Rachel and Matt’s World Tour

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That’s all folks!

Well, it’s home sweet, wet, cold, home!

Since we left you in Kolkata we flew to Mumbai (Bombay) – we saw the slums that hold 55% of Mumbai’s population as we flew in. It was very sobering as they went on for miles.  There are also many huge, impressive British buildings that we enjoyed strolling around, and we watched hundreds of people playing cricket on the Oval Maiden.

It took us 14 hours on the train from Mumbai, but we had a fabulous, relaxing time in  Goa. We visited 3 gorgeous beaches: Anjuna, Arambol and Mandrem. Anjuna had a huge market by the beach on wednesdays so we were able to bag some last minute gifts. Arambol was full of dippy hippies swinging balls on ropes around on the beach or performing some strange form of Tai Che/ ‘I want to be a tree’ on the rocky headland, but the beach was beautiful and the oceanside restaurants served delicious seafood and curries of course.

Mandrem was incredibly peaceful, the beach was even more beautiful than Arambol and huge with virtually no-one on it.

After the painful train experience on the way to Goa we were very happy we had booked a flight back to Mumbai to connect to our flight home – and so here we are!

It has been the most exciting experience of our lives. Our favourite country remains New Zealand because the countryside is so stunning and varied, the people were very friendly, the food and wine were awesome, and it was just so organised with many things to do and sights to see. Laos was a close second for both of us, as again the countryside was stunning, it had the quirks and beauty of south east asia but without the pushy loudness of the people of many other asian countries we have visited; the people are so friendly and chilled.Nepal must also be up there because of the jaw dropping scenery, the best of the trip.

Our favourite day was when we both lost our senses and jumped out of planes or headfirst into gorges, followed by celebrations of our bravery with new friends in Queenstown. Other very special days were wine tasting around Marlborough in NZ, tubing in Laos, walking on the volcanic White Island in NZ, exploring the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, surviving the hard slog of the Thorong La Pass in Nepal, and seeing the imposing and amazingly beautiful Taj Mahal. There are so many more I want to list but it would take too long and you will get bored reading!

There were thankfully very few lowlights, but these would probably be getting ripped off in Vietnam, staying in the tacky area of Phuket surrounded by sex workers, and dealing with hocking and spitting and other gross habits in India and Nepal.

We are now both gradually getting back into normal life, though it’s gonna take a while. We hope that you have enjoyed reading. It has been so great for us to write this as a record of our adventures so thanks to everyone for the comments. I look forward to reading it back when I’m old(er) to remind myself that we have done something exciting and amazing in our lives.

Until the next trip!…

December 3, 2009   10 Comments

North India Unplugged Part 2

Hello all.

We finished our Intrepid tour a few days ago and are now in Goa on the west coast. Here is what we have been up to since our last update.

We left the madness of Pushkar behind and headed to Jaipur, home to the Amber Fort and the Palace of the Winds. Rach thought the fort was very pretty inside with it’s ornate rooms. The audio guide however was extremely odd. The walls and doors talk to you in very serious monotone voices. The Palace of the Winds was also cool, but the bag sellers nearby would win the award for the pushiest in India easily.

We also took in a Bollywood movie at the Raj Mandir cinema. “Blue” was a laughable film about retrieving sunken treasure. There were no subtitles so Pradeep had to explain things every so often. Kylie also makes a cameo appearance with an awful song “I wanna Chiggy-Wiggy with you”! The cinema itself was very grand, built in a 1930’s style and was packed to the rafters. Everyone had a great night out, which was finished off with a tandoori.

After Jaipur we spent one night in Bharatpur. The nearby Keoladeo National Park provided some welcome relief from the constant noise and pollution elsewhere. We were pleasantly surprised to see lots of wildlife as the lack of rain in the monsoon season had reportedly caused many birds to migrate to other locations.

Next stop was Agra and one of the highlights of our whole year away, the Taj Mahal. On our first evening we had a whistle stop tour of the cities other atractions; Akbar’s Mausoleum and Itimad-Ud-Daulah (Baby Taj), as well as a view of the Taj from over the river. The next day we were up early to beat the crowds to the Taj. With many iconic sights, when you see them in real life they sometimes don’t live up to expectations. The Taj Mahal exceeded ours. It’s much bigger than we imagined and even more beautiful. It’s a shame some people don’t feel the same and choose to drop their  litter all around the ground (which hadn’t even been picked up from the previous day!).

