Asia – Etramping Travel Blog https://etramping.com Adventures Around the World! Sat, 21 Sep 2019 23:47:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.4 https://i0.wp.com/etramping.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/cropped-eTrampinglogoB18-2-2-e1533721426720.jpg?fit=32%2C32&ssl=1 Asia – Etramping Travel Blog https://etramping.com 32 32 37340027 The 5 Best Places to Visit in Myanmar https://etramping.com/best-places-to-visit-in-myanmar/ https://etramping.com/best-places-to-visit-in-myanmar/#comments Sat, 21 Sep 2019 23:47:10 +0000 https://etramping.com/?p=43981 What are the best places to visit in Myanmar? Here are a few of the many incredible sites to see in Burma (former name of Myanmar). Check it out!

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Myanmar, which was formerly known as Burma, is a country rich in cultural history. The country has seen many dictatorships, empires and even to this day, has elements of civil war. In order to remain safe in Myanmar, you need to be aware of the no-go areas. However, when sticking to the main towns and following the advice of residents, Myanmar is a very safe place.

Cez and Lydia taking another trip together, this time flying to Myanmar. 2018

Before heading off though, you should check the requirements for a Myanmar visa, as these are often prerequisites. Here are a few of the many incredible sites to see in Myanmar:

Mandalay Palace

For anyone who admires monarchist architecture, the Mandalay Palace will not cease to impress. The palace, built in the 1850s, was home to the last ever Burmese monarchy. The Mandalay Palace is laden in gold; an element that is steeped in the culture of the country. The palace was constructed from a mixture of modern and ancient materials and design. The palace is situated in the North of Mandalay, making it extremely accessible for visitors, as well as its approximate $6 entrance fee.

Hot-air balloon

Hot-air balloons are available in several places in Myanmar, but a trip over the town of Bagan tends to be the most popular choice. The 40-minute balloon trip will allow you to experience Bagan from dizzy heights. Bagan was a pagan city and had over 10,000 Buddhist temples around the 12th century. 2000 remain and a trip during sunrise illuminates the town into a sea of red.

How do you like the idea of doing a hot-air balloon ride?

To make this trip more convenient, its organizers usually prepare pickups from the hotel and offer a drink while waiting for your balloon to be ready. 

Shwedagon Pagoda

The Shwedagon Pagoda is at the top of most lists on Myanmar. It dazzles its 99-meter tall golden chedi. It stands proud across the city and is an absolute must-see. Shwedagon is perhaps the most important religious construction in the country, as it’s believed to be the most sacred pagoda in Asia. Many Buddhists travel for thousands of miles just to visit for this reason, but for others, it’s also just an incredible construction on an aesthetic level.

The Shwedagon Pagoda is definitely at the top of most lists on Myanmar.

At its peak, it is made up of 5448 diamonds, 317 rubies, and a 76-carat diamond. Shwedagon is in Yangon, a very interesting town with lots to see, which makes it even more appealing to visit.

Sule Pagoda

To carry on from the previous site, Sule pagoda is also situated in Yangon. This is another religious landmark. It’s easy to find because the phrase “all roads lead to Sule pagoda” is quite literally true in the town. Many Buddhists believe the Sule Pagoda has a strand of Buddha’s hair. Although it’s smaller, the structure is somewhat similar and has stemmed from Indian architecture although over the years it has implemented its own Burmese idiosyncrasies.

Boat trip along the Inle Lake 

Boat trips in South East Asia are always a popular thing to do, and the Inle Lake may just be the best place for it.

Don’t miss out on a boat trip along the Inle Lake!

For a very low price, you can be a guest in a 2 person longtail boat and have an intimate sail through the villages where you can see local fishermen and families enjoying their day-to-day lives. It’s both an interesting insight into local life in Myanmar as much as it is a tranquil, timeless experience.

Have you been to Burma already? Which place did you like the most or would like to see next time?

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Nong Khiaw 3 Day Itinerary https://etramping.com/nong-khiaw-itinerary/ https://etramping.com/nong-khiaw-itinerary/#comments Thu, 19 Sep 2019 13:11:03 +0000 https://etramping.com/?p=43374 Nong Khiaw Itinerary: What to do and see in Nong Khiaw – detailed 3 day plan with hiking, adventure, food, people, and getting there! All you need to plan!

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Once a poster child for intrepid travel in Southeast Asia, today’s Nong Khiaw might not be the little known, off-the-grid paradise of decades past. Yet, Nong Khiaw remains a supremely stunning and rewarding destination for travelers looking for a healthy balance of rustic solitude and basic amenities, served with a generous dose of adventure.

Nong Khiaw, as viewed from Nang None Viewpoint.

Nong Khiaw might just be the best of Laos rolled into one destination, offering dramatic karst formations, friendly residents, and a laid back vibe — all without sacrificing creature comforts like excellent restaurants, comfortable guesthouses, and modern infrastructure.

Do you like to hike and scale dramatic ridges and have the trail (and panoramic view) [mostly] to yourself? Do you like riverboat adventures to less trodden villages? How about whiling away an afternoon in a hammock or ending the day with a delicious steak and a riverfront view for less than the cost of a Starbucks foofy drink in Bangkok?

Intrigued? Read on for ideas of what to do in Nong Khiaw during a 3-day itinerary.

Why Visit Nong Khiaw?

Most travelers visit Nong Khiaw to take in (and interact) with the natural surroundings, which by all accounts are stunning. If you like outdoor activities, Nong Khiaw is an excellent jumping-off point for hiking, trekking, climbing, zip-lining, caving, and much more.

Nong Khiaw’s location is also a major factor in visiting. Once you’re here, it may seem like a world apart, but in fact, is a straightforward 3-4 hour journey by local bus or minivan from Laos’ top tourist destination, Luang Prabang. A 4-hour journey by public transport may seem long to some, but consider this — it is this factor alone that currently keeps the tourist crowds from spilling out of Luang Prabang, at least for now.

Finally, Nong Khiaw is an excellent antidote for temple burnout, tourist-trail fatigue, and same-same-but-different travel destinations. If you’re looking to get away from Southeast Asia’s most visited destinations and add a bit more authenticity to your travels, Nong Khiaw delivers, which is exactly why we added Nong Khiaw to our own itinerary on our last trip to Luang Prabang.

A 3-day itinerary for Nong Khiaw may very well prove too short a time to devote to this amazing place, but it’s a pretty good starting point for most travelers.

Who Might Want to Skip Nong Khiaw?

Some like to call Nong Khiaw the “New Vang Vieng” on account of its dramatic karst landscape and opportunities for outdoor adventures. But let’s get one thing clear — you don’t visit Nong Khiaw for the nightlife, and you certainly don’t come here to party with a hundred of your closest new Gap Year friends.

You also shouldn’t visit Nong Khiaw expecting an “undiscovered” paradise. If you’ve been wandering the planet barefoot for a decade and are adamant about being the only Westerner within an hour’s journey, you’ll probably want to skip Nong Khiaw and head to Phongsali or Houaphanh.

If you demand five-star luxury, a swimming pool, and Michelin-rated restaurants, you most certainly will want to skip Nong Khiaw, but that’s pretty self-evident.

minibus at Luang Prabang station for Nong Khiaw Laos

How to Get to Nong Khiaw?

Nong Khiaw is located 140km northeast of the increasingly popular UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang in Northern Laos. That puts Nong Khiaw a mere 500 km from Chiang Mai and 400 km from Hanoi — as the crow flies.

The terrain in Northern Laos is rugged and the road infrastructure is poor (but improving), which can translate into long days (and nights) making the journey by public transport from the region’s closest major cities.

Fortunately, Luang Prabang and its international airport (LPQ) are not far. As an added bonus, buses and minibuses for Nong Khiaw arrive and depart from the Northern Bus Station conveniently located just north of the runway at LPQ. Being based out of Vientiane, I was able to board a flight in the Laos capital at around 8am and be laying in my hammock sipping sundowners on the Nam Ou river by 4pm.

While there are plenty of options for getting to Luang Prabang, road transport is currently the only option for getting between Luang Prabang and Nong Khiaw.

Up until a few years ago, you could also make the trip by boat. However, the construction of dams along the Ou River put an end to ferry traffic between the two towns.

By Bus

Generally speaking, taking the bus in Laos is going to be a safer and more reliable public option. The road between Luang Prabang and Nong Khiaw is well maintained, mostly sealed, and not too bad regarding curves (certainly nothing compared to the road between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng). If you’re sensitive to winding roads, opt for the bus over the minibus.

Buses generally depart from Luang Prabang transit center at 09:00, 11:00, and 14:00. The journey typically takes 3-4 hours and costs 40,000 LAK. We’ve heard some accounts of a “tourist class” bus for 50,000 LAK departing at 09:00, but this did not appear to be an option when we last did the trip in the height of tourist season.

Along those same lines, it’s best to keep in mind that in Laos, all of this information is subject to change without notice, particularly during local and national holidays.

By Minibus & Songtaew

Some consider minibuses to be a more comfortable option when compared to full-size buses. With the exception of private hires, I can’t personally say I’ve been on a minibus journey in Laos that exceeded the comforts of taking a big bus. Minibus schedules (if you can call them that) tend to be far less reliable than that of their big bus brethren, often leaving when full (which can take some time…or no time at all).

I suggest going in with the mindset that minibuses leave about every two hours from 09:00 to late afternoon and strongly caution against pinning your hopes on one leaving at any specific time. In that sense, the big advantage of taking a minibus is there may likely be one leaving sooner than a big bus if you happen to arrive at the station between bus departures.

Minibuses take 3-5 hours, depending on factors such as weather, how fast the driver feels like driving, and whether you leave Luang Prabang full or empty. If you leave empty, expect to go cruising for passengers around the outskirts of town and stopping numerous times along the way to pick up and drop off passengers who are only going a short distance.

Occasionally, you may see a songtaew getting ready to depart Luang Prabang for Nong Khiaw, though songtaews are generally used for shorter routes. If you aren’t familiar with Laos-style songtaews, they resemble a larger four-wheel version of a tuk-tuk on a delivery truck chassis. Often loaded with monks and colorfully painted (with a blue or silver base), they are hard to miss.

If you are feeling particularly adventurous, a 3-5 hour journey on a songtaew will be memorable, to say the least. Just keep in mind that the ride can get rough, wet, crowded, and hot!

By Private Vehicle

Taking a private shuttle is a good option for those wanting door-to-door service or traveling during off-schedule times. Tickets can be purchased at any reputable travel agency in Luang Prabang city center.

For those traveling with families or groups, a good option may be to hire a driver and vehicle through your guesthouse in Luang Prabang. Keep in mind that this option will likely be far more expensive than taking the bus or minibus, even after dividing the cost among several passengers, and you may also be expected to cover food and lodging for your driver for the duration of your time in Nong Khiaw.

You can rent a car in Vientiane or Luang Prabang, but doing so can be very expensive and driving on your own in Laos, particularly in the rugged north, can be challenging for visitors.

Finally, as with anywhere else in Laos, the journey can also be done by motorbike or bicycle, both of which can be rented in Luang Prabang at a daily rate. Keep in mind that the route is rugged with a few passes to cover, and riding should be avoided during the rainy season.

Getting from Nong Khiaw Bus Station to Your Destination

Once you arrive in Nong Khiaw, you may need to transfer to a songtaew for a short distance depending on where you are staying.

If you are arriving by minibus, the Minibus Station is located a half kilometer west of the town center and 1-1.5 km from guesthouses in the backpacker enclave of Ban Sophoun across the bridge. Songtaews are usually waiting at the Minibus Station to ferry passengers to where they need to go for a small fee.

If you are traveling by big bus, the bus may stop at the Minibus Station or in the center of town (or both).

3 Day Itinerary for Nong Khiaw

You don’t visit Nong Khiaw for a packed itinerary of seeing temples and visiting museums. A visit to Nong Khiaw is all about relaxing, exploring, and taking things down a notch in a beautiful setting. If this sounds like what you’re looking for, read on!

Working from the same mindset, this is my recommended 3-day itinerary for visiting Nong Khiaw.

Also keep in mind that this itinerary covers three full days in Nong Khiaw, assuming you will have tacked on a travel day to/from Luang Prabang on each side of this itinerary, for a grand total of four nights in Nong Khiaw. We departed Luang Prabang around noon on a Wednesday and returned to Luang Prabang at 10am on Sunday and felt that that was a good amount of time for a casual visit to Nong Khiaw.

bungalows in Nong Khiaw Laos

Day 1 in Nong Khiaw

Breakfast at Delilah’s Place

Wake up slowly in your comfortable, yet rustic bungalow to the sound of birds singing and fishermen puttering by in small wooden riverboats. Enjoy a hot shower and a leisurely morning walk over the old Chinese bridge connecting Ban Sophoun (where the majority of backpacker accommodation is) with the center of the village.

Head to Delilah’s Place, find yourself the perfect seat (there’s everything from comfy cushions indoors to cafe tables with a roadside view) and order a hearty breakfast from their sizable menu of Western comfort fare and Pan-Asian favorites.

Delilah’s is a great place to meet other travelers, get the latest information on trail conditions, or just chill for a few hours with a strong cup of coffee before setting off to explore.

Visit Tiger Trail

While you’re at Delilah’s, check out nearby Tiger Trail Travel (there’s also an office in Ban Sophoun on the south side of the river). If you’ve got a bit of extra time and money, Tiger Trail offers tours and packages ranging from half-day to 10-day tours and treks in and around the Nong Khiaw area.

For those who wish to explore Nong Khiaw independently and on foot like we did, read on.

trailhead for viewpoint hike in Nong Khiaw

Hike to an Incredible View

Nong Khiaw now has a few excellent viewpoint hikes to choose from that leave right from town and offer stunning views of Nong Khiaw, dramatic karst peaks, and the lush surrounding valleys.

Be forewarned, these viewpoint hikes aren’t a lazy stroll up to a touristy temple, but rather steep and strenuous ascents. Expect to use your hands and knees for portions, and exercise extreme caution if it’s rained in the past week. With that said, the trails are generally well-maintained and experience low to moderate foot traffic most of the year.

