Hi Niea! You're already a seasoned traveler - what are some of your favorite destinations, and how would you describe your travel style?
I'm an Indonesian living in Melbourne, Australia and I've been traveling across continents since I was a kid (all thanks to my parents who loves to travel as well!). Before traveling to Morocco last year, my favorite destination has definitely been Japan. I love the cuisine, and the public train system is amazing. I'm also totally enamored by their various vending machines - everything from ramen to umbrellas. I love how their modern world exists side by side with a more traditional one.
In terms of my travel style: if I'm traveling solo, I pack light - I try to only use a carry-on bag for anything less than two weeks! When I travel with my parents, however, it's a different story. They always end up shopping, no matter where we go.
How did you first become interested in Morocco as your destination of choice?
Surprisingly, it was all because of an uber driver. When I was heading to the Paris airport in December 2016, I happened to have a Moroccan driver. After hearing about my own travels, he spent the rest of the drive convincing me that I needed to see his homeland. He must have done a great job singing its praises, because I decided then and there that Morocco was next on my bucket list. I spent months saving up and planning, and almost exactly a year after our conversation, I was on a plane to Morocco.
As an architect, you had a particular interest in checking out examples of Moroccan architecture. Did you leave with some favorites?
Color is integral to my design sensibility. I always wear bold, colorful clothes, while my colleagues usually wear black. So it's not surprising that my favorite part of Morrocan architecture is the intricate mosaic tile work. It's stunningly colorful and offers a lot of texture for the eyes to take in. Since I'm a Muslim, I know that Islamic art and design is actually based on repetition. It's simple, yet complex due to different colors and shapes- and that's what makes Moroccan architecture so interesting.
You ended up prioritizing seeing more of Northern Morocco over visiting Marrakech. Was that a tough decision? What factors did you weigh?
Actually, this wasn't a difficult decision at all. I always had my sights set on Chefchaouen, the village where most of the buildings are painted bright blue. As I mentioned before, I love colors, and blue happens to be my favorite. I'm also very much a mountain person, so its location in the dramatic Rif mountains was appealing as well. It isn't the most touristy place yet, and the authenticity was another factor. So when I heard about Chefchaouen, I'd already decided to prioritize it over other towns - even Marrakech!
What were the most memorable parts of your trip?
Rabat! I fell in love as soon as I arrived in town and definitely plan on visiting again. I loved the Kasbah and the Marmoleum Muhammad V, which is totally amazing. I was also charmed by the Moroccan people, especially in Chefchaouen - they were so friendly and sweet. Another memorable part of my trip is actually a great souvenir. The Moroccan argan cream! I was skeptical at first, but now I feel like I should have brought more home. Luckily, I plan to come back.
Tell us about traveling alone as a woman in Morocco. Had you traveled solo before? Were there any challenges you faced, or any advice you can offer?
My first time traveling alone was to another island in Indonesia when I was 7 years old, but my real love for solo adventure started in 2012 when I went to Dubai after the pilgrimage. Since then, I go whenever I have the chance. But the most memorable traveling I've done by myself was my journey to Europe last year. It was my dream trip, but I didn't have the chance to go until my marriage ended and I knew I needed to do it for myself. I planned everything in just a few weeks - tours, visa, accommodation - and flew to France on Christmas Day (coincidentally, the same day I met the Moroccan uber driver who inspired this trip!).
In terms of Morocco specifically, I didn't encounter any problems - I'm a Muslim woman, so it was very smooth and everyone helped me whenever they saw I needed assistance. The only real challenge was the language barrier. My advice for Western women is to try and greet anyone you speak to in the typical Arabic Muslim way: assalamu'alaikum. They usually smile and are happy to speak with you!
And last but not least: where are you planning to go on your next adventure?
I'm currently in Spain, but have my next trip to Hong Kong and China booked for the Easter holiday. This time, it will be with my parents and two-year-old niece, making it a challenging trip since I'll need to slow down my usual travel pace. But it will be worth it - I plan to bring my niece to Disneyland!
Niea's trip was planned through kimkim by Ian Hardy, our local travel specialist based in Morocco.