Bhutan for the Backpacker: My Experience

Bhutan is a magical place, one that many travellers can only dream about. Wanting to make the most of my opportunity, my two weeks could not have more perfect! I left with new friends, a wealth of Buddhist knowledge and hunger for more. Friendly, respectful and outgoing, the Bhutanese welcomed me with open arms.

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Thangthangka, Bhutan <- 26th March.2016

Well, I’m freaking tired. So is my guide so it makes me feel a little better. Somehow I missed that we’d have 2 more passes, even if we made it over Bronte La. 4800m sucks, but hopefully we don’t go higher than that.

The climb to the lakes was beautiful but hard at 9am and 4100m. My guide had decided we’d walk until 11:30 and see how far we got. We ended up getting high enough to see the Pass! Definitely “bush-walking” and snow plowing but we followed the Yak trail as far as we could. Coming back sucked, straight up. It was stunning scenery and on the way back we hung up prayer flags which I’ll claim was badass! The assistant cook ended up waiting for 3 hours back at the Jomolhari Base Camp and, after we had finished eating, we headed down together. Although it was only 4 hours getting up, it took 3 to walk down. My heels are shot (Blisters obliterated, but hey!) and I’m sure I’ll be sore in the morning! 3 days down, 3 to go!

In the bush near Yakse ← 27 March

…Today’s mission took us from Thangthangka to (nearly) the Yakse village. There was a building at the end of the valley that Pema no. 2 was aiming for but I had to, for the first time, bail on our destination! I had felt the resistance early on from my feet, and knew that coming back down to the campsite would suck. I performed minor surgery on my blisters this morning but there wasn’t much I could do to minimise the uncomfortable throbbing pain. On top of it all I had layered up, preparing for the worst of the weather and we ended up spending 5 of our 6 hours in 20oC sun! I seriously developed heat rash! At 3500m I saw it first this morning on my hands, initially thinking it was a reaction to the sunscreen. A few days of ‘liberal’ application evidently doesn’t let your skin breath. When we got to our base camp, I discovered it was also starting on my legs. 20oC doesn’t call for thermals to say the least. To top it off, I am recovering from a freakin’ sunburn! Thanks to the beautiful day at Tigers Nest, my face and neck feel like I fell asleep on a beach.

Enough of my whining! Who have I spent the last five days with?

Pema no. 1- Guide turned confidant
Pema no. 2- Cook helper & lunch runner
Jigme- Bhutanese cooking magician. Could make a meal out of water.
Dorley- One-eyed horseman. Definitely would hire him if I moved into the woods. Could easy make a mansion from a tree.

 My first six days in Bhutan was my Jomolhari Base Camp trek. Although I had booked the Jomolhari Loop Trek, it was evident early on that it wouldn’t be possible due to the snow still at high elevations. The normal plan in this case, would have been to spend a full day at the Jomolhari Base Camp for some sightseeing hikes, and then slowly head back down. Thankfully our cook (who was very experienced with over 30 years in the trekking industry) had suggested that we head further down and have the chance to head up to the Soi Yakse Valley, an area that I should have seen on Day 5 of the trek. Despite not completing the full loop, we hiked one day high enough that we could almost see the first pass. It had snowed in Thimphu only a few days before I arrived in Bhutan and, as I live in Switzerland, fully respected the “don’t mess with Mother Nature” attitude. We weren’t going to be annoying any mountain deities on my trip.

I was thankful to see more than other tourists but it made for two long days, aided by blown-out blisters. (My hiking boots are years old, but my soft snowboarding winter feet hadn’t seen my hiking boots for over six months!) Blisters riding Blisters x3, I was walking like I had a stick up my bum. And with sun on us all day, it was an overly exhausting 5th day. The best thing about the Trek was coming back to camp with an amazing fresh meal of vegg, rice and chilli cooked up. I didn’t know it then, but it would be the best Bhutanese food I had the whole trip.

The second week is referred to more a “Cultural Tour” where I had the opportunity to visit monasteries, Dzongs (fortresses) and temples in Paro, Thimphu, Punaka and Gantey. Although I have hundreds of photos of the beautiful architecture, I wasn’t able to take photos inside the temples out of respect for the deities and Buddha. With the oldest of temples, it really felt like I was walking into a museum…floor to ceiling murals of various historical stories. Lord Buddha’s life story, Buddhist teachings and Bhutanese folk-lore decorated entrances around Bhutan. I was lucky to have a very patient and knowledgeable guide who answered all my questions — especially when I asked them multiply times!

