Welcome to Chiang Mai!

It was time to leave the chaotic country of Nepal to somewhere more laidback and calm. I hadn’t organised anything past my Everest Base Camp hike so I had a thousand options to choose from before settling on North Thailand. I’d been to Thailand twice before but both times were in the south so I was excited to see the difference between the north and south.

I flew from Kathmandu to Bangkok, where I had a 3 hour layover before jumping back on a plane to Chiang Mai. I got in at around 11pm and even at this time, the humidity was rifling through the city. By the time I got to my hostel I was sweating profusely! My hostel – the Chiang Mai Gate Capsule Hostel – was a tiny hole in the wall hostel tucked away into a small street just outside the Old Town. It was quiet and the streets were desolate at this hour. It didnt take long before I was fast asleep in the lovely air-conditioned room.

The following morning I set out to explore. I’ve found the best way to get to know an area is to get yourself completely lost and then try and work out how to get back to where you started. This started off accidentally as I would always end up walking in circles  before finding my destination but now I just wander and see where I end up. I’m famous in my family for not knowing my north from my south, but have gotten really good at remembering landmarks which usually save me. I figure you are never lost, just a few wrong turns from being in the right place! Besides I could cheat a little with my Maps.Me app which worked without wifi, but I was trying hard not to use it! 

I wandered through the Old Town, past undercover markets selling everything from mangos to chicken carcasses, past beautiful gold temples and tourist stores before reaching Walking street, the Main Street in the Old Town. Here was filled with restaurants, travel agents and artsy shops. I found somewhere for breakfast and coffee to refuel before wandering on towards the Nimman area. I’d heard this area was famous for its cafe culture and being a coffee fiend, I was eager to suss it out!

It was about a 25 minute walk from the Old Town to the Nimman area, which wasn’t ideal to do in the middle of the day but I got there eventually. At the end of the main road was the brand new MAYA shopping centre so I ducked in there to cool down in the air-con. Picking up a new SIM card so I could finally have a phone number, I had a wander around the shopping centre wishing I had a bigger bag (and budget) to do some serious shopping! I headed back out into the heat and walked down Nimmanhaemin Road to find some of these cafes I’d been reading about. The Nimman area is basically one main road with lots of lanes branching off it. Down these lanes are cafes, hotels, art galleries and shops. You could go a down these lanes a hundred times and see something new everytime. As I was on foot I only ventured down the main road, saving the rest of the exploring for another day. It was about 3pm so I started to head back towards to my hostel. 

After resting in the aircon for an hour or so, I headed back out again to check out the night market that was happening just outside my hostel. Since I’d been in the hostel, hundreds of stalls had been set up down the entire street and spilling out onto the intersection. There were food stalls, arts and crafts, souvenirs – basically everything you could possibly want! The street stalls were lined up about 1km long and I walked back and forth between stalls, admiring the locally made products and umm-ing and ahh-ing over what to eat. 

Busy night market right outside my hostel

Delicious Pad Thai for just AUD$2

Night Market scenes

Settling on pad Thai (so predictable Jess) and a fresh juice, I people watched as I sat and ate. After dinner I followed a market stall trail down a side street which led me to the Silver Temple. Under lights, this temple made of real silver glowed brightly! It was a lovely discovery to finish the day off with!

The beautiful Silver Temple!

The markets didn’t finish until about 11pm but I was exhausted from the amount of kilometres I’d walked today so ducked into the cool of my hostel much earlier that than. I’ll be in Chiang Mai for the next two weeks, so was in no rush to see everything quickly. I just wanted somewhere to relax and wind down after a chaotic few weeks in Nepal. I was glad I chose Chiang Mai, it fits the bill perfectly!

J. X

Elephant Baths and Jeep Safaris

After our little adventure getting very close to nature, we had no time to catch our breath. Next stop was the elephant breeding centre to play with some baby elephants. If you know me well, then you know that I’m a bit animal mad. Particularly when it comes to baby animals, especially large baby animals such as elephants. I’ve only seen them a couple of times in my life but every time is as good as the next. There’s something so adorable about a clumsy, leathery goofball who just looks like a naughty child. I may be a little obsessed but baby elephants just make my heart melt.

We arrived at the breeding centre at about 10am. The elephants get let out in the jungle from 10:30-4:30pm so we’d arrived just in time. Unfortunately the elephants were all chained up minus one of the babies, but our guide said it was for our protection mainly, as well as monitoring the elephants. Because there was only a waist high fence between up and the elephants, if they were running loose and got mad at too many people milling around, it could become a bit chaotic. It was sad to see them chained up but the Chitwan National Park is one of the only places in the world that has successfully rehabilitated these beautiful giants to a substantial population number, so I guess they are doing the right thing. The majority of funding for the breeding centre comes from tourism, so without visitors, this centre would cease to exist and the elephant population would probably decrease. So while some people see the captivity of elephants cruel, it’s actually beneficial for both Nepal and the elephants. Of the 20+ elephants here, none of them are used for work purposes. They are solely here just to breed and look after their little ones.

The one baby elephant who was loose was the biggest ratbag ever. He marched over to the four of us and tried to grab out water bottles out of our hands with his trunk and sniffed us all over. He was just five months old but had the attitude of a teenager, for an elephant he raced around quite quickly and was a bit rough when he played. It was beautiful to watch the interaction between the mother and babies and I could have happily stayed there all day!

