Emirates Business Class DXB-LUN

After my PER-DXB flight and my time in the Emirates Business Class Lounge in Dubai, I was ready to fly again. Honestly, I just really wanted to get to Lusaka at this point so that I could sleep. While the beds in business class are a gift from the flying spaghetti monster (or whatever deity you believe in), and they are very much appreciated on long haul flights, they aren’t a real bed. I was tired and cranky and just wanted a full sized bed with real pillows that I could just go starfish on. But I digress…

The boarding process was simple with priority boarding through the front door. Got offered a pre-departure drink pretty much as soon as I sat down. Again, they offered champagne or juice, and I asked for water. However unlike the previous flight from Perth to Dubai, they actually got me the water. Off to a better start…

After take-off, they came around to take drink and brunch orders. They confirmed my VGML was on board. I was simply hoping that it was actually vegan at that point. I ordered my obligatory Diet Coke to go with it.

The inflight entertainment had far fewer options than the Perth-Dubai flight as well. Less movies and less tv shows. It had The Avengers though, so I could still get my laughs. Tony Stark cracks me up every time. Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist!

When brunch was served, I wanted to cry. Bread rolls and pasta. The bread rolls had vegan fillings (capsicum spread, avocado and tomato), but the bread was obviously not gluten free, and nobody could confirm what was in the capsicum spread. So there was a spoonful of avocado and tomato that I could eat. Joy. I had a small packet of rice cakes in my backpack, but I was saving those for later in the flight just in case. The dessert was a few cake type things. Again, probably vegan, but definitely not gluten free. Which sucked, because one of them was mango flavoured, and everyone knows how much I love mango! Not Emirates’ fault of course, I was just really unlucky with that meal. They didn’t seem to get why my food went untouched, but such is life. I’m going to have to make sure that I pack some additional snacks for the flights home in case this happens again.

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My VGML brunch…

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The sweets that came after brunch

Stuck my headphones on for a few hours and did some work. Accidentally overwrote a critical file and just about crapped myself until I remembered I had a second backup. See, people call me paranoid all the time when it comes to backing up, but multiple backups are important for a reason! Hard drives die. Computers get stolen. Files accidentally get overwritten or deleted…

Roughly two hours before landing they served lunch. Drinks and warm nuts were served first. I bypassed the nuts as I was suffering from a migraine and I’d just taken some painkillers. Salty things tend to make my migraines worse. The entree was a salad with a slice of lemon which I used as dressing, and a mezze plate (eggplant and white bean topping, capsicum dip (didn’t eat), olives, cous cous, and a couple of little palm leaf wraps with rice in. Served with flat bread and regular bread rolls, which I left. The mezze plate was simple, but really good. Much better than the previous meal. That was followed by the main which was a vegetable curry with noodles (Thai style green curry by the taste of it). I ate the curry, but left the noodles in case of gluten. Curry was spicy, but awesome! I was offered Godiva chocolate, fruit and a cheese plate for dessert, which I declined. I could have just eaten the fruit, but I didn’t really feel like it. All in all, not a bad meal.

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The mezze plate I got for lunch…

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The VGML main lunch dish: spicy vegetable curry with noodles

Worth noting that even though the flight from Dubai to Lusaka is relatively long at just over 7 hours, they do not have flat beds in business class. The seats reclined a decent amount, which was nice, but still…I have kind of come to expect flat beds on flights over around 5.5-6 hours. Not the end of the world though.

Also, no amenity kit. I wonder what the threshold is for that to be honest? It’s very hit and miss in my experience. I’ve been on shorter 4 hour flights and got them, but this was over 7 hours and we didn’t. And it doesn’t seem to be dependent on the time of departure either. It actually seems to be more dependent on destination. It’s weird.

Another thing to note about Emirates in general, is that they allow the use of mobile phones in-flight. They still have to be off for taxi, take-off and landing, but once in the air it’s free game. They have a system set up for it, and while I’m sure it isn’t cheap, it’s possible. And people use it. This was always my concern about the use of phones in-flight: not safety, but people having really loud conversations and annoying the crap out of everyone else in the cabin. While I would be eternally grateful for wi-fi on flights so that I can keep on top of emails, the ability to make and receive calls is an annoyance. Because so many people can talk at sensible volumes in person, but have a tendency to shout when they’re on the phone. You can clearly guess what happened on the Dubai-Lusaka flight, can’t you? lol

The remainder of the flight was uneventful and we landed in Lusaka on time.

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Emirates Business Class PER-DXB

So this trip started out with a mess…

I originally had flights booked to Lusaka on South African Airways (SAA), and due to a series of strange events with the people sending me on this trip, I ended up being forced to change the flights to Emirates. It’s not something I really had much say in. It’s kind of a “you win some, you lose some” type situation. The flights on SAA were more convenient in terms of schedules, and also meant not having to transit in Dubai. But Emirates has a far superior product in terms of their lounges and also their on-board service.

For the record, if you want to know why I hate Dubai so much? Once upon a time my brother was stationed in the Gulf – he’s in the navy. On their rare time off, they used to go to Dubai to shop and sit around in expensive hotels and relax. I went to visit him on one of his trips to Dubai. We were out with some of his navy buddies and got hauled up by the cops – because I was a female in the company of a group of men. Now I knew the rules, as a female the only males I could be with were my husband or other family members. Stupid rule, but whatever. Now how exactly am I meant to prove that my brother is my brother? We actually look nothing alike, and if you didn’t already know we were related, you’d think we had different parents or one of us was adopted or something. My passport was in the hotel safe and I only had a photocopy on me. My brother had his on him. Even though we share the same last name (since I’m not married), the cops weren’t convinced. You know how we got out of it? Showing them our Facebook profiles that had the “relationship” link showing that we were brother and sister. Seriously. That on top of the hassle I got from airport security for being a female travelling alone and the snide comments I got has pretty much permanently put me off wanting to travel to Dubai – even in transit.

Anyway, I had to suck it up and fly through Dubai regardless. Someone else was paying for this trip, and if they told me I had to fly Emirates, then I had to fly Emirates.

Check-in at Perth was easy. The business class check-in was empty and I walked straight up. Very glad for the extra baggage allowance, my suitcase weighed in at 29.4kg. I had a lot of work stuff in there though. I then ventured through security and into the Emirates lounge. You can read about my lounge experience here.

Priority boarding kind of worked. There was a priority boarding line at the gate, but once through the gate, you get stuck behind everyone because everyone boards through the same door on the plane. Screaming kids make me want to maim puppies. Just saying…

Upon boarding, I was pretty much ignored…Surprising for Emirates. I got asked if I wanted a pre-departure glass of champagne, and when I said I didn’t drink alcohol and asked for a glass of water instead, I was told that “drinks would be served once we were in the air“. Seriously Emirates? What happened to their renowned customer service? Not impressed. Iwas surely not the only one in business class who didn’t drink given that it’s a Middle Eastern airline!

Anyway, after that we got the usual hot towel, and they handed out the amenity kits. Always love the Bulgari! It’s the tea scented stuff, which I prefer to florals, so I’m happy.

20140123-002443.jpgI love me some tea scented perfume! I have a large bottle of a different Bulgari one at home actually.

After take off they asked for drink orders and meal requests. Again with the customer service fail…I got sneered at when the cabin attendant noted I had a VGML. Come on. I mean honestly, I was ok with being forced to switch to Emirates from my initial booking on South African because Emirates has better service. But this was really poor. Kind of stunned me given my previous flying experiences on Emirates. I still hate Dubai (I can’t say that often enough), but Emirates has always been great in the past. I wonder what happened? The entire business class cabin crew having a bad day?

Checked out the inflight enertainment options, and again was a bit hesitant when I saw the new release movies. Tons of options, just not a single thing I wanted to watch. So I checked the regular movies in their database…Winner! A huge collection of Disney and Pixar films (Finding Nemo is an obvious favorite of mine)! And some amazing other options like To Kill a Mockingbird. Old but awesome. And Jaws…Figured if I couldn’t sleep at least I had something to watch, even if I’d seen them before.

Eventually we got our drinks and a small bowl of warm nuts. Then dinner…I wasn’t hopeful when the tray was placed in front of me and my entree was salad – to go with the side salad already on the tray. I love salad, but really? It was served with multigrain breadrolls by default. I ate the salad.

20140123-002411.jpgWould you like some salad to go with your salad?

The main came next, and to my surprise, it was actually pretty good. There was some veggies in a tomato sauce, some steamed green beans, white beans with a carrot sauce, and some veggie and polenta cakes. Made sure it was all gluten free before touching it since there was potentially some hidden there. Tasty, but nothing to write home about either.

20140123-002420.jpgThe polenta cakes were a little salty for my taste, but an otherwise good main.

Dessert was more problematic. Apparently the caterers didn’t load my VGML dessert, so in the end, they got me a fruit plate from first class because all the regular desserts had dairy in. It was fine, I’m happy with fruit, and at least that way there’s no potential for stuff ups.

20140123-002429.jpgA VGML with fruit for dessert? How…Unpredictable.

After everything was cleared I had to do some work. After all, that’s why I’m going to Africa in the first place. Had to do some Powerpoint editing. I hate Powerpoint. Worked on that for a couple of hours before attempting to sleep.

And slept for 6.5 hours or so. Sort of. It’s never proper sleep on the plane, even with the lie flat beds in business class. Either way, I woke up just as they’d started serving breakfast. I actually wasn’t feeling so great at this point. Not sick as such, just a stomach ache, so it’s possible there was some very minor gluten contamination or something with dinner.

