Oh you fancy, huh? Bangkok, 2 of 2
Fish spas in Thailand are not nearly as ubiquitous as the media make them out to be. While they can still be found in tourist centers like Koh Samui and Phuket (where the fish appeared particularly ravenous), they’re pretty hard to come by in Bangkok, where trends are quick fall in and out of favor. It took us a good hour and a half of hunting and when we arrived, we were the only curious tourists present. That said, we never set foot inside the backpacker haven of Khao San Road, where we might’ve had more luck.
While amusing, we unilaterally agreed that our feet were worse for the wear, since the fish nibble unevenly, making you skin patchy!
Oh you fancy, huh? Bangkok, 1 of 2
According to my BFF, Take Care's eyelash extensions are the best she's ever batted. The technology comes courtesy of Japan, via a company called ProCare. The technicians are extremely adept and efficient, applying a full set of 50 lashes per eye in about half an hour. The service costs a little less $40, compared to the the $100+ you'd pay in the US.
Aside from being annoyed that I can no longer vigorously rub my eyes, these babies have held up pretty well, considering that I’ve been spending a significant amount of time swimming, kayaking and diving under water. Combined with my digital perm, these eyelashes have made my mornings even more low maintenance (since I don’t even need eyeliner with them). Just wake up and go!
Eat, Drink & Be Merry Bangkok
There’s nothing like a familiar face to make a place feel more like home—we were lucky to have three.
- We stayed at 41 Suite in Sukhumvit, just 10 minutes to the city center on the BTS. The rooms are new and modern, as pictured on the website. There’s also a kick-ass Chinese restaurant just a few doors down and great street Hainan chicken near the entrance to the BTS on the other side of Sukhumvit Road.
- Siam Paragon is supposedly the city’s most luxe theatre, so to do it justice opt for the Bangkok Airways or Enigma experience. IMHO, skip the Pavalai, whose screen is just too small for the megalith-sized theatre.
- The traditional Thai teas and coffees at True Coffee are bomb! Make sure to grab a seat at the bar, where you can watch them concoct coffee magic right in front of your eyes.
- Get a map if you visit the weekend market at Chatuchak. We were there for five hours of my life that I will never get back.
Sawasdee ka Koh Lipe
While looking for a beach getaway that is relatively unscathed by development and tourism, we came to learn about Koh Lipe, an island in the South Andaman sea near to Ko Tarutao Marine Park. While the beachfront was lined back-to-back with hotels, what bothered me most was the trash that littered various stretches of beach. Given the choice, I’d head to Tulum, Mexico where you have the same comforts of resort living with much cleaner beaches. That said, it’s not a bad spot by Thailand standards and here’s how to make the best of it:
Go by land and by sea
- Take the early AM AirAsia or Thai Airways flight into Hat Yai, where you can then take a taxi (300 THB) to the minibus station. There are two minibus stations in Pak Barra, so make sure your taxi takes you to the right one.
- Buy a ticket for a the minibus to Pak Barra Pier, which will cost you 200 THB and take ~2hrs.
- From there, make sure you buy tickets for a speedboat (450 THB) transfer to Lipe—avoid the larger ferries, which are slow going.
Stay at the Lipe Beach Resort
After circumnavigating the island by foot and 3-hr snorkel, we can say with conviction that our top pick for mid-range accommodation is the Lipe Beach Resort. Its location is just minutes away from the island’s best beach (in front of the Mountain Resort) and you’ll be grateful for the afternoon breeze. The simple bungalows are everything you need ($40 for a Bamboo Bungalow) and nothing you don’t, making your stay eco-friendly. Tell Erawan we said hi!
Eat your heart out
The Travelfish guide was really spot on with its recommendations. Jack’s Jungle gets you the best value-for-money (i.e. lots of chicken in your chicken curry!) Thai food and Jack himself is a hoot and a half. The Lipe Beach Resort served us spa-worthy Thai food and had the best vegetarian options. Cafe Lipe had great sandwiches and the tiramisu was the highlight of La Luna.
