Upon arrive back in Ölgii our first order of business was to get a plane ticket back to the capital. We had heard plenty of horror stories of the bus ride from Ölgii to Ulaanbaatar and we were willing to do just about anything to avoid that… anything except spend 2 more weeks in the thriving metropolis of Ölgii, Mongolia.
Apparently August is back to school time, which means every kid in the country is making their way to school … in Ulaanbaatar. Those with means fly and those without take the bus. And with only one airline in the country and only one flight every other day from Ölgii to Ulaanbaatar we were looking at at least 2 weeks before we could get a seat. Any seat!
So, looks like we’re taking the bus. We asked around about how long it should take to get to UB on the bus, “Two to Five Days.” DAYS. DAYS! They are measuring the time in DAYS!
We give up on the plane plan and go to where the buses leave from and start asking prices. It’s basically the same price for a mini bus (11 passenger van) or the big bus, and when they showed us which seats were available on the big bus (for gringo like us) we opted for the mini bus. Hindsight that might have been a mistake, but I have absolutely no plans of ever finding out if the big bus is any better. I think you see where this is going …
Clearly it was their marketing that sold us.
We make a deal with a minibus guy and he says that we’ll be leaving at 1:30pm Mongolian time. “Great!” we’ve got plenty of time to get some lunch and get back. So we leave our big bags and go around the corner to grab some lunch. We make our way back at 1:25 to see the last bus pulling out of the parking lot…
WHERE DID OUR BUS GO? WHAT HAPPENED TO MONGOLIAN TIME? Where are our bags?
Luckily, a guy in a Toyota, who kind of speaks english, says he’s been waiting for us and to hurry up… we jump in and then make a number of stops at various alley’s picking people up and dropping people off. Even switching drivers at one point. We have absolutely no idea what’s going on but Toyota guy is insisting, in broken English of course, that he’s taking us to the bus with our bags. #Trust
Mongolian bus stop
By 1:45 we’re at what seems to be at a combination minibus mechanic/corrugated aluminum sheeting company/family home where the minibus we made the deal with is as well as 4 high school age kids. We arrive as they are wrapping everything up in a trap on the roof where we’re told our bags are. The Toyota guy takes off and we proceed to wait thinking we’re leaving any minute and how lucky we are that it’s just us and some high school kids… plenty of room. You see where this is going …
Three more trips from the Toyota guy later and it’s now a quarter to 4 and we’ve got our 11 passengers. As we start getting in the van we’re told we need to sit in the back. Oh, no. We know this routine. We’re sitting right here in this middle row, we got here first. After a little back and forth they realize this isn’t our first rodeo and give in.
By the time we leave town we’ve made 2 more stops and we are comfortably sitting 5 wide on a 3-person seat with 17 people in an 11-passenger van looking at over 1000 miles of open fields between us and Ulaanbaatar.
Through multiple breakdowns.
Desperados waiting for a mini bus.
Just trying to make friends during a breakdown.
Being towed across a river by a tractor.
Getting towed across the river.
And through the nightly karaoke party that seemed to break out at dusk every night.
For FIFTY. SIX. HOURS.
I guess we’re lucky it didn’t take the full 5 days!
Well we had our first significant travel logistics ooops. We flew from Chiang Mai down to the beaches in Southern Thailand. We found a cheap flight into Phuket, but Alvin and Jennifer were going to Krabi, so we really wanted to just get to Krabi. We thought, no problem, it’s just a 2 hour ferry ride from Phuket to Krabi… a few minor details we overlooked.
That’s the time it would actually take, yes, BUT all ferries make it a day long trip with a stop on Koh Phi Phi for 5-6+ hours.
That means that the ferries really only run in the morning
Also buses only run mid morning
Our flight landed in Phuket at midnight
The Phuket airport is in. the. middle. of. nowhere. – an hour and half cab ride into the town of Phuket. An expensive cab ride. And the bus to town quits running at 8pm.
The bus to Krabi leaves from in town, not out by the airport.
The Phuket airport shuts down at midnight and kicks everyone out.
So basically our options were, sleep outside of the airport until the morning (not really an option, there was no where to sleep), cab ride to Phuket (expensive), or cab ride to Krabi (slightly more expensive, but at least at our destination).
