Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Bangkok Culture Shock, and an Island Break

We decided to treat ourselves to breakfast out on our last morning in Nepal. We had checked the day before with our favourite hangout (Friends) as to what time they opened, so turned up eagerly just after 08:00. They were not quite as open as we might have hoped, but ushered us upstairs regardless, causing panic as various members of staff roused themselves from their sofa sleeping spots. Despite this, breakfast was delicious, and we giggled to ourselves about it being a very fitting end to our Nepal visit.

Due to the tension surrounding the elections, many businesses were closed and transport embargoes remained in force. With this in mind, we left for the airport with plenty of time to spare. Somewhat unexpectedly, we located the shuttle bus with no issues. The first driver asked for 200 rupees each above what we knew was the official rate, so we skipped to the next one, who was apparently far more scrupulous. It was a cosy ride, elbow to elbow with fellow travellers, but we successfully made it to the airport with no issues and without being petrol bombed.

After the unpleasantness of the Delhi airport security checks, I was dreading this one. We had planned to try and find a way to pack our knee guards, but due to the size of the panniers there was no way this was going to happen, and once again we had to wear them. My fears proved unfounded, as the frisking I received at the entry was far more gentle, and the lady didn't even notice I was wearing them. Feeling relieved, I hopped over to the x-ray machine to pick up our luggage.

Oli however, was not so lucky. The guard frisking him did notice the knee armour, and was perplexed by it. Trying to explain safety equipment in a country where people do building work in flip-flops is no easy task, but after Oli pointing at the helmets the guard seemed to get the idea. However, he still wanted to check them, and when Oli couldn't roll up his trousers far enough said that he had to show him more, shrugging and saying it wasn't his problem if the jeans would not allow. Thankfully, Oli had a solution, and started to unbuckle his belt. The guard looked horrified, saying 'Oh no!'. Oli replied to this with 'Oh yes!' and dropped his jeans, standing there in full view of everyone in his boxers, hands on hips and grinning wildly. Finally satisfied that Oli was not a terrorist, the embarrassed guard waved him through, evidently keen to get rid of him.

The rest of the airport experience went relatively smoothly. We went through two more security checks, and although the knees were not an issue, at each point we were told to check our helmets into the hold. We flat out refused each time, saying they were too expensive and would get damaged. Again, trying to explain the safety aspect fell flat, as they did not seem to understand that if the helmets get bashed they may be useless in an accident. However, saying they were valuable did the trick, and we successfully negotiated our way through security with helmets in hand. We passed the rest of our time using up our spare rupees on cups of tea, and amused ourselves watching a stray cat wander around the departure hall. We were seriously going to miss this country.

Now, we had expected Bangkok to be a culture shock after India and Nepal, but we didn't expect it to start with the plane itself. The cheapest ticket we found was actually for a Thai Airways flight, and we were pretty excited not to be flying budget. The excitement generated by having free films, food and drinks was ridiculous. We settled down to watch Monsters University, accompanied by complimentary G&Ts. After Nepal, it felt amazingly luxurious and indulgent. As the film ended, the sky treated us to one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen. It was a wonderful welcome to South East Asia.

After India and Nepal, Bangkok airport and the city beyond it felt insanely futuristic. We made our way to our hotel first via the Airport Express line and then the Sky Train, smoothly sliding our way past seemingly infinite towering and brightly lit sky scrapers. Whilst we didn't feel the shock as keenly as with Iran to Dubai, we still stared in awe at the cityscape around us. Things we had missed but managed without in Nepal were suddenly immediately available again, which was a strangely dizzying feeling.

The ease with which we had got to our metro stop lulled us into a false sense of security. As we were not feeling tired from the journey, we foolishly decided to walk the kilometre to our hotel... in 30 degree heat and with all our luggage, which involved having to wear our motorbike jackets. Added to this we also managed to get lost, adding further distance and increasing the frustration. Eventually we arrived exhausted at our hotel, pouring sweat and near to collapse. We managed to stagger up the stairs and Oli, having carried the heaviest of the bags, threw himself down onto the floor and lay there giggling deliriously. Panicking slightly, I was glad to find ice cold drinking water in the fridge, and forced him to slowly drink a few glasses. Thankfully he steadily returned to normal, and after a rest was once again feeling okay. Never again will we put ourselves through such torture just to save a couple of quid!

