A Travellerspoint blog

June 2012

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Why Malaysia, you ask?

As we travelled throughout Central and South America, we met many travellers who had travelled extensively throughout Asia. Since we had not decided where we wanted to go to in South East Asia, we posed this question to these travellers ,”If you would suggest only one country to visit in South East Asia, where would you recommend us to go?” The majority enthusiastically answered, ”Vietnam!” But as we travelled throughout Nepal, many highly recommended Malaysia. Also, we were in dire need of a beach and relaxation after our Himalayan adventure. Therefore, we decided to do over 2 weeks in Malaysia, a few days in Singapore, then 1 week in Vietnam.

Kuala Lumpur welcomed us with organized arms. After being in India and Nepal, organization was such a welcome feature! Malaysia was the first country we visited that did not require a stupid form to fill out at immigration. All you need to do is hand over your passport, have your fingerprints checked, and they can decipher whether you’re a criminal or not! I think that’s sufficient enough.

Kuala Lumpur is very multi-cultural city with a strong Muslim influence. It was refreshing to be in a city where men and women work as equals, couples can hold hands in public, women are not given unwanted attention for wearing a tank top and shorts, and people of different cultural and religious backgrounds are happily dining out together. Public transportation was efficient, the people are friendly and polite, and people actually drive in a designated lane! What a concept!
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We stayed at an incredibly clean hostel in Chinatown. There was a fantastic food court nearby as well. Derek always gets fidgety and giddy whenever he gets excited about food – and here, he was thrilled!

The food was something Derek and I found to be something we eagerly looked forward to all the time. It’s delicious and Malaysians rightfully take much pride in their cuisine. It is ridiculously inexpensive to eat in Kuala Lumpur. At a Hawker stall, you can eat a hearty meal for less than $3 per person. When we “splurged” at an expensive restaurant, we would spend $20 in total! And don't forget to try the "local Penang coffee" -- it's so delicious!!
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We actually spent time in the malls. For those who do not know Derek, he hates shopping. It’s his kryptonite. He literally loses energy, focus, and I believe he gets dizzy spells from it. Luckily for me, the malls actually have amazing food at the food courts so Derek had no choice but to go to the mall! Also, I discovered the Japanese clothing UNIQLO! Great stuff for great value! Finally, a brand of clothing for flat Asian bums like mine! But the greatest part about the mall is that it’s air-conditioned. It is so humid in KL and an escape from the humidity and heat outside is welcoming.
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Strangely enough, our old friend S.A.M. happened to be in KL at the same time as us! We met up with him, had dinner in KLCC, and then checked out the Petronas Towers – the largest twin towers in the world.
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We also visited Skybar because of its drinks and views. India and Nepal do not serve wine (well, they do but I think much taste as if it’s brewed in someone’s toilet), so I FINALLY had my wine fix! Oh yeah – the views are great too!
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Kuala Lumpur was definitely a good choice to visit when trying to escape the craziness in Asia!

Posted by krisses 04:46 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Kathmandu- In and Around

After almost 3 weeks of stunning nature views, breathing in fresh mountain air, and enjoying the serenity of ACTUAL peace and quiet, we decided to spend 3 days in Kathmandu to see the city and its surrounds.

We stayed at a fantastic hostel called Yellow Hostel right outside of the backpacker district of Thamel. The owners were very involved, welcoming, and extremely friendly. The food was delicious and the vibe was very relaxed. The hostel is owned by a Nepali woman and her Swiss husband, and their children spoke fluent French, English, Nepali and Hindi! I received some tips from the Nepali woman on how to teach your children different languages so that one day our children can be multilingual!

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The Walk
Only equipped with our Lonely Planet book and Derek's internal ability as a human GPS, we guided ourselves through the allies of Kathmandu towards Durbar Square. Along the way, there are thousand year old temples, buildings, and relics that are embedded within the more recent architecture of Kathmandu. For instance, you’ll see things such as a tiny, thousand-year old statue of Ganesh squished between 2 convenience stores, or an ancient temple that indirectly used as an island for a roundabout and is surrounded by motorcycles. We also happened to adopt a stray Canadian along the way who became lost while exploring the city by herself before she caught her flight back home to Toronto. Be warned that there are some “graphic” carvings entrenched within these ancient pagodas, but here’s what we saw during our walk:

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Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur was once the capital of Nepal and is now a beautiful UNESCO heritage site. It is rich with towering pagodas, beautiful stuppas, various Nepali ethnic groups going about their daily lives, and ancient inhabited architectural buildings. Thanks to our Lonely Planet guide, we were taken off the beaten track and enjoyed a day free of tourists and tour groups, peacefully exploring the city ourselves.