And…Fail. The breakfast tray came out with fruit, yogurt, a bread roll and a croissant. I checked the ingredients label on the yogurt in case it was soy yogurt, but no. Full cream milk. So I asked the cabin attendant if I’d mistakenly been given the wrong tray, because full cream yogurt and a croissant? Not vegan. It was indeed labelled as my VGML tray. Not her or Emirates’ fault I suppose, but rather an epic fail on behalf of the catering company in Perth. She was very apologetic, but couldn’t really do much about it. I ate the fruit, and then the main came out. Various cooked veggies and baked beans. I ate the mushrooms and spinach. I don’t much like grilled tomato and didn’t feel like potato, and didn’t know if the baked beans were gluten free. It was a bit of a disappointing breakfast, but wasn’t the end of the world. When I landed in Dubai, I was able to get something in the Emirates lounge.

20140123-075741.jpgApparently full cream milk yogurt and croissants are vegan now?

20140123-075749.jpgThe main breakfast dish…Vegan, and mostly gluten free, just not what I felt like eating. Win some, lose some!

After freshening up, it was time to prepare for landing.

Not the worst flight ever, but certainly didn’t live up to Emirates reputation for having a superior on-board product and service.

Emirates Business Class Lounge – Dubai

After landing in Dubai from Perth, I made my way to the Emirates business class lounge since that was what I had access to. I’d heard horror stories about this lounge as people said it was so overcrowded that you’d be better off in the main terminal. Be that as it may, I wanted to at least check it out for a short while. A short while was all I really had anyway, since my flight from Perth landed at 0500 and my flight to Lusaka left at 0925. Between the time taken to get off the plane and into the lounge and having to go find my next flight, that only gave me three hours. Sounds like a lot, but in reality, by the time you go shower, grab some food, check up on the ton of emails dumped in your inbox during your last flight, and take some photos of the facilities? Not really much time to get bored!

The lounge is huge. Stretches more or less the entire length of the Emirates terminal!  There are multiple dining areas, ranging from snack bars, to cafe style service, and a fine dining area. I went for the cafe style, as I was hungry, but not really wanting a proper sit down meal.

There were a surprising number of vegan options available. I was initially offered eggs, but when I said I was vegetarian, they understood immediately and hurried to point out the options they had available. Various curries, vegetables, gluten free breads, fruits, cereals…And the barista! Have to admit, I was pretty impressed, not only by the options, but by the friendly attitude of the staff. It’s not uncommon for me to get an eyeroll from lounge staff when I ask about vegan or gluten free food. The Emirates staff in the Dubai Business Class Lounge were almost going out of their way to be helpful. Makes for a nice change! And also went some way to make up for the poor service and catering on my Perth-Dubai flight.

Apologies for the quality of the photos below, I had to try and sneak them. People didn’t seem to want me taking photos inside the lounge at all.

IMG_4770 Some of the breakfast offerings inside the Emirates Business Class Lounge in Dubai. Lots of fruit and pastries!

IMG_4771The cafe style dining inside the lounge. With a barista to make you coffee if you don’t want to make your own. 

I got some beans, hash browns, and fruit. And a Diet Pepsi (no Coke Zero [insert sad face here]). Also got the barista to make me an espresso. Well made, but not the best coffee I’ve had by a long shot. The barista might be brilliant, but without good beans, you notice it.

Then I went and had a shower – the facilities aren’t too bad. Hot water wasn’t as hot as I’d like, but it was hotter than warm, so not the end of the world. Towels, shaving kits, dental kits, and toiletries are provided. And the showers are clean, if not especially spacious compared to some others I’ve used around the world.

The wi-fi in the lounge? Yeah. Not so awesome. The password is on a little plaque on every table in the lounge, so it’s easy to access. But once you’re on, it’s slow. Incredibly slow. Even just trying to load the Google homepage it was timing out. On the upside, there’s plenty of powerpoints to plug stuff in!

One bonus is that you can actually get to your boarding gate directly from the lounge. You don’t have to exit the lounge into the general departures area if you don’t want to.

All in all, the Emirates Business Class Lounge in Dubai is certainly one of the better ones I’ve visited in my life. It’s really only the wi-fi that lets the place down.

Emirates Lounge – Perth International Airport

Due to a last minute change in flights (thanks for that by the way), I ended up on Emirates instead of South African Airways. Kind of a win some/lose some situation. The flights on South African Airways were more convenient in terms of schedules, but Emirates has a far superior product in terms of lounges and on-board service.

As I get to fly business class on the long haul sectors to Africa and back, it means that I have lounge access. In Perth, Emirates operates its own lounge, right next to the Perth International Qantas lounge. While I’ve flown on Emirates before, it’s always been from the east coast of Australia, so this was my first time into their Perth lounge.

And it’s a winner!

I was addressed appropriately when I entered the lounge as Dr VFF rather than Ms VFF. If my boarding pass says Dr, I should be addressed as such. Yet most of the time I still get the Ms. I was also asked immediately if I wanted the wi-fi password. Obviously.

The lounge is spacious, and not too many people were around. Not sure how busy it gets for the other Emirates flights during the day though. The wi-fi isn’t super fast, but it’s certainly fast enough for some email, Facebook and blogging. And plenty of powerpoints to plug in my stuff!

IMG_4748Inside the Emirates lounge at Perth International Airport

There’s actually decent vegan options that don’t solely consist of fruit and a few lettuce leaves! There’s also a pretty decent drink selection in terms of beer, wine and spirits. And there’s Diet Coke.

I hadn’t really eaten dinner, so I got some cous cous (cooked perfectly), grilled vegetables cooked in olive oil and garlic, and some hommous. Something I’d probably order in a restaurant to be honest, so I was quite impressed! It certainly beats the antipasto offerings in the Perth International Qantas Lounge at any rate. After my lounge dinner, I got some fresh fruit for dessert. Was so good.

IMG_4749The mezze options and the fruit and dessert platters…Tasty!

IMG_4750The hot food options included rice, cous cous, paneer curry, lamb tagine, chicken something, grilled fish, homemade pies and grilled vegetables!

For the non-vegans, there were dishes like grilled barramundi, homemade steak and onion pies, lamb tagine, prawn salad, lobster salad, and a fantastic range of dessert options that were mostly pastries and cakes. The lobster salad looked really good by the way!

The lounge staff were courteous and whisked away empty plates and glasses without any fuss once you were done.

I really enjoyed my time in the lounge, but eventually I had to go get on the plane. I still don’t like Dubai, but the Emirates lounges are one of the definite perks!

And as I have now set foot in every lounge at Perth International Airport, I can safely declare Emirates to be the winner! Congratulations!

On the road in…Bhutan!

Where they measure their gross national happiness? lol. Gotta love it!

I wasn’t sure what to expect in Bhutan to be honest because I have never met anybody who’s actually been. A friend of mine had wanted to go, but in the end couldn’t afford it. In a way I was anticipating it would be a lot like Nepal.

Bhutan’s a slight pain in the ass for tourists. You can’t just go and do your own thing. You have to book on an organised tour to get a visa, and this requires spending a certain amount of money per day. Six days in Bhutan cost more than almost a month in Nepal. Insane, but it’s the price I had to pay to visit one of the places on my bucket list.

This blog entry is more like a summary of my food experiences in Bhutan, but if you want all the gritty details, you can read my extended trip report for Nepal and Bhutan here (Part 1; Part 2).

So, the thing is, when you book trips to Bhutan, the price includes meals. I figured that just meant picking stuff off a menu like I did in Nepal and just having to pay for my snacks and drinks. But in Bhutan, “meals included” means buffets and set menus, something I was not informed about in advance. Which turned out to be a nightmare.

The trip started out well in Thimpu, with the hotel restaurant and other places we ate at being accommodating of my dietary requirements. It was all buffet dining and I couldn’t eat most of it, but my guide got them to bring me something I could eat regardless. The food I got was basically just plain rice and plain steamed or grilled vegetables, with freshly diced chili for some flavour. Boring, but edible. And for breakfast, I got some baked beans and mushrooms. Simple, but ok.

It went rapidly downhill from there. In Punakha and Paro (maybe it’s a p-thing?) pretty much everywhere refused flat out to accommodate my dietary requirements. If it wasn’t in the buffet or on the set menu, the answer was “no”. This was totally unacceptable given that I had no option but to pay this all-inclusive price, and then basically had almost no food to eat. Bhutan is expensive, and given the price of the tour, the fact that all I could eat was plain rice was bullshit. So was the fact I had to literally go without breakfast because they refused to make me anything I could eat even though they had the ingredients to do so. They were making apple pancakes for people for breakfast, so clearly they had apples. But could I get a plain apple? Of course not – it wasn’t on the menu.

IMG_4563Yet another inedible meal I was served as part of a set meal in Bhutan – rice, egg noodles with vegetables, and steamed vegetables with some kind of indistinguishable gravy (nobody could tell me what was in it). I managed to eat the few spoonfuls of rice that hadn’t been covered in the gravy…

The tour company was notified well in advance of my dietary requirements, so they should have taken this into consideration when booking me into hotels or selecting where to eat every day. Given what I paid for this side trip to Bhutan, the food aspect of the trip was totally unacceptable. I said as much on the feedback form. I don’t expect much if any response.

IMG_4545I may have had ongoing problems with the food and the attitude in Bhutan, but there is no denying its natural beauty!

On the road in…Nepal!

How did this all come about? Firstly, if you hadn’t figured it out yet, I’m a geologist. It might therefore come as no surprise that I had always wanted to go climbing in the Himalaya. Due to a series of unfortunate events (primarily lack of money), this was the first opportunity I really had to take enough time off work to do the trip I really wanted to do.

I’d met someone on my trip to Antarctica that had worked in Nepal as a guide for a number of years, and they recommended a company to me. After doing months of research on the company to make sure they were legit, safe, and could provide me with the itinerary and service I wanted, I booked a trip to Nepal and Bhutan with them. I had also initially planned to add on some time in Tibet, but for reasons I won’t go into here, I was unable to secure a tourist permit. Maybe one day I’ll get there, but not this time.