It had been fairly late by the time we had installed ourselves in our surprisingly excellent hotel, so we had not had a chance to explore. Further inspection the next morning revealed that we had ended up in a very nice part of town, home to several embassies, fancy offices and grand villas. This was all for the same money that we would have paid for a private room in a nice hostel in the less than salubrious backpacker area, so suffice to say we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. We spent the day exploring the vicinity, sampling as much street food as possible. Oli did notice that most of the other Westerners we saw were eating in restaurants rather than the street stalls. We declared that they were missing out, then quickly wondered whether they would have the last laugh. However, I am now pleased to report that all has been well stomach wise, so our first theory seems to be the correct one.


Originally our plan had been to spend only one full day in the city, before heading out to the island of Koh Samet to relax on the beach whilst waiting for the arrival of our bike. However, loving the luxury of our studio apartment hotel and not wanting to rush, we decided to spend an extra night there. We spent our extra day relaxing and doing a little planning, before heading out in the evening to visit one of Bangkok's many shopping malls.

On our way, Oli was keen to sample some more street food. He had been eyeing up the various meats on sticks every time we had walked past, and could restrain no longer. He bought a couple of portions, and proceeded to munch his way through them. Apparently they were amazing, and I genuinely thought he was about to cry with happiness. He seemed slightly in shock from how good it was for the remainder of the evening. This might be the start of a terrible addiction...

Terminal 21 was our destination, and made for a bizarre but enjoyable experience. The mall is airport themed, with different floors allocated to various countries. To enter, we walked through an airport security style metal detector, and using the escalators (signed Departures and Arrivals) worked our way up through Tokyo, London and Istanbul. Right at the top of the building is a model of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. In all honesty the main aim of our visit had been to experience the food court (Pier 21) located here, and it was well worth the trip. For a ridiculously low price we enjoyed a full meal each, including a very generous pudding of sticky rice, mango and coconut sesame sauce. Christmas is alive and well in the shopping centres here, and eating Thai food whilst festive tunes blasted out was a little surreal. Our lives seem to revolve around eating these days, but local fare really is one of the joys of travelling for us.


The next day we were sufficiently motivated to make the journey to Koh Samet. This island lies just off the coast of Ban Phe, around a three hour drive from Bangkok. It is declared a national park, and due to its proximity to the capital is very popular with Thai tourists. Despite our visit falling on a weekend, we still managed to find a cheap hotel, and were looking forward to our beach break. Negotiating the bus journey and the short ferry ride was easy, and we arrived at our destination in good time.

Although it was clean, the hotel room we were shown to was kind of a dump, which was what we expected for the price we were paying. It smelled of damp and I was perturbed to see a small jumping spider pinging around the bed cover, as well as several mosquitoes buzzing around. We were prepared to suck it up, but Oli went to ask if it was possible to swap our ground floor room for the floor above. He was still recovering from his cold, and his nasty cough must have alarmed the owner. She quickly and kindly moved us to her other property just down the road, giving us a top floor room with free air-con for no extra charge. Where the other room had been fair for the money, the new one was amazing and pretty much brand new. We even had a balcony – a result indeed.

As it was now late afternoon, we wasted no time in heading to the sea front to check out the beach. The closest one to where we were staying was Sai Kaew, which also happens to be the busiest and most touristy beach on the island. However, despite a few disgracefully burnt Europeans and a long stretch of bars, it was still beautiful. We walked along to the adjoining (and slightly quieter) beach and found a peaceful spot on the rocks. From this vantage point we watched the sun set paint the sky and wet sand in beautiful hues. It was hard to believe that just a few months ago the island was suffering from the oil spill in the gulf of Thailand. The sea is once again safe to swim in and all beaches open, but the ecosystem may never be the same again. However, the scenery was so pretty that it was all too easy for this to slip from our minds.


Later that evening we strolled slowly down the main road of the town, which in reality is nicely small and quiet. We sampled all the street food we could manage, ending up back on the beach munching banana and nutella rotis. We had been slightly dreading the character of the nightlife here, as whilst watching the sunset had been handed vouchers for a bar with the tag-line 'Let's get fucking wasted', which is not exactly our scene. Happily though, although a couple of bars were blasting out tunes further down the beach, on the whole the night scene was more chill out bars and fire artists than people falling out of clubs. It all seemed fairly tame, or maybe we just went to bed too early...

