Just like old times

I feel like I’ve only just arrived in Perth, but it’s not long before I leave again. On Tuesday, I fly to Melbourne. This afternoon, driven by a fit of nostalgia and craving for kebabs from Broadway, I visited UWA for the first time in a long time.

Any UWA student will tell you that Ararat Kebabs on Broadway make the best kebabs in Perth. They were a regular lunch choice while I was a student, and the kebab I had today was just as good as I remembered them to be.


Mathematics Building. Crawley, WA.

Thailand

Bangkok: Saturday 2/6 – Sunday 3/6

The flight from Kathmandu to Bangkok was pleasantly uneventful. Jet Airways are pretty nice to fly with for a cheap airline, and the amount of legroom you get on an aeroplane feels like absolute luxury compared to Nepali buses. Indian and Nepali airports have more security checks and bureaucracy than I’ve encountered anywhere else before, though. My boarding passes ended up with half a dozen stamps on it from various checks before I was finally allowed to board.

My one mistake was not getting my remaining few Nepali rupees exchanged for Thai baht before I left Nepal. No money changers in Thailand accept rupees. I guess I’ll be hanging onto a few hundred rupees as souvenirs.

Bangkok was a lot more Westernised and less chaotic than anywhere I’ve been to since I left Kuala Lumpur in January. It’s also a lot bigger than I realised. I got a taxi to the tourist district of Khao San Road, an area which confirms all of the worst stereotypes of whitefella backpackers. Drunken Aussies and Europeans running amok amongst cheap alcohol. Of course, I was on my way to be exactly one of those people at the full moon party on Koh Phangan. Overall, Bangkok was a bit of a culture shock after the conservatism of India and isolated mountains of Nepal. Even Thamel, the tourist and drinking capital of Kathmandu, is relatively tame in comparison.

I picked a hotel at random and it turned out to be right on top of a nightclub. 3am and the music was still pumping so loud you could feel it. Whoops.

On Sunday I found a nice vegetarian cafe, had a tofu red curry and waited until my train was ready to leave. Thai sleeper trains are more expensive and less fun than the Indian ones. No chai-wallahs wandering up and down the aisles. Nobody talking to anyone else. The food is expensive and disappointingly mediocre. There’s a little bit more privacy and the beds are a bit more comfortable, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Koh Phangan and Full Moon Party: Monday 4/6 – Sunday 10/6

The ferry to Koh Phangan was one of the choppiest rides I’ve ever been on. After a few hours we arrived, I found somewhere to stay at the next beach along from where the full moon party happens and went into town to have dinner.

The big party was happening on Tuesday night and I was planning on a quiet night on Monday after not having slept too well the previous couple of nights, but as I was heading back to the shack where I was staying, I bumped into a German couple who were going to a rave party by a waterfall and encouraged me to join them. So on my ‘quiet night’ I ended up drinking gin and tonic out of a bucket and dancing to trance music until after 3am.

The full moon party on Tuesday was also pretty fun – the first time in years that I’ve stayed up partying until sunrise. The weather here has been pretty rubbish for beach-going, with grey skies and rain most afternoons, but that actually made for really fantastic beach parties. Alcohol by the bucket, music blaring, dancing in rain with everyone getting drenched and still having a good time made it a little bit different from anything I’d experienced back home. I felt a little bit overdressed, though; I only saw one other guy wearing a collared shirt, with most people wearing singlets or going bare-chested.

A couple of nights like that was enough for me, and so it was time to move on to somewhere a bit more secluded for a while. On Thursday I took a boat to Haad Thian, just a couple of beaches down from Haad Rin, but not joined to any of the surrounding areas by road. It was a long way from being an isolated paradise where I could have a long stretch of beach purely to myself, but much quieter than Haad Rin or, say, Cottesloe in the summer time. I couldn’t help but think that the beach itself was pretty average compared to what I’ve grown up around in Western Australia.

The first place to stay I saw was relatively posh resort, which did also have cheap dorms, but they turned out to be all booked out. I went next door, which turned out to be rather more to my taste anyway. I ended up with a shack—sorry, “bungalow”—to myself, from which I could see the beach out of one window and the jungle out of the other. I had my own hammock, and the restaurant nearby did cheap Thai food with tofu options available on almost all of the dishes. Sure, there was no hot water and the toilet was a squatting type, but that’s more than sufficient for me. Okay, so a hot shower is quite welcome when it’s cold outside, but here in the tropics by the beach, completely unneccessary.

Three days of beachside solitude. How’s the serenity?

Return to Australia: Monday 11/6 – Wednesday 13/6

Haad Thian to Perth took 47 hours, travelling by boat, taxi, ferry, two buses, another taxi, two aeroplanes and a Ford Focus. I need to stop telling myself that I’m home now, even though in some sense I am. I grew up in Perth, most of my friends and family live here, but it’s no longer where I live. I don’t have a house or flat of my own here any more. It’s not the end of my travels. I’m only here for thirteen days, and then I’m off to Melbourne. But Melbourne doesn’t quite feel like home yet either. I don’t have anywhere permanent to live there. The prospect of getting myself settled down in a new city and readjusting myself to the university lifestyle means that my life will continue to be filled with Adventures in the near future.

At the same time, Perth seems like a good opportunity to draw an arbitrary line in the sand. This one particular Adventure – travelling through Asia – is over and I’m back in Australia. Or as the British would quaintly put it, returned from abroad. I expect I’ll continue to write in this blog, at least once I’ve reached Melbourne, although I’m not sure yet what kind of things I’ll have to say.