The trailhead for hiking to Pha Daeng Peak (also known as Nong Khiaw Viewpoint #1) is accessed on the east side of the main highway (Route 1C) in Ban Sophoun (south bank of the Ou River in the backpackers’ enclave).

The newer Nang None Viewpoint (Nong Khiaw Viewpoint #2 & Sleeping Woman Viewpoint) can be accessed either from the trailhead just behind town on the north side of the main highway (Route 1C) between Hive Bar and Delilah’s, or 1 km west of the Minibus Station along Route 1C.

viewpoint hike during a Nong Khiaw 3 day itinerary

Expect each of these hikes to take a few hours (roundtrip). The best time to hike is early in the morning to avoid the heat and other hikers, or just before sunset. If you do hike before sunset, remember to bring a headlamp! Due to the jagged topography of the area, Nong Khiaw gets very dark, very fast.

Coco Home Bar & Restaurant in central Nong Khiaw.

Coco Home or Khao Pia for Lunch

After a challenging and rewarding viewpoint hike, head back into town to refuel at any number of excellent eateries. Noodle shops can be found just about anywhere on both sides of the river around lunchtime. If you’re hankering for some khao pia (think Lao pho), there’s no better (and fresher) time than lunchtime.

If you’re in the mood for Western and Pan-Asian fare after your big hike, check out Coco Home Bar & Restaurant for hearty, no MSG offerings and incredible desserts!

Guesthouses in Ban Sophoun Nong Khiaw

Town Loop Walk, Hammock, Lao Sauna

After a morning of climbing up a mountain, you may well be ready to relax. You’re in luck! As there may be no better place in Laos to get your chill on.

If temperatures are on the cooler side (as Nong Khiaw is known for), take this opportunity to walk around the town center, poke into local shops, and explore the waterfront.

If you feel like you’ve done enough hiking for one day, relax on a hammock at your guesthouse (there are many guesthouses with river-facing bungalows and hammocks on the Ban Sophoun side of the river), chill on a cushion at any number of bars and eateries in Ban Sophoun (or Delilah’s in town), or get steamed up at a Lao Sauna (there’s a good one on the west side of the main road in Ban Sophoun).

floating restaurant on the Ou River

Sundowners & Dinner

Just before sunset, head down to Duangdee Restaurant for a BeerLao or shot of LaoLao on the Ou River. Duangdee is a floating barge restaurant on the south bank of the river accessed from the road to Nong Khiaw Riverside Lodge.

In addition to drinks, Duangdee also has local food offerings. But if you’re only in Nong Khiaw for a short visit, I recommend checking out Noymany (just off the road in Ban Sophoun, across from Chennai Indian).

boat leaving from Nong Khiaw dock

Day 2 in Nong Khiaw

Day Trip to Muang Ngoi (by boat)

On your second full day in Nong Khiaw, I highly recommend doing a day trip to Muang Ngoi by boat. Grab a quick breakfast and a view at Ban Lao Sunset Guesthouse (accessed on the side road near Q Bar) and head to the Boat Office in the town center.

Prior to the damming of the Ou River, taking a boat from Luang Prabang to Muang Ngoi via Nong Khiaw was a favorite journey for backpackers and local holidaymakers. Those days may be gone, but the river remains navigable between Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi — and the journey is a stunner!

And just to clear up some confusion, what visitors refer to as Muang Ngoi (or Muang Ngoy) is technically called Muang Ngoi Neua (as Nong Khiaw is often referred to as Muang Ngoi by locals). If there’s any confusion with the tour office or boat driver, we’re talking here about a day trip to Muang Ngoi Neua, but that should be evident given that you’re starting your journey in the other Muang Ngoi. With that said, we’re going to refer to the village as Muang Ngoi here for consistency’s sake.

Why is Muang Ngoi worth a visit? For a lot of the same reasons you might want to visit Nong Khiaw, but with a memorable boat ride in the mix. It’s a small, picturesque village with good services for travelers and some nice hikes to caves and viewpoints.

Main drag in Muang Ngoi village.

Boat schedules between Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi are constantly in flux, so you’ll want to enquire at the Boat Office the town center for the current schedule.

Alternatively, if you are traveling with a small group or don’t mind spending a little more money, you can always hire a private local boat to do the journey. In addition to being able to depart when you want to, a major benefit of a private hire is being able to make a couple of stops along the way.

In addition to an extended stop in Muang Ngoi, you can also ask to stop at the ethnic minority weaving village of Sop Cham (farther up the river), and the village of Sop Keng (located between Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi) for a scenic rural hike to a waterfall.

For more details on doing the boat trip up the Nam Ou, you can check out my trip report on visiting Muang Ngoi Neua.

Lao BBQ at Q Bar in Ban Sophoun.

Happy Hour & Dinner at Q Bar

After a long and memorable day on the river, relax with a happy hour drink and tasty dinner at Q Bar in Ban Sophoun. In addition to their mouthwatering menu, Q Bar also offers Lao BBQ (also called sin daat or Lao suki) on certain nights of the week.

Day 3 in Nong Khiaw

If you’ve made it this far without falling off a cliff, a boat, or a hammock, it’s time to celebrate! And what better way in Nong Khiaw than exploring a cave and sipping a cold beverage?

Inside of Pha Thak Cave Laos

Pha Thak Cave & Restaurant

From Ban Sophoun, follow the main highway (Route 1C) south out of town for 2 km until you arrive at Tham Pha Thak (Pha Thak Cave) complex on the right (also spelled Pha Toke). It’s an easy and scenic “hike” along a lazy stretch of tarmac where you’re bound to encounter more livestock in the road than vehicles.

Cross a makeshift bamboo bridge to a stilted restaurant where you may or may not need to pay a small entry fee for the cave (and may or may not be accompanied by a couple of local kids acting as your tour guides). Continue along the path from the restaurant towards the sheer limestone wall where steep concrete stairs await for accessing the mouth of the Tham Pha Thak.

bamboo bridge to tham pha thak in Nong Khiaw

While Tham Pha Thak won’t win any awards for best cave in Laos, it’s still worth a visit — for its natural beauty and for its history, as this is where the Pathet Lao forces set up their provincial headquarters during the Secret War.

Before you head back to town, be sure to stop by the restaurant for a cold beverage or even lunch. Chat up your hosts (we found that some of the younger ones were eager to speak English) and learn more about the cave and the surrounding area.

relaxing during a Nong Khiaw 3 day itinerary

Free Afternoon

Take the opportunity on your final afternoon in Nong Khiaw to soak up the scenery from your hammock, relax at a bar, or hike up to the other viewpoint in town (sensing a theme yet?).

Due to Nong Khiaw’s higher elevation and cool[er] climate, afternoons often remain quite comfortable. But even if it feels cool, don’t forget about hydration! The humidity can still be brutal.

If you’re not yet tired of caves, you could visit Tham Pha Kuang located just off the main highway about 1.5 km west of the Minibus Station. Additionally, you could also peek into some of the local temples and have a chat with the monks — many are eager to practice their English skills with foreigners. And finally, you could ask at your guesthouse about the possibility of fishing or swimming in the river, both of which are dependent on the season.

Dinner at Nong Kiau Riverside Resort Restaurant

On your last evening in town, treat yourself to a riverside meal at Nong Kiau Riverside Resort Restaurant located just east of the bridge on the southern/ Ban Sophoun side. For those on tighter traveler budgets, consider grabbing a happy hour drink here for sunset, then a local bite to eat back in town.

songtaew in Laos

Back to Luang Prabang

You’ll find that three days in Nong Khiaw flies by, and before you know it, it’s time to head-on. For the lucky ones with time on their side, that might mean upriver to Muang Ngoi Neua for an extended stay in an idyllic little tourist village, then onward to Phongsali. For the rest of us, it’s back to Luang Prabang, which by most accounts is certainly not a bad place to retreat to.

If you’re keen on taking a big bus back to Luang Prabang. Ask for the current return schedule either at your guesthouse or when you get off of the bus when you arrive. You’ll also want to confirm the location as arrival and departure places are frequently different.

If you’re traveling by minibus, head to the Minibus Station on the western edge of town and buy a ticket for the next departure. Depending on the day of the week and the time of year, there should be a few departures per day. To be on the safe side, you can visit the station the evening before to confirm the time or show up around 9am the morning of. Minibuses most frequently depart between 9-10am and 11am-12pm, and the trip takes 3-4 hours.

nightfall in Nong Khiaw Laos

Tips for Visiting Nong Khiaw

Money

When we visited, there was at least one reliable ATM (BCEL) next to the bridge in Ban Sophoun. BCEL is the biggest bank in Laos and accepts most major international cards. Unless you pay for your lodging online, expect to pay for everything in Nong Khiaw in cash (LAK). Restaurants and guesthouses may also accept USD in a pinch, but don’t count on it.

Clothing

Prepare for rain, even in the “dry season.” If you plan on hiking, it helps immensely to have sturdy footwear with good traction. I strongly caution against hiking to either viewpoint in flip-flops (it constantly amazes me how many travelers I see doing this in Laos, and how surprised they seem when they inevitably bloody up their feet or lose one (or both) of their sandals over a cliff or in the muck).

Cultural Considerations

Along the lines of clothing, make sure you cover up around town. This is a conservative culture where modesty of dress is expected, particularly when visiting temples (vats). Also, keep in mind that average Laotians are generally reserved and passive in their dealings with foreigners. Many travelers misconstrue this for unfriendliness. A smile, a few Lao phrases, and a respectful nop go a long way in breaking the ice.

When to Visit Nong Khiaw

November through February is often considered the best time to visit Laos in general, as these are the coolest, driest months of the year. That means little to no rain in Central Laos, but the chance of rain in Luang Prabang province (where Nong Khiaw is located) is high year-round. While Nong Khiaw doesn’t see anywhere near the number of visitors that places such as Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng see, traveler numbers do seem to peak in December and January. Expect discounts on lodging (and torrential rain!!!) in July and August.

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Why is Archery the National Sport of Bhutan? https://etramping.com/why-is-archery-the-national-sport-of-bhutan/ https://etramping.com/why-is-archery-the-national-sport-of-bhutan/#comments Tue, 17 Sep 2019 12:59:20 +0000 https://etramping.com/?p=43205 After recently visiting the Kingdom of Bhutan, we explore why archery became the country's national sport.

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The Kingdom of Bhutan is a nation of toxophilites. That’s basically an old 18th-century English word to describe a student, lover or expert of archery. And yet it might come as some surprise to learn this when visiting a people as deeply spiritual and peaceful as the Bhutanese. So, why is archery the national sport of Bhutan?

Cez learns the national sport of Bhutan
Learning how to channel my inner Robin Hood

On our recent visit to the country with Druk Asia, we were lucky enough to witness the finals of a local archery tournament, see how the experts do it and even get to loose a few arrows ourselves while wearing the Bhutanese national dress. But forget the Olympics, archery in these parts isn’t anything like what you might be used to at all!

History of Archery in Bhutan

Archery wasn’t declared the national sport of Bhutan until 1971 when the country also became a member of the United Nations. Its roots stretch much further back, however, when the skill was utilized to great effect in keeping invading Britons and Tibetans at bay, as well as its vital role in hunting and gathering. But there’s much more to it than simply survival.

Lydia trying the national sport of Bhutan
Maid Marion (aka Lydia) tries her hand

For the Bhutanese, archery takes on a more spiritual form. The sport is prevalent in many myths and legends, and arrows are often left as tributes and offerings to local gods. It’s a way of life here, weaved into their culture, beloved by Bhutanese Royalty and subjects alike, practiced by the old and the young. And although traditionally dominated by men, recently women have been actively encouraged to get involved, too.

Three Bhutanese men in conversation
“Discussing tactics” (that’s our guide talking to his friends who are competing at the tournament)

This love affair has much to do with the country’s second King – Jigme Wangchuk. A toxophilite himself – it was under his reign that archery really began to flourish in the 1920s. There’s now a range in every town and village, and as the last nation on earth to get television as late as 1999, spending time enjoying this outdoor activity clearly took prevalence. But there is one story above all that might go some way to explaining a national obsession.

A Legendary Murder of Langdarma

Way back in 10th century, a Tibetan king by the name of Langdarma was against the spread of Buddism and openly persecuted it. It was said that he had become possessed by a demon which controlled his vilifying of the religion. A Buddist monk called Lhalung Pelgi Dorji lived in a remote cave close by and traveled to seek an audience with Langdarma.

Cez in front of the big golden Buddha
Bhutan and Buddism go hand in hand

He presented the famous Black Hat Dance to the king, a colorful tradition in which dancers declare their victory over evil spirits. In his ceremonial robes, Pelgi Dorji had smuggled a bow and arrow and is said to have assassinated Langdarma during his performance. The legend has been depicted many times in paintings, dance, verse, and song.

Black Hat Dance

What does Archery Game look like in Bhutan?

With bow hunting and warfare confined to the annuls of history, archery became popular as a pastime. It evolved into a regular social event, where the whole family could participate. As well as the target shooting itself, cheerleading, singing, and dancing are also intrinsic to the national sport of Bhutan. As is yelling abusive insults at the opposing team.

It is actively encouraged to not just display your prowess with the bow, but your prowess with your sharp tongue. Players will waste no time in verbally tearing apart their opponents if they miss the target – or even if they don’t. This gamesmanship is every bit as important as hitting the bullseye. There are no points for sportsmanlike conduct here!

Bhutan's national sport is watched by spectators
“You couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo…!”

Likewise, a team will burst out into traditional song and dance should a colleague hit the mark. As you can imagine, with all this revelry going on outside the actual competition, one single match in a tournament can take a full day to complete. Add in a load of inadvisable but expected feasting and boozing, and you’ve got a very entertaining (and potentially dangerous) spectacle, indeed!

Archery in Bhutan Today

During our Bhutan tour itinerary, we were treated to watching a local archery tournament. This has become something of a big tourist attraction in the country, as many visitors want to experience the traditional boisterousness that has become associated with the national sport of Bhutan. While many villagers still use hand-crafted bamboo bows, more modern (and expensive) equipment is used in the tourneys.

