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Bangkok to Ko Tao

We took a sleeper train out of Bangkok after deciding to head down to the islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Everyone we have talked to so far had spoken very highly of them and we were both excited to explore as much as we could before leaving for Laos.

Adam took off north for a while, intending to meet up again in a week or so, and Eiji -whom we bumped into again in Bangkok, expressed interest in meeting us further south at some point. This left Nicole and I travelling alone again for the first time since India, and we arrived at the station expecting a quiet ride. Instead we joined a carriage of fellow travellers all headed to the same island of Ko Tao.

The journey was smooth and in some places raucous, as the beer sold aboard began to take hold amongst the younger contingent. Still, the atmosphere was good, people’s excitement to be headed to the islands palpable in the air.

We made friends with a couple next to us; Erik and Surika, who had been to Ko Tao before, and gained a few good tips from them. Apparently good value BSAC and PADI dive qualifications can be gained on the island, so I may dig deep if it looks promising.

We arrived at Chumphon at 5am and took a connecting bus to the pier where a passenger ferry waited for us all to board. On the back deck was a massive pile of backpacks all stacked in a huge bundle. There must have been about 150 of them and the owners were all crammed below deck where high windows overlooked a placid sea.

We arrive at the island in a couple of hours so will update when I have more to show. We are expecting to stay for four days before moving on. The full moon is due around the 15th, so we will probably go to Ko Pha-ngan for the famous beach parties held there.


Our taxi slipped out of the airport and into the flow of traffic headed down the main motorway toward the centre of Bangkok. The road was smooth and quiet, and for the first time since leaving the UK, I had a very real sense that we were back in the modern age. Large, glass-walled skyscrapers dominated the landscape – including one building which looked suspiciously like the PS3, and a multi-coloured spectrum of lights and adverts lit up the pervasive darkness. Street corners had been taken over by 24 hour supermarkets and I was pleased to see both men and women present in the streets even at a late hour – something which was never seen in India or Nepal.

Our hostel, called Saphai Pae, was located in the financial district, conveniently close to a monorail station which extended travel to nearly all the good spots in Bangkok. If the monorail didn’t go somewhere then there were taxis available at a cost of only a few pounds, or alternatively we could take a ride up the river on a water taxi. The hostel was spacious, clean, and quiet. We had a shared dorm all to ourselves for the first few nights, eventually getting some German room-mates at the end of our stay.

Give Up Bangkok City Bangkok Sky Train

Another novelty of Thailand which we immediately appreciated, was the fact that the power stayed on at all times, and that internet access was once again incredibly fast. This all reinforced that feeling that we had in some ways re-joined the world that we were used to (but with Asian style) and having this infrastructure available came as a relief after months in fairly backward locations.

We left our bags at the hostel as soon as we arrived that first night, and took a taxi cab up to Kho San Road. This area of the city is known well for its varied nightlife. In the small space of a few blocks, thousands of tourists and Thais alike, teem through the narrow streets. Spirits are served up from pop-up bars in children’s sandcastle buckets, and the sight of a band of westerners weaving toward us with straws sticking out of their toy buckets made for a hilarious sight as we climbed out of the taxi. From brick and mortar bars came the sounds of live music, and several performances spilled out onto the streets. Further down the road nimble, acrobatic street dancers jumped long columns of tourists that had laid down for the spectacle. Pushing through the crowds, came straw-hatted old women, hawking fried spiders, crickets, cockroaches, scorpions and frogs from long steel trays.

Laughing Gas Anyone?

Of course, none of the afore mentioned curiosities quite match up to the shock of wandering into the wrong neighbourhood and coming face to face with a line of cajoling young women named Lola! Thankfully Nicole had me by the arm, but our friends were not so lucky and were set upon with some rather firm handshakes.

