A Travellerspoint blog

Trekking in the monsoon

Nepal

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Getting to pokhara in Nepal was a rather painful 2day journey....
We took a 6hr sleeper train from Varanasi to Gorakhpur and then from Gorakhpur  a local bus to the boarder town of Saunali. The bus was supposed to take 2hrs but it took nearly 4. It only cost less than 1 pound each but it was a horrible bus ride. It was extremely hot so being squashed in amongst the locals while pouring with sweat for 4 hrs was not pleasant but we survived! 
The border crossing was rather simple, we got our passports stamped on the Indian side then walked accross to the Nepal side where we had to get a visa. We chose to get a 15 day visa which was USD 25.
From the boarder we took a taxi 30mins to a town called lumbini. This town is famous for being the birth town of Lord Buddah but besides for this and a few random monasteries there is nothing much there. The only hotel in the town with AC was USD100 for the night so we stayed at a little guest house that had a fan for USD 5 but the fan didn't work!! It was so unbearably hot that we didn't sleep at all that night and it didn't help that we were sleeping on plastic sheets. The next morning we were hoping to get out of Lumbini as fast as possible but there was a strike. This happens all the time in Nepal, the government announce a strike and no one is allowed on the roads. 3 Italians and one American guy who also stayed at the same guest house were in the same boat as us. luckily they came to call us when they saw a bus that was apparently going in the right direction so we all got on however it stopped every 10mins. After 2hrs we got off and at that point we had had enough so we threw money at the problem and got a taxi all the way to pokhara. The thought of another 6hr local bus was making us feel desperate. The taxi took 5hrs and was rather pleasant considering the roads are very narrow and windy! Getting to pokhara and checking into our hotel with AC was the best feeling. The next day we bumped into the italian guys and they looked miserable. They said the bus took 11hrs, We were so happy we payed the money for a taxi!

Pokhara is geared for tourists that come for the trekking season so there are lots of western restaurants and little shops so we spent the next day drinking coffee and hunting around for the best deal for a 6day trek. When we felt satisfied we had found a good deal we payed the money and secured our trek that was going to leave the next morning. We hired a guide and a porter and were set to go. We also bargained at the "trekking stores" and bought some socks, rain jacket/ponchos and some zorts ( pant that zip off to shorts...). I never thought a joburg girl like me would own a pair if north face zorts and a columbian floppy  hat,so nerdy!

Nerds
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Our permits
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The trek we chose to do was a 5night 6 day Poon Hill (3120m) trek Around the Annapurna  region. We averaged about 5hrs of walking a day, some down hill and some steep inclines.It was a moderate hike and the highest point we reached was 3120m so the altitude does make you slow down and feel a little out of breath sometimes. 
I wished that it wouldn't be too hot on our trek but You have to be careful what you wish for because we got solid rain for 6 days. At night the rain woke us as the corrugated roof amplified the rain and then it just never stopped. Because of the rain and the heavy mist we unfortunately didn't have any view of the amazing himalayan peaks for the first 5 days but on the 6th day we woke up to the most beautiful view of Machhapuchhre or Fish Tail (6997m.), Huinchuli (6441m.), and Annapurna (7219m.) south. We saw the sun rise on this amazing mountain range which made all 5 days of walking in the rain very worth it.

Walking in the rain
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Amazing sun set and sun rise. View on the last day.
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With the rain comes LEECHES (lychees as Byron called them). These horrible little creatures were everywhere and they cling to your shoes trying to bite you all day. On the 2nd day I was taking off my zorts to have a shower and I found one on my thigh sucking away. It had crawled from my shoe to my thigh without me noticing and was drinking away. I bled for hours after taking it off, it was horrible. Byron also got bitten by one on the 4th day when we counted 30 leeches on us. They don't like heat so at lunch time we spent ages taking them off our shoes and watching them shrivel on the fire!

burn the leeches
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Our guide, Prem and our porter were awesome! Prem spoke great English and was very keen on his birds so he pointed out lots of pretty birds along the way. The accommodation was very basic but clean and most places had western toilets and hot showers.  I only showered 3 out of 5 nights because the showers were far from the rooms and walking back in the rain didn't seem worth it!
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Keeping warm.
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Sitting by the heater at night. Trying to dry clothes
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All the guest houses had the exact same food menu so were got to know the choices backwards! The food was ok, for breakfast we had muesli,porridge or toast with honey and for lunch and dinner we had a lot of tomato spaghetti, veg noodles, dal  baht and the odd pizza with many cups of tea and coffee followed by all the chocolates and haribos we stuffed our backpack with! 
Menu
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We met some lovely people along at the guest houses. Germans, Dutch ( felt like we were back in the dam), Danish, Americans,Singaporeans and a awesome guy from Canada. Pat from Canada was 72yrs old and the most hilarious interesting man. He had left his wife behind and come to Nepal. The night after we had dinner with him he was going to have a hash pancake in the mountains, what a guy!