An archer sets his sights playing Bhutan's national sport
Today, the pros use modern compound bows

And they might well need that extra pound pulling power. The ranges are over 140 meters long – that’s twice the length of Olympic archery fields. Each archer shoots two arrows with one half of the team shooting and the other half standing close to the target to signal where a hit has been made by waving the appropriate colored flag (and to exchange insults whenever possible).

Color flags at a contest of the national sport of Bhutan
Archers shoot in one direction, then walk 140+ meters and shoot in the opposite direction

One point is scored if you’re close to the target at an arrow’s length away. Two points are scored if you hit the target, and three points if you bag a bullseye. The first team to 25 points is the winner, which, as mentioned, with all the singing, dancing, insult hurling, and arrow retrieving – it likely to take some time.

Bhutan Archery Team at the Olympics?

Bhutan is the only country in the world that claims archery as their national sport, but while they do have an Olympic team, that’s a very different game to the rowdy one we discovered during our visit here. Nonetheless, the country has only ever been represented at the games by its archers, in a tournament that’s usually dominated by the South Koreans.

Bhutan's national sport
If you squint, you might just be able to see the target

Still, that doesn’t dissuade the locals from continuing their proud tradition, with many of the opinion that Olympians couldn’t cut it on their turf. It was certainly one of the more fun things to do in Bhutan, a fascinating insight into a blossoming cultural phenomenon in the last kingdom of the Himalayas.

Would you like to try the national sport of Bhutan? Would you be better at shooting arrows or insulting people? Let us know!

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A Beginner’s Guide To Traditional Chinese Mooncake (2019 Update) https://etramping.com/traditional-chinese-mooncake-mid-autumn-festival/ https://etramping.com/traditional-chinese-mooncake-mid-autumn-festival/#comments Tue, 10 Sep 2019 03:23:30 +0000 https://etramping.com/?p=11502 China will be celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival soon, during which everyone eats the traditional Chinese delicacy - Mooncake. Get ready to indulge with us!

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On September 13 2019 people all over China will be celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival!

What does it mean?

For us in the West, it is another day, for Chinese and some neighboring countries, it is a very important tradition which carries a strong connection to the full moon (that is why it is called the Moon Festival in honor of the moon). 

The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar.

This Festival which is a national bank holiday in all provinces in China, features the amazing idea of seeing the same moon phase on or around the same date. At this day, all family members gather together to pray and have a dinner.Afterwards, children carry lanterns and stroll in parks or gardens or release them into the sky.

China’s Mid-Autumn Festival

Mooncakes During Mid-Autumn Festival

Mid-Autumn Festival is often called the Mooncake Festival for a traditional baked delicacy exchanged among family and friends.

5 small mooncakes wrapped in a bag
5 small mooncakes wrapped in a bag

Mooncake Shape

Mooncakes typically have round shape which symbolize unity and completeness. They come with difference sizes from very tiny to very massive ones (from 10 to 20 cm in diameter and 4-6 cm thick).

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Middle-sized mooncake and its round shape

During the Mid-Autumn Festival, the head of the family cuts the mooncakes into pieces and distributes them to each family member, signifying family reunion.

Mooncakes are usually kept in traditional Chinese boxes so that they can look beautiful as a gift.

The box where mooncakes are kept
The box where mooncakes are kept
Mooncakes in the box

Mooncake Taste

Every mooncake has a very rich thick filling usually made from lotus seed paste and red bean. It has a thin crust and might contain salted duck eggs and yolks. The filling can be also made of sugar, jujube paste, ham, fruit or cream.

A mooncake cut into half
A mooncake cut into half

They are usually eaten in small wedges accompanied by traditional Chinese tea.

Our Mooncake Experience

Each year we spent in China, we have been given about 20 different mooncakes from parents and teachers from our kindergarten, Chinese friends and neighbors. They would probably last till the next Mid-Autumn Festival.

 A girl and a boy are eating Chinese mooncake
Enjoying our mooncakes

We both enjoy mooncakes a lot, but you can’t have too much of them as they are way too sweet and they make you feel sick if you eat too much of them at one go. They are very heavy for the cakes and its thick consistency makes you wanna drink a lot of water.

Each mooncake is approximately 1.000 kcal and a typical mooncake costs between RMB 10 ($1.60) and RMB 50 ($8)

Have you ever eaten a traditional Chinese mooncake? If so, how did you like it? 

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Everest Base Camp Trek Cost https://etramping.com/everest-base-camp-trek-cost/ https://etramping.com/everest-base-camp-trek-cost/#comments Fri, 06 Sep 2019 07:14:38 +0000 https://etramping.com/?p=42431 We ticked off another bucket list entry with our dream hike to the foot of the highest mountain in the world. Check out our guide to the Everest base camp trek cost here.

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Why should anyone do the Everest Base Camp trek?

The late, great British climber George Mallory was once asked: “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?” His response became legendary.

Because it’s there.

And with that, the three greatest words in mountaineering were spoken.

Yet for many of us, actually summiting the highest mountain in the world will always remain nothing more than a pipe dream. Accomplishing the Everest Base Camp trek, however, is still a popular bucket list feat and well within many would-be trekker’s physical and economical means.

Everest Base Camp Trek Cost

Following our successful visit last month, here we break down the Everest Base Camp trek cost. You just might find that it is much more affordable than you think. Check out our full EBC trek itinerary for more information.

Cez and Lydia enjoying their Everest Base Camp trek

The Everest Base Camp Trek – How Much Does it Cost?

Trekking Company/Guides/Porters

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. How much does the Everest Base Camp trek cost? This will depend entirely on which company you decide to go with (or if you decide to attempt it alone). Much like the Machu Picchu trek in Peru or Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (or any trek where you’d benefit from a guide), you get what you pay for. While trying to save some money is always a great idea, cutting corners isn’t and you should never shirk when it comes to safety. Expect to pay anywhere between $700-$2,000 if going this route.

A young Nepalese boy - a future Everest guide
A future Everest guide

We went with Magical Nepal, and the full cost of the 14-day Everest Base Camp trek will set you back $1,340 per person. This includes your guides, porters, accommodation, meals, transfers, Sagarmatha National Park entry, Kathmandu to Lukla return flights, farewell dinner, staff insurance, and any further overheads involving resources and support staff.

Lydia amidst the mountains - Everest Base Camp Trek

However, it doesn’t include your international flights and visa for Nepal, your own, personal travel insurance (which is essential for such a trip as this) meals in Kathmandu and all your personal gear and equipment. Read on for a more thorough break-down of these costs – or if you’re looking to attempt to reach Everest Base Camp on your own steam.

Visas for the Everest Base Camp Trek

With or without a guide, organizing a Nepalese visa will be up to you. Costs and entry allowances can vary, so it’s best to check the Department of Immigration for up-to-date information. At the time of writing, you can obtain a visa on arrival, or apply online in advance. The current costs are as follows:

  • 15 Days – $30 
  • 30 Days – $50
  • 90 Days – $125

For the Everest Base Camp trek, we would recommend selecting the 30-day visa option. The vast majority of EBC treks are 14/15 days long, but having that extra breathing space is ideal in case you run into any unexpected problems or delays – or you want to spend some extra time in the country.

Nepalese souvenirs - Everest Base Camp trek
Longer visa = more time for souvenir shopping

Vaccinations

It’s a cost that can often be overlooked when planning a visit to a country like Nepal, but it’s important to check in with your doctor up to six months before you’re due to travel. You need to make sure you have all the necessary vaccinations required for your destination country. We will never profess ourselves to be medical experts, so check out the Nepal page on the CDC website. Prices will vary.

Permits for the Everest Base Camp Trek

Before you even set foot on the EBC trek, you’re going to need to obtain two permits for the privilege. The first is the Sagarmatha National Park Entry Permit (Sagarmatha is the local name for Mount Everest). This will set you back just under $30 and all the information can be found with the official Nepalese Tourist Board. However, if you opt for a guided tour, like we did, this cost is included within the package.

Nepalese boy riding a pony

The other permit you will need to chase down is called a TIMS card (Trekkers Information Management System). This is effectively to register you on a database for safety purposes. It’ll cost you $10 if you’re trekking as part of a group and $20 if you’re trekking as an individual.

If you’re doing the trek independently, both these permits need to be obtained in Kathmandu in advance. Guided treks will have this cost covered.

Flights and Transfers

Obviously, international flight prices will depend on where you’re flying in from and change as regularly as the weather. As a ball-park guide, a recent search discovered that a return flight from London to Kathmandu with one change in Istanbul cost $535. Check online screen scrapers – but don’t forget to use an incognito window so the prices aren’t jacked up with each new search.

Check our guide on finding the absolute cheapest flight!

Cez and Lydia about to board the plane to Lukla Airport
Come fly with me… ♫ ♩

On arrival in Kathmandu, you’ll need to board a 45-minute flight to Lukla Airport (Tenzing–Hillary Airport) which serves the Everest region. The cost of this is usually pretty stable at around $180 regardless of the season. It is possible to get a $10 bus ticket to Jiri, but you’re adding a lengthy road journey and up to four days onto you trek to replace a flight that’s under an hour.

Food and Drink

It’s very important to remember that the higher you climb on your Everest Base Camp trek – the more expensive things will get. This is particularly noticeable when it comes to ordering food. Something that cost you $1-5 in Kathmandu might now be costing you $7-10 at four thousand feet. Also, the choice becomes significantly more limited. The reason for these changes makes perfect sense – it takes a lot of effort to get stuff up there!

A rice dish and soup on the Everest Base Camp trek

A good guestimate would be to budget about $20-25 per day for your food, drink, and snacks. Breakfast is likely to be between $3-6 and lunch/dinner around $5-10. Bottled water ranges from $1-5, but bring some water purification tablets and save money and on plastic waste. A well-deserved beer after a long hike will set you back $5-10. It’s best to keep the booze to a minimum for more reasons than one when trekking to the Mount Everest Base Camp.

Accommodation

There are some fine lodgings to be had throughout your Everest trek, from quaint teahouses to mountain lodges and higher-end hotels. Once again, prices will vary depending on their quality and altitude. As a general rule of thumb, expect to be paying anywhere in the region of $1-$40 per day for a place to hang your hat – depending on what you’re looking for and where it’s located.

Two colorful beds in our cozy room

Budgeting about $20-30 per day to cover places to stay is the recommended going rate – just to be on the safe side. It is possible to find places that are going for a song and sometimes even for free – but in order to take advantage of such deals, you have to make sure you pay for eats in their adjoining restaurant.

Everest Mini Guest House sign - Everest Base Camp Trek

Make sure you book in advance during peak season (September/October). If accommodations run out of rooms there’s a high chance you’ll be sharing with fellow trekkers. Conditions can be hit or miss – you will often get what you pay for – but most places are clean and comfortable enough. Our advice? Do an EBC trek tour and take the hassle out of booking your own digs.

Equipment

How much or how little you spend on your Everest trek gear will depend on what you already own and how much you’re willing to spend. Check out Lydia’s thoughts when it comes to more EBC trekking preparation. Essential gear includes a winter sleeping bag, backpack, good-quality hiking boots, a weatherproof jacket and trekking pants, thermal underwear, gloves, hat, and sunglasses. Trekking poles are optional but strongly advised.

Cez and scenery on the Everest Base Camp trek
Looking awesome with all my gear. I suppose the scenery isn’t bad either

If you don’t possess any of that it’s likely to cost you between $200-$2000 depending on the quality of the goods. Buy the best you can afford, and don’t be afraid of going second-hand – you can get some amazing deals if you’re willing to shop around. Remember that your hiking boots should be well worn in before you even think about setting foot on the trail – so make sure you’ve got a good pair well in advance of departure.

Lydia and Cez take a breather

Finally, if you’ve left something behind or you’re prepared to take a chance on local prices, you can hire/buy equipment in Kathmandu and Namche Bazarr. The quality and pricing can be all over the place, however, and I wouldn’t advise purchasing a used sleeping bag. While it’s always good to travel as light as possible, in this case, arriving well-prepared is the best option.

Insurance for the Everest Base Camp Trek

The one thing you mustn’t ever cut corners on is your travel insurance. If ever there was a trip for which you needed cover, it would be the Everest Base Camp trek. Make sure you’re fully insured before embarking on this challenging but incredibly rewarding excursion. Read the EBC trek itinerary to find out exactly what you’ll be experiencing beforehand.

Lydia and Cez cross a chain bridge on the Everest Base Camp trek

Your insurance company will need to know that you’re trekking at high altitude. A great many people have needed to be evacuated by helicopter after succumbing to altitude sickness on a trek to Everest, and you seriously don’t want to have to foot that bill if it happens to you. A World Nomad’s policy for a 15-day trek shouldn’t cost you any more than $150.

Other Everest Trek Costs

Of course, we opted to do the Everest trek with a reputable company for ease and peace of mind. However, it is possible to do an independent base camp trek which will save you money in the long run. The downside is that you will have to arrange all your meals and accommodation, permits, transfers, domestic and international flights, and any other hidden costs. Additionally, you will be without close support while on the route itself. Besides, going with a guided tour will guarantee you meet like-minded adventurers and potential friends for life.

Four friends on a wall on the Everest Base Camp Trek

There are other costs that you need to consider whether you’re doing the Mount Everest trek solo or with a group. These can include:

Smartphone/Electronic Device Charging Costs

A little bit of electricity use here and there isn’t a problem is it? Unfortunately, it is when you’re climbing to these heights – and especially in high season when more people want to do exactly that. Typically, charging your electronic devices might cost you anywhere between $1-6 per battery per hour. Solar chargers or battery power banks are worth considering.

Hot Showers/Toilet Paper

Take nothing for granted on the EBC trek! Hot showers will become scarce the higher up you go, and many teahouses and lodges will charge between $3-5 for the privilege. Expect to pay a few coins for bog roll, too.

Lydia near a helipad on a mountain
Just hope you never need a lift from here

Tips for Guides/Porters/Staff

While it isn’t mandatory, tipping is customary in Nepal and it is most certainly the right thing to do – especially if you receive good service. How much you decide to offer is entirely up to you and will depend on who you’re tipping. We’d suggest $10-15 per day for a guide – as a…guide.

Souvenirs

It’s only natural that you’ll want to treat yourself to a little souvenir to commemorate your experiences on the Everest Base Camp adventure. There are plenty of local craft shops and stalls around for you to choose a nice memento. Prices vary from $1-$50+.