They say you have to give up things for love. I happily gave up my water for this guy! 😀

We had to move on though, it was time for an ‘elephant shower’ and lunch. I quickly dropped my things off at the Safari Club and headed down to the river where some of the elephants were having a bath. This was a bit of a touristy gimmick, but one I was quite happy to oblige in. While people get quite worked up about riding elephants, I wasn’t so worried after seeing the treatment of these beautiful creatures. I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve ridden horses my entire life and have lived on a farm but I don’t see the treatment of these animals that cruel. Yes, I realise in some countries, elephants are treated cruelly and that’s unacceptable but from what I saw here in Nepal, these elephants actually looked happy. Elephant training isn’t that different from breaking in a horse. Of course, the size and strength brings on some differences but it’s not always that pleasant to break a horse in. I mean, we’ve tied up horses for hours to get them to behave, which from an outsider who has never witnessed this before might consider this cruel. But our horses are given so much love that this discipline is usually overshadowed. In a way, it’s the same for elephant trainers. They will usually only have one elephant for life and its their main source of income so while there is strong discipline used by the trainer, there would be a huge amount of care put into the animal. The trainer needs the elephant as much as the elephant needs the trainer so it is all relevant. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, the people that get really worked up about elephant training are people who haven’t been exposed to other forms of animal treatment. Anyway that’s enough of an essay. I love animals and it’s my personal choice to interact with the elephants this way.  I’m still not entirely sold on elephant safaris, but this was a natural experience that I was going to be a part of. Elephants love the water, they spend quite a bit of time bathing themselves in the river and I was merely there to be a proverbial fly on the elephants back. 

I walked up the wooden platform to get onto the elephants back and we waded into the river. This was the very river we had canoed down this morning so I was very aware that there were crocodiles swimming around me. I just hoped I wasnt going to become a snack! The elephant was about belly-deep in the water and proceeded to start splashing me with river water using his trunk. It was quite funny and a great way to cool down. I think the elephant and the trainer got more enjoyment out of it than me! This went on for about five minutes and then the elephant kneeled down and started to roll over! I was thrown into the river, where I hastily exited because of the aforementioned crocodiles!

Is it just me or is this elephant grinning?
Apparently I needed a bath, not just a shower!

It was a quick experience but a lovely one. I got one more cuddle from the elephant (well actually it was mainly me cuddling him!) before I had to head back for lunch. A quick lunch break and then we were back out in the jungle for a jeep safari. It was here that we might get the chance of seeing the elusive tiger or leopard. I didn’t have high hopes but with the amount of rhinos we’d seen in the wild, it may just happen!

We canoed across the river to where the jeeps were and got comfy. It was going to be about five hours of driving around the jungle so I was glad I had a good seat. The safari was quite good, we saw more rhinos – even another baby one! There were plenty of monkeys and deer, who actually coincide together and look out for each other. We also saw a few monitor lizards, crocodiles and different kinds of birds. Unfortunately no tigers or leopards but I’ seen that many wild rhinos, I wasnt disappointed! 


Look at that face!!!

After the safari we had a drink on the riverbank to watch the sunset before heading back to the Safari Club for dinner. I was heading back to Kathmandu tomorrow at 6am, so I went to bed early knackered from my massive day! 


The following morning it was raining when I woke up, must be time to go! The bus ride back to Kathmandu was bloody awful. It took 14 hours this time, with only two spots. I definitely have had enough of buses in Nepal! We got into Kathmandu around 10:30pm and I headed straight to my hostel to pass out! Tomorrow I fly to Chiang Mai to see the north of Thailand. Nepal has been a fabulous experience and I’m definitely keen to return to do more hiking, but no more buses!!

J. X

The Day I Got Chased By A Rhino

“Don’t make eye contact, don’t look, don’t look! Okay run, RUN!”

The three of us bolted, following the zig-zag pattern that our guide was doing to throw them off course. My camera bag bounced against my hip as I ran, my heart raced and the sweat started to drip down my face. The branches on the ground crunched as we trod on them heavily, being completely silent wasn’t an issue anymore – getting out alive was. 

How I’d found myself running away from a rampant female rhinoceros, I’m still trying to work out but here I was in the Chitwan National Park in south-west Nepal trying to outrun a pissed off mother rhino whose bath was rudely interrupted by humans. 

This morning when I’d left the Safari Club Lodge where I was staying, I was under the impression that we would be going for a lovely canoe ride down the river, followed by a short walk through a part of the national park to hopefully see some animals. I had assumed that the short walk was just a way of making it back to the lodge and they’d called it a jungle walk to make it seem more exciting. However, this is Nepal and after three weeks of being in this crazy, chaotic country that a short walk actually means two hours of trawling through dense grasslands in search of animals.

The canoe ride was indeed very lovely. There were two guys from the Czech Republic – who were also staying at the Safari Club – who had come along with me. Before we even got into the canoe our guide spotted two rhinos further down the river. One was cooling off in the river and the other was on the banks out of sight, sussing out whether he should invade the other rhinos territory. It was my first time seeing a rhinoceros in the wild and it was quite exciting to be up close to such an exotic animal. Little did I know I was about to get a whole lot closer.




There were over 600 rhinoceros in Chitwan National Park, the largest population in Nepal. They are some of the most protected animals in the park and years of poaching culling numbers dramatically. However since the 1970’s, many conservation laws have been put in place to protect the species. This has been very successful, with rhino population numbers higher than they’re been in years. The past three years the park has had zero poaching attempts, a number that they’re very proud of.

