I'm going to Kathmandu

After a brief 12 hour layover in Bangkok, Thailand we headed off to Kathmandu, Nepal. It was a quick flight and after just over 3 hours we landed in a rainy Kathmandu. After a little delay at the visa office, we weren't as prepared with our visa photos as we should have been, we met our van to the Kathmandu Guest House. The Kathmandu Guest House, in the Thamel area of the city, from what we've been told and have seen is the de-facto place to stay if you are trekking out of Kathmandu. Unfortunately, even after confirming our reservation the day before we arrived, we were told they had no room for us and they put us up down the street in a decent, but noisy place. After a rough night of sleep they we were able to get us a room back at the guest house, with a free breakfast (after some complaining) for our troubles. We've had about 5 days to explore Kathmandu and get prepared for our upcoming trek. The first day or so was spent taking short "expeditions" (a few blocks from our hotel) and then trying to make our way back through the narrow windy streets of Thamel: the busy backpacker area of the city where the streets are lined with knock off hiking gear shops and the never ending honking of horns.

After about a day or two of wandering around the bustling Thamel, we felt confident, along with a map, to head out on a longer walk out to Swayambhunath, or the Monkey Temple as the tourists call it. The Swayambhunath stupa sits on top of a hill on the western edge of the city. It's about a 40 min walk to the base. On the walk to the temple we got to venture out of the touristy Thamel area; the streets widen and it's a little easier to get around. You also leave the infrastructure, and I use that term rather lightly, that the tourist area offers. It was very hard seeing the river banks of the Bishnumati River piled high with garbage. I'm not sure what to feel about the situation and I won't pass any judgement, I've just never experienced a sight like that before. Nepal is the least developed country we have ever visited and it comes with a mix of emotions. It is difficult to see the poverty and some of the conditions that exist here, but the people seem genuinely happy and children run around laughing and flying kites. It definitely gives you some perspective and there are constant reminders of what we take for granted at home.

Upon reaching the base of Swayambhunath you climb exactly 365 stairs to the top. From there you can explore the stupa and other temples and get a great view of the city below.

Ascending Swayambhunath

On the following day we visited Hanuman-dhoka Durbar Square. About a 20 minute walk from Thamel Durbar Square has dozens of temples and shrines, including the Hanuman-dhoka Royal Palace and a large white European style building, Gaddi Baithak.

Along Gaddi Baithak

Jagannath Temple

Maju Dega

Maju Dega Rickshaws

Then after two days and two attempts, we were able to obtain our Annapurna trekking permit and TIMS card which would allow us to head out on our trek of the Annapurna Circuit. Unknown to us, we were in Kathmandu during the multi-day Dashain festival and that combined with what people call, being on 'nepali time', trying to figure out hours of operation and exactly what was needed was a little bit of a challenge.

However, now that we have our permits, our bus tickets and our supplies, including a some cheap knockoff gear we bought on the streets of Thamel, we are ready to hit the trail. We expect to be trekking for about 14 days, a few days less than originally planned since some of the once isolated sections of the trek are now jeep accessible (making a ride back in a jeep more enjoyable than walking in their dusty path). After we return from the trek we'll have a few days to recover before we head back to Thailand to finish our tour of Southeast Asia.

We aren't planning to bring along the laptop so we will be out of touch for a couple of weeks enjoying the high altitude, look for an update once we return.


Honeymoon Crashing in Bali

After the celebrations in KL a large group of us including Ben's parents and Lisa's Mom headed to Bali to join them on their honeymoon:) We were all very grateful we were included because it was an amazing time and we all joked the whole trip that we would be happy to go back with them to celebrate their anniversary every year!

We stayed in a gorgeous villa, The Longhouse, that accommodated all 14 in our party.  It was a private villa, we were the only guests, which included a chef, 14 staff and a private driver named Putu a.k.a the magician who could make all your problems disappear.  We were greeted on our arrival with hot towels, fresh pineapple drinks, flowers for our hair and banana fritters glazed with honey, the service was outstanding.