The next day we woke to bright sunshine, and decided to walk to one of the quieter beaches further down the island. Our aim for the day was Ao Wai, around a four kilometre walk away. This may not sound like a lot, but in the tropical heat and sun it was quite a slog. We walked for a while along the road, dodging the many amateur scooter and ATV riders wobbling along the way. Thankfully it wasn't too long before we could turn off and walk the remaining kilometres along the beaches. For a national park, the East coastline is surprisingly developed, but on the whole this is tastefully done, small guest houses and bungalows rather than large hotels. The beaches themselves were beautiful, but we pushed on, determined to reach our destination.

It was well worth it when we actually arrived. Ao Wai was wonderfully quiet and uncrowded, despite it being a Saturday. Tired from our walk, we enjoyed a spot of lunch at the one restaurant there before hitting the beach. I kept swimming in the sea to a minimum, as by my wussy standards some of the waves were quite large – I was much happier paddling and splashing in the shallows. Oli followed our swim with playing in the sand, and attempted to get into the Christmas spirit by building a sandman. The first specimen got washed away by a large wave, so he was rebuilt on safer ground.


It was tempting to stay on the beach until sundown, but we had a long walk back and didn't fancy the unlit roads in the dark. Reluctantly, we left the beach behind and wandered homewards. The weather had cooled off considerably as evening approached, so the journey home was far less strenuous than the way out. We treated ourselves to ice lollies on our way back, but Oli was perturbed to find that he had not read the wrapper of his properly, and it actually turned out to be a disgusting frozen jelly (see below), unappealingly named Paddle Pop. After the lolly disappointment, we finished our night off with a delicious dinner in a place picked purely because it appeared to be full of locals, then popped back to Sai Kaew for another cheeky roti. 


The next day we planned to do much the same as before, with the alteration of checking out Ao Noi Na on the North coast. The day was cloudy and we suspected a storm was likely to break, but like good English people we refused to change our plans for the weather, and set out optimistically. The rain held off for a little, but we had not even reached the beach by the time it started to fall. It came down lightly at first, quickly transforming into a deluge. We sheltered giggling under a tree for a while, before it started to leak. We ran along the road, finding a derelict beach hut and hiding under the overhang of the roof. The rain eventually died down, but we abandoned our designs of going to Ao Noi Na, and instead headed back towards home for lunch in town and a beach front chocolate cake.


Cake demolished, the weather had cheered up considerably. We set out towards Ao Phrao, the only beach on the West side of the island. It was a fair hike, but we were looking forward to seeing it, as apparently it is the up-market part of Koh Samet, and home to some lovely bars and restaurants. In reality, we were not that impressed with it. Up-market here just translated as very expensive, and the beach itself was pretty narrow with nowhere that great to chill out. We stayed for a little while and Oli had a splash about in the sea, but we decided pretty quickly to abandon it and head back to the East side of the island.

This turned out to be a good shout. It was a long walk, so we rewarded ourselves with an afternoon beer overlooking the ocean. The part of the island we found ourselves on is very narrow, so we chilled out here for a while and resolved to catch the sunset over the West, a short walk away from where we were sat. The sky appeared to be turning stormy again, and we did fear that there would not be much to see.


However, when we arrived at the spot we had scoped out as a good viewpoint, we saw that the sunset should be worth the diversion. We clambered a little way down the rocks and sat overlooking the sea. The sunset was incredible, with the clouds lighting up dramatically in the low light. We watched almost until the last light slipped out of the sky, using the last remnants of it to safely make our way back up the rocks. We walked home in the dark, teasing each other that something might burst out of the jungle at any time.


We decided to try somewhere new for dinner, and picked a place at the end of the road purely on the basis that I noticed they served veggie spring rolls. It turned out it was actually run by an Englishman, who smilingly asked us if we wanted our papaya salad spicy. When we answered to the affirmative, he checked if we wanted it normal spicy, or Thai spicy. Feeling pretty hardcore from India, we asked for Thai levels with more than a little bravado. Turns out 'Thai spicy' is a whole new level of warm. It tasted amazing, but blimey was my mouth on fire! We ended up staying at the restaurant for longer than planned, chatting to each other about life over icy cold Chang beers. Although it had only been a couple of days, we had enjoyed our taste of beach life immensely, and were feeling very relaxed.

Of course we woke up to glorious sunshine today, and although we were excited to get back to Bangkok, we were also reluctant to leave our island escape behind. The journey back was as simple as our outward one and we are now back in our lovely apartment hotel, as they kindly kept most of our luggage for us whilst we were away. Sadly we are leaving tomorrow for a cheaper place, as we will most likely be staying in the city for another five nights whilst we attempt to get our bike out of the port and sort a few maintenance jobs out. We will miss our embassy district good life, but hopefully our new place will not be too bad! It is probably a good thing we are moving, as we are in danger of becoming pampered princesses if we remain here too long...

