küstenabschnitten bringen:

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hübsches Wasser und wenig Platz – der Strand am Tawaen Pier

Zum Beispiel zum Samae Beach. Dieser Strand ist weitläufiger und nicht ganz so überlaufen. Für Koh Larn-Verhältnisse zumindest. Eine Sonnenliege lässt sich natürlich immer mieten, aber natürlicher Schatten ist Mangelware. Ich habe mich neben einen Stapel ausleihbarer Plastikringe gelegt und war damit vor der Sonne geschützt. Das Wasser ist erfreulich sauber, klar und vor allem nicht so pisswarm wie im Süden Thailands (Krabi, Phuket). Spätestens am Samae Beach dürftet ihr euch fragen: „Hä, warum sprechen alle Russisch?“ Aber es ist so: Aus irgendeinem Grund ist Koh Larn (wie ganz Pattaya) ein beliebtes Ziel für russische Urlauber. Hoffentlich hat das Putin noch nicht mitbekommen, denn sollte die Zahl der Russen die Zahl der Thailänder übersteigen, ist bestimmt mal wieder Zeit für eine kleine Annexion…

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Samae Beach

Am Strand liegen ist mit der Zeit auch öde, darum lohnt sich ein Spaziergang zum kleinen Aussichtspunkt im Norden. Von hier aus überblickt ihr den Strand und das tiefblaue Meer. Noch weiter nördlich liegt der kleinere Tien Beach. Nehmt bloß kein Sammeltaxi, es sind zu Fuß wirklich nur 10 Minuten und der Weg bietet viel Schatten. Dieser Strand sieht fast so aus wie Samae Beach – nur das Panorama ist etwas schöner. Aber viel mehr Platz habt ihr hier auch nicht. Koh Larn trägt übrigens den Spitznamen „Coral Island“. Warum, ist mir persönlich ein Rätsel. Ich habe keine einzige Koralle gesehen. Ein paar Fische und das war´s . Kein Wunder jedoch, wenn man die Touristenmassen bedenkt, die alles niedertrampeln.

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Weiter geht’s Richtung Süden, zum Nual Beach. Für mich persönlich der schönste Strand Koh Larns. Vor allem könnt ihr hier auch ganz links im Schatten der Bäume liegen, wenn ihr ein Plätzchen findet.

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Nual Beach

Für mich war es das schon. Ich hatte meine dringend benötigte Dosis Sonne und Meer bekommen und machte mich auf den Rückweg nach Pattaya. Die Fähre fährt vom Bali Hai Pier ab, somit könnt ihr einen schönen Rundweg über die Insel machen. Beliebt bei Touristen ist auch das Fahren mit dem Motorroller. 300 Baht kostet der Spass, der sich nur lohnt, wenn ihr wirklich den ganzen Tag auf Koh Larn bleibt. Dann könnt ihr auch zum Windmill Viewpoint fahren. Viel zu sehen gibt es dort jedoch auch nichts. Die Straßen sind gut in Schuss, alles ist sauber und die Vegetation ist hübsch. Koh Larn ist eine Insel, die Lust auf die wahren Juwele Thailands macht. Mehr aber auch nicht.

Aber ich will nicht unfair sein: Insgesamt bekommt ihr auf Koh Larn das, was man angesichts der Nähe zu Pattaya und Bangkok erwarten kann: eine leicht erreichbare Ferieninsel mit netten Stränden, klarem Wasser und vor allem vielen Besuchern. Paradiesische Tropenkulissen wie in der James Bond-Bay, auf Koh Chang oder der Halbinsel Railey sucht ihr dort jedoch vergebens.

Why I stopped Meditating

From August 2016 to February 2018, after my first Vipassana retreat, I was meditating 2 times a day, mostly 1,5 to 2 hours daily. And while at the time I thought it was helping me immensely with problems like stress and anxiety, I stopped meditating when I started travelling in March 2018. It is obvious, of course, that finding the time to meditate is difficult if you are on the road and do not have a steady schedule. But if I had been motivated enough I would have found a way. And I would have at least meditated during the one month I spent at home in June. But I did not. And I probably will not pick up meditation again anytime soon. I tried to write down the reasons why I stopped meditating, mostly to get some clarity for myself and to paint a realistic picture of what meditation can and cannot do for you if you are interested in the practice.