 During the second week of the tour, I would typically have breakfast at the hotel, buffet style with a mix of Indian and western items; scrambled eggs, toast, fresh fruit, etc. Lunch would be had a (very touristy) set restaurant. My driver would need to pre-order the food, usually ‘fusion’: a standard mix of three vegetables, rice and a noodle dish. During my holiday in Bhutan, it fell on a religious Buddhist holiday whereas you couldn’t buy fresh meat in the markets. Larger hotels would have stuff stock-piled, or used canned variations imported from India. DSC08344Dinner was usually again at the hotel, but on a few occasions we ate in the town, but again at touristy restaurants. Although I would request to try local restaurants, it took a few days for me to learn that this isn’t really their culture. They’ll eat together with friends and family, and on special occasions go to a nice restaurant. In reality though, what a meal cost was not something they could afford eat week. It was an interesting change from Switzerland, where people eat out regularly! In Thimphu, the most metropolis city (but still small by European standards), there was a few bars / nightclubs, but this was mostly to placate the modern-thinking younger crowd.

I learnt towards the end of my trip that the restaurants where we ate at, had already typically agreements set up with my company. Although alcoholic drinks weren’t included, tea, coffee and water weren’t a problem and were added to the bill that would be later sent to the company office.

There was a standard list of sites that we visited during the second week. My only (small) regret with my trip, was that I didn’t get to see any of the famous Bhutanese festivals. There are 100s of dances performed by monks dressed as various folklore. We did get to see a small cultural show on my last night but unfortunately it wasn’t comparable to the real thing. It’s on the list for next time!

Although we spent the second week during various goembas and temples, I actually visited the famous Taktshang Goemba (Tiger’s Nest Monastery) on my second day as the altitude change was perfect for trekking acclimatisation. It was a beautiful day, and the hike to the monastery was certainly easier that I expected.

22nd March – Paro

…One of the most exciting things was when Pema told me about a ,,wishing relic rock”. You have to make a wish, close your eyes, and aim your thumb at the round impression in the rock. My first two goes didn’t amount to anything, so wishing for children were so far off! The third go I changed my wish and got it! Now let’s see if it comes true! …

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As for the sites we saw after the trek, we started in Paro Valley where we visited Kychu Lhakhang, Paro Dzong and Sangchen Choekor Shedra. We made our way east, towards Thimphu where we would spend a full day exploring. We hiked to Tango Monastry and then had lunch back in the city. While we waited to visit the Tashi Chho Dzong in the evening, we stopped at the Big Buddha (50m tall!) and the Takin animal reserve.

When we did make it to the Thimphu fortress, it was so much bigger than I anticipated! Ironically, the King, Queen and Prince live in a modest one-story building in the lush grounds away from the busy Palace (although the king will walk the 500m to work every day!). There was surprisingly little security for the royal family, in the way of guards and security. Just one huge fence! The guards for the palace were the first ones I had seen in Bhutan that did actually carry guns, but we could almost look into the window of the royal residence across the river! We weren’t allowed to stop and look (or take photos) out of respect. When I asked about the lack of guards, Pema said that almost all tourists will have a personal guide and therefore it is the responsibility of the guide to keep their tourists in line. (On this note; when we went into the Palace, I was wearing my Burmese htamain (a long skirt) with my rain jacket. It took some discussion between my guide and the guards to let me in as they thought it was part of the ‘Kera’, the tradition Bhutanese dress for women . Had this been the case I would have need to wear the rest of the outfit, including a small jacket over the top. I had to show them it was certainly not a kera dress by un-folding it.

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Inside the Thimphu Fortress- you can see the local men in the background wearing the ‘gho’.

Inside the Thimphu Fortress- you can see the local men in the background wearing the ‘gho’. I didn’t realise until I saw photos from that evening that it had a very likable resemblance to the tradition dress. Although I never meant to insult anyone, my guide did get a quick lecture about what is appropriate attire for the tourists!).