Return to Kathmandu, plus Pokhara

Kathmandu II: Monday 21/5 – Friday 25/5

Almost as soon I arrived in Kathmandu, checked back into a hotel and had a shower, I checked the Internet. To my surprise, there was a Facebook message from Tristan, who I worked with back in Perth, saying that he was in Kathmandu and wondering if I was too. So we arranged to go for drinks at an Irish pub, where I ordered a Guinness. It turned out to be the very last Guinness they had left, thanks to the strikes. The Irish pub was a bit noisy and smokey, so we ended up moving on to Sam’s Bar – definitely my favourite pub in Kathmandu. Shortly after we arrived, there was a voice calling out my name from behind. It was Soffia, who I’d met in Malaysia back in January. The world is indeed very small. Soffia was there with a number of friends she knew through volunteer work she was doing at an orphanage. This pretty much set the theme for my return to Kathmandu, which ended up being quite social and more than a little bit alcoholic.

Tuesday morning, crawled out of bed, went to get breakfast and discovered that all of Kathmandu appeared to be shut. Of course: strikes were still going on, and it wasn’t just transport that was affected. Fortunately, a few places were still open. It was easy enough to find somewhere to eat, even easier to find a dodgy chap wanting to sell you hash, but the travel agent where I’d booked my Tibet tour had its shutters down. I did manage to re-book my bungy jumping trip for Thursday – the one which would have been doing the day before I left for trekking if I hadn’t I’d slept through it.

Fortunately, by Wednesday the strikes had stopped. But when I went to check on the status of my Tibet tour, the news was not so great: the Chinese had made it yet more difficult again to get Tibet permits, and unless the rules changed again in my favour, it was incredibly unlikely that I’d get one. I decided to cancel the trip and get a refund rather than keep waiting.

Bungy jumping was a fantastic experience. I opted to do both the canyon swing and the bungy jump, and I’m glad I did. The canyon swing was first. It was pretty unnerving to just walk off a small platform and into thin air, 160 metres above a river. Sure, you’ve got a harness around you and you’re holding onto a rope, but there’s an instinctive part of the brain that is very, very certain that this is still a rather bad idea and the supposedly-rational side of my brain had a hard time taking back control of my legs.

And then I was falling. This lasted for what seemed like forever, though according to the people running it, you’re only in freefall for 6.5 seconds. Once my brain had adjusted to this, there were amazing views along the gorge. The actual bungy jumping was even more exhilarating, if less scenic, because the forces acting on you are even stronger. You jump off the platform, then you’re upside, then you’re the right way up again, and with each bounce you’re very briefly in a period of “anti-gravity” where all the forces acting on you cancel each other out. But it’s over very quickly, and then you’re grabbing onto the bamboo poles on the ground and returning to a more normal experience of gravity.

On Friday night, I was once again at Sam’s Bar and got a bit of a surprise when Tristan and his partner Kim wandered in. Perthed in Kathmandu, twice! Never mind that I had an early morning bus to Pokhara booked, I didn’t get to bed until around 1am.

Pokhara: Saturday 26/5 – Thursday 31/5

After a few hours of uneasy sleep, I woke up at 5am to pack for Pokhara and at 6:15am I was out of the hotel and on my way to the bus stop. The bus was relatively nice by Nepali standards but there was no way I could sleep on way with the bumpy tarmac meaning that I occasionally discovered myself airborne. We arrived a little after 2pm and abandoning my usual refusal to go to places recommended by taxi drivers, I followed the dude’s recommended “your taxi is free if you go to my friend’s hotel” place. It turned out to be quite decent, just south of central Lakeside, free wi-fi and only $5 per night. I checked in and collapsed in exhaustion for a few hours.

Pokhara wasn’t the best time I’ve ever had. It was approaching monsoon season, so it was humid and most afternoons and early evening there would be heavy rain, often thunderstorms. This is wonderful when you’re inside a bar drinking cheap cocktails or at a restaurant chowing down tasty food, but not really conducive to doing very much outdoors. The usual touristy things to do in Pokhara are horse riding and paragliding, neither of which really appealed to me. There was a four-day trek to Poon Hill which, in retrospect, would have been a more enjoyable way to spend my time in the area, but I would have had to have started planning it back when my feet were still blistered and my knees and legs resistant to any form of movement.

On Thursday I caught the bus back to Kathmandu for one last day there before flying to Thailand, the final country in my adventure.

Kathmandu III: Friday 1/6

Back when I first arrived in Nepal and was trying to make plans to go trekking, I looked on trekkingpartners.com to see if there was anyone else interested in doing the Langtang/Gosainkund treks at the same time I was. I exchanged a few emails with an American named Joanna who wanted to the same trek, but our schedules didn’t quite work out. We get along quite well via email, though, and had each done quite a bit of travel in places the other wanted to go, so arranged to have dinner instead.

So I stayed an extra night in Kathmandu rather than flying straight to Bangkok so that I could have dinner with a woman I met on the Internet. As it turned out, we actually got along even better than either of us expected, and it was sad to have to say goodbye after spending just a few hours together. I feel that there should be some kind of moral to this story, but have no idea what it is. Oh well. Yay for new Internet friends, anyway.

Updated Map!

I’ve just updated my map of where I’ve been to show my travels through Nepal, including a rough approximation of the trekking route.