Souvenir stall on the Everest Base Camp trek

Extra Money Tips for the Everest Base Camp Trek

For extra pocket-money, many travel and tour operators will suggest you bring somewhere between $500-$700 for the duration of the trek. It’s up to you how much or how little you spend – but make sure you have enough to cover any eventuality. It’s always better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

After Kathmandu, ATMs are few and far between. Make sure you carry enough hard cash with you from this point onwards. Carry Nepalese rupee and some extra USD just in case. Needless to say, they don’t take American Express at the Everest Base Camp.

Make sure you keep any large amounts of money or valuables securely hidden. Nepal is generally a safe place, but it’s not unknown for things to go walkabout with increased numbers of visitors.

Bring as many snacks as you can comfortably carry – such as chocolate or cereal bars, dried fruit, and nuts. Remember – prices increase with every step you take up that mountain.

Make sure you pack any medication you might need before you depart. Even if you have the money – it’s highly unlikely your prescription will be available anywhere once you set off.

Lydia and Cez reach Everest Base Camp
Can someone call us a cab?

Final Thoughts

A guided trek to the Everest base camp will cost you anywhere between $1,200-$6,000 depending on the company you choose and your comfort requirements. But realistically, all-in, you shouldn’t be paying much more than $2000 for the whole EBC trek package. That’s not at all bad – especially when you consider it costs about $45,000 to climb the thing. We’ll be back if we win the lottery.

Doing the Everest Base Camp trek on a shoestring may cost you as little as $400 for the unforgettable 2 week adventure.

Have you experienced the Everest Base Camp trek? How much did you spend to reach 5364 meters?!

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11 Spiritual Experiences in Pakistan https://etramping.com/11-spiritual-experiences-in-pakistan/ https://etramping.com/11-spiritual-experiences-in-pakistan/#comments Mon, 02 Sep 2019 04:16:18 +0000 https://etramping.com/?p=39723 Pakistan is full of public displays of spirituality and expressions of faith, each more spectacular than the last.

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In Pakistan, spirituality and expressions of faith are on full public display; from the impassioned devotional displays in places like Lahore and Sehwan to the arresting azan (call to prayer) that floods the atmosphere five times each day.

eid milad un nabi in lahore

Over the years that I’ve been living in and travelling around and researching my book about Pakistan I have attended a myriad of festivals, processions, dances, memorials and more. Some of these have been subtle and allegorical, leaving me with a sense of wonder and in a dream-like state, while others have been overt, intense and even bloody, testing my nerves and my stomach.

This list is not a voyeuristic “must-see” itinerary of places to visit – it’s a reflection of some of the most memorable scenes I have witnessed over my years in Pakistan. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is that culture is respected and not fetishised – spirituality comes from within, and Pakistan (and Asia in general) is not a supermarket for spiritual mementos.

At these places, more than ever, it’s essential to be a responsible traveller; while these scenes have been incredible to observe, they are not simply tourist attractions. The participants take these events extremely seriously, and while anyone is allowed to come and watch (and, in some cases, join in), visitors are urged to remember that they are attending someone else’s deeply meaningful ceremony, not collecting memories for their own holiday stories. 

Moreover, many of these ceremonies involve theology and practices which visitors might disagree with, or find confronting. Remember that you are an outsider – behave respectfully, be prepared, and if you can’t respect (or at least accept) it, then don’t attend.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the most incredible spiritual experiences and religious rituals I’ve witnessed while in Pakistan.

1. The urs of Madhu Lal Hussain

Madhu Lal Hussain was a 16th Century Sufi saint and mystic. Since his burial in an outer district of Lahore, the anniversary of his death has attracted hundreds of thousands of devotees. Currently occurring in late March (the date moves forward in the western calendar by 10 days each year), the urs as it is known forces the closure of local roads. 

Urs of Madhu Lal Hussain

The festival is a sight to behold; hundreds of pilgrims sleeping in the glow of the shrine, gaggles of malangs (ascetics) spinning to the beat of drums, and a giant cauldron into which ceremonial oil is thrown.

2. Thursday night at the Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalander, Sehwan Sharif

The drum beat at the urs of Madhu Lal Hussain is just a warm up for the dhammal which takes place at the Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar every Thursday night.

Sehwan Sharif

Considered to be a holy night by many, devotees of this 13th Century saint converge on the tiny desert town for a ritual dance. As the drum gets louder and faster, the crowd becomes ever more intoxicated by its beat (or some other substance). Deep in a spiritual haze, dreadlocked men spin on the spot, reaching some kind of higher state, while women flail themselves, their wild locks flung from side to side.

3. Qawwali in a television studio in Lahore

You don’t have to go to the middle of a desert to have a spiritual experience. I’ve been lucky enough to be in a television studio in Lahore during Ramadan just after the breaking of the fast.

Qawwali in a tv studio, Lahore

Pakistani classical music meets religion in the form of Qawwali, an energetic, spiritual musical tradition which sees qawwals achieving an almost trance-like state as they bellow out invocations. The audience was enraptured, and for a moment we all forgot about the cameras, lights and studio set and we were among the stars.

4. The mourning of Muharram in the Walled City of Lahore

The tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram is the date on which Hussain, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was killed along with many of his family and followers in Karbala, Iraq.

Muharram in the Walled City of Lahore

That happened almost 1400 years ago, and the Walled City of Lahore fills with mourners on ‘Ashura’ each year on that date. Dressed in black, the devotees recite poetry and hymns which recall the tragedy, distribute free food and water, beat their chests in grief and some even self-flagellate. It’s dramatic, polarising, and not for the faint of heart.

5. Eid al-Adha in a village on the Potohar Plateau

Bloodier still is Eid al-Adha, also known in Pakistan as Eid-e-Qurban. This time the blood is from animals which are sacrificed for the sake of God; Eid-e-Qurban marks the prophet Ibrahim’s devotion to his faith.

eid e qurban pakistan

Thousands of goats, cows and camels are slaughtered, often publicly (on streets), and the meat distributed among family, neighbours and the poor. Mutton biryani is the order of the day, but this is one festival to avoid if you have a vegetarian bent. 

6. Poetry recited by local devotees in the Shrine of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Bhit Shah

The sound of the sitars echo through the tiles walls of the this shrine, built around the tomb of the 18th century poet who is considered one of the Sindhi language’s greatest.

abdul shah latif bhittai shrine pakistan

His poetry has a spiritual slant to it, meaning that for many to recite is not simply to listen, but to transcend. At the front of the tomb, like a group of receptive students before their master, a semi-circle of reciters sit every afternoon to sing out their inspiration’s words.

7. Poetry recited by moonlight in the Kumrat Valley

In Pakistan, spiritual poetry isn’t just confined to tombs in the desert. When I recently travelled with Aventru Treks and Travels to the Kumrat Valley in northern Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa province, one of the group leaders was a fan of Sufi poetry.

kumrat valley

This mystical interpretation of Islam draws in many devotees in the subcontinent, and as we sat there under the stars in the mountains, a bonfire before us and cups of chai in our hands, we were taken on a journey through the universe through the words of Rumi and Bulleh Shah.

8. The birthday of Ali ibn-Talib in the Walled City of Lahore

From solemn recitation of verses to a qawwali night that resembles a rock concert, the Walled City of Lahore puts on a serious celebration for the birthday of the son in law of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). 

birthday of imam ali in lahore

While some people attend religious lectures espousing Ali’s virtues, others attend special prayers in mosques across the city. Meanwhile near Taxali Gate, a central square is filled with the voices of some of Pakistan’s most famous qawwal troupes, the beats of their accordions and tablas – and no shortage of the fragrant stuff.

9. Urs of Data Ganj Bakhsh, Lahore

Staying in Lahore, the death anniversary of Sheikh Ali al-Hajveri takes place at the Data Darbar complex late in the year (although, like all Islamic dates, this event moves back every ten Gregorian calendar days each year). On the day of the “urs”, the streets of Lahore are streaming with pilgrims arriving from all over Pakistan; busloads of humanity compete for space on the highways with horses and carts filled with entire extended families, and they’re all gravitating towards one place.

urs of data ganj bakhsh
(Image: Supplied)

One legend states that when a farming woman donated a jar of milk to the shrine her entire herd of cattle were blessed with an abundance of milk. As such many pilgrims bring vats of fresh milk from their farms to donate, and when they arrive it’s distributed amongst anyone who is ready to drink up.

10. Eid Milad-un-Nabi in the Walled City of Lahore

No celebration in Lahore really compares to Eid Milad-un-Nabi – the celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Theological debates aside (and there are plenty of them), the city turns it on with street parades, free food donated to anyone and everyone, qawwali nights, flashing lights, street decorations and even dancing in the street to what could only be described as “Sufi fusion trance”.

eid milad un nabi in lahore

It’s colourful, hyperactive and seriously crowded.

11. Sleeping under the stars in the desert near Jhang

My friend, who has a deep interest and passion for all things metaphysical, invited me to his farm in the desert near Jhang. After drinking sweet, fresh buffalo milk for dessert, we dragged our charpoys (day beds) out into the field and lay back and began to chat.

desert near jhang

The stars above seemed bigger and closer than I ever remembered them being, and suddenly I remembered that one doesn’t need to be in a shrine, crowded procession or place of worship to experience the sublime…

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Brunei Itinerary: Things to Do in Brunei https://etramping.com/brunei-itinerary-things-to-do-in-brunei/ https://etramping.com/brunei-itinerary-things-to-do-in-brunei/#comments Tue, 27 Aug 2019 09:17:00 +0000 https://etramping.com/?p=42996 Brunei is one of the smallest yet richest countries in the world. Check out what we got up to exploring this tiny nation in our Brunei itinerary.

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If you really wanted to test someone’s world geography prowess, you could start by asking them where Brunei is located.

This tiny nation is just 2,200 square miles by area and sits on the island of Borneo – which it shares with the much larger countries of Malaysia and Indonesia. Even if you’re not interested in a Brunei itinerary, it’s still a handy bit of knowledge to have for trivia nights.

Brunei Itinerary - the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, Bandar Seri Begawan

But you’ll learn and understand much more during a visit to a remarkable little country that is full of contrasts, fascinating attractions, and memorable experiences. From truly stunning mosques to scuba diving in the South China Sea, we had an absolute blast during our tour. Here is what you need to know about visiting Brunei.

Why go to Brunei?

One of the best reasons to put Brunei on your radar is that it barely registers any tourists. This in itself is a big draw, but the country has much more to offer than simply a lack of crowds. It is filled with untouched tropical rainforest dreamscapes, unique Islamic architecture, and a colorful, cultural history. It’s also one of the richest countries in the world thanks to its oil reserves – the evidence of which you will see everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Oh, and it’s super-duper safe.

However – as much as eTramping doesn’t like to get political – a word needs to be said on the recent revelation (and the international condemnation that followed) that Brunei has implemented Sharia Law. Much like our visit to North Korea, we believe that a country’s people shouldn’t be judged for the decisions their governments make. Instead, they should be afforded the opportunity to participate in the cultural exchange that tourism brings.

Rant over – let’s move on!

Who Should Do a Brunei Tour?

If you’ve been everywhere, done that and got the T-shirt, Brunei might just be a country by which you’d be intrigued. It tends to pique the interest of travelers who enjoy off-the-beaten-track destinations and those who utterly despise what the likes of Thailand and Vietnam have become.

Cez and Lydia explore the waterways on their Brunei itinerary
Exploring Brunei’s rain forest waterways

Hide away from the mass tourism in Brunei while meeting some extremely friendly people in the process. But if you also happen to enjoy unspoilt wilderness, delicious and exotic cuisine, an abundance of photo opportunities and hospitable locals – then you’re definitely going to enjoy a visit to Brunei.

5-Day Brunei Itinerary

Let’s start with a handy map of Brunei and its attractions!

Brunei Itinerary Map

Day 1: Bandar Seri Begawan (Capital of Brunei)

Brunei’s capital is a fascinatingly surreal place where the decadence of the Sultan threatens battle with traditional Borneo village life. Somehow it works, and while there is a hint of being dressed to impress, it’s nowhere near as ostentatious as the likes of fellow oil-rich capitals Ashgabat and Baku.

Royal Regalia Museum

Our first stop was to visit this domed-building in the center of the capital, which houses the Sultan of Brunei’s regalia. Expect to see insignia of royalty used in coronations, jewel-studded crowns, gilded weaponry, and traditional dress. It was opened by the Sultan himself in 1992.

Lydia in the Royal Museum - Brunei itinerary
Lydia feeling regal in the Royal Museum

Sungai Kebun Bridge

Named after Queen Saleha – the Queen consort of the current Sultan of Brunei – is the second-longest single-pylon cable-stayed bridge in the world – completed in 2017. From here, you’ll be able to see the “floating village” (Kampung Ayer) below in it’s full glory.

Taman Haji Sir Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien

A special place in the hearts of all Bruneians – is this historic city garden location where the country proclaimed its independence from the United Kingdom in 1984. It is now used for celebration parades, such as for the Sultan’s birthday or the country’s National Day on the 23rd February.

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Brunei’s most famous and photographed attraction is close to the city garden and your next port of call on your Brunei itinerary. The golden-domed Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is an iconic landmark in the city, a 20th-century monument to Islam and the country’s Muslim population that sits in an artificial lagoon. No expense was spared in its construction, the oil-rich decadence is breathtaking.

  Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque - Brunei itinerary

Tasek Lama Waterfall Park

After a delicious lunch at an Indonesian restaurant (their cuisine is similarly eclectic), we visited the bird-watching paradise of the Tasek Lama recreational park. Located in the heart of the city, it’s an oasis of calm and a great opportunity to spot some exotic flora and fauna. There are over 80 species of birds recorded here – a slice of Borneo jungle in the capital.

Friends exploring the Tasek Lama waterfall park
The fine wildlife of Tasek Lama

Istana Nurul Iman – The Sultan’s Palace

The official residence of the Sultan of Brunei – Hassanal Bolkiah. One of the richest men on the planet, his net worth is estimated at $20 Billion and he is the world’s second-longest reigning monarch (after Queen Liz in the UK). You can imagine the opulence of his home, located on the banks of the Brunei River, southwest of the capital. In terms of floor space, it is ranked as the largest residential palace in the world.