Be sure to check the pictures, even though they don’t come close to doing it justice. After the Taj we visited Agra Fort. This was where Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal, was imprisoned by his son for wanting to build another!

After a long train ride we arrived in Varanasi on the bank of the River Ganges. It is one of the holiest places for Indians, who come from all over the country to bathe in the water. People also come here to die as it is believed to give them an instant ticket into heaven. We saw two burning ghats, which is where the bodies are cremated, and the ashes scattered in the water. We also saw the Ganga Aarti ceremony, which with the thousands of spectators made for a great cultural experience.

Our sunrise boat trip, where we saw people bathing in the waters of the Ganges (not recommended, it’s pretty toxic!) was a picture postcard moment for us. Just outside of Varanasi is Sarnath, which is where Buddha performed his first sermon. There are Buddhist temples representing many countries in the world along one road, and a large stupa where some of his ashes are contained.

Our last stop on the tour was Kolkata (Calcutta). We didn’t see much of the renowned poverty and were surprised by the relatively modern/organised city centre. We saw the Victoria Memorial, which was very impressive, but not particularly well looked after. Frederique had her birthday on our first night in Kolkata so we went out for a special meal to celebrate. Pradeep did a great job in finding a cake. Mother Teresa lived in Kolkata for most of her life and we visited her house and mission centre, a short distance from our hotel. It was very moving reading about her life and her unwavering efforts to help the sick and impoverished people of India and the world.

Finally it was time to say goodbye to our group. We have made many good friends over the course of the trip and couldn’t have wished to travel with better people. Announcement: Pradeep, our leader was a legend. His many cultural insights enhanced the trip immensely, and the evening at his home in Udaipur was a highlight for everyone. He is also the best/worst dancer we’ve ever seen! 10/10 for effort.

We only have two weeks and are looking forward to soaking up some rays in Goa, to make you all look very pale! Until the next, and final update…

November 16, 2009   9 Comments

North India Unplugged Part 1

Hello all.

We have been in India 12 days and are 11 days into our tour with Intrepid. India is not half as intimidating as we thought it was going to be but twice as beautiful.

Our first day in Delhi was spent exploring and we were able to cover many sights as we hired a car and driver for the day. We saw the colonial era buildings of Rajpath (Kingsway): The Parliament and Secretariat Buildings, Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s House), and India Gate, a 42m high WW1 memorial arch. We also strolled around the atmospheric ruins of Qutb Minar with its 73m high tower, and Purana Qila, the Old Fort. We also stopped to look at the Lotus Temple, which looks very much like Sydney Opera House, and is of no particular faith, all are welcome!

That evening we returned to the hotel to meet our companions for the next 22 days… a mix of Canadians and Australians, and all very friendly. Our guide Pradeep took us all on a walking tour of Delhi the next day. We visited a Sikh temple where all are provided a free meal. We were able to go into the kitchens, where I rolled and Matt cooked some chapatis! We also visited Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque that can hold 25,000 worshippers! We strolled through a couple of bazaars, mostly selling Sari’s and spices.

The same evening we boarded the night train to Jaisalmer. It was comfortable but noisy as there were many people in each carriage, and sometimes 3 or 4 men per bunk! Jaisalmer is called the Golden City as all the buildings are made from sandstone, and many of them are intricately carved. The town was just gorgeous, with its beautiful palace within the Fort and narrow alleyways full of textiles shops. The local craft is patchwork, mirrorwork and embroidered textiles. In Jaisalmer we visited the stunning carved buildings of the palace, the Haveli’s (rich merchants mansions) and the Jain temples. We also took an overnight camel safari into the Thar desert where we watched the sun go down over the dunes, and were then treated to music and dance by the locals. It was fun joining in and prancing around the camp fire.

After Jaisalmer we visited Jodphur, where we visited the huge and imposing Fort Meherangh, which had a fascinating history of the Maharaja’s and Battles of old, and great views across the ‘blue city’. Jaswant Thada nearby is a pretty white marble memorial and looks like a baby Taj Mahal. The markets around the clock tower were hectic to say the least, and so smoggy and dirty, so we didn’t shop much here, but we did have the best lassi in India! It tastes like creamy lemon cheesecake in a glass – delicious!

