Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thailand I (July 17 - July 26)

We arrived to Bangkok from Kathmandu by plane on July 17th in the afternoon. The flight was with Thai airlines and was unexpectedly comfortable. The weird thing was that the the huge plane was almost empty :)

Bangkok was a completely different place compared to what we have seen so far in India and Nepal. It is completely modern, with all facilities, shops and conveniences available in the western world. We have spent there just one day, since we should be flying to Delhi (and home) from Bangkok, so because of visas and time it makes more sense to do sightseeing there before our departure to India. Actually, I am very much looking forward to the next visit, because the temples really did look amazing and the city has a very chilled-out atmosphere. Our guest house was probably a popular place of the sex tourists in Bangkok, since we heard some funny noises from the nearby rooms both nights we have slept there. Not wanting to miss out on some fun, we have decided to buy one*) as well.

We left Bangkok on Saturday and headed to Ayuthaya, one of the most important historical places in Thailand, and its former capital. The city itself was not particularly exciting (and neither was our loud guest house loaded with some party-type Brits), but some of the ruins were fairly impressive.

On our way to Sukhothai, probably the most important historical site in Thailand (yes, Ayuthaya was one of the most important :)...) we stopped at Phitsanulok, quite a ghost town, at least at night. Having experienced some minor problems finding a guest house and a place to get food, we went to bed and had a good night sleep.

Sukhothai, located in a large and well-groomed park full of lakes, trees and historical monuments, was an inspiring place. We have hired a bike and spent the whole day driving around and enjoying ourselves. We even won the fight with our first coconut, that fell from a tree and managed to peel it, crack it and eat it :)

Our next stop was Chiang Mai, the trekking town. We did some sightseeing in the afternoon and decided to go for a trek for next 2 days. It was in the nearby Doi Inthanol National Park and although it was rather a touristic trek (so incomparable with our Nepal experience), it was a lot of fun. We did some elephant riding, bamboo rafting, slept in straw cottages in a local tribe village, learned a new funny Thai card game in the evening etc.

Tomorrow (Friday July 25th) we are heading through Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen to a place called Sop Ruak, which is the (in)famous Golden Triangle, the place where borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet - famous for drug, weapons and white flesh smuggling not only in the past. We should be crossing the Lao border at Chiang Khong/Huay Xai tomorrow in the afternoon and continuing our trip further.

As already mentioned, we are coming back to Thailand in about a month, spending some time around Bangkok and then crushing on some of the southern Thai islands (Phuket, Ko Phi-Phi, Ko Samet...) for last week of our trip to chill out there.

On behalf of the fatal crew :)

*) set of earplugs

Bangkok at night

Three pagodas, Ayuthaya

Wat Mahathat, Sukhothai

Elephant riding and bamboo rafting, near Chiang Mai

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Nepal II (July 13 - July 17)

On our way from Pokhara to Kathmandu we stopped in a near town Fishling to begin our "white-water rafting" experience in Nepal :) Nepalese rivers are divided into 5 classes according to how dangerous they are, class 1 being the easiest one and class 5 being almost non-raftable. Since our river Trishuli was supposed to be class 4+, we were quite scared but very much looking forward as well. Rafting lasted ca. 5 hours with a break for lunch at a river beach. Rafting was great, but much easier than actually expected - my guess is that the part of the river that we did was somewhere around class 3. However we still had a lot of fun, with around 12 people on the raft.

We arrived to Kathmandu after another 5 hours of bus ride, on July 14. We found our guest house and went to bed. Last two days in Nepal were spent visiting the sights of Kathmandu (Durbar Square, Swayambunath Stupa, Pashupatinath etc.) and also the sights of close town of Patan. Our primary plan was to hire a motorbike and visit also the town of Bhaktapur and Nagarkot, but there was a heavy admission fee to enter Bhaktapur and hiring a motorbike showed to be much more expensive (especially because of the current situation on the fuel market in Nepal, where you can buy gas just on the black market). Therefore we have decided to skip those two towns and not to hire a motorbike and visited a nearby small tourist-free village of Bungamati instead of that.

Our last night in Kathmandu was quite funny, since we came to the room to find out that our carpets have been washed (or we did not find any other explanation why there was 1 cm of water on the carpet floor, with walls and bathroom being completely dry) while we were not there. We went to bed and headed to the airport the next day in the morning.

After being punished at the airport for visiting Nepal and spending our money there (we had to pay some "government tax" (around $26) for leaving Nepal), we have set of to Thailand, namely to its capital Bangkok.

On behalf of the fatal crew :)

Rafting on the Trishuli river

Durbar Square, Kathmandu

Durbar Square, Patan

Swayambunath Stupa, Kathmandu

Holy man at Pashupatinath, Kathmandu

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pictures update 1

Well, we need to set few things right:)
Because of very limited access to Internet in India and Nepal, along with even more limited possibilities to download photos from our cameras to any computer (memory card readers not available), in combination with extremely slow Internet connection anyway, we haven't uploaded any of our own photos yet.