Exploring the Brunei River on our Brunei itinerary
On the Brunei River

Kampung Ayer Walking Tour

Known as the “Venice of the East,” Kampung Ayer literally translates as “water village.” It dates back several centuries, and today is home to some 30,000 people, making it the largest Malay floating village in the world. You’ll receive an eye-opening historical and cultural education during your visit here, exploring how people live and work in houses on stilts in the water. A sure-fire Brunei itinerary highlight.

Photo taken from Sungai Kebun Bridge

Gadong Night Market

The packed day one of your Brunei tour draws to a close by visiting the colorful and vibrant Gadong Night Market. Here you have the opportunity to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of a street food hot-spot; and gorge yourselves on as many local delicacies as you can possibly consume. Untouched by the mass tourism of other Asian night markets, you can eat as the locals do at Gadong.

The Gadong Night Market - Brunei tour

Day Two: Scuba Diving

Those of you who have experienced scuba diving before and have an open water certification can dive right into some underwater tourism as part of your Brunei travel itinerary. But don’t despair if you’re a complete beginner as you can learn to scuba dive here and find out if this addictive and thrilling activity is for you.

Lydia prepares to scuba dive

Dive! Dive! Dive!

Much like with her rock climbing, Lydia is an old pro when it comes to scuba and wasted no time at all in getting beneath the waves. She completed two “fun dives” during day two, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Meanwhile, being the rookie of the group, I was receiving lessons on how to use the equipment in a private swimming pool. Everyone has to start somewhere!

Cez learns how to scuba dive

Day 3: Wreck/Open Water Diving

Scuba diving is one of the best things to do in Brunei as the country has been rapidly making a name for itself when it comes to its incredible wreck diving sites. With warm, tropical waters and excellent underwater visibility, the island of Borneo is a great place for experienced divers and novices alike. On day three of our itinerary, Lydia enjoyed wreck diving in Brunei two times, while I had some valuable practice in open water.

Cez in his scuba diving gear
Suited and booted

Bolkiah Wreck Dive

Apparently, no vessel bearing the Brunei Royal name is allowed to be sold for scrap, so instead, this 1955 passenger craft was sunk by the Brunei Royal Navy in 1992 to form an artificial reef. Today it is one of Brunei’s most popular dive sites due to its accessibility for divers of all abilities. Having served its time on the water, it is now serving under it as a wonderful hive of colorful marine life.

Lydia underwater

The Oil Rig Wreck

Located around 30 minutes by boat from Muara harbor in Bandar Seri Begawan, the oil rig wreck is another popular dive site in these waters. It’s an ideal spot for beginners (AKA – me) and was sunk as part of a “rigs to reefs” program to improve marine conservation. Decommissioned in the late 80s, the oil rig has had further additions down the years and it’s one of the must-see wrecks off the coast of the capital.

Two guys on a boat making funny poses
We’re just so cool

Day 4: A Damp Squib

Our planned day of watersports was totally rained off so we, unfortunately, lost a day. However, if you prefer there are a whole host of other activities and sites you can visit. Depending on what you want to do, you can cherry-pick a Brunei travel tour to suit your taste.

Monkeys in a tree
You might see quite a lot of these

You might choose to explore the Pulau Selirong mangroves of the lush Labu forest reserve. Enjoy a rainforest canopy walk at Ulu National Park in Temburong. Tubing and crocodile spotting (hopefully not at the same time) would be a thrilling experience. And an overnight hike around Tasek Merimbun – the largest natural lake in the country – will bring you right up close to the natural wonders of this island. Plus, loads more options besides.

Day 5: Cultural Tour

The final day of our Brunei itinerary was yet another jam-packed day of sightseeing and experiences, sampling local cuisine, getting even more into nature and rubbing shoulders with the local population…

A sign about stingless bees in Brunei

Tasbee Stingless Bee Farm

You’ll find this remarkable eco-farm located in the Tutong district of Bandar Seri Begawan. It’s here you can practice the ancient (and much needed) art of apiculture – or beekeeping to put it simply. You don’t need to have any prior experience around the insects, nor do you need to get dressed up in protective gear. These bees just happen to be stingless!

Stingless bees on honeycomb
BZZZZZZZzzzzzzz!

Here you can purchase a jar of stingless bee honey for $3 – and you have the option of harvesting the nectar yourself. The natural architecture of the hives is unique and intricate to look at and it’s a really cool alternative sightseeing option on your Brunei tour.

Eco Ponies Garden

A sign on a fence reads: “There is no wifi in this garden, but I’ll promise you’ll have a better connection.” And that, in a nutshell, is Eco Ponies Garden. It’s possible to live at this cozy, tranquil farm-stay so long as you help to expand and improve on their mission here.

A tranquil garden retreat

Established in 2015, it aims to champion sustainable living while promoting community tourism and agriculture. It’s an off-the-grid, serene retreat where you’ll meet friendly locals, learn how to live off the land and reconnect with the natural world. A therapeutic experience that will cleanse the mind and body – both inside and out!

Delicious locally-grown foods in Brunei

Tasek Merimbun

We did manage to enjoy a short visit to the largest natural lake on the island – Tasek Merimbun. Located about 70 kilometers from the capital, it is surrounded by a 7800-hectare heritage park where important and significant conservation work takes place.

Tasek Merimbun lake Brunei

It is possible to spend some time there, hiking the trails, cruising the lake and enjoying dawn and dusk bird (and croc) watching excursions. There is also a mini-museum dedicated to the natural history of the region.

Butterfly Garden

You might be able to guess from our overcast photographs that we didn’t have much luck with the weather while we were visiting Brunei. There is an opportunity to see a butterfly garden but once again the downpour put a dampener on our plans. Luckily, the deluge did manage to clear up for our final experience.

Lydia pilots a boat through Brunei mangroves

Mangrove Tour with a Local Guide

Last but by no means least on our Brunei itinerary we were treated to a boat tour of the waterways and mangroves of the island. This is where you have the opportunity to see an abundance of animal and plant life from the comfort of your own vessel – which we had a lot of fun piloting ourselves (under our guide’s watchful eye).

A boat's bow and mangrove in Brunei
Here be crocs!

We zipped along at a fair pace, cutting the engine and gliding into the nooks and crannies of the mangrove inlets, eyes peeled for signs of life. You’re likely to see the proboscis monkey – which is only to be found on Borneo – as well as a host of birds and – if you’re lucky – possibly the odd crocodile. Nature-lovers rejoice – for this is a super-cool experience and a great way to draw our Brunei tour to a close.

Sign me up!

If you’d like to experience a similar Brunei itinerary, let Poni Divers take you on a Dive & Culture Trip of Brunei – just like they took us.

Would you be interested in a Brunei Itinerary? Let us know what you think about visiting this exotic destination

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Tourist Places in Kerala: Human by Nature https://etramping.com/tourist-places-in-kerala-itinerary/ https://etramping.com/tourist-places-in-kerala-itinerary/#comments Thu, 22 Aug 2019 11:27:53 +0000 https://etramping.com/?p=43264 Kerala is Human by Nature—kind, serene and dignified—but how best to navigate God’s Own Country? In this article you'll find round-trip Kerala itineraries, what's so interesting about tourist places in Kerala, and how to plan the perfect Kerala holiday!

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Forests teeming with biodiversity, lush with heavy green rain, streams overflowing with life, and all penetrated with a certain dignity, calm and harmony. The people are the true heroes of Kerala – Human by Nature – for this reason, it is the perfect starting point of any Indian odyssey! It is called God’s Own Country for good reason. If this collection of tourist places in Kerala doesn’t convince you on its own, go and find out for yourself!

Where is Kerala and What is it Like

The long, thin coastal state of Kerala is located in India and borders Karnataka to the north and Tamil Nadu to the east. Here, you will find temples, mosques, churches, and even a sprinkling of synagogues. But this is not only a place of worship. Other points of interest include its burgeoning eco-tourism industry, an ancient Ayurvedic tradition, and world-class sporting options.

To those of you who have visited Kerala, the word itself evokes many images, feelings, tastes and smells. This ecological wonderland, parts of which remained independent of the British colonialists, is green-yellow and burnt orange, spicy dosa for breakfast and the ubiquitous fragrance of sandalwood. It is an amalgam of memorable experiences with uniquely hospitable people. It is also sweaty—unless you go up into the hills!

It is impossible to condense all the places to see in Kerala into one concise package, let alone produce a comprehensive Kerala itinerary. However, there are emblems which must not be missed. Here is a small collection of them.

Kerala’s Amazing Flora and Fauna

Kerala is verdant pastures, speckled with coconut and banana trees, teeming with honey-dewed life. It is the Bengal tiger, the Asian elephant, and the grizzled giant squirrel, all rolled into a Disney-like bundle of incredible fauna.

It is water buffaloes grazing among pools of water, wading themselves to beat the heat, the elusive Nilgiri tahr (ibex) locking horns on mountaintops—and above it all comes the twit-wooing of the oriental bay owl, its heart-shaped facial plumage coming out only at night.

Asian elephant saying hello!
Asian elephant saying hello!

What to See in Kerala and How

There are many opportunities to come into contact with Kerala’s incredible eukaryotic offerings, be they feline, avian, serpentine or… elephantine.
(Let’s face it: no Kerala itinerary would be complete without elephants)
But first, let’s be practical.

Sunset over Alleppey
Sunset over Alleppey

Flying to Kerala

Good news! Kerala was the first Indian state to have four international airports. These are in Kannur, Kozhikode, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. But you will most likely fly into Kochi, which takes nearly two thirds of Kerala’s incoming travelers.

Men on boats by Fort Kochi
Men on boats by Fort Kochi

Moving Around the Tourist Places in Kerala

Whether you choose to travel by train, bus, or by hiring a car, getting around Kerala should not be a challenge. The majority of locals are exceptionally friendly and willing to help. Let the goodness of this coastal paradise subsume you.

First timer? Don’t worry!

Assuming you land in Kochi, you have three directional choices: North, to Thrissur, Kozhikode and Kannur; South to Alappuzha, Kollam, Varkala, Kovalam and Thiruvananthapuram; and East, to Munnar and Thekkady, and the hilltop wonders you will find there.

Generally speaking, you can book transports in advance through two essential apps: RedBus (coaches), and Ixigo (trains). There are also myriad government buses covering every inch of this verdant land. These certainly have their advantages – they are incredibly cheap and offer a richness of experience you might lack if you hire a car.

Sample Kerala Itinerary

First Stop: Fort Kochi – Spend a Day or Two

Kochi is a bustling town rich in cultural and religious history. At its epicenter lies the arterial Fort Kochi—granted by the Rajah of Cochin to the Portuguese in 1503, this small area was then captured by the Dutch in 1683, then again by the British in 1795. It was at last returned to Indian control in 1947 with Indian independence.

Kathakali Dancer, a traditional figure in Keralan culture
Kathakali Dancer, a traditional figure in Kerala culture

In Kochi, visit the Kerala Kathakali Centre and be mesmerized by the traditional dance. There is much to do. Or simply meander through the cobbled streets as you ease yourself into the Indian way of life.

(By which I mean: drink lots of masala chai)

And now for something completely different

The Sacred Snake – Parassinikkadavu Snake Park

[Direct train from Kochi to Kannur]
Places to stay in Kannur include many glorious double-decker beach homestays!
16km north of Kannur

Snakes have been subjects of superstition and mythology since time immemorial—not least in Kerala. They are embraced, and feared, the world over. To the Hopi people of North America, the symbol of the snake plays a role in renewing the fertility of nature. Snakes are sent into the fields in order to guarantee fertile crops. Snakes are portrayed variously as umbilical, familiar, daemonic and immortal.

In Kerala, snakes used to be revered and looked after by regular rural middle class families! They would have a bit of land called Pambu Puttu (snake mound) or Pambu Kavu (abode of snakes). These serpent gardens would be cultivated especially to suit the needs of snakes.

Cobra
Cobra

Since a devastating fire in 1993, Parassinikkadavu Snake Park has come back with a vengeance. Home to a menagerie of deadly snakes, including the Spectacled Cobra, King Cobra, Krait and Russell’s viper, this is the place to go for all snake-lovers. The Park is dedicated to preserving and conserving endangered species of snakes. If you are interested in superstitions, myths, or just want to marvel at some of the world’s deadliest snakes, put this on your Kerala itinerary!

Try and catch the live show while you’re there!

Poorams—Temple Festivals

[Direct train from Kannur to Thrissur (Trichur), or Palakkad]
Places to stay in Thrissur range from luxuriant hotel palaces to cosy homestays

Kerala is home to a variety of poorams, or temple festivals. Its biggest and most famous is Thrissur Pooram, which falls during the Malayalam month of Medam.

The festivities are centrifugal, and at the heart are as many as 70 elephants adorned in traditional garb, often made of pure gold. A percussion troupe of 250 musicians will join the fray with their rhythmic drumming.

Figure of Ganesha
Figure of Ganesha

If hours of standing in the heat while having your eardrums pounded by two hundred drumsticks sounds a little overwhelming – as it certainly does for the elephants involved – then you could instead opt for…

Theyyam Harvest Festival—Kasaragod, northernmost Kerala

Why? To watch the wondrous Theyyam dancers. In the Malayalam month of Chingam (August-September), people flock from all over Kerala to Kasaragod to take part in Onam Festival activities, among other festivals. Activities include tiger dances, boat races, martial arts, food offerings and folk songs.

The festival serves as a commemorative celebration of King Mahabali, whose spirit visits Kerala during the period of Onam.

Or, if you’d rather take a break from the festivities, book a ticket to Munnar.

Munnar

Estimates are that there are up to 32,750 wild elephants in Kerala! If you want to see them at their best and happiest, there’s no better place than Munnar.

Tea plantations in Munnar
Tea plantations in Munnar: it doesn’t get much better than this!

In many ways, Munnar is the pinnacle of the dream, and should factor into your Kerala itinerary whatever your interests are. This is the breathtakingly beautiful hill station that you’ll be desperate to return to, time and again, and that your family and friends will tell you to stop talking about, time and again.