Everest Base Camp: since feeling is first
With a rock-strewn trail ahead of me and a 10kg pack at my back, I took in the view of my feet below, not yet realizing there were nine more days ahead of me. It was during these first hours of our trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC) that I developed the expression we now know as “the face.”
On the morning of our second day, we were feeling triumphant. We set out with the brisk Himalayan air in our lungs and as Rob had promised, my pack was already starting to feel lighter. That feeling took a turn for the worse when we edged towards the 5th hour of a climb that seemed to have no end in sight. Anticipating “the face,” Rob took on my pack and we made it to Namche Bazaar, a buzzing little town where you’ll find the last vestiges of civilization on your journey to EBC. In Namche, we met two people who changed the fate of our trek: 1) Prabin, who became our third companion, guide and porter and 2) Fabrizio, an EBC veteran with 20 years of experience, who laughed at our ill preparedness and told us everything we needed to know, from where we could find the best apple pie to the Sita Air cover-up (no ‘bird of prey,’ just a fleet of dated, poorly maintained aircrafts).
The next few days are a blur to me now as they were when I hiked them. If it weren’t for the photos, I don’t know that I would’ve had any visual recollection of the hike at all. And yet I have visceral memories of every other kind. The smell of yak dung fires. The taste of the same 10 menu items featured at every breakfast, lunch and dinner. The feeling of the Diamox (altitude sickness meds) sending pins and needles across the tip of my nose. Thank god the pictures speak for themselves because the only thing my brain could process was the will to put one foot in front of the other.
On our summit day, we climbed nearly 2,000 feet, leaving Lobuje at 6:30am, taking our lunch at Gorak Shep and attempting Kala Pattar for sunset (instead of sunrise the next day, which would’ve given us an extra night to acclimatize). We took a lunch break at Gorak Shep when I remarked that the “little rubble hill” looked laughable in the distance. I wasn’t laughing when my body gave out 100 feet from the top, with the summit in sight. With Prabin at my side, we clamored our way up and got high on the altitude—literally. We were euphoric for the clear skies and our private audience with Everest (not another soul in sight). We reveled. We danced. We sang. We even flew a kite. (And then we did all again for the photos!)
As we came down off the adrenaline, the sun had started to set and the wind whipped its way between our layers. As my body caught up to me, the shivers started to set in and my head threatened to explode. We gingerly made our way back and sat down to dinner, where we force fed ourselves to stave off any additional symptoms of altitude sickness. When the headaches subsided to a dull throb, we treated ourselves to a restless night at 17,000 ft, where our sleeping bag iced over because of the condensation from our breath. Gorak Shep was the straw that broke the camel’s back. If there was any chance of us taking the scenic 20-day loop via Gokyo Lakes, that was all but gone now. Our mission was to get back to Kathmandu as quickly (or in our case, as slowly) as our legs would carry us.
For the next three days, we would hike from sun up to sun down, cradling our knees into our chests at night when it was all over. Those three days were the most physically, mentally and emotionally draining days of the trip. Heading back down the way we came held no anticipation for the journey to come. To make matters worst, we now hiked directly into the wind, which brought with it the smell of human, horse and yak feces signaling our approach into town.
It all proved to be too much for me when I broke down on the side of the trail after nine hours of hiking through shitty village after shitty village. We arrived in Lukla at 3pm, 30 minutes too late to confirm our flights for the next day. This sent me into another private pity party, while Rob ran into town to see if there was anything we could do. He came back 15 minutes later with news of a flight departing and we ran next door to the airport. In our haste, we neglected to realize that we would be the sole passengers on an aircraft returning from a cargo run, where the rookie co-pilot was doing his on-the-job training. When the stewardess moved into the cockpit to flirt with the pilots, I damn near shit myself. It was straight out of a bad horror movie, but somehow we survived.
When we arrived in Kathmandu, we headed straight for the Hyatt and refused to set foot outside of the hotel grounds for the next 48 hours. Now that we’re back at sea level and my head is clear, I can see in retrospect that it wasn’t that bad. There were hot showers, WI-FI and warm beds 80% of the way and the hikes weren’t particularly strenuous. And when I look at the photos, this was certainly the most spectacular trek I have ever taken. But when I was in it, with my physical and mental reserves depleted, I was left with the emotional capacity of an infant.
