A Travellerspoint blog

Jebel Toubkal and High Atlas

6 days independent trekking across High Atlas, ascending the highest peak in North Africa- Jebel Toubkal in winter.

Prologue
Souks, Sahara Dunes, Beaches and hot Sun - those are the words that come to one's mind when planning their holiday to Morocco. Well for me it's more like snow, ice, Alpine peaks and high passes.
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The plan was to spend 7 days in High Atlas doing something like Himalayan tea house trekking that you experience in Nepal. The dates 17-25th of March 2017.

The planned route was: Imlil-Refuge Toubkal-Jebel Toubkal-Azib Tamsoult-Tizi Mizik-Imlil-Oukaimden-Imsker-Asni.
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The funny bit was from Refuge Toubkal to Azib Tamsoult via Aguelzim Mountain pass at 3,560m. It was after I booked my tickets I realized that March was a bit of a funny month to trek High Atlas, it's too early for the snow to melt while it's late enough to accumulate all the snow that fell during the winter. If that was not enough in itself just as was getting on a plane a forecast showed 45 cm of snow fall over two days including the day of summiting.

It also might be worth mentioning that it was my first time wielding an ice axe and the second time wearing crampons. Well there is nothing like learning by doing!

Day 1
London - Imlil
After landing at Minara Airport I took an airport bus straight to Jama el Fna, with a plan to take a bus to Imlil via Asni from Sidi Mimoun Garden. Firstly the buses leave from a slightly different place than marked on a map. I guess it must have moved, as I remember buses leaving from a different spot 5 years ago.

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After hanging out at Sidi Mimoun for about 15 minutes and asking around for Asni some boy turned up and took me to a place a few blocks away. The guy by the bus quickly quoted my 50 dihram to Imlil and asked to pay before I got on the bus, which did sound dodgy but I was way to weak and bargain after having to wake up at 2 am in London, so I just accepted and payed up.

After getting on the bus I had to wait for about half an hour for it to fill up like a can of sardines and off we were.

Upon arriving at Asni I was wondering if I had to pay again to transfer to Imlilm, but the bus man got me on a grand taxi (shared taxi) and slipped 10 dihram coin to the driver. in abot 1,5 hour I was in Imlil, right at the foot of High Atlas!
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I stayed at a place called Dar Atlas, a small guesthouse across a stream from Imlil that I booked on Booking.com. Room with breakfast was only 75 dihram and I was the only one staying there.

As soon as I dropped out of a taxi I was surrounded by a bunch of scruffy-looking locals all claiming to be guides as well as being able to help with everything else. I quickly brushed them off and proceeded to my guesthouse.

On a way there are a few places renting equipment. I was going to trek for 4 days before coming back to Imlil and than onward to Asni, hence I decided to rent Ice Axe and crampons for 4 days - 300 dihram, and buy one walking pole for 100 dihram. With that I was all set for summit.

Day 2
Imlil to Refuge Toubkal - 11km; from 1800m - 3200m. 6 hours.

This may seem like an easy day as it's only 11km. However, 1400m of altitude gain is no joke.
I left Imlil heading in direction of Arnoud which is the next village south and in the direction of Toubkal. It might be difficult to figure out the pass due to a bunch of local trails leading in all sorts of directions. I used Maps.ME app, but anyone will point you in the right direction.

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It takes about 2 hours to reach Sidi Chamharouch which is an isolated market village that lives of the trekkers. It's a great place to break up and have a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice - 15 dihram.
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After Sidi Chamharouch it is another 6km and 900m of altitude gain. This is where it starts getting tough and I found myself moving slower and taking close to 4 hours to reach the refuge.
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At about 3000m I hit snow line, the snow was fresh and powdery. I didn't need to put my crampons on and just followed the trail broken by a bunch of guys caring skies on their backs.
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There are two refuges I have picked the further one, which was managed by French Alpine Club, and I heard it was better than the other.
I checked-in by about 2 pm. Unsurprisingly enough they didn't have my booking, but that wasn't a problem I got a bed in dormitory and a full board for about 300 dihram. Dormitory is the only option in winter, in summer it might be a better and cheaper idea to pitch a tent.

Here is my simple but nutritious lunch.
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I spend the evening chatting with fellow trekkers, one of whom was a crazy English guy leaving in Austria, who once skied cross-country from Lake D'ifni and approached Toubkal from the other side where there is no trail. He also bivouacked on the ridge. He had his skies and was planning to ski right down the summit...

