The Favourites of Nicolai Petek

Please introduce yourself

Hi, my name is Nicolai, I live in Basel, the third-largest city of Switzerland, and have a full-time job in the finance industry.

How many countries have you been to?

I am at 109/197 right now (December 2020), country number 110 is just a few days away.

How many days have you approximately travelled?

That’s hard to say. I would estimate about 1,000 without knowing the exact number.

What are three of your favourite countries and why?

I was already enthusiastic about Japan as a teenager. For me, this country was always a kind of futuristic world that I really wanted to travel to. I finally visited Japan in 2012 and I would still call that my best trip ever. What I love about Japan is that it combines the traditional with the modern better than any other country in the world, plus the interesting culture, the food and the countless amazing things you can do in the country.

South Africa
South Africa offers in my opinion everything a traveller needs: incredible landscapes, wildlife, nice people, good food, great activities and much more. Planning a trip to this country is quite difficult because you have to decide between so many amazing places, but this makes South Africa also a country to visit again and again. In the meantime, I have been to South Africa twice, although the second time was only a short stay, and it remains one of my favourite countries in the world.

I could copy and paste most that I have written about South Africa here. Colombia is a very diverse country with many great places to visit. The locals are friendly and do everything to ensure that the country with its sometimes bad reputation makes a good impression on travellers. Moreover, Medellín is my favourite city in Latin America and one of the rare cities I could even imagine living in.

Are there any countries you don’t enjoy travelling?

Since I’m not really a beach person, I don’t enjoy small island nations that have nothing else to offer apart from beaches. I can spend two or three days in such countries but afterwards, I get terribly bored and need to move on.

Other countries I don’t enjoy very much are those where you have to be careful of corrupt police, like Guinea or Nigeria. Fortunately, the amount of bribes I have had to pay so far is very small and most of the time it helped when I just said no to the police.

What are three of your favourite cities and why?

Hong Kong
Very vibrant and diverse city with many cool things to do, an extraordinary restaurant scene and good nightlife. What I like about Hong Kong is that this concrete jungle is on the one hand very western, but on the other hand, also keeps a Chinese character. It’s a city I have visited twice so far and I will definitely come back.

Tel Aviv
Maybe not the most interesting city when it comes to sightseeing, but a perfect city for me to relax and enjoy. I have been to Tel Aviv three times and I love the vibe of the city, the excellent food (Middle East food is my favourite) and also the amazing nightlife.

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Cape Town
in my opinion the most beautiful city in the world. Even though some people claim that Cape Town is not representative of South Africa, it is my favourite city on the whole African continent. From Table Mountain to Boulders Beach with its penguins to the Cape of Good Hope, there are so many beautiful places to see.

What are three of your favourite hotels or places you’ve stayed and why?

Haha, I rarely spend a lot of money on hotels and actually only book luxury accommodation when I find a very good deal somewhere. My tips, therefore, refer to other criteria than pure luxury.

The Marmara Pera in Istanbul
A rather ordinary 4-star hotel, perfectly located in Beyoglu, with some excellent restaurants nearby. What makes the hotel special is the rooftop bar, for me one of the best in the world, if not the best I have ever been to.

Sofitel City Centre Singapore
Basically an interchangeable luxury hotel in the centre of Singapore. Very cool is the pool on a mid-level terrace surrounded by skyscrapers. Admittedly, it is also the first luxury hotel that just came to my mind.

Milhouse Hostel in CuscoI am not a luxury hotel type, but I am not really a hostel-type either. But if I go to a hostel, it has to be like the Milhouse Hostel in Cusco (by the way, there is another one in Buenos Aires). The hostel has many rooms (from dorms to private), a big patio, a cool bar where you can meet other travellers, it offers a cheap laundry service and they will also book your tours if you want.

What are the three worst places you’ve stayed?

The worst was definitely the campsite in the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia. It was 5°C and rained all night. Due to the leaky tent, I changed at about 2 am completely soaked to the stone hut without lockable doors and windows next to it. It was even colder there but at least dry. In hindsight, that first night in the Simiens was pretty much the worst night in my life.

The second worst was a guest house in Jodhpur, India. When I arrived I was told that the accommodation was overbooked and I could use a room that is otherwise used by the owner’s family. The room was tiny, dirty, had no toilet and the mattress was hard like granite. As if that wasn’t enough, somewhere in the room was an insect I couldn’t find, probably a cricket, which had been chirping so loudly all night long that I had to take a sleeping pill to fall asleep.