  1. I don´t see a reason why at the moment

Most spiritual teachers agree that if you meditate to get something out of it, you are doing it wrong. The philosopher Alan Watts writes that one should only meditate for meditation´s sake. Because it is fun (However, I doubt that he has ever sat through a 10-day course, because mostly it´s not fun at all). However, most people, including myself, pick up mindfulness as a form of medication, a remedy against the ailments of modern life: workplace stress, anxiety, mind fog, addiction, you name it… I was struggling with these problems when I was still working a 9 to 5. And meditation provided some relief for me, no doubt. However, when I started travelling, and even when I started freelancing to make some money while travelling – all these problems were gone. I suddenly found myself away from the daily grind at home, in a protected bubble where my only responsibility was to make enough money not to starve (which is pretty easy in the cheaper parts of our globe). So with the problems gone, my motivation to meditate was gone as well. But not only did I not need meditation´s benefits anymore, I also felt that the negative side effects were starting to outweigh the positive effects.

S. N. Goenka, the late Vipassana Teacher, says that most people that pick up meditation quit within the first year of their practice. This was not true for me. The first year I saw some wonderful results. It was only after it that meditation became really difficult for me, not easier. This is because meditation peels away at the layers that usually surround and protect your subconscious self: Just like psychotherapy deep meditation strips bare who you really are, without the mask you put on daily: your roles, your self-image, the person you want other people to see in you. Meditation shows you the real you – and you may not like what you see. I found that the more I meditated the more I revealed my true self. And while this is an interesting experience, it is also very difficult emotionally. I think it is a necessary part of developing as a person, but I am not ready for it yet.

Another reason that also has to do with my change in lifestyle is…

2.Meditation does not fit well in to the travelling lifestyle

A big part of Buddhist meditation is the Five Precepts. It is a code of conduct that every meditator – monk, nun or laiety – should adhere to. In sum, a serious meditator should not steal, lie, kill, misbehave sexually (whatever that is supposed to mean) or consume drugs. In a meditation centre the environment is very conducive to keeping the precepts. Because to put it frankly, everything fun is forbidden there. At home I found keeping the precepts more difficult, but still doable. Most of the time I was either at work or alone in my apartment, where nobody would bother me or interfere with my meditation routine. For more than one year I did not dring alcohol, smoke, eat meat, and for some months I was living in celibacy. But try that while travelling, surrounded by fun-loving backpackers, without a steady schedule and in a relaxed atmosphere far away from home or any meditation centre. The temptations were too strong, and just as much as I could not see a reason to meditate anymore, I could not see a reason to stay abstinent. Moreover, I was wondering: Maybe it is harmful not to act on your desires, because involuntary abstinence might turn you into a stiff, judgemental neurotic person without any self-love. Or as the poet William Blake warns in his „Proverbs of Hell“: „He who desires and acts not, breeds pestillence.“ And look at the life story of the Buddha. Was he not brought up in a palace with every form of pleasure, including 40 thousand dancing girls? Do you really think he would have been able to give up desire had he not before fulfilled every possible desire to the point he became tired of it?

S. N. Goenka himself reminded his students that voluntary abstinence is beneficial. And this voluntary abstinence is to come in due time when one keeps meditating. But this poses a problem: To meditate seriously it seems one has to be abstinent. But to be abstinent in a healthy way, one already needs to have a strong meditation practice. This is the first, but by far not the last „hen or egg“-dilemmas Buddhist meditation theory poses.

Of course one could argue that it is possible to meditate without adhering to any moral law, even without believing any religious doctrine. Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a good example for meditation without all the superfluous religious crap. But I do not come from that school of thought. I made my first experiences with meditation in a Buddhist center, and I will forever be hardwired to that experience. I still believe that morality is an integral part of meditation, as much as dieting is an integral part of working out. You will not build any muscles without the right diet, and you will not achieve a quiet mind without a moral foundation. In one way or the other, your mind will be too unstable to really meditate, because if will be struggling with some sort of guilt that stems from breaking the code of conduct. So if I find myself unable or unwilling to follow even the most basic precepts – why even bother meditate?

The first two reasons are of practical nature, having to do with my change of lifestyle, from a steady job to a nomadic existence. But even if I had remained at home, I would still have found other reasons not to meditate that are more philosophical in nature.