After our day in Thimphu, we had a full day’s drive east to Gangtey. On route, we had stopped at Dochula Pass for tea but as the weather was slightly cloudy we couldn’t see the panoramic view. It was amazing to think that every year the Chief Abbott (Bhutan’s religious leader) makes the pilgrimage from Punakha to Thimphu each year Spring. It was almost 100km over a mountain pass!

Gantey was definitely the smallest town I had seen, with only one main street and a few hotels. The Gantey Valley is best known to bird watchers as the nesting grounds for the black-necked crane. Unfortunately all the birds were still in Tibet while I was there, and only got to see the injured crane whose home had been made in the Information Center.

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Rural Bhutan
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Phobjikha Valley

The following day we walked, and sloshed our way through the Gantey Nature Trail. Unfortunately my shoes were lost to the good cause due to the mud and puddles, but we continued nevertheless onwards. We saw the Fertility Temple, and later back in Punakha, the Punakha Dzong. From Punakha we headed back to Paro, stopping at a Nunnery and a local Tao Village. As I was flying out the next day we also did some souvenir shopping, where I was able to get myself a painting!

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Was it worth it? A perspective slice.

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 As a ‘backpacker’, my average Asian travel budget (or estimate while saving) is an average of 50USD per day, and I don’t include my international flights in this estimate. Usually within a few days of arriving this budget will change– especially in Central and South-Eastern Asian countries. As I mentioned before, the daily limit during my visit to Bhutan was $250 per day. Fives times more than my average budget. I am very, very fortunate to work in Switzerland at the moment, and without having much in the way of expenses, we work to travel. Making the most of my situation, Bhutan was not going to be missed!

I was certainly part of the small younger crowd that was travelling in Bhutan. Most of them visit for trekking, but usually for the one week tour. After, while I was in India, I usually had two reactions: 1) Omg! You were in Bhutan!! 2) What the fuck. Why would you spend so much money for that? … granted, the later came from one disgruntled Scottish traveller that was being pulled through India by his girlfriend and had consequently given up enjoying any last possible experiences.

Bhutan was the first country in Asia that I have not seen poverty. There wasn’t people sleeping on the streets (it’s illegal), children went to school everyday and were not allowed out after dark (unofficially). The only time I saw children selling anything, was personally made book-marks along the path to the Fertility Temple. When I asked my guide, he quickly said that the parents will get in a lot of trouble from the police if they saw that and chances are, the kids (maybe 5 or 6 of them) were doing it in secret. He thought it probably would have been to purchase sweets from the local shop– I compared this to kids selling lemonade on the street corner. Certainly not the beggars on the streets on India.

There is still certainly an economic class structure in Bhutan, but certainly not as rigid as neighbouring countries. My horsemen, the lowest earner in my group during the trek, still made enough to send two kids to school. One son was studying to be a monk, but he had a sick wife in the hospital. His main form on income was the tourist treks, where he made 450 Nu./ 7USD per horse, per day.

For the duration of the trek my 250USD daily tariff kept four people employed. Sure, you could argue that I was sleeping in a tent and eating by a campfire for six days but I knew after that, these guys would all have money to support their families after. The company could also afford to buy good quality gear from Nepal, instead of cheaply made tents imported from India. When it was 5oC at 4100m, I was happy to be sleeping in a -10oC Marmot bag.

During the later part of my trip, the daily tarif included all meals, the accommodation (which was easily over 100USD each night for the hotels I was staying in), and of course pay the wage of my guide, driver and having a nice car for 8 days.

Although I thought I would argue with myself for why they don’t provide a cheaper, affordable option in order to carter to a larger market, the quality was unbeatable. This is a country that is proud of its image; an educated country that is welcoming to their guests. They are not shrouded in corruption and political problems with homeless people sleeping in the doorways. Indian labourers work often in Bhutan as they earn more, but still must follow strict Bhutanese rules. The population is educated, often up through to university and has a better sense of the global world than some of the visiting travellers themselves. All the younger generations spoke amazing english, and most hindi, as well. Television, although recently introduced, played BBC, CNN, HBO, SKY and Al Jezeera New stations- a more rounded source of information than available in Switzerland! Other than selling hydroelectricity to India, the only other main source of income for Bhutan is tourism. This funds the education system, health care and infrastructure (which as I was there, they were widening the national highway which travels through to Eastern Bhutan).