The third worst was the Rayan Hotel in Djibouti. Djibouti is very expensive and the cheapest hotel I found online was $70 per night. The location was okay, but the bedsheets had red spots on them which I was not sure if it was blood. In addition, the room was enormously hot (as everywhere in Djibouti) and the air conditioning not only made a tremendous noise but also spat out water.

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What are three of your favourite restaurants and why?

A requirement for a “favourite restaurant” would probably be that I had already eaten there 5-10 times, which hardly ever happens when I travel. Therefore, my answers are what comes to my mind spontaneously:

If a restaurant is the highlight of a city trip, either the city didn’t leave a great impression or the restaurant was really world-class. In the case of Roxor BRGR in Bratislava it is probably both. A sensational burger restaurant in a rather boring city.

The second place I want to mention is Matsusaka Tei in Taipei, a Japanese meat restaurant. Great atmosphere, the meat is grilled directly at the table and tastes simply delicious. One of the most fantastic restaurant experiences I ever had.

Last but not least, not a restaurant but street food in Thailand that often tastes better than the food you get in Bangkok’s fancy restaurants (and it costs 10% of it).

What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?

There were so many special travel moments, but the ones that made the biggest impression were those that were somehow unique:

The three days in the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia were enormously exhausting, partly because of the heat and partly because of being in a war zone. But the experience was simply amazing and for me, it is the most fascinating place in the world. The landscapes there are unbelievable as if you were on another planet.

The second thing that comes to my mind is my time in Turkmenistan, especially the Darvaza gas crater, also known as door to hell. It is a gigantic burning hole in the middle of the desert. We spent the night next to the crater, it was freezing cold, uncomfortable, but a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Last but not least, the trip with the iron ore train through the Sahara in Mauritania, a 13-hour ride on top of a cargo train loaded with iron ore, where you can marvel at the vastness of the desert. That was a super cool adventure and I definitely would do it again.

What are three of your worst travel moments and why?

1) The overland journey from Conakry to Freetown. Google Maps says that the 247km long route takes five hours. In reality, it took 19 hours. It was a miserably long and uncomfortable day with 16 other people in a minibus. A tire of the completely overcrowded vehicle burst during the journey and at the border, the customs officer took away my passport and only wanted to give it back to me in return for an appropriate “gift”.

2) When I was stuck in Tuvalu for five days. A cyclone in the region made sure that no planes could land in Tuvalu anymore and it was unclear how long we would be stuck. And so we spent our time in the hotel while it was storming like crazy outside and the wind even ripped some trees out of the ground. Time passed so slowly as if a day had 40 hours. As a result, I missed my flight back to Europe and it was the first time ever that I returned late to the office after my vacations.

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3) in Chiang Mai, Thailand I fell off the boat while river rafting and drifted down the river for about two to three minutes while I couldn’t see the boat anymore. The strong currents smashed me against several rocks before I could finally reach the riverbank. That was probably the most dangerous situation I had ever experienced in my life.

What are three of your best travel tips?

Travel light. Whether you are going away for a weekend or a month, hand luggage is completely sufficient. Whoever has ever experienced that an airline lost the luggage or delivered it too late, knows how annoying such situations are. Therefore, don’t check-in luggage and carry all your things with you. You will be more flexible and, depending on the airline, maybe even save money.

Bring a spare cell phone with you. Since one of my cell phones collapsed in the Ethiopian heat, I always travel with two phones. That proved to be a great idea again in Kenya a few months ago when my cell phone came into contact with only a few drops of salt water and could not be recharged for three days.

Book directly with the airline and never through a third party. I can’t stress this enough and I’m still surprised at how many people book through dubious providers like Opodo because of a few euros/dollars price difference and then wonder why they were screwed. If everything goes well, you have no problems with these operators. But as soon as the flight times change, a flight is cancelled, you are on your own. In most cases, the airlines will not help you because you have not booked directly through them. The only reason to book through these third-party providers is if the fare is massively lower than the airline’s (and by massively I mean a few hundred and not six euros). Otherwise, avoid these (sometimes criminal) organizations like the plague.

Do you have any little known travel tips?

Use a neo-bank like Revolut for your travels. It will not only save you a lot of money due to the better exchange rate, but the app is also quite handy in case a card needs to be blocked. To be on the safe side I still carry a spare card with me, which I leave in my suitcase. The app keeps that spare card blocked, so it would not even matter if it was stolen. However, it will be useful if you lose your first card or if it gets blocked because of an alleged fraud (which has happened to me before, luckily not while travelling but when I was at home).

You can follow Nicolai on and on Instagram.

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