Location: Kathmandu, Nepal
We're back from trekking to the Annapurna Base Camp - we made it and had a great time and a lot of giggles. I wish I could put some photos up but the connection in Nepal is terrible so you'll have to wait another couple of weeks until I get back. We've also been rafting on the Seti River (fun but freezing) and spent 5 days at Chitwan national park where we saw wild rhino, deer, wild boar, lots of birds and monkeys plus we smelled but failed to see a tiger!
This will probably be my last entry as the journey is over on December 18th. From here, we head to Varanassi, Agra and Delhi but after that will be chilling on a beach in Goa for a week or so. It's been a pretty lame attempt at a blog I know. Still, I had good intentions. I also had a steak yesterday which was the only meat I've eaten in months - well worth the wait! (Thought I'd get in one last food reference).
See you soon!
Location: Pokhara, Nepal
I thought I'd better update this as we're off on the Annapurna Base Camp (also known as the Sanctuary) Trek tomorrow which apparently will take ten days. I'm a bit scared - why do I always agree to these things? "Oh yeah that sounds like fun...." .... "Oh, we have to get up at 6am in the freezing cold and trudge up hill for hours every day eating lentils"....
No, seriously, I'm looking forward to it, but a bit scared I admit! We've managed to get a few glimpses of some of the high mountains from here in Pokhara when the weather has been clear, up close they will be spectacular. I had to buy thermal long johns though so not going to be much of a fashion parade.
Where was I when I last wrote on this? Mumbai was, well, shocking and Calcutta was equally shocking but more expected. We then travelled overnight on the train to Siliguri (train journey not the worst, managed to keep all my posessions at least) and from there by jeep to Darjeeling. It was nice there but still a bit busy and dirty which I wasn't really expecting. Good cakes though.
We then crossed the border to Nepal. Twice, actually. Once illegally by mistake and then again via immigration. It's a long story but sweet talking men with big guns might be good practice in case we run in to any Maoists on the trek (who apparently are out collection "trekking fees" for which our guide tells us you can bargain down, if you are brave enough, but can't say no...you do get a reciept though so you only have to pay once, a kind of official extortion. He also assured us they don't use the money to buy guns but to build schools. Hmmm.).
Anyway, wish me luck!!!
Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Just a quick update to say next stop India - goodbye SE Asia. I'll have to get used to using a knife and fork instead of chopsticks to eat my dinner. Haven't done an awful lot since the last update - a couple of beach stops, an old town or two, two days trekking in Sapa and a couple of days in Halong Bay, which was very beautiful but in such a bad mood due to all the hassle here I probably didn't appreciate it as much as I should. I haven't enjoyed Vietnam that much overall - perhaps 10 or even 5 years ago it would've been great but now there are so many tourists and so many tourists scams to go with them, the worst for this in SE Asia in my experience and those of other people I've spoken to here. My favourite place was probably Dalat, a hill town in the South which had a nicer vibe (and even a "no vehicle" area at night which was a great break from the noise of scooters). Although the hassle will probably be worse in India I'm definately ready for a change and now I finally (finally!) have the right visa, am flying to Mumbai on 1 Nov after one last night in Bangkok.
Less than two months left, I can't believe it!
Location: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam
Southern Laos and whirlwind Cambodia
I think the last entry I wrote on this was in Vang Vieng, Laos. Seems like ages ago, I really am very bad at updating this although people seem to be reading it as my little counter goes up all the time telling me how many people have looked at the page (mum....?). Laos was beautiful, I expect it still is actually. After Vang Vieng took a kayaking trip to Vientiane - I fell out on the first (and longest) lot of rapids (nobody mentioned there were rapids when I booked the trip!). It was a bit scary but I managed to hang on to the boat. Would do it again though, was really fun and not that hard work as the water was flowing pretty fast anyway.
Vientiane is really quiet compared to the other SE Asia capitals, had a quick city tour and then just some drinks by the river. Then a long journey south to the Four Thousand Islands with a couple of stops in some small towns along the way. The four thousand islands are a group of small islands in the Mekong River near the Cambodia border - most of them are just sand bars really. Very nice though, stayed on a small island with a crazy Laotian (?) family in a hut on stilts over the river and just cycled around for a couple of days dodging water buffalo and ducks while they cooked my dinner.
