There are no combinations of words that can perfectly describe how I feel about Nepal. Anxiety, excitement, worry, purity, angst, happiness. The emotions are vast, much like the landscape of the country. Nonetheless, after having spent some time there a few years ago, Nepal has very quickly become a country that I always recommend people make the time to visit during their lifetime.

Touching ground in Kathmandu can be very daunting, but once you get past the madness that engulfs the airport, you’ll find yourself in a land so diverse you won’t know where to start.

Lucky for you, I’ve written down some of my favourite spots from the country’s capital, that even after 5 years, I’d still indulge in given the opportunity!

EAT
OR2K
Where: Mandala St, Thamel
It can be a little hard to find this gem, but once you’ve discovered the nook where OR2K is hidden, you’ll have difficulty wanting to leave. Eating at OR2K is an experience within itself. Upon entry of the vegetarian Middle Eastern restaurant, you become encompassed by the eccentric art, tantalising smells and happy atmosphere. Best of all, OR2K is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner – sidenote: it’s totally OK to return for all three meals, I can’t be the only one who has done this can I?!
Must try: Pizza Toast

Café Hessed
Where: Jhamsikhel Road, Lalitpur
It’s ok to crave a little Western dessert once in a while when you travel. If the craving hits when you’re in Nepal, be sure to grab a taxi and head 20 minutes out of Thamel to the centre of Ring Road. Here, tucked away on the North-Western side of the round-about, you will find Café Hessed, a café that offers doughnuts so tasty you’d think that God had made them himself.
Must try: doughnuts of course!

DO
Do always accept the offer of momo’s to eat and lassi’s to drink. You’ll never find any that taste as good outside of the country!

DON’T
a) Eat with your left hand, this is the hand that is used for toilet matters. Always eat and greet people with your right hand!
b) Don’t eat Western food. It will make you sick!

DRINK
Buddha Bar
Where: Narsingh Chowk Marg, Thamel
The atmosphere is always fun at Buddha Bar. Cheap drinks, shisha, friends and a nice view of the street, doesn’t get much better than that!

DO
Have fun, be careful and stay with a group of trusted people.

DON’T
Go to Fire Club. EVER.

SHOPPING
Nepal is like the mecca for all things outdoors. For backpackers and adventure lovers alike, it’ll be like Christmas walking the streets of Thamel, surrounded by countless outdoor/hiking gear stores.

DO
Haggle! Don’t be afraid to negotiate a price with storeowners. My key is to always go straight to half the price that they offer and go from there.

DON’T
Be stingy. Remember, Nepal is a low socio-economic country that thrives off of its tourism.

SIGHTS/ACTIVITES
Swayambhunath Temple
Where: Swayambhu, Kathmandu
Swayambhunath is an ancient religious temple in the Kathmandu Valley. Located on top of a hill, you get a great view of the city from the temple. In Tibetan ‘Swayambhunath’ means ‘sublime trees’, which can be well understood upon visiting. Surrounded by trees and inhabited by lots of monkeys, this temple is definitely worth the visit!

Himalayan International Yoga Academy
Where: Inchnagu Narayan, Kathmandu
Escape the hustle and bustle of the lively Thamel for a weekend or two and retreat at the Himalayan International Yoga Academy. Tucked away in the hilly terrain of the Kathmandu Valley, HIYA offers a range of yoga and meditation courses as well as accommodation, vegetarian meals and alternative medicine options.

 

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Swayambhunath

Who I flew with: Air Asia, Sydney to Denpasar return $258
Where I stayed: Ubud – Ubud Bungalows, $40 per night twin room
Sanur – Hotel Belair, $40 per night twin room

Bali. An Indonesian island that, if I’m being honest I’d never really been interested in visiting. The masses of Australians that frequently flock to Bali to party had created a bad rep for the Indonesian state in my mind. Queuing up for my flight to Bali at Sydney Airport didn’t settle my preconceived image of the infamous Australian tourists. As I patiently lined up to check in, I was surrounded by countless bogans in Bintang singlets, who were vivaciously comparing the prices they paid for their trips. My eerie thoughts continued to escalate as I boarded the flight and noticed several groups of people ordering their in flight beverage of choice (Bintang), claiming that there was no better time to prepare for their holidays than the 7 hour flight there.
Luckily I was seated next to a friendly girl who was visiting the Island for the first time as well; we spent much of the flight chatting about what we were hoping to fill in during our weeklong getaways.