3. You cannot achieve Enlightenment by meditating

Most modern Westerners will pick up meditation for the reasons I have named above: to alleviate stress and anxiety, to increase focus, and to battle addictions. But all those are merely side-effects of meditating. The original aim of practices like meditation, yoga or prayer was to achieve a state of existence free from the frustrations of everyday life – Enlightenment, Nirvana, Moksha, Heaven, Paradise – call it as you want. But here is the problem: According to every Buddhist school I know, you cannot, and I have to stress this, CANNOT achieve enlightenment through sheer will or your own doing. Why is that? The core philosophy of the Buddha is that, a) life is suffering, and b) suffering stems from desiring. The frustration in this worldly existence comes from desiring the things that we do not have and rejecting the things we have. Nirvana, on the other hand, is described as a state of mind free from desiring. S. N. Goenka himself stated in his Q&As: „Nirvana is a state free from desire. So how will you achieve it by desiring it?“ It is impossible. And yet, according to Buddhist lore, the last words of the dying Buddha to his disciples was: „Work out your own liberation.“ This can also be seen in Vipassana Centres where you are constantly reminded that it is you who has to meditate and free your mind – nobody else. And while I can see the benefits of this doctrine of self-agency in a meditation course setting, where you need the incentive to sit on a cushion and try to meditate, the contradiction remains. The same dilemma exists in Christian theology: Is it possible to go to heaven by merit of good deeds? And if not, what is one to do? Of course the idea of Grace comes into play here. God through his own infinite wisdom chooses the people who will go to heaven, long before they were born. Buddhist philosophy seems to be more benevolent, granting that all sentient beings will at one point achieve Enlightenment. This notion is espacially prominent in Zen Buddhism. You cannot achieve Enlightenment, because you are already enlightened. You are already a Buddha without knowing it. So you do not sit in the meditation posture to become a Buddha – this is just the way a Buddha sits. So there is nothing to achieve, nothing to gain.

And while I do not want to touch on the subject of free will versus Determinism too much, this dilemma can easily be fleshed out: You say you chose to meditate, you chose to take your first mindfulness course. But did you really? If you were able to trace back your steps, could you not identify the reasons, the incentives, all the small coincidences that prompted you to take up meditation? And what about your personality? Not every person is mentally or physically able to meditate. Did I choose to be a person that was able and willing to meditate? At what point did I really freely choose to meditate? And if I did not start to meditate out of free will, why would I believe that I stopped meditating out of free will? Maybe stopping meditating was as pre-ordained, necessary and wholesome in the bigger picture – call it Fate, Universal Law or just mere chance – than starting it in the first place. This train of thought rests on very shaky grounds philosophically, but for me it was one more incentive not to force myself to go on meditating when I had a vague feeling that I was not meant to meditate, at least not at this point in time.

4. Why would I want to be enlightened?

Maybe this was also true in times of the Buddha, but it is especially true in our times: Everything, not just material goods, is there to be possessed and enjoyed by us. Just like wealth, careers and relationships, enlightenment is sold as a commodity – something to strive for to make your life more complete. There is no shortage of spiritually inclined blogs telling you „the signs that you are enlightened“, such as „being more creative“, „feeling more connected with other people“ and „caring less about material gains“. And while this pseudo-esoteric bullshit might be flattering for any distressed worker-drone who is looking for a justification to drop out of the machine and to search for something more meaningful – namely enlightenment – the truth is: nobody really knows. Being a concept that transcends intellectual, dualistic thought, Nirvana or Enlightenment cannot be described. The Japanese Zen teacher D. T. Suzuki even scolded Westerners for desiring what they thought to be Nirvana, arguing: „If you have no idea what Nirvana is – how can you be sure you want it?“ Whatever this concept designates, Buddhist scriptures seem to agree that Nirvana is a state of mind without either desire or aversion. In other words, a total acceptance of things the way they are. Pictures of Buddha statues come to mind, smiling on the turmoil of the world from a vantage point that transcends all worldy affairs. To me, Enlightenment seems to be a condition in which all the conflicts, the frustrations and the problems of mundane existence are overcome – a paradise of peace, if you will. But you have to ask yourself the question: Do you want that?

When I went to my first meditation retreat, I was in a very dark place emotionally. I was struggling with my choice of career, work life pressure, and a deep sense of alienation from the people that surrounded me. „A stranger and afraid in a world I never made“, and with my belief in a benevolent God long gone, I was looking for a last straw to better my situation. Mindfulness helped me a lot with its focus on Equanimity. Equanimity for me is the acceptance of everything that happens to you, be it good or bad. There is a famous story of a king who asked his councellors for a gift that would never let him be depressed. He was given a ring with the engraving: „This, too, shall pass.“ Meaning, every experience, terrible or beautiful is impermanent, and therefore ultimately unimportant. The circle of birth and rebirth flings its inhabitants from the highest highs to the lowest lows, and happy is the man who can view the circumstances he happens to be in with the utmost indifference. The concept is pretty similar to the philosophical Stoicism of Marc Aurel and Seneca.