When I first decided to go to Chitwan I hadn’t expected to see any of the exciting animal in the wild, like rhinos, tigers or elephants. I thought it would be a glorified trip to the jungle where the most exciting thing you’ll see is a monkey or deer. So to see a rhino straight away, I was stoked!

As the canoe ride went on, we floated past locals fishing on their wooden rafts. Everyone seemed to know each other and yelled out conversations as they passed. Rain started to sprinkle on us and I was annoyed that I forgot my rain coat. A rookie error in monsoon season. We passed an elephant having a bath and a snack and a few diffferent varieties of birds. After about an hour, we pulled up to the sandy bank and climbed out, ready for saunter through the jungle.

Cruising down the river

Like I said earlier, I thought this would be a quick stroll through some of the jungle before heading on to the elephant breeding centre and the tour guide wanted to make the day’s program sound more exciting. However, I was wrong and we were actually going to stalking around the jungle for about two hours! Before we started, our guide gave us the lowdown on how to act if an animal turns on you. As he went on about running in a zigzag pattern and climbing trees for rhinos and standing still and making eye contact with tigers I had a little laugh to myself. These guides sure have been taught well on how to wind up tourists! He was so sincere in his monologue I almost believed him but thought that there would be no way they’d let us out in the wild with potentially deadly animals. Now you’d think for someone who’s done some pretty wild things in her travels, such as letting off explosives in a silver mine in Bolivia and hiking the illegal Stairway to Heaven in Hawaii that I would be a little less naive about safety regulations around the world (or more, the lack of) But no, having come from Australia where everyone is wrapped up in cotton wool and treated like a baby I still believed that everything will always be sunshine and dandy and danger would never come my way. 

I was going to be proven wrong, yet again..

After the safety briefing we hiked in a single file silently through the jungle. The humidity was even worse under the canopy of the jungle and my shirt clung to my sweaty back instantly. We walked for about fifteen minutes, treading carefully on the grassy plain below us, the only sound being the crunch of twigs breaking beneath our feet. I was already bored of the walk when my guide stopped suddenly and turned his head to listen. 

‘This way… Rhino” he whispered, indicating that we follow him behind a huge shrubby bush. As he pushed the bush away there was a small lagoon filled with lilyponds a few metres away. At first I couldn’t tell what he was pointing to but then I saw the dark grey blob amongst the bright green reeds. A rhino was bathing just 10 or so metres from us! Completely oblivious to his audience, the rhino looked so content as he wallowed in the reedy water. One of the guys inched closer and trod on some broken branches. The rhino turned his head towards us and looked us directly in the eye. We stood still waiting to see what would happen but the rhino just turned back around and continued his bath. He wasnt camera shy. We watched for a little longer before moving on deeper into the jungle.

What chu lookin’ at???
Nothing to see here folks…

Excited that this dull jungle walk was more than what I was expecting, I picked up my pace and kept my eyes peeled for anymore animals. Another 10 minutes passed with nothing and then we spotted some monkeys and deer going about their day. The deer with the excellent hearing ran off just as we got got but the monkeys weren’t afraid being so high up. We walked further and my hopes were slowly disappearing again. 

Oh deer.. they spotted us

Just as I was about to give up on expecting any more animals, our guide made a sign to be quiet and follow him. We tiptoed behind him and he pointed out a muddy water hole to our left. We walked past the waterhole to the hide behind a couple of trees. Just 20 metres away was a mother rhino and her baby having a bath in the muddy water. The baby rhino was quite possibly the cutest and ugliest thing I’d ever seen! We watched for a few minutes before trying to edge closer for a better look. As the branches crunched underneath our feet, the overprotective mother looked our way with her little ears pricked in attention. We halted abruptly and waited for our guides next move. Paused a moment, I got the chance to take a quick photo before the mother rhino turned towards us and started moving. 

Right before she started to run towards us

“Okay, go, GO!’ Our guide said and he took off – there was no protecting hotel guests here! We followed hastily, trying to run in a zigzag and not lose our guide. I didn’t dare look behind me but kept an eye out for any trees that might be climb-able. I wondered if my travel insurance would cover being trampled by a rhino. Even though it was only a handful of seconds, it felt like we were running for an eternity. Finally our guide launched into some bushes and waved us to get behind him. We squatted, panting for breath hoping that the rhino had been thrown off course. Thankfully we’d made so much noise running like idiots through the jungle that she was too startled to chase and ran off in a different direction. We stayed squatting for a minute to catch our breath.

“She gone, we are safe” our guide said. The three of us looked back at him bewildered. What happened to the mundane jungle walk!? We all looked at each other and burst into nervous laughter, talk about dodging a big, grey leathery bullet! Continuing on, I kept very close to our guide as we made a quick exit out of the jungle. That was enough cardio for the morning! We reached the edge of the dense jungle and walked down the beaten 4WD path until we reached the elephant breeding centre, sweaty and muddy. So much for an easy jungle walk!

J. X

Heading to Chitwan National Park

After a day in Kathmandu, I said goodbye to C and made my way to Chitwan National Park. After another deeeelightful bus journey that was supposed to take five hours but took nine, I finally made it to my destination. It was hot, humid and nowhere as busy as Kathmandu! I liked it already.