After that crossed the border to Cambodia and pretty much headed straight to Siem Riep to visit Angkor Wat. I don't know what to say about it really - it is very big and old! Planned to spend a week but after a couple of days I was all templed out and headed to Pnomh Penh which I didn't really look round as it was raining so much. I did visit the genocide museum which was fairly horrific though. The plan after that was to head to the coast in Cambodia with some new friends but the weather was really bad so decided to head to Vietnam instead and am now in Saigon after less than a week in Cambodia. Still, means there's no need to rush Vietnam now and some nice beaches further north (although I hear there are tropical storms, should be over soon fingers crossed!). Enjoying Saigon so far, my favourite city so far in Asia - they even have pavements although they're mainly used for moped parking. The mopeds here are crazy, even worse than Thailand and I hear in Hanoi they're even worse than here... you just have to walk out in to the traffic and hope they'll avoid you otherwise it's impossible to cross the road. I keep considering hopping on a moto-taxi just for them to take me to the other side! I'm never going to complain about London traffic again (that's a lie!).
Location: Vang Vieng, Laos
Laos so far
Ive been in Laos for just a few days but done a lot (and have free internet now!) so another update already. Id like to clarify one thing first though, I hear that Burma has been in the news a lot and no, I didnt start the riots.
Laos is, sadly, the most bombed nation on earth (by the USA targeting the Vietnamese using routes through Laos to move resources). They carpet bombed the country for 9 years dont quote me on the stats but there were something like a plane full of cluster bombs dropped every eight minutes for the duration. The equivalent of one tonne per person. Approx one third didnt go off which has led to the situation where the Lao people in rural areas cant farm enough land or forage in the forests for food for fear of setting off an explosive. More info at www.mag.org.uk (very sad)
So far Laos seems much cleaner and greener than Thailand although similar otherwise but with the old French influence they have a lot of things Ive been missing like bread, sausages and pavements. The North of Laos has stunning scenery so dont mind the long bus journeys so much here (also got new music for my Ipod in Bangkok so maybe that helps too, keeps the noise of people spitting out of the windows to a minimum!) . So far visited Luang Prabang, Phonsovan (for plain of jars see photos, its self explanatory!) and now in Vang Vieng which was slagged off in the lonely planet but is great, really stunning scenery and lots of fun things to do like caving, climbing, kayaking, tubing (I love this), cycling and/or sitting around in hammocks by the river looking at the mountains with a cheap G&T. Its also nice and cool here (but sunny still) so excellent all around. Plan from here is to kayak to Vientiane after a few days hanging around doing some of the activities above....happy days!
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Burma (Union of Myanmar)
Were now back from Burma to Thailand and having a holiday hopping between the islands off the East coast (Ko Samui, Ko Phangan, Ko Tao etc) before heading back to Bangkok for a few days to stock up on visas again before heading to Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Youve probably heard a lot about Burma in the news recently but we had a great time there. Pretty hard going (no luxury!) but well worth it. After Mandalay when I think I wrote the last update we took an overnight train to a remote town called Mytkina . The train was an experience in itself, I seemed to cause a lot of interest and it took 20 hours as moved so slowly and stopped so often. I think Burmese people like eating a lot because whenever we got a train, bus, truck etc there were always lots of breaks for eating! Train a bit horrible, full of bugs and mice but nice scenery. Mytkina is right at the North of the country (as north as you are allowed as a tourist) in-between India, Bangladesh and China so felt very remote. Basically from there got buses, boats and more trains back to Mandalay, just taking in the scenery and stopping in a few towns on the way to entertain the local population by being ginger.
Back in Mandalay we took in the Moustache Brothers show which was, I think, pretty rubbish and overpriced (so a tip for any of you planning a holiday to Burma in the near future!). They are famous (although I doubt youve heard of them famous in Burma at least!) because two of the brothers were imprisoned for telling political jokes. Maybe thats why they stick to telling the same joke over and over these days ;-)
After that, back on the Ayerwaddy River down to Bagan, which is an ancient city where there are over 4,000 temples on a small plain alongside the river. It was absolutely brilliant, had a lovely few days cycling around the countryside taking in the views from the tops of temples, most of which we had all to ourselves. We also took a horse cart one day which was fun. Also they had a great curry house which was basically all you can eat for about 60p.