During the booking process I spoke to someone multiple times to confirm that I could get vegan food while I was out trekking and climbing. It’s one thing if you’re in Kathmandu and can just go hit the shops if a restaurant doesn’t have anything suitable. But when you’re out trekking around in the middle of nowhere near Mt Everest? Not so much. I was assured that it wouldn’t be a problem. I knew that a lot of people in Nepal were vegetarian for religious reasons, so I figured vegan wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Reading some climbing and mountaineering internet forums, the general consensus was that along the trekking routes the most common thing to get served was a dish called dal bhat. Basically just lentils with spices, curried vegetables, and rice. Vegan and gluten free! A number of people said I’d get bored of it after a few days, and I was sure I would, but at least I would have food to eat, and that was really my main concern. I’d packed a stash of rice cakes, vegemite and some gluten free snack bars in my luggage before I left Australia just in case though…

You can read all about the trip in my detailed trip report here (Part 1; Part 2). This post is just a summary of my dining experiences.

In Kathmandu, most of the time I was tired. Before the trek I was tired from flying. After the trek, I was tired from trekking. So I didn’t get too adventurous with the food, because I was just too lazy. I went for the quick and easy options. Like eating at the restaurant within the hotel premises…They had a number of vegan and gluten free things on the menu actually, and I don’t think it was deliberate, it was just what they cooked. The vegan and gluten free dishes were basically all appetizers though, which actually suited me just fine. Got to try a bunch of small dishes, and it was also good when I wasn’t particularly hungry and just wanted to sleep!

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A vegan and gluten free dish from Reef Restaurant in Thamel, Kathmandu. Potato fries with grilled onion, capsicum and green chillies. Chefs of Australia, take note – fries don’t have to be so boring for your vegan and gluten intolerant diners!

Out trekking around Gokyo and Everest Base Camp…Yeah. Lots of dal bhat. Lots of vegetable curry and rice. Occasionally french fries or vege fried rice. I survived. Honestly, the biggest problem I faced out trekking was breakfast options, and snack food to eat while out on the trails. Breakfast options were without fail museli, wheat-based breads, eggs, or some combination thereof. Occasionally I managed to find somewhere that had rice flour to make chapati, or somewhere that did gluten-free oats (had to ask them to be cooked in water). Usually I ate my own snack food for breakfast. Which was fine until it ran out and couldn’t buy anymore.

Which brings me to the snack food problem. When you’re trekking 6+ hours a day, at altitude, you need energy. Usually in the form of some kind of snack food. There is plenty of snack food available along the Gokyo and Everest Base Camp trails in the guesthouses. Mars bars, Snickers, Bounty bars, Pringles, Oreos, local cookies…Seeing the problem yet? Nothing. Literally nothing they have in the guesthouse shops is both vegan and gluten free. The only place I was able to find suitable snack food was in a small grocery store in Namche Bazaar. There I picked up some dried fruit, nuts, gluten free museli bars, gluten free/vegan candy…Which was amazing! But you have no idea how quickly you end up going through snacks each day. I grossly underestimated. In saying that though, you actually can’t buy that much even if you want to. You don’t have the space to carry it! I bought as much as I could in Namche on the way up, but it ran out all too quickly. So I was stuck without trekking snacks most days. Someone suggested to me to get the guesthouse kitchen to make some popcorn for me each day. While strictly speaking popcorn was always on the menu, given the fact that I was trekking in off-season, and the guesthouses were running on bare minimum supplies, it meant that almost nowhere acutally had the corn to make popcorn with in the first place. Poor timing of the trip on my part, but it’s something to be aware of if you also face dietary restrictions and you’re planning to visit in the winter off-season. That being said, the regular meals I got for lunch and dinner every day were amazing under the circumstances. Getting food and gas to some of the remote guesthouses must be a nightmare.

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Dal bhat was basically a dietary staple while trekking. Lentil soup, vegetable curry and steamed rice (+/- a papadum).

In summary, it’s certainly easy enough to eat vegan and gluten free for lunch and dinner while trekking. Dal bhat or vege curry. Hope you like curry (it’s not hot curry by the way, very mild)! Breakfast while trekking is more problematic, so please consider bringing your own breakfast food. If you check out my more extended trip report for Nepal (Part 1; Part 2), you will get an idea of the kind of foods available on guesthouse menus. It doesn’t vary much from place to place. And snacks can be a problem if you can’t eat cookies, potato crisps, or chocolate. So please consider stocking up at home, in Kathmandu, or in Namche Bazaar with appropriate snacks – and buy twice as much as you think you’ll need. Trust me, you’ll go through it faster than you think. Pack less clothes and use the space for food. Nobody cares if your clothes smell, believe me. Better to smell than pass out from not having enough to eat.

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And on that note…Nepal was awesome! Read my extended trip report for all the gruesome details: Part 1Part 2

Nepal and Bhutan Trip Report (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of my trip report from Nepal and Bhutan. Because the trip was so long, the report is quite long, and I decided to split it in half. You can read the first half of the report here! The first half is solely about Nepal, whereas this half includes the rest of my Nepalese adventures as well as my side trip to Bhutan.

There is some colourful language at times – in both parts of the report. I’m sure you will understand why when you see it though. Also at the time of writing this, 100 Nepalese Rupees and 60 Bhutanese Ngultrum is approximately US$1 (give or take a cent).

Part 1.

Onwards…

Day 14 (Tyangboche-Namche Bazaar…max: 3900m…estimated 4:00; actual 3:05)
Yak Hotel & Restaurant
Namche Bazaar Winner: hot shower, flushing toilet, wi-fi
6:45 am wakeup, 7:30 am breakfast, 8:00 am departure. After getting nothing for breakfast (nothing on the guesthouse menu I could eat, and I’d run out of my snack stash), we set off for Namche Bazaar. Not long after heading out, we passed through a small village, and through sheer frustration, I asked my guide to see if anybody in the village had an apple they could sell to me. Price be damned. I got an apple for 300 rupees. Breakfast. The trek into Namche Bazaar was pretty easy. Nice scenery as well. Arrived before lunch, so went to the internet cafe to sort out wi-fi for my iPad for the night. And went and restocked on snacks for the hike back to Lukla. More dried fruit, nuts, museli bars…This town is my food saviour! Also picked up a couple of small souvenirs. One of those silly beanies with the ear flaps – Angry Birds style! The green bird if you’re wondering. And a nice embroidered shoulder bag. Probably could have bargained more than I did. But I was tired, and lazy – precisely what they’re counting on. So I headed back to the guesthouse for lunch, where I ordered a vegetable sandwich and fries. I picked the veggies out of the bread and ate them with the fries. Then decided to catch up on email and Facebook for the rest of the day. Email was nothing exciting – either good or bad. Facebook was a series of “OMG! You’re insane!” posts on my wall from where I’d posted a photo from Gokyo. Man, they’ve not even seen the Cho La Pass photos yet, and they think Gokyo was insane? Haha. Aren’t they in for a surprise? For dinner, I got vegetable momos (not on the menu, but I asked and they obliged) and plain steamed rice. Ended up just putting some of the obligatory green chili sauce on the rice to eat with the momos. Simple. Can have a pig out tomorrow when we get to Lukla and it’s all over. The plan to split up the trekking and go to Phakding tomorrow and Lukla the day after is off the cards. Just going to go straight to Lukla tomorrow (stopping in Phakding for lunch) so we have the spare day for flying back to Kathmandu in case the weather plays havoc again.

IMG_4159On the trek from Tyangboche to Namche…

Day 15 (Namche Bazaar-Phakding…max: 3500m…estimated 4:00; actual 3:30)
Royal Sherpa Resort
Phakding winner: flushing toilets
7:00 am wakeup, 8:00 am breakfast, 8:30 am departure. Yet another change of plans! After breakfast (nuts and sultanas from my snack stash), I got told that we were only trekking to Phakding today after all. So that’s what we did. Now look, I have deliberately refrained from commenting on the people I’ve met along the way. Their stories are their own. But I feel obligated to comment on two incidents that occurred today. Incident 1: coming up to one of the army checkpoints, we had to cross a huge metal suspension bridge about 200m above the river, and some overgrown American frat-boy comes charging past me on the middle of the bridge yelling about being a hero for making it to the checkpoint first. He deliberately shoves me over, causing me to trip – on a metal suspension bridge – so he could be a hero? No – that just makes you an unsafe asshole. The type that gives American travellers such a bad reputation overseas. Everyone saw it happen. Nobody was impressed by the “heroics”. Then, incident 2: we saw a guy being carried down from Namche on the back of a horse. I thought maybe he was genuinely ill, or had altitude sickness. My guide asked the horse handler if everything was alright, and apparently the guy was “just lazy” and had “done no training” for the trek. Ok, to each their own in terms of training, but that is unsafe. You are not only putting yourself in danger if you are not physically prepared, but you are also putting others in your trekking party at risk as well. These two incidents today really emphasized to me the importance of safety in trekking. Not only your own safety, but consideration for the safety of others. Apparently some people don’t think about it. Or think at all. Anyway, we eventually made it to Phakding for lunch. I got fried rice – and it was awesome. Since the plans had been revised to stay in Phakding for the night, I figured I would go and investigate the wi-fi situation. No go. Again, it exists in theory, just not working in reality. Unfortunate, but such is life. Ended up spending the rest of the afternoon sitting in the sunny corner of the dining room in the guesthouse. There was some really bad Bollywood movie on the tv. Couldn’t understand a word of it, but it was still bad. I actually wish we’d gone with the plan to trek through to Lukla today. Lukla has working wi-fi and supposedly hot showers. I really want a hot shower right now. The whole “I’m dirty and I smell” thing hasn’t bothered me at all until today. I don’t normally care, it’s just part of trekking, but today it’s really bugging me. Hopefully we can get back to Kathmandu tomorrow so that I can have a real proper hot shower with no time limit. And get my phone fixed. I miss my phone 😦 For dinner I got vegetable curry and some fries. No rice. Need to stop carb loading now that the trekking is winding down. The Premier League was on tv, so I stayed and watched that for a while. Nothing too exciting. Then headed to bed. An early start tomorrow to see if we can get to Lukla to catch an earlier flight. We’ll see I suppose.