Toward the end of the night we sat at a small pop-up bar by the side of the road. Beers were served from a tray loaded with ice, which was set inside a repurposed green recycling bin. It was only when we were sat on stools at the side of the road enjoying our refreshments and the lights of a police car turned into the street, did we realise that these types of stall were illegal. All of a sudden the bar staff jumped into action. The bin lid came over and down over the stock and was wheeled to the side. The stools were gathered in a heartbeat and the subsequent tower stashed in a shop doorway of a shop. As the police crawled by the staff ignored them, chatting loudly to each other, and as soon as the lights disappeared everything came back out again as fast as it went away!

The street food in Bangkok is fantastic. Hot plates are washed in large plastic boxes and then applied to large gas burners, where the cooks throw noodles, vegetables, meat and fish together to make amazing dishes called Pad Thai. Varying amounts of chilli make this either very enjoyable or burn your head off, so a bit of directorial input is recommended to get the most out of your hard-earned baht.

The following days were spent exploring the Buddhist temples which dot the city. Dripping with silver and gold, and all so impeccably clean, we enjoyed strolling the manicured gardens and surveying the giant Buddhas which either sat, or reclined across the expansive temple rooms. One temple was so steep that you had to pull yourself up its stairs using a rope for aid.

Temple Guard Gold Leaf Monk Temple Golden Buddha

Fat Monk Reclining Buddha Golden Buddha

Temple Temple Statues Temple Statues Nicole Pirrie Climbing

A stroll into China town was a bit of a culture shock, especially seeing so many restaurants specialising in shark fin soup and displaying the massive fins in their windows, and others presenting bird nests as yet another delicacy that I don’t think I would have the heart to try.

We finished off our visit to Bangkok in the Chatuchak Weekend Market. This indoor market spanned a small network of roads and was packed with thousands of people. We managed to get lost inside several times, and were amazed to find an animal market deep in the depths that sold toy dogs of all varieties. Here we stocked up on some fresh clothes ready for the beach, and snacked on yet more excellent street food including a coconut ice crème served in an actual coconut.


Chitwan National Park – Jeep Safari

Today was Adam’s 30th birthday, and to mark the occasion, we thought it would be fun to take a guide and a jeep into the national park in the hopes of seeing some of the local fauna.


We arranged the guide through our hotel and negotiated favourable rates from the hotelier. Waking at five this morning, we took our breakfast and collected our pack lunches before walking down to the river to meet our guide, a young chap called Ram. We were kept waiting for ten minutes before Ram arrived flustered and late. We were a little annoyed that he was late, but it turned out to be providence, for once we crossed the river on a long canoe and climbed aboard our jeep, all the other parties had set off before us, leaving the trail clear and quiet. Indeed, we were only a few minutes into the forest when a Great One-Horned Rhino appeared, laying down in amongst the trees to our left.

The driver slowed the jeep and we climbed out to investigate further. Rhinos have been known to attack, so we kept our distance, with Ram out in front wielding a stout staff. The beast was massive, huge armour plates protected its flank and as we approached it looked up and flapped its ears back and forth.


We climbed back into the jeep and within another minute, another, larger rhino passed out of the foliage- this time to our right, and stood in the middle of the road blocking our way. The rhino eyed up the jeep, snorted and stamped its hoof, then it lowered its head as if to charge.

WHROOOM – The driver turned the key in the ignition and the roar of the engine in the eerie quiet of the forest, sent the rhino bolting into the trees in a mad scramble.


We were all filled with adrenaline at this point, rushing from our encounter with the rhino, and were further amazed when Ram shouted at the driver to stop, and stood pointing at a tree off to one side. This tree had low boughs, and there, sat leisurely in the fork, was a leopard, swinging a paw idly back and forth. Ram told us that in the eight years he had been a guide, he had only seen a leopard seven times. He accounted this good fortune to Adam who must be blessed on his birthday! We all happily agreed and spent a few minutes looking at this marvel.


Another jeep pulled up alongside us and the guide had a pair of Leica binoculars which he let us try. The optical quality was outstanding, and all of a sudden you could see every graceful movement that the leopard made as it roused itself and dismounted the tree in a smooth and fluid motion.