Upon arrival at Bali and meeting the pre-arranged pick up, I was instantly blown away. Driving out of the airport and along the busy highway on the way to Ubud was definitely something different to say the least. I was immediately captivated by the countless number of wood carving shops, men pushing food trolley carts and the tenacity of the numerous motorcyclists zipping in between the peak hour traffic. I was also amused by the driver’s questions – was the air conditioning temperature ok? Did I like the song that was playing?
He was asking these questions with an honest, caring look in his eyes. About an hour in to the drive (the drive from the airport to Ubud in peak hour takes about 1 and a half hours) he asked if I minded if he pulled in to a supermarket to get a quick drink – he was thirsty. I laughed and told him of course he can stop. I was busy staring out the window at the kite-filled sky when the driver returned to the car carrying three little popper drinks. One for him, one for his wife in the backseat and one for me. I was so touched by this small gesture. Whilst driving, the wife of the driver had told me that while they’d been married for 11 years, they were still yet to have children because they couldn’t afford it. Before going to Bali I was aware of the corrupt society that has been created since Westerners started buying most of the landmarks surrounding the tourist areas. Having this awareness and an understanding of the couples’ situation driving me to the hotel, made the simple gesture of buying me a drink melt my heart. I very quickly learned how giving the Balinese are. This event made my introduction to Bali a very welcoming one indeed.

So given the lack of interest in Bali, how did I end up there?
I have this incessant problem. Quite often (ok lets be honest, at least once every day) I find myself on flight search websites, looking up prices to random places. I stumbled across a mega deal for Bali. Return flights from Sydney for $240 (plus booking fee). I saw the price and had to go! I messaged a few friends, but much to my dismay, they all had work commitments. I was disappointed and felt like these ridiculously cheap prices were going to waste.
A couple of days earlier, a girl I knew from my first year at University posted on a social media site that she’d bought tickets to an event in Ubud. By chance we ended up messaging each other and she mentioned the dates of the festival. They were the same time that I was hoping to go! Without any thought into it, I purchased those return flights to Bali and off I went.

UBUD

I arrived at Ubud Bungalows in the early evening and met with my Uni friend/travel companion for the coming week.
We excitedly exchanged details on what we’d been up to and decided to grab some dinner. I was so hungry and the Nasi Goreng I ordered did not disappoint!
In the short time I’d been in Bali, it had already enthralled me. The smells, textures and people were all so unique and very different to what I’d imagined. I had been pleasantly surprised.

The main reason we were in Ubud was to attend the annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (more detailed posts to come). I had missed the first two days of the festival, but was eager to participate in the remaining days. Listening to so many inspiring and humbling people tell their stories, whilst amongst the palm trees and rice fields of Ubud, surrounded by likeminded people was quite the eccentric experience, making the event memorable and something that I would attend again in the future.

Outside of the festival, Ruby and I had both agreed that we were in holiday mode and didn’t feel the need to go out of our way to explore. We were happy to spend our free time by the pool, reading. Given the easy accessibility of Bali from Australia, we’d both figured that we could simply come back in the future to traverse what we were missing out on this time. We were taste-testing Bali.

Overall, my experience in Ubud was motivating, sweaty and fun. It’s definitely an area that I’d recommend. Everything about Ubud oozes culture and the locals are all very inviting and friendly.

SANUR

After spending a few days amongst the greenery, it was time for us to experience something that Bali is quite well known for – it’s beaches.
Sanur is known as a sleepy seaside resort town, and like Ubud it did not disappoint. The water was an idyllic shade of blue and the sand a fluffy white.