Chitwan National Park is a World Heritage Site that covers about 900 square kilometres. This massive space of land is home to many wild animals such as leopards, tigers, rhinoceros and elephants. Years ago it was the stomping ground of poachers and animal numbers diminished rapidly, however the Nepalese government stepped in to stop the poachers and rehabilitate animal population. They’ve had much success, with nearly three years of zero poaching, population of animals re-establishing and animal conservation becoming the most important priority. 

I was only spending about two days in Chitwan but had a jam-packed program to see as much as I could! Once I arrived to accommodation – The Safari Club – and dropped off my belongings, I was taken on a river walk with my guide for the trip. The humidity was insane and outside my cool room, the sweat covered my skin instantly. We walked through the small town of Sauraha, which is one of the main tourist towns in Chitwan and made it to the riverbanks of the National Park. Beyond the river, grassy plains stretched out until the eye could see. My guide pointed out crocodiles in the river and explained by the different breeds here in Nepal. They weren’t the massive chompers that we have in Australia but they would still happily take a snap at you, given the opportunity!

We walked further down the river when my guide ran into one of his friends, they chattered in Nepalese and then told me there’s a rhino bathing just down the river. We quickly walked down the path until we saw the huge animal submerged in the river, looking a lot cooler than we felt! This was the first time I’d seen a rhino in the wild and I was just a tad excited. It had been less than an hour in Chitwan and I’d already spotted a rhino, I couldn’t imagine what else was to come!

We passed an elephant rehabilitation centre on our walk
This rhino had the right idea! Would have loved to jump in to cool down!

We walked further down the river to see if there were any more animals about but unfortunately the rhino was the only one out to play today. Heading back to the where the town meets the river, we stopped for a drink to watch the sunset. Unfortunately it was a little cloudy so the sunset wasn’t in full swing but it was still lovely to be surrounded by nature instead of the smoggy city. After sunset we headed back to the Safari Club where I had dinner and a quick shower before going to a cultural dance. It was a bit touristy, full of loud Chinese tourists and their flashing cameras but still nice to watch. It was about 9:30pm by the time that finished so I headed straight to bed after that Because i had an early start in the morning!

J. X

Tiny sunset in Chitwan today

My guide and I – excuse the sweaty face!

Peaceful Pokhara

This morning was an early start. C and I had to be at the bus station 6:15am for our bus to Pokhara and after a pretty cruisy couple of days, it was a bit hard to function at this hour of the morning. Thankfully the bus station was easy to find and by 6:30am we were on our way to Pokhara in an air conditioned coach with wifi! Not too bad for about AUD$8!

Five hours later, we were not quite as chirpy as the bus bounced and jerked along the road. To say that Nepal’s roads were awful would be the understatement of the century – THEY WERE THE WORST IN THE WORLD!! Let me just backtrack a little and really give you some perspective as to how terrible they are. Kathmandu to Pokhara is 204.5 kilometres, which in Australia would probably take under two hours to get there. However this is Nepal and nothing happens quickly here. It took us two hours just to get out of Kathmandu! It was a bouncy old show as well, the roads which were continually under construction were a pot-holed, often dirt lane that hundreds of vehicles and bikes fight to race to the front. C and I were slowly losing our minds as we bounced around the back of the bus, wishing we’d worn sports bra’s but the locals on the bus weren’t fazed. Despite it being six hours in and not even close to Pokhara they just sat happily, eating their chips and playing on their phones. I’ll give the Nepalese some credit, they’re patient as hell. By the time we reached the outskirts of Pokhara, C and I were ready to get off and walk. I may be sounding like a drama queen but I’ve done some hellish bus rides in my time and this takes the cake. As a forewarning for any future travellers to Nepal, the bus rides bloody suck!

We finnnnaaaallly got to Pokhara and found a place to stay easily. On the taxi ride there were drove past the lake and any disgruntled-ness I felt from the bus ride disappeared. Pokhara has a serene and calm place and the chilled vibe was very contagious. Our little guest house, the Harvest Moon, was costing us a huge AUD$6 a night and was just a couple of streets away from the lakeside. As the most touristic area, the Lakeside is filled with restaurants, cafes, spas and travel agents. We found a spot to grab a snack by the lake and relaxed in the afternoon sun and tried to plan out what we wanted to do here. After walking past the many spas and wellness centres, we decided we deserved to treat ourselves to a spa day. After all, we had just hiked Everest Base Camp and survived that God-awful bus ride. We booked in for a massage, facial, manicure and pedicure for the following afternoon and I was already feeling calmer.

Incoming rain

Finding dinner nearby to our guest house, we had an early dinner and headed to bed. It’s really quite tiring sitting on a bus all day! The following morning we woke early and set out to hike to the World Peace Pagoda. It was lovely and cool as we began our hike but as soon as we reached the forest where the main trail lay, the humidity set in and we were sweating in minutes. It took over an hour to get to the top. It was so much easier to hike in low altitude, if I wasnt dying from the heat I could have ran up there! (not really, lets be honest) but it felt good to actually do some proper exercise again! I’d done a couple of yoga classes in Kathmandu but nothing strenous like this uphill hike. We reached the top and cooled down by wandering around the large, white stupa. Here we met a couple of other travellers so after we’d done looking out at the beautiful view, we headed down the hill to a little boat station and got a boat back to the Lakeside.