Located within Idukki district, this was the summertime resort of the British rulers during colonial times. Now, free of its shackles, Munnar is bursting with hikes, fauna and delicious dinners. Hundreds of miles of tea plantations weave their way over these rolling hills.

Walk among steep mountain vistas, and see if you can find some wild elephants! If you take a guided tour, your guide will take you to the best spots for elephant spotting. Head up to Top Station for the most enchanting views. Paraglide if you’re a dare-devil. And don’t forget to visit the nearby sandalwood forests of Marayur!

There are also several spots in town to buy a plethora of wondrous oils—basil oil, lavender oil, sweet almond oil, you name it!

Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady

Bengal tiger, lounging on a grassy bank
Bengal tiger, lounging on a grassy bank

The pristine Periyar Lake, and the dense forest that surrounds it, has been a designated Reserved Forest since 1899. It was made a sanctuary in 1934, declared a Tiger Reserve in 1978 and the core site was officiated as a National Park four years later.

A steady population (estimated 40) of tigers roam the Reserve. Yes, you read that correctly: tigers. Like, from The Jungle Book, and The Tiger Who Came to Tea, only in real life, orange in the flesh, striped and ferocious, the biggest of the big cats. They feed on sambar, Indian bison (otherwise known as gaur – extraordinary creatures), wild boar and other large herbivores. Famously elusive, shy and alert, a mere glimpse of this magnificent carnivore can be very affecting.

The sanctuary also hosts a bounty of other animals, including: Malabar squirrel, Chital (spotted deer), wild pig, a smorgasbord of snakes and, of course, elephant. This spot is also well loved by birdwatchers. See if you can see a Malabar Hornbill!

Last Hotspot: Kollam, for Ashtamudi Lake and the Backwaters

If you can’t make it to Kollam, or if it’s too busy, a good alternative is the Vembanad Backwater system area stretching from Alappuzha (Alleppey, aka ‘Venice of the East’) to Ernakulam and Kottayam, or the Kannur-Valiyaparambu Backwaters in Kannur and Kasaragod—these latter may be the quietest!

Houseboat on Kerala's famous backwaters
Houseboat on Kerala’s famous backwaters

The famed backwaters of Kerala are networks of labyrinthine canals, brackish lagoons, lakes amid lakes and languorous deltas fed by a deluge of slick rivers. These are unique to Kerala, and are therefore a must-see.

There are numerous areas on the Kerala coast where swathes of land are connected by open waters. Known for being the most beautiful and magisterial are the waters surrounding Kollam – specifically, Ashtamudi Lake. This is the most visited tourist place in all of Kerala! And if you go there, you will see why.

Stay in a houseboat on the backwaters and savour the serenity—have your cake and eat it too. Shop at floating supermarkets, take a step back and really sink into the glorious feeling of floating on endless water.

Sunset over the backwaters - what more could you want?
Sunset over the backwaters – what more could you want?

Round-trip Itineraries, including more tourist places in Kerala / places of interest:

Elephants & Hill Stations Route:

→ Fly into Kochi, stay in Fort Kochi
→ Take a bus out to Munnar and take in the vistas there, spot elephants, drink tea (great coffee too!), relax among the low-flying clouds
→ Take a bus south to Thekkady to see the tigers
→ travel by bus to Parunthumpara (eagle rock trek, a hidden gem!)
Alappuzha Backwaters
→ Kochi

North Kerala, Snakes & Festivals (check dates) Route:

→ Fly into Kochi
→ Take the train directly north, along the coast, to Kannur; find a place to stay here and take a day trip out to the Snake Park
Vythiri: Eco-friendly treehouses, locally constructed and run from the sun!
→ Take a train direct to Palakkad, at the foot of the gigantic Western Ghats; visit Tipu Sultan’s Fort
→ Visit Nelliyampathy, if you can! Nestled among coffee and tea plantations, and fed a steady, cool breeze by the highland valleys, Nelliyampathy is a delight for mountain views and enchanting treks
Thrissur (Trichur) Festivities, or Kasaragod
Fort Kochi
→ Day trip to Alappuzha

South Kerala, Beaches & Culture Route:

→ Fly into Thiruvananthapuram [or fly into Kochi and take the train from Ernakulam to Thiruvananthapuram—scenic, earthy, coconutty, floral]
→ Visit the Kerala State Science & Technology Museum
Varkala: Pristine beaches (no swimming during monsoon season)
Kovalam, Lighthouse Beach and Vizhinjam Mosque
→ Peppara Dam and Wildlife Sanctuary
Kollam or Alappuzha Backwaters
→ Either Kochi or Thiruvananthapuram to finish

Enjoy our trip!

This article was sponsored by Kerala Tourism but the views expressed are our own

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The Best Places to Visit in South Korea https://etramping.com/best-places-to-visit-in-south-korea/ https://etramping.com/best-places-to-visit-in-south-korea/#comments Tue, 20 Aug 2019 07:58:17 +0000 https://etramping.com/?p=43278 Best Places to visit in South Korea during your stay. South Korea is packed full of Natural wonders, tourist attractions and ancient temples!

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South Korea is an extremely well-developed country. The country has spearhead technology in many ways. In particular, it is heavily involved in research and development of robotics, with robot-themed parks and many showcases of cutting edge AI. No one could blame you if high-tech gadgets and screens are what you think of when Korea comes up in conversation. However, Korea is home to large amounts of natural and well-preserved landscapes.

Korea will take your breath away with its stunning ancient temples.

It is pact full of National parks, dense forests, ancient temples, and mountains.

Before Going to Korea

Before heading off to see the rich history and beautiful sites that South Korea offers, you need to assess if you need a South Korea tourist visa. There are over a hundred jurisdictions with a visa waiver, but this will not cover those who visit for longer than 90 days.

Don’t forget to get your visa sorted out before flying to Korea.

It is also worth bearing in mind that public transport is both efficient and very cheap. Renting a car would rarely make sense – it would be more expensive and likely slower to navigate around town. Taxis can fill in the gaps of your travels as they are always available, but avoid the black deluxe taxis, who charge significantly more.

Take a Tour of the Palaces in Seoul

Gyeonbokgung Palace is the original and largest royal palace to be built in the Joseon Dynasty which dates back to the end of the 14th century. King Taejo, the founder of the dynasty, is responsible for building the palace. 

Welcome to Gyeonbokgung Palace.

It is quite an experience to visit. The Korean government has since been spending a lot of time and resources on maintaining the palace, so it remains immaculate. It may be worth taking a tour, so the depth of the history of what you can see can be explained by an expert.

Changdeokhung may not get the attention that Gyeonbokgung gets, but it was the primary residence for the royals between the 1600s and 1800s. The palace has a Secret Garden, called Huwon. The garden was used for many things during the dynasty, from farming to banquets.

Korean villages will provide you with an authentic experience of traditional culture.

Nearby is Bukchon Hanok village, which lies roughly between the two palaces. Here, you can experience traditional Seoul culture and their housing styles dating back to 1392, the Joseon Dynasty era. The architecture of them is intended to fit in with its mountainous surroundings and blend in with the natural world.

Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan National Park may be just the place to see the nature side of Korea – it has it all. Predominantly, Seoraksan overwhelms with its gorgeous mountains. ‘Snowy peaks mountain’ is the translation of Seoraksan. At its peak, the mountain stands at 1,708 meters tall. This is Korea’s third-largest mountain, with many hiking trails that only take a few hours to finish.

Korea has so much to offer when it comes to nature.

The surrounding area contains the national park where you can hike, see mountain streams, forests, temples, and hot springs. The park is an enormous 163 square kilometers, spanning over four cities. There are around 30 hills and mountains, as well as stunning rock formations such as Ulsanbawi Rock.

For those with an interest in Buddhism or history, there is Sinheungsa and Baekdamsa, two Buddhist temples built around the 7th century. The Sinheungsa was in fact burnt down in 699 and 1645, being rebuilt both times. It is believed to be the oldest Seon (Zen) temple in the world. 

Busan Tower

The Busan tower is 120 meters high, built in 1973. The tower bares no utility other than for entertainment, meaning its intention was to provide visitors with an extraordinary 360-degree view of Busan from high up.

Busan Tower.

There is also a cafe to be enjoyed on the deck, along with some souvenir shops and galleries at the bottom. Busan is a port city, making the view all the more spectacular.

Namdaemun market

You may be aware South Korea is known for its shopping, but nothing can prepare you for the size of the Namdaemun market. There are over 10,000 shops in the open-air market – in fact, it is one of the oldest in Korea. 

Yes, there are over 10,000 shops in the open-air market so if you’re keen on shopping, you will absolutely love this place!

Many of the shops have their own production set-up, meaning it very much has a wholesale price market feel. Expect it to be slow-paced from the large crowds that are reliably there every day, but visiting in the morning is a good way to avoid the crowds. If it rains, there is also an indoor market or two, and an underground one which you can find within Namdaemun.

There is just about everything on sale in Namdaemun market. One product you will see most frequently is accessories and jewelry.

Final word

South Korea is a fantastic choice due to its versatility. History and nature lovers have the same amount to explore as technology geeks and shopping addicts. Despite it being developed and dense in its population, it is surprisingly affordable compared to their neighbors, Japan.

What’s your favorite place in Korea and why? Share it with us in comments below!

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How to Prepare for Everest Base Camp Trek: Packing List and Training https://etramping.com/everest-base-camp-trek-packing-list/ https://etramping.com/everest-base-camp-trek-packing-list/#comments Tue, 06 Aug 2019 05:13:39 +0000 https://etramping.com/?p=42924 Trekking to Everest Base Camp is a dream for any outdoor enthusiast. To be ready for the experience, here’s what you need to pack and how you should prepare.

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Back in 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first scaled the world’s highest peak, they were packing wooden handled ice axes, heavy steel crampons and military-style woolen clothing.

EBC Trek Bridge

By contrast, today’s equipment and apparel puts that to shame, with the advancement of some seriously impressive and potentially life-saving technologies.

While we didn’t make an attempt to summit Mount Everest when we Trekked to Everest Base Camp (perhaps one for the future), we still needed some top-quality gear to see us through on our dream-come-true Everest Base Camp trek. And if you’re considering following in our footsteps – you’ll need it too.

Aside from that, this 12-day EBC trek is a tough and challenging ascent to potentially dangerous altitudes, albeit through some of the most stunning scenery on earth.

You’ll need to be of sound body and mind to attempt it, so in this article we’ll explore useful training tips to get you in shape, while outlining all the kit that is essential for making the empowering journey to the steps to heaven. 

Also, feel free to check out Lydia’s guide to preparing for high altitude trekking in the Himalayas.

Assumptions About Your EBC Trek

What do you immediately think of when you imagine the Everest Base Camp trek?

Is it that you need to be insanely fit to undertake it?

Perhaps that it’ll be mind-numbingly freezing every step of the way?

Maybe you’ve heard horrifying stories of people secumbing to altitude sickness or exposure?

Alternatively, you might be one of those people who thinks it’ll be a breeze and you could do it in your sleep (like I did)! 

Whatever you know or you think you know, it’s always advisable to prepare for the worst case scenario. While it’s true you need to be in good shape, you don’t need to overdo it.

It’s when you’re actually attempting the summit that you should be borderline Olympian.

It is going to be cold, but so long as you have the right gear – you’ll handle it like a boss. We’ll take a look at how to deal with altitude sickness later, as the Everest Base Camp trek is anything but a breeze and still demands respect and detailed preparation. Let’s take a look at what you should be packing.

EBC Trek Apparel

Below you’ll find essential apparel you’ll need to gather before you set off on your Everest Base Camp adventure. Bear in mind that it is possible to buy or rent this equipment once you reach Kathmandu and in Namche Bazaar, but the quality and price can vary. It’s handy if you forget something, but even at the expense of traveling light, you probably should bring your own gear with you.

Underwear

You’ll no doubt get to know and love the term ‘wicking’ when you’re preparing for your Everest Base Camp trek. All your apparel needs to be breathable and allow moisture away from your skin. Obtaining clothing with this feature is a must – perhaps no more so than with your underwear. Nobody likes chafing. Look to pack 3-5 pairs max. Disposable underwear is a way to go if you want to wear a clean pair every day.

Hiking Socks

Don’t, whatever you do, pack cotton socks. You’ll be riddled with blisters. Instead, go with something more breathable with added cushioning. Anti-odor products are a good idea too, and pack a thermal pair for when the temperature really drops just to be comfortable. Around 5-7 pairs will do great.

Base Layer

Wicking is very important when it comes to clothing that is close to the skin, which is exactly what your base layer will be. This will include both a top and bottom, and sets are often available. It’s important that airflow is restricted to keep you warm, while you won’t be soaking with sweat inside the first ten minutes. All-in-one body suits are also an option if that’s what you would prefer.

Trekking Tops

Once again, cotton is a no-no when it comes to choosing your lightweight trekking top. You should be looking to pack around 2-3 of these, making sure that they are breathable. Wicking, as ever, is key.

Hiking Pants

Good quality hiking pants (and possibly shorts) are a must for your Everest Base Camp trek. You could probably do it with one pair, but having a backup can help (if you don’t mind carrying the extra weight). Look for something that’s versatile, as there are various products targeted at different seasons and conditions. Tactical, multi-pocket apparel is also really useful.

Insulation Layer

Your insulated layer can be made from a variety of different materials, so long as it keeps you warm with good breathability. You can choose from either down, synthetic or fleece, all with their own advantages and disadvantages – which means it will usually just come down to personal preference. Fleece lined, thermal leggings are also a good idea.

Outer Layer

Your final layer should be heavy duty gear, capable of withstanding whatever the elements decide to throw at you. Unfortunately, you’ll likely need to spend a little more in this department – especially if you want something that is going to do the job with any longevity. Don’t forget you’ll need the bottom half, too. 

Check the weather forecast for when you’re going. In case of my EBC trek – I used this layer only once and would honestly survive without it, but it made a huge difference in weight of the backpack).

Waterproofing

Even more so than your heavier outer layers it’s worth having a lightweight rain jacket and pants for emergencies – which will be useful in sudden downpours at lower altitudes or if the temperature is on the warmer side.