Financially, I couldn’t afford to travel through Western Europe on the same budget while being offered similar quality services. And even if I could (and did), that money would be going straight into the pocket of the private company’s bank account, leaving nothing for the local people to benefit from.

Was 250USD a day worth it? Yes! For the sake of preserving their culture, they are doing it the right way 🙂

My trip to Bhutan was definitely once-in-a-lifetime, and combined with my 4 days in Delhi/Agra, but I left knowing that I will have to go back at some point. So much still to see!

Packing Tips: My Must Have Items

The adventures of packing. The smallest detail which can make or break a trip. That small charger you forgot, or that extra pair of shoes you never needed. We’ve all been there. I know each time I go on a trip I play a small game of tetris with my backpack, hoping to make the most of my 55L Eagle Creek Truist backpack. After a few solid trips, I feel comfortable to share my 5. The items that come no matter where I go, hot or cold. Long or short. A trip is an adventure!

Stuff sacks.

In this day and age, most travellers will have some form of packing system. Some use packing cubes, but as I’m not travelling with a rectangle suitcase I find the stuff-sacks work better for backpacking. I purchased my Me°ru’ ones at the local outdoor outlet center for a bargain, with 5 different sizes (S-XL). I usually split them into the following categories; undergarments, t-shirts and light pants, jeans/sweaters, one bag for the trainers/hiking boots (this is always the same bag, in my case a red one, so I’m not fussed about dirt from the shoes getting on my clothes.), and dirty laundry. It works well for dirty laundry as the fabric of the stuffsacks is breathable so the clothes don’t stink a lot when put together for a few days. Unlike packing cubes, the stuff-sack pack completely flat to save space when I’m not using one of them!

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Two padlocks and a Swiss Army knife.

Although most will travel with some sort of padlock, I have found it easier to always have two. On a not-so-recent trip to Thailand, I found that my main padlock didn’t fit in the hostel lockers. My friend’s luggage lock, with a smaller shackle, fit perfectly. I now always have two, also allowing me to lock valuables away and keep my other belongings locked in my bag if necessary. When my whole bag doesn’t fit into the storage provided, I will typically leave everything (minus valuables) in my bag, as to save ‘unpacking’. The second lock is also perfect as my small packable day bag can also be locked as neccessary. Locks don’t take up a lot of room, and are definitely worth it. A Swiss Army knife is pretty standard I believe and with I use the keyring clip from my bag so as never to accidentally pack it in my carry on!

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USB retractable cable.

With technology enriching our lives (and travels!), we all have the trips where we bring wayyy tooo many cables. My first recommendation is to have everything charging with the same cable! I have never travelled with my laptop (tablets all the way!) so this eliminates the biggest hassle. My camera, phone, and battery backup all charge with mini-USB. With minimal space taken up, I usually bring the small cable with my carry-on so I can charge my phone while on long-haul flights. Most hostels (and hotels) will have USB charging points nowadays although I do still bring an international travel adapter. Battery backup is perfect for my camera, as I never want to run into having a flat camera battery!

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Rayon Sarong.

A towel, blanket, scarf, skirt, curtain, quick drying… need I say more? I got mine on my first trip to Asia and it hasn’t left my side since! They pack small and are light. With darker colours, they show less dirt too!

Add It To Your Packing List!

  1. Passport Photocopies; digital and paper versions!
  2. US Dollars; perfect for emergencies and every country exchanges them! Preferably only new notes, as countries are becoming sticklers for old, creased ones.
  3. Sewing kit. Making your clothes last that little longer! Mine is super basic.
  4. Flip-Flops. Compact and comfy, can be worn in the evenings instead of your walking shoes (even with socks when its cold 🙂 ). Although I’ve seen Crocs as a substitute, they take up more room and are fashion suicide (more so than socks and flip-flops!).
  5. Digital Watch with alarm clock. Mine is an old Swatch model that also can do two clocks, one usually set to my home timezone.

 

Happy Packing!

2- Wheeled Escapades: Kathmandu to Daman.