Sweaty but finding peace at the World Peace Pagoda!

Lush views of Pokhara
Boat rides across the lake are a popular activity to do here in Pokhara

C and I hadn’t eaten brekkie yet and it was getting close to noon so we sussed out where this cafe that we spotted yesterday on the taxi ride in was and made a beeline for it. AM/PM Organic Cafe was a little slice of hipster heaven in central Nepal. They offered things like smoothie bowls, kombucha and cold brew coffee. A little more exxy than other restaurants in town but we reasoned that it was actually brekkie and lunch so thefore it actually worked out cheaper! I ordered an iced coffee and scrambled eggs and C got a smoothie bowl with her iced coffee. It was delicious and exactly what I’d been hoping for!

After our brunch we had about an hour to refresh before heading to Jiva Spa for our spa afternoon. I have to say, this is the first time I’ve done something like this. Usually if I’m spending money when travelling, its on good food or fun activities but something about this spa day was so exciting! However after my feet had spent two weeks in hiking boots, I felt bad for the lady who had to deal with them. The whole experience was about four hours long and by the time we got out I was feeling totally new. We topped off our afternoon with a peanut butter and banana smoothie and that shocking bus ride was a far, distant memory in my head. I was so zen right now!

That night we had dinner at the Pokhara OR2K restaurant, it had basically the same menu at Kathmandu, minus the espresso martinis! It was a great end to a good day though! We headed to bed early as our massages had put us in too much of a relaxed mood to do anything else!

Tonight’s dinner was served with a slice of gorgeous sunset

The following morning we had another early start as we had booked to go zip-lining. The weather was brilliant and I could even see a tip of one of the Annapurna mountains from our room! The drive to the top of the zip line was a little hairy. It was a one-lane road and i think  our driver thought he was in the Formula 1, not taking up bunch of tourists up a hill! We made it there safely though and had a beautiful clear view of the Annapurna range.

Sneaky snowy peak hiding behind the clouds!

As per usual, things were moving in Nepali time (aka – slowly) so it was a good half hour before the first person went down the zip line. C and I were last to go and had to wait another hour for our 90 seconds of adrenaline rush! by the time it was our go I was so hungry for breakfast that I wasnt even excited about the zip line anymore! It was fun, don’t get me wrong but it was over so quickly! Everyone was ready to go by the time we were unharnessed so we had two seconds to catch our breath before jumping back in the van to head back to the lakeside.

The beautiful Annapurna Ranges – I’ll be back to hike you!
Compulsory dorky GoPro selfie!

That meant breakfast though! C was still buzzing from the zip line and decided to spontaneously book a paragliding flight because of the beautiful clear skies. I wanted to save my money for later (plus I’ve already paraglided in Oludeniz, Turkey – the best in the world! 😛 )so we split up for a couple of hours. C ran off a cliff with a parachute and I grabbed a coffee and my iPad to do some writing before going to the weirdest yoga class I’ve ever been to! I was the only person in the class and this guy was kook-city. A sweetheart but not on a whole other planet! I met up with C afterwards and got reorganised to have dinner at Pokhara Thakali Restaurant, which apparently serves the best Thakali cuisine in Pokhara!

The Thakali are an ethnolinguistic group originated from the Thak Khola region of the Mustang District in the Dhaulagiri zone of Nepal. There’s only about 30,000 Thakali in Nepal however most of them are successful businessmen, dominating the hotel game. They have a certain cuisine which is a combination of different curries served with rice, pappadums and condiments such as pickles and chutneys. The best part is the usually have free refills! We were having dinner early so were the only ones in the restaurant. The staff didn’t speak the best English so we ordered what we thought was the traditional Thakali meal and hoped for the best! While it lacked in presentation, it made up for it in flavour! The tiny bowls of curry were delicious and the sweet chutney was good enough to bottle and take home! After dinner we headed a couple of doors down for a brownie and ice-cream at AM/PM Organic! 

Tasted SO much better than it looked, trust me!

The following morning we were up at 6am to catch the bus to Lumbini. Unfortunately the man who sold us the ticket was a bit dodgy and the bus he promised never showed. We were put on a bus that was going to India, that would drop us in Lumbini but after waiting an extra 45 minutes, we bailed and decided to head back to Kathmandu. C was due to fly out the next day and we weren’t sure how long it would take us to get back to Kathmandu this time!

J. X

Exploring Old Kathmandu

Back into the craziness Kathmandu and it wasnt long before I was wishing I was still high in the mountains where it was a bit cooler and quieter! Kathmandu is a dusty, hot jumble of people, motorbikes and stray dogs. After being in a car-free environment for almost two weeks, it was a bit of shock to be launched back into the busy streets of Thamel. However the access to a hot shower, comfy beds and decent food was happily welcomed! 

Enjoying a rooftop sunset at the Traditional Comfort

There was a few people in the group that were sticking around Kathmandu for a couple of days after we returned so we took delight in celebrating with very Western food and lots of it! After a relaxing day in our swanky final hotel of the trip (Traditional Comfort, if you ever want to lash out in Kathmandu, this place it where to go!) a group of us headed into Old Kathmandu for a wander. Opting against getting a guide, we made our own way into the old city centre, venturing towards Durbar Square, albeit very slowly!

