Sawadee kah to Thailand

Sawadee kah to Thailand
Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand


I set off from Kathmandu at 10am to Delhi. Surprise, surprise the flight was running late, but luckily my connecting flight wasn’t for a couple of hours. Then Delhi to Bangkok, arriving about 8pm. Prepaid taxi to the hotel. The driver was lovely, although he didn’t speak any English. I arrived at the hotel, and thought I was in heaven. Hot showers with plenty of pressure that didn’t spray everywhere on the floor. Clean, crisp white sheets without stains. Comfy bed, and room service. No honking horns outside the windows. I ordered room service for dinner – fish cakes and duck red curry. The fish cakes were a little oily and anaemic, but the flavour was so good in both. The next day, complimentary breakfast buffet – 4 star hotel style. I had pancakes, fruit, eggs and toast and a hot chocolate from a Nescafé machine that was pretty damn good. I had to change rooms at midday to move into the twin room I’d be sharing with a tour buddy. After that I took the subway to a shopping centre. I asked to concierge for directions and they explained it so casually that I thought it would be easy to figure out, and I glossed over the details. Hmm, not so much. The system seemed similar to the Japanese system, so I knew how to work the ticket machines, but I couldn’t work out which station I was supposed to get off at. Luckily the guy in the ticket booths was really helpful and I got there no problem, even changing from subway to above ground train lines. The MBK shopping centre was huge. It reminded me of Shenzhen, with random assortments of shops squeezed into small spaces, and varying product displays – from glass cases showcasing items laid on velvet, to racks of sunglasses and watches hung from hooks in the ceiling, and rails on the walls. I bought some new earrings, a necklace, some leather wrist bands and then sat down for a mocha. I then tried to find out how much it would be to send a package of souvenirs home. The price was far too high, so I decided to leave a small backpack at the hotel instead. I got back to the room in mid afternoon. My roomie arrived shortly after (another Pom!), and we chatted for a little while before our meeting downstairs. Our group consisted of 3 boys from WA, a Canadian girl from Hong Kong, a German girl living in Switzerland and another from Iceland. Our tour leader is softly spoken, and seemed to take it upon himself to quash our expectations of this tour. No drugs, no prostitutes, be careful of your bags, because there are snatchings, lock up valuables even in your room because you won’t get it back if it goes missing, don’t get aggressive with the locals because they will get their friends, don’t go anywhere alone or you might be mugged. It was a combination of Duh and What Kind of People Do You Think We Are… (Or what kind of people come on this tour). We went to dinner together, and with some people’s first taste of Thai food. I had phad see ew, which was delicious but small. So I had dessert too – longan and nut in cold sugar syrup. Unusual taste, but tasty. Not many longan in it though – disappointing. It started pouring while we ate (with lightning – yay!), so we stuck around for a bit waiting for it to subside. Back in the room, I watched the lightning show as I went to sleep.


Onto Chitwan

Onto Chitwan
Sauraha, Nepal

Sauraha, Nepal


Our final day on the trek! Banana pancake and boiled eggs for breakfast, carbs and protein. Plus my stomach is finally better, so I’m enjoying food again! Then downhill for a couple of hours. Mostly stone steps, but they were even and dry for the most part. Just a couple of places where it was loose stones, but we were at the road, where the bus was waiting, in no time. Back to the Middle Way hotel where we stayed the night previously. Our CEO had organised a couple of rooms for us to shower and unpack our duffels into our packs and then have lunch. My clothes were still damp from sweat, my towel not dry from showering, so they are stuffed in the bottom of my pack for washing at the next stop. I wandered along the shops for a bit, and had lunch at a restaurant along the main strip, caught up on wifi and chowed down on ham, pineapple and mushroom pizza and fresh orange juice. Then 5 hour bus ride to Chitwan. I had been told by a couple on the last trip that the roads in a Nepal were awful. They weren’t wrong. You can barely read because of the jolting of the bus. And it’s not just the main cities or the back roads. Every single road is potholed and eroded and disappears into gravel in parts. We arrive at 6pm for an Indian buffet dinner. I went to bed fairly early, not feeling the best. The next morning, I was not feeling great, so I stayed in my room instead of doing the activities. Lunch and then a jeep safari through the national park. The journey there was so rocky, bouncing around in the minibus. The jeeps for the safari were fancy, graduated seating, open top, and good suspension. We saw monkeys, spotted deer and a rhino. We headed back as the sun was setting, and stopped at a restaurant specialising in Indian for dinner. It was pretty good – paneer tikka masala and cheese garlic naan. I was so full. As we were finishing dinner, our CEO was trying to hurry us along to see a cultural performance by the Terai people. It was supposed to be held near the restaurant, but instead, we watched it at the hotel, along with another tour group. They did some dances with clapping sticks, and longer ones, fire twirling, and drums with peacock feathers attached. After that, we sat in lounge chairs chatting over drinks.


