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Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, China, long term travel, Shanghai, Travel, Travelzoo

Surviving Shanghai

Finally our moment of freedom has come. We have one more day in China and it’s a free day to explore Shanghai. Or so we thought. There’s mention of a morning factory visit and then optional city stuff followed by a farewell dinner and a boat cruise near The Bund, but we decide we will go our own way today.

I sleep in a little bit and leisurely head down to breakfast as the rest of the group is finishing up and headed to the bus. I grab a cup of coffee and pick up the local English paper. And just as I sit down with some dumplings, Katherine comes over to me and says, “We have to go on the factory visit this morning. And if we don’t, we have to pay $100 each.” At this point, I’m pissed. What kind of situation is this, where we’ll be fined if we don’t attend? I’ve visited more factories this week than someone on a business trip, and today is meant to be our free day. Katherine follows up with, “We’re free to go after the visit, but we have to go this morning.”

I look outside and the bus is waiting for us and a few others who had the same idea initially. I chug my coffee, grab my coat and head to the bus. I pass Michael on the way and say to him. “I know you’re in a tough situation, but this isn’t right.” I half jokingly tell him I feel like a hostage.

We make our way to the other side of Shanghai and as we turn into what will be the last factory visit of the tour, Michael says, “There’s something different about this business. This is the only factory that is not government run. It is private. They sell jade and jewelry.” Just what we all need more of!

We enter in and are taken to a fancy showroom where we’re seated around a big, dark wooden office table. A lady greets us and begins to ask us all about our trip – where we’ve been, what we’ve seen, what Chinese we have learned. She seems to be biding her time, and a well dressed overweight man walks into and out of the showroom a couple of times. I get the sense that something is off. I look to Jay and Ivy who are sitting next to me and say, “Are these guys Chinese mafia?” Ivy, who is Vietnamese starts nodding her head in agreement and says, “He is not Chinese, he is Vietnamese, and yes, I’m pretty sure he’s mafia.” As she goes on to explain the housing market crash and the relations between the Chinese and Vietnamese, I have visions in my head of what will happen if no one decides to buy anything. This really isn’t how I wanted to spend my last day in China.

Fortunately, I’m at the back of the room, nearest the exit, so Katherine and I walk out and wait by the bus. It’s at least another 30 minutes before the rest of the group finishes up. Michael asks us to sign a waiver, stating that we are choosing to leave the group tour and are responsible for ourselves for the rest of our time in Shanghai, as if we’ve never traveled before. And then, we truly are free.

Fuxing Road, Shanghai.

We begin our whirlwind tour of Shanghai, first jumping on the metro and heading over to Fuxing Park, where we watch a couple practicing their ballroom dancing moves (Yes, it’s a thing), while kids fly kites and a few practice Tai chi.

Shanghai is surprisingly orderly and modern compared to Beijing. I can see why people love this city. There’s a subtle energy here that isn’t overwhelming, but there’s definitely a buzz.

The master mixologist, Roger.

We decide to look for a spa to get a foot massage and then make our way over to The Bund, but Katherine recommends we stop at a little corner cafe for a drink. It’s still early, but after the morning we’ve had, we all oblige. We duck in to Sober Cafe, where we meet the friendly barman, Roger and spend the afternoon taste testing his award winning cocktails. Roger is originally from Japan, but he has been working in Shanghai for a couple of years now. He tells us of the speakeasy movement taking place right now and says he’ll message us later to see if we want to meet up.

A lot of the day has slipped away, but we head over to a local spa for one of our last opportunities for a massage. The boys opt for a one-hour traditional massage and Katherine and I take an hour of reflexology. I’m asleep 30 minutes in, but we all leave with a second wind and jump in a taxi to head over to The Bund.

Shanghai’s beautiful skyline.

Katherine, Warren, me and Ray.

The Bund is the former Shanghai International Settlement and is a collection of varying architectural styles, including Baroque Revival, Art Nouveau, Beaux- Arts and many more. Because of this, Shanghai boasts one of the most unique skylines in the world. We make it our mission to see it from a few different angles, heading up to Bar Rogue for one view and then over to the much more refined Hyatt hotel for a look down from the VUE bar.

The view from Bar Rouge.

It’s bitterly cold and Shanghai is due its first snowfall of the season tonight. As we sit huddled under heat lamps on the outside patio, the first flurries start to fall.

Katherine and I shoot each other a look that says, “I wonder if we’ll make it out of here tomorrow.” As much as we’re on the same page about being ready to head home, we both know we wouldn’t mind an extra day to explore independently.

Today was a reminder of how we travel – a free day to roam, explore, get lost, make friends, and discover the hidden gems on our own. It’s been a great trip overall, but to end with a day like today reminds me of how I like to travel. I’ve given the guided tour a try… and while there are many good things I can say about it, especially in China, I think there’s no better way than to go your own way.