Old Kathmandu and Durbar Square is a busy quarter of the city, were family dwellings of all shapes and sizes (and homemade-extension types) knock out the sunlight, shop fronts spill out onto the street and street stalls selling everything from vegetables to motorbike parts clog the walkway. The old city is constructed on a fundamental building called bahal – which is a set of buildings joined at right angles around a central courtyard. This building style honeycombs the entire city, joining almost everyone together. Many of these bahal’s were originally Buddhist monasteries but have now been reverted for residential use. The streets were lined with a tangle of black power lines, some hanging so low you had to duck. Being an electrician in this country would be a nightmare! The effect of the 2015 earthquake was still very present here, buildings were crumbling at the edges and constructions sites were everywhere – most looked like they’d been classed as ‘too hard’ and just left to sit and disintegrate. 

Chaotic streets of Old Kathmandu

These guys actually sleep in their rickshaws – always waiting for the next ride
Remnants of the 2015 earthquake are sadly still present everywhere

We spent a good majority of our time wandering up  and down dusty streets, getting lost amongst the bahal and dodging rickshaws. As the only Westerners around, we were in the spotlight and locals stared at us from windows, shop fronts and even on passing motorbikes. The streets were tiny lanes, jam packed full of different shops and people. It was an ‘every man for themself’ situation. With locals pushing and shoving to get on their way, we had to do the same. Being tall and blonde had it perks, as locals stopped to stare they created an opening for me to duck through and be on my way. 

Wandering for a couple of hours we finally came across Durbar Square. Hunger took over our need to explore and we found a rooftop cafe in the corner of Durbar Square to munch down some veggie burgers before exploring on. To enter Durbar Square and the surrounds it cost 1000 rupees (about AUD$13) which was quite expensive to see the centre of the old town. This money was supposed to go to earthquake reconstruction funds, however the lack of reconstructing going on, it was hard to believe that was the case. Nonetheless, we paid for our ticket and headed in.

Durbar Square
Anyone need a dentist?


Without a guide we wandered around trying to give ourselves a self guided tour from a Lonely Planet book. As it was the middle of the day, it was hot and not ideal to be playing tourist in so we headed to the shady street (in more ways than one) known more commonly as Freak Street. This street was infamous in the 60’s and 70’s where it was a highlight on the backpacker hippie trail. The draw card to this particular street was the government-run hashish shops. Hippies from all over the world flocked to Freak Street for easily accessible cannabis and hash and it became a hippie nirvana until the early 1970s when the government decided to clean up of the area. Nowadays the hash and cannabis has been replaced by trekking and cultural tourism and hippies have been replaced by hikers and more spiritually inclined. As we wandered down the street, there was little renmant of this so-called hippie nirvana, bar one or two cannabis stores. It was fascinating to think that this part of the city, who now goes to bed early, was once a major pot-fest. We passed one or two dreadlocked, wrinkly old Westerners sat on shop front stairs covered in tie-dye and a glazed look out their eyes but mostly it was Chinese tourists taking photos. I’m sure those guys had a few wild stories to tell – if they could remember it!

Freak Street – a far cry from its marijuana-smoking hey day

With the heat getting to us a little, we found refuge in a rooftop cafe and ordered iced coffees to perk us up. Below us, the bustle of the old city never stopped. Between locals trying to sell their goods, to bus loads of tourists being suckered into buying them – it was in a constant state of motion. You could sit and watch all day and never get bored. We were waiting until 4:15pm when nearby a living goddess would be showing her face from her balcony. A tourist ploy, perhaps? But we were going to wait and find out.

In Nepal there is a tradition of worshipping pre-pubescent girls as manifestations of the divine female energy in Hindu religious traditions. The Kumari – as she is called – is a young girl selected from the Newari community in Nepal. While we were first told there is only one living goddess Kumari, it turns out there’s actually a few around the country. However we were seeing the Royal Kumari who apparently was the most important. As the Kumari has to be a pre-pubescent girl, she changes quite regularly due to the girls growing up. There has been 14 Royal Kumaris since the 1920’s, each who have passed the vigourious selection process.

Potential Kumaris must be in excellent health, have never shed blood, been affiliating with any diseases, possess certain physical qualities such as a body like a bayan tree and eyelashes like a cow. She must have very black hair and eyes, dainty hands and feet and show signs of fearlessness and serenity. If she passes all that, then the candidate must go through tests, such as showing no fear in a candlelit room full of heads of animals sacrificed in her honour and spend a night alone with them. If the candidate gets through this far, she then has to correctly pick out the belongings of the previous Kumari. If she is unsuccessful, the whole process is done again until the new Kumari is found. Can I just add that the candidates could be as young as 3 years old..

It all seemed a little airy fairy for me but I went along for the spectacle simply to say I’ve witnessed a living goddess. We were in good company too as the small courtyard from which the Kumari’s balcony is situated was jam-packed full of people. The power of the Kumari is perceived to be so strong that even just a glimpse of her is believed to bring good fortune. I was hoping they were right because I could really do with a good fortune right about now, but I have a feeling she wouldn’t be throwing money out her balcony window. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the Kumari so I won’t even have proof of the time I saw a living goddess.