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

May You Live in Interesting Times... Last Days in Nepal

We passed our last few days in Pokhara relaxing on the terrace, reading in the sun, doing a little shopping and enjoying the food. Oli kept himself busy doing little (but important) jobs and making numerous lists of tasks, such as polishing our abused motorbike boots. All too late, we discovered a brilliant Japanese restaurant opposite our guest house, simply named Japanese Lunch Ready. For about £1.50 a head, we got a soup and a meal, which changed every day. We discovered they also offered the best drip coffee in town, which went down a treat when accompanied by sweet karintos. It was so good, that we ate there every day of our remaining time in Pokhara. Whilst the food was very reasonably priced, it may turn out to have been a false economy, as it has firmly set the idea of a Japan trip in our minds.


Politics wise, the strikes and travel bans continued, and are set to do so until the election on the 19th. Getting solid information was difficult, but most people advised that although the tourist buses would probably be running, local services and private vehicles would not be able to travel. Luckily in our ignorance, the period we had hired the bike had been sandwiched between these embargoes – the day before we took it the roads had been blocked, and the problems continued shortly after we returned it. Seeing as the rental Enfield had a local plate, we could well have found ourselves stuck somewhere.

We rose on our last day reluctant to leave. We had actually developed a bit of a routine whilst staying in the town, albeit a ridiculously undemanding one. We were going to miss our sunny mornings, slow breakfasts and Japanese lunches. The sunrise over the mountains was stunningly beautiful, and as we journeyed to the bus station, mist was rising from the lake. It was enough to make us wish we had actually gotten up this early on a day that we didn't have to go anywhere.

We arrived at the bus station in good time, where the tranquility was lost slightly in the chaos of passengers and vendors. Our carriage for the day was the Swiss Bus, proudly proclaiming itself an 'Excellent Supper Deluxe Bus'. Without wishing to be cruel, I would say that the word 'deluxe' is definitely thrown around too liberally in this part of the world. Adding to the experience, somebody in Nepal has had the bright idea of all tourist buses leaving at the same time, which did not strike us as the most sensible way to operate things. When the departure time arrived, all the coaches dived for the exit. Due to the travel embargoes they also had to negotiate a road block, and it was almost an hour before the scrum cleared and we were on the road.


Although the journey was long, it was impossible to get bored. As well as the beautiful scenery, life happens on the side of the road in Nepal, and there was always something to look at. As we climbed higher, the bright sunny day disappeared into heavy mist. There must have been some rain in these parts, as all along the road huge spiders had woven vast webs in the trees, the architects themselves sitting fat (and sometimes mouse sized) in the centres of their creations. Whilst impressive, it was not a pretty sight for me, and I was glad to be safely within the confines of the bus.

We stopped along the way for a toilet break, and everyone eagerly poured off the bus. Unfortunately we arrived at the same time as several other coach loads of tourists, and the resulting queue at the ladies had to be seen to be believed. Eager to solve the problem, the restaurant owner told a few of us at the back to follow him, and led us into the depths of the kitchens in order to use the staff facilities. Now, before we left England my Auntie Miche had prophetically advised that there would be “toilets that will stick in your mind”. Six months on the road have proved that she was not wrong, and this was definitely one such example. Situated in the corner of the kitchen behind a just high enough wall, the squat toilet sat behind a door that did not close properly. Worst of all, one wall was a window that looked on to another section of the kitchen. Thankfully this section was unoccupied, as the modesty guarding cardboard that had been stuck there had fallen down. Business concluded, I skipped back upstairs just as the coach was ready to leave, cheerfully telling Oli that now I had seen the kitchen there, I was glad we had not sampled the food.

The rest of the journey passed without incident. We slowly trundled past more beautiful scenery, interspersed with a few road blocks and political demonstrations. Due to the absence of lorries on the road, we actually made pretty good time. As we approached the capital, there was more general traffic on the road, and the travel ban seemed to be largely ignored. The roads in the main city are truly chaotic, and not particularly due to the volume of traffic. Bad road layouts, a total lack of traffic lights at busy intersections and an absence of pavements means that the streets are often unnecessarily gridlocked.