We did the cab ride to Krabi, and arrived at 2:30am. We tried to book a room online en route – when we got there we looked for the place for about 40 minutes. It was a little guest house. Everything was shut down. Our sweet cab driver was so nice and got our and helped us walk up and down the street searching for our place, asking the 7/11 clerk, more searching, trying to call. Finally Rick walked really far down this alley and found our place. It’s now after 3:00am… and there’s no one to be found. The front of the guest house is this sorta open courtyard, there’s one leather-ish couch.
So I pull out my camping air pad (thanks, IMM!) and hunker down on the ground, and Rick takes his spot on the couch. And we slept semi-peacefully amidst the mosquitos and cats. Until 6:30am when the front desk lady found us and woke us up yelling “No! No! No! You can’t do this. You can’t sleep here!” we tried to explain what happened, but really she didn’t care, she kinda shoved us into an empty room and told us to sleep there. Heck yea! Free night’s stay!
So to get this online a little quicker we’ve condensed the downhill part of the trip, Muktinath to Pokhara via Poon Hill, into one post. We both worked on writing it so I hope it’s not to hard to follow…
Muktinath to Jomsom to Tatopani – October, 9 2014
Liz’s 3 things:
– Jeep to bus to jeep
– Worlds deepest gorge
– Best and worst of Nepali people
We took a jeep from Muktinath to Jomsom. Barely made it on the jeep – lets just say lines or who got there first isn’t really a thing. Rick may or may not have had to use his sticks. Probably one of the roughest roads I’ve been on. But we were so glad to be out of the cold desert!
The Worst Part of the Day:
In Jomsom we said goodbye to Brad and Song as they were going to fly to Pokhara then we barely got on a bus (Liz says,”Thanks for Rick’s aggressiveness we made it!”). And about 5 min later we got a flat tire. It was changed over the course of an hour (by a boy who couldn’t have been more than 11 years old… gotta start ’em early) or so while we watched subsequent busses pass us. Back on the road, we should’ve taken note that the mechanic got on with us. We proceeded to stop for every single broken down vehicle on the road – an entire bus of people. We got to experience lots of roadside culture… Dropping off a parts. More work on the tire. Different bus broke down and blocked a bridge. Yet another bus drove INTO river instead of bridge. A dozen jeeps backedup at a narrow point where the bus didn’t fit. Needless to say it was a looooong bus ride.
Once we made it to Ghasa though, we had another problem. No room on the bus that was leaving then for Tatopani. Also no room for non-Nepali on the one that was coming in a couple hours to go to Tatopani. Mind you this was all learned by running around a crowded dirt lot with 10 busses sitting there in half sign language, half nepali and a lot of “No!” But definitely some non-Nepali discrimation going on! Liz got to practice putting her American desire for efficiency and relaible timelines to rest. I say she did really well.
The Best Part of the Day:
So we thought we were going to have to walk and just as we were about to set out this older nepali man flags us down and asks if we want to share his jeep. BEST decision of the day!! We got in the back and got to enjoy wonderful conversation with these three native nepali men from Upper Mustang (that’s farther north than we were, it’s a desolate super high altitude desert plateau. It’s $250/day just to get in for US citizens).
They were all brilliant well educated and knew nepal so well! The youngest was a genetic scientist about to go study genetics of snow leopards! They told us we were jeeping through the worlds deepest gorge! And no kidding the drop from 20,000+ ft mountains to 300 ft above sea level was crazy and made for incredible scenery.
We were a little sad we didn’t hike that piece of it… BUT the beauty of slow travel and having everything on your back is that you can fix that!
We’re Thankful for:
So while they offered to take us to Beni, we got out early at Tatopani to enjoy the hot springs and do some hiking in the area. At the recommendation of one of our Nepali jeep mates we stayed at Darmasali Hotel which his cousin owned. We stayed in a lovely guest house with an orange garden all around. Then it was a short walk through the garden and down some stairs to the hot springs. Great hot springs, highly recommended!!! It was more polished than the last (Chame) and a lot more popular, it was privatized so we payed 100NPR each to get in but totally worth it. Two giant knee deep hot tubs one was crazy hot, the other was larger and more of an enjoyably hot temperature. They had drinks and food for sale as well but all we wanted was a bottle of water.
We debated staying in Tatopani for a couple of days just to keep using the hot springs but instead decided to hike to Poon Hill instead of continuing on the road to Pokhara as it’s kind of on the way; except for the 2000m climb. It adds a couple days but we think it will be great!