The top middle window is where the Kumari made her brief appearance

4pm rolled around and myself and about one hundred other people squashed into the tiny courtyard waiting for the divine Kumari to appear. Being on time clearly wasnt a prerequisite for being a living goddess as it was another few minutes before she showed her face. Finally a young girl appeared in a red and gold dress, her face pale with make-up and eyes heavily painted with eyeliner. She stared at us for moments, directly staring us three Aussie girls mainly – a trio of Caucasians in a room full of Chinese – before disappearing back into the darkness. It was a fleeting visit and the only thing I could think of was how sad she looked, staring out at a room full of tourists. I didn’t blame her though, she would do the same thing everyday. Same room, different people. Even a living goddess can’t escape the mundane parts of a job.

We left the Old Town, feeling not quite like we’d been blessed with good fortune but time will tell. We headed back into Thamel where we split up to refresh ourselves before meeting again for dinner at possibly the best, albeit most touristy restaurant in town, OR2K.

OR2K is an Israeli-run vegetarian restaurant, which serves up delicious food and more importantly, vegetables! I have been craving fresh veggies since the trek were white potato and cabbage were the best I could come up with. We gorged ourselves on falafel platters and hummus, before topping it all off with a hot chocolate soufflé pudding which actually may have been the best thing I’ve ever eaten! Oh and espresso martinis! Yes they had delicious espresso martinis for less than AUD$4! I was in love with this place! Definitely coming back here. I hadn’t eaten that much food in one sitting since Christmas and felt like I had to be rolled out of the joint, we definitely outdid ourselves on the food front but it was absolutely delicious.

Hummus, falafel, naan bread. HEAVEN!

Tomorrow C, B and myself are heading out of the city to explore Kathmandu valley. But now its time for a hummus-induced food coma to commence!

J. X

Better than EBC – The hike to Kala Patthar

Before we left for Base Camp, our lead guide Dawa had said that reaching Base Camp would change your life. He hadn’t elaborated much on it, but his words lingered on my mind as we hiked back to Gorak Shep from Base Camp. Had it changed my life? Not yet I didn’t think. I was half expecting Ghandi or Buddha or even the Dalai Lama – some sort of spiritual presence to appear to tell me how to live this new existence I had hiked toward. For me, Base Camp was a bit of a bore after the incredible hike we had completed over the 8 days, that I think the only thing that had changed about me was my tolerance level towards body odour. However I was unaware from tomorrow was bringing me and that, my friends, definitely changed me..

After my dinner of tomato soup it wasn’t long before the five of us hiking to Kala Patthar headed for bed. I’d had a strange feeling in my tummy pretty much straight after dinner but put it down as altitude and tried to ignore it. I fell asleep at 7:30pm while it was still light outside, ready to be woken at 3:50am. However about two hours later I woke up to searing pains in my stomach. Either I was having a very late case of altitude sickness or something I ate didn’t agree with me. I won’t go into vast detail here, no-one wants to hear about trying to negotiate stomach issues with a hole-in-the-ground toilet BUT it wasn’t my finest moment, I’ll tell you that much. I had about an hours sleep that night and went back on forth about my decision to hike Kala Patthar or not.

3:50am rolled around and my alarm started going off.  I’d popped an Imodium a few hours earlier and felt the tiniest bit better albeit very empty! I lay there for a moment, thinking I could just stay in bed and sleep but I didn’t want to miss out on this last chance to see Everest. Base Camp had been such an anti-climax, I needed something else to feel like this hike was definitely worth it. My stubbornness got the best of me and I slowly got out of bed and tied up my hiking boots for the last time in this altitude. 

I met the rest of the group in the hallway and by 4:05am we were outside, ready to tackle this last viewpoint. The five of us plus two of our guides Krishna & Dipak (Lead guide Dawa had the privilege of sleeping in!) all looked worn out and un-enthusiastic. I said to C & B, the two other Aussie girls that I’d had a dreadful night sleep and C said she’d gone through the same drama. We must of been playing tag with the bathroom and she looked like how I felt. Pale, drained and not wanting to be there.

Nonetheless, we set off behind Dipak with our feet dragging and bodies wrapped in many layers of clothes. It was the coldest it had been on the trek, but the chilly morning air was a nice change from the stuffy lodge. Being up this high, we were breathing in probably the cleanest air in the world so even though my stomach hated me, my lungs should be happy at least. The hike to Kala Patthar was about 400m higher in altitude and pretty much uphill the whole way. It was still dark so led by our head torches, we slowly made our way up step by step. 

I was moving at glacial pace (pun intended) Between gasping for air every two steps and unsure whether I was going projectile my insides everywhere, I was not in good shape. Dropping behind the group I shuffled forward slowly. Poor Krishna who had to remain at the back of the group just stood still for awhile to let me get ahead a bit. The upside to this whole experience was the view. Dawn was starting to wash away the night sky and expose us to our surroundings. We couldn’t have picked a clearer day and as the mountains came into the light, Krishna pointed out which one was which. Including Mt Everest, who finally, FINALLY showed her face! This was the best view of Everest we’d get in Nepal. I’d have to bounce over to Tibet for a more grand view.

Sunrise – Mt Everest in the one in the back

I sat down and set up my cameras as the sunrise brought on an epic light show. I felt so crook that I didn’t even care about going to the top of Kala Patthar. I’d gone about halfway, seen Everest in clear view and I was done. My stomach wanted to punish me for eating white rice and white potatoes for a week and I was willing to accept what it was going to throw at me. I told the group to keep going and that i wanted to shoot a time-lapse of the sunrise, when actually I just wanted to curl up in the dirt and nurse my aching stomach. Krishna was hesitant to leave one of the group behind but I said I’d sit there and wait until they came back done. This little black duck was staying put.