We were glad to have made it back without problems, and also pleased to note that despite the elections, life seemed to be going on pretty much as normal in KTM. We did however check the updated FCO advice, and discovered that there had been some attacks on tourist buses the previous day. We were glad indeed that we had picked a good departure date! The strikes and travel bans are driven by the opposition, a thirty-three party alliance (out of the 120 parties), and are aimed at disrupting the upcoming elections. Bizarrely, the travel restrictions also appear to be enforced by the military and the police, presumably due to safety concerns. Whilst many people do ignore the embargoes, the risk of travelling on these strike days is real – on Wednesday, a local bus service was attacked with petrol bombs, injuring nine people. More detail on this can be found here http://tinyurl.com/ntxtb26, and here http://tinyurl.com/pv49kte.

The political situation here is currently very fragile. These are the second elections since the end of the civil war, and there seems to be a lot of confusion. Political parties are numerous and split down into narrow interest groups, including several iterations of the Communist / Marxist / Leninist party. The various political supporters we have seen appear extremely passionate, but seem to support parties as if they are football teams. There is a lot of chanting, shouting and flag waving, and it is sometimes easy to imagine that violence could break out between opposing groups. Many of the election posters we see pasted onto walls are torn and defaced, suggesting that reasoned discourse is losing out to heavier tactics. Earlier in the week, we had also read that an election candidate had been kidnapped by an opposing group in another region of Nepal.


Political strife aside, we decided to spend the next day relaxing and doing a little exploring. We set out from our hotel after a hearty breakfast, for which we had been accompanied by a Georgian couple who saw the fact that it was only 10 a.m. as no reason that they should not get stoned. Oli and I obviously did not partake, but still enjoyed chatting with them about their home country, which we had so much loved visiting a few months before. Our walk took us along quiet back streets and busy roads, where we were alarmed by low hanging power cables but enamoured with the interesting murals painted on the walls. As we wandered along, we were approached by two 'holy' men coming in the opposite direction. We had been warned about these guys, who apparently try to bless you with some red dye and a flower, then demand payment. Sure enough, as they got closer they lunged towards us, ignoring our no thank yous. I actually had to duck and dodge one, whilst Oli managed to avoid the other. They did not look pleased! The remainder of our day passed without similar excitement.


Determined to make the most of our last few days in KTM, we planned to do some actual sightseeing the following day. A quick check of the map revealed Swayambhu (aka Monkey Temple) to be a few kilometres stroll away, and we set off in the general direction, negotiating the many narrow and confusing small streets with surprising ease. It was interesting to see a less touristy part of the city as we walked, and our route took us past numerous temples and shrines. KTM is more like a giant village than a capital city and, even this close to the centre, many people still grow crops and keep livestock. We had also been surprised to see from the bus en-route to Pokhara that animals are still brought to the butchers for slaughter, and we saw several unsuspecting goats patiently tethered outside such establishments. It was unexpected, as even in countries which might be considered 'poor', the capital has usually proved to be relatively modern and developed. This is not really the case with KTM in general.

After an interesting and mostly enjoyable walk, we arrived at the base of the temple steps. I was expecting somewhere peaceful and conducive to reflection, but this was definitely not the case. There were seemingly infinite vendors, as well as very visible poverty in the form of families begging at the base of the steps. However, it is still a beautiful location, with a steep staircase rising dramatically up the hillside. Everywhere we looked were statues or stone artwork, and our eyes were constantly drawn to new details. At first I was excited to spot monkeys running around, but quickly got a shock when two burst out from behind the monument I was photographing, chasing each other and shrieking. As cute as they appeared from a distance, Oli and I were keen to keep away from them as much as possible!


As we reached the top of the steps, we saw a sign denoting the entrance fees for entering the temple grounds at the summit. The tourist price was four times as much as for SAARC countries, but still cheap. Oli went to the desk and cheerily said “Two overpriced tourist tickets please”. The joke was lost on the ticket seller, who looked puzzled and asked Oli if he wanted five. Confusion politely resolved and tickets purchased, we continued up the final few steps into the main area.