From Jodphur we went to Udaipur. Our favourite town yet, set around a lake with incredibly beautiful buildings, much of the James Bond film, Octopussy was filmed here. The local crafts are miniature painting and we saw some amazing examples in our tour of the city palace. The workmanship is so impressive we were tempted into buying a few pieces. On our first evening we took a boat ride around Lake Pichola from where there are excellent views of the city palace on the waters edge, and the Lake Palace on an island in the lake. Now an extremely plush hotel, room rates start at hundreds of pounds.

The group seems to have gone shopping mad in Udaipur! Jewellery and clothes and paintings mostly. We celebrated Halloween by dressing up and carving a pumpkin, which got a great deal of local attention from the locals when we took him for dinner in our costumes! At the end of the evening we gave our hats and accesories away and the kids were so excited, it was a cute moment. Udaipur is Pradeep’s home town so he knew everything there was to know and is very passionate about the place. On our last evening here he took us to his home for dinner. The food was awesome and the company even better. We learned a great deal about the lifestyle here from chatting to his extended family and friends.

Sad to leave Udaipur, we took a long and tiring bus journey to Pushkar. Luckily for us the world famous Camel Fair is on. We explored with Pradeep yesterday but it is quite intimidating. Some Indians, mainly young men get very excited about seeing a whitey! It’s not so bad for the couples, but the girls get much unwanted attention, and lots of cameras in their faces.

Sadly we we saw two dead horses and Debbie and Phil even saw a dead man!! Thankfully he had been moved by the time we walked past. A few hours in the extreme hustle and bustle is enough for most of us so we are going to spend the rest of today relaxing by next doors pool.

We have seen and done so much already so there are lots of pics on the photo’s page.

November 3, 2009   6 Comments


Namaste from Kathmandu, Nepal.

We arrived from Bangkok nearly a month ago and have had a very adventurous few weeks. Kathmandu has got to be the most crazy, hectic place we have visited on our whole trip. The streets are full of bustling people and motorbikes and little 1000cc cars that are ruthless and don’t seem to have a specific side of the road! The locals are hard bargainers but the prices are mostly very cheap so that’s not so bad. Rach has found it hard to cope with the local habit of hocking and spitting though! It’s really gross.

After a couple of days in Kathmandu shopping for all our trekking gear, we took a 6hr bus journey to Besisahar from where we started our trek: the Annapurna Circuit.

A 16 day, 200km trek around the very beautiful Annapurna Sanctuary, home to 3 of the worlds 14 8000m mountains, Annapurna, Manaslu and Dhauligiri and what many people think is the world most beautiful mountain, Machhupuchhare. Many people complete the trek each year, which reaches a height of 5460m on the Thorung La pass, so there are lots of small tea houses along the way at which to stop for lunch or stay the night. As you can see by the photo’s we weren’t let down by the scenery.

The first day was very difficult. An 18km walk with a 400m climb at the end. Within 10 minutes we had our first glimpse of snow capped mountains. Everything was going great until we came across a landslide blocking the path. The resulting 1.5hr detour in blazing heat really took it out of me in particular and made the final climb to Bahundanda very hard indeed.

Over the next few days landslides were very common, but luckily the locals are very adept at creating new paths. Unfortunately though, they sometimes forget we don’t all live in the mountains, so some of the detours are very steep and tough.

On around day 4 the scenery started to change dramatically. Trees started to change to pine and the rice fields disappeared. The views from Chame to Manang were absolutely stunning. The Oble Dome in particular made us pause in awe.

Manang was the biggest village so far and we stayed in a nice guesthouse called the Yeti Hotel, which had a great view of Annapurna III and Gangapurna. Due to the ever increasing altitude (Manang is 3600m above sea level) it is recommended to stay an extra day to acclimatise. We spent our spare day walking up to a viewpoint above Manang where we had great views of a glacier and glacier lake.

After a day of relative rest we had two days of short walks to Thorung Phedi. Our jinx with the weather returned as both days were cloudy and blocked the reportedly amazing views of the mountains. Thorung Phedi is at the beginning of the path to the Thorung La, the highest point of our trek. The altitude and resulting thinness of the air makes things very slow going, so a very early start was required. We were very surprised to wake to snow and were apprehensive about attempting the 750m climb but we went for it anyway. After short break halfway for tea we bumped into Luke and Karen, a Dutch couple who we keep meeting on the trail, so we walked the rest of the way with them. Rachel was secretly pleased when Karen had a mini tantrum near the top and she didn’t! After around 5 hours of seemingly endless zigzags we reached the top and celebrated with another cup of tea and a Mars Bar.