On the last day of our trek we got to a village called Phedi and from there we had to take a bus back to pokhara. When the bus pulled up it was packed so our guide told us to hop on the roof! I never imagined riding a bus in Nepal on the roof! We had the best view but had to hold on tight! Ha ha, I can't believe I sat on top of a bus.....
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despite the rain and leeches we had the most amazing experience trekking in the himalayas! Next time we will do everest base camp!!!

More photos.........
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Posted by karenandbyron 10:41 Archived in Nepal Comments (2)

Varanasi

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our first overnight sleeper train was from Agra to Varanasi but we had to go from a town about an hour out of Agra as the tickets were sold out so we got a tuk tuk in the dark to the station which was rather scary. I was really petrified of the over night train as we had heard some horrendous stories. heard of a guy who fell asleep on an overnight train to Varanasi and when he woke up there was a dead body on the bed above him. someone who was transporting their dead uncle got on. this is apparently a regular occurrence! but we luckily didn't have any dead bodies with us, we got lucky and had an American guy in our cabin so the train was pretty easy.
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Varanasi is regarded as a holy city by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the oldest in India.People travel from all over India top cremate their loved ones and have their ashes thrown in the holy Ganges. we learnt that they don't burn all the bodies, if a pregnant woman or a child under 10 or someone with chicken pox die they wrap the body in bamboo leaves and throw them in the river.
Varanasi is the craziest place we have ever been, it is totally chaotic and the streets are total pandemonium!!!

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We took a boat "Cruise" on the Ganges at sunrise which was very interesting but rather strange at the same time as you feel like you watching people wile they bath! we visited the ghats where the cremations happen and where people come to bath in the holy Ganges.
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the lonely planet suggested you go to a place called the blue lassi for the "no 1 lassi in all of varansai' so we went in search of this place through the tiny narrow crazy streets of the old city. we found the place and had a Delicious banana and chocolate lassi (type of yogurt/milk drink). while we were sitting on the side of the street having our lassi we saw about 6 dead bodies being carried down to the river. luckily they were covered in cloth but it is still rather disturbing and when we saw a foot poking out right under our noses we decided we had had enough!
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on one of the evenings we experienced a real Indian monsoon rain. out of no where the sky turned black, the wind picked up and everyone on the streets started running. i thought I was going to be killed by either a tuk tuk, a rickshaw, a motorbike, a cow, a car or a person as everyone was just going in any direction to take cover so we decided we better do the same and as the heavy rain fell we managed to take refuge in a lovely restaurant ans waited for it to subside. it was great to experience but unfortunately it doesn't cool it down, we were still sweating at 8pm when it stopped.

luckily for us we were staying in what we called "our sanctuary". we splashed out on a hotel as we had been together for 7 years and stayed in a lovely place just outside the old city so after a few hours at a time we escaped to our sanctuary!!!

Varanasi is filled with beauty and filth, we saw beautiful sun sets, colours and people at the same time as seeing a dog with its brains hanging out.
We went a little crazy snapping away (its so hard not to) so I have included a few of this totally fascinating place......

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Posted by karenandbyron 10:16 Archived in India Comments (1)

Delhi and Agra

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After a easy flight from Bangkok we arrived late at night in Delhi to yet again another hot hot humid climate.
I have been to Delhi before but I think you forget the manic pace and nothing prepares you for the craziness of indian cities. We stayed in a very busy area close to new Delhi train station in a little hotel amongst the main bazaar street, it was clean and comfortable for only £20 a night and even had a fish tank in the room.
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The following day we spent the morning organising train tickets and a sim card for the iPad. In India there is always someone who can offer you a deal with Someone's friend/cousin down the road.You have to be very aware of scams and being ripped off! But after going directly to the station to be told to go away we payed the small commission and our hotel organised it all for us however the trains from Agra to Varanasi were full so we had to take another route via two towns.

After the admin we spent the day wandering around Delhi. We left our guide book at the hotel which actually turned out to be a good thing as we just followed locals and took their advice on where to go.
We braved the subway To the red fort followed  by a rickshaw ride through the streets of old Delhi and ended up at conaught place where we found a great local spot for our 1st Indian meal which was so spicy even though we asked them to lay off the spice! 
Red fort
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No spitting!
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Being a western girl means you have to pose for lots of photos
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Lunch
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After a day in Delhi wandering the streets and getting used to the noise and chaos we boarded our 1st Indian train headed for Agra. 
We bought 3rd class AC tickets and got to sit next to some very pleasant people for the 6 hr train ride. It was not too bad!

