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Archive for November, 2008

This has been an interesting week. On Tuesday, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), began protesting at Bangkok’s international airport, Suvarnabhumi, which resulted in the closure of the airport when they “stormed” the airport control towers and stopped allowing planes in and out. It’s now Saturday morning and both Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang (the older, domestic airport) have been closed for days. Hundreds of thousands of travelers are now stranded in destinations around the world while this major hub of travel in Asia is non-functioning.

Oddly enough, life seems to be going on entirely as normal here in the city. The streets are calmer than usual – less traffic, less people out and about – but that’s about it. We continue to go to school and work every day, ride the BTS, and enjoy living downtown. It’s a strange feeling, knowing that something critical to the county’s future is happening just on the outskirts of the city, but having absolutely no effect on our daily life.

I wonder when all this is going to end? Technically, I suppose I’m stranded in Bangkok, but if Bangkok is home, does that really count as stranded?

Treasure Island by Aaron Escobar

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Both Alex and I have wanted to go to Bhutan for many years. I think we first heard about this little landlocked country in the foothills of the Himalayas while we were living in Munich, and it was back then that we decided we would have to go. Someday.

Amazingly enough, someday happened a whole lot quicker than I thought. Last year, when we moved to Bangkok, we learned that quite a few of our teaching colleagues have been to Bhutan because the school offers a “Week Without Walls” trip for the high school students every year through Rainbow Tours and Treks, based in Thimpu, Bhutan.

Given that the Bhutanese government requires all tourists who travel to Bhutan to use an authorized tour guide, this was the critical information we needed to make our trip happen. As odd as it sounds, working through a tour guide actually makes me totally uncomfortable – you’re basically surrendering your entire trip to one person (who knows full-well that this is probably going to be the only time you’ll ever deal with them, so if they mess it up, they’ve already got your money). For the cynical and hyper-anal traveler, such as myself, this is quite a frightening thought.

So, knowing that so many of my colleagues (and students) had such wonderful trips with Rainbow Tours, I willingly surrendered a wad of cash to the lovely Sonam (you have to pay in full, in advance), in the hopes that we, too, could have an amazing adventure in the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

And what an adventure it was!

First of all, the Bhutanese government requires that all tourists pay US$200/day/person to visit the country, thankfully this is all-inclusive so we basically didn’t pay anything else above and beyond that base fee (except for souvenirs which were equally overpriced and a tip for our guide and driver). So, once we arrived, we just sat back and enjoyed being led around like little children day-in and day-out for our 8-day visit.

We started our trip in Paro, home of Bhutan’s only airport, where we climbed up to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. There was some misleading wording in our travel schedule, something about a 4-hour round-trip climb, which may have lead to some slight crankiness on one member of our two person party, but we made it all the way to the top, on our own, without the help of the horses stationed at the bottom of the mountain.

It was quite a hike, this is the view from the half-way point (where there is an adorable little cafeteria and they serve you piping hot tea and cookies – who says hiking isn’t civilized?!):

And here we are a little closer, the view from just before you start down into the gorge between the side of the mountain you hike up, and the side of the mountain the monastery is on, prayer flags fluttering in the wind:

Speaking of prayer flags, it was absolutely amazing to be walking through them all over the place in Bhutan:

Unfortunately, there were no pictures allowed inside the monastery, but here’s a look at the sweeping view we had of the Paro valley from the top of the mountain:

Little did I know it, but this was to be the first of many hikes in Bhutan. Day two had us driving up to Thimpu, the capital city, and exploring some of the cultural sites:

Of course, we also did a little hiking:

After a few days in Thimpu, we headed to Punakha and Wangdue, which was actually my favorite part of the trip. Both Thimpu and Paro were comparatively crowded and touristy once we saw the little villages on the other side of the Dochula Pass, look at those stunning Himalayas – you can see clear across to the board of Bhutan and Tibet:

We saw more temples:

Made a few friends:

Saw some beautiful Dzongs:

Some amazing views:

Entered some mysterious temples:

Visited a local school:

And, Alex wore his Bhutanese traditional dress pretty much the whole time:

All in all, it was pretty amazing. Apparently Bhutan has only around 13,000 tourists visit the country each year. It was easy to tell that many of them spend the majority of their visits trekking, so there were very few other tourists every where we went – most places were completely deserted except for the monks and locals in their lovely traditional dress.

I have a few too many pictures posted up on Flickr from just about every moment of our trip, please feel free to check them out!

Basically, for me and Alex, this was a trip of a lifetime. As much as we’d love to go back, we probably won’t (especially now that we’ve heard the price is rising to US$400/day/person next year!).

Have you ever taken a trip like that? Where did you go? What was it like?

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