According to Buddhist Equanimity and the philosophy of Stoicism, suffering is not overcome by trying to alleviate it, but by accepting it whole-heartedly and without being touched by it. But I was wondering: What if suffering, and especially being affected by suffering, was actually an integral part of every fulfilled life? And what if the king´s adviser in the story was wrong and being mindful of the permanence of beautiful experiences rendered them meaningless? Isn´t an important part of happiness the irrational, but sweet thought that the happy experience will last forever? Ultimately it seems to come down to this choice: Do you want a balanced life where you are constantly occupying some middle ground between suffering and happiness – a sort of limbo between Heaven and Hell, a blank space derived of sorrow and pleasure? Or do you want the highest highs as well as the lowest lows? Of course nobody consciously wants to suffer, but I deeply believe that suffering, conflict and drama is a big part of what makes life interesting. A life without struggle seems totally boring to me, and not worth living. And I think looking back at the time when I started meditating, I can now see more clearly what was bothering me: It was not so much suffering, but the feeling of being helpless. Psychological research has long explained the concept of „Learned Helplessness“, stating that it is not pain or stress that makes us depressed. Rather it is the feeling of having no control over the situation. Once I had the feeling that I was in control of my own destiny – and meditation played a huge part in this, thankfully – I started to believe that I was actually suffering because I wanted to suffer. I was feeling bad or lonely or anxious because a part of me derived some wierd gratification from that feeling. The Russian writer Dostojewski pointed this out clearly in his „Notes from the Underground“ – Many people actually enjoy feeling wretched, in pain or alienated, and whatever they do to ameliorate their condition, this deeply engrained, masochistic pattern will repeat itself over and over.

If this feeling, this need for suffering, has any importance at all – and I think it does, for good or for bad – I do not believe I should meditate it away and accept suffering equanimously. I might see the benefits of an equanimous mind, but if my sub-counscious being, out of whatever reason, does not want to be equanimous, then there is no point in meditating, at least now. Maybe another way to enlightenment is being un-equanimous, despairing at life so many times until despairing itself becomes boring. Or to quote William Blake a second time: „The fool who persists in his folly may become wise.“

5. Hopes for a better rebirth are futile

Buddhist meditation cannot be seperated from its philosophical background, and this includes the idea of rebirth. According to your deeds, bad or wholesome, you will be reborn in one of 31 planes of existence. Buddhism is often depicted as a form of therapy rather than a religion. Without the antiquated metaphysical baggage that the monotheistic religions still carry around. But this is bullshit. Just look at this depiction of the circle of rebirth and you will see a lot of mythological elements: from the highest beings, the Devas, on top, to the lowest forms, the tortured spirits at the bottom. And make no mistake – there is such a thing as Buddhist hell. Not just one hell, to be exact, but up to 16 – where you are thrown according to your misdeeds in this life. Descriptions of these places of torture make Christian hell look like a walk in the park. So naturally, if you believe in Buddhist philosophy, you will want to be reborn in a higher plane of existence, where it is easier for you to achieve enlightenment and drop out of the circle of birth and rebirth. At the same time, one who believes in Buddhist hell, would do absolutely everything to avoid such a terrible place.

But here comes the other side of the coin: As much as Buddhism stresses the notion of punishment and reward for personal deeds, at the same time it cannot answer the question: Who is this „I“ that will be punished or rewarded? What sets Buddhism apart from, let´s say Hinduism or Christianity for that matter, is that it does not believe in an individual soul that survives your death and will transmigrate into another plane of existence. Rather, everything, including your ego, is comprised of unstable, ever-changing “Dharmas”. And while there is no consensus in Buddhist philosophy weather these Dharmas have every intrinsic existence of their own, what follows from this is that the thing you call “I” or “me” will cease to exist when you die. And if you really think it through – there never was a single unified entity to call “I”. Rather it is a conglomerate of memories, stories that others tell us, thoughts that can be dissolved and changing patterns of behaviour. In fact, the idea of a permanent “ego” is the very thing that Buddhist meditation is trying to overcome, since this Ego-Illusion is the one thing that is responsible for every suffering. However, if I do wrong in this life – break all the precepts, steal, lie, kill, commit crimes, and my personality perishes when I die – who is going to be punished for my deeds?

There has to be reward and punishment because the law of Karma, but really also the law of causation demands it. The German theologian Eugen Drewermann has equated the Buddhist view of Karma with the “conservation of energy”. Every good deed will yield good consequences and every bad deed will yield bad consequences. But for whom? My body will be rotting in the grave and my mind will be dissolved into the Dharmas that made it up in the first place. Who- or whatever will be born and reborn will have nothing to do with who I was in this life. Nothing and everything, of course, because Buddhism includes the notion that there is only one organism, one universe, one Buddha-Nature, and everybody is a part of it. My true self is not this impermanent and fleeing conglomerate of Dharmas, but the Buddha-Mind, the Void, the Body of Christ, however you want to call it. And it is not going anywhere. So to have an incentive to refrain from bad deeds and do good deed, e.g. meditate, I would need to bear in mind that all sentient beings, also the ones that will be born in a worse world because of my actions, share with my a belonging to this all-encompassing consciousness, just like different bodyparts are members of the same body. But do I really care? Intellectually I might. I can even find comfort in the fact that I am part of a higher self that includes all beings.