It was raining in agra when we arrived but as we got at our hotel the sun was setting and we found a covered spot on the roof to watch the sunset behind the taj mahal! The next day we saw the Taj and Agra fort. The Taj mahal is unbelievably impressive, The huge white marble structure against the blue sky is truly an amazing site and you can not believe one man built it for his wife's tomb.
we wandered the back streets of Agra but honestly Agra is a town that you just want to stop in to see the beautiful taj so one night was perfect! 

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Posted by karenandbyron 02:27 Archived in India Comments (2)

Thailand

Bangkok, Koh Mak, Phuket and Phi Phi

Our flight from Guilin via Guangzhou to Bangkok was delayed due to a huge storm so because of this we only landed in Bangkok at 2am. We had arranged to stay at a self catering apartment in Bangkok for the night before heading off to the beach but we got no reply from the guy who owned it so we decided it was better to stay at an airport hotel and catch the early morning bus to trat. We checked in, slept for 2 hrs, showered and caught the 6.50am mini bus to trat which is 4hrs SE of Bangkok. From there we took a speed boat to an island called Koh Mak.

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KOH MAK is a tiny island. Byron ran round the whole island and then measured his route on a scooter,it was only 11km. It is very remote with only a few resort/hotels on it and nothing else. We were the only people on some of the beaches. We rented a scooter every day and explored all the different sides of the island.
We stayed at such a lovely little resort right on the beach. It doesn't make sense how we went from paying EUR60 for a crummy hostel room without a bathroom to a beautiful huge room with gorgeous bathroom and infinity pool on the beach for EUR25 including a lovely breakfast, we were in paradise with our huge luxury room!! We spent 4 great nights on koh mak really chilling out! The only little down side to our time there was the irritating lady boy at the hotel otherwise it was great!

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our scooter
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From koh mak we went back to Bangkok for a night. We stayed at a place (with another strange ladyboy working at reception) near kosan road which is really vibey with lots of street food, bars, restaurants and market stalls. After going to look at the very impressive grand palace we took an air Asia flight to Phuket.

Grand Palace
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PHUKET is totally different to koh mak. It is obviously a lot bigger (being the biggest island in Thailand) and it is a lot busier and more touristy. We stayed in a place on the hill near patong beach. It was close enough to walk to the main strip but Far enough to not hear the noise! We payed EUR12 a night for a huge room with a pool, it was the best value for money. Patong beach was totally fascinating, there are tattoo places, massage places and clubs/bars everywhere! We spent a lot of time people watching! What was very noticeable was how many older aussie/English men there were with tai woman. We speculated on what the situation is and were quite saddened by what we saw. The beach in patong is lovely and big and the good thing is that you don't get hassled to buy things once you are on the beach.
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After 3 nights we headed over to phi phi island.
PHI PHI was awesome. Its is in between what we had in koh mak and Phuket. It's not too quiet and small but not as busy and hectic as Phuket. The beeches are so gorgeous and tropical with white sand and blue blue see. We went snorkeling, on a boat trip to mya bay and monkey island and saw the sun set from the top of the hill! the climb to the top of the hill was rather intense in the heat so after seeing a sign for "taxis to view point" we decided to opt for that options. The taxi was a motorbike with a man, a child, me and Byron on one motor bike over very bumpy dirt roads. I never thought I would be the forth person on a bike! out of all the places we visited in Thailand, I think Phi phi was my favourite!!
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sun set from view point
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one of the best things we saw was so many "model shoots". too funny!!!!
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back to Bangkok to meet up with friends who had come over from SA and London. It was such a treat to meet up with good friends and catch up on all the news!! this time we stayed in a great hotel in the silom area which is a lot smarter. Our friends stayed in the pimping hotel where they filmed the hangover so we met them there and had drinks by the awesome pool with a great view of the city!
We had a fun night out which ended in a gross depressing "ping pong show"! It was the most we have had to drink in 10 weeks so we were feeling a little fragile the next morning but we still had a great day out. We took a long boat tour on the river, went back to the grand palace and then headed to a shopping centre to escape the heat for Lunch. After a few more drinks by the pool we very sadly said goodbye to our mates and headed for bed. For the 1st time on the trip, both of us were not feeling great and crippled with bad tummies and heat rash we spent the last day in Bangkok seeing a movie and hiding out in the hotel room getting ready to head to India.