Classic but gruelling on-road ride over a 2488m pass, culminating with incomparable Himalayan views at Daman. The ride begins on the Kathmandu- Pokhara Hwy, which gives the only access to the valley. After leaving the valley, the highway descends to Naubise, at the base of the Mahesh Khola Valley, 27km from Kathmandu. … Start a 35km climb to Tistung (2030m) past terraced fields carved into steep hillsides. On reaching the pass at Tistung (2030m) you descend for 7km into the beautiful Palung Valley before the final steep 9km climb to Daman, at a height of 2322m.

Lonely Planet: Nepal, 9th Edition. pg.296

Well, I remember I cried. Twice. It was exhausting. We left the Lonely Planet book in the hostel to keep weight down (we had just bought day packs), and figured we couldn’t really get lost as we had one turnoff, in Naubise. When we got to the Palung Valley, knowing that we certainly hadn’t missed Daman, but had no idea how much further… the journey suddenly got a lot harder.

29th Oct. 14.

Yesterday we cycled to a small town called Daman, 80 km from Kathmandu… uphill and in three valleys across!

Leaving Kathmandu, we instantly regretted not having something to cover our mouths and noses with. Our mucus was black from exhaust and fumes within meters. Weaving in and out of huge mountain trucks, small import cars and dodging the odd cart, the ride down to get outside of Kathmandu’s Ring Road was exhilarating and congested. And very ugly. The snaking highway from Chasapani to Naubise slowed the traffic down immensely, more so for the single lane switch-backs that the buses needed to navigate. On two wheels however, we quickly covered the first 30 km. We simultaneously agreed that we would return with the bus for the the last leg, from Naubise to Kathmandu, the following day.

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The Fashion of the Backpacker’s Tour-De-Nepal: Flats, woolly socks, leggings and running shorts.

The next 50 km was predominately uphill 🙂 Honestly, if it was any steeper, any more traffic, or if the bikes were shyte – we couldn’t have done it! Honestly² it wasn’t physically challenging- at no point were we really “puffing” or completely done for. It was however, one of the most mentally challenging things I have ever done! I realised coming down [from Daman] that half my problem was that after Tisung –  we didn’t really know where we were, in relation to where we were heading! After Palung Valley (which we didn’t remember existed!) the road just seemed to never end. Without the Lonely Planet’s basic description of the trip, we were just on a never-ending bike ride.

Palung Valley was gorgeous though – and it was nice to visit something out of the standard backpacker’s jurisdiction. Surprisingly, there were a few hotels and guest houses around! Given how big Palung is- we were surprised it wasn’t given more street creed in our journey! By the time we arrived in Palung town, it was mid-afternoon and we were starting to feel the mental drain and physical saddle sore! It was getting hard to sit down, adding to the strain that we still had at least 2 hours to go! If only we knew! I think normally, we should have made it in about 1.5 hours but we were getting to the point when we would walk for 50m or so, just so our legs could fully extend. 60km in, we kept guessing over every peak where Daman could be. We had no idea where, or how much longer we had to go! We had been going up hill all day. It was only when we thought we could see the lookout tower for the Daman Mountain “resort” atop a hill in the distance we though we might be getting close. Looking like a communications tower from an airport, it was seemingly out-of-place.

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Somewhere in the distance is Pokhara.

We arrived in Daman as the sun was kissing the mountains good-night. We stayed at the Daman Mountain “resort”, and as the complex contained the viewing tower that we would watch the sunrise from, we took what we could get. We ended up getting a room that had hot water, but didn’t end up showering because we were too cold! (It was the electric variation that took 10min to warm up!) The real treat was the small television not understanding any channels, it was nice to have something to watch and relax after a full day’s ride.

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Dinner at one of the hotel employee’s sister’s restraurants, next door to the hotel.

6:15- And the Himalayas looked amazing!

I didn’t realise how much the pollution from Kathmandu effected viewing the mountains. By 8:00 we couldn’t see them because of the glare. I think we saw Everest but it was quite small given how far away it was! The Annapurna and Langtang mountains looked enormous though! I’m glad we got up for the sunrise, as the best time to see the mountains lit up was just before the sun came into our view. It was beautiful. The Himalayas were all colours of glowing blue and purple. With the sun coming up, they shifted to warm tones of orange and yellow. The fact that I most likely won’t see the mountains again like that definitely made the trip worth the bike ride.