Day 16 (Phakding-Lukla-Kathmandu…max: 2850m…estimated 3:00; actual 1:40)
The Nest
Lukla winner: flushing toilets, wi-fi
6:00 am wakeup, 6:45 am breakfast, 7:00 am departure. Nuts and sultanas for breakfast from my stash. It’s empty again, but I just couldn’t face eating oats. I hate oats. An easy hike back to Lukla, only slowed slightly by the insane number of horses and buffalo on the trail. Got in to Lukla to see if we could get on a flight today. No idea, as nothing had departed Kathmandu because it was too windy for them to land in Lukla. So I basically sat around a guesthouse in Lukla waiting to see if any flights were going to depart today. If there was, we were on it. If not, there was always tomorrow – our originally planned departure date anyway. I thought about doing some souvenir shopping here, but everyone says “cheaper in Kathmandu“. I wonder how much cheaper to be honest. Got dal bhat for lunch, but then not long after was told the flights had all been cancelled for the day. After spending some time dealing with emails, I went for a wander to pick up some snack food to get me through. How is it that Lukla has less options than Namche Bazaar?!?! I found a single bag of cashews. Couldn’t eat anything else I found. Got dal bhat for dinner again. Was a bit of a miserable night with no sweet stuff. Spent some time online again before crashing. Another early wakeup in the morning to catch the flight back to Kathmandu. Hopefully.

Day 17 (Lukla-Kathmandu…max: 2810m)
Gaju Suite Hotel
Kathmandu winner: hot water, flushing toilets, wi-fi
5:00 am wakeup, 6:00 am breakfast…The guesthouse owner in Lukla is an asshole. I had to be up early for the flight, and asked for oats for breakfast, as it was literally the only thing on the breakfast menu I could eat. He said “no oats, take too long, toast only”. When I said I couldn’t eat the toast, he got angry with me. I got my guide to try and explain, and he got angry with my guide (though less angry than with me). Although having the ingredients to make the oats, he just didn’t want to. And according to the guesthouse rules, you get penalised for getting food from elsewhere and not ordering it in-house. And the guy refused to make an exception because the only thing I could eat was the oats…That he refused to make. Anyway, I gave up and didn’t eat breakfast. As the flight situation was still unclear at 8 am, I went to one of the shops and bought some dried fruit. Went back to my room and ate it away from prying eyes. Then basically sat around waiting for the flight. In hindsight, I wish I had been more proactive earlier about sorting out a helicopter, but I digress. Ate lunch (vege curry and fries) and then went to chase down a heli charter since the flights were looking likely to be cancelled again. The whole thing is a total rort, but I managed to find a chopper willing to come get us for USD $2000. Split between 4 people, that’s USD $500 each. I believe we should get roughly $100 each back from Tara Air for the cancelled flight. So about $400 each for the Lukla to Kathmandu heli rescue mission. I say “rescue mission” because of the totally dodgy way we got the helicopter. I found out later that the heli we’d chartered was the rescue chopper. And they had lied to the authorities about it being a rescue to get permission to come get us in Lukla. Now look, as much as I wanted a hot shower and all that, I was not interested in getting involved in some scam, which is ultimately what the heli pilot was running in conjunction with the Lukla airport manager and the local Nepali Police and Army guys at Lukla airport. Really unimpressed when I found out, but too late by that point to do anything about it since I’d handed over the money. Anyway, eventually got back into Kathmandu around 5 pm and headed for the hotel. Traffic nightmare. Took over 2 hours to drive what took us less than 10 minutes at 5 am. Fun times. Got my suitcase back and had that much craved hot shower. The $500 helicopter ride was so worth it, just for that hot shower. So worth it. Took my dirty, smelly laundry to reception, should be ready in the morning. Then dinner at the hotel restaurant. Some mushroom and rice thing. It was good. Been too long since I last ate mushrooms! A whole 3 weeks, must be some kind of record! Then went looking for dessert at one of the shops along the street I’m staying on. No luck, pretty much everything was shut by the time I’d finished dinner. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow. Have to get this Bhutan stuff sorted tomorrow as well, and get my iPhone (stupid piece of junk) fixed. Hopefully. If I can’t get it fixed, then I will cry – then go buy an Android phone in retribution. This trip has turned out way more expensive than I was expecting. Helicopter charters? Replacing smartphones? Ugh. It’s worse because I don’t even have a job to go back to. If I did, maybe this wouldn’t seem so painful. Time for bed now. In a real bed. In clean pj’s. It’s the simple things I miss most sometimes. That and decent internet!

IMG_4184The “rescue” chopper…

Day 18 (Kathmandu Day Off…max: 1350m)
Gaju Suite Hotel/Kathmandu Eco Hotel
Kathmandu winner: flushing toilets
No wakeup! I was up at 7 am anyway to make some phone calls back to Australia. Had to let a few people know that I survived. Then breakfast at the hotel. Strangely, the last time I stayed here before going trekking it was an a la carte breakfast. Today was a buffet. There were some curried peas and curried potato. The rest was non-vegan or contained gluten. Even the fruit salad had yogurt pre-mixed in. I had to plead with them for a good while to get someone in the kitchen to bring me a small bowl of the fruit salad without the yogurt. Who knew it would be such a hassle? Anyway, after that, I spent some time sorting out my suitcase and catching up on emails. Went for a short wander down the street looking for snacks as well. Want a stash to take to Bhutan tomorrow just in case. I found my cheap snack wonderland! The $7.50 small bags of dried fruit I found in Namche were only 40c here! And gluten free museli bars. And candy. And everything! Except Diet Coke or Coke Zero – which still depresses me more than you can possibly imagine. Anyway, I am still calling this store find a winner! Will definitely be back there after Bhutan for more snacks for the flights home. Just have to make sure I polish the dried fruit off before landing in Australia. Suspect it isn’t allowed by quarantine, but will check into it later. Because if I can get a couple of kilos of this particular dried fruit I discovered here that I like back to Australia, then I am totally going to go buy it. I have the baggage allowance, so may as well make the most of it if I can! Got back to the hotel and found that there had been some flooding incident, and they wanted to move everyone to their sister hotel. Only 2 doors down, but also a step down in terms of quality. I probably would have been far less annoyed if the new hotel had working wi-fi. As a regular business and leisure traveller, staying connected is critical for me. I totally understand having to move hotels, but I should have been moved to somewhere comparable. And this was not. Ended up tucking into the dried fruit for lunch. Couldn’t be bothered heading out again. It’s interesting that I got zero hassle from the souvenir stall owners on the trekking trail (not that there were many after Namche anyway), where I thought they’d be more desperate to make a sale, yet the amount of hassle in Kathmandu is insane. I had people literally grabbing at me the entire time I went looking for snacks, trying to get me into their shops (incense – hate it, gives me a headache; stone carvings – just not interested; tacky t-shirts – just no). I met with the trekking company owner after my improvised lunch to go over details for Bhutan. And get my flight details! All I knew at that point was that I was flying tomorrow. No idea what time or what airline. I’d made an educated guess that it was the 12:55 Druk Air flight, but who knew? I was right. Got the flight vouchers, visa letters and the transfer information. Easily sorted. Then went out to try and get my phone fixed. Failed. Took it to the Kathmandu Apple store (the genuine one) and they barely seemed to understand the problem (obviously I took someone with me to translate), let alone how to fix it. Not impressed. I knew more about Apple than they did, which is just sad. Anyway gave up on trying to fix it and went to see how much a Samsung Galaxy S3/S4 would cost. Apparently twice as much as in Australia – with no guarantee that what I was buying was even genuine and came with a guarantee. How about no? I think the guy taking me phone hunting from the trekking company was losing his patience, whether with me or the situation in general, I don’t know. On the way back, we stopped into a trekking store to buy me a jacket. I got a nice Mountain Hard Wear one. Not expedition weight, a thinner one. But it’s something suitable for Bhutan, and winters at home. I like it at any rate. Then back to the new hotel. At least they were attempting to fix the wi-fi, I’ll give them that. An hour later and we have success! Internet! I was saying on the phone this morning that sometimes I need a kick in the pants when I complain about first world problems. And that this trip did kick me a few times in regards to food, electricity and water. Things I realised I took for granted a very long time ago, but sometimes a reminder is good. But internet is just…I don’t even know how to explain it. I live my life online, I freely admit that, so going without a connection frustrates me very quickly. I admit that when I was trekking, my mind was constantly thinking “only [insert number here] days until wi-fi”. Which is sad – but true. Then when we’d get somewhere with wi-fi and it wasn’t working, I’d get angry. Not just at them for having busted wi-fi, but at myself for being angry about it in the first place. I know I have an internet addiction, I just can’t bring myself to really care. Anyway, after getting online again and researching dinner options (I am over eating curry, I wanted something totally different), I came across a place called Momotarou which is near my hotel. Japanese/Asian restaurant. Had to attempt it, since it had awesome reviews. Went to have a shower before heading out…And…No hot water. Some idiot had turned off the hot water heater for the hotel. Seriously? This place is one screw up after another. Deciding to shower after dinner instead, I headed out. Momotarou was awesome! I got yasai itame (stir fried vegetables) and agenasu siro-goma (sesame fried eggplant), both a little more oily than I expected, but still very good. It was served with complimentary green tea. And chopsticks. They even had tamari as well as regular soy sauce, but you have to ask when you order. I even ordered in Japanese – those high school language classes pay off occasionally. We have a winner! I am eating there again when I get back from Bhutan. The place is brilliant. Packed with Japanese tourists and expats, it has good food, good service, and good prices! They also had a Chinese food section on the menu which I didn’t order from, but it looked ok as well. Then back to the hotel to pick up my laundry and pack, as I was told it would be ready at lunchtime today. No laundry. Fantastic. Got told “11 pm”. Yeah, I was planning to be packed and well and truly asleep by that point. I hate this hotel (and its sister, the one who forced me to move in the first place) and will be tearing them a new one on Trip Advisor when I get home. This is totally unacceptable. Tried to pack as much as I could, but it’s hard when half your clothes are missing. Aside from the awesome food for dinner and the snack store discovery, today has been a giant clusterf***. No phone, hotel shenanigans of the unfunny type, horrible market stall owners grabbing at me. I just want to go to sleep and pretend it never happened. But no, I can’t, because now I have to stay up and wait for my laundry. Went for that post-dinner shower as I was told the hot water was back on…Not so much. It was lukewarm at best. I hate the world right now. My laundry showed up at 10:30 pm. Still damp, and my polar fleece jacket still had dirt on it from trekking. I am not paying for this. This is not just me having “first world problems” now. If I pay for hotel dry cleaning, I expect my laundry to be clean and dry when it’s returned. I might be having a bad day today, but I have travelled around the world enough to know when something just isn’t right and when it’s just me. And in this case, something just isn’t right. These hotels need to get their acts together given what they’re charging and the level of service they market themselves as having. I will be writing a formal complaint letter over this. I paid for a decent hotel, and got moved to a dump that is barely any better than a dodgy backpackers hostel.