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Swayambunath
Born in 253 BC, we were lucky to be in Kathmandu during Buddha’s 2575th birthday! We decided to check out how they were celebrating at the Swayambunath Buddhist temple. It is also known as the “monkey temple” but people will quickly correct you to say its proper title. We took local transportation to the temple and were overcome by the seas of people going in and out of the temple! We had a great time watching monkeys running around, families enjoying their day together, and monks trying to keep up with the festivities. It was great to see the beautiful Tibetan colors and flags draping across the temple. It was truly a festive experience!
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Bhoudhanath
This was one of the holiest sites in Nepal with a massive stuppa as its most popular holy landmark. The humongous white stuppa was built in the 14th century after the original one was destroyed by the Mughals. We had a peaceful visit.
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One can see why people visit and revisit Nepal for months at a time. Its cultural diversity, wonderful people, and the Himalayas are just a fraction of things to appreciate while visiting there. Given how disorganized the government is and how negligent it can be with its people, it’s a wonder that the people are not more jaded.

I look forward to visiting Nepal again one day and definitely invite those who haven’t gone to do the same! And while you're at it, order a huge Tongba (Tibetan Hot Beer!)
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Posted by krisses 05:15 Archived in Nepal Comments (2)

Annapurna Base Camp Trek - Part 5

Final push to the top!


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

While looking through pictures and videos of this and thinking about what it is I would write I realized the less I write and the more I post the better. This video has all our thoughts as we make this last push to the top and our most immediate impressions of the stunning views we saw that day.

Unfortunately, my words at the end of the video ended up turning a bit prophetic. It was only less than a week after we got down from ABC, and only 1 day after we left Pokhara (the city where most hikers stay before heading into the range) that a giant avalanche broke a natural river damn in the Annapurna range. Pokhara was flooded and there was a number of people who went missing on one of the trails including a group of foreign hikers. I don't want to scare anyone away from hiking by writing this, but it is a reminder that when dealing with nature you always have to respect its power. Just because its not avalanche season does not mean you can be careless when there are clear avalanche conditions obvious to even an amateur like myself.

The hike trail itself is extremely safe and very well maintained. The people all long the trail are extremely friendly and helpful and you always know that you can find help should you need it. It is very easy to hike the entire trail yourself but a porter could be useful to make it a less physically demanding trek. We saw people of all levels of physical fitness and every age group. In the end it is truly an adventure of a lifetime, one you will NEVER forget, and I would highly recommend it to everyone regardless of fitness or age!

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Click here to see these and other pictures in better quality

Posted by dariusz 05:22 Archived in Nepal Comments (1)

ABC Trek Part 4 – Crossing Avalanche Chutes


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

The day started with some stunning views of the Machapuchre Mountain or as it’s commonly called the “Fishtail” because it looks a bit like the back flipper of a diving fish.

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The hike up to Himalaya was a steep uphill and we were very happy we did not try to do it the day before. The down side was that meant we were going to be hard pressed to make it to ABC (Annapurna Base Camp) this day. However, we had decided that if we can’t make it to ABC, then MBC (Macchapucchre Base Camp) would be our minimum goal for the day. Since its only a couple of hours maximum to get from MBC to ABC we could always leave our bags at MBC early next morning and run up to ABC to see the views. Regardless, we knew we had a long way to go, even to get to MBC, and we would be passing through some terrain filled with Avalanche Chutes. This sign reminded us of this fact, as if we needed any reminding:

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The views along this part of the trail, after we passed Deurali, were some of the most amazing I have ever seen in my life. The trail goes along the bottom of a steep avalanche valley with gorgeous snow peaks on both sides. As you walk down you can feel the adrenaline level go up a bit as you look around stunned at the beauty and power around you. It’s a bit like observing a gorgeous yet dangerous wild animal. You are mesmerized by its beauty but yet at the same highly aware of its power and unpredictability. Its times like this that I just need to post pictures even though I know no picture can truly replicate the staggering majesty and beauty of what we saw that day:

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The last part of the days hike was an absolute killer with the worst practical joke ever near the top. The final climb to MBC, where it was clear we were going to end up for the day, was a gruelling 1 hour straight up some rocks covered with mud and snow. Then just as we rounded the last giant boulder we saw the MBC sign and were overjoyed that the torture had ended. We had been following a couple of porters on our way up that last bit but to our surprise they didn’t head towards the MBC building. We yelled at them pointing at the structure, but they just shook their heads and pointed to a trail that led past it. As it turned out this was the OLD MBC, which had been closed up for years, but no one had bothered to take the building down, or even do the common courtesy of crossing the name out! The despair we felt was palatable but the porters reassured us the real MBC was just a few minutes further. Thankfully they weren’t exaggerating and we shortly got to where we would end up spending the coldest night of our lives.