After a quick breakfast of curry and donuts, we zipped back. Hilariously fun. Two small hill climbs and 80km downhill. Best riding day ever! Once we got back to Naubise, we caught a local public bus back to the Ring Road in KTM- only costing us Rs100 🙂 The bikes were thrown on the roof (and tied down!) and we were saved from climbing the big hill while using exhaust fumes as our source of oxygen 🙂 Dollar well spent!

Money for Myanmar?

Do we ever have enough?

Money is on everyone’s minds, at least those of backpackers and travellers. There is no other intriguing time to draw up budgets and tally assets then when one is travelling. As a pre-trip boost I was going through my current travel diary, one that I have used for Romania and two quick trips to Berlin and Zermatt. In the back of the book, there is a small pocket in which I had stuck some Romanian Lei. Although not worth much in Switzerland, the notes I had would at least get me a coffee in Bucharest. It got me thinking about money and how it may influence my impact on Myanmar next month.

I have accepted without restriction that Myanmar certainly doesn’t compare to Thailand in terms of prices, or at least in the accommodation sector! Many seem to expect that all of Southeast Asia can be travelled on 30USD but as we found, especially in cheaper countries such as Laos, when everything is cheaper we (as tourists) tend to indulge a little… and sometimes a lot! Before I had ever backpacked I had no idea what a budget was, honestly. Although I was working full-time before my first trip to Thailand in 2012, I had no idea how to save or budget. I literally got on the plane with two months savings and worked it out when I got to Bangkok.

In comparison, our trip to South America (2013) and then Nepal (2014) we established that 50USD/day. In South America, I was happy that we had travelled Argentina (without using Black Market exchange rates) and Chile first, as they were the most expensive. We then slightly adjusted our budgets when we got further north, but it was certainly tough at times! (It didn’t help that daily bike rental in Chile was 20USD a day!). Once we were in Nepal, we realised we could adjust our budget to around 40USD.

I’m still going to cap my travel budget for Myanmar at 50USD. In Switzerland, that would get my partner and I dinner (without alcoholic drinks). For Myanmar, I have seen some hotel rooms at that price! Doesn’t leave much room for food and activities! We usually end up taking out some local currency, and seeing how long we can go with that amount. As my Lonely Planet is certainly out-of-date on the ever-changing technicalities in Myanmar (currency being one of them), I have accepted that the LP’s Myanmar guide is more of a this-is-how-you-get-there guide. It will be interesting to see how “money matters” are effecting a country with a rapidly changing tourist infrastructure.

Flashback : Swiss Day in Chile

This place deservees its own chapter! So far we’ve kayaked, biked, hiked & hiked some more! Its amazing how much this [place] has to offer!

After digging out an old travel diary (not that I have any other kind) i found an entry that I had written on 01. Aug. 2013 – Swiss National Day. At the time I was in Chile, South America and I found it ironic that all the activites I was doing at the time were very similiar to what I would of been doing back home. The World is a magical place.

Happy Swiss Day! — Aug 1st 2013!

Well it’s been a while since an update but we totally under-estimated how much there was to do here! (Puerto Varas)

Our adventure into Chile was just like any border crossing- but in the most spectacular scenery! We went over the Uspallata pass- following the historic (and discunftional) railway line. It was pretty cool to see the old buildings and the places where old water stations used to be! I loved it, and I think I have more photos of the railway line than the mountains.

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It was gorgeous! The road was a tad narly on the Chilean side- but as usual organised! There was no guard rails or speed limit, but I’m pretty sure the Andes’ God was watching over, making sure everyone takes it hella easy on the 30something switchbacks. Our driver atleast stopped for photos! The border itself was hell straight forward, you could tell that the buses got pushed through super quick. Semis [semi-truck trailer] however, had days wait. The que was atleast a 100 trucks long!

Santiago reminded me of BKK. Atleast the smell anyways! There was street food everywhere outside the bus stations. Straight up- they made it sound like the bus stations were miles apart. Realistically, they all faced each other on the same street. It was just a matter of finding all the TURBUSs lined up 🙂 We only had a few hours to kill before we brought a night bus down to Puerto Varas ❤

This place deservees its own chapter! So far we’ve kayaked, biked, hiked & hiked some more! Its amazing how much this [place] has to offer! We[‘re] both locked in [to] the fact that we’ll have to come back in summer at some point. There’s just too many mountains to climb and lakes to see! Our first day here we did a full day kayak on a close lake to here- the arms were definitely sore afterwards! So what did we do the following day? A full 70 km  ride to Frutillar! A small town with big German flare! To be honest, the ride was more exciting than the town but “bloody” hard. We did manage to ride the whole though (on the way there) and walked up some hills on the way back. But it was not easy!