IMG_4210My awesome meal at Momotarou…

Day 19 (Kathmandu-Paro-Thimpu…max: 2400m)
Hotel Riverview
Thimpu winner: hot water, flushing toilets, wi-fi
Woke up at about 5:45 am to people talking and smoking right outside my room. Unimpressed, I reluctantly got up and started to repack. I’d left the damp laundry hanging up all over the room overnight, and it was a better approximation of dry by about 6 am. Then I decided to try for a hot shower. Again, the water was barely lukewarm. I think reception and I have a very different opinion on what constitutes “hot” water. They seem to think it’s anything above cold. One incredibly quick shower later, I decided to brave breakfast. After the litany of problems at the hotel so far, I wasn’t hopeful. Imagine my surprise when they had a small but good range of options I could actually choose from? Got some beans, potato with garlic, and steamed Asian vegetables. There was also fresh fruit salad. Huzzah! The difference here I think, is that the hotel restaurant appeared to be run by Indians, not Nepalese. It helped, and the customer service was much improved over the general hotel service. I wouldn’t say it redeemed the place by any means, but it was the one bright spot in an otherwise horrible hotel experience. After breakfast, I still had a couple of hours to burn before heading to the airport, so I finished packing, messed around online and went and topped up my stash of snacks. Got picked up for the drive through nightmare traffic to the airport. After an initial security screening (bag x-ray and patdown) and checking in, you fill in a departure card and clear immigration. Then there are about half a dozen tiny shops (a couple of gift stores, a couple of coffee shops, a confectionary store and a tiny duty free store). Do not rely on the airport for your souvenier shopping. The options are almost non-existent. There is also a small restaurant upstairs above the Thai Air lounge. I ended up grabbing a plate of fries up there. And you know what else they have at the airport??? DIET COKE AND COKE ZERO!!! Clearly the stuff does get imported into Nepal, so why on earth can’t you buy it anywhere except the airport? Shenanigans! Anyway, I bought a couple of cans to go with my fries. Heaven! The actual departure gates require you to go through another security screening checkpoint (another bag x-ray and patdown). After that security screening, there is nothing but an incredibly tiny snack store with an almost non-existent range, and the departure gates. So if you get to the airport and want lunch or dinner, you need to get it before heading through the second security checkpoint. As my Druk Air flight was in economy, I didn’t have airline lounge access. However, when I return to Kathmandu in a week for my return flights home to Australia, I will have lounge access, so will comment on that then. The flight itself was amazing. If you ever find yourself on a flight from Kathmandu to Paro, try and get a seat on the left hand side of the plane. It’s the side that lets you see the Himalayas during the flight. Stunning sight! The food on board was just a snack (only a ~50 minute flight), so even though I told them I wanted a VGML loaded, I got served the same as everyone else. A pastry (butter, gluten), cheese and mayo sandwich (cheese, egg, gluten) and a mini pack of peanuts (huzzah!). And Coke Zero! For such a short flight, peanuts and soda was fine. Plus, I’d had some semblance of lunch at the airport in Nepal. Still can’t get over the fact I got Coke Zero today! On the plane you also get your immigration form and luggage claim/customs forms. The immigration form requires you to have your visa letter from the tour company with your visa number on it. This must be arranged in advance, otherwise you can’t enter the country. There is no “visa on arrival” in Bhutan. After that, baggage claim and customs (you give customs your luggage claim form). Then outside to meet the tour company rep! And we have another winner! A brand new 4WD. Everyone I’ve seen in Bhutan so far has been driving pretty much brand new SUV’s or 4WD’s. We had an 80 minute drive from Paro to Thimpu, and it was stunning. Truly stunning. The scenery, the architecture (state policy that it must conform externally to tradition, internally they can do what they like). Stopped a couple of places for photos before arriving in Thimpu. I had some fantastic conversation with my guide. For a country that has always come across to me as being so uptight and restrictive, he actually spoke quite freely about everything. I have no doubt a good part of it is government propaganda, but the country really does seem far more progressive than I thought it was. We arrived at the hotel in Thimpu and I took a rapid shower (so much hot water!!!) before meeting my guide for tea. Then we headed out for a couple of hours sightseeing. We went to the palace and for a wander around the local food markets. I mentioned to him about being vegan and gluten intolerant, and he just said thanks for telling him and he didn’t ask anything else about it. That concerned me for a second, but I figured I would just bring it up again at mealtime. We headed back to the hotel around 5 pm and I was on my own for the night. Dinner was in the hotel restaurant and started at 7pm. Messed around on the wi-fi for a bit before heading down for dinner. I thought it would be a la carte, but it was a buffet. And everything – everything – had dairy or wheat in it. But my guide? Apparently when we got back from sightseeing, he told the restaurant about my dietary restrictions, and they brought me out a bowl of vegetable and sweet corn soup, rice, steamed broccoli with garlic, potatoes, lentils and salad. And fruit for dessert. My guide knew what vegan and gluten intolerant meant!!! I didn’t have to explain anything, he knew already. That made me so happy. I wouldn’t need to worry about mistakes with the food in Bhutan. The food itself was quite good as well. I asked for some chili to go with the lentils, and they obliged with some fresh green chilis. Awesome. Then back to my room for some email catchup and sleep. Not a particularly early start tomorrow, getting picked up at 8:30 am, but I’m still tired after last night’s hotel nightmare. First impressions of Bhutan are amazing though!

IMG_4229 On the drive from Paro to Thimpu

IMG_4237 If I recall, this is where parliament sits

IMG_4278The awesome dinner I got in Thimpu that gave me high hopes for the food in Bhutan…

Day 20 (Thimpu Sightseeing…max: 2400m)
Hotel Riverview
Thimpu winner: hot water, flushing toilets, wi-fi
Off to a good start. A good night’s sleep. Woke up around 6 am though. Dealt with some emails before getting ready and heading down to breakfast at 7:30 am. Again a buffet, but I was attended to straight away and the wait staff told me what the kitchen could quickly put together for me. I got served some Chum Thup (rice porridge with vegetables usually made with butter – they made me some without), baked beans, boiled potato (instead of bread), and fruit. Way too much food for me – I certainly never see myself going hungry in Bhutan! I would barely eat that much food in a day at home, let alone in a single meal. I will try everything while I’m here though. I can’t see myself coming back here again unless it’s for work. Bhutan is lovely, but a hassle to get a visa, and very expensive. So I will make the most of the time I have here, including the cuisine. Even if it means piling on a couple of extra kilos that my coach will make me drop when I get home. Eating a lot when you’re trekking all day at altitude is one thing – when you’re being driven around to go sightseeing it’s another. Anyway, the day was long. In no particular order, we visited: Bhutan’s National Library, several monastic schools, a nunnery, the giant Buddha statue under construction, the Post office, the bank (I needed local currency at some point – make sure you keep the exchange receipt, you need it to change any back), the Takin reserve, handicrafts markets, a paper making factory, a weaving factory, the Folk Museum, and the archery centre. I don’t think I’m forgetting anywhere. It was a busy day. Somewhere in there we also went for lunch in town at a restaurant called Eidelwiess. Another buffet (sensing a theme here…), but it had some steamed vegetables, salad and rice that I could eat. And today’s “huzzah!” moment? Guess what they sell everywhere in Bhutan? Coke Zero! Winner! After lunch, I did duck into a small grocery store to scout out snack options. I found some dried fruit and this coffee candy stuff. Easy enough. They also sold tons of cookies and chocolate, but obviously those were off-limits. There are also these rice snacks, similar to the ones we can buy in Australia. They’re gluten free and vegan, I just don’t like them. Eventually after our busy day, we headed back to the hotel for tea. Sat around chatting to my guide and an Indian guy here on business about the local economy and other random topics. Headed back to my room to freshen up (still loving the hot water!) and backup photos before meeting my guide for dinner. We went to a traditional Bhutanese restaurant in town called Bhutan’s Kitchen – another buffet. I got red rice (first time I’ve tried it), white rice with corn, steamed vegetables and some steamed spinach with a sesame oil and garlic dressing. And a liberal serving of fresh hot chili paste to go with it. So good. One of the dinner conversation topics I found most interesting was about Buddhism and being vegetarian. As in, most Buddhists are not vegetarian. I’d picked up on this a little in Nepal, but it was never really explained to me there. This revelation surprised me a little, because I know a number of people personally who have converted to Buddhism, and all of them told me that going vegetarian was an important part of that conversion. So to find out that very few Buddhists are actually vegetarian surprised me. The deal is that Buddhists can’t actually kill the animals, but they can and do eat them. How does that work, if they can’t kill them? They hire non-Buddhists to do it! Seriously. My guide laughed when I told him about my friends converting to Buddhism and going vegetarian and said “they are doing it wrong”. I don’t necessarily think they’re doing it wrong as such, just maybe they misunderstood the whole “no killing animals” thing. He also said I was more Buddhist than most Buddhists if we were going by that measure because I’m vegan. And I had to laugh at that. While I’m all for peace and harmony, I am admittedly very selfish, and somewhat materialistic. I could never do it. Plus, I have serious issues with some fundamental parts of Buddhism. Mainly the indoctrination of young kids into the monastic order, and their stance on homosexuality. After dinner it was back to the hotel for more internet and some dessert (my stash of dried fruit). Off to Punakha tomorrow, which should apparently be a really nice drive. Not an especially early start either which is nice! Now, sleep.