boat trip in Bangkok
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Posted by karenandbyron 08:56 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Guangxi province

China

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The 9hr bus trip from Lijang back to Kunming was by far the worst we have done so far. This time we were on a big bus with air con but the drivers (alternated by 2 guys) were the most irritating revolting humans I have ever seen. We had the 2 front seats and no ear plugs or earphones would take away the loud talking, sniffing, lobbing that went on. The drivers must have smoked 2 boxes of cigarettes each and they didn't even know where the bus's lights were when it got dark or how to put petrol in. This as well as the bad driving Really didn't make us feel too confident. The toilets and restaurant that we stopped at along the way were the most vile places we have ever been. I gagged a few times, didn't eat our free meal and want to vomit still thinking about those toilets ( ill spare you the details of smells and sights ). Despite all this, we arrived in Kunming in the end and took a taxi to our hotel which was also very dirty with mould and stank of smoke. The next morning we were keen to get out and get going so we packed up and killed a day in Kunming before flying to Guilin at 11pm. We had Starbucks again and walked around the city!

Guilin was ten times hotter than anywhere we had been. We landed at 1am and the pilot announced that it was 28 degrees. This was true but he forgot to mention that it was 28 degrees with 90% humidity so when we arrived at our hostel we were so pleased to see we had air con, which has now become a prerequisite in the accommodation we book!
We spent the next morning doing admin in the hostel before catching a bus to yangshuo.
Yangshuo was definitely a highlight of our 3 weeks in china. There is beautiful scenery and lots of outdoor activities. It is a little touristy but you can stay away from the crowds and being geared for tourists makes it a lot easier to get around and more people seem to speak English.
When looking in the lonely planet for a place to stay they suggested a hotel about 5kms out of the main town which was great. It was cheap, quiet and had a great restaurant on the terrace. We met more people here than we have anywhere else and had two fun nights of drinking with English people who live in shanghai and two veterinarians from Madrid. It was the most we have drank in 2 months!!!!
We had 4 days in the area packed with lots of action. We hired bicycles and cycled along the Li river and through the town. It was a lot scarier than cycling on cycle paths in Amsterdam but I soon got used to it.
We took bamboo raft boats down the yulong river and swam in the Li river with the locals. We also took a bamboo boat 2 hrs down the Li river to a town called xing ping where we hired bikes and cycled around the villages. The area is famous for their karst limestone peaks so these and the beautiful wide rivers that flow through were definitely worth a visit.
Besides for the beautiful scenery we had great food here BUT on one occasion we sat down at a little place for dumplings (should have known it was dodge when we were the only people there). We ordered one pork dumplings and one veggie dumplings but the pork was most definitely not pork and tasted very strange. After eating them we discovered that the restaurant served "spicy dog" and "horse meat dumplings". Apparently the area is know for eating dog. We are not sure if we ate dog or horse but they were not pork dumplings. After freaking ourselves out and feeling a little sick we found a great juice bar to wash our dog down with a mango shake!

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After exploring yangshuo we took a bus back to Guilin and then got on another bus to the Dragon's Backbone rice terraces. Luckily for us there was a great guy on the bus who could speak English and helped us get from the main road up to the town of Ping'an where we stayed the night.
Ping'an is a beautiful little 600year old village set up in the hills. We hiked up thousands of stairs with our back packs on to find the little guesthouse where we stayed. That night we walked around the village and had a great meal at the little spot overlooking the terraces. Best meal so far of bamboo steamed rice with peanut chicken and pork with chocolate ice cream.
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Apparently it is best to see the rice terraces at sun rise so the next morning we set out on our hike in the dark at 5.30am. When we got to the view point the sun was just coming up.The rice terraces are beautiful but sadly we saw them at the wrong time.The crops were too tall so we were not able to see them water logged as we expected from the pictures on the Internet but it was still worth the trip and interesting to see.
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That afternoon we headed back to Guilin where we spent a night before heading to the airport to fly to Thailand!! We walked along the Li river in Guilin and spent time in the hostel booking accommodation and researching Thailand and I got a much needed cheap pedicure!!
We have now been going for 8 weeks and we have seen a tremendous amount so we are looking forward to lying on the beach in Thailand for a bit before the craziness of India!

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Some visor action
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Cutest twins who played with us at lunch in xing ping
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Seat on the bus was an upside down bucket
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Transporting bamboo boats
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Walking before sun rise
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Posted by karenandbyron 07:05 Archived in China Comments (4)

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