Trekking

Trekking
Ghandruk, Nepal

Ghandruk, Nepal


Oh, I am so underprepared for this… TL;DR Ouch, my poor legs. Basically I am unfit, and a whingey wuss who is now in a world of muscle crampy pain Day one trekking: Ghandruk From Pokhara we get the bus to Nayapul, the start of our trek. On the way, we saw Annapurna mountain range in the distance, so we stopped to take some photos. The first part before lunch is through a couple of villages, fairly flat dirt path, passing by some streams. We had been dreading rain, as the forecast had threatened it, but it was sunny and hot. So much so that my backpack was starting to absorb my sweat. We had a brief stop at a waterfall. Some of the group went to the base of it, and jumped into the basin at the bottom for a bit. The water was icy though – my feet turned red from being so cold. It was refreshing though on the hot day. We continued onward until a stop for lunch at a teahouse. I had noodle soup, the safe option for my tummy. Apparently the same stock had been used for my soup as the vege curry ordered by other people. The watery curry didn’t look quite as nice as my soup. After lunch we started the promised uphill portion. And uphill it was. Hundreds of very steep stone steps kept going up and up. At first I thought it was only temporarily steep, as the landings were frequent to begin with, so I had a chance to power up a flight and catch my breath for a bit. Then it kept going, and it it stopped being switchbacks and started going straight uphill, no flat plateaus, no landings, just stairs. We had stops at teahouses and little seated areas, but it kept sloping up. Some parts were dirt slope, but it was flight after flight, up and up. My quads were killing me, and my back is soaked with sweat. We kept this up until 6pm. I really struggled in the last set of stairs. Every time I looked up, there was another set of stairs disappearing behind a bend high above me. Me and a British girl are exchanging pained looks and complaints about how our legs are hurting, encouraging each other up the steps. Suddenly, we are there! The snow capped mountains make a beautiful view from the common area. Pulling up a plastic chair, just about everyone is ordering a beer to celebrate our arrival. We have our own bathrooms, and the rooms are basic, but clean. I had a shower first, but I couldn’t figure out which of the 4 knobs was the hot water, so I had a rather cold shower. My roommate figure out the hot tap was on the wrong side, so I jumped back in to wash some of the sweat off me before bed. I was thinking I wouldn’t need my down jacket, but thank goodness I brought it, because the night became quite cold. I had a hot chocolate with dinner to warm up. Day two: Landruk My quads are so sore from yesterday, I’m afraid I won’t make it today. I didn’t bring any magnesium salts, deep heat or muscle recovery stuff with me. Dammit. Luckily my roommate gave me some magnesium powder. The weather was too cold last night for my sweaty clothes from yesterday to dry. But I had to pack them up anyway. We’re told today won’t be as bad as yesterday. The start will be downhill… It was a lovely area through forests, under the cover of tress, it was almost cold. The problem was it was steep uneven rocks, covered in moss or wet from a water running down streams that crossed our path. Quite a few people slipped, although no real injuries. Only our CEO, who grabbed a barb wire fence to catch his fall. It took a lot of concentration to keep our footing and pick a stable surface with each step. One guy was having trouble with his knee, and he began to fall behind. It began to even out – medium up and medium down. We crossed a couple of bridges strung across rivers, and began an uphill stretch to our lunch stop at the top of a crest… None other than stone stairs. Gah! Luckily the stairs didn’t last long, and we ordered our