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When I say COLD, I mean COLD. Yeah I know what all you Canadians are thinking. Pfft, what’s -2 degrees, or even -5. Its nothing! Oh Yeah? Try sleeping in that temperature outside! Because that is basically what you have to do when you sleep at MBC. They have rooms with beds of course, but there is absolutely no heating and absolutely no insulation. The gaps between the windows and window frames can easily fit my thumb, and the gaps between the door and the door frame were big enough to fit an elephant. OK, maybe not an elephant, but that’s exactly how it felt! It’s hard to describe how cold -2 can feel if you’re trying to sleep in that type of accommodation, but we bundled up in everything we had, 3 pairs of socks, 2 or 3 sweaters, sleeping bags and even extra blankets from the hotel, and we were just barely warm enough to sleep. Outside there was a blizzard dumping multiple feet of snow obliterating the trail we were going to have to walk tomorrow. We decided to give others a chance to blaze the trail for us (usually people leave around 4:30, but we figured with the weather, most would wait until light) so we set the alarm clock to 5am and went to sleep.

Posted by dariusz 13:23 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

ABC Trek Part 3 - Stocking up on essentials


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

The next morning we started early intent on fixing all the issues that have been a thorn in our side up to this point. If there is any place along the whole trail where a trekker can really get almost everything they need it’s Chhomrong. It’s amazing that a whole two days of hiking away from civilization one can get internet access, fresh German baked goods, real purified water and even knee caps.

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Part of Kristine’s mental breakdown the day before included complaining about a few things we forgot to take, such as our insurance and credit card information, which might be needed in case of an evacuation due to an avalanche. Because yes, we were in fact going to cross a number of avalanche chutes. We used the internet to get all our insurance and credit card info and Kristine bought some knee caps at the local wholesale store for less than $2 each! Even Kristine started feeling really good about our chances now and the German baked goods store was just a nice bonus.

It’s really encouraging and impressive how environmentally aware the Nepalis in this area are despite their relative poverty. There are no water bottles for sale anywhere after Chhomrong, instead the lodges will sell you boiled and filtered water to fill up your existing bottles, and this gives hikers a very heavy incentive not to “misplace” their plastic bottles along the trail. If you lose your bottles you will have no choice but to hike back down to Chhomrong or survive without water between lodges. There are also no donkeys or any other kind of domesticated animals allowed after Chhomrong. This is because at the higher attitudes the donkey/mule feces would take too long to decompose and the trail would end up being literally full of shit. Instead the trail after Chhomrong is an absolute joy to hike being free of both artificial and animal pollution.

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Our spirits high we really enjoyed this days hike. The plan was to see how far we could make it without pushing too hard and just take it as it goes. The ultimate goal was to make it to Himalaya which meant climbing over 1000 vertical metres up and would put us within a day hike from the Annapurna Base Camp, but we decided we weren’t going to kill ourselves just to make a target. To our surprise the trail was actually very green on this portion of the hike despite being higher in altitude. It was filled with gorgeous Rhodedendrum trees, amazing looking vines, monkeys and of course stunning views of the mountains we were about to walk into the heart of.

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We took our time to enjoy all the views and took a ton of pictures and ended up at Dovan at around noon. We decided that, while we could try to do the hour and a half climb to Himalaya the same day, we would enjoy ourselves far more and risk having another crisis of confidence far less if we called it a day and continued tomorrow.

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We settled in for the night and quickly realized things were quite different at this altitude. First of all the lack of donkey power means that everything that is consumed has to be brought up by someone strapping a giant basket to their head and carrying it up. As you can imagine this tends to drive up costs and the costs are directly related to the weight of the item. So much for Coca Cola and pop bottles, we were pretty going to have to stick to tea from now on, which given how good Nepali tea is, really wasn’t a problem. The hot shower was also not free anymore as there is not enough sunlight to warm the water using solar power and hauling gas bottles this high up is an issue. I can’t believe someone actually strapped one of those giant gas filled bottles to their back and walked up this trail. I think I would cry if I had to do that.

The whole strapping stuff on your head and hauling it up problem also means there is no heating in the sleeping quarters and the heating in the common area is only turned on if everyone chips in and pays. No central heating around here folks. We were prepared with long underwear, fleece, sleeping bags, sweaters, the whole bit but it was still COLD when sleeping! As we finally fell asleep tightly bundled up to keep warm we did so knowing that tomorrow was not going to get any warmer.

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Posted by dariusz 12:58 Archived in Nepal Comments (2)

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