Moving on we encountered wild boar, which sped across the road as we approached. In the canopy Rhesus Macaque monkeys and Langur monkeys screeched and jumped from tree to tree. As we progressed further, peacocks appeared, some strutting about with their tails spread, others attempting to fly in a cumbersome manner.

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I was totally amazed by the amount of wild animals we were coming across, and seeing these creatures in their natural environment was like nothing I have ever seen before. Animals in zoos seem used to the presence of humans, but here, out in the wild, they all eye you up as either predator or as prey, and a distinct feeling of danger is never too far away.

The jeep itself was an ancient machine. 180,000km clocked on the odometer and we dreaded to think how many times it had bowled into this forest, riding up hard slopes, bouncing over vicious ruts and passing through deep fords. The suspension was pretty battered and the seats rock-hard. We found it helped to stand every so often, and this led to better views out over the woodland and occasional fields.

We stopped for lunch just as it started to rain. We were in an open-top jeep and started to get quite wet, luckily for us one of the army guards at a checkpoint offered us shelter under a gazebo. The army are the only people allowed to live in the national park, and soldiers frequently stopped us to check our permits were in order. Nepal has a long history battling poachers here and with so many endangered animals present it was great to see such oversight.

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After lunch we carried on our journey, in a large loop back to the river and our hotel. We glimpsed more boar and herds of deer that only seemed to notice us when we were on top of them. At one point an eagle flew from a branch overhead and Nicole spotted some storks nesting high up in a tree. Ram pointed out a brilliant blue bird called an Indian Roller and we were all once again amazed when another Rhino appeared blocking our road. This one had been in a fight and had a wound on its rump. Less aggressive, or maybe just disheartened from its recent battle, it gave us one look then rushed into the tall grass, smashing a path before it.

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We thought that our luck had been outstanding today, and imagine our surprise when the driver shouted out and stopped the jeep once more. In a tree, much closer than before was another leopard. Ram could barely contain himself and led a foray closer to the tree to get some better pictures. Despite our best efforts to remain stealthy, we had only ventured a few metres from the jeep when the leopard spotted us moving and lost itself in the grass.

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A large peal of thunder marked a sudden downpour and we all raced back to the river, in order to cross back over and return to our hotel and some dry clothes.


Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha and a world heritage site, is marked most significantly by a small temple built around the spot where he was born, and the pool in which his mother bathed before the birth. To the north of this spot, several square kilometres of land have been dedicated to the building of Buddhist monasteries by nations which have a significant Buddhist demographic. This unfortunately comes off as a bit of a willy-waving contest between the Asian countries; for example the Thai temple is placed next to the Cambodian temple, which is next to the Burmese temple. Each one issuing boasts on plaques, of how much money was invested by each country. Of course this is all very ironic as the Buddha was dead-set against ‘worldly goods’ and eschewed his own importance, which this site makes a huge deal of.

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Overall, the temples were nice to visit, and very peaceful, but the lack of actual monks made the experience a little lacklustre. I must have only seen three or four monks during the entire visit and they seemed to be happily chatting to security guards rather than doing any meditation or chanting! Perhaps they were as disillusioned by this place as we were!

Unfortunately the small village on the side of the monastic zone where we had to stay was grubby and untidy, and had swarms of mosquitos that rose up from the adjoining swamp land after dusk. After looking around the main sites, we decided we had enough and booked out tickets out of there for the next day.

Poon Hill GPS Track

I have just had chance to sort through the GPS logs that I took during our trek and have uploaded them to a map below.

If you are interested you can download the KML file and open it in Google Earth to see how long various parts of the route took.

Download KML File Here

[flexiblemap src=”” width=”100%” height=”500″ maptype=”terrain”]

Terror Day

Well, that journey explains why so few of the Pokhorites that we met had actually left their city!

The road south snaked violently back and forth along high ridges that overlooked plunging drops into rocky canyons below. At times, the tarmac disappeared leaving a rutted path of sand and loose stone.