The last two days we’ve been getting some hiking in – today we went up beside the Volcan Osorno. Great views of the lake we kayaked on but unfortunately clouds covered the tops!

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Hopefully tomorrow we’re going to head for a bike ride with the hostel owner!


🙂 Still in Puerto Varas <- Aug 3rd ❤

Our first rainy day here but it feels amazing to still be here! Honestly, I don’t think either of us want to leave (still so many trails to explore!) – we’re both being really indecisive about where we are going next!

Ironically, after spending a week in Puerto Varas, we made our way up to Pucón and spending another week in the mountains 🙂

We both know there is so much left to explore here. We’re both loving the mountains. Although we had both came here the intention of snowboarding – I think that idea has been properly scrapped! [We did end up going in Pucón!]. Too many Europeans we’ve met said its more a novality than a proper “snow experience”. Yesterday, … we ended up going for a killer bike ride with the hostel owner near the Volcan Osorno. We smashed it on the road for about 15km and then this crazy down-hill track through the buses! It was my first time doing (what I call) proper downhill track!


It was definitely a treat getting to spend time in some of Chile’s national parks around Volcan Osorno. It’s such a beautiful place, unspoilt place! We lucked out on the time of year we went, although at the beginning of winter, and had most of the hiking trails to ourselves! Because of the winter weather, we didn’t get to the Argentinian Patagonia however, and weren’t able to complete any of the big name treks! Just another excuse to head back 😀

Flashback : Buff Momos and Nepal

25.10.2014- Elburus Home, Kathmandu

Today is our first full day in KTM, but something tell me that it’s not the “real” Nepal – this weekend is the last of Dasain (celebrating the Duiga’s victory of evil) – the last few days bring in the New Year (Newari New Year). Consequently, 90% of the shops and cafés (everywhere we could eat) are closed.

Yesterday our arrival was pretty standard – we were about 15 mins late landing, as there can only be one aircraft in “the valley” – we literally flew circles about KTM – the most exciting/ coolest thing was that we were able to [see] Everest on the way in. Definitely big. We arranged pickup at the airport – making things a lot easier (mentally). I guess the guy with my name was standing there for a while – although he wasn’t the one to drive us to the hostel, Elbrus Home. Although I had previously emailed and reserved a room with a shared bath, they were over-booked and instead of spending our first night at a different location and moving back on our 2nd night, we opted to take a slightly more expensive room (with private bath). I wasn’t largely impressed that Khem hadn’t emailed to confirm (or share this) and he offered us a cup of tea! haha – I thought it was quite nice of him 🙂

We went for our first walk through Thamel last night. We went down Bhagabati Bahaj & Thamel Chok. It was really nice; good crowd and lots of lights.

Today we went to LP’s “South Thamel to Durbar Square” – definitely photographed too many Stupas!

…later

Historical Beauty - Durbar Square, Kathmandu
Historical Beauty – Durbar Square, Kathmandu

The walking tour took us from Thahity Square down through Tyouda to Bhotahity -> Asan Tole “Kathmandu’s busiest junction”. From here we proceeded to Durbar Square – Basantapur temple & Freak Street and through the “old town”. It’s astounding to believe that chunks of Kathmandu are older than Europe! We didn’t get a guide for Durbar Square to save money but as usual, we know we lost out of valuable information. For about a half an hour we sat above “Maju Deval” and watched the world go by. Mostly I played with my camera … there was tons of locals trying to flog the usual. Although the list of travelers junk changes from Continent; in Nepal it is as follows

  • Brass Buddhism trinkets
  • ” I ❤ Nepal” t-shirts
  • prayer flags
  • knives
  • Tibetan paintings
  • Pashimina scarves
  • wood carvings
  • (over the top) extreme clothing

And when every store in a given suburb (Thamel) sells it – it doesn’t allow for much excitement after the frist street is walked. I have, however, purchased my first souvenirs of Nepal – a deep red elephant ornament, with 6 smaller elephants around its feet. I’m sure there is a meaning to it that I will need to research.