The villa had so much to offer that we felt hesitant to even leave.  We selected menus each day that the chef prepared and spent a lot of time taking dips in the patio side infinity pool.  They staff arranged for masseuses to come to us and I think all the ladies had a service or two.

Endless Views

All the guys rented scooters so everyone could do what they pleased.  We visited the touristy city of Kuta for some shopping and beers, visited a few beaches and scootered around.  We hung out every night at the villa after delicious meals playing Celebrity and even singing karaoke, yes they had a movie room with karaoke.

Highlights of our time were a morning visit to a monkey temple followed by a hilly run in a downpour with Putu honking out directions and supplying water when needed, guess that is what it feels like to have a support vehicle!  Waking up to delicious coffee and the smiling faces of Iou and Happy, the staff who prepared a delicious spread to start every day, poolside yoga with a beautiful view, haggling with the hawker on the beach for dresses, and mostly laughing with our friends!

Barbara's amazing sofa jumping karaoke, Ross & Tim's synchronized flipping across the room, Jasmine's male signature move that became a key part of our celebrity charades, Emily's mad haggling skills, and Scotty's love for Katy Perry.  I could go on and on, but Ross and I will definitely look back and smile with memories of our time in Bali and we will hopefully be back as it was truly paradise!

(Ben & Lisa - October 2011?!?!)



Ben & Lisa's Chinese Wedding- Yummmmmm Seng!

After a fly-by trip through Singapore we took a very comfortable 5 hour bus trip up to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the local of Ben & Lisa's wedding.

We checked into our very swanky hotel, a huge upgrade from our previous locations but we decided for ease to stay with everyone else. The backpacks look a little out of place....

Staying across from the Petronas Towers, two huge beacons of light that worked well as a navigation point the entire time we were there, we were in a convenient location to explore KL. We started off our stay with a delicious curry dinner in KLCC, a gigantic shopping mall with designer shops and restaurants galore, catching up with our good friends.

We had some time to explore KL before the wedding festivities so we took a trip to the Central Market and China Town to do some shopping. Ross picked up some traditional Chinese clothing to wear to the wedding and we had fun walking the stalls of Chinatown haggling over hawked goods and tasting some of the local fare, the curry puffs were very tasty!

That evening we headed over to the food hawker stands for some more local cuisine and got to meet some of Lisa's good friends who also traveled up from Singapore for the wedding. A meal of stingray, prawns, duck, pork, fried rice and cold beer was a success with the group.

We started Sunday bright and early, around 8am, to begin the wedding day with the gate crashing festivities. As part of the wedding the groom and all of his male friends have to "break through" the gate at the front of the home by doing silly tricks, eating gross food and paying all of the women and friends of the bride red packets of money (um pao). A very fun tradition that I wish Americans would adopt! After torturing the boys for about an hour by putting them through numerous stunts including limbo, suck and blow, and taking shots we finally let Ben into the room where Lisa was waiting patiently.

We finally let him in

Immediately preceding the gate crashing was a tea ceremony were Ben and Lisa poured tea for all of the elders of her family. A lot of um pao and jewelry was exchanged during the ceremony and after they went through the serving the elder family members the younger members of the family served tea to Ben & Lisa. Following this ceremony they performed another tea ceremony back at the hotel for Ben's family. It was a really fun morning and very interesting to see another culture's wedding traditions.

That evening we all got dolled up and headed over for the wedding dinner, about a 9 course meal of traditional Chinese fare, followed by wedding cake. The wedding dinner was nothing short of amazing. The food was outstanding, the wine was flowing and the guests were all having a great time. Lisa's friends and family were so welcoming we all felt at home celebrating with them. After a group toast Lisa and Ben went to every table at the wedding to sing out the toast of the evening, "yummmmmm seng"! Each table trying to outdo the last and hold the "yummmmmmmm" for as long as possible. We finished off the night with some good old fashioned American pop music, dancing our hearts out, and a hotel after-party with lots of drinking games and celebrating.

It was a beautiful wedding for our great friends and we are so glad we could be there to help them celebrate, congratulations Ben & Yok Mee!