Trekking Boots

Your new best friend will undoubtedly be your footwear, which should be a mid-to-lightweight hiking boot with excellent support. Make sure they actually fit you correctly before making a purchase just because you like the color. The inability to try before you buy is one of the major downsides of online shopping…

Please make sure your shoes are waterproof – you don’t want to get blisters because there was a bit of rain.

Gloves

A pair of good quality gloves will be essential once you start feeling the chill. They should protect you not only from the cold but also the elements (sun, wind, and rain).

Sunglasses

Don’t forget the sunglasses. That big ball of fire in the sky can cause all kinds of problems at high altitudes in thin air. The glare off the snow will be blinding – so protecting your peepers is paramount. Invest in good quality products – dollar sunglasses will not be up to the job at these heights.

Lydia picking up trash off the trail on our way back

Hat

While not looking super trendy, a sun hat is a must! It will protect your head and neck from burning and keeping you awake at night. Also, get yourself a beanie or equivalently warm article of headgear to keep the heat from escaping from the top of your bonce.

Knee Guards

Invaluable! There are days when I walk around a city for a bit and my knees start to hurt. What would happen on the EBC trek if I didn’t have the knee guards? I don’t even want to think about it. If you have a slightest knee problem, or want to make sure you don’t develop one, do get yourself a pair of knee guards for this trip.

To get to the Everest Base Camp, you’ll be doing around 35,000 steps a day. Make sure to pay attention to your walking so that you don’t develop an injury.

Mouth cover

A scarf, face/head/neckband, or balaclava is something I found to be of utmost importance – especially on the dusty Everest trek routes, and when the wind is whipping up at freezing temperatures. Throughout the trek, you should keep your moth covered otherwise you’ll sneeze like crazy.

EBC Trekking Gear

There’s still so much more you’ll need if you’re going to complete the Everest Base Camp trek safely and in as much comfort as possible.

Below you’ll find a list of extremely useful items that you’re also likely to be in need of on your Everest hike. Once again, you will be able to pick most of this gear up in Kathmandu or Namche Bazaar (which is ideal if you want to travel light), but prices will vary and can often be of poorer quality compared to what you will pay.

Water containers

You’re not going to get very far if you can’t stay hydrated, so a water bottle or pouch is an absolute must. You should have one of these anyway – there’s no excuse for buying plastic bottles of water when you can carry a reusable one. Consider looking at a backpack with a hydration system if you want to remain on the go.

You should carry containers that can take a minimum of 3 liters of water.

Backpack

Which brings us nicely to whatever you’re going to carry all your gear in. The right trekking backpack will be another of your best friends while on the Everest trek – so make sure you invest in something that is durable but lightweight, and that has the capacity to hold all your stuff. Look for something between 35-65 liters – you shouldn’t need anything more than that.

Trekking Poles

Trekking poles are not essential but they can mean the world of a difference, especially if you’re a little unsure on your feet. They significantly reduce the stress and pressure on your knees, too – rather handy if you happen to be climbing to the base of the highest mountain in the world. They’re a godsend coming back down, too.

Headlamp

This will be essential for your early morning start on the hike to Kala Patthar during the last leg. It’ll also be highly useful whenever it’s dark – which does happen from time to time. Great as a potential signalling safety device, too.

Sunscreen and Lip Balm

At these altitudes, you’re asking for trouble if you don’t protect your skin. Make sure you get a high factor (50+) – you’re not up here to tan. We have packed too little sunscreen and suffered for this…

Toiletries

Invest in a sturdy, good quality toiletry/wash bag to keep all your usual doings in. And only take the essentials – you’re not going to need several bottles of that expensive fragrance.

Showers are a luxury most don’t enjoy every day on the trek – and even when you do get a chance – the water is lukewarm at best. So here are the items we recommend in your toiletry bag:

Toiletries Bag Content:

  • Toothbrush,
  • toothpaste,
  • toilet paper,
  • baby wipes (plenty, that’s your shower most of the nights), hand sanitizer,
  • 3 x tiny shampoo and shower gel packets,
  • (for men) razor if you want a clean shave look at the top, but it will probably take away the image of the difficulties you had to go through to get there,
  • (for women) feminine wipes, sanitary pads/napkins,
  • muscle rub (great to use just after washing up in the evening),
  • and any personal hygiene products you require should be plentiful.

Camera

It’s not essential, but you’re probably going to want to snap a few photographs of the outstanding scenery you’re going to experience on the Everest trek. Group shots with new friends having accomplished the mission are always nice keepsakes for years to come. Something lightweight and compact is all you need – unless you’re wanting to take pro shots of course.

Towel

What gets wet must also get dry. A small trekking towel will come in very handy.

Ziplock Bags

Important documents, passports and cash are very susceptible to extremities. Keep them safely protected in waterproof bags. Useful for electrical items, too.

Medications

Nobody will remember these for you – it’s up to you to ensure you pack any important medications you might need along the way. Make sure you pack altitude sickness pills!

Water Purification Tablets

There is a huge problem in Nepal with plastic waste. Don’t add to it. Make sure you take enough water purification tablets with you to cover the amount of water you’re going to drink. 2 x 50 tablets should do the trick. 

Book/Playing Cards

There’ll be downtime where you’ll want to relax or keep yourself entertained. A good book and a deck of playing cards will do both. However, don’t stress about this too much if you don’t want to carry these or forgot to pack them. Unlike what you probably think, you want have that much time to relax – you’ll be too tired and cold for that.

Energy Bars/Electrolyte Drinks

If you’re going on a tour, your guide will be responsible for making sure you’re well fed and watered en route, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have some snacks thrown in for good measure. Effervescent tablets or powders are also great to boost your energy levels. At the very least, they’ll make the water taste nicer. Pick all this up in Kathmandu or before – it gets expensive the higher you climb.

Ear Plugs and Eye Mask

Sleep is your friend and is never more necessary than when you’re putting your body through its paces. Even if you’re not a light sleeper, having a bit of extra help to reach the land of nod will be a very wise decision.

Sleeping Accessories for EBC Trek

Now, I’m not talking about an eye mask and ear plugs here (although they have their place). More so what you’re actually going to be sleeping in. Hiring options, when it comes to sleeping bags will often have questionable hygiene, so if you ’d much rather sleep in your own cot than someone else’s, you will need to carry it all the way up.

You could always bring a sleeping bag liner for peace of mind and extra warmth, which is something I would recommend. Unless you’re going in the peak of the season, most accommodations will be able to provide you with extra covers. However, carrying a sleeping bag that is warm enough for the weather will add several precious kilograms to your weight.

in case you decide to buy your own sleeping bag, Trekking Everest gets cold. Really cold. As such, you’ll want to opt for a down-lined sleeping bag. Sure, it’s fine to go for synthetics (they are generally easier on the wallet), but you’ll be more comfortable and enjoy a better night’s sleep if you invest in duck or goose feather. At the very least, it should be rated to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, otherwise, you might find you’re missing fingers and toes in the morning, or worse – you’ve not even slept at all.

EBC Trek Emergency Equipment

Even with the best will in the world, sometimes mishaps and accidents do happen. Unfortunately, undertaking the challenge of the Everest Base Camp trek does bring with it more risk, so it certainly doesn’t hurt to come prepared with a few essential items for use in an emergency.

Lydia and Cez take a breather

Your tour guide will most likely have a first aid kit, but it’s well worth carry a backup just in case. You can get some well stocked travel first aid kits today that won’t break the bank or take up too much space. Adding some basic survival tools like a signal mirror and multi-use knife is also a sound idea. You can never be too careful when out trekking in Nepal. Or anywhere for that matter.

A rescue whistle is a wise addition to your kit (often part of a trekking backpack) as it takes up very little space and could easily save lives. If you need to attract attention for whatever reason, having one of these powerful little ear-busters could really make the difference. Also useful for waking up your mate in the morning.

Insurance for Everest Base Camp Trek

It might surprise you (or then again it might not) to discover that obtaining insurance when you’re trekking above a certain altitude (3,000 or 4,500 m) is actually not as straightforward as one would hope. Many companies are reluctant to cover such intrepid adventuring as the risk becomes significantly greater. There’s no cutting corners here, remember, it is absolutely essential that you’re covered before you even strap on a boot.

In my personal experience, World Nomads is the best cover for such an endeavor – as long as you select the Explorer Plan. It covers you then up to 6,000 m. Here’s more details on the kind of cover you can expect from them.

There are other options out there worth checking out. Just make sure that you’re covered to the height you’ll be climbing to, and that helicopter rescue is also included if the worst comes to the worst. Always read the small print, folks – it could save you a fortune and, more importantly, it could save your life.

How to Prepare for the Everest Base Camp Trek

You don’t have to be a mountaineer to experience this incredible trek, but as previously mentioned, it helps that you’re in good shape and have a decent level of fitness at the very least. Even so, it’s not to be taken lightly and deserves time and effort to condition your mind and body in preparation for the challenge. The second you start to play fast and loose with this level of outdoor adventure, is the second you could seriously injure yourself and/or others.

The first thing you’re going to want to do is ensure you have all the right gear. You might already have noticed I’ve made this easy for you with my packing list above. It’s very important that you have all the essential equipment and apparel, as doing a half-arsed or lazy job of it could have dangerous repercussions. If you’re fully kitted out it will give you peace of mind. If you’re anything like me, you’ll also get a massive kick out of using your new gear for the first time, which really spurs you on to get started on the trek.

And make sure you’ve broken your hiking boots in if you haven’t already. Starting the trek with brand new shoes is likely to lead you right to blister city.

Education is also key. Read. Lots. Open yourself up to as many accounts of the Everest Base Camp trek as you can possibly get your hands, ears and eyes on. Check out travel blogs from people who have already done it. Watch videos and documentaries on the trek and climb – it’ll arm you with useful knowledge and get you excited in equal measure. Make sure you know what to expect on every leg – and you’ll be in a great position to deal with anything Nepal throws at you.

Training and Exercises Before EBC Trek

It is entirely possible to do the trek to the base of Everest without lifting a finger beforehand, but I wouldn’t recommend it – and nor would 99.9% of hikers, Sherpas and guides that are the real pros at this sort of thing. It’s important to get your body ready for the physical exertion you’re going to face – and that means a solid training program to get the blood pumping.

Hiking practice is probably the best way to prepare for the base camp journey, because that’s exactly what you’re going to be doing. When training for any long-distance trek, many hikers will simply fill a backpack with weights and walk around their neighborhood. Obviously, it’s much better if you have access to mountains and countryside, so get into the great outdoors as much as possible pre trek. Try to find a local hike that will take you five to six hours to accomplish and is predominately uphill. Replicating the Everest conditions as closely as possible is ideal training for anyone interested in the base camp trek.

Cardio is key. Set yourself a training program that involves a repetition of sets either swimming, rowing, running or cycling. If you lack the motivation or need an extra kick up the butt – get yourself a personal trainer or partner to yell at you to push further. Start slowly and build to working out for greater distances and longer periods of time. Your 20 minute cycle one week should be up to 30 minutes the next. Just make sure you start all your hard work in plenty of time if you’re not already in good shape. Aim for a minimum of three months before you travel to hit the aerobics hard.

Strength training will build your core muscle group and help with endurance and stamina. Both of which you’re going to need by the bucket load if you want to succeed on this trek. Check out interval weight training at a local gym – it’s easily the best way to focus on and develop the muscles that will push you to the top. Do sets of reps that will pay attention to your legs, arms, torso and shoulders – all of which will be taking a lot of punishment on the hike.

So long as you’re maintaining proper technique throughout a regular program, you’ll be doing wonders for your physical and mental ability to tackle the challenge ahead. There’s a strong chance you’ll look great, too!

How to Avoid Altitude Sickness

Perhaps one of the biggest fears for anyone contemplating the Everest Base Camp trek, is the threat of altitude sickness. It occurs when the body hasn’t acclimatized properly to high altitudes, and can pose a significant and potentially deadly health risk if not controlled or treated correctly. That being said, prevention is far better than cure, and with the right techniques, education and awareness, it will not be a problem for you. Follow the bullet points below to keep yourself out of harm’s way.

Everest Base Camp

Climb at a Slow Pace

There’s no need to rush. Don’t be afraid to notify your guide if you need to slow down or take regular breaks. There’s no shame in it – better to be safe than sorry.

Time to Acclimatize

Similar to the above point, one of the biggest causes of altitude sickness is going too high too fast. Give your body time to adjust on your trek. Any good trekking company will factor this in, but if you need more time, make sure you speak up.

Drink Plenty of Water 

Stay as hydrated as possible on your trek at all times.

Drink Garlic Soup Daily

Garlic helps prevent altitude sickness. Hence, you’ll find the garlic soup on a menu in every single eatery along the way to the top of the world. Moreover, nearly every dish will have some garlic added to it for a good measure.

Garlic soup

If you’re not into garlic, try to buy garlic pills in Kathmandu. They’ll give you similar results without the taste.

Don’t Drink Alcohol

Booze and cigarettes aren’t good for you at the best of times. Try to avoid them during your hike to Everest.

Snack Regularly

Pack those extra carbs in – you’ll soon be walking them off. Energy bars, fruit, grains, chocolate,  veggies…it’s all good.

Climb High – Sleep Low

A famous saying in climbing circles. You should climb as high as you can and then head back down before you sleep. And never go to bed if you’re feeling ill or the effects of a headache. It’s important to leave the thinner air behind before getting some shut-eye.

Don’t Push Yourself Too Hard

You see that big mountain? It’s been there for thousands of years. It’ll be there when you’re healthy and ready to conquer it. Don’t ever push yourself to exhaustion. Know your limits, and if you’re not feeling well, don’t be too proud to say you can’t make it. Save it for another day – it’s not going anywhere.

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Bhutan Tour Itinerary: A Traveler’s Perspective https://etramping.com/bhutan-tour-itinerary/ https://etramping.com/bhutan-tour-itinerary/#comments Thu, 25 Jul 2019 11:43:32 +0000 https://etramping.com/?p=42888 Visiting Bhutan had been an eTramping dream for some time - but did it live up to expectations? Read our Bhutan Tour Itinerary to find out.

The post Bhutan Tour Itinerary: A Traveler’s Perspective appeared first on Etramping Travel Blog.