Our bus driver did his best to push the vehicle to its limits in both speed and  structural integrity. G-force would pull us to the sides of the bus as he did his best to bully every other vehicle out of the way with nothing more than thirty tonnes of steel and an insane grin plastered across his face.

Adding to the atmosphere was the way in which the Nepalese aboard would cross themselves when we approached a particularly tricky bend, and throw loose change from the windows as we crossed the canyon bridges, all the while praying loudly.

Well, we arrived safely in Lumbini. The good news is that we don’t need to take that road, or that driver again!

Bus Day

We have just climbed aboard a tourist bus direct to Lumbini, which is the birthplace of the Buddha and a haven for Buddhist monks.

The trip will take us about eight hours south to the edge of Nepal, where we plan to stay for a few days.

The day is quite clear so hopefully we should get some spectacular views.

Five Day – Poon Hill Trek

Day 1


We awoke early in Pokhara for a 9am departure. Most of our surplus gear went into a storage closet in the hotel for the duration of the trek, and we set foot outside to meet our guide and driver.

Our guide was a Nepalese man called Tanka. He had a masters degree in economics, but apparently found it more profitable to act as a guide. Paid 2000NPR or about £16 a day, he would earn about twenty times the national average wage.

Our driver turned out to own a small car rather than the expected jeep, and so with a bit of grumbling we crammed in and set off on our hour long journey, over hills and through valleys, further and further from any major settlement. As we progressed we could see a visible shift of goods on the road. Lorries carrying commercial goods, metals and the like, were replaced by rickety trucks loaded high with fire wood- the default currency in the mountains.

We were dropped at the roadside in a small settlement called Nayapul. At a small café we were served up a round of Nepalese tea and we got our bearings with help from the guide and our GPS unit, before starting the walk through the sleepy village. Vendors offered us their inflated drinks and high-energy packet foods as we passed, but we declined as we were already fully equipped with food we had picked up in Pokhara.

Tanka led the way, up a muddy path and over a large bridge wide enough for a large truck. We all marched on, the sticks which we hired, chinking on the concrete floor as we walked.

Up ahead of us lay large hills covered in a dense blanket of trees, and somewhere beyond the hills, lay the vast Annapurna peaks which we would see on the third day.


The march was fairly easy going to begin with, but as we climbed higher into the hills Nicole found the weight of her backpack to be slowing her down. We would turn a corner and look up at the road as it climbed ever upwards and Nicole would let out a groan or an exasperated squeak. Soon the fourteen kilos on my back was dragging me down as well, and yet we trudged on. Our march led us twelve kilometres and finally we reached a small settlement called Tikhedunga. A handful of tea houses straddled a river, where a tiered waterfall spilled down the cut in the rocks. Over this waterfall ran a swinging metal bridge, which we passed over in order to drop our bags at the guest house. As we reached the far side of the bridge a convoy of mules came up behind us, laden with goods expected further up the hill.

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A long hot shower followed, then a bowl of spaghetti and a victory beer. After dinner Nicole and I wandered back down to the waterfall bridge and spent some time looking at the Milky Way, brighter and clearer than I have ever seen it before. Finally the cold started to bite and we withdrew to our rooms where we promptly passed out.



Day 2


I awoke at 6am as the light began to fall through our mesh curtain. Soon the birds were chirping in an unfamiliar language, and I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag for the promise of a hot shower. No luck. The water came out freezing, and I clenched my jaw and tolerated it as I was already cold from the walk to the outhouse. I returned to the room shivering and dived back under the quilts to warm up.

We took a mixed breakfast in the dining hall. Nicole had cornflakes, Adam an omelette and I chose a cup of hot milk to add to a bag of granola I picked up in Pokhara. Never had a bowl of soggy granola tasted so good!

Our trek today was going to be tough. To begin with we would have to rise over two thousand meters in altitude over just a couple of kilometres. To accomplish this ascent we were faced with an impossibly high, stone staircase which wound up above the village and out of sight. Tanka told us that we would have to climb over three thousand of these large steps before the trail would even out a little, and that would still only put us about a quarter of the total distance needed to reach our target of Ghorepani which lies at the foot of Poon Hill.