For me, the memory of EBC is still too raw to return to, but if you choose to make the trip, there’s one piece of advice I’ll leave you with it. And that’s to enjoy the journey. Because the destination leaves something to be desired. Kala Pattar is unspectacular beneath its towering neighbors and there’s no satisfaction of “conquering” the summit. Basically, you’re just hiking to the top of a hill to catch a glimpse of the very tip of Everest.
Everest Base Camp: The Route, 4 of 4
We had originally planned to come down via Gokyo Lakes, but after the adrenaline of Kala Pattar wore off, reality set in (aka altitude headaches) and we booked it down as fast as we could. We clocked 8-hour days and made it down in less than half the time it took us to climb up. Our knees paid the price and for the first time during the entire trek, we found ourselves popping pain killers to make the next day’s hike more bearable. Days 9 and 10 weren’t particularly memorable, as we made our way down from Gorak Shep to Pangboche and then Namche Bazaar.
Day 11: Namche Bazaar to Paradise Lodge, Lukla
We had been warned that this was possibly the worst leg of the entire trek and it all turned out to be true. Hiking against the wind, the smell of human feces, yak dung and urine signaled our arrival into town. Lukla seemed to never be around the next corner and when missed our 14:30 arrival into town, I finally broke down and cried on the side of the trail. ·
- Why 14:30, you ask? Fabrizio tipped us off that the owner at Paradise Lodge had pull with the local Tara Airlines authority. Staying that the Paradise Lodge is your best chance of nabbing a seat on the next day’s flight (if you’re flying Tara). Reconfirmation has to happen before 14:30 or else you have until 16:00 to visit the Tara Airlines office in town.
- Rob ignored the lodge owners advice to head to the airline office and went directly to the airport. We were on a flight within 30 minutes that same day…as the sole passengers on an aircraft returning from a cargo run. Given the horror stories I had heard about being trapped in Lukla, this might be your best bet for a quick escape.
Everest Base Camp: The Route, 3 of 4
This part of the trip was what I consider to be the most scenic stretch of the trail. Hiking above the treeline, the landscape becomes a barren tundra, that in its emptiness, magnifies the mountains above. On top of that, the trail starts to flatten out, making for relatively easier days.
Day 7: Dingboche to Alpine Inn, Lobuje
- Make sure you request a room in the new building, which has working taps and flush toilets. We found ourselves very comfortable here, though we met a few travelers who were staying in the older building who weren’t.
Day 8: Lobuje to Snowland, Gorak Shep + Kala Pattar
- I don’t know if there’s any way to be comfortable at this altitude, but avoid sleeping at Gorak Shep any more nights than absolutely necessary (Prabin recommended Buddha Lodge, but it ended up being full up). We met a few skeptics, but Kala Pattar at sunset proved to be the best decision we made the entire trip. The skies were clear and there was no wind to speak of. Best of all, we were the only people on the trail and enjoyed a private audience with Everest for a full half hour.
- Our dirty little secret is that we never made it to EBC. According to Fabrizio, it’s just a pile of dirty rocks set in the middle of nowhere. You can’t see Everest from it and you can’t even gawk at the climbers who are preparing for their summits (actual base camp is another 2hrs from the tourist photo op). I told Fabrizio we wanted to do it for the bragging rights and he said I needed new friends. So that was that.
Everest Base Camp: The Route, 2 of 4
Day 4: Namche Bazaar to Rivendell Lodge, Debuche
- While it’s true the Tengboche occupies a prime piece of real estate in the Khumbu Valley, we enjoyed lower key Debuche, which is another 30 minutes downhill. Our west-facing room at Rivendell kept toasty well into the night and was easily my favorite lodge
Day 5: Debuche to Snow Lion Lodge, Dingboche
- Choose Dingboche over Pheriche, if you’re managing well with the altitude—it’s much less windy there. True to Fabrizio’s recommendation, the Snow Lion delivered our favorite apple pie and cinnamon roll during the entire trip!