Those attached in previous posts were "googled" in order to provide an idea of what each post writes about:) We're glad to receive a positive feedback on these pictures, especially when being aware that our own ones are even better;-) Here are some of them, mostly featuring ourselves. Enjoy:)

On behalf of the fatal crew :)

In the plane to Delhi - Fatal trip begins! :)

In the bus, close to Jodhpur, India

In the desert, Jaisalmer, India

In the rickshaw, Jaipur, India

In front of the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Washing hands in the river Ganga, Varanasi, India

In the Vietnamese monastery, Bodhgaya, India

On the bus roof, close to Pokhara, Nepal

On the Poon hill, Annapurna Conservation Area, Nepal

In the guest house, Kathmandu, Nepal

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Nepal I (July 4 - July 13)

On July 4th, just having spent 2 weeks in India, we crossed the Indian-Nepalese border in a small village called Sonauli. As usually, there was a bus strike, so we were not able to take a regular bus to Lumbini, birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, who later achieved enlightenment in Bodhgaya, India (a place we visited as well) and became Buddha. So we had to take a cycle-rickshaw and spent next 3 hours "traveling" around 30 km to Lumbini. We had a small diner at some local "restaurant" and went to bed, ready to explore the village and surrounding monasteries in the early morning and then take a bus to Pokhara in the afternoon. However, I did not feel too good the next morning, so we decided to spend whole day in Lumbini and continue the other day. We had some rest and spent the afternoon outside, enjoying the variety of wonderful monasteries and temples. In the evening Martin got sick, so we have decided to spend one more day in Lumbini - which was actually getting quite boring, but was necessary - we really did not have much rest in India, so I guess those problems were a result of our exhaustion.

Almost completely recovered, on July 6th, we left to nearby Bhairawa to catch our bus to Pokhara, the small town in Himalayas (Annapurna region) where our trekking adventure was supposed to begin. Our first plan was to trek from Jomsom to Pokhara (around 6 days trek), but since getting a flight to Jomsom seemed quite unsure and we did not want to waste much time in Pokhara, we have changed the plan and decided to trek the Nayapul-Ghorepani-Tatopani-Beni loop (4 days).

We hired a Sherpa and set off for the journey. It has been an amazing experience - seeing the green hills with small and large waterfalls, observing the 8.000 m high mountains from the Poon Hill (3.200 m) in the morning, walking over the hanging bridges, discovering local villages. We have experienced all kinds of weather and came back on July 12th in the evening after a suicidal bus ride from Beni to Pokhara (which was probably the most dangerous and annoying part of our trekking experience). Extremely tired, but very happy, we went to bed, with one day of relax in front of us and one more week in Nepal to be spent.

We are going rafting tomorrow (July 14th) and then moving to Kathmandu. Our ticket from Kathmandu to Bangkok is already booked. South-east Asia, here we come!

On behalf of the fatal crew :)

Mayadevi temple, Lumbini

Lake Phewa Tal, Pokhara

The Himalayas from the Poon Hill

Annapurna I (8.091 m) from the Poon Hill

Typical view on our trek

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

India II (June 27 - July 4)

Although we didn't intend it, almost three weeks passed since the last post. Time goes so fast on the trip:)

As already mentioned in the previous post, we visited quite well known places in India during second week. We went by bus from Jaipur right to Agra, where we stayed for 3 days - including a whole day trip to Fatehpur Sikri - and of course not missing out the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort and the Baby Taj. Going by rickshaw turned out to be really cheap as soon as we allowed the driver to take us to local shops and manufactures (where they received a commission). This way, we not only enjoyed many hours of ride for less then €0,5, but also learned a lot about carpets, marble, jewelery, local dresses (mostly sari and various scarfs) etc.

A mysterious site of Hindu temples in Khajuraho was the next place to visit. In spite of making our journey to Varanasi a little bit longer (going through Jhansi), it was definitely worth visiting. Based on what we have read in our guide book, even the scientists don't know why so many (around 17, grouped into 3 main groups) giant temples were built in a short period of time, quite off the main roads. There is only 20,000 people living in Khajuraho, however, the village was very vivid and "western-style". On our way to Mahoba (from where we set off to Varanasi) we joined Steve, an English guy, who is already traveling for 2 years... really wonderful stories were shared.

Varanasi surprised both of us. We expected a small village situated along the coast of sacred river Ganga, being invaded by Buddhists from all around the world. Varanasi, similarly to Agra or Delhi, is actually quite a busy place - it has more than 2 millions inhabitants and 1 million rickshaws (our sensible guess:))... and is polluted accordingly. The coast of Ganga is luckily different, you can feel the religious spirit! Stairs going down to the river (called ghats, and being half-flooded at these monsoon times) are commonly dedicated to specific religious events. We couldn't miss the Puja, a one hour long ceremony, that is performed on the main ghat twice a day. The purpose of the Burning ghat is obvious, and definitely requires to feel the atmosphere, rather than to write about it.

Varanasi might have been the last city we visited in India, but fortunately we decided to visit Bodhgaya as well. On the one hand we had to spend 12 hours in a train (plus 2-4 hours of waiting for the train, as usual), but on the other hand we had a chance to meditate under the Bodhi tree, on the same place where lord Buddha reached the highest spiritual level of nirvana. Besides, related to the religious importance of the place, there is around 15 wonderful monasteries dedicated to various Buddhist nations.

Then we took our last Indian train, bus and rickshaw on our way to Sonauli (Bodhgaya > Gaya > Varanasi > Gorakhpur > Sonauli), where we entered Nepal on Friday July 4th. Actually it wasn't the last time in India - we are coming back to Delhi at the beginning of September to catch our plane to Vienna:)

On behalf of the fatal crew :)

Taj Mahal, Agra

Western group of Hindu temples, Khajuraho

River Ganga, Varanasi

One of many ghats on Ganga, Varanasi

"Second class sleeper" - our favorite train:)

Mahabodhi temple, Bodhgaya