After 24 hours here, I have realised there is [a] slightly strange comfort feeling I have with this trip – I’m not sure if it’s the “returning to an Asian culture” or the fact that my boyfriend and I travel well together, but Nepal has (so far, and knock on wood) thrown us any surprises. Ironically, I think his “trip karma” isn’t fending too well – today he got shat on by a bird, resulting in the quick cleanup with baby-wipes. He said the bird stared at him after completing his bowel movements- targeted?

There is definitely things that I’ve noticed, in way [that] I’ve changed. I’m more polite to everyone except those wanting money. Many people here (possibly the Karma thing) are really polite (although not always curtious). My boyfriend asked a random [person] to sue the toilet this afternoon, and didn’t want any payment for it. We haven’t really seen any public toilets (not that I would go out of my way to use it) but usually they would require payment. Naturally, the assumption was the local kid in the corner of the court-yard would like some as well.

My First Dal Baht!
My First Dal Baht! Thamel, Kathmandu

The Nepali food has been quite good so far – last night I had momo’s for the first time – steam mix between dim-sum and perogies. I’ve also had the staple mean, “daal bhaat tarkari”, lentil soup, rice and veggies. Being a Hindu/Buddhist culture, there isn’t a lot of beef going around. “Buff momos” have been pretty delicious – the dumplings but with water buffalo [meat]. Out last two dinners have averaged around 400Rs – daal hasn’t been about 250Rs. For Buff momos 100Rs-150Rs seems to be the going rate. We did need to ask the ridiculous question of how many came for 100Rs – we (or I!) half expected it to be for one!

In terms of “pollution” – KTM is extremely dusty – I’ve mentally compared it to sticking your head out of the window, while driving down an Australian orange dirt road…well following another vehicle. You actually see people dusting the products in their stalls & the clothes faded enough to show that they missed the dusting gig. I’m almost happy that I only have two pairs of pants – washing is not going to get done that regularly! There have been a few tourists that are donning face masks – scooter rides sure – the wet sidewalk? I don’t think so!


Living in the Moment: What We Forget

In April 2015, Nepal was struck with by a devastating earthquake. Many of the beautiful historical buildings we saw in Kathmandu and the surround areas, many which had stood for centuries, were destroyed in a matter of hours. It broke our hearts to see such irreplaceable damage done to such beautiful monuments, squares and stupas. I remember watching a video of the “monkey temple” (Swayambhunath Temple) shaking and rocking, priceless artifacts crumbling away. Other than entrusting in international charities, there wasn’t much we could do back in Europe.

It brings home one of the most important travel mottos: live in the moment. Enjoy the moment, where ever you are, doing whatever makes you happy. I always think I will return to my favourite places again, but Nepal will never be the same. Centuries of religious history lay in pieces and I can admit I definitely took it for granted while I was there.

Myanmar: Part 1

Unterseen. 16.12.2015

Well, two months later and I’m that much closer to Burma!

One of the Asian countries that has long been at the top of my bucket list is Myanmar, even if it just for the hot balloon ride over the Temples of Bagan. However, after looking more into the country and learning about its history (and appreciating Buddhism more) I am excited more than ever to head out in Febuary.

… Tickets are booked! So far I’ll be staying in Myanmar for 3 weeks- I have my balloon flight on the 7th! Bucket list is slowly getting completed! I have only booked accomadation for when I arrive in Yangon & then Bagan as I wanted to have those two places organised!

On the 21st I fly back to BKK and will head up to Chang Mai for a week. Maybe do some trekking and visit the Sukhothai Ruins! By the time I’m there, Sara and Phil will be living in Bangkok so hopefully I’ll get to catch up with them!!

I’m super excited to be heading to Thailand again especially to a part that I haven’t been before ❤

On the 22nd I go to Genf to arrange my passport visa 🙂 and I ‘ve booked my vaccinations for the 12th Jan. I guess Typhoid doens’t last more than a year!! My sister is still looking at meeting me at the end of Feb- but with my plans pretty locked in- I don’t think to omuch will come of it. [However] she is pretty adiment that she will be meeting me there- we will see!