Sanur was a very relaxed stay. We hired out a beach cabana on one day, spending the time relaxing under the sun, reading and occasionally diving into the ocean when the heat became unbearable. It doesn’t get more relaxing than that!

Whist in Sanur, we also did a day trip down to Uluwatu. The spectacular scenery that we witnessed at the Uluwatu temple and later at Padang Padang beach, gave homage to Bali’s diversity. It’s hard to believe that in the one location you can have light Blue Ocean, soft sand, dramatic cliff drops and temples overlooking the sea.

Every time I get away from home, even if I’m not too far in distance, I like to take something from my experience and apply it to better myself. I was surprised that in such a short time, Bali reinforced the importance of not taking things for face value. Whilst I was apprehensive about Bali for so long, being there reminded me that there is always something deeper. The people taught me to enjoy my life for what it is and to be giving.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in what is known in Australia as ‘Paradise Island’ and would recommend Bali to anyone – there is definitely something there for everyone.

Uluwatu Temple

Uluwatu Temple

Getting pho real with Intrepid

Before sharing my Vietnamese experience with you, I think I owe you an apology in regards to my noticeable absence over the last couple of weeks. It’s a sad excuse, but you never really notice how quickly time goes by when you get so caught up in every day events. I’m making the promise now (really, it’s on the internet and that stuff never disappears) that I will share stories on a more frequent basis and won’t go AWOL without warning you first. And what better day is there for re-connecting with travel stories than on a miserable rainy day?! Hopefully this will transport you to a sunny, place even if only momentarily.

2012 was a busy year. It was my first year of uni  – making lots of new friends, learning so many new things and really trying hard to get used to a new way of learning. Amongst all of this, I was also planning a holiday with some friends to Vietnam. Since watching the Top Gear Vietnam special, the country had very quickly made its way to the top of my ‘to go’ list. After spending months contemplating the travel options that were available, my friends and I decided on booking an Intrepid Tour. If I’m being really honest, I wasn’t keen on the idea of going on a tour at all. From what I’d seen, tours were a big bunch of people who jumped from sight to sight in major cities, following a leader who carried a flag. Or they were large groups of people who’s idea of travel was to get hammered every night and spend 10 minutes at major sights, capturing their clichéd poses in front of the sights. I was worried about going on a tour and experiencing something like the above and not having a lot of time to do my own thing. Having already travelled a lot, independence is something that I thrive upon and I didn’t like the idea of having such a strict itinerary.
My apprehension in regards to tours naturally lead me to researching the crap out of Intrepid, and needless to say, I was impressed with what they offered. Unlike other well known tour companies that really don’t have a lot of focus on the culture of the visited area, Intrepid is a tour company that really focuses on experiencing the culture of whatever country you are in. Instead of hiring tour guides from Western countries, Intrepid Tour Guides are locals – giving travellers a cultural experience that you wouldn’t gain from several other tour companies. There are so many little things that Intrepid include in their travel deals that impressed me; the tour-phobe. They incorporate a lot of spare time in their itineraries, giving travellers the freedom to do what they want, in terms of age restrictions, they are pretty well non-existent, meaning that you can enjoy the company of people who have come from all different walks of life and most importantly, they give you time at each destination! You’re not at one place for a measly single night, it’s usually a minimum of three days per stop and your time is basically unlimited at each sight, so not only do you get to take your photos, you get to really experience and learn about the area!
Knowing all of this about Intrepid made me feel a lot better about being a tour member, but there were still moments of uncertainty leading up to the trip.
I flew into Hanoi alone and met up with my travel companions a few hours later at the hotel. Having spent 5 weeks in Nepal a year earlier, I was expecting Vietnam to be similar in terms of it’s socio-economic standing and was surprised to see that Vietnam is quite developed in comparison. Our tour was to start in Hanoi, however we had arrived a few days earlier in order to overcome any jetlag and to get a general feel for the country. The time that we spent in Hanoi prior to commencing the tour was spent walking around the city and having daily massages – a must when in ‘Nam!
A few days later we had a tour ‘meet and greet’. Including the tour guide there was around 15 of us in the group, ranging from 20 to 40+ years in age. It was exciting to be meeting all the people that we’d be travelling with for the next couple of weeks!
We had all signed up to be part of Intrepid’s Vietnam Express Southbound tour where we would travel around Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). For the entirety of the trip, the general feel was a laid-back, happy-go-lucky kind of style. Everyone got along well and we all shared a love of travel. The days were spent sightseeing (alone or as part of the group) and the nights were made up of good food, good company and a good couple of rounds of beers.
Vietnam was magical, it was everything that I thought it would be and more. I was constantly being blown away by its endless beauty. Like to what I experienced in Nepal, the locals were all so incredibly happy! I loved that everywhere we went we were always greeted with a smile. One of my favourite moments of the trip was at a nightclub in Hue. Not because of the party-scene, but because we went in as a group and there was no alienation of anyone due to age. Everyone that was in the club was there to be surrounded by friends, having a good time! I absolutely loved it, especially as over here (in Australia), being above a certain age and going to a club comes with a lot of negative connotations, it was so nice to see people enjoying their time in Vietnam irregardless of age.
To sum it up, travelling independently is my preferred method, however in countries where it is safer to be part of a guided tour than to be alone, Intrepid is my company of choice. I enjoyed my travels with Intrepid and have since recommended them to people who are seeking experiences similar to mine.