Photos couldn’t do this place justice

The sunrise was fabulous, the sky shone colours I didnt think it could and again I was swept away with mountain madness. These snowy peaks could stare down at me alllllllllll day. As daylight seeped in past the mountain and the sky faded to blue, the sunrise was over and I was suddenly sitting alone as everyone else had hiked on. I had a sudden urge to keep walking. The little voice inside my head who tells me to harden up whenever I get tired or out of breath was back and she was in a right proper mood. Before I could protest, she was pulling out all stops – I’d come so far, I’d paid all this money, there was a 50 year man who was ahead of me – this little voice was downright pushy! She finally talked me into going to the top so I pulled my backpack on and started the slow trek to the top of Kala Patthar. 

Cursing the little voice in my head as I hiked uphill, I knew she would be right, she always bloody was! It was here I discovered an awful habit that I have. I hate going slow. I should have realised this earlier in life but as Dawa said, Base Camp will change your life – even if this means discovering things about yourself. I’m one of those people that watch what level the person next to me on the treadmill is on so I can run faster. When I swim laps I race the person in the lane beside me. Slow walkers are a pet hate and I’ve never stuck with yoga because everything about it is so slow! This habit had subsided for most of the trek, I’d bounce ahead at times but wanting to stay with my group, I would steady my pace by falling in behind someone. It’s not to say that sometimes I physically cannot go any pace but slow, I’m not super fit. But being beaten by someone is what drives me to go faster and I do it without even realising. Here I was standing about 5,300m above sea level, with minimal air and I was still trying to race. Without someone in front of me steadying my pace, I would take 10 steps really quickly before having to stop, hunch over panting like an unfit racehorse for a minute before starting the vicious cycle again. With my group well ahead of me, I was on a time restraint to get to the top. A time restraint that only I had inflicted upon myself. 

It wasn’t long before I’d caught up to Krishna (I think he’d just sat down for awhile) and about forty minutes later I could see the tip of Kala Patthar and my group staggering towards the top. Two of the group had already made it but there were still two not far from me now. With my pattern of taking five quick steps and then stopping for air for a minute, I was only fifty or so metres from the top of Kala Patthar but I seemed to be getting nowhere. To get to the top wouldn’t just require walking though. It was pretty much a precariously stacked pile of rocks, covered in prayer flags and early morning frost. If I thought the view was good before, I was shook by the landscape now. 


If only I could give this landscape the justice it deserves!

As I climbed higher on the rocks (yes actually climb, this was far more intense than I had bargained for) I was welcome by 360 degrees of spectacular views. From the Everest mountain range, to glacial pools glowing below, to an extremely sharp drop down a glacier on one side – I now understood why Kala Patthar was such a highlight. The view was ridiculous! I negotiated myself to the very top that stood at 5612m above sea level and felt like I was on top of the world! This was the highest I’d ever been (probably the highest I’ll ever be!) and the sick feeling I was feeling early was like a distant memory. I carefully took my photos – we’ve all been warned about people dying trying to take selfies on mountain edges – and breathed in the cleanest air I ever have. The adrenaline was running through my veins and this endorphin rush had blown away my sickness and replaced it with absolute euphoria. Life was good!

Made it! Everest is behind me!

As I had taken a billion years to reach the top, I was only at the top of Kala Patthar for 15 minutes for so before it was time to head back to Gorak Shep. This was the only downfall of going with an organised tour – deadlines are everything. I slowly made my way off the lookout point by gracefully (not!) sliding down the icy rocks until I was in a safer place. The clouds had rolled in and created a layer between us and Gorak Shep – yep, we were so high that we were above the clouds!. The hike back down took about an hour and we were in Gorak Shep before 8am.We were in dining room before the others and they couldn’t believe we’d already been and gone to Kala Patthar. We showed them pictures and I felt slightly superior that I’d been tough enough to be one of the few to make it all the way. Plus all three of us Aussie girls made it, proving that girl power is really a thing!

Back we go…

This was in darkness on the way up – plus I was too sick to notice it!

After breakfast – which I gingerly ate, I felt better but still worried about what my stomach might do – we began the hike home. It was going to take four days to reach Lukla and now that we’d done what we’d come to do, I had no motivation left. I was in good company too, everyone struggled to find the will to hike. We tried to justify lashing out on a helicopter ride back but in the end put our headphones in and hiked silently back down. There’s a lot to be said about willpower on this trek. It’s absolutely essential to be strong on the way to Base Camp but I think it’s more important on the way back down. With nothing to hike towards except a hot shower and a good meal, every step hurt just a little bit more. 

More animal friends on the way back down. . I think I patted every single dog I saw 😀

The four days dragged on a bit but we finally made it back to Lukla for one last scary ride to Kathmandu. Base Camp had been an amazing experience and I’m so happy I got to share it with these fantastic group of people. When the random thought of hiking to Base Camp crossed my mind at the start of the year, I thought it would be pushed back into the ‘too hard’ pile in my head. However every other plan I made or trip I researched just didnt sound as appealing so I stuck with visiting Nepal and here I am, having just climbed to the base of the highest mountain in the world. That little voice in my head was right again and even though I’m smelly with greasy hair and sore feet, I couldnt be happier!

Now for a couple of weeks to explore the rest of Nepal!

J. X