lunch and had a drink. While waiting for our lunch to be prepared, we walked down the valley to a hot spring to chill out for an hour. I was cursing every step downward because I knew we would have to climb up it again afterward. It was a good 10-15 mins walk too. I didn’t particularly want to go there in the first place, but the fear of missing out (FOMO) made me move my aching legs. I also wasn’t sure about having to get changed, and then carry wet bathers – which may not dry overnight. Despite this, I did go, and I did have a dip. The springs were actually tiled pools beside a raging river, which itself was ice cold. So cold it made my feet numb from standing in the water for a minute. The hot springs were warm, not scalding hot. Good to relax our muscles in. Trudged back up, focused on the food at the top (cautiously hungry, I ordered chapati with cheese and a fried egg for protein). My stomach was still a little queasy, but improving I think. While waiting for lunch, we saw a gathering of people. A trekker had apparently had a heart attack and died, and they had to move his body to the helipad to be transported home. After lunch, we retraced our steps back a bit, heading to our accommodation in Landruk. Steady upward, no steps until the very last ascent from the base of the village to our teahouse. So puffed. It was my calves complaining this time. This time we weren’t so lucky, and had a common bathroom. I jumped in early to get the hot water. We had dinner under the stars. I discovered that ginger tea was not too bad, and helped settle my stomach more than I expected. Day three: Dhampus After my very lovely trek mates lent me antibiotics and probiotics to soothe my tummy, I felt really good at breakfast. I scarfed down my pancake with lemon sugar and still felt hungry. My calves are quite vocal today, telling me this should not be happening right now. It takes me a couple of hours to get the stiffness out and stop aching. I think other people are feeling it a bit too. I think it was wishful thinking that we were going back to Pokhara today, because I’m pretty sure I’m down to my last pair of clean undies… Oops. Luckily my emergency, just in case style of packing means that I have enough clothes for tomorrow even when nothing seems to dry overnight. Today was mostly following the jeep tracks, which are not steep, just muddy and uneven. But we are all thankful for the lack of steps. It is up and down, but mostly steady downhill. We reach the lunch stop, which is apparently the best Nepalese cuisine in the mountains, so we all order chicken dal baht, which is kind of like thali, but less dishes. Lentil soup, chicken curry, steamed spinach, rice and pickles. It was alright, but not as flavourful as Indian cooking. Our CEO told us we were making such good time that we had 30 mins after lunch to have a nap, lying on the grass. It was really nice! The only thing that kept us from spending more time there was the threat of rain, wispy clouds floating down from the top of the mountain. It was only another hour to get to the hotel, called Paradise View. It certainly had a nice view of the mountains – the restaurant was glass all the way around. Yay for a short day! And good timing too, because the rain started about 30 mins after we arrived. We had time to chill out, and then met to order dinner, have a few drinks and get ready for a party tonight, entertainment courtesy of our porters and CEO. They played drums, danced and invited us to join them. We played limbo, just generally blew off steam. I tried the local moonshine called raksi. It was strong tasting but surprisingly smooth. They brought a guy with achondroplasia over to the party and said he was a Nepalese actor. He autographed a couple of peoples arms! He was a funny guy. Some of us went onto the rooftop to watch the stars and get away from then increasingly drunken ruckus.


