Nepal – Himalayan Sundown at Pokhara Airport

Pokhara, Nepal, March 2018: A 10 minute bus ride to Rastrabank Chowk followed by a 15 minute stomp up to the end of the runway at Pokhara airport  – a great spot for some mountain viewing. From here, one can see practically the entire Annapurna mountain range and since the weather has been unusually clear all day then today is an opportunity to catch a Himalayan sunset.

As the sun begins to sink a hue falls upon the glistening mountain peaks. A subtle pink turning into a deeper shade of orange as the sun sinks to the Southwest. A majestic and serene scene indeed. Mesmerizing to begin with then the mists and shadows fall obscuring the Eastern facing slopes until finally its all in the grasp of dusk. Time to head on back to base.

Waiting for the sun to set….

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Changing colours at sundown…

 

In Summary…

Sunset begins at around 5.30 this time of the year and lasts for about 45 minutes. Bus from Barahi (Map) to Rastrabank Chowk (Map) is 15 rupees. From Rastrabank walk up to Mustang Chowk (Map) and the airport is straight ahead. Turn right then next left to find the end of the runway (Map).  A great little expedition requiring almost no effort – great for non-trekkers like me!

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Nepal – Holi Festival in Pokhara

Pokhara, Nepal, March 2018:  Today is Holi and that means its going to be a messy affair, especially later on if last year is anything to go by! Holi is a very big deal here in the Lakeside district of Pokhara with business’s gearing up for a financial windfall as thousands are expected to arrive here around lunchtime. With live music gigs at Centre-point, Camping chowk and at smaller venues along the lake front the scene is set for a very noisy, colourful, crazy afternoon!

The origins of Holi are somewhat lost in history for the most part with a tenuous link to the Hindu Lord Krishna. The modern and updated interpretation of Hloi however is ‘A Day Off Work’ Yes, another public holiday to herald in the Spring across Nepal. Coupled with the fact that everyone at some point in the day will be covered in coloured water and brightly coloured paint powder then defining Holi is pretty straight forward, ‘A Festival of Colours to mark the start of Spring and the season of Love’.

When the festival occurs depends on the Hindu calendars lunar interpretations, but generally speaking its after the full moon between late February and early to Mid March.

From around mid morning sellers are on the streets flogging bags of paint powder for 150 rupees while kids charge up their water guns, fill up buckets of coloured water and fill balloons with water in readiness for some good old fashioned mischief making – all under the guise of Holi of course.

Selling paint powder for Holi…

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Water….water….water…

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So, as thousands of Pokharas residents head on down to lakeside its time to change into something I can discard later, grab some lunch and tease the kids for a while.

Lets get messy….

As the music pumps and the powder flies its a good idea to keep ones mouth shut for the time being. Moving between gigs is when the water also flies with kids bombing tourists and small boys trying to smear powder across girls faces but often just tall enough to reach the breasts – Yes, quite a few slapped faces today I should think!

Thousands gather for Holi celebrations…

In Summary…

Holi day is a great festival for tourists to get involved with. Its a cultural experience like no other. However, with the vast amounts of paint powder flying around and considering that there are next to no reliable quality control measures in Nepal some powders may well be toxic So here’s a few top tips to follow for a happy, healthy Holi.

  1. Asthmatics should probably avoid large crowd concentrations.
  2. Before revelling in Holi buy a face mask or 2.
  3. Girls be prepared for some intimate touching by young boys.
  4. Keep that mouth closed as much as possible – eat and drink later.
  5. Don’t wear those designer jeans or the prized Tee-shirt – obviously.

 

 

 

Nepal – Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Kathmandu and a Virus

Bangkok, Thailand, May 2017: Back to Nepal via Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur but any thoughts of sightseeing inbetween have been somewhat curtailed. A nasty, debilitating virus has hit with its ugly symptoms manifesting on my first night in Bangkok beginning with the odd sensation that I needed to occasionally stretch then tighten my leg muscles. By morning I was quite feeling of nausea with ebbing energy levels. Thereafter sickness kicked in until around 3 in the afternoon by which time I had zero energy. Yes, its hard to even get out of bed and head for the toilet pan! Any thoughts of getting out are completely out of the question for today and probably tomorrow.

Day two arrives with energy at zero having had a disturbed night, but at least the vomiting has ceased. Zero energy and zero appetite but I can just about drag myself towards the kettle and make some tea. So, one more day in this Bangkok hotel before my flight to Kuala Lumpur. Sleeping better now but with a very sore back – like sleeping with a sunburn.

Day three, still with energy well below par I ‘m able to drag myself onto 2 buses and make my way across town to the airport for my flight to Kuala Lumpur. A freezing cold bus and still with that sore skin sensation its not a great journey! An odd mix of hunger and nausea prevents me from eating any quantities of food. I have an appetite back but then when faced with food I can’t eat that much of it. Kuala Lumpur late afternoon with energy back down to almost zero. Still no real appetite.

Day four with no real energy. All I can do is drag myself around the guesthouse here in Kuala Lumpur. That hunger with nausea sensation is still here spoiling what should be the best food experience in all of Asia. That soreness of the skin hasn’t subsided any either.

Day five with a little more energy. Its a real effort but I did make it out to the street and across to the shopping mall ATM. Still unable to eat in any quantity. Stll sleeping with that sunburn sensation.

Day 6, the same as day five! With a flight to Kathmandu tomorrow I’m seriously considering seeking medical attention – thankfully I have insurance! There’s a pharmacy across the street in the NU Mall. A very nice Chinese gives me about half a dozen white pills and is confident they’ll fix everything! These Chinese pills are making me feel rather light headed and well, after that I don’t know what happened since presumably I was sound asleep.

Day 7 and a miracle -yes, those Chinese pills have fixed everything. No more soreness, energy levels back to almost normal. After almost a week of sufferance, I’m ready for the challenges of road travel in Nepal.

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Thailand – Beach, Airport and Russians, Phuket

Nai Yang, Phuket, Thailand, May 2017: To find a clean beach around here takes some effort. After having arrived here a day or 2 ago only to be greeted by the dirtiest beach I’ve seen anywhere in Asia – even the beaches in Sihanoukville, Cambodia are cleaner then here! So after a few hours of exploration here’s how to find a clean beach, close to Nai Yang, on foot and without paying a 200 baht fee.

  1. Just before the pay booth there’s a road between 2 sections of jungle. Take this for about 10-15 minutes.
  2. Take the next track on the right by a gate. It meanders towards the middle section of Nai Yang’s beach, about another 10 minutes.
  3. Head North towards the airport and after 20 minutes the garbage is gone, and so are the tourists.
  4. Another 10 -15 minutes north and the airport runway appears and so do a few tourists, the beach isn’t perfect here but not bad either.
  5. Another 10 minutes and there’s a near perfect spot and populated with plenty of vacationing Russians. A fallen log, a swing seat and a hammock to share between about 20 – but its still better than Nai Yang’s dirty beach. A lunch time the place empties and one has that dessert island feel. Here’s a few pictures….

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So with some effort, there is a clean beach, not that far from Nai Yang and if one likes aeroplanes then here it’s the perfect combination. Bring supplies since the beach sellers are somewhat unreliable, in short supply. and are really only limited to coconuts and instant noodles. Personally, I fill up at breakfast time – easy for me because I’m non-alcoholic thus no hangovers 🙂 .

South Korea – Train to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), Cheorwon, Conclusion

Seoul, South Korea, May 2017: having sat through a 20 minute video presentation, the chronology of the Korean war, it’s time to step outside for a breath of fresh air. Still under the watchful eyes of soldiers the group is allowed to wander around taking in the wonderful scenery but at the same time experiencing an eerie sense of danger! yes, just a short distance from here there is a murderous regime of oppression and control, poised, their tanks pointing in this direction. A radio station perched on the hill here continuously transmits in the direction of North Korea – propaganda echoing across the valley interspersed with a K-pop song. Yes, even PSY’s Gangnam Style is used to annoy  those within earshot! Gunfire also echoes across the valley, originating from the camp here – target practise day possibly or just reminding the opposition of a South Korean presence.

Below, another sneaked photo. Here is the South Korean side of the DMZ fence. To the right is ‘No Mans Land’. To the left of course is South Korea with the radio station perched on the hill top and a look out post in the foreground.

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An old railway bridge constructed in 1935 and said to be the first electrified railway line anywhere, remains as a relic of the past. A few more photos around here are possible with cameras pointed away from the DMZ area. A couple of helicopters rumble between the hills giving one a sense that this place really is on the fine edge of danger with North Korea. Yes, this is the real, raw DMZ alright, an experience like no other, a surreal sense of eeriness and danger!

And with the return 2 hour ride back to Seoul Station, that completes this little tour of the DMZ. Its a great experience, I’d recommend it to anyone with a sense of adventure. There are no hoards of international tourists on coaches, so I guess this tour is only available via the DMZ train, known to Koreans and with tickets purchased on the day.

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South Korea – Train to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), Cheorwon Part.1

Seoul, South Korea, May 2017: A very last minute decision having ruled out a trip to the DMZ a few weeks ago at the height of US/North Korean tensions. Today is my final full day in Korea and now that the situation has eased somewhat, a trip to the DMZ is calling like a magnet to a nail! Quick research reveals there is a train from Seoul main station leaving around 9.45 am and that’s pretty much all the information I have. Better take my passport just incase of trouble.  I’m assuming there’s some kind of a shuttle bus between the end station and the DMZ!

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£17 return ticket on the DMZ train leaving at 09.27 am. Tickets can be bought at any counter and paid for with a credit card, so far so good. About 1 hour 40 minutes to the end station, place called Baengmagoji – Yes, I can’t say it either! A slow meandering between the suburbs of North Seoul, soon though the thing gets going and time to sit back and watch the scenery pass by. A mountain, green hills and soon evidence emerges of a militarised area – camouflaged shelters and transport compounds. I’d say riding the DMZ train is a unique experience.The thing is nicely themed along the lines of peace and humanity. Inside and the walls are adorned with a fine display of photos depicting aspects of the Korean war. The train though is largely empty, just a handful of Koreans and me, the only white tourist – but that’s not so bad!

The DMZ Train…

Here at a place called Hantangang is a hillside covered in white crosses. Although Google isn’t coming up with any information, one can only assume its a monument to the fallen during the Korean conflict. On the other hand this could also be the local grave yard.

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Here at last! 2 hours after leaving Seoul Station the train pulls up at Baengmagoji, a rather small halt in the middle of nowhere. (Google Map)

Next…at the DMZ fence.

South Korea – Jurye Neighbourhood and Gimhae Airport, Busan

Busan, South Korea, May 2017:  Today I’m having one of those shall I, shan’t I dilemmas. For those of you that don’t know I have a pilots license, although somewhat out of date now, I feel drawn to visit the local aviation scene if such exists, just for curiosity sake. Here in Busan there is an airport but its right across the city at some distance away. I’ve read that the aviation scene there isn’t really that great. On the other hand its my final day here and I don’t have anything else to do with it! Yes lets head for the airport, maybe explore the neighbourhoods around it too.

Getting to the Airport is like getting to anywhere else in Busan – easy! Just 1 change at Sasang and the place is just across the river. Its quiet with a a burst of action a very now and again so not that exciting after all. On the other hand the scenery around here is. Planes are taking off towards Gimhae town and its mountains requiring them the climb and turn quickly, but a bit too far for a good photo unfortunately. Looking back at Busan from here and the skyline is, well, full of skyscrapers but against the back drop of hills making for some unique photos.

Gimhae Airport….

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Looking back at Busan…the Sasang and Jurye Neighbourhoods.

A couple of hours here actually did produce an interesting item – a Korean Navy Maritime patrol aircraft, but now I’d better head off back to the city before arousing to much suspicion among the security guards. Just a 10 minute ride to the end of the line at Sasang where I can change for the line straight to Haeundae or walk a couple of stations along and explore the neighbourhood. Yes, lets explore the neighbourhood!

A 40 minute stomp towards the hills brings me to the neighbourhood of Jurye, according to Google Maps (Google Map Link). There’s a distinct European continental feel to the place, a residential neighbourhood spilling up the hillsides, flowing between mountains like a glacier. Yes, quite a different feel to the Busan explored earlier. A few shops, a very small vegetable market and some restaurants surrounding the Jurye Metro station.

Here’s one shop every British reader will recognise and it’s the only one I’ve spotted in all of Korea. In Britain, this was the mainstay of corner shopping in the 1970’s, not so much nowadays.

The Spar Shop, a great British institution for those of us growing up in the 70’s…

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Here’s a look around the Jurye neighbourhood…

 

South Korea – Haeundae, Songjeong

Haeundae, Busan, South Korea, May 2017: A cold fresh morning here on Haeundae Beach. The wind is strong, the waves are big with sea spray making distant views rather hazy. Its my penultimate day here, and I need something to occupy it with. Having seen everything that’s worth seeing I think a return visit to Songjeong will just about hit the spot! First lets go and look at those big waves crashing violently on the shore line. Plenty of folk up early, braving a dip in the ocean. Its the weekend and a public holiday so the place I daresay will be packed later.

Last time I hiked to Songjeong (Read about that here) the route followed a disused railway line. This time I’ll take the official road, elevated and next to the pine forest. About 25 minutes and one leaves behind the bustle of Haeundae to arrive at peace and quiet, broken only by the occasional kids squeal. Diversions are frequently encountered – I mean hiking trails. Yes, what seems to be a Korean tradition to ensure ones health, trails and paths exist with well signed arrow heads pointing up and down into the pine forests. Me, well i’m going to stick to the black top road, hopefully get some nice ocean views. Quite often one frequently encounters a pagoda, and here’s one now. 720 steps up but the view will be nice according to the sign!

Leaving behind the metropolis and arriving into peace and quiet….

And the views from that pagoda, 720 steps up…

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A little bit misty for clear views but still pretty good from here. Now though time to get back to the road and continue on to Songjeong and it’s wonderful beach. The road is still elevated and around this next corner I should hopefully see Songjeong, the town and that nice big beach. Yes, there it is. Plenty going on by the looks of things, not far now then. Looking down here, there’s a little area of allotments making for a nice photo, just by the little fishing hamlet described an earlier visit. (Read here)

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And so back again on Songjeong Beach. The advantage over Haeundae is the ability to have lunch and drink coffee while still just a stones throw from the ocean. In Haeundae, its all miles away and expensive too. A rough sea, plus holiday weekend brings out hundreds of surfers and this time some pretty decent waves to ride in on. Fun to watch while sipping coffee and nibbling on some indescribable food. This is nice, relaxing in the warm sunshine – I’ll stay here for a while.

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Heading back, on the bus since I’ve done quite enough stomping around for today. The 181 rolls up along the main street, 1200 KRW, and its about 25 minutes to Haeundae Beach and base camp.

South Korea – The Purple Bridge and The Trump, Haeundae

Haeundae, Busan, South Korea, May 2017: Visitors to South Korea have to admire the way in which the country solves its road transport problems. When land space runs out they simply build over water! In Seoul I’ve seen highways elevated along the course of the Han river and here in Busan, highways are built out to see, creating a series of Bridges attracting a good deal of tourist attention.  One such bridge connects Haeundae with the Busan downtown area. Its the bridge that can be 1/2 seen from Haeundae Beach when the sun shines and the haze doesn’t prevail but in full view promises to be quite a spectacle – well, that’s the myth floating around here!. This evening then, a stomp all the way to the very edge of town to check it out.

The sun is sinking, the sky turning into red and orange hue. I’m on the water front with skyscrapers behind me and the bridge ahead. The skyline here is really quite a sight as distant skyscrapers become shadows with the sun almost behind the hills. The Bridge, well its a spectacle all right – a beautiful mix of purple lighting with the backdrop of dark shadows and all the colours of a sunset. (Google Map)

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After about a hour here mixing with selfie obsessed Koreans and a few serious photographers its time to move on, back to base via the beach – lets see what they get up to at night around here! As I turn, oh look who has a presence here – non other than the President of the United States of America.

Donald’s pad in Busan….

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And on Haeundae after dark, plenty of kids letting off fireworks before being chased away by beach officials. Shadows of couples on the shoreline and one old timer selling flying Chinese lanterns. No drunken debauchery spotted, well its still quite early.

South Korea – Nampodong, Busan by Night

Busan, South Korea, May 2017: Having spent most of the day stomping around Gamcheon, uphill downhill, I have now arrived back in downtown Busan. The sun is low and not long until night, maybe a couple of hours. Thinking lets grab some scenic night shots, and thanks to a tip from Mel and Suan the perfect roof top views are not far from here. The Lotte Mall, has a roof top garden with 360 degree views of Busan and particularly the the docks. According to Google Maps is pretty much a straight line to the area of Nampodong, about a 20 minute stomp (Google Map)

The place is getting progressively busier, much more lively than 10 minutes ago. The road has turned into a pedestrianised street crammed full of shoppers. I’ve arrived at Gwangbok Road (Google Map). Looks like the place for Koreans to hangout on a Saturday afternoon. Much like London’s Oxford Street or Tottenham Court Road, a dedicated area for shops, malls, more shops and alleyways leading to, well, more shops, not to mention the array of cafes, restaurants and fast food. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the puppet man with his collection of puppets acting out to some music and playing up to the crowds gathered around.

IMG_5903 The Puppet man of Busan, much more entertaining than the puppet man of Norwich, my home town (Google Link).

The Lotte Mall is just ahead although how one gets to it seems as complicated as negotiating the London Underground for the first time! Via a series of tunnels in an underground market one eventually arrives at the Lotte. Now all I have to do is find a way up to the roof – the 13th floor. Its a 10 minute journey on some very slow escalators to the top of Lotte Mall. A garden for the kids, a coffee shop for the adults and a viewing deck for everyone. Yes, the views from here don’t disappoint as the sun begins to set – night very soon then.

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So this is how Busan lights up after dark. Not quite the spectacle I was expecting but the changing colours on the bridge is pretty unique and worth the wait. Now though, its time to head back to base in Haeundae, but not before a little stomp around the streets below, to eat and find a subway station.