But evolution, culture or upbringing has planted in me the belief that I am a separate being. For millions of years my ancestors´ survival depended on that belief, and this cannot simply be eradicated by reading a few inspirational scriptures and meditating two hours a day. Evolution has installed in me an unfailing drive for my own happiness. If nothing I do in this life matters for myself when I am dead, why should I care? It seems to me that to be able to care for the consequences of one´s actions for all sentient beings, one would already have to be enlightened. And this brings us back to the problem, which Zen Buddhism so clearly and beautifully points out: In order to achieve Enlightenment, you already have to be enlightened. You become what you are, but only, and this might be a bitter pill to swallow, when you are ready for it.

Summary

Do I think meditation is bad? No. Am I writing this to discourage anyone from meditating? Not at all. If your present state of mind says to you that you should meditate, by all means, do that. The psychological and physical health benefits speak for themselves. However, if you are meditating because you think you can transcend your human condition, reach a higher level of consciousness and be free from pain and suffering – in other words, be enlightened –  just know that enlightenment is an empty concept that is only filled by your own expectations as you „progress“ on the path of meditation. Even if at some point you have the feeling of transcending your usual state of mind – you can never be sure if this feeling has any more importance or intrinsic reality than, let´s say a form of schizophrenia or a drug-induced psychosis. If you have the feeling that meditation helps you, then meditate. If you have the feeling that meditation does not help you, but you wish it would, then maybe find something better to do. All in all, we will never arrive at a truth that defeats all inner and outer doubts. Buddhist meditation might only have a very slim baggage of metaphysical beliefs, but it has some. Buddhism, and this includes Buddhist meditation, is a religion. And religion is only effective if you can believe in it, or suppress the doubts that everything could also be totally different.

To sum up, I think meditation is a wonderful tool. So I would suggest using this tool to improve your life. Try it out at least. If you are the type of person that benefits from meditation, you should see some wonderful results. If not, maybe you are not meant to be meditating at the moment, because whatever powers reside in your sub-consciousness want you to make other experiences. To experience this mundane existence with its joys and sorrows more fully maybe in order to get ready for higher planes of existence. So if you should find that meditation no longer benefits you, maybe you should stop and pick it up later when you are more mature and more open to the deep changes it may bring about. And remember: Even if the concept of enlightenment seems fascinating – if enlightenment exists at all, it is bigger than everything you can imagine. You will not reach this state by desiring it, nor by meditating a lot. Rather if you are meant to be enlightened it will happen in due time, and meditating more might be a side effect of it. I believe the only benchmark by which you can measure the effectiveness of meditation for you is the change you see, or do not see, in everyday life.

 

 

Taal Volcano & Tagaytay

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„It´s more fun in the Phillipines“ – This is true. Most of the time, however. I had a blast on my trips to this beatiful country. However, travelling for a long time, you cannot avoid a disappointment every once in a while. Like what I encountered when visiting the Taal Volcano.

Taal is situated about 2 hours south of Manila and holds a record. The volcano lies on an island. On this island there is a lake, and on this island another island. Sounds confusing? It is. According to Wikipedia, Taal is „the largest lake on an island in a lake on an island in the world“. Reason enough to go visit this record-holder and natural wonder.

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Taal Volcano from above (source: Wiki Commons)

Transport and Accommodation

The easiest way to Taal is from Manila, where you can take the bus to Tagaytay. Many busses take this route, which only takes about 2 hours.

Coming from Mindoro in the south, you best start you journey in Batangas and take the bus to Turbina. There you board a van to Tagaytay.

Travellers coming from Bicol should try to exit in Turbina or Calamba (SB Camalba) and switch to a van to Tagaytay.

Tagaytay does not have a wide variety of affordable rooms. The cheapest option is the Country Living Hostel, rather hidden in a private area behind the Metrobank-Complex. Here you can find a bed in a 2-bed dorm for 500 Pesos  (9 USD).

On the ride to Tagaytay you can already catch a glimpse of the lake and the volcano. Unfortunately, there is no public transport to the pier 6,2 miles from Tagaytay, so you have to hire a tricycle. Expect to pay 150 Pesos (3 USD) with a little haggling. At the pier you have to hire a boat that takes you to the volcano island.

It was now that I was in for a bad surprise. The official price for a return boat ride is 2000 Pesos per boat. (On the sign below you can see the „official“ prices. However, all these signs look different which makes it hard to say what the official price is). One boat can take 7 passengers, so if you divide the costs, you should only pay 285 Pesos (5,3 USD) per person. This is pretty standard procedure at the Island Hopping Tours in Puerto Princesa and El Nido.