Onto Nepal

Onto Nepal
Kathmandu, Nepal

Kathmandu, Nepal


We caught our taxi at 5:30am to the airport. My poor friend Nikki was looking a bit bewildered as we went through the document check at the door, the scan for the checked luggage, check in, then scan of hand luggage and frisk, before we finally made it to the gate. Just to add to it, my small backpack was pulled up during scans. The officer was insisting a had scissors in my bag. I shook my head, and pulled out my plug charger, my iPad, anything that I could think of that might look like scissors on X-ray, but she kept insisting that it was definitely scissors. I pulled everything out of the pack to show her, and allowed her to search. After I had spread my things everywhere, I reached into a small side pocket as a last ditch effort, and beside the tube of Vegemite my Aussie friend had recommended I take to settle my stomach, were the scissors I usually packed in my cosmetic bag. What the? I really don’t remember why it would be in there, but anyway… She confiscated it, but luckily I didn’t look like a terrorist, and I hurriedly repacked my bag and we went to the gate, that was already boarding. Nikki and I parted ways at Delhi. In the international terminal, an exasperated check in operator told me I had already checked in for the flight in Kochi, despite me picking my luggage from the carousel just minutes before, and not being given a boarding pass for the Kathmandu flight… Another security check… They don’t seem to be too strict on the liquids thing, because I had a popper of chocolate milk, the mentioned tube of Vegemite, and a half drunk bottle of water in my hand luggage. Oh well. I guess no one wants to bomb Nepal. And it must be a thing in Delhi, but I was stared at from plane to terminal, by passersby. The security lady who frisked me also complimented my hair cut. It wasn’t as obvious in the south… Anyway, 2 hour flight to Kathmandu, and another country, another tour. Met up for a brief introduction and then a group dinner. I tried momos, which were okay, but I didn’t realise they had a bit of spice to them. My stomach was feeling a little tender during the flight, and it was getting worse. My roommate gave me some anti nausea meds, but sometime during the night, my stomach finally rebelled. I found out on Facebook it was obviously the farewell lunch in Kochi, because the others said they had been sick as well. Anyway, the next day, we went on a walking tour of the city. It has been cool and rainy, but I forgot my rain coat, so I got a bit wet walking around. Then we went to lunch at a charity that helps survivors of human trafficking get access to education and legal help. The ladies there taught us to make momos … I politely declined. I did stomach some lentil soup and rice though. Because of the rain, we cut short the tour and most of the group wanted to go into town, but I headed back to the room to get some rest, feeling exhausted from lack of food. I had tomato soup for dinner at the hotel, which was really nice and filling.


Farewell to tour

Farewell to tour
Kochi, India

Kochi, India


I was a bit late out to breakfast, so I had bananas and masala chai tea. It was probably a good thing because my stomach had been a bit tender anyway. We then boarded a boat to cruise down the river. It was so peaceful, lounging on the deck, with the brown water carrying islands of water plants along side us, people waving from the bank and passing boats. An hour of relaxation. Then back on the bus, a coffee break, and a couple of hours later answer were back in Fort Kochi. It feels so weird to be saying good bye to India. I remember on my first day in Delhi confessing to my roommate that I already didn’t like India and was dreading the rest of the trip – thinking I would hate it. I was really wrong. I think I’ll actually miss it… Kati rolls for lunch with the group. Note to self, learn how to make these. Our CEO left us a little time at the hotel before promising to come back and help those who wanted to catch the ferry. I spent the time trying to post the brass Ganesh back home. I went to the post office with the statue that was wrapped by the guy who sold it to me. The clerk looked at me sceptically, and told me it had to be a cube shape, but fussed with it non-committedly for 15 mins, trying to shape it into a cube and then, opening it up to see that it really was a statue. He sent me to the tailor shop down the road, saying to hurry because the PO closed in 30 mins. The lady wrapped and wrapped and wrapped it in tape until I only had 2 mins to spare, and I scribbled the address on it quickly and ran to the office. Same clerk… Just as unhelpful. There is no name on the receiving address, and the sending address is not complete, it had to be the full address of the hotel, and it’s too late anyway, we’re closed. *******. Luckily our CEO was lovely and offered to post it for me when he got home to Chennai. Anyway, the CEO helped me, a girl Nikki who was catching the same flight as me, who I’d offered to share my hotel room with, and a Danish guy to catch the ferry across to near the city. From there, we got a tuk tuk to the hotel.


