Thailand for New Years!

So I arrived in Bangkok, just days before New Years, on the full moon, having been grouching over an unhappy stomach for almost a week, to find that Bangkok is one of the world’s HOTTEST, MOST HUMID cities in the world. Somehow, in all my research, I failed to notice the obvious.

Bangkok

Bangkok

Did I mention I don’t really like heat and humidity? Was meeting Leigh who came up from New Zealand for 3 weeks, and well, the man is a saint cause I certainly wasn’t. Poor guy. We hopped on a plane after a day in Bangkok down to Krabi, and checked out Ao Nang for the New Years. Ao Nang didn’t really grab us- it was super touristy, and we went over and stayed on Tonsai beach for a few days, but because it was peak tourist season we had to pre-book everything at peak season prices and so we often found ourselves paying a lot for very little. Again, my research, which I know mentioned these points, failed to impact my choices. Blinded by optimism would be the best way to describe my decision making process…

Monkey!

Monkey!

On the upside- we loved the monkeys, we went climbing in Railay, we swam in the ocean and got up early to watch the fishing boats and the sunrises, we drank our way through as many fruit smoothie flavors as possible, rode around in long boats, enjoyed the lanterns set off for New Years, and failed completely at learning the Thai language. Sa-wa-dee (for hello) was about as far as we got. The whole tonal language thing was not my thing…
Then we scored when we booked a room for a week on the island of Koh Lanta. Beautiful beaches and a chilled out room on the docks where the river meets the ocean. We left reluctantly for Bangkok at the end of the week and then started looking forward to a quick trip to Cambodia!

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Fishing boats setting out early morning

Fishing boats setting out early morning

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Nepal by IPhone

So I realized I left out loads of fun stuff I’d shot on my Iphone… The panoramas and silly moments and random yaks and beers and HDR photos- not to be forgotten! I promise Thailand and Cambodia posts are coming!

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People and places of the Annapurnas

Again, what a trip! Too many great moments of people or landscapes- decided to put up a little more about the people and locations

and some more of the what it’s like walking there…

Next up… Thailand’s beaches and Cambodia’s temples!

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Magic in the Annapurnas!

annapurna foothillsI arrived in Pohkara, found a place to stay for the night, and set about learning what I could about the hike I wanted to do- “The Sanctuary”- otherwise known as Annapurna Base Camp. I stopped into a guiding service to ask some questions about the route and conditions and found there was already someone there doing the same thing. Within minutes, the other woman (Sacha) and I had agreed we liked each other, we would hike together so long as we were free to take space when we felt like it, we would leave our schedule flexible (I’d had enough rigidity on my EBC hike to last a lifetime), and… we had to leave tomorrow. The last one was Sacha’s requirement as she was meeting her sister in ten days time and it was a ten day hike. She also suggested we start from the Gorepani side and see Poon Hill before heading up into the sanctuary.

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Abandoning my dreams of lazing at the lake side for a few days I packed my bag and met her on the road in the morning. From the very beginning we got on splendidly. Within 3 days we were referring to each other as “sisters”. And we didn’t ever seem to need to take space from one another. It was amazing. It felt like a dream trip. Conversation flowed, sunsets and sunrises were amazing, and I fell in love with Dal Baht after Sacha’s enthusiasm for it was enough to convince me to try again. It felt like almost every meal one or the other of us uttered the words “this is the best dal baht we’ve had yet…” We played on the side of the trail, took photos of each other doing silly things, day dreamed about the next time we’d splurge and order custard for desert, and hiked a lot. I’d had a nasty respiratory thing going on from my last trip to Kathmandu, and a few days in, Sacha got a bad cold. We got to Jhinu, soaked in the hot pools there, and declared ourselves too sick to carry on until we’d had a rest day. haha. We also decided to do some thinking about our route. From Jhinu we were meant to head up into the higher elevations to Annpurna Base Camp. But the hikers we’d been meeting were reporting snow (over a foot!) on the trail from a storm the day before we left for the hike. Add in that we were both very sick and neither of us really liked the idea of hiking up above 4,000 meters in a foot of snow in winter temps (it was mid December after all). So we bagged it and headed down. Crossed the highway, and hiked up to a place called Panchase. It was enough off the beat track that locals and even guides we talked to were amazed.  The reply “You’re going to Panchase??? WOW.” was said by everyone. Panchase lived up to it’s reputation. It was awesome!!! 360 degree views, the whole Annapurna massif in view, a blanket of clouds on the valley floor, the very best dal baht yet, and some very interesting and gorgeous hiking. Fantastic. Headed back to Kathmandu after another few days of exploring the desserts of Pokhara, where I hopped on a plane and headed to Thailand to meet Leigh.
Nepal Annapurna-0126
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Cho-La Pass, Mt. Everest, Kala Pattar, Lukla…