IMG_4280 Hotel breakfast in Thimpu, with the weird vegetable rice porridge…

IMG_4308A Takin spotted at the reserve…

Day 21 (Thimpu-Punakha…max: 2400m)
Meri Puensum Resort
Punakha winner: hot water, flushing toilets, wi-fi
So, something I ate last night had gluten in it. Spent most of the night back and forth to the bathroom. No idea what the culprit was, as all I had was rice, veggies and fresh chili. Anyway, got up for the day at 6:30 am and went for breakfast at 7:30. Baked beans and mushrooms for breakfast. Headed out at 8 am for the drive to Punakha. Some stunning scenery, especially at the top of the pass where we stopped for tea. It has some amazing mountain views! Got some good photos I think. Then down the other side of the pass to Punakha. We stopped to visit a monastery along the way and took lunch at a roadside restaurant. It looked like a dump from the outside and I was hesitant, but inside it was amazing! Another buffet, but plenty of different vegetables on offer, along with rice. They did offer me ice cream for dessert, which I said no to…That apparently surprised the staff there, I don’t think they were used to people rejecting sweets. Back on the road, and it took longer than expected to get to Punakha I think because we got stuck behind a huge fleet of army transport trucks, and the road was not particularly conducive to overtaking. When we got down, we visited the local dzong and went for a walk over the long suspension bridge. That was apparently all there really was to see in Punakha, so we headed to the hotel. It’s nice enough: hot water, flushing toilets, wi-fi. After a short rest, we had dinner at the hotel restaurant. The food options for me were more Indian in style with rice, curried veggies and papadums. There were also some curried pasta and meat dishes. I raided the remains of my dried fruit for dessert. All gone, so going to have to restock somewhere tomorrow before the drive to Paro. Another relatively early night due to last night’s lack of sleep. Sleeeeeeeep!

IMG_4358 The view from the top of the pass!

IMG_4414 Punakha dzong

IMG_4450

Dinner – rice, curried vegetables, steamed beans and lots of chili added!

Day 22 (Thimpu-Paro…max: 2600m)
Hotel Olathang
Paro winner: hot water, flushing toilets, wi-fi
Another sleepless night. No idea what the problem was last night, just couldn’t sleep. I expected this in Nepal when I was at altitude, not when chilling out in Bhutan. At any rate, I got up at 6:30 am and went for breakfast at 7. Problems. Got offered museli (no), eggs (no), porridge with milk and butter (no), toast (no). I asked if they had any fruit – no. We had a long-ish drive of 4-5 hours before getting to Paro so I had to eat something, and I had no snacks or dried fruit left. I got a glass of this horrible long life juice and some black tea. Couldn’t even get baked beans since the brand they had wasn’t gluten free. I tried to convince the chef to make me a small bowl of fried rice. That took close to an hour of begging because they really didn’t want to do it, which left me about 2 minutes to finish packing and check out before we left at 8:30 am. Without the fried rice – I lost the argument. Bhutan had been doing so well on the food front until today! We got back to the hotel/restaurant at the top of the pass and had tea before continuing on to Paro. I would have killed for snacks at tea as they only served cream biscuits, but there was only the obligatory gift shop on the premises and they didn’t sell food. But on the way down, there’s an immigration checkpoint with a small streetside market stall right next to it, and guess what they were selling? Bags of dried apples! I got 2 bags for 100 Nu (~$1.50) – winner! I had snack food – cheap snack food at that – once more. Bhutan’s gross national happiness had just increased. Sadly about 15 minutes later I wasn’t feeling so good though. I don’t think it was the apples, but the fact that it was insanely dusty and it was playing havoc with my sinuses. I kind of dug into my first aid kit, found my Sudafed (got a standing letter from my family doctor so I can travel with it overseas) and dozed off until we got to Paro. There we took lunch. Another problem – all the veggies they served me had oyster sauce on. Everyone failed to see the problem. They also gave me some fried eggplant, but the batter was made with regular flour. So all I could eat was plain rice, since the kitchen refused point blank to make me a separate bowl of vegetables. I was seriously losing patience with my guide at this point, who basically just kept shrugging his shoulders at me when the kitchens refused to do anything. After that we headed off to the National Museum. You have to hand over your camera at the entrance – there’s lockers for it – as there’s no photography allowed inside. My advice is to just leave your camera in the car while you’re inside. It’s a pretty small museum, but the natural history section is amazing! Really well done. Then we headed off to the Paro dzong. Pretty. The monks were making health/luck amulets, and the money raised from the donations went towards the education of the kids there. For a couple of bucks, a little amulet on a piece of string was ok. Not that I think it’ll work, but if I can help kids get educated, then so be it. We headed back into town after that to go watch an archery competition. Kinda cool. Went for a wander around the shops and picked up a couple of small trinkets for people at home, and a pair of earrings for myself. There’s a few things I’ve seen that I really like, but price aside (we’re talking a few thousand dollars each), they’d be incredibly hard to get back to Australia without breaking. And they’re just ornaments that would sit on a shelf. They have no practical use at all. I’m going to sleep on it, but right now my brain is winning the fight. Also picked up some more dried fruit. It finally failed me. It looked like raspberries with a powdered sugar coating. Close, but no. They were raspberries with a powdered sugar and chili powder coating. I almost cried when I put the first one in my mouth. Hot! I ate a few just to see, but no, not my thing. The combination doesn’t do anything for me. See, that’s the thing with all this dried fruit I’ve been eating in Bhutan and Nepal. I have no idea what it is. Obviously I can pick out the sultanas and dried coconut. Obvious fruits. The rest of it? No idea. Could be anything. I lost the guessing game today. Such is life. Then off to the hotel I’ll be at for the next couple of nights. Nice enough. My room is more like a cabin overlooking the main part of Paro town below. There was hot water, flushing toilets and wi-fi, so I was happy. Although the wi-fi only works at reception and in the restaurant/bar, but that’s ok. Better than nothing. Had a real actual soak in the bathtub before dinner, which was awesome! Dinner wasn’t a buffet tonight, but a set menu. Imagine how well that went down when I told them I couldn’t eat a single thing that they put in front of me except the rice? Three kinds of meat (no), chili cheese (no), naan bread (no), vegetables with regular soy sauce (no). I don’t think the chef was impressed, but in the end after much begging, they brought me some plain rice, steamed veggies, grilled broccoli and mushrooms, and some spring rolls (vegetables and rice noodles inside, I left the wrapper alone). Washed down with Coke Zero. I got some banana and papaya for dessert, though they brought it out topped with cream – despite me clearly asking for the fruit to come without any topping! So I couldn’t eat the dessert and they wouldn’t bring me a new one without the cream. Today’s been a pain in the rear end with food. I mean in the end I ate lunch and dinner – but it meant nothing but rice for lunch, and took a lot of persuasion on both my and my guide’s part to convince the kitchen staff to make me dinner. This is the problem with buffets and set menus. I would honestly prefer to spend a little more money and go a la carte, but it’s like that isn’t even an option in Bhutan. Everywhere has either a buffet or a set menu, which is a nightmare if you have serious dietary restrictions and the kitchens don’t want to make you something suitable. I have another night here before heading back to Nepal, so hopefully tomorrow will be easier. Spent some time after dinner sitting in the dining room using the wi-fi before heading back to my cabin and taking more Sudafed. My sinuses were still stuffy and gross and my head hurt. I thought about asking my guide to take me to a pharmacy to get a nasal decongestant spray, but I’m not sure I trust the medicines sold here. Asia is obviously notorious for counterfeit everything, and unfortunately that extends to medicines. I didn’t want to risk it. Fell victim to it once in Cambodia when buying headache tablets, so now I just try to avoid it and bring everything from home. Anyway, off to see the Tigers Nest monastery tomorrow, which was my main reason to come to Bhutan in the first place, so should hopefully be a good day. Now, I’m tired from lack of sleep the last few nights, so…Bed!

IMG_4455 And the food starts to go downhill – what I was served for lunch: rice, deep fried eggplant and vegetables with oyster sauce. 

IMG_4480 Paro dzong

IMG_4490I got dinner – eventually…Steamed veggies, broccoli and mushroom, rice, and spring rolls. I just ate the innards of the spring rolls and left the wrappers.