A Nepalese Coming of Age Part 2.

My first couple of days in Nepal were spent with me remaining in a somewhat shell-shocked/’oh-god-what-have-I-done’ state. After being introduced to Thamel, the area in which I would spend most weekends with other volunteers, I was sent off to my new home to meet my host family and taken to my work placement. My first impression of my home for the coming 5 weeks was literally ‘wow’. After driving through several back streets we pulled in front of a big, bright pink house that I was told would be my home. Bright colours aside though, I was welcomed into this new atmosphere with open arms and three gorgeous puppies, excited to be greeting their newest family member. After peaking around each room in the house and dropping off my bags, it was time to go to MSPN, the HIV/AIDS rehabilitation centre I would be working at. I was feeling very nervous and apprehensive. I certainly did’t expect to receive the greeting I got upon arrival. The gate only had to open ajar before I was inundated by a mass of the cutest children running up to me saying ‘Namaste Didi’ (Namaste is hello, and Didi means sister – what women older than your age are called). It was love at first sight. Looking at these kids, you couldn’t tell that there was anything wrong with them, they were healthy, happy children.
On that first day I was showed around the living quarters for the infected mothers and children, the office and the classroom. I was shocked to learn how ill-stigmatised HIV/AIDS still is in Nepal. It was like they were stuck in the 80’s. The office was plastered with newspaper cuttings of children who had been expelled from school for being HIV+. It was crazy. I remember looking at these articles and looking outside at this group of children, who were happily playing, being normal kids and wondering how a disease so devastating and out of their control could put them in such an outcasted group within society. This was the first of many eye-opening experiences I had.
After the quick tour of MSPN, I was sent back to my host home to relax over the weekend and get ready for my first full week of work. From the moment I got home that day, my first weekend in Nepal was different to any weekend I’d ever had in Australia. My roommate in Nepal had gone away for the weekend, so I wouldn’t meet her until Sunday. Friday night was spent at a local pub with two of my host brothers and a group of their friends. Every 10 minutes the lights would turn off because electricity isn’t very good in Nepal. Saturday was spent hiking around the mountains that surrounded my new home with one of my host brothers. And on Sunday I took a taxi into Thamel and met up with some volunteers I’d met upon arrival. Coming home that night was interesting. I was excited as I’d finally be meeting my roommate – a girl from New York who is still one of my closest friends to date. I’d got home and we’d been talking for all of five minutes when the house started shaking. We looked at each other and questioned why the other was shaking the table, we realised a few seconds later that it was an earthquake. Our host Mum, Neeta came running upstairs, screaming at us to get out of the house. It was a pretty frightening experience. Everyone on the street was lined up out the front of their houses. Needless to say, my start to Nepal was already very different to anything that I’d ever experienced before.
The next couple of weeks in Nepal I experienced a lot. To begin with, there was Dashain (the biggest annual festival in Nepal) which was also the reason for my vast weight gain – So.Much.Rice! Aside from this though, there were times that I felt sad and shocked – when I learnt that there was a hospital a 10 minute walk away from MSPN, but they wouldn’t accept patients who were HIV+, so instead these children had to drive over an hour to get to a hospital that would accept them as patients. I was shocked when I saw the state of the hospital – it was like a huge, dirty, over-crowded train station. I felt gratitude. Gratitude for living in a country where there is no societal division as obscenely cruel. Gratitude for living in a country that has medication available and affordable. Although, these feelings of gratitude were often swapped for feelings of disgust. Disgust at the first world for not funding more towards these countries that so desperately need it, disgust at all the things we take for granted. But above all of these conflicting feelings, I found myself feeling a happiness that I had never felt before, a love, passion so strong, it was unbreakable. I had a constant feeling of resonation with the land that surrounded me and the people who were there to share this amazing experience with me. There are really no combination of words that can describe the feelings I had whilst in Nepal. To put it most simply, I was really learning so much, about people, the world and myself.
To be able to recount my time in Nepal from beginning to end would take an infinity. Long story short, this trip opened up my eyes to a whole new world and has largely made me who I am today. Since spending time in Nepal and gaining an intense first hand experience of what it’s like to live with HIV/AIDS in a third world country has sparked a passion in me and has been the cause of many charitable events that I’ve participated in. Even four years later I am still acting on making a difference to what I saw in Nepal. Most recently, I donated $200 to the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation and have signed up as a volunteer with them – and can’t wait to start doing some volunteer work for them!
For me, my Nepal story was the beginning of really learning what travel means to me. It has shaped what I want to do in the future and has given me this drive to want to go out there, experience the unreal and make a difference. It’s these experiences and feelings that I want to share with everyone, I can’t be selfish in keeping this all to myself – it’d hurt to do so!
I hope this has sparked something in someone somewhere!