Homestay

Homestay
Alappuzha, India

Alappuzha, India


Jumped on the bus to go to our homestay in the Kerala backwaters. On the way, we stopped at a spice plantation, where the guide pointed out cocoa, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, coffee and other spice plants. We also stopped at the Connemara tea factory for a tour. The guide spoke quite fast, with a strong accent and mumbled, which made it difficult to understand him. But I found out the reason you use the young tea leaves is because the enzymes required to cure the leaves disappear as it ages, as does the caffeine. We parted with our luggage and the bus, and took a canoe to the man-made island for our homestay. It was a charming old house with a steep staircase. We enjoyed lunch, and then afternoon tea at 4pm, while our CEO helped us organise our onward plans, calling hotels and airlines to confirm. The father of the family took us on a walking tour of the wheat fields, and the village, explaining the local industries of coconuts and rice. At sunset, we took a canoe cruise down the river, listening to our guides sing in the local language. It was really pleasant, very relaxing. Dinner was prepared by the family, and was delicious water buffalo curry, with rice and paratha, and a banana pudding for dessert. Our CEO also had a sampling of toddy, a raw coconut liquor, which most people found undrinkable. I didn’t mind it, so I offered to polish off other’s unfinished glasses. It had a slightly sour coconut taste. It was fine to swallow down, but not something you would sip for the flavour. I get an involuntary squirm when I shot tequila, so this was nowhere near that bad.


Quiet day at Thekkady

Quiet day at Thekkady
Idukki, India

Idukki, India


4 hour bus ride from Mandurai to Thekkady. Lunch was delicious paratha and paneer butter masala at hotel. Some of the group went to ride elephants, but I decided to get a massage instead. The girl who did my massage was lovely. 21, studying sociology, and due to be married probably in a couple of years. She used way too much oil, it was dripping off me, but the massage was nice all the same. For dinner, we went to a cooking class, where we learned how to make Kerala paratha, pineapple curry, masala chips, spicy chicken, and okra curry. The flavours were very different to the class in the north – coconut oil instead of mustard oil, curry leaves and mustard seeds in everything. The curries seemed lighter, less heavy with spice and contained more veges. I was really interested in the paratha, because it has been my favourite since coming to the south. But it was a lot of hard work, kneading and curling and flattening. So I might leave it to the experts.


Hiccups in the schedule

Hiccups in the schedule
Madurai, India

Madurai, India


Travel day – 7 hours in a bus, with a Coffee Day stop, lunch and a toilet break. At the toilet stop, our CEO told us we might have to stay a little longer than planned, because of a political issue that might cause us problems. We ended up skipping a planned museum visit, going straight to the hotel and staying there for dinner instead of going out for dosas (I was really looking forward to it too 🙁 ). Ah well, tandoori chicken pizza hit the spot. Plus we each have our own rooms for the night! Yay! Washing time! The next day, we made our way to a UNESCO world heritage temple that didn’t allow cameras because someone had made a home made bomb with a flash mechanism, but they still allowed iPhones…. Anyway, so I didn’t bring my camera to this part of the trip. The temple, called Meenakshi Amman temple, was beautiful. The outside was a bit garish, with huge towers covered in colourful carvings of gods, demons and people. Inside, it was dimly lit, with thick bare stone pillars raved with deities, and mythical creatures. The ceiling was painted with bright concentric circles. The vaulted spaces, the bare stone floor, I felt small, like this was a place of immense significance. This is the first time I felt the holiness of a place in India. After the temple, we went to the Nayak palace. The white pillars with scalloped edges, and red trim were very European, and very grand. Another gorgeous place. Bored of walking around, a German girl and I had a competition to see who could balance their water bottle on their head for longest. I did pretty well, I’m not sure who won per se. I’ll have to get the photos from one of the guys. Back to the hotel for a while, and then jumped on a rickshaw to the Gandhi museum that we missed yesterday. It was interesting, but very British bashing. He had an interesting point of view on the events though. Then back in the rickshaw (poor guy was soaked with sweat), to the banana market. Our CEO bought different types of bananas for us to try – red bananas, tiny delicate bananas, long thick bananas. They all had a slightly different tastes. For dinner, we went to a restaurant where they served us a family sized dosa – it was about 1.5 metres wide.