Tatopani to Sikha – October 10, 2014
– Bonus time! We thought we were heading straight back to Pokhara but changed our minds and started the Poon Hill trek, so I consider this “bonus time” and somehow bonus time always seems to end up being the best time. I think today may be my favorite day of trekking.
– Lush green mountain sides
– Snow capped Nilgiri Mountain
The Best Part of the Day:
Hard to pick… We started off late and said “we’ll just go as far as we feel like” there’s something really cool about that open ended-ness. The other days I guess we could have done that, but we had a pass to get over and it was a cold, harsh environment. Now we’re in this tropical, but mountainous and cold at night, but warm in the day environment. We saw only a few trekkers today. And it really seemed like the locals were friendlier. The landscape is finally what I had dreamed Nepal would be like… Lush, but incredibly steep mountainsides with waterfalls flowing, shaded rocky paths, mixed with rice fields, and snow capped mountain vistas the whole time. And it seems like Rick and I have hit our communication groove finally…
Or maybe it’s just me and I’m finally starting to settle into this new life?
Rick scored the best room!! We have two sides with windows! A double bed! With a good mattress! A gas hot water shower – in our room!!!
I’m thankful for:
Just about everything today!! I’d say freedom to do what we want and go where we want.
Sikha to Ghorepani – October 11, 2014
Sikha to Ghorepani was a nice relaxing hike once we figured out which way to go…
-Yak cheese – amazing!!
– Baby goat playing on baby water buffalo
– Stairs, stairs and more stairs!
The Best Part of the Day: We found a guy selling yak cheese and it rocked!
The Worst part of the day: We say a snake!
I’m thankful for:
A short hiking day!
Gorepani to Poon Hill to Pokhara – October 12, 2014
– Stairs. Stairs. Stairs.
– Home sweet home – Pokhara!
Our earliest start yet, 4:20am hiking. The goal is to beat the sun up to Poon Hill (3210m) for an amazing sunrise. We made is up to the top and witnessed a pretty remarkable sunrise across the mountains. Then it was down down down. Due to some budget miscalculations on my part (and pretty much zero ATMs on the trail, with the exception of Jomsom) we decided to try and make it all the way to Pokhara today.
The Best Part of the Day:
It’s a toss up between the beautiful sunrise from Poon Hill and making it back to our little home in Nepal, Pokhara.
The Worst part of the day:
Our day included some of the most rediculous “stone stairs” imaginable, Know as the Stairs of Ulleri 500 vertical meters of stairs… Soooo thankful we were going down, but still took it’s toll. So many stairs the number was actually noted on the map (3420 but there is no way that is accurate as some of the steps had steps of their own, like little baby steps). For a little perspective, imagine going to the very tip-top of the needle on the Empire State Building; then taking the stairs all the way down, then once you got to the ground floor you still had 70 more meters to go down… and they are all made out of rocks, of various sizes shapes and textures. Fun times!
This side of the mountains still seemed to have the better scenery, lots of beautiful waterfalls and jungle.
Once we made it into Birethanti, and got our TAMs cards checked one last time we got a great offer on a taxi to Pokhara (2000NPR) so we took it! We would have continued to hike down the road to Natapul for another 45 minutes but judging from the view from the taxi, the taxi ride was definitely the better choice… lots of touts, a small garbage dump between towns and a dusty busy road.
We rolled into Pokhara and straight to find Bayan Tree right where we left it 2 weeks earlier with it’s awesome porch waiting for us to kick our feet up!
Our first day out from Pokhara. We hoped to take a bus to Beshishar and from there get a jeep all of the way to Chame best case, worst case no jeep at all.
The bus ride wasn’t bad at all – we had heard it could be scary, but it wasn’t. Unless you were the goat strapped to the top of the bus!! It was a huge goat. Rick had to climb up to get something from our packs so got to see it up close! This week is the big Dashain festival – which means lots of goats going places!! LOTS! … And eventually they’ll all be slaughter as sacrifices.
We chatted with a couple of ladies from Switzerland, Leonie and Maryse (so sorry, I’m probably misspelling that) on the bus who had a guide, and were kind enough to let us hop on in on their jeep. We made it Chaymche/Chamje and it was getting dark. Our new friends picked a lovely guest house and we spent the night.