Have a happy and safe Easter,

Kachina.

If you have any travel questions or would like to know anything more about Nepal and my time there, feel free to contact me via the ‘Contact’ tab, I’m more than happy to help!

A Nepalese Coming of Age. Part 1

It still feels like it was only yesterday that I bid a teary farewell to my family at the Sydney Airport in September of 2011. Not only was I embarking on my very first solo trip abroad, I was starting a new page that was to commence a new chapter in my life that I could have never predicted.
Every traveller has a trip that stood out to them, that will always hold a very special place in their heart. At the age of 19, I was naive and ready for a good time. I had been travelling with my family for 17.5 years and had experienced and seen a lot for someone of my age. Even with all of that in mind though, nothing could have prepared me for what I would learn and experience in Nepal. From the very beginning of the planning stages, Nepal was a special story. I finished high school in 2010 and had decided that I wanted to take a year out to travel before starting a University degree. The early months of 2011 saw me travel to the Gold Coast, Europe (Italy, Germany, Switzerland and France) and Port Macquarie – I wasn’t short of adventure and achieving my gap year goals. Although I knew I still wanted to travel elsewhere. By that point, I’d known for a couple of years that I wanted to work at an American Summer Camp. Once I’d returned from Europe, I started looking into what was available for me in North America and was finding a position very difficult – turns out that Camp America preferred people with more ‘life experience’ to help run their camps. I felt very deflated, and started looking into what other options were available outside of Camp America. It was at this point that my father came home from work one day and was telling me about a co-worker whose daughter had just returned from doing volunteer work in Nepal. Out of curiosity Dad and I googled Nepal and were amazed by what we saw. The endless supply of pictures online of this country were amazing! An outstanding beauty that can only be explained by seeing it for yourself. Before even giving myself a chance to think it through, I quickly looked up volunteer companies in Nepal and sent off an application form. Within a fortnight I had a response saying that I’d been accepted into Project Abroad‘s volunteer program in Nepal, working with malnourished children. I was stoked. In the small gap of time between sending the application off and receiving the acceptance I had spent hours researching Nepal and purchasing travel guides online. I knew it’d be a different kind of  adventure that I hadn’t experienced before and was excited to be going somewhere new.
The next couple of months were spent working my butt off and preparing for a 5 week stint in Nepal (followed by 6.5 weeks in North America) helping to look after malnourished children. Two weeks before I was due to leave Australia I received an urgent email from Projects Abroad stating that my position was being changed from working with the malnourished to working with HIV+ children in an HIV/AIDS rehab centre. I freaked. I hadn’t been taught a great deal about HIV/AIDS. At them time, all I knew about it was that it is an extremely contagious sexually transmitted disease that can also be transmitted through intravenous drug use and sharing of saliva and it can kill you. I got so worked up and anxious about this change that I wanted to cancel the trip. Luckily, both of my parents work in hospitals and were able to sit me down and explain HIV/AIDS to me properly and were able to make me realise that I didn’t have anything to be afraid of.