Day 6: Acclimatization hike to Pheriche
- Considering the altitude sickness that hit me the next day, we should’ve tried to go further afield to Chukkung. That said, we relished the opportunity to sit around for a lazy lunch at Mount Kailash Lodge in Pheriche, which was run by Prabin’s cousin. It was here that we had the best cheese sandwiches and fried rice on the trip, in friends-and-family sized portions.
Everest Base Camp: The Route, 1 of 4
We ran into a Fabrizio, a mountain guide with an affinity for cartography, who took pity on our plight and shared with us his tips for a successful EBC trek. We consulted his hand-drawn map during every day of our trek and when we finally find a place to call our own, I’ll have it framed. Made in Nepal, as Prabin liked to say.
Day 1: Lukla to Monju Guesthouse
- Monju is at a lower elevation than Phakding, which will help ensure you get a good night’s rest on your first day at elevation.
Day 2: Monju Guesthouse to Zamling Hotel, Namche Bazaar
- Choose your hotel in Namche Bazaar wisely, since you’ll be spending two nights here. The Zamling is set at the top of the hill, affording you with a panoramic view of Namche Bazaar and set away from the hustle and bustle of town. Room 14 is optimally located next to the hot water heater with ensuite, charging and showers included for $15 a night.
Day 3: Acclimitization hike to Khumjung
- Most people we ran into only went as far as the Everest View Hotel, but this was one of our favorite days during the entire trip (which may have had more to do with the fact that we were more lucid at these altitudes than anything else). At any rate, Chukkung makes for a nice lunch trek, or if you’re like our guide, Prabin, a nice daily walk to school.
Everest Base Camp: Opening Remarks
For me, Everest was truly once in a lifetime. Because I will only ever be able to manage it once in my life. Looking back at the photos now, every day was more spectacular than the last and the scenery is just unreal. But photos aside, it was truly a tough slog to the top, depleting everything I had physically and emotionally. I came out on the other end never wanting to leave our room at the Hyatt, but maybe you’ll find yourself a little rougher and tougher for it.
On weather and gear
In early November, we had sunshine every day and were more often hot than we were cold, with the exception of our sunset push to Kala Pattar. We wore at most two layers during the daytime (wool next-to-skin and our hard shells to block the wind) and reserved our down for nights in the lodge. My trail runners were more than sufficient. We both carried 3-season sleeping bags, which weathered the evenings fine, if not too well, since we woke up most nights sweating.
But you know what they say. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. This packing list covers off the bare essentials.
On WI-FI, hot showers, potable water and other first-world amenities
Suprisingly available for the majority of the trip—for a price! The solar-heated showers were often scalding and while WI-FI is slow, it can be had at 18,000 ft. For shared toilets, you want a squatter, not a Western. If you pack a Steripen to treat your water, bring at least 4 sets of batteries, since we burned through our treating 6L of water per day. Battery charging and power outlets are included with most ensuite rooms up to Debuche or otherwise pay for the privilege.
TIMS Permits and National Park Entry
They don’t need to be secured in Kathmandu, as you can purchase them directly at the checkpoints along the trail. At the first checkpoint, bat your eyelashes and play dumb and they’ll wave you onward where you can eventually purchase the necessary documentation.
On porters and guides
I should’ve called it when Rob suggested we carry our own bags—even at only 10kg, my pack crushed me under its weight. After just two long days, Rob finally buckled (under both the weight of my demands and my pack.) and we hired Prabin to accompany us for the remainder of our trip. Drop your ego—hire a porter, support the local economy and enjoy your view of the Himalayas, rather than your feet.
- We hired Prabin in Namche with the help of the owner at Zamling Hotel. He was our guide cum porter, not only carrying our bags, but also hustling to make sure we got our meals on time and running ahead to secure us a room (and doubling back to find us on the trail). Message me (look for “Send Monica an email”) and I can share tips.