Next post: Guided China, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly…


Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, China, Compass Holidays, Guided Tour, long term travel, Travel

“Follow Michael” – The Beginning Of My Guided Tour Through China

Even just a few years back, if you’d asked me if I would consider booking, book, or actually go on a guided tour, the answer would have been “no.” Not just an “i don’t think so,” or a “let me think about it,” but an ‘it’s against my religion kind of “no.” ‘ You see, in the world of hard core travel, guided tours are like the cardinal sin. They’re the easy way out for the traveler who doesn’t want to do the planning, for the apprehensive traveler who’s afraid of the language barrier, or for the fearful one who thinks the location isn’t safe to tackle alone. They’re the opposite of authenticity.

Hainan Airlines from Boston to Beijing

Well, forgive me Father of Travel because I have sinned… and I’ve gone and booked a cheaper than chips 8-day GUIDED trip to China. I hope that given this is close to my 65th country, I have some sort of clout… but as I see the Compass Holiday flag in the busy arrival hall upon landing in Beijing, I wonder if I have sold myself out.

After the 13 1/2 hour flight, I’m too tired to really think about it that much, and in my zombie state, I curse the missing two travelers our group of 20 or so is waiting for.

After about an hour of waiting, our Chinese tour guide, “Michael” who refers to himself in the third person, rounds up the group, and exclaims very loudly and in his very thick accent, “Follow Michael.” And we do as said, and make our way to the tour bus waiting outside.

It’s 10pm now, 9am to our bodies, so we don’t know if we should feel ready to go to bed or start the day. We board the bus for the 40-minute drive to the promised 4-star hotel, and Michael begins our first Chinese history lesson… Communism, Socialism, Mings and Qings. My friend Katherine, who I roped into taking this trip with me, is asleep in the seat next to me. I fight sleep as Michael tells us, “China is a chicken: Beijing is the neck, Shanghai is the belly, Hong Kong is the foot. ” He then comes around to sell us water and see if we want to opt in for the Beijing City Tour the following day. No, no thanks. We’re all set and will explore on our own. Katherine and I are two of the four people not opting in to the guided tour the following day.

Garden International Hotel, Beijing

As we drive, I see a pretty, ornate building and wonder if it’s our hotel. I nudge Katherine. “Wouldn’t that be awesome if it was our hotel?” I say, as the bus turns around and pulls in to the entrance.

THE Toilet

We step off the bus, gather our bags and make our way to the lobby to get checked in. It’s late and the hotel is empty, but the staff is eagerly waiting to assist us. We get our keys and head to our room, which is just as luxurious as the view of the hotel from the roadway. Not to mention the heated toilet seat!


I call the front desk to confirm what time breakfast is, and the employee that answers the phone uses google translate to tell me to “hold on one second” and “I will call you right back.” And he does, breakfast is 7am-10am on the 2nd floor.

I quickly try to check Facebook, Instagram, email…Nothing. It’s looking like I’m going to have a nice digital detox while in China.

Despite the time difference, we crawl into our comfy beds and sleep. And I wonder what this guided trip has in store for us?

Backpacking, long term travel

Have You Hit the Travel Wall?

It’s Monday morning, and people all over the world are dragging themselves out of bed for yet another week of work. I’m sure more than a few people will spend some of their day wishing they were somewhere other than at their desks. Some may even spend a few minutes looking for an idyllic beach screen shot to refresh their desktop background with… you get the point. We spend a lot of our time dreaming of getting away, but if you’ve ever traveled for an extended period of time, you may realize that the desire to return home can eventually be as strong as the initial desire was to get away.