In Tagaytay, however, boat-owners will try to discourage you from finding a travel group that you could join. Even if you head to a resort, where groups are waiting to go on board, groups that would be more than happy to take another person and reduce the costs – you are still not allowed to join them. The reason the manager gave me was that this could lead to disagreements on the island if the makeshift group can not decide on a meeting-time when to go back. I call bs on this explanation: There are enough boats going back to the main land at any time.

I did not want to support this greedy business practice, nor did I want to pay 2000 Pesos for a boat where 6 other people could be seated. So with heavy heart I turned and went back to Tagaytay. I would have loved to go to the island because It is said to be really beautiful. But I did not want to do it on the terms I found there.

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These are the „official“ prices (as of May 2018)

Makiling Forest Reserve

Luckily, Taal Volcano is not the only attraction in the area. Nature lovers should visit the active Makiling Volcano.

To get there you have to take a van from Tagaytay Central Bus Terminal to SB Calamba. From there you take the jeepney to Los Banos, and another jeepney to „forestry“. The entrace fee is just 10 Pesos (0,19 USD). If you are early, you can tackle the difficult hike to the top of Mt Makiling. However, this is only possible for visitors before 9 am, because the park closes at 4 pm. If you arrive later, you can still hike to two points of interest: The Flat Rocks and The Mud Springs.

The Flat Rocks are just 1 km away from the entrance. here you can climb the rocks in the riverbed. Swimming, however, is not possible.

 

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Flat Rocks

The Mud Springs are a bit more interesting. These are hot sulphuric springs with a water temperature of 80° Celsius. The result is a sulphuric smell and dense steam. At these springs you are reminded that you are hiking an active, yet relatively calm volcano.

The hiking trail is mostly paved, the incline as well as the humidity makes hiking here exhausting nonetheless, so you should bring plenty of water. On your way to the Mud Springs, you can stop at a scenic picnic spot.

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The Mud Springs

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Ninh Binh

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If you are looking for a place with green rice fields, majestic lime stone rocks, enchanted valleys and a sheer endless number of beautiful temples, Ninh Binh in the North of Vietnam is the perfect place for you. The area around the 130.000 strong city of Ninh Binh is often called the „Halong Bay inland“, and rightfully so as its beauty takes no backseat to the iconic bay near the capital.

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Đà Nẵng

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Đà Nẵng, a big city in Central Vietnam, has been overshadowed by its smaller neighbour, Hoi An, as far as tourism is concerned. However, the city has a lot to offer: clean, relaxing beaches, modern architecture, beautiful temples and remarkably untouched natural sights. All these diverse places and sights, as well as the proximity to Hoi An and the My Son Temple Ruins should make Đà Nẵng a top priority in every visit to the country.

Đà Nẵng offers very affordable accommodation. Budget travellers should look into the Hachi Hostel. The staff is very competent, the rooms clean and the location quite central. Beds are available for around 6 USD.

The city itself might remind you of Saigon, just smaller, but just as modern. Đà Nẵng „only“ has some 1 Million people and definitely comes across less chaotic than Ho-Chi-Minh or Saigon. The streets are compareably clean, the buildings look modern, and you can just sense that the important port city serves as a storefront for the New Vietnam. This can also be seen in a central landmark: the Dragon Bridge, which was finished in 2013. At night the dragon-shaped structure is colourfully illuminated and even breathes fire on special occasions.

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Like Saigon, Đà Nẵng also has a big market that is popular with tourists: At the Han Market you can find food, clothes and all kinds of souvenirs. The variety seems endless and thankfully the vendors come across less agressive than at the Ben Tan Market in Ho-Chi-Minh.

Strolling throuh the city centre, you can also visit the Cathedral of Đà Nẵng and Pho Da Pagoda. Entrance is free and you can marvel at the beautiful interior without having to share the view with masses of tourists as this spot is relatively hidden.

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Han Market
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Cathedral of Da Nang
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Pho Da Pagoda

Come nightfall, you should absolutely visit Trần-Thị-Lý Bridge, another architectural masterpiece close to the Dragon Bridge. At night the structure is illuminated by a mezmerizing night show with changing colour patterns. The quiet beachfront with the glittering skyline in the background is the perfect location for a romantic night-time walk.

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Marble Mountains

An absolute must on every trip to Đà Nẵng is the Marble Mountains. This is a series of small mountains in the South of the city. The five mountains represent the elements Metal, Fire, Earth and Wood, and are made mainly of limestone and marble. The latter gives the mountains their name. For hundreds of years masons have sculptured beautiful statues out of marble here – even though the material is mainly imported from China and Pakistan nowadays. The mountains also feature Buddhist shrines and temples that were carved into the rock.