After taking pictures and attaching our prayer flags we started the descent down to Muktinath. The 1500m descent took 3 hours and as the snow turned to rain the path got very slippery. I fell over not once, but 3 times resulting in a very muddy rucksack. Eventually though, we made it to Muktinath and a very welcome hot shower (the first in 4 days!). We were both very pleased at completing the climb and the massive descent which was a big strain on the knees.

The next 2 days were spent heading towards Jomsom, the biggest town on the trek. Thankfully the clouds cleared on the second day and we were treated to great views of the arid landscape. We stayed in Kagbeni and Marpha, which is a very pretty village with traditional houses who’s roofs are covered in firewood. Rach picked up some brandy for her grandad at the local distillery.

The last section of the trek took a southern direction towards the final village of Birethani. Days 14 and 15 were in my opinion the hardest of the trek. A 24km leg followed by a 1.6km ascent the next day. We were both feeling very tired at this point, so the going was pretty slow and involved lots of water stops. We spent the night of day 15 in Ghorepani. A further 300m higher up is Poon Hill, which has great views of the entire Annapurna Sanctuary. I was up at 4.30am to watch the sunrise over the mountains, along with around 150 other people.

It was amazing to see the sun gradually lighting up the mountains. Rach stayed in bed and is still adamant that she made the right decision! Later that morning we started our final day trekking and were sorry to see that it wasn’t going to be an easy end. The path descended 1.8km and over a very short distance so was incredibly steep in parts. My knees were aching badly by the bottom and the very humid weather made things even tougher. But at last we made it to the end of the trek and caught a bus to Pokhara, Nepals second city. We thought we would try the locals approach and sit on the roof but what seemed like a good idea at the time got pretty uncomfortable after an hour!

Pokhara probably has the best scenery of any city in the world. Think huge mountains, a mirror-like lake and green valleys. Another thing that was good was the food (the best on our entire trip). After 16 days of very healthy eating we pigged out on pizza, steak, curry and lots of beer and wine. During our time in Pokhara the locals were celebrating Diwali, so the main street was filled with people dancing and performing. One of the highlights of Pokhara was the walk up to the World Peace Pagoda. We thought we had done enough climbing on our trek but managed to get to the top of the ridge. The view from the pagoda is breathtaking as you can see from the photo, and more than worth the effort. Thankfully we got up early and beat the clouds that form mid-morning.

We got a bus back to Kathmandu after a week in Pokhara and visited Durbar square, from where kings once ruled the city. After the relative peace of Pokhara the “in your face” atmosphere of Kathmandu takes some getting used to.

So that ends our Nepal adventure. The scenery more than lived up to expectations and the people were very welcoming. We head to India tomorrow to start our tour of the North. It is hard to believe it will be our final country of the trip. Coming home is finally starting to feel real!

Until the next update….

October 21, 2009   9 Comments

Northern Thailand

Hello all,

From Laos we crossed the border back into Thailand and headed straight to Chiang Mai, a great town with plenty of stuff to do, so we hung around for 11 days. We took a brilliant cooking class with just the 2 of us and our teacher, Mr Visut, who’s english was hilarious!

The class included a tour of the market, cooking up and devouring 5 delicious Thai dishes of our choosing, a garnishing lesson (be impressed by the photo of my perfect tomato rose!), and an awesome cookbook to take home. We spent a couple of evenings at the vast night market, buying gifts for some of you, and treats to eat for us.

We also went on a disastrous 2 day trek to visit tribal villages, ride elephants and go bamboo rafting. On day 1, after starting with a tiring uphill trek it began to rain…very heavily…for several hours.