Day 3
Refuge to Summit and back down to Imlil.
19km-1000m of altitude gain and 2400m of descent. You may a change of route here. I was planning to return to Imlil via a loop crossing Aguelzim pass at 3,560m and staying at Azib Tamsoult. But the guardians at the refuge said that that pass was no longer open due to recent snow, and frankly I was relieved as it looked scary on the map and I had no idea of what was on the other side of the pass.

As we were sitting in the common room and chatting with fellow trekkers from around the world a few expressed surprise when heard that I was on my own. I don't think you really need a guide on Toubkal. Firstly the trail to refuge is like a highway, secondly from refuge to the summit is kind of obvious, and you are starting with about 30 other people who are heading the same way, and there is always a GPS (I use Maps.Me on my mobile-free). I kind of felt some negative vibe from the guides as I was casually blabbing about their jobs being pretty much redundant. No harm was intended.

I woke up to have breakfast at 5am. As forecaster it snowed as hell all night. After breakfast we all cramponed-up and went for the summit.
The snow was knee-deep, but it was dry and powdery snow so didn't cause much trouble and wasn't snowballing my crampons.
15 minutes in I met an american guy with his guide descending, apparently he was struck down by altitude sickness, his sight went dark and he decided do descent. That was quite surprising as we were only at about 3300 or so, but my position always was - don't mess with altitude, it gets bad before it gets terrible, so don't let it get to that.

As you leave the refuge you have to cross a small gully and head straight up. I guess when the snow is off there is a trail, in winter you have to break your own trail every time fresh snow falls. I let a few people ahead for the glorious task of breaking the trail and humbly followed them on. In about an hour I noticed that I was letting more and more people through. Clearly I wasn't in my best shape or maybe just rusty and altitude didn't help either. A half way up a crazy British guy on skies taken me over, oh man that guy was like a machine.

I used layering system for closes. 1 woolly t-shirt, 2-synthetics, 1-soft shell and waterproof windbreaker. It was cold, but luckily for the most of the climb you are shielded from the wind. Couple of times I sat down to break up and took my gloves off, the fingers would freeze in a matter of minutes.

about 3,5 hours later I arrived at this coll which from below looks like a summit.
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You get a brilliant view towards Anti Atlas and Sahara, and it's amazing to see where the desert ends and the snow begins.
The real summit is just over an hour away, here you are looking at it. It is much closer than it looks.

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It'a steep ascent from the call to the summit and there is one point where you traverse along a narrow ledge that could be a bit hairy if it's iced and the trail is not broken. Luckily a lot of people walked before me and shredded the ice with their crampons. You do start feeling the altitude on that stretch, it didn't cause altitude sickness, but you feel yourself getting weaker and slower, having to break every 5 minutes or so.

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From the top it only took me 2 hours to come down. The sun was high, the snow was getting soft and you just slid through the snow, sometimes following somebody else's trail and sometimes just making my own.
In hindsight I should have taken the crampons off. They are no good on soft snow, tent to get clogged up and actually make it far more dangerous since you loose all the grip.
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I summited at 11 and was back down by 1pm.

After grabbing a quick lunch at the refuge I set off for the 11km descent back to Imlil.
It is a very pleasant walk down, the weather was perfect and without uphill struggle you really enjoy the views.
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I managed to get back to Imlil just before 6pm. I gave back my crampons and ice axe two days earlier. Than grabbed an egg sandwich and went to my guesthouse, I was so exhausted that I couldn't even eat.
As if my day wasn't hard enough I decided to take short cut on a way to the guest house and got lost ended up scaling up a hill while burning my last fumes.

Day 4
Imlil - Tizi Mizik - Tizi Oussen Gite - 8,8km. 750 m of altitude gain and loss.

The plan was to get over the Mizik pass and descent to a village in a valley that runs parallel to Imlil valley.
I was tired in the morning so I decided to have a lay in and start to trek at about 10:30. It was going to be a relatively quick and easy day.

There a few trails marked on a map leading to the Mizik pass. They all start at the end of Mizik village which is a village adjacent to Imlil. I picked the one that runs along the stream. In a hindsight it would probably be better to take the pass that traverses the mountain on the right hand-side.
The pass that runs along the stream wasn't as obvious and would appear and disappear on both sides of the stream. In short it made it a difficult task to navigate as I had to keep being on a lookout. Still it's kind of impossible to get lost as you see Tizi Mizik right in front of you.
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One our into a hike I realized that I forgot to bring sunscreen with me. I saw some tourists ahead of me, I thought I would catch up with them once they take a break on the top and ask for some sunscreen for damage control.
It's a very steep climb over a short distance to Tizi Mizik, I believe it took me 3 hours to reach the pass.