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What do you think of when someone mentions the country of Bhutan? As far as Asian destinations go, it certainly isn’t as well-known or as frequented as the likes of Thailand, China or India. It remains something of a mystery – but a mystery we were determined to solve with a 3-day Bhutan tour itinerary.

The Bhutan tour itinerary - the Tiger's Nest

And while there are many good Bhutan tour operators, we selected Druk Asia to aid us on this quest. So, after speaking at the Himalayan Travel Mart Conference, where both Lydia and I were the speakers, and literally walking off-stage straight into a taxi to Kathmandu airport, we jetted off to discover what our Bhutan tour itinerary had in store. Let’s explore the land of the Thunder Dragon

Why Go to Bhutan?

Bhutan is a tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it country sandwiched between India and Tibet, high in the Himalayan mountains. It is worth paying a visit to this landlocked territory for that reason alone. It offers some stunning hiking amidst unspoiled scenery, dotted with monasteries perched in lofty locations all shrouded in wispy clouds.

The Buddha Dordenma - a gigantic golden Buddha statue in the Bhutan mountains.

Aside from the great outdoors, Bhutan is also known for its deeply Buddhist population. They are a peaceful and hospitable people who are rumored to be the happiest in the world. Throw in some colorful festivals, interesting (and spicy) cuisine and a unique cultural heritage – and you have a recipe that should entice any curious traveler.

Who Should do a Bhutan Tour?

Bhutan’s government practices a “high value – low impact” tourism policy. Those who enjoy getting off the beaten track will like it here. If you’re into nature in any way, you’ll be pleased to learn that Bhutan is actually a carbon-negative country. Translation: they look after Mother Earth better than anyone else on the planet. If you like getting away from the crowds and smog – you’ll enjoy visiting Bhutan.

A Bhutanese man smiling

If you are interested in countries with a rich history, the chance of adventure, smiling locals and a pleasant climate – then a Bhutan tour will be for you. Even though we were just getting our collective breaths back from an outstanding Everest Base Camp Trek – we were still super keen to see what Bhutan had to offer.

The capital was our first port of call.

3-Day Bhutan Tour Itinerary

Day 1: Thimphu

Bhutan’s largest city sits at 2,320m above sea level in the center of the west of the country. It is here in Thimphu that ancient meets modern, a fascinating juxtaposition between monks, monasteries, foreign business investment and the only capital city in the world without traffic lights. The attractions are…interesting.

National Memorial Chorten

‘Chorten’ translates as ‘seat of faith,’ and this monument in the south-center of Thimphu is a large stupa containing a number of Buddhist teachings, paintings, and scriptures. This one is said to have been built to “represent the mind of the Buddha.”

Cez standing in front of the National Memorial Chorten, Bhutan
Cez looking peaceful in front of the Chorten

Changangkha Monastery

The oldest temple in Thimphu dates back to the 12th century and sits overlooking the city near Motithang. It has some rather striking interior murals, but to reach the entrance there’s a long, uphill climb past black and gold prayer wheels along the walls. Believers make the trek daily to this sacred Bhutanese site.

Takin Enclosure

Bhutan’s national animal is a bizarre beast that wouldn’t look out of place in a Star Wars movie. You can check them out on a short visit to a wildlife reserve area dedicated to their conservation.

Craft Gallery

Exit through the gift shop? The Craft Gallery is located in an old textile museum and it showcases the very best handmade work from local artists and craftspeople. Authentic Bhutanese craftswomanship is on show – including from skilled weavers who work the loom as much as seven hours a day.

A man carving wooden crafts with his feet on Bhutan tour itinerary
Sometimes crafts are feetmade

Centenary Farmer’s Market

The capital’s busiest domestic market is a sight to behold. Spread over two stories with over 400 stalls, this is where the city’s residents congregate on the weekends. It’s a colorful, vibrant affair, full of photo opportunities and the chance to try and buy some locally made produce and goods.

Tashichhodzong

Located in the north of the city, this Buddist monastery and fortress is one of Thimphu’s most popular attractions during a Bhutan tour. “The fortress of the glorious religion” was built in 1641 but has a history that dates back even further to the 11th century. Today it is – among other things – the site of the famous Tsechu religious festival.

The Tashichhodzong fortress in Thimphu, Bhutan

Shopping at Norzlin Lam Craft Stalls

The day is brought to a close with a leisurely walk around Thimphu, including a visit to cast an eye over some more local crafts and artistry.

Day 2: Thimphu to Paro

The Paro Valley is home to a great number of Bhutan’s ancient monasteries and temples. It is estimated that there are over 155 of them dotted throughout this area of outstanding natural beauty. Day two of your Bhutan tour sets out to explore the history and culture of the region – including some fine examples of Dzong architecture.

Tachog Lhakhang

Perched on a hilltop overlooking the Paro River, this temple-fortress at first might seem unremarkable – save for its very famous bridge. Constructed by one Thangtong Gyalpo – an architect who built over 50 of these iron bridges in this part of the world – the structure is over 600 years old. You need special permission from the monks to walk across it – which, unfortunately, we didn’t have.

600 years old iron bridge
Guess which bridge is 600 years old?

Paro Dzong

Otherwise known as the Rinpung Dzong, this is a large Buddhist fortress and one of the most important in the region. Incidentally, that is what ‘dzong’ means – a type of temple/fortress architecture that’s famous throughout the Himalayas. Locals call this one the ‘fortress of a heap of jewels,’ and it’s filled with ancient frescoes and a lot of monks.

A monk stands in front of a temple, Bhutan Tour Itinerary

National Museum

Located on a ridge directly above Paro Dzong is a former watchtower that has been converted into Bhutan’s first national museum. During our visit, it was undergoing restoration, so its collection of paintings, relics, postage stamps, coins, local crafts, and natural history exhibition was housed in a temporary building opposite.

 Bhutan National Museum Watchtower
Bhutan National Museum Watchtower

Dungtse Lhakhang

This three-storied chorten-style temple was built in 1421 and – like many holy places in Bhutan – its history is rich with folk tales about how it came into being. It is said that Dungtse Lhakhang was built to subdue a serpent at its foundations, or that it was constructed on the head of a demoness. Buddist tantric paintings adorn its walls.

Rice paddies in Bhutan
Rice paddies in Bhutan

Kyichu Lhakhang

Next on your Bhutan tour itinerary is a visit to yet another temple – this time the oldest in the country. It is one of the 108 temples built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo to stop evil spirits from preventing the spread of Buddism. It is said that all 108 were constructed in a single night.

Exploring Paro Town

In the evening, your tour of Bhutan affords you some time to wander the main street in Paro. The highlight of the trip awaits tomorrow.

Bhutan Tour Itinerary - Paro Town

Day 3: Paro

Your third and final day exploring on your Bhutan private tour takes in the most famous and photographed landmark in the country. The highlight of any visit here and poster-child of Bhutan’s tourism industry – the Tiger’s Nest.

Taktsang Monastery

Clinging to the rock face perched high on the side of a cliff is this world-famous Bhutan attraction. Even if you know nothing of the country – you’ll have seen a picture of this. Taktsang Monastery is more commonly known as the Tiger’s Nest and to reach it, you’ll hike up more than two thousand feet from the floor of the valley.

Cez and Lydia above the Tiger's Nest, Bhutan tour
Our own personal hike above the Tiger’s Nest (tourist do not usually venture this high)

One of the most sacred sites in all of Buddism, legend has it that Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava – revered as the “second Buddha”) flew to this location on the back of a tigress to meditate in the caves here. The site became holy and thence the name “Tiger’s Nest” was born. Built in 1692, today it is the cultural icon of the country, and no Bhutan tour is complete without a visit to it.

The Tiger's Nest Monastery - Bhutan Tour Itinerary

Things You Should Know Before Booking a Bhutan Tour

We were very excited to have the opportunity to enjoy this experience, but there are a number of things you should know and understand before booking.

With our particular tour, we were only allowed to go to tourist restaurants. With other operators, you might be allowed to go to local establishments, but you tend to stick rigidly to the itinerary.

Bhutanese cuisine

You need to make sure you dress appropriately when visiting any holy site. No jeans are allowed, and you should take care to cover up – so no shorts, skirts or short-sleeved shirts are permitted. Hats are a no-no, as are flip-flops or any other inappropriate attire. Be respectful at all times.

You’ll have to stick with your guide throughout. You’re not allowed to enter the country alone and you must have a tour operator. That is the only way you can get your Bhutan visa approved. The “visa” costs $60 per day and the total cost is between $200 and $250 per day – but that includes all accommodation, meals, transport, guides and entrance fees. Tour companies are not allowed to sell their tours for less.

Travel is possible to any part of the country – but it has to be arranged before you book. If there is something you specifically want to see and it’s not on your Bhutan tour itinerary already – you need to ask for it in advance.

Cez had archery lessons in Bhutan
We also tried the national sport while wearing the national dress

The Tiger’s Nest hike isn’t as long as it’s made out to be. We managed it in just over an hour. Perhaps that’s because we had spent a lot of time getting ferried around in our transport and we exploded with energy when we were finally released!

Make sure you’re comfortable with spicy food. You’ll likely be eating chilies if you get a chance to eat local food (the only country in the world who uses it as a vegetable and not a spice). However, most places will feature more Western food than Bhutanese (if any). Pack some Imodium or equivalent just in case!

Check out Lydia’s list of best things to do in Bhutan for another perspective on this tour and even more information.

Bhutan Tour Itinerary Pinterest Etramping

What do you think of this Bhutan tour itinerary? Is it somewhere you would still like to go? Let us know your thoughts!

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The Most Inspiring Places to Explore in Oman https://etramping.com/the-most-inspiring-places-to-explore-in-oman/ https://etramping.com/the-most-inspiring-places-to-explore-in-oman/#comments Tue, 16 Jul 2019 03:15:37 +0000 https://etramping.com/?p=42805 Take a look at a route you should be taking when trying to see the best of Oman - a country with awe-inspiring landscapes and natural wonders.

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Oman is an amazing country with awe-inspiring landscapes, cultural, historic, and natural wonders and a welcoming culture. The country looks out on to the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman, and this provides a traveler with a natural coastal route.

Welcome to magical Oman!

With this in mind, let’s take a look at a route to show you the best in the country!

Before you Head off to Oman

To travel to Oman, you will need a visa. The best way to apply is by using the eVisa system that was introduced in March 2018. This avoids traveling to embassies and consulates to apply for your visa as you can apply online. This will give you up to 30 days travel in the country, more than enough for a road trip and you can get a single or multiple entry visa.

passport
Don’t forget to arrange your visa before you book your trip to Oman.

The requirements for an Oman eVisa are as follows:

  • You must be from an eligible country. There are 71 countries eligible for the eVisa, including most western world countries.
  • You need a passport with at least six month’s validity from the date of arrival in Oman.
  • You must supply a passport-sized photo of yourself and the biographical page of your passport.

You will receive the visa by email which you must print out and show together with your passport when you arrive in the country. You also need to show proof of a return flight.

Arrival in Salalah

Oman has two international airports, one in the capital Muscat and the other in Salalah. For a coastal trek, Salalah in the south is arguably a good place to start. From here you can head north along the coast making your way to Muscat.

Say hi to these lovely camels.

The city is the second-largest in the country and possesses the biggest seaport in the Arab Peninsula. Mountains flank the northern part of the city, and during the Khareef season lush green foliage grows, and stunning waterfalls form.

Head south to the coast, and you’ll be greeted with glorious white sand beaches. Arguably, the best beach is Al Mughsali Beach. Surrounded by mountains, natural fountains erupt from the rock. Between the mountains and the coast, Al Marneef Cave and Sultan Qaboos Mosque are just two of the natural, and historical wonders to visit.

Taqah

As you trek along the coast, you will come to the town of Taqah home of two ancient forts one of which has been restored.

The breathtaking scenery of Oman.

Taqah Castle is worth a visit in its own right. It dates back to the 19th century and was built to be the home of Sheikh Ali bin Al Ma’shani Timman. Today, the castle houses a museum featuring exhibits that bring alive life in the region.

Taqah’s reputation was forged exporting myrrh and is an active fishing port today.

Ash Shuwaymiyyah

Is an intriguing town about 300kms along the brilliant coastal road. The town is best known for the Wadi (valley) Shuwaymiyyah. This is a popular campsite in the country and flanked by mountains. One of the best views is sunset, where the sun slowly hides behind the mountains and long shadows form.

If you love climbing and/or hiking, Oman is the place to do both!

The valley features ravines and striking cliffs. The views from which are breathtaking. Fishing is highly popular here, predominantly on a commercial basis.

Once you’ve been here, you’ll probably find the experience haunting and want to return as soon as possible.

Ras Al Madrakah

This has become a popular camping spot thanks to the white sands beach where you can pitch a tent. It is a beautiful part of the country that has fierce natural beauty, and the wind tends to be stronger and temperatures cooler.

Boat ride Anyone?

As well as camping it is a highly popular fishing spot, and many can be seen reeling in the day’s catch. One aspect that will fill you with awe is the black ophiolite mountains to the south and the headlands to the north. In the middle, is the town.

Sur

Just before you reach Muscat, you may want to spend some time in the Sur. It has a very relaxed vibe and blends the historic with natural wonders. One of which is the lighthouse based in Ayjah. This impressive building is striking, and you can’t miss it as you approach the town.

The town boasts several forts which are well worth your time.

The architecture in Oman.

If you’re in the mood for something more animated, then the Raz Al Jinz Turtle Reserve is the place to go.

Muscat

Oman’s capital city is vibrant and dynamic. It is a true mix of western and Arabic culture and it possesses iconic and historical wonders.

Inside one of the mosques in Oman.

One of the most iconic places is The Grand Mosque.  Tourists are allowed between 9-11am, and it is just outside of the city. It was completed in 2002. The grounds are beautifully designed and landscaped and you will find yourself taking picture after picture as you take it all in.

To get the best out of your visit, it is a good idea to take tours of the old and new city. The contrast is remarkable, and you will get snapshots of how Oman people live.

Enjoy Oman and its delights!

Have you ever visited Oman? If so, what was your favorite spot to explore?

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