Not only were we uncomfortably drenched from scalp to toenail, but the leeches came out for supper. I had one on my belly (no idea how he got there) and Matt had several on his legs, as did another of our companions, also Matt. Gruesome. The other girls in our troup, Elaine, Sarah and Frances, luckily escaped unsucked. It was then very slow going to the village which was our stop for the night, as the pathway turned into a stream in some parts and a mud slide in others. We cautiously crossed a rickety bamboo bridge across to the village where we were so exhausted we surprisingly slept right through in our ‘shack’. We found out in the morning that the bridge had been swept away by the river in the night and so our alternative walk back out of the hills was greatly increased. Of course the rafting and elephant trekking were now out of the question as a result of the dangerously swift river, and ruined tracks. Our optimistic/ lieing little git of a guide, Tri, told us our walk out of the hills would take 5 hours. After 4 hours of steep uphill walking, we were ready to drop but luckily a couple of lifts from very friendly locals much reduced the walking (which we estimate would have been at least 10 hours as we were in a car for over an hour). We had a relay of lifts as the rains had caused flash flooding which had completely taken out several patches of the track, so vehicles were stranded. After lunch, we foolishly felt relief thinking our hardships were over, and were collected by our vehicle to take us back to Chiang Mai. We soon came across a stream that had overflowed, cutting off the road. We waited for over 4 hours for the water to slow and drop, which it did appear to do, but slowly. As it got dark our guide finally decided to try to cross the flooding. When Matt (not Doran) asked why we were trying this now, and why the locals were building rafts, the encouraging response was that the dam upstream was going to burst, so we had to get going to high ground. Of course the truck got stuck almost immediately, so we ended up in the fast flowing waters, in the pitch black, trying to push the bloody thing out. We did not succeed and I was petrified. The 4×4 that had been watching our antics decided that it would be sensible to also enter the water from the otherside. His intention was to get close enought to rope pull our vehicle out but the fool also got stuck immediately. In this sorry state our patience and calm broke and we collected our bags and demanded we get going up the road, and leave the vehicles. Our guide encouraged one last push of the other vehicle which did actually get back out of the water. So then he told us to head up the hill and he disappeared off into the night to get help. Stranded alone in the dark we tried to laugh off the days events, but I think in actual fact we were all pretty scared, and just praying he was going to come back. Luckily our rescue vehicle was quick to return as the police/ranger station was not far down the road (no idea why Tri failed to tell us this or get help earlier). So not much later we were safely back in Chiang Mai with an exciting story to tell and a new bunch of friends – funny how bonding a near death experience can be! The following night was spent drinking to our bravery and dissecting every minute of the trip! The photos indicate that there was also dancing but I don’t much remember that! Matt, Frances, Sarah, Elaine – we couldn’t have been luckier than to ‘enjoy’ the experience with you guys. Thanks.

We did get taken on our elephant trek the next day but refused the offer of rafting. We had seen more than enough of the river. The elephant ride was brilliant. Our elephant was a mummy, so baby followed along. He was very cute and even more greedy for bananas than his mum!

From Chiang Mai we had to take a day trip to the Myanmar border do extend our Thai visa. Not much to tell except the border towns are dumps and the ciggy sellers in Myanmar are way pushy even though their goods are EXTREMELY cheap.

We took the train to Phitsanoluk to enjoy a day cycling around the stunning Sukhotai ruins, which was once the Thai capital. The grounds were beautifully kept. We also stopped in Lopburi to visit the cheeky monkeys that swarm around the ruins there. There were literally hundreds including babies that were only a few days old.

We have been enjoying the increased modernity of Bangkok for a week now; never ending malls, massive cinemas, and shamefully, Starbucks and McDonalds. I had a great day at Chatuchak market which has over 10,000 stalls. Matt says it was hell on earth following me around. It didn’t help that late in the day the rain blessed us with yet another downpour, and the market flooded. We also visited the very impressive Grand Palace, The Temple of the Emerald Buddha and Wat Pho, which has a 46m long reclining Buddha, with pretty pearly feet! We had a great seafood dinner on the streets of Chinatown and many of 7’Eleven’s banana cakes for breakfast (mmmm!).

It is hard to believe we have been in South East Asia for nearly 6 months. Although it has been awesome for the most part, the delicious food, jaw dropping scenery and some great people, we are not completely unhappy to eventually leave. The slower pace of our Nepal trek, and escape from tuk-tuk drivers, various touts, and in particular suit sellers, is now very welcome!

Our next update should be in a month or so when we are back from our trek in the mountains. Fingers crossed for no twisted ankles or altitude sickness!

September 22, 2009   10 Comments