Our struggle with our bags yesterday, gave us pause. Nicole and I conferred with the guide and decided it might be best to hire a porter for the day. At least this way we would have a fighting chance of reaching Ghorepani by nightfall! Our porter was a middle-aged Tikhedungun who bound our two rucksacks together and then anchored them to his forehead with a large band. With a forward posture, he set his gaze to the floor and spritely began the ascent leaving us both feeling very unfit.

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I still don’t quite know how we made it up those stairs. Up we climbed for about five hours, stopping occasionally to pause for breath and a look back at the collection of guesthouses dwindling in size behind us. Slowly but surely we stuck at it and in time the scenery changed from the dusty staircase zig-zagging through stepped fields, through small settlements with dry stone walls, to the first signs of snow banked against the small houses as we neared the top of the stairs. The villages changed as well. The hill folk could be seen doing carpentry, drying seed in the sun and butchering buffalo with long knives. All the while we were met with salutations and smiles as we passed through these people’s homes and lives.

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At the top of the stairs we stopped for lunch. Previous experience had taught us to order the same dish if you want it delivered a) at the same time, and b) relatively quickly. Unfortunately this tactic didn’t work for us today and we waited for a good 40 minutes before our fried rice arrived. As we waited, other travellers we had managed to pass on the stairs before came up and overtook once again, often calling out in good-spirited competition.

After lunch, and a few stretches to get our legs moving again, we were happy to find that the path did begin to even out a bit. Some parts of the hill which faced the wind had frozen up however, and we slowly picked our way over icy and treacherous ground. Our path took us alongside a small stream which frequently fell from high ledges. This was by far the most beautiful part of the journey so far and the snow gave everything a magical feel.

Eventually, after seven hours of walking we came into Ghorepani, our bodies screaming for rest. As we climbed up through the village (on yet another long and terrible staircase), we turned a corner, and there in front of us, providing the perfect backdrop to our home for the night, were the Annapurna peaks. These mighty, white-capped mountains jutted into the sky, dwarfing us and everything else in sight. The grand hills that we had just climbed paled into insignificance, and I felt incredibly humbled. Despite the awe, we had to get into in to the warm, and so joined some other travellers inside the guesthouse alongside a giant wood-burning hearth.

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Tomorrow we wake at 4.30am. As long as the weather is clear and not snowing, we will climb for an hour to the top of the nearby Poon Hill. From there we should see at least fourteen peaks as the sun rises in the east.



Day 3


Getting up for five in the morning was a pretty tall order, but amazingly we managed it. Gorhepani lay at the foot of Poon hill, and the promise of spectacular sunrise views of the range got us dressed in as many warm clothes as we could fit on. Armed with head torches we joined a procession of other hikers up the stony, snowy path.

Fresh snow had fallen overnight and this made our climb a little slower than anticipated. We reached the summit just after six, moments before the sun crested over the foothills. Everyone on the hill stood there in collective appreciation of the amazing view that surrounded us, and we spent a good hour taking photos and drinking tea served by a team of opportunistic traders.

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After dawn we headed back down the hill for breakfast. The way down was icy, and each step felt hazardous. It was here that Adam found a huge wizard staff with a forked end. As he neglected to pick up walking poles before, this lucky find saw him down the hill without any problems. It was this walk that convinced us to hire our porter for the second day. Unfortunately at the prospect of another day lugging our bags – this time in the ice, our porter shook his head vehemently and refused. Luckily we were able to find another man willing to bear the load and when Adam offered him an extra ten dollars, he even agreed to carry his bag. The total load must have been 35KG, but this man lifted it like it was nothing. With all our backpacks bound together, he headed out the door and set the initial pace for us to follow!