Travel is, and should be, enjoyable. You’ve worked hard for that around-the-world ticket. You’ve left jobs to enable enough time away. You’ve said goodbye to family, friends, and significant others so you can realize this dream. But what happens when you’re in a place where cringe-worthy moments seem to outnumber the breathtaking ones?
Chances are you’ve hit the travel wall.
A number of odd things start to happen as you approach this wall. You may start to realize that things which initially intrigued you about a place start to annoy you and become just so… well, foreign.
Many little things begin to hit a nerve. The temple across the street that replays the same chanting music non-stop becomes the bane of your afternoon existence. The man who stands on the corner of Bogyoke Aung San and Sule Pagoda Roads, who asks you everyday if you need to change money, book a ticket, and then slyly and suggestively says, “you want massage?” has a knack of seeking you out in a crowd of hundreds.
You start to crave the comforts of home – you’d kill for a clean shower where you don’t have to wear your flip flops, you have washed your clothes in the sink so many times you forget what washing machine settings are. Street stall dinners of noodles and rice start to get repetitive, and you’d pretty much give anything for a piece of toast and a real cup of coffee (not a Nescafe). You opt out of the wake up call for sunrise at the temple or mountaintop because a lie-in sounds more appealing, and you jump for joy when you open the door to a bathroom and there’s a western toilet.
SO, What can you do to avoid said wall?
I’m sure the person who says they can travel forever is out there. I used to say this too, but I’ve learned through frequent long stints overseas that the perfect amount of time away for me is four months. This is four months of moving around. By this point in time, I am more than ready to rest, process, decompress and empty the contents of my pack and stay put for a bit.
But to avoid hitting the wall altogether, build in rest days. If you’re a planner, add these “days off” into your itinerary. I remember planning a six week backpacking trip with my best friend following high school graduation. I mapped out the itinerary and sent it to a few older and wiser travelers, most of who responded asking me if I wanted to enjoy any of that trip. Traveling everyday without any days off is setting yourself up for backpacker burnout.
And after burning out, you will wonder what you truly saw. Fully immerse yourself in a few places, instead of skimming the surface of the whole lot. Aside from rest days, planning a journey that enables you to see a few places in depth, instead of simply breezing through every city in ten countries will leave you with more energy and a deeper appreciation for what you have seen. If you’re spending a day or two in each place before catching your overnight bus to the next city and hitting repeat, you will no doubt wear out more quickly and look back with feelings of regret for not slowing down and savoring the journey. (This applies to any length of trip.)
Have a plan you can stray from. I love a rough plan or framework, but what’s the saying?… “Even the best laid plans…” Things will come up. You will fall in love with a place, or a person that you want to continue your journey with. You may really not like a place, or a person you have been traveling with… Be flexible and don’t put pressure on yourself to see and do absolutely everything Lonely Planet recommends. And if your priorities are different than those of your quickly forming backpacking posse, break away. It’s okay, and sometimes more rewarding, to go it alone.
Build in a few little luxuries for yourself. There’s nothing like a little bit of pampering on the road. Book yourself a massage, head out to the international restaurant and have a burger and fries, throw away the old traveling pants you’ve been wearing for four years and hit up the local market for a posh, new pair. If your budget will stretch, book yourself one or two nights at a real hotel- not a dorm or guest house, but somewhere you can take a bath and then lay in bed and watch TV.  (These are things I used to consider against the Backpacking Bible’s Code of Ethics, but I’ve hit the wall a couple of times now, and I think a few cheats are OK. Just NO MCDONALD’S…EVER!)
Plan your route strategically. On my first trip around the world, I started with India. My energy levels were high and my mind was open and I was so eager to hit the road. Culture shock was welcomed and I embraced every new experience and even welcomed the crazier, more adventurous ones. Overnight buses breaking down, homestays in remote tribal villages, stories of tummy bugs hitting at the most inopportune times- they were all just part of the ‘experience.’ But after five broken down buses in a row during your fourteenth week of travel, it can become a bit trying. So, if possible, plan travel to developing countries at the beginning of your trip, saving the beach bungalow in Bali for when you need some serious down time.
But if you’ve already hit the wall, here are some tips on how to recharge on the road and still savor the rest of your trip.
Take a break from your break. After I had seen all I wanted to in Burma, I returned to Yangon and holed up in a $10 a night guesthouse for over a week. And I didn’t do a whole lot. There was a day where I sat in a European cafe for 7 hours, editing photos and writing. I didn’t feel guilty about this. The coffee was excellent, the tunes were good and the AC brought me back to life within minutes. I interspersed my escape with cultural excursions too. But the three-hour tour on the Yangon Circular train was followed by a trip to Union Bar, for a nice glass of vino, or two.
Go somewhere easy. That’s right. Head to that idyllic Thai beach.
Stay there for a while. Find a cheap room and sit on that beach, drink from coconuts, read a book, and rest. Sign up for a yoga or meditation course, or don’t.

If all else fails, it’s alright to admit defeat and head home. No, you haven’t failed. I recently cut a trip short by two weeks and traveled home early to spend my first Thanksgiving in five years with my family. Alright, it’s not the same as eating Apple Pie at 3,500 meters up on the Annapurna Circuit, sampling Aquavit in Denmark while visiting an old travel companion, or cooking up a Thanksgiving feast “Down Under” with new dive buddies. But it is a perfect time to relax, rest and process the past five months… and most importantly began planning the next adventure.

I hope everyone had a Happy (and restful) Thanksgiving wherever in the world you spent it!

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel

The Bucket List – International Travel

People always ask me how I pick the countries I end up visiting. I don’t think there’s a straightforward answer. Inspiration comes from many places, seeing a picture, hearing about another persons adventures, reading other travelers’ blogs, or just being curious about a place because so much IS unknown.