Managed to drag myself away from the chapatti buffet and moved on to Kalaw, a former British hill station now with lots of Nepalese living there who moved with the British in the war and also to build railways. From there we trekked for 3 days to Inle Lake. This is probably the best thing since the Galapagos Islands, I really enjoyed it although was proper trekking this time, hard work and really muddy but we had a great guide and walked through some beautiful scenery and small villages, across fields and up train tracks, stopping for breaks in tea shops to try all the local snacks. Well, when I say all the snacks that is not really true, I gave the deep fried sparrow kebabs a miss for starters although people were very friendly and kept offering me them to try, beak and all. Im finding being vegetarian is a much safer bet. We stayed the first night of the trek with a family at a small farm and the second night at a Buddhist monastery which was amazing at 5am the monks get up and start chanting, the weirdest way Ive ever been woken up I think!
Inle Lake was lovely, a lake surrounded by mountains with different hill tribe groups living and working around the lake. Spent a couple of days cycling and taking boat trips to different villages. Very relaxing and stayed in a great guesthouse on a river where the lady manager spoiled us with enormous and tasty breakfasts and dinners and even scrubbed all the mud off my shoes (I was going to bin them after the trek now theyre good as new). We visited a monastery where the monks got bored so trained cats to jump through hoops
there are a lot of strange things in Myanmar, mainly monk related.
Everyone we met in Myanmar was so friendly and helpful so just really nice walking or cycling around wherever we were and stopping at tea shops (for coffee!). People tend to have good English from the British influence there so all want to practice with you and refreshingly not try to sell you anything. Also a nice break from the traffic in other parts of SE Asia the moped mania hasnt hit Burma yet so still a lot of bicycles, trishaws and horse carts instead.
After Inle Lake, took a couple of days to visit a town called Bago which has a lot of Buddhist sites around which we took a tour around on the back of a moped to avoid the government entry fees! The most interesting site we went to housed a 115 year old monk that is now a massive snake. No, Ive not been sampling Myanmars opium crop, its true. Apparently. After that travelled for pretty much a day in each direction to visit the Golden Rock (a rock, covered in gold, balanced on top of a mountain which is an important Buddhist site). Took ages to get there including having to wait for hours for a pick up truck up the mountain to get enough passengers to leave, just as it started bucketing down with rain so we got soaked, along with the 50 Burmese people in the back of the truck with us. It made me think of the how many people can you get in a mini thing, which the Burmese would win easily. Anyway, the Golden Rock was pretty unimpressive (may well be reincarnated as a cockroach for saying so), maybe better out of the wet season as could only really see it dimly through the fog. Fun journey though although got my shoes wet and muddy again!
Flew back from Yangon (Rangoon) on 2nd Sept and been on the beach since. A bit expensive but lovely beaches and very peaceful on account of arriving in off season but still great weather. Cant really go in the sun or in the sea due to gross leg infection from the trekking (insect or leech bites, not sure which. I might put a photo up to make everyone feel sick). Now have my laptop so sitting on the balcony writing this looking at the sea so not really too bad, is not like Id get a tan anyway and will save some money on sun tan lotion! As Im doing the medical update, it would seem Im now allergic to peanuts. Too much pad thai must have tipped me over the edge. No other news, I think it must be time for a cocktail on the beach
Location: Mandalay, Myanmar
Arrived safely in Burma/Myanmar...
Arrived in Yangon and had an interesting day to say the least... we were shown around by two young monks in exchange for jelly and icecream and a visit to their "speak english class" which was packed full of monks and other young people and boiling hot but as all the students wanted to talk to us we had to sweat it out for two hours! They asked questions like did we like sausages, had we got tattoos, how much pineapples cost in England and so on. Really good fun. Then, overnight bus to Mandalay, road and bus not as bad as I was expecting from other travellers stories and a day looking around here - not much to see really but a nice day wandering about dodging traffic and returning huge smiles from people in the street. After this, heading North to near the Chinese border... train takes between 20 and 40 hours! Ouch. Then plan is to get a boat back down to Mandalay which takes 3 or 4 days. Apparently foreigners aren't meant to go on boats but I think it should be OK. Only one internet place here and can't access email so probably the last update for a while.