We trekked east out of the village and into a forested area thick with snow. Horses ran free here, and a poorly behaved group followed alongside us, biting at each other’s flanks, and kicking at each other’s heads. The stony path we followed climbed up even higher and soon we were on a ridge, again looking north at the insanely massive mountain range.

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We must have trekked for a good four hours before stopping for some lunch and our route took us slowly down into a thick forest. The path was icy still and we had to take extra care so the going was slow, but soon we came to a river which we followed more easily for some time. We passed many waterfalls, one of which had icicles suspended alongside the flow of water. This had to be the freshest air I had ever breathed, and the only sound in the forest was the crack of twigs under our feet and the occasional call from a distant Yak.

After lunch we hit the mud. Hours of hard slog took us up muddy hills and then back down again. At one point we ascended again and came around the side of a hill. Below our sheer path stood distant foothills, and circling nearby, a massive eagle hunting for its next meal. After a few turns it issued a cry and soared into the distance.

We came into Tadipanni around five in the afternoon, and after dumping bags and taking warm showers, we had some dinner. Here the prices were massively inflated compared to anywhere else so far, mainly due to its remoteness. Even if I wanted an expensive beer though I didn’t get the chance. After eating I felt so shaky I hit the sack at an early half eight.



Day 4


Today we got up at a leisurely eight am. I peeked out of the curtain and what was thick fog the previous night, had been replaced by the side of a mountain. Awesome.

We left the tea house by nine and began a muddy walk back into the forest. Soon, the mud dried up and the path dropped slowly but steadily into warmer woodland.

I don’t remember too much about the rest of the day, because shortly after we fell into a steep descent, down uneven and jagged rocks. This lasted for about six hours and was really heavy on the quads and feet. By the time we were halfway down and stopping for lunch, my knees felt swollen and we were all cursing the infinite staircase both strongly and loudly.

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A dog began to follow us down, darting in front of our legs as we struggled down, then hopping away onto the wall before disappearing for a minute or two only to return. The dog took a real liking to Adam and after he was almost tripped and sent tumbling down the steps for the third time, he emptied his bottle of water over the creature to try to get it to go away. No luck, the dog just stood next to Nicole and shook off the water all over her, then ran back to Adam’s heel.

Finally we came to the bottom of the steps and encountered a large mother goat stood in the middle of the path, guarding her newly birthed offspring. We carefully passed by the side and the goat gave us a wary but permissive look. No such luck for the dog however, who on trying to creep past was chased away by a very angry and protective mother.

We had arrived in Syauli Bazar, a small collection of homes and guesthouses that sat flush to a fast river with rapids that frothed and surged. Dinner was served just after dark and we all had a massive helping of Dhal Bhaat, a lentil curry which keeps getting refilled by the waiter.

Tomorrow we have been promised a fairly flat walk of only two hours, then back to the car and on to Pokhara for some good food and a solid sleep!



Pokhara sits next to a large lake, in the shadow of the Annapurna mountain range. In the days you can see flocks of paragliders swarming around the near hills, and the town itself is pretty much just a staging area for the many travellers wishing to hike into the nearby hills and mountains.

We set up camp at a hotel called the Marigold and spent the last few days planning out a walk into the Himalayas. Mindful of our inexperience in all things trek, we found an easier five day circuit which takes us high up into the foothills where we get to see fourteen of the Annapurna peaks, but doesn’t require crampons, ice picks and superhero strength.

The highlight of this trip should be the third day where we reach the summit of Poon Hill, from here we should be able to see for miles around.

Pokhara is full off vendors selling knock-off trekking gear, and so we loaded up on “North Face” and “Mamut” clothing as well as some more traditional yak wool blankets, to help us deal with the cold nights. Nicole bought some nice boots, whilst I decided to rent some, along with some sleeping bags and walking poles. How much of this we will need should quickly become apparent, when it’s too late to turn around!

Tomorrow we rise early for a 9am start. We take a Jeep to Nayapul where we begin our walk.

I’ll try to post as we go, but if mobile range doesn’t permit then it will be when we return to civilisation.