Despite the crowds and monkeys, it was utterly worth the climb. Intricate details abounded, and many parts of the monument were covered in gold, which was set off dramatically by the clear blue sky. We enjoyed taking in the beauty of the art works, whilst simultaneously watching the monkeys peskily raiding the shrines for food. Whilst they are amusing, we thought it would be fairly common sense not to approach them. However, as well as several people feeding them, we witnessed a woman try to pet one of the babies. Although it ran away, she was spotted by its mother, who ran at her with alarming speed before jumping on her back and trying to bite her throat. Luckily for her she was wearing a coat with a thick collar, and a local bashed the monkey off before it could do any damage. Whilst it had not been an unprovoked attack, it was still pretty alarming. The monkeys are pretty hefty, so I hastily constructed myself a neck protector from my fleece.


We managed to find a monkey and crowd free corner, and could then relax enough to take in the scene and enjoy the place. The setting really was amazing, with so much to see that our eyes hardly knew where to settle. Added to this, the views over the city scape on such a clear day were a welcome reward. Sadly though, even in this relatively quiet corner it was not a place conducive to relaxation (despite the speakers gamely blasting out 'peaceful' music), so we decided to call it a day and head  back to Thamel along the dusty streets. The rest of the day was spent doing what we do best these days – chilling out in cafes. After the chaos of the temple, Thamel actually felt relatively peaceful.


We now had only two days left in KTM, and were pleased to receive a HUBB (Horizons Unlimited) message from fellow overlanders Frances and Pete, who are doing a similar journey to us but in reverse. We agreed to meet for a pint later that afternoon, and Oli and I decided to go and do some more touristing in the morning. Our destination for the day was Durbar Square, one of KTM's best known sights. We slowly wandered in the correct direction, pausing frequently to admire the old buildings lining the street, rickety but intricate. The route also had many historical temples, hidden away in recesses or unassumingly sat between buildings. They were fairly devoid of tourists and fascinating to behold.

We arrived easily at the square, and were surprised to see that there was an entry fee. This was very expensive for Nepal, and what made it more ridiculous was that local people could just wander in and out as they pleased. We accept that we will often pay more than locals for attractions, and can see why it may be seen as fair sometimes, but the expense of this was too far for us. Instead, we walked around the edge like stingy gits, hoping to find an alleyway to via which we could sneak in undetected. Sadly we had no such luck, but didn't mind at all. It was still beautiful from the outside, and there was such a plethora of interesting sites to see for free in the surrounding streets, that we did not feel we had missed out.


The day passed quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to meet Pete and Frances. They turned out to be a great couple, and whilst we chatted and exchanged stories the hours quickly passed, with 'one beer' turning into many more. We ended up unwittingly being part of a lock-in. Due to the elections, the bars and restaurants have to close by 10 p.m., and they were supposed to have stopped serving alcohol at eight. The first we were aware of this was when one of the waiters came over to our table and blew out the candle, whispering “Police” by way of explanation. We took this as a good cue to leave, but had to wait a few minutes until the staff told us the coast was clear. Pretty much everything was closed, but thankfully we found a bakery over the road, and munched down half price doughnuts by way of dinner. Liquid dinner and baked goods... what a winner.

Surprisingly we woke up today not feeling hungover, and had very little planned other than getting our stuff sorted out and meeting Frances and Pete again in the evening. There was nothing much to report from the day itself, but we were a little early to our meeting spot on the street. Whilst stood still we fended off the usual drug offers from a surprisingly friendly and polite dealer. We were also approached by a random local, clearly off his face, huffing solvents from a paper bag and proudly brandishing a piece of wood with a massive live cockroach on the end. He stopped, apparently keen to show us his unusual friend. We thanked him, which seemed to do the trick as he shuffled off in the other direction. It was a surreal moment indeed, but happily the remainder of our evening was far more pleasant.

Like many visitors to Nepal, Oli and I are both nursing slight colds, not helped by the fact that winter is approaching here and the temperature seems to drop a little more every evening. Whilst we have enjoyed KTM, after the peace and quiet of Pokhara it can sometimes get a bit much. Like every capital, it has a dark side, and it is hard to stay polite and patient when we are offered drugs for the tenth time in a day. Whilst there are plenty of nice things to see, there is also very visible and heart breaking poverty – on our way to the temple we had seen fairly young kids openly huffing glue by the riverside.

Still, we cannot forget the many wonderful, kind and friendly people we have met whilst in Nepal. The good parts of visiting this country are almost certainly the ones that we will most strongly remember, as they have far outweighed any negative aspects. Hopefully we will make it to the airport tomorrow, as apparently taxis will not be allowed to run, and we will have to rely on the emergency tourist shuttle bus. Presuming we get there, it will be the first time in Thailand for both of us, and we are very much looking forward to it.