Day 23 (Paro-Taktsang Monastery-Paro…max: 3100m)
Hotel Olathang
Paro winner: flushing toilets
Hoo-fucking-ray. No hot water all day. And more food problems, to the point I got no breakfast at all – again. God I just want to get the fuck out of this country now. Up at 7:00 am to get ready and get breakfast and check my email. No hot water, so no shower, and the wi-fi was down – an ominous start to the day. Then breakfast – a set breakfast menu. I got offered cereal (no), museli (no), porridge with milk and butter (no), eggs (no), sausages (no), toast (no). I asked for fruit and was told no. I asked if the kitchen could make me some rice, because I didn’t want to go hiking up to the Tigers Nest monastery without anything in my stomach – they said no. If it wasn’t on the set menu, the answer was “no”, no exceptions. There was not a single thing I could eat, so I went hungry. We headed off to the Tigers Nest monastery and hiked up. My guide said the hike up should take 2.5 hours, and 1.5 hours back down. I got up in 50 minutes and down in 40. Either he’s used to dealing with unfit people, or I’m just that awesome. I suspect a combination of both. The monastery itself looks awesome from a distance, but inside is just like every other monastery we’ve visited this week. Got some decent photos though I think. On the way back down we took an early lunch at the guesthouse. Same buffet style as everywhere else, just with less options. All I could eat was the rice. Seriously – even the vegetables had soy sauce on, and the kitchen wouldn’t make me any without, despite a request from both myself and my guide. Everything else was off-limits for various non-vegan ingredients. So I had rice with a dollop of ketchup. Fan-fucking-tastic. Just what I wanted after getting no breakfast. And there were no shops from which to buy snacks. I was paying how much for all of this food I couldn’t eat? Yeah. After reaching the carpark at the bottom, we drove back to town, stopping at a small 7th century monastery along the way. I was going to ask if we could stop in town so I could buy some food, but my guide said we had to go back to the hotel. Not sure why a 5-10 minute stop in town was such a problem, but so be it. Was going to go to the hotel bar and have a soda and check my email, but they had no Coke Zero or Diet Coke. Apparently the one I had at dinner last night was their only stock. Joy. So I went back to my room instead and went to have a hot shower to wash off the dust and sweat – and still no fucking hot water. I actually literally yelled profanities at the top of my voice. I don’t care who heard me. I don’t ask for much from hotels – a bed, flushing toilet, hot water, and wi-fi. That’s it. And this hotel is just failing epically. I have had enough of Bhutan. Kathmandu may well be an ugly dump, but it is at least functioning, and I never once copped this attitude in regards to my dietary requirements there. After a couple of hours, reception sent someone down to fix the hot water system. I was told to try again in an hour, but by that time it was time for dinner. By some stroke of luck, I managed to convince the chef to make me vegetable curry and vegetable fried rice! I could eat a real meal today after all. After dinner and finally getting connected to the wi-fi for a bit, I tried the hot water again. It was lukewarm, but definitely not what I’d call hot. Enough for a rapid fire shower at any rate. Then I crashed. An early night so I can get up early and pack before heading to the airport for my flight back to Kathmandu. After my initial reaction to the food in Bhutan when I was in Thimpu and thinking it was going to be awesome, it ultimately turned out very differently. It wasn’t that they didn’t have appropriate food in the buffets or set menus, it was the general attitude I copped when I said I couldn’t eat it and politely requested something else (even when I said I was prepared to pay for it) that has grated on my last nerve and caused me to almost lose it a few times. I consider myself an incredibly tolerant traveller, especially when it comes to travel in developing countries. But here’s the thing – Bhutan is not what one would consider a developing country by any stretch of the imagination, and my patience is not unlimited. I am prepared to deal with a lot of crap on the road, but the general attitude I’ve had to deal with the last few days with regards to food has pushed me to breaking point. An isolated incident is one thing, but this wasn’t isolated. I don’t say this too often, but I want to leave, I want to go home, I don’t want to return.

IMG_4544The Tigers Nest monastery…

Day 24 (Paro-Kathmandu…max: 2600m)
Gaju Suite Hotel
Kathmandu winner: hot water, flushing toilets, wi-fi
I want to think it was a genuine mistake, but given the fact the hotel kitchen was well aware of my dietary restrictions, I find that hard to believe. I really hope it wasn’t the kitchen being vindictive thinking I was just being an annoying and fussy eater. Something I ate last night at dinner contained egg. I was up all night being violently ill. Really violently ill. I am in so much pain from heaving my guts up all night that I want to cry. Pretty sure I lost a couple of kilos in the process. Since I never actually got to sleep, there was no real wakeup to speak of this morning. Managed a hot shower – sort of. It was hot for about 30 seconds before turning freezing cold. Not lukewarm, but freezing. Then I was faced with the same breakfast options as yesterday, therefore another morning without breakfast. Although as I had to fly out, I figured I could just get something at the airport with my leftover currency. I still felt like crap, so I don’t know that breakfast would have gone down well anyway, it’s more the principle of it all. Anyway, headed off to the airport at 8:30 am as you only have to be there 2 hours early. Small airport benefits. I said my goodbyes to my guide and driver. They were great. They tried their best even if it was sometimes a futile effort, so I gave an appropriate tip to each of them. You and your bags get scanned as you enter the building. Now here’s my words of caution…The Druk Air staff will drag you to the scanner and then over to the check-in counters. But the only currency exchange at the airport is before the scanner. I ended up stuck with a bunch of Ngultrum that I can’t do anything with now that I’ve left Bhutan. I might try and flog it off on Ebay. Surely someone out there wants some Bhutanese notes? Anyway, after the scan and check-in (ask for a seat on the right hand side of the plane to see the Himalayas on the Paro-Kathmandu flight), there’s immigration. A desk with departure forms is there, so just that form and your passport are necessary. Then there’s another bag scan and security check to get to the departures lounge. The departures lounge has a few tiny souvenir stalls, basically just selling textiles, not badly priced, so I decided to spend some of my remaining Bhutanese currency and buy a few small gifts. And a pencil case for myself. Then just sat down and abused the free wi-fi until they called my flight. It was delayed due to the late arrival of the aircraft, but by the time we hit Kathmandu we were only 15 minutes late. Not the end of the world. The flight was uneventful and the exact same snack box was offered as on the Kathmandu-Paro sector a week ago: pastry, sandwich and peanuts. I also got a Coke Zero. Had to make the most of it since I figured I wouldn’t be able to find any more in Kathmandu! Same arrival formalities in Kathmandu, except I already had the visa from my last entry, so I could just go straight to immigration with my passport and the Nepal immigration form I got on the plane. Then baggage claim, customs, and the scrum outside which I got to avoid because I had my guide from my trekking waiting to meet me. The traffic was, as usual, a nightmare. But eventually made it to the hotel. Hot water. Wi-fi that works everywhere. Bliss! Went back to the awesome snack shop to try and hunt down some lunch food, and guess what I found? Diet Pepsi!!! Holy crap, this shop just gets more epic every time I walk in. They didn’t have any last time I went in, but now they do. I stocked up with half a dozen cans. And snack food. I am so happy to be back in Kathmandu. There’s food I can eat that isn’t plain rice! I do realise that makes me sound like an asshole when there’s people starving out there, but when you’ve paid thousands of dollars for a short trip and all you get to eat is plain rice? I reserve the right to be an asshole and complain. Went back to the hotel to basically rest until dinner. I had decided to go back for Japanese again since the last time was so good. Caught up on all the news from home, though it didn’t sound like anything interesting had happened. Nobody died, got pregnant or won the lotto. And I finally got a decent hot shower. Off to Momotarou for dinner and I got miso soup, vegetarian sushi and the sesame fried eggplant I got last time. With lemon tea. All was right in my world again. I had hot water, good food and a stash of diet cola in my room. My bad mood from Bhutan was slowly abating. After dinner I headed back to the hotel for wi-fi, dessert (my snack stash) and general vegetating. Early start tomorrow as I’m going to retry the mountain flight to Everest, a last ditch effort. Might not happen if the weather is bad, but have to try. My brother and I are on Facebook talking about coming to Nepal together with a couple of his friends to do a full on climbing trip at some point. One of the few hobbies we have in common, so he’s been really interested to hear what I’ve got to say about this trip. A rare occurrence! We normally ignore each other online. I was also talking with a friend who really wants to go to Bhutan about my experiences there. She is vegetarian (by choice), not vegan, so I don’t think she will face quite the same problems I did with the food. And the rest of the issues I had may have just been incredibly bad luck rather than a systemic issue. Either way, I told her about both the good and the not so good. Buddhism is all about balance anyway, right? Anyway, after some random conversation, it was time for bed. I really don’t want to be up at 4:30 am…

IMG_4587The view of Mt Everest from the Druk Air flight from Paro to Kathmandu.

Day 25 (Kathmandu Day Off…max: 1350m)
Gaju Suite Hotel
Kathmandu winner: hot water, flushing toilets, wi-fi
Another attempt at the mountain flight today. Was up at 4:30 am for my transfer to the domestic airport at 5. The car showed up at 5:30 am with my trekking guide. I need not have worried as when we got to the airport, I was still the first person to check in. Got a ticket for the first mountain departure. Then through security to the departures lounge. The little snack shop was making a killing with all the flight delays. I bought a bottle of water and a small amount of dried fruit with me, but couldn’t eat any of the food they were selling in the shop. Which sucked, because I was hungry and the delays due to the weather were dragging on. Originally a 6:15 am departure, it became 7:00 am, 8:00 am, 9:00 am, 9:30 am…No, wait! The fog’s lifted at 9:15 am – go, go, go! The flights to Lukla got out first, something I fully agree with having been stuck there myself and suffering through the rort for a heli back to Kathmandu. Then the mountain flights went. Thankfully I was on the first flight, so got out of there quickly. The flight itself was nice, but in hindsight I think it was a waste of money. I’d been trekking up there myself, I’d seen it on the flights to and from Bhutan. I really think the mountain flights are for people who come to Nepal and don’t go trekking up to Everest Base Camp. I was very underwhelmed by it. I got some good photos, but I got far better photos from trekking and the Bhutan flights. Such is life. Got back to the hotel just before lunch and raided the remains of my dried fruit and 2 cans of my Diet Pepsi as a really late breakfast. An hour later I headed out to some random Nepalese cafe and got some chili fries and vegetable momos. I was supposed to be going out for dinner tonight with my trekking guide for traditional Nepalese and a show as part of the tour arrangement, so figured I’d probably be eating curry then and didn’t want it for both lunch and dinner. Even though curry or dal bhat is always the easier and safer option here. After lunch, I crashed. Well and truly. I’d intended to go shopping for some last minute gifts and get a massage, but I was so tired. There’s always tomorrow. My flight out of Kathmandu isn’t until 11:50 pm on Malaysia Airlines, so I have the entire day to do stuff. More Japanese for lunch? Maybe. Love that place. Got picked up at 6:00 pm for dinner, which was a short drive away (seemed much further due to the traffic though). A set menu…But my guide said it’d be ok because he spoke to the waitstaff. Not so ok. The only thing I got to eat was a tiny scoop of rice and a tablespoon full of mushrooms. That’s it. I paid how much for this dinner to be included? Dinner usually involves food. I asked if I could get some other vegetables or more rice – no. Everything was either meat based or had butter in the vegetables and they refused to make anything else. About 15 minutes after eating my pathetic serving of rice and mushrooms, I was racing off to the bathroom. The mushrooms had been cooked with flour. I explicitly asked about what was in the sauce – multiple times, and got my guide to confirm the answer. They lied, intentionally or not, they lied. And I am being forced to suffer the consequences. It isn’t going to be a fun night. And I was so looking forward to a good night’s sleep since I don’t have to be up at any particular time in the morning. Not impressed. Went back to the hotel after dinner and took something to settle my stomach. Managed some water and a museli bar since I did need some actual food. I give up. I want to go home and just eat normal food. Salad that I don’t need to worry about due to someone washing it in dirty water. Fresh fruit that is clean and not turning rancid. Vegetables that aren’t curried. Gluten free bread. My favourite soy ice cream. 34 more hours until I hit home soil. I’m counting down with glee.