I do have lists though. They are everywhere… in notebooks, on my phone in the “note” section, in old journals… I love finding the old lists, so I can see which countries have drawn me in enough to actually plan the trip and visit. And then I create a new list, carrying over the places I haven’t made it to yet and adding new ones. Obviously, this list is always growing, despite how much I travel and how many countries I cross off.

I don’t know if I’ll make it to every country in the world in this lifetime, but I’m close to making it to all seven continents, and I have 39 countries crossed off the list so far. My goal this year is to travel to another five.

When planning a trip, I like to map out a logical route, so it makes economical sense and so I don’t waste time back-tracking. Unfortunately, the countries on my list right now are random, so it may just be that some are carried over to next year.

Here are the countries I am itching to get to…

Burma– I actually have a current visa in my passport for Burma, but unfortunately, I won’t be using it before February. So Burma stays on the list at number 1. Many think I’m out of my mind for wanting to travel to this “unsafe,” “poor,” “politically corrupt” country, but I’m anxious to get there sooner rather than later. A country which is now truly opening up to the idea of tourism is bound to change by leaps and bounds, and fast…just look at neighboring Thailand. Burma is the country of The Golden Rock, the temples of Bagan and Inle Lake. It’s a country of political unrest and a home to people fighting for democracy, people full of hope for a brighter and better future. Burma is on the brink of change, and while I hope for positive social change for them, I want to get there before there’s too much commercial change. I better hurry.

Norway– What sold me on Norway a couple of years ago were pictures. Just google Norway and browse the images that come up- bright green fjords plunging into deep blue rivers, colorful fishing towns, the aurora borealis. Norway is visually stunning and as a photographer, I can’t wait to get there. I have also met quite a few Norwegians on my travels, and they have added to my fascination with this Scandinavian country. I have had the opportunity to travel to other countries in this region, and I’m a big fan of the cleanliness and order that comes with being in Scandinavia. People are down to earth and systems just seem to work. Let’s face it though, Norway is expensive. This would be a great country to consider some couchsurfing in… A sofa or spare bed to sleep on will help you save some spending money and it always enables you the chance to get a deeper insight into life in a foreign land. (

Jordan- I traveled to Israel in November 2011, and I am still kicking myself for not making it to Jordan. But I think Jordan deserves its own trip, and not just a side trip from Israel (or so I’ll keep saying, so I don’t feel too bad). First things first – Petra. I’ve seen the pictures, but I can’t imagine standing in front of, and looking up at this architectural marvel. I love being transported back in time by places, and I imagine this is what would happen here. Pair this with the fact that the Arabic people are some of the most hospitable in the world, and the cuisine is pretty damn good too, and you have the makings of an unbelievable journey. (Jordan remains open for travel, despite the political turmoil of neighboring countries.)

Patagonia– Ok, I realize this is a region comprised of both Argentina and Chile, so consider this a super-sized order. Patagonia’s been on my list since I started traveling hard core about four years ago. I am completely amazed by a place I have yet to visit. It’s all about nature here. I’ll leave electronic devices behind, put a backpack on my back and some hiking boots on my feet, and just go!  But I will make sure to have a camera in my hand. I’m looking forward to the evening when I watch the sun set over Torres del Paine and wake up the following morning to head to Perito Moreno for some glacier trekking. I’ve been dreaming of this for a long time! They say traveling to Patagonia is like traveling to the end of the Earth. In fact, Ushuaia (a jumping off point for exploring Patagonia) is considered the southernmost city in the world, but hold for the next one on the list…

Antarctica– If you find yourself in Ushuaia with some extra time on your hands, rumor has it you can score a week-long Antarctic cruise for around $1000 (USD). Alright, that’s still a good chunk of change, but considering these will set you back around $4000 (USD) normally, you’re saving considerably on this trip of a lifetime. Think about a crisp blue sky and massive white icebergs that are home to polar bears, seals, penguins, whales and albatross, and no one else around you for miles, literally. And if you’re like me, your life goal is to step foot on all seven continents!

Madagascar- Growing up my brother and I had plastic dinner placemats which were maps of the world. After dinner, my dad would always quiz us on the location of places, and I thought Madagascar sounded like the coolest place in the world.  I must admit my ignorance here, and tell you I don’t know much about Madagascar. I know it’s a place considered by travelers to be “the best kept secret.” It’s becoming a more talked about place on travel forums and over late night beers at the hostel. But what is the draw? Well, I think that’s where the intrigue lies here. It still feels like a place to be discovered. Better get there soon before it’s no longer a secret.  (And check out the baobab trees, a definite highlight for photographers!)