French influence

French influence
Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India


We started early with a bike ride around some of the temples in the area. The last one was called the shore temple, because of its location, surprise, surprise. I enjoyed being on a bike again… Even the dodgy bikes they lent us. Must do more when I get back home. Breakfast was at a German bakery we had spied on the way home from dinner last night. I had a set breakfast with toast (yummy loaf bread), poached eggs (sadly not runny), and “hash brown”, which was more of a potato bake with tomatoes, and a really delicious fruits salad with muesli, curd and honey. It was far too much, so I was stuffed, but so good to have homemade muesli and fresh fruit. Then started on another riveting bus trip to get to Pondicherry. On the way, we stopped in to Auroville, a strange town that was built in the late 60s to be a place without religion or politics. They have their own government, and accept all people from around the world. Their principles seem to be based in Hinduism or Buddhism, and after a very cult like introductory video, we walked to a viewing area to see a golden dome, the Matrimandir, the symbol of Auroville and the Divine, and the words of the Mother (not a religion at all, nuh uh). Still, it was a lovely place, and seemed very hippy, into organic, veganism etc. We had a lovely salad lunch there (oh my god, greens!) with juice. Back on the bus all the way to Pondicherry, the largest French colony in India. We did a quick stop at an ashram in the city, where the aforementioned Mother was interred. We then went for a walk along the beach area, which was more footpath, dirt and huge rocks than sand. My feet were sore and I got bored of walking, so I started to head back. On the way, I had a couple of guys want to take a picture with me. Sure, nothing really unusual – everyone in the group was treated like a celebrity at one point or another. At least it was better than the creepy ones who took your photo as you passed without asking. Guy 1 had a phot, guy 2 had a photo, then guy 1 came back, saying one more … And puckered up. No way! I found my roomie a little down the road, and the other group had turned around and caught us as we were walking towards the French restaurant we planned for tonight. It wasn’t open for a couple of hours so we had a drink at the bar across the road until it opened. The meal at the restaurant was worth the wait. I had steak with creamy mushroom sauce and potato mash. The meat was so tender and perfectly cooked, and the mash was creamy and smooth. I think it was better than any meal I’d had in Australia.


On the move, then day by the pool

On the move, then day by the pool
Mamallapuram, India

Mamallapuram, India


We had a sleep in today, which I used to catch up on emails and Facebook. I had fried eggs at the hotel restaurant for breakfast, the first runny eggs I’d had in weeks. I missed it so much. Grabbed some snacks before a hectic tuk tuk ride to the train station. A lot of the roads were closed for a festival parade. Then 7 hours of train travel followed by 2 hour bus ride. Next morning, we started with a 6am yoga class. With such a diverse group it was interesting to see people’s flexibility and balance. It’s been a while between stretches for me, so I was pretty good in some poses, but one of the worst in others. After breakfast, some wandered to the beach. I opted for a nap, but not before buying some wifi. At lunchtime, I joined my roommate and others out by the poolside, reading and relaxing. There were optional activities like lunch at a nice hotel, and a visit to a seashell museum (yawn), but I much preferred chilling out. Dinner was seafood specialty Moonrakers down the road from the hotel. They even brought out the live crabs to look at. I had prawn butter masala and coconut rice, which was so tasty and just what I felt like. Some other people had issues with their order, but I really enjoyed mine. We wandered around looking at the shops for a bit (the girls went on a spree at one clothing place) before calling it a night.