We first met Willem in a bar in Sydney. His big bright smile and enthusiasm made us like him right away. Willem told us the “Story of his World” and we loved his story straight away!
Willem left Amsterdam two years ago and has couch-surfed his way through Asia. He left with no plans in mind, there was only one thing he knew; every time someone would offer him their couch, he would make pancakes as a token of appreciation and as a way to better get to know his hosts. One of his hosts once asked him why on earth he was travelling with a frying pan. Willem was confused as he hadn’t actually been doing so but then decided this was a great idea and that he should.
The idea of Pancake Adventures was born and Willem spreads the love through pancakes, wherever he goes.
His first “Pancake Adventure” was at a Construction site in Dubai, followed by adventures in the slums of Pakistan, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, a pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City and many, more (for Pancake Adventure’s videos, click HERE). We were all so touched and inspired by the man travelling the world with a frying pan, baking his way around the world and spreading positivity through the gesture of making pancakes for others, that we decided to dig a little deeper.
What did you do back at home before you started travelling?
What made you decide to give that all up?
I had just graduated from university and was thinking of what to do next. The office life didn’t seem too attractive and other things I had tried hadn’t satisfied me either. I was offered a job at a friend’s start-up, but this too seemed quite boring. Then I decided, that as I didn’t know what I wanted, that I would go to Thailand for a couple of weeks to figure it all out. However, two weeks in Thailand just seemed so insignificant and lame… I turned to the world map for inspiration and decided to travel from Amsterdam to Beijing, over land. I reckoned this should surely give me enough time to figure it all out…
I actually ended up my starting my trip in Istanbul from where I travelled to Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Dubai, Pakistan, India, Nepal and finally, Beijing. I reached my destination, but still, I hadn’t made up my mind. So, now what? I consulted the map again and figured that as I was already in Asia, I might as well also travel to Cambodia and Japan.
By this time, I was pretty much broke and headed to Australia to work for a while and earn some money. I set up a pancake stall and sold pancakes on Bondi markets to work towards my future pancake adventures. Not only did my pancake adventures continue throughout my travels, my stall is still selling pancakes under the management of my friend Per. In Australia, I decided to not only continue travelling and visit Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and New Zeeland but as I still didn’t have a kid, career, mortgage or a dog, why not also travel to Japan.
Tell us about your frying pan. Does it have a name?
His name is peter… But other than Peter Pan the pan grows old pretty fast and I had to change it a couple of times. When this one breaks I will ask a pan brand to sponsor me with an unbreakable yet portable one.
Do you own a pan-business and would you love to sponsor Willem on one of his Pancake Adventures? Please let us know!
What’s it like travelling with a frying pan? Is it all that different from travelling without one?
The main difference is that people often come up to me and ask my why there is a frying pan hanging off my backpack. The best thing to me, however, is that travelling with a project gives purpose to my travels. Frankly, I think I would just feel lost without some sort of project to keep me busy. Especially because my friends at home are building their careers and having kids and I’m on the other side of the world doing, well, I don’t know what exactly. Pancake Adventures makes me feel like what I do is a bit more justified and if all fails I can always start my own billion-dollar pancake chain restaurant.
Another great thing is that the pan has taken me places I wouldn’t have gone to otherwise, and it has allowed me to connect with people I would otherwise have never met. Most importantly, being able to give back to local communities is a beautiful thing and it has truly enriched and contributed to my journey.
Wherever you are, look for the beauty in things around you and have an open mind. Don’t just hang around your hostel and visit the well-travelled Lonely Planet sights but be open to adventure whenever it presents itself. Some of my best adventures have been without Peter the frying pan; dancing with transvestites in Lahore or taking a local Chinese tour bus. You need to push yourself out of your comfort zone, that’s when the magic happens.
What is the best memory you got thanks to your frying pan?
My very first pancake experience was really interesting. I baked pancakes for the workers on a construction site in Dubai. Up to this point, I felt like Dubai was just made up of office buildings and was effectively one big shopping mall with little things to do. When I saw the workers building these monstrous buildings, I felt like I was looking at a dystopia. It was like a scene from the film “Metropolis”, where the poor workers built for the rich. Being on a construction site and celebrating and baking pancakes for the “modern day slaves” felt like such a beautiful way to contrast Dubai’s mass consumerism.
Was your pan a catalyst for any other awesome epiphanies?
When I was visiting Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, two of my friends and I baked and handed out pancakes to the numerous families living on the street. Never in my life have I received so much gratitude. I felt so humbled and moved by this experience in a way I have never have before. It’s the little things that have the biggest impact.
Did your pan ever get you in trouble?
The “worst” thing that ever happened, pancake wise, was on a market in Karachi. Here we had to bribe the police with pancakes. Anytime anything inconvenient happened to like having no cash or feeling out of place, there were always people to help me out. I would almost encourage you to get into a little trouble so you can witness how good humanity can be.
Are you stopping travelling anytime soon or can expect more Pancake Adventures?
I will travel through Indonesia and the Philippines until October. Then I will try to hitchhike in Australia until my money runs out at which point I will probably try to work in New Zeeland for a bit. At some point, I will try to travel back to the Netherlands overland via Japan, Mongolia and Russia. Who knows, I might open a Pancake Adventures billion-dollar restaurant chain in China. Who knows.
Do you want to try some of Willems pancakes?
Get yourself to the Bondi Market in Sydney!
Do you have any final advice for all the adventurers or rookie travellers out there?
Get yourself into impossibly exciting yet scary situations. If you ever need any help or assistance, simply approach someone on the street and chances are, they will help you and show you, unconditional love.
You will never realise how beautiful humans can be if you don’t give them the opportunity to show you.
Try to do something every day that’s worth writing a story about. Something crazy, scary, funny or even something boring. As long as you keep your eyes and mind open, your travels will be a collection of short stories.