So come mid-September, I was off. I remember getting on the plane and being so dumbfoundingly confused. Catching an International flight was something that I had done countless times, I knew the process like the back of my hand, and yet I still managed to sit in the wrong seat. Whoops. From that moment on, I felt that this idea to go volunteer in a third world country was doomed. My flight had a stop-over in Guangzhou … which was delayed. Not what I wanted to hear. I got even more wound up again by the fact that I couldn’t get in touch with the Volunteer Company who would be picking me up at the airport in Kathmandu. I went to the bathroom and cried. Already, all I wanted was my Mum. Although, I knew I had to keep on going.
Finally, I arrived in Kathmandu. It was late at night. I was shocked to see that the International Airport was literally a giant shed in between a few mountains. There were taxi drivers harassing people at the baggage claim (which surprisingly didn’t worry me as I’d already read about what to expect at the airport in my new bible – the Lonely Planet‘s Guidebook on Nepal). Eventually I found the people who were picking me up and was kindly surprised by how welcoming they were – I received a special traditional Nepalese scarf. As we drove into Thamel (the main tourist hub in Kathmandu) I was disappointed to see that everything was so dark and dreary looking. I kept wondering ‘what have I got myself into?’. That night I cried myself to sleep. I was so overwhelmed and already experiencing culture shock.
Unfortunately, this spiel of negativity didn’t disappear in my sleep. I was woken up in the early hours of the morning by loud street noises and a sweltering heat that had me feeling uncomfortably nauseous. I grabbed the first thing I could (my only packet of zappos) and ate what was left of them, trying to fill my body up with much needed sugar and was beyond disappointed when I vomited them all back up again five minutes later.
Luckily, this was the end of my beginner’s bad-luck. Later that morning I had my orientation and met another volunteer (a girl from Melbourne named Kaveeta) who I became good friends with. After being shown around the city, we decided to do some of our own sightseeing and went to Swayambhunath Temple (aka Monkey Temple). It was beautiful. Although being new to the area we got lost. While trying to get ourselves back on track we passed some children who were lined up in a row, squatting. Immediately I told Kaveeta to start walking faster. This wasn’t because seeing these kids openly pooping in public made me uncomfortable, I was scared (ironically) shitless that they’d then throw their poo at us and rob us. A situation that I had read about in the Lonely Planet Guidebook. Of course, Kaveeta looked at me with a strange look but did as I said and stepped up the pace.
It’s funny looking back on that situation now, how absurd it was that I was so frightened of these children going about their business. Little did I know then that this was a turning point for me and that the rest of my time spent in Nepal would include some of the happiest moments of my life.

To Be Continued …