Descending from Cho-La Pass

Descending from Cho-La Pass

To connect the Gokyo and Everest valleys, we crossed Cho-la pass, at a heady 5370 meters or 17,600 feet. The walking and route was a well travelled highway of a trail, making the way easy to find. Cho-la was fantastic although I had a bit of a meltdown out the gate…

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I twisted my knee while still in view of the guesthouse as we hiked towards the pass and was having trouble putting weight on it. The folks I was with suggested going back, therefor not getting to Everest base camp. I was absolutely distraught. Two weeks of hiking, just to turn back before getting to the base of Everest? Yet if I went forward and my knee went out entirely, I could be putting myself and my friends in an uncomfortable position of having to get me down. So I decided to go slowly and thankfully my knee mostly cooperated. I fully enjoyed Kala Patar- the viewpoint for Everest- although I didn’t stay at the top for sunset due to some uh, unfortunate stomach matters. Haha. I lost a lot of weight on this hike, mainly just from an ongoing bad stomach. Hiking down was a bummer, I felt it would have been easy to just stay and carry on, see the other passes in the area, Ama Dablam base camp, etc. I fully resented being on a schedule at this point and would never entertain hiking in Nepal on a schedule again. With a friend, we had hired a guide, who we found to be completely inflexible. I thank him for really opening my eyes to Nepali culture, language, and customs, which was the reason for hiring him rather than for the actual trek. I would never have become so at home in Nepal so quickly without his patient explanations of everything, barring the often frustrating language barriers. His help with the Nepali language was a total game chager for my later experiences in Nepali, and was really great as I picked up a bit of Hindi laer in India! We got stuck in the clouds for an extra day in Lukla waiting for our flight to leave.   Got really lucky as we got out the second day on the last flight of the day due to cloud cover. Returned to Kathmandu for another round of incense, dust, and nose blowing, we splurged on mexican, pizza, fresh salads, beer, ice cream, fruit smoothies, and haha, more mexican and pizza and beer. I also snuck in a great trip to Bodnath stupa with a friend. At this point I took off for Pokhara alone, hoping to find a trekking partner for the Annapurnas.

Crossing Cho-La Pas

Crossing Cho-La Pas

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Namche Baazar and the Gokyo Valley

We reached Namche to find it in a cloud. Everything felt damp and dark, the sounds were muted. I remember squeezing close against a wet stone wall with a local woman pressed against me as a large Yak barreled out of the mist straight at us in an alley where both his flanks almost touched the walls and our faces.

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Yaks and mists aside, here was the land of tourists. The hawkers with their jewelry and incense, the music of Nepali prayer on repeat in all the shops and streets, german bakeries, internet cafes, and t-shirts showing Everest Basecamp. We hiked up the Gokyo valley first. It was spectacular. Rows of Yaks kicking up dust, their tounges lolling as they labored up the hillsides in the heat. I felt sorry for them and worried if they had water when they needed it, and my friends laughed at my concerns. The food was simple but very good. In hindsight, I wish I had embraced Dal Baht earlier, but I started my trip off with a bad stomach and eating dal baht, and it put me off of it till the Annapurnas. Instead I ate friend noodles with liberal amounts of tomato sauce and green chili paste. The landscape became open, snowy peaks in the distance. Occasional views of Everest, which seemed less exciting in person. So many gorgeous mountains, the allure of “the tallest one” for me paled in comparison with being surrounded with mountains on every side. And truthfully, it was surreal. The idea of staring at the tallest mountain on earth seemed abstract throughout the trip. Gokyo lake was beautiful and I regretted being on a time frame as I didn’t hike up to the 5 lakes above Gokyo and feel that would have been worthwhile. I could have on our rest day at Gokyo, but I found I really needed a rest day. And I had not taken care with my camera settings for the sunset over Everest the night before and found myself hiking a second time to the Goyko Ri viewpoint (5,357 meters or 17,575 feet) for sunset- a heady hike in itself. With the fatigue of altitude I could not have done both hikes in the same day.

Everest at sunset

Everest at sunset[gallery type="rectangular" ids="681,690,702,700,693,688,683,682,679,675,673,672,670,667,666,665,664"]

 

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Faces of the Middle Hills of Nepal

Well, I went to make this last post about hiking in from Jiri, and I had soooo many pictures of these wonderful people! I remembered all the moments from taking these pictures. Practicing my Nepali, laughing, playing with the kids, smiling respectfully at my elders, and turning corners on the trail to run into new people all the time, happy to talk and show you what they are doing.  So I had to do a post of the people alone, because I simply had too many pictures to lump them all into one post!

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Nepal Everest Hike-7858

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