IMG_4619 The view of Everest from the mountain flight. I was trying for some arty photos with the plane’s propeller in since I’d already seen the Himalayas from the Bhutan flight.

IMG_4715Yes, this is seriously all I got given for dinner at the restaurant – and that tiny amount of mushroom made me sick regardless…

Day 26 (Depart Kathmandu…max: 1350m)
Gaju Suite Hotel
Kathmandu winner: hot water, flushing toilets, wi-fi
So apparently that one spoonful of mushrooms at dinner last night had enough gluten in to keep me sticking close to a bathroom for 24 hours. Not fun. The lack of sleep recently for various reasons is getting to me. I got out of bed around 7:30 am and attempted breakfast. All I got was a tiny (I mean maybe a quarter of a cup) bowl of fruit. There was nothing else on the menu I could eat. Previously at this hotel I’d made a request for beans or mushrooms and they obliged. This morning I was flat out told that anything not officially on the breakfast menu was a no-go. Not happy. I did a bit of Google-fu after that to see where I could buy myself a Gurkha knife. I didn’t want to get ripped off, so I got a good idea of prices before I headed out. In the end I found a shop that sold both genuine and replica knives of various types. I bought a nice replica (blade looks about 10″) with a stand for US$44. I only had a couple of thousand rupees left and I still had to buy lunch and dinner, so I paid in actual USD. On the way back to my hotel, I picked up some dried mango and another can of Diet Pepsi for my airport wait. Wasn’t counting on them having a whole lot I could eat in the Executive Lounge. Then I ventured out for lunch. A few people had told me a place called The Green Organic Cafe & Farmers Bar was the place to go for vegan food, so I had to try it. The place was certainly very good, but vegan? Not so much. Nearly everything had cheese or cream in it. Fantastic restaurant if you’re vegetarian. Seriously fantastic. But the vegan options were the same as everywhere else: french fries, vegetable momos, vegetable curry or dal bhat. I got the dal bhat set, which also came with a lassi, something I obviously left alone. Also ordered a pot of herbal tea that was so good I asked what it was and subsequently bought some. Hoping AQIS doesn’t confiscate it on the way home! The quality of the food was great, I was just a little disappointed that yet again, I had to resort to dal bhat. For a restaurant that seems to promote itself locally as a vegan/vegetarian haven, the lack of vegan options was a bit frustrating. I was looking forward to some variety. Oh well. Back to the hotel to start packing, and the second I walk into my room the phone rings telling me to go down to reception. They were asking me why it was 1:30 pm and I hadn’t checked out because check-out was at 12. I wanted to stab furry animals or something – my guide had told me last night that he had spoken with reception about a late check-out due to the late night departure of my flight and that they’d said it was ok. So either my guide flat out lied to my face, or whoever was on duty at the hotel yesterday when my guide asked didn’t make a note of it. Don’t get me wrong, my guide was an absolutely brilliant trekking guide. But this? I wouldn’t put it past him to lie. I’m still not convinced he wasn’t in on the heli charter rort in Lukla. It’s almost like Indonesia here in a way – people lying to you with a big smile on their face. Either way, the hotel manager said I could stay in the room until I got picked up at 8 pm. I like that guy! Then back to actually start packing. It wasn’t as horrific as I’d been expecting. A bit of a squeeze but everything fit. Barely. Then a couple of hours to vegetate before dinner – opting to eat early so I could get back and actually finish packing (was about half done). I met a couple of people last night at the dinner show thing and we had decided to go out for dinner tonight. They wanted yak steak. I figured almost every restaurant in Nepal served dal bhat (except the one last night), so going to a steakhouse or something would be fine for one night. The hunt for yak steak turned out to be a failure though – nowhere had it. The closest we could find was a generic steakhouse, and nobody really wanted regular steak. So we ended up at an Italian place called Roadhouse Cafe. They got pizza. I braved the salad and some vegetarian chili (was meant to be 3 types including one meat, I just asked them to double one of the vege ones). And lemon iced tea. The food was good, and the lemon iced tea was amazing! I’d have come back just for the iced tea if I didn’t have to fly. Halfway through dinner, we got hit by one of Kathmandu’s regular power outages. Lasted about 5-10 minutes. Had a lot of them while in the city, but they never usually lasted that long. I was a bit concerned about the actual ice in the drink and about the salad, but at the time of typing this, my stomach problems from last night were abating and not getting worse, so it’s safe to say the ice was ok and the salad was clean. I was still a little hungry, and even though the desserts on the menu were typically Italian, I asked if they could make fruit salad. They agreed! Winner! After all that food I went back and really actually finished packing. I hate packing. Can I ever say that enough? Got picked up at 8:00 pm for the airport transfer. And I realised as we were in the car that I never got the money refunded from the cancelled flight from Lukla from the trekking company. My guide had put me off and put me off and put me off until it was too late to do anything about it. There is no way it wasn’t deliberate on his part given how many times I asked him about it. Like I said – awesome trekking guide, but outside of that, I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him. I hate that that’s the last impression I have of him. He seemed like such a great person until we got to Lukla at the end of the trek. Then it’s like he became a whole different person. Got to the airport and said my goodbyes. Then went through the same security scans, check-in and immigration procedure as I did for Bhutan a week or so ago. Although after immigration this time, I had access to the Executive lounge. You can read more about that here. When we got kicked out of the lounge (read the link), it was through the second security scan and to sit around at the gate until they called the flight for boarding. You can read more detail on the Malaysia Airlines experience at Kathmandu airport here. Eventually we took off and were on our way to KL, thus ending my adventures in Nepal and Bhutan!

IMG_4731My awesome lunch. Tasty, but I was well and truly over dal bhat at this point.

…And they lived happily ever after? The End. QED.

Seriously though, I had a great trip. Mostly had fun. The food was problematic at times, but I survived without any serious incidents at least.

A few things I want to say to sum up some of my additional thoughts on Nepal:

  • No smoking laws. People in Kathmandu light up everywhere, even inside restaurants. There’s seemingly no laws about it. It took quite a bit of getting used to, as smoke gives me really bad headaches. This was not an issue while trekking.
  • Constant power supply. Nepal suffers from constant power outages and load shedding. It was frustrating enough just as a visitor for a month. I don’t know how the locals deal with it!
  • Clean water. Availability of water in general. Something I obviously realised I took for granted many years ago. Sometimes it really hits you though.
  • Good roads in the city. Obviously as a geologist, I am used to driving off-road, and it’s not really an issue – if you’ve got a suitable vehicle for it. But that’s out bush, not in the city. I was surprised at the state of the roads in Kathmandu. Honestly, they may be the worst roads I’ve come across in a capital city anywhere.
  • The lack of availability of diet sodas. Coke, Fanta and Sprite were always readily available, but they’re too sweet for me and make me feel nauseous. Finding Diet Coke or Coke Zero was impossible. I struggled to find them anywhere during my entire time in Nepal, especially in restaurants. Truly a first world problem, I know this, but probably one of the things I found hardest to deal with to be honest.
  • Out trekking, just because something is on the menu, it doesn’t mean they have it. If they have the ingredients, they can make it. But in winter, the guesthouses run on bare minimum supplies, so chances are half the things on the menu can’t be made. Half the places I went didn’t even have potatoes anymore.

And some final thoughts on Bhutan:

  • Unlike most of Asia, Bhutan is expensive. Not just in terms of visas and general travel expenses, but also in terms of souvenirs, food and drink etc. as well. A can of Coke costs $2 and a generic touristy t-shirt will set you back around $20-$25 in Bhutan, roughly the same as in Australia
  • Everyone thought I was weird for being vegan when I wasn’t Buddhist, and very few people took me seriously as a result. This caused problems with kitchen staff not wanting to make me suitable food because they didn’t think I was serious.
  • The Bhutanese are much more strict about photography than in Nepal. There are rules, and they are enforced. Bear this in mind when visiting museums, monasteries, dzongs etc. You will be forced to hand over your camera in some places (they do bag checks, patdowns and have metal detectors in case you think you can just hide it), so sometimes it’s better to just leave it in the car.

If you have any questions about my trip, feel free to ask away in the comments section. I do monitor it, and anything that’s not spam will be approved. I am happy to give answers or advice where I can. I also have created an email account for this blog, which you can find on my profile page, so if you want to ask something privately, please use that.

One final thought…

When I booked this trip, I had people tell me I was insane, stupid, psychotic, that I had a death wish…But you know what? It’s your life. Live your life. Do what you want to do. Don’t let people tell you that you can’t. In a way, I think Nike has it right: Just Do It!