New Zealand-Spend the day trekking through terrain and scenery made famous by The Lord of the Rings, and end the day with a meal of New Zealand lamb paired with a local pinot noir or sauvignon blanc. Then head north to a 90-mile stretch of surfbreak. Visit Christchurch or Queenstown for a city fix, or learn about the ancient Maori traditions… I’m sold. New Zealand has so much to offer. The only thing that makes traveling here a challenge is it’s not in my frequent flyer network and the cost of living is high. I hope to make it here sooner rather than later though! (If you’re under the age of 30, you can easily get a working holiday visa- which can help with that whole “money” thing).

So that wraps it up. These are the places calling my name, topping the list. There are other places lingering in the wings – Portugal, Croatia, Hungary, Peru, Japan… but the countries listed above have my attention, and I need to get to see them soon. And now, I wonder, where will 2013 take me?? Which new stamps will my passport hold this time next year, and which places will still be left on the list? What new countries will I discover and add to the list? The adventure, like always, is yet to unfold. And that, my fellow travelers, is the best part.

Stay tuned…Next time I will share some personal advice and useful resources to help you plan your own Around-The-World journey.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Hawaii, long term travel, Oahu, Travel

On and Off the Oahu Tourist Track

Thursday morning dawned clear, so I took the opportunity to head to Pearl Harbor. I wasn’t sure how long I was going to spend in the southern part of the island, and I knew I couldn’t come to Oahu and not visit Pearl Harbor. Coby was kind enough to walk me in the direction of the public bus stations, and within 30 minutes, I had arrived at the museum entrance. I opted for the free tour of Pearl Harbor, which included the boat trip out to the USS Arizona, a film, a museum exhibit and a tour of the grounds. I spent a good 2 hours here and left with a better understanding Hawaii’s role in WWII.

From here, I made my way back to Honolulu and met up with Coby. Our plans were to hike Diamond Head, but the weather had different plans for us. Oahu is experiencing one of its wettest times in history, and unfortunately, this just happens to coincide with my first week here. After debating on whether or not it would clear up, Coby and I ended up hitting up Leonard’s, the famous Portugese bakery on island, to sample malasadas. These are like fried dough, and you can opt in for fillings like coconut or choclate, quite contradictory to hiking, but well worth the indulgence. We made our way back home, and promised to try for Diamond Head the following day….

The following day dawned wet and windy, so Coby and I hit up Chinatown and sampled Dim Sum at Shu Mei (which was EXCELLENT and about $7.00 each for a massive lunch) and then went to see a movie. That night, we tagged along with Ludmila to a warehouse party in Honolulu… we stayed up way too late and forced ourselves to get up the following morning to make something of the day. I was determined to hike Diamond Head, so after Coby’s homemade pancakes to cure us, we set out to catch the bus to the foot of Diamond Head Park. Well, after roaming around, and not being able to find the right bus stop, Ludmila called and said she and a friend were going to meet us and hike with us, so she picked us up on the way and we drove to the park. Finally, the rain had passed and the vog (volcanic smog) wasn’t too bad, so we hiked about 30 minutes up and got to see all of Waikiki and Honolulu as well as the Southeast coast.
At the foot of the park is a community college and small botanical garden with a great cactus collection- we visited that briefly and then headed for an authentic Hawaiian meal. We went to Ono’s in Waikiki and sampled LaoLao, Poke, Taro Root and other delicacies. The food was amazing and reminded me of being in Indonesia- the same basic, good flavors. And well deserved after our hike.

By Sunday, the weather was really improving and I started the day with a long run through Honolulu and Ala Moana Park. I was amazed at the number of people out and about- running, swimming, biking and beaching it, as well as the number of families preparing for their day long picnics and barbecues. I couldn’t help but be reminded of my time in Sydney and think that these people have struck a good life balance. For a city, there’s a pace of life here that’s not too crazy to keep up with, and despite the influence of tourism, the locals do a nice job of keeping their island their own. So while I may have had preconceived notions about Honolulu and Waikiki and while it may have felt like SoCal/America at times, there was a definite relaxed vibe to this place, that was (as I would come to find out later) purely Hawaiian.

Annapurna, Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Nepal, Travel

Annapurna Made Easy

If you don’t want to read through all the details, but are looking for concise travel information (including average trekking times and prices for food/accommodation) for the Annapurna Circuit, I’ve listed some of it below. I trekked at the end of November, which was getting close to “off-season,” so some of the lodging was cheaper than you might expect to pay during peak season. I also consider these average trekking times. I hope this helps.

In Kathmandu, you can sort both your TIMS permit and the Annapurna Conservation Permit, they cost $20 and $25 respectively. You need both and they will be checked multiple times along the trail.
The bus from Kathmandu to Besi Sahar is a local bus and costs 380 rupees. There is no tourist bus for this route. You can begin the trek at Besi Sahar or take a jeep to Bhulbhule and start there (where no cars are allowed as of now). You can negotiate the cost of the jeep, but expect to pay around 400-500 per person for a group of 4.

For those considering doing the trek solo, (without a guide and porter) my advice is- if I can, you can. Not only will you save a ton of money, but you will be able to go at your own pace, spending more time in the places you like and branching off the well-beaten path when you want. If you change your mind, you can always pick up a guide and/or porter along the way. If you don’t take a porter, just remember you are carrying your own stuff, so PACK LIGHT!

Trekking Times:

Day 1 Bhulbhule to Gnadi 1:00
Day 2 Gnadi to Chamje 5:40
Day 3 Chamje to Timang 8:00
Day 4 Timang to Upper Pisang 7:30
Day 5 Upper Pisang to Manang 5:30
Day 6 Manang – Acclimatisation Day
Day 7 Manang to Khangsar 2:00
Day 8 Khangsar to Lake Tilicho BC 4:15
Day 9 Lake Tilicho BC to Lake 3:00
Lake to Basecamp1:30
Basecamp to ShreeKharkar3:00
Day 10 ShreeKharkar to Thorong Pedi 6:30
Day 11 Thorong Pedi to Muktinath 8:00
Day 12 Muktinath to Kaghbeni 2:30
Day 13 Kaghbeni to Tatopani Jeep
Day 14 Tatopani to Pokhara Jeep
Accommodation & Food Costs: These costs include cost of a room, and dinner and breakfast, beverages, the occasional hot water bottle and camera battery charge. I’ve indicated where there’s more than a one-night stay.
Gnadi – Sky High Hotel – 455 rupees (approximately $5.60)
Chamje – Chamje Guesthouse – 540 rupees
Timang – Prosanna Hotel – 690 rupees
Upper Pisang – Annapurna Hotel – 1340 rupees (i was really hungry)
Manang – 2 nights accommodation, 2 breakfasts, 2 dinner and lunch – 2555 rupees
Khangsar – Luxmi Inn – 590 rupees
Lake Tilicho – accommodation, dinner, breakfast and 2 lunches – 1720 rupees
Shree Kharkar – 1240 rupees
Thorong Phedi – 875 rupees
Muktinath – Bob Marley Hotel – 1500 rupees
Kaghbeni – 700 rupees
Tatopani – 600 rupees
You can see how the price for food and lodging increases as you get further along the trail, higher in elevation and closer to the Pass. Once you leave Muktinath, prices drop back down again.
Public busses from Jomsom to Pokhara are non-negotiable but you can negotiate Jeep prices and often times, you can get the same price for a jeep as you can for the bus if you have enough people in your group.
My last piece of advice is to take your time. Don’t get caught up about making it to a certain place by a certain time, unless you are on a time crunch. This is a beautiful part of the world…savor it.
Happy Trekking and Namaste!
Annapurna, Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Nepal, Travel

Wrapping Up the Annapurna Trek – Days 12-14

We finally mustered the energy to leave Muktinath and head to Kaghbeni by early afternoon. The hike was short in comparison to the preceding days (and downhill) but the 2 1/2 hours seemed to take longer than they should have. We decided to take a few shortcuts, even though Luke was no longer with us. So after scaling a few rock walls, we arrived in Kaghbeni.

The town was no more impressive than Muktinath and I was immediately glad we were only spending a night. Fortunately we found a very clean, quaint Dutch Inn and didn’t venture far for the evening. They served dinner with ingredients from their organic garden, and we all got a giggle out of the typo on the menu… vag momos, instead of veg. Ooops!
We got out of town early the next morning, and so began a day of bus travel down the winding, gravel roads of the Annapurna region. We set out at 9am from Muktinath, arrived in Jomsom and booked the 12:00 bus to Ghasa. We had just enough time to inhale some food and check email. This was a strange feeling after being so disconnected for what felt like so long. In reality, it had only been 2 weeks, but if felt like ages since I had been in touch with anyone.
We took the bus to Ghasa and literally walked off one bus and onto the next in order to get to Tato Pani. We finally arrived at 4:30, found accommodation and then hiked it right over to the hot springs. I think we all expected authentic hot springs and were slightly disappointed to find concrete pools, but not that disappointed… it was still a treat to soak our sore muscles.
The following morning, we had to make a decision about the Sanctuary trek. It was cloudy and cool, I had no clean clothes, and I was flat out tired. My vote was to head to Pokhara, and the other girls were in agreement. Unfortunately we missed the bus, but we hailed a jeep and began another day’s journey. First to Beni and then by local bus to Pokhara.
This was quite the bus ride to say the least. The bus was packed so full that people were literally pouring into the aisles and out of windows and doors. If the bus didn’t break down from being overweighted, it felt likely that we would topple over the mountainside on one of the next sharp turns. This hop on/hop off saga continued for 4 hours and I was so tired, I didn’t even give a damn. We stopped once and managed to snag some sweet bread from a roadside stand. During the last hour, as if in victory mode, the driver blasted Nepalese music as loud as the volume would go.
By the time we arrived in Pokhara, our arses were numb and we were like three zombies. Luckily, Lucy had stored some stuff at the guesthouse where she had stayed prior to the trek, so we made our way there and managed to get rooms for the next few nights.
It was odd to be back in civilization- a room with a western toilet, a bath and a TV! And just outside, a backpacker-friendly city of cafes, restaurants, internet cafes, laundry services and trekking shops. Quite the reverse culture shock.
We did what we usually do and split a pot of masala tea, then ventured out for Indian food and ice cream, something you couldn’t find on the trek. On the way home, I bought shampoo and conditioner in anticipation of a hot shower – it’s the little things in life!
The following day, I was worthless and unable to make any decisions, other than to go for a 1- hour massage. I proceeded to sit in a cafe for the rest of the afternoon… Pokhara seems like it’s going to be a good place to chill out for a bit!
Annapurna, Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Nepal, Travel

Annapurna Day 11- Thorong La Pass

The alarm went off at 4am, and we were up, packed and finished with breakfast before 5. Lucy was feeling better and had decided to trek the Pass with us, so at 5:30, in the pitch dark, bundled and sporting headlamps, we began the 1,000 meter climb up to Thorong La Pass.

The first hour to basecamp was done in the dark and was a straight vertical climb. I’m glad it was dark and couldn’t see what lay ahead. We had a quick stop here to shed some layers and use the toilet, and then began the 3-hour climb to the pass. This was a gradual ascent and nowhere near as steep as the lake climb, but with my pack on and the higher elevation, there were times when I felt like every step was an effort.
The last 45 minutes felt extremely long and each time I saw a trail marker, I thought, “Oh, I have to be close,” only to turn the corner and see the next one in the distance. There was no mistaking the Pass though. Hundreds of prayer flags hung over what looked like a finish line. Suddenly, the last ten minutes up felt effortless.
5,416 meters, equivalent of 17,769 feet! We played around at the top, took pictures, chatted with our larger group that had formed over the last 5 days and after the novelty wore off, we began the 4-hour climb back down the other side. The views of the mountains in the distance were beautiful, but thinking of the Pass as some sort of finish line was deceiving, because the 4-hour climb down was hot, grueling and covered 1600 meters.
We stopped one hour away from Muktinath (our stopping point for the day) for a snack and rehydration stop and the last hour went quickly. I was TIRED and began having second thoughts about committing to the Sanctuary trek that I’d been debating about doing following this trek. I hoped it was just fatigue causing any doubts and that it would pass.
We arrived in Muktinath around 4:00 and heard rumors of hot showers on our way into town. As we approached, we saw this built up village and it was quite a shock compared to the quaint villages we’d been staying in. Still, after a couple of strenuous days, a hot shower was a really nice thought, and so was a warm nights sleep in a proper lodge.
We checked into Bob Marley hotel, complete with marijuana tea on the menu. First things first- a HOT shower. It had been 5 days since a shower and weeks since a hot one, and I can’t really put into words how nice it felt to have hot water hit my tired body, soothe my muscles, scrub off the dirt and clear my head. I know it sounds cliche, but I felt like a new woman.
Feeling re-energized, I headed down to dinner with Emily and Lucy, and the South American crew. After dinner, the re-energized feeling had passed and I wasn’t even up for conversation. It was time for bed! The sad thing is, it was only 8:30. I slept all the way until 5:30 this morning, and it was the first time I hadn’t slept fully clothed, with a fleece and hat on. It was glorious.
After breakfast, we are all in proper chill out mode but we have plans to continue trekking to Khagbeni today and then make a bee-line for the hot springs just south. No decisions about future trekking have been made… I’m just savoring clearing the Pass yesterday before I think about the next challenge…
Annapurna, Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Nepal, Travel

Annapurna Day 10 – Thorong Phedi

This morning, we had breakfast and hit the path by 8:30. I was feeling the aftereffects of the lake climb, not so much in my muscles, but just a general lethargy. We had a decent uphill climb this morning, followed by a descent down to the river, only to cross the river and have to do the uphill climb over again…and this was supposed to be a shortcut. I just wasn’t feeling it today!

By the time we reached Yakharka, I was feeling spent and could’ve easily stopped here for the night, but we were only 3 hours away from Throng Phedi (the start of The Pass) and it seemed pointless to break it down over another two days.

We stopped for a very long lunch and then prepared for part 2 of the trek. We almost lost Lucy, who was beginning to get a headache and was visibly losing steam, but she was a trooper and stuck with us for the rest of the afternoon’s trek.

It was only a 40-minute trek to Letdar and then two additional hours to Throng Phedi. We arrived just as the sun was setting, and Lucy went to bed immediately. Emily and I joined the throngs of other people in the dining hall and filled our bellies with Dhal Bhat.

I couldn’t believe we’d be making the trek over the pass in less than 12 hours, and after two pretty strenuous days. I thought about the additional 1,000 meters we had left to climb and it made me nervous to think about how tough the lake climb was and that on this part of the trek I would be lugging my pack. I wondered how much the extra elevation would affect me. Still, these are the moments when adrenaline and excitement prevail, and when all else fails, you just put one foot in front of the other!

We wrapped up at the dining hall, and took some hot water, honey and garlic cloves back to the room for Lucy. Apparently garlic is great for altitude sickness and we had all been chomping on full cloves over the past few days. She barely stirred, so we left her to sleep, hoping that she would be feeling better by the morning so the three of us could trek the pass together.

Annapurna, Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Nepal, Travel

Annapurna Day 9 – Shree Kharkar

Things have been awesome since leaving Manang. The day we left, we had a 2-hour hike to Khangsar and decided to blindly follow Luke on one of his infamous shortcuts. This led to us traversing ice patches on landslide territory, not to mention a nice steep climb at the end. Still, we arrived safely and found Luxmi’s Inn, which was nice and cozy.

Luxmi welcomed us into the kitchen and we all sat around the fire with her drinking Nepali tea while she cooked dinner. She fed us all at the same time and talked to us about our hike to Lake Tilicho, telling us to take our time (bastadee- slowly). There was so much warmth at this inn, despite being in a bit of a rundown town, and it was all due to Luxmi’s energy and disposition.
We were up early Monday morning and off to Tilicho Base Camp. This took about 4 hours – of consistent ups and downs, no real grueling trekking until the end where we were in proper landslide territory, as in, don’t look up or down or you may loose your balance. We stopped for a snickers break (this had become a valid reason for a stop on the trek) and took a look at the scenery around us. There were mountains in the background and cave-like rocks surrounding us, gravel-like rocks under our feet, which led down to what looked to be a small river below.
When we began traversing the landslide area, we came head on with a herder and his 20 yak. We had nowhere to go but back, but the yaks were too timid to pass us, so the herder waved us on, and we watched as the yak begin to slide down the gravel slope as we got closer. We eventually passed and once we turned the corner, we spotted basecamp in the distance. What a glorious sight, and it was downhill too!
We had lunch when we arrived and caught up with a few familiar faces who were a couple of days ahead of us. I felt a slight headache coming on, so I popped a diamox and chugged water. We were now at 4100 meters, the highest we’d been so far, but we had to climb to 4900 the following morning and I feared the headache getting any worse. The afternoon was spent in our sleeping bags, sipping hot chocolate. We crawled out for dinner but when the smoke from the wood fire got too unbearable we went back to our rooms for a good night’s sleep.
We were up around 6 the following morning, had a quick breakfast and set out. I got a 15-minute head start (because I am usually the slow one). I felt like I was on a solo mountaineering mission for the first hour. The climb was 800 meters, straight up. It was steep and 3 hours long, but it was so nice to shed my backpack and just go with no extra weight. For some reason, Bob Marley’s Is This Love was playing on repeat in my head, and I just put my head down and put one foot in front of the other.
B 10:30 we were standing at the highest lake in the world, 4,919 meters above sea level. The air was so clear and the colors so vivid- bright red, blue, green and yellow prayer flags against a blue sky and an aquamarine lake, a huge glacier dropping down a mountainside into the lake – all this beauty and the 3-hour upward trek seems like a distant memory. It was so windy though, we couldn’t stay up there too long.
I don’t think I realized how steep the climb was until I was trekking back down. This took about 1 1/2 hours, compared to the 3 going up and was a breeze. We got back to base camp, inhaled lunch, packed up and set out for Shree Kharkar. We had a 3 hour trek back the way we had come in- lots of ups and downs, but the midday heat had passed and after 2 hours, we watched the sunset change the light behind Pisang Peak from purple to pink to blue.
We arrived in Shree Kharkar just before dark and checked into a 3-bed room at one of the two lodges in town. We had left Luke at Lake Tilicho so he could spend another night, so it was now Emily, Lucy and me, although a bigger group had been forming along the trail, so we had dinner with about 10 of us, sharing travel stories and future Annapurna plans. We were in bed shortly after that. It had been a big day and the next two would be just an intense.