Here is the view towards Imlil
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and here towards Tizi Oussen
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I savored the views, had a glass of freshly squeezed Orange Juice sold by entrepreneurial locals and seeded downhill totally forgetting about the sunscreen.
On my way down I was taken over by a group of Dutch trail runners...
In just under an hour I was down in the valley. I was fairly certain that there was a Gite (basic guesthouse) as there was market on the map and also the presence of other tourists looked reassuring.

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Once I was down I could see the other side of Aguelzim pass, and it was clear while crossing it, as in my original plan, was a bad idea, it was steep and covered in heavy snow. Taking into account my limited experience with ice axe it was definetly not a place for "learning by doing".

Upon entering the village I have asked around for a Gite and was quickly approached by a man called Hasan, who was running a Gite on the left handside of the village. If I carried on walking along the main street I would have bumped into a more developed Gite just pass the "hole in a wall" shop. But I guess that Gite gets all the business anyway.

Hasan spoke only French, using my limited extent of the language we have quickly agreed on 200 dihram for bed, dinner and breakfast. After having an obligatory welcome tea I have gone to the other Gite where I have found the Dutch guys to ask for some sunscreen as the skin on my face started to really shrink...

Here is the best I had in Morocco
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Day 5
Tizi Oussen - Aguersional back to Imlil (not via Tizi Mizik), 15,5 km. 600 m of altitude gain and loss.

This was going to be an easy day. The only thing I had to do is to get over a semi-steep pass, descend into Imlil valley and come back to Imlil along the asphalt road.

I have woken up at about 7 am had a quick breakfast, payed my bill and was about to get on my way, when Hasan volunteered to take me to the start of the pass. Sure as hell, and well expected, before saying goodbye Hasan asked me for baksheesh. I thought it was uncalled for, but I decided that it's best to start my day with positive emotions and gave Hasan 20 dihram which made him really happy.
I descended from the village to a dirt track and headed north (towards Marrakesh) about 2,7 km until next village.
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From this village (which also has a Gite) I turned right and started to climb up. The pass might not be as obvious but GPS and friendly locals will point you in the right direction.

At this point the sun rose high and my sun burn reminded about itself. Below is my before and after...
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This was a bullet-proof solution!
I was just thinking how reckless and stupid I was yesterday when I didn't simply cover up my face.

I riched the top of the pass following a quite well walked pass at about 10 am (2 hours after the start).large_20170322_105139.jpg

From there it was all the way down. Very pleasant walk for about an hour until I riched this village. large_20170322_110439.jpg

This is where trail stops and a jeep track starts. I followed the jeep track in scorching heat and with hardly any cover for about 4 km until I riched the
asphalt road. I was gonna stop and grab a drink, but I really wanted to get home (or rather to a pharmacy) so decided to brave another 3 km to Imlil.
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I reached Imlil at 1:30 pm

This day wasn't technically difficult and 9 out of 15 km where on a track/road, but I still felt very tired and I think sun burn played its part. I went to a pharmacy and bought all they had for "before" and "after".

Day 6
Ilil to Oukaimden, 19 km, 1200 meters of vertical altitude gain.

I was quite looking forward to this day as this trek would take me away from Imlil and hopefully show the other side of Toubkal massif.
I left the house at 8:30 and started a steep climb to towards a cafe which I marked as a waypoint located on the motorable road to Tacheddirt.
It was only 3,3 km but involved 440 m of altitude gain. The trail ran across pine forest and crossed asphalt road several times, it got me to the cafe at about 10 am.
This the view looking back at Imlil.
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The cafe was open, I grabbed a coke and sat down to rest and savor the views. I so one couple with a guide who appeared to be on a day trip and another guy roaming the mountains on his own. From the cafe I could see the range I had to cross to get to Oukaimden and it looked a bit intimidating...

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I could have technically descended into the valley in front and ascent to Tamguist as I could clearly see the trail. However, I didn't have this trail on the map, also it seemed mode demanding than my original plan which was to follow asphalt road down to Ouanesekra and than switchback to Tamguist.
Cafe to Ouanