Everest Base Camp Trek Day 1 – Kathmandu to Phakding

You can read all of my posts about the Everest Base Camp trek here!

We woke up bright and early to finalise packing our bags, ready to meet our guide Deepak at 5am outside the Hotel Shanker. Excited and nervous, we all squeezed tightly into a ute and headed off to the Kathmandu airport for our 6am flight to Lukla.

It was still dark outside as we grabbed our bags from the ute and headed over to join the long line up of people waiting for the airport to open. Finally, an air raid siren sounded and the queue started moving – the airport was open! Up til then I had been worried that perhaps our flight would be cancelled as a large storm had swept through Kathmandu the previous afternoon, but the airport being open was a good start!

We shuffled our way through security, trying to slot our bags through the scanners in amongst what seemed to be hundreds of boxes of cargo. Once our bags had been scanned we followed Deepak over to our airline’s check-in counter to have our bags weighed, as well as the always humiliating public weigh-in of ourselves to check our weights for the plane!

Michael and Ash with Everest tickets
Michael and Ash with their tickets to Lukla. Michael and Danielle got matching t-shirts made for our trekking group!

 

When Deepak signalled that we were good to go and handed us our boarding passes, we headed through security (including 2 separate pat-downs!) to wait at the gate for our flight. Once we snagged some prime seats, we opened up the breakfast boxes that the Hotel Shanker had provided for us. We were stoked to see that they were filled to the brim with all manner of food – sandwiches and toast, muffins and croissants, fruit, boiled eggs and juice. I ate some for breakfast and stowed the rest in my day pack for later on.

Hotel Shanker Breakfast Box
My fully-loaded breakfast box from the Hotel Shanker!

 

And then the long wait commenced. Our flight departure time came and went, being delayed due to poor weather in Lukla, which being the world’s most dangerous airport you don’t want to mess with! Deepak told us just to keep waiting and he would continue checking with the airline as to when the flights would be leaving. Hours passed (I was pretty glad I packed my e-reader in my day pack!), and Deepak finally said that we would make a decision at 12pm as to what we would do. Let me tell you, Kathmandu’s domestic terminal is not the most exciting place to spend hours and hours of your day!

Kathmandu Domestic Airport waiting area
Kathmandu Domestic Airport’s super exciting waiting area – not the best place to spend 8 hours or so!

 

12pm came and an announcement was made that there would be no flights to Lukla that day due to bad weather. I was bitterly disappointed, although I had been prepared for this (it’s always wise to build buffer days into your itinerary to allow for flights being delayed into and out of Lukla as it’s quite common), I just wanted to get my trek underway! The thought of going back to the hotel and then doing the same thing again tomorrow was not very appealing.

But there was hope. Deepak offered to see if he could organise us a helicopter so we could still start our trek that day. Obviously there were lots of trekkers also stuck in Lukla for the same reason, so Deepak said that we should be able to get a helicopter for a lower than normal price as they would be guaranteed a paying return trip. I was hoping that it would be much lower as I’d heard of people being charged US$1000 per person – way out of my budget! He went off to the airline to find out the price (conveniently, the airline we were booked on also had helicopters too), and came back to tell us that we could all get a helicopter up into the Everest region for US$325 per person. After a quick conference with everyone, we agreed to this as we were all keen to get our trek underway.

Then started our next wait of the day, hanging around for another couple of hours before a helicopter was available to take us. I was glad I’d saved some rations from my breakfast box, as the shops in the airport did not have a lot of choice for food and drink! Finally we were escorted back through security again, and into a car to take us to our helicopter at the far end of the airport.

I was so excited, as not only was our trek finally getting underway, but this was also my first ride in a helicopter. I was not disappointed! The scenery was spectacular, despite the heavy clouds over the mountains meaning that we couldn’t see any of the large peaks.

Khumbu Valley from helicopter
Flying over the Khumbu Valley in a helicopter

 

Finally at around 3:30pm, we landed in a small clearing some way below Lukla. As our porters were scheduled to meet us in Lukla, we had to carry our own bags to start off with while they walked down to meet us halfway. I was lucky enough hat Deepak grabbed my bag – I’m not sure that I would have made it otherwise!

Helicopter landing below Lukla
Our helicopter landing in a clearing below Lukla.

 

So, we started the long slow trek into Phakding. It was a pretty tough initiation into trekking in the Everest region, as the poor weather had made everything muddy and the rocks super slippery. Add to that, we were tired from waiting around all day and hadn’t had a lot to eat, and we were not feeling the best! We struggled along for about an hour before Deepak directed us to leave our bags at a small house where our porters would soon pick them up from.

With all of our loads lightened, making it a little easier going, we continued along the way. The path that we were following was the tail end of the route into the Everest region from Jiri, and we were going around Lukla this time to head straight for Phakding.

Mani stones in the mist
Mani stones in the mist. They are carved with the Buddhist chant “om mani padme hum” as an offering to the spirits.

 

Soon the previously misty rain worsened into a much heavier downpour, which had us all scrambling for our rain jackets. As the path got darker with nightfall approaching, and more slippery with the heavy rain, I started struggling more and more. There were several times I just wanted to stop and say to everyone “I’m sorry guys, I’ve made a terrible mistake, I can’t do this.” But I kept pressing on, dead on my feet, as all I had to eat that day was the contents from the hotel breakfast box.

Stairs on the way to Phakding
One of the many slippery sets of stair we tackled that day.

 

Having never trekked in this sort of rocky terrain before, particularly in the rain, I started slipping and sliding, making poor choices of which rock to step onto next. Deepak noticed I was doing it tough and was soon by my side, pointing out the next rock I should move to with his torch to help me along.

After what seemed like the longest day of my life, we arrived at the outskirts of Phakding, and continued the last gruelling climb to our teahouse for the night, the Beer Garden Lodge, finally arriving at 8pm. We sat in the dining room, cold and wet, but unable to change as our porters had not yet caught up with us with our bags. We ordered our dinner and sat mulling over the day and trying to besociable with the other trekkers in the room despite our exhausted state.

Beer Garden Lodge Phakding common room
The common room at the Beer Garden Lodge in Phakding

 

Ash soon realised that his pant leg was not just soaked from the rain and puddles, but a decent amount of blood as well! We soon worked out that somewhere along the way he had picked up a leech, which had dropped off earlier leaving him to continue bleeding. We spent some time doctoring that up, and all carefully checking our own bodies to make sure we hadn’t been targeted as well!

Our meals arrived and I forced down some fried rice even though all I wanted to do was fall into bed. When our bags finally arrived, we raced off to our rooms which were cosy and even had a private bathroom inside – pure luxury! We were quickly off to bed to sleep and recover from our long day. On only the first day of the trek, we were already at an elevation of 2610m, almost 400m higher than the peak of the largest mountain in Australia!

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Arriving in Kathmandu – Everest Base Camp Trek beginning!

We were up bright and early, back to Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, where we would board our morning flight to Kathmandu. As I mentioned in a previous post, we had chosen to pre-book our trek with a local company called Nepal Vision Treks, and had been told that we would be met at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Airport and taken to our hotel.

Our flight was an uneventful one, although I was a bit disappointed that we could not see the Himalayas from the aeroplane due to some heavy cloud cover. Not to worry though, I would soon be at the top of the world seeing them up close!

Kathmandu from plane

 

We soon landed at Kathmandu, and into the hectic confusion of international arrivals. The airport there is probably one of the most basic international airports I’ve seen so far – in fact it recently ranked third on a list of the world’s worst airports! Apparently they are starting a redevelopment of the international terminal this year, due to be completed in 2018.

Getting a Visa on Arrival at Kathmandu

Before I left on the trip I did a heap of research about how to get a visa for Nepal, and found a lot of conflicting information out there. We opted to get a visa on arrival as it seemed to be a lot cheaper than sending our passport off to the consulate to obtain one. We paid US$40 for a 30 day visa on arrival, whereas the cost to get one from the consulate would have been AU$85 (around US$75)! If you’re planning to get a visa on arrival, make sure you look up the Nepal Immigration website to check your eligibility.

You can fill out a visa on arrival form when you arrive at the airport, but we found it easier and quicker to take advantage of the online application on the Nepal Immigration website (form can be found here). This meant that we could join the visa queue straight away, rather than having to fill out a form first. Bear in mind that the online application form does need to be done within 15 days of your arrival in Nepal, if you complete the form any earlier apparently their system doesn’t hold it. The online form is a bit finicky to fill out – it took some real ninja googling skills to find out some of the information! Make sure you have your hotel’s full address including ward number etc.

Baggage Claim and Leaving Kathmandu Airport

Once we had had our visas processed, we headed out to the baggage claim. The baggage claim area is quite small so be prepared to fight your way through as your bags come around! I had heard a lot of stories about people grabbing your bags and trying to carry them for you for exorbitant tips, but we didn’t experience anything like that. Luggage trolleys were readily available and no one bothered us in the slightest. Our luggage did take quite some time to come out (my bag was the last and I was getting a bit worried that I’d have to repurchase all of my carefully selected trekking gear!), but eventually we had everything and were ready to go.

Outside the airport we were greeted with a quite chaotic scene: hundreds of Nepalese across the road all calling out and waving signs. We soon spotted our sign – our guide was holding up a carefully lettered sign stating “Erin Fry and team”! I felt a surge of excitement as we waved to him and rushed over to meet him. Our guide introduced himself as Deepak, and explained that we would go to the hotel to check in and then we would be going to the Nepal Vision Treks office to meet Mr Chet who I had been corresponding with about the trek to go through all the last details.

We set off in the van to the hotel, all of us peering excitedly out the windows to get a feel for Kathmandu. One thing that really struck me was there were some similarities, particularly in their dress and music, to what I had seen in India with many of the ladies wearing brightly coloured saris and salwar kameez, and the unique sound of Bollywood style music often emanating from buildings we passed. Not surprising given their proximity to India, although it was soon clear that the Nepalese have a culture all their own.

Nepal Vision Treks Everest Base Camp Trek Briefing and Welcome

After we checked in to the Hotel Shanker, Deepak took us to the Nepal Vision Treks office for our briefing where I was excited to finally meet Mr Chet who’d so quickly and kindly answered all of my silly questions over the 6 months or so leading up to the trek.

Chet took us through every day of the trek and what we’d be experiencing in detail, as well as giving us the opportunity to ask any questions that we might have. He then gave us Nepal Vision Treks t-shirts and duffle bags, and wished us a safe trek.

We made a quick stop-off to the Hotel Shanker to drop off our gifts, and then Deepak walked over with us to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu, so we could purchase some last minute items and pick up our rented sleeping bags. Thamel is completely overflowing with trekking shops (seriously, pretty much every second shop sells trekking gear) so there’s plenty of options to buy anything that you forgot or didn’t want to buy at home.

Trekking shop in Thamel Kathmandu
The shop where we purchased the rest of our trekking gear in Thamel

Deepak then left us back at the hotel for a couple of hours which we used to reorganise our bags, loading only the stuff we’d need for the trek into our duffle bags, with the rest to be looked after for us by the hotel until we returned from the trek. It took longer than expected and many rounds of culling – 15kg is really not very much stuff! Soon though we were close enough to the baggage limits for our Lukla flight the next day, and it was 6pm and time to meet Deepak in the lobby again for our welcome dinner.

We went to a restaurant called Nepali Chulo for our welcome dinner, and were treated to a taste of traditional Nepali food as well as being entertained by the live band and cultural dancers. The food was delicious, and definitely started my love affair with momos – the Nepali version of dumplings. Here they were served with a delicious curry sauce. We also had spicy fried potatoes, dal baat (Nepali lentil soup, this ended up being one of my staple meals on the trek!), wild boar (one of my favourites!), curry vegetables and curry chicken.

Momos at welcome dinner Kathmandu
Delicious delicious momos!

One of my favourite parts of the dance performance was towards the end of the night when the dancers came around for tips. One of them dressed up as a peacock and was guided around by another dancer, picking up the tips in his beak as well as pretending to drink beer and eat popcorn. So funny!

Peacock dancer at welcome dinner Kathmandu

It was a great night out and good to spend some more time with Deepak before we started on our big adventure early the next day. We headed back to the hotel and went straight to bed, as we had an early wake-up call given we were scheduled on the first flight to Lukla at 6am the next day!

Stay tuned for the next post for my experiences from the first day of the trek!

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Pathumwan Princess Hotel Review

This was it – we were finally on our long-awaited journey to Everest Base Camp! Our first stop though was to Bangkok where we were meeting our friends Danielle and Michael who were doing the trek with us. As we were only in Bangkok briefly, arriving at 6pm and leaving for Kathmandu at 10am, we didn’t want to have to venture out of our hotel very far. We decided against booking an airport hotel, as Danielle and Michael had already been in Bangkok for a few days before us, and we wanted to have the option to go out that night for a bit if we wanted.

We selected the Pathumwan Princess as it was conveniently located right next to the MBK shopping centre in the heart of Bangkok, an area that we’re quite familiar with from many previous visits to the city. The doorman quickly greeted us as our taxi pulled up and took care of our bags while we headed into reception to check in.

As we checked in we were offered a welcome drink, which was a delicious pineapple and ginger juice – probably one of the tastiest hotel welcome drinks I’ve had! Our check in was completed very speedily and we were soon on our way up to our room on the 24th floor.

Pathumwan Princess Hotel Room

We had booked a Deluxe room, and it was tastefully decorated in light wood with orange and gold accents, giving the room and overall warm and inviting feel. The room was a good size and contained a queen size bed and also a couch/daybed along the window.

The bathroom was quite compact, and a bit squashy when both Ash and I were trying to get ready in there at the same time. It had a shower over bath with a monsoon shower head as well as a normal shower head. The bath was quite deep so with my short legs it was a bit of a challenge to step into it – luckily they a hand rail to assist!

Pathumwan Princess Hotel Bathroom

Wifi was included in the cost of the room which was great, and we had no problems with the connection, it was quite fast and reliable.

The evening that we arrived we went to the STUDiO BAR (no, I don’t have issues with my keyboard, they really capitalise it like that!) on the ground floor to meet up with Danielle and Michael. It had a nice comfortable feel with large couches and quick friendly service. They had a large screen on which they were showing soccer when we were there. The drinks were quite pricey there, so if you’re going to have a drink there I’d recommend you stick to happy hour!

Breakfast was served from 6am to 10:30am in the CiTi BiSTRo (again with the strange capitalisation!) on the ground floor. They had a small buffet selection as well as an egg station, and the food was pretty standard for a buffet breakfast in Thailand.

As we were only there for a short time I didn’t get a chance to check out the pool and gym (bad travel blogger!), but from the photos on the hotel website they look really nice.

We had a comfortable short stay at the Pathumwan Princess, and I think it’s a great centrally located hotel for short trips or business travellers. Our room represented good value for money, and we enjoyed our short time there!

Where’s your favourite hotel to stay at in Bangkok?

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10 of my favourite places to eat in Melbourne

I’ve realised recently that I don’t write anywhere near enough about my current hometown Melbourne! So I thought it was high time that I started sharing with you some of my regular haunts and local info, so you can make the most out of your visit to Melbourne. Today I’m sharing some of my favourite places to eat in Melbourne’s inner city. There is a really strong Asian flavour to this list as that’s my favourite style of food!

Hutong Dumpling Bar - These are some of the best dumplings in Melbourne in my opinion (having never been to China!). Their speciality is xiao long bao, lovely steamed pork dumplings with broth inside – absolutely delicious. They have a wide range of other dumplings and dim sum also (their wontons in chilli oil are another favourite of mine). The menu doesn’t stop there (although I have been there many a time and only had dumplings!), there’s also a good range of stir-fried and hotpot dishes. If you’re keen to try their food, make sure you do make a booking as they are usually full (particularly on weekends).

China Red - Another dumpling place that’s tucked away in one of the shopping arcades off Chinatown in the CBD, and owned by the same people that own Hutong, so you know the dumplings are going to be just as good. It’s a little easier to get in here, so it’s always a good second options if Hutong is booked out. One thing that’s really novel is the ordering system. Rather than having a traditional waiter, you instead place your order via a touchscreen mounted on the wall next to each table. Drinks and food come out really quickly, and there’s a huge range of food that’s all reasonably priced.

China Red Touchscreen Ordering
Ordering on the touchscreen at China Red

Hofbrauhaus - This is a really fun night out in the CBD, with giant steins of beer and huge hearty servings of German cuisine. There’s always a floor show with German dancing and live music (including crowd participation!), and the atmosphere is great – you almost feel like you could be in a beer hall in Germany. They also have on their drinks list a metre of schnapps, which comes out in a wooden paddle with many shots of schnapps in all different flavours. They’ll even customise the flavours for you if you want (we’re quite partial to ordering the whole metre as cloudy apple – it’s delicious!). You’ll need to book up to a couple of weeks in advance to dine here, it’s a very popular place. There is also a small bar attached as well, where you can go just to have a few steins and a freshly baked pretzel or a small meal.

G2 Korean BBQ - Located in the heart of the city on Elizabeth St, G2 serves Korean BBQ with all of the accompaniments. I’ve only been here once and it was my first time trying Korean BBQ, but I really enjoyed the meal here. We selected a mixed banquet with both pork belly and beef, which was delicious. The meat is cooked over coal burners rather than the gas jets that they have in some places, which gave a really lovely smoky flavour to the meat. Another upside was that the wait staff came and cooked the BBQ at our table for us – perfect for us Korean BBQ novices!

Gyoza Douraku and Gyoza Gyoza - Serving Japanese tapas style food, Gyoza Douraku is located on Bourke St in the CBD, while its newly opened sister restaurant Gyoza Gyoza is found in Chinatown. As indicated by the name these guys have a huge range of different flavours of gyoza (Japanese dumplings), all delicious. They also have a large range of other Japanese cuisine – I haven’t had a bad dish there yet. The wait staff are friendly and attentive, and always happy to recommend you a sake from their extensive list to suit your taste.

Chiangmai Thai Cuisine - Located on Lygon St in Carlton, this is one of my favourite Thai places to eat. They have a good range on their menu with a Northern Thai flavour, and the food is consistently good. If you like your food Thai spicy, make sure you tell them “pet pet” when you order, as they do make the food generally a bit more on the mild side to suit western tastes. They have changed ownership recently, but we have eaten there since and the food was just as good. Another bonus, they also have a Thai massage place upstairs above the restaurant!

Vietnam Noodle House - This is one of my regular weekend cheap eats. I can’t say I’ve tried a massive amount of the menu, as I always tend to go here to specifically eat a huge steaming bowl of pho. For the uninitiated, pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup, made from broth filled with slippery rice noodles, thinly sliced meat, and garnished the way you like with your own selection of fresh herbs, chilli and seasonings – perfect comfort food on a cold Melbourne day. The service and atmosphere here aren’t fantastic, but it’s super cheap and the pho is consistently tasty.

Pho at Vietnam Noodle House
Pho at Vietnam Noodle House

Red Pepper - If you’re after an Indian fix in the top end of Melbourne’s CBD, give this place a try. The restaurant itself isn’t super glamorous, but the curries are delicious, and there’s also a really good range for vegetarians. Even though I’m not vegetarian myself, I often find myself ordering the Paneer Kadhai Masala which is really good!

Riva - This is my weekend breakfast go-to place. Tucked away in the Causeway (a laneway just off the Bourke St Mall), it has great food at reasonable prices. They do a great super cheesy omelette, and Ash is rather partial to their eggs benedict. They also have some really delicious burgers for lunch.

Fonda - For some delicious modern Mexican food, head to Fonda at the top end of Flinders Lane. They have an awesome array of Mexican classics with a twist, as well as an extensive drink menu complete with cocktail jugs and a huge range of tequilas. The tortillas there are pressed fresh every day, and the hot sauce there is excellent! They only do booking for large groups, so I ‘d recommend to get there for an early dinner if you don’t want to queue.

Where are some of your favourite places to eat in Melbourne?

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Using TripIt to plan your holidays

I wanted to share with you a great tool that I use to help plan all my journeys. I find it particularly useful for the style of travel that I do, as it usually involves multiple destinations and transport types which can be tough to keep track of the traditional paper based way.

The TriptIt app, which is available for free, consolidates all of your flights, accommodation, tours, and much more all into one place. It also syncs across multiple devices, so you can view your trip details on your smartphone, tablet or PC. It’s super simple to set up and use and I’ve found it absolutely invaluable in the trip planning that I have done.

To set up an account, just head over to the TripIt website (www.tripit.com) and create a log on. You’ll then set up an email address that you want to have associated with your account. I’d recommend that you use the same email address that you usually use to book your travel plans. You can also download the apps on your smartphone and tablet so you can view your plans on the go.

Once you’ve setup a log on, it’s time to start building your itinerary! This could not be any easier, simply forward the confirmation emails for your flights, accommodation voucher, transportation or tours to plans@tripit.com. TripIt then magically associates this information with your account, building it all into a neat and easy to read itinerary. You can also set up TripIt to automatically scan your email inbox periodically for new plans.

If your itinerary doesn’t look quite right when you’ve imported it, or you have plans that weren’t booked online, you can easily edit or add these manually with as much or as little details as you’d like. TripIt will also alert you if plans that you have added conflict, so you’ll easily know if you’ve double booked yourself.

TripIt actually saved us from being stranded on our last trip! We thought we had booked all of our flights, however when I imported them into TripIt I quickly saw that we had not booked a flight to get from Krabi to Kuala Lumpur to make our flight home. A quick double check through our emails to make sure that there was no ticket that we hadn’t sent through to TripIt (there wasn’t), and we were able to book the flight still with plenty of time. That could have been a disaster!

Some the other things I love about TripIt are the stats that it has (being as obsessed with data as I am!). On the desktop version, it has stats like how many cities and countries you’ve visted, how many trips you’ve taken, and even how many kilometres you’ve travelled! Certainly not essential, but really cool to know. My very favourite feature is the countdown timer (visible on the app and the desktop version), which quickly shows you at a glance how many days you have remaining until your next trip.

There are also paid versions of TripIt that may be useful for business or frequent travellers. These include features like advising you if your gate changes for your flight, tracking frequent flyer points, and finding you the best fares. I haven’t utilised this, as the free version has been more than enough to fulfil my needs.

So if you’re looking for an app to keep all of your travel plans in one place, I couldn’t recommend TripIt highly enough. It’s super simple to use, and it’s fantastic to be able to look at your plans at a glance and see what you’ve booked and what is still outstanding.

*Please note that I am not affiliated with TripIt, nor did I receive any discount or commission for reviewing them – they actually didn’t even know that I’d be writing a blog post! All opinions are my own.

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