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a sculpture garden at the foot of the Marble Mountains
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most of the sculptures represent Buddhist figures and deities.

Of the five mountains, only Thuy Son can be visited by tourists. The entrance fee is 40.000 VND (1,8 USD) and visitors can take the stairs of the elevator to the entrance of the temple.

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Up there you should first visit the main cave, which is also the most beautiful one. If you arrive here in the early morning, you can truly experience the piece and quiet at this place of worship. The large Buddha statue, beautifully decorated shrines, the serene ambience and the smell of incents makes a visit to this cave a most profound and humbling experience.

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However, do not expect the atmosphere to stay that serene. Like clockwork, at 9 AM busloads of tourists start to arrive at the mountain, filling it with chatter and buzzling activity. The other caves are still worth a visit, though not as scenic as the main one. There are also some view points where you can enjoy a nice panorama of the city and the back-country of Da Nang.

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My Khe Beach

If you are under the impression that Vietnam´s beaches are not as nice as in the neighbouring country, you might be in for a surprise at My Khe Beach, or, to be more precise, its southern strip, Sơn Thủy Beach. Here you will find a clean, almost deserted beach with cold, but clear water and a nice view of the city´s skyline. As of March 2018, a lot of construction was under way though, so this strip might not stay that deserted and quiet in the near future.

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Who would have thought? A beautiful empty beach

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Looking into the distance, you can already see another landmark of Đà Nẵng: the „Lady Buddha Statue“ at Linh Ung Pagode, 5 miles away from the beach. This is a 220 ft high representation of Guanyin, the Boddhisatva of Compassion. Being a motherly deity, often compared to the Virgin Mary in Christianity, Guanyin is a popular object of worsip in Vietnam. The statue was finished in 2010 and is now watching the bay, protecting the sailors and fishermen beneath her.

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On the way from the beach to the statue lies another sight of Đà Nẵng: the Green Lake. Although the water is not as green as its name suggests, the lake is nonetheless a beautiful natural sight, mostly frequented by locals who go fishing there.

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If you want to see a truly scenic lake, however, you should consider walking to the Lady Buddha statue from Green Lake, which takes about one hour. After 20 minutes, you will see a small hiking trail that you can take. Here you will have a beautiful view of the bay and marvel at the untouched lake amidst lush greenery.

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Linh Ung Pagoda

The temple comples of Linh Ung is relatively new. It was finished in 2010, although a Buddhist shrine has been there for much longer. Here you can see the Lady Buddha statue, and also a beautifully decorated temple and an impressively tall Pagoda.

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The Verdict

When planning my trip to Vietnam, I was advised to stay in Hoi An for 2-3 days and only plan one day in Vietnam. However, after my visit I would suggest everybody to stay in Đà Nẵng for at least 2 days. The city may not be known as a hotspot for tourists, but it features amazing sights that will keep you occupied for some time.

I found the city large, but not crowded, very modern and clean. One thing that is missing, though, is the night life. Do not expect a large backpacking scene or a buzzling walking street like in Saigon. The city is mainly an economic hub, and although there is a wide variety of bars and clubs, I found the streets at night rather deserted, at least on the weekdays. However, if you are looking for a place with all modern amenitys, interesting sights and beautiful nature just outside the city, Đà Nẵng might be just the place you are looking for.

The Costs

Like most of Vietnam, Đà Nẵng is fairly cheap to stay at, and you do not need a large budget to enjoy yourself here. An average day, including a bed at a hostel, three meals, entrance fees to the Marble Mountains and the occasional Uber-ride should cost you about 570.000 VND (25 USD).

  • Accomodation: 130.000 VND
  • Food: 120.000 VND
  • Transportation: 280.000 VND
  • Entrance Fee: 40.000 VND

20 Days in Vietnam – Itinerary

Travelling Vietnam is fairly easy. One reason for this is the good infrastructure in most of the country and the wide availability of public transportation like trains and busses. Another reason lies in the geography of the country. Since Vietnam is a very narrow stretch of land, travellors who do not cross the border from Cambodia or Laos only have one big choice to make: North to South or South to North? Both ways are possible, depending on where you start your jorney – Hanoi or Ho-Chi-Minh-City. I started in the latter, so my itinerary follows this route, but it is all the same possible vice versa. In this article I will present my travel itinerary and try to give advise on where to go, what to do there and how long to stay in one place.

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  1. Ho-Chi-Minh-City

Although there are many flights to Vietnam´s capital Hanoi, most of the cheaper airlines seem to favour Ho-Chi-Minh-City, also known as Saigon. Although many people I have met prefer Hanoi for various reasons, I can recommend starting your journey in Saigon. The city has an exotic flair while at the same time being more Westerner-friendly than Vietnams capital: I found the traffic less crazy, the streets wider and less crowded, the food better, the people friendlier and the language-barrier less imposing. Saigon is a buzzling, modern megacity where you can easily spend 2-3 days. Besides visiting tourist spots like the Ben Than Market, the War Remnants Museum and the Walking Street, you should also do a day tour to the Cu Chi-Tunnels, where you can see the tunnels that the Vietcong used as a hiding place during the Vietnam War.

 

 

2. Mekong Delta

Since you are already in the South of Vietnam, you should not miss the opportunity to visit the Mekong Delta, home to 17 Million people who live at and off the river. There are many organizers who offer 2-day-tours for as little as 35 USD, and while you will be taken to a lot of shops and workshops, where you are encouraged to buy souvenirs, you will also see interesting places like the temple complex of Vĩnh Tràng, small canals where a boatsman will row you to the main river, and a floating market, where you can buy fruits and coffee from floating vendors. You can also try local specialties like fried frog, snake and dried fish.

 

 

3. Đà Nẵng

After Saigon I faced a difficult decision: Visit places like Da Lat and Nha Thrang or skip the South of Vietnam completely to have more time for the North? Since this was a 20-day-trip, I decided for the latter and did not regret my decision. I booked a 17-hour train ride to Đà Nẵng, a city in Central Vietnam. Although most people go directly to neighbouring Hoi An, I would advise everybody to spend at least 2 days in Đà Nẵng: The city is clean and modern, and besides impressive architectural sights like the Dragon Bridge and the Linh Ung Pagoda, you can also visit beautiful natural sights like the Marble Mountains and the Green Lake, and even relax on clean and relatively quiet beaches. In 2-3 days you can discover the most important sights.

 

 

Only one hour South of Đà Nẵng lies the city of Hội An, whose old town is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site. It is a well-preserved historical trading town and features many traditional halls, palaces and temples, as well as the beautiful Japanese Bridge. If you are in Hội An, you can also rent a motorbike and drive to Mỹ Sơn ruins which give witness to the same ancient civilization responsible for Angkor Wat in Cambodia. And while the temple ruins might not be as extensive as their neighbouring counterparts, Mỹ Sơn is still a fascinating archeological site. All in all, one day for Hội An and one day for Mỹ Sơn should be enough.

 

 

4. Huế 

Most visitors will be familiar with Huế, the old imperial city and home to the mighty Nguyễn dynasty. The citadel of Huế was almost completely destroyed during the Vietnam War and reconstruction is still in progress. While most of the palaces have been rebuilt, my visit left my a bit „underwhelmed“. The citadel and its forbidden city are quite extensive, but I did not find them exactly beautiful. A visit should not take you more than half a day. If you want to see the Tombs of the Emperors a bit outside the city center, you should account for 2 days in Huế.

 

 

5. Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng

This place is an absolute highlight in the north of Vietnam, although still a relatively little-known one. Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng is a National Park that features some of the most impressive caves in Vietnam, situated in the most beautiful landscape I have seen in the whole country. It is a very rewarding feeling to ride the mountan roads through green valleys that seem to stretch for an eternity. A definite must for every trip to Vietnam! If you want to go hiking and caving, or just enjoy the beautiful scenery, you can easily spend 3-4 days here.

 

 

6. Ninh Binh

Almost as beautiful as Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng is Ninh Binh in the north. The place is often called „the Halong Bay inland“ because of its majestic lime stone rocks that scatter the lush greenery. Nature lovers will not be disappointed as Ninh Binh features some of the most serene landscapes and most beautiful panoramas in all Vietnam. A river cruise in the shadow of the large rocks is an absolute must, and the sheer variety of beautiful temples means that you can spend 3-4 days here without ever feeling bored.

 

 

7. Hanoi

No trip to Vietnam would be complete without a visit to its capital, Hanoi. The city feautures some highly symbolic sights like the Hh-Chi-Minh Mausoleum and the Literature Temple. However, I have to admit that I did not like Hanoi very much. Expect heavy, relentless traffic, very crowded streets, poor English skills and considerably colder temperatures than in the South. I was glad to go back to Saigon after 3 days, but do not let my opinion discourage you and see for yourself.

 

 

 

 

Of course you do not have to stop in Hanoi if you still have time. A lot of travellers visit the Rice Fields of Sapa to the North (which I skipped because I was already about to visit Banaue in the Philippines), Halong Bay with its majestic lime stone formations, or rent a motorbike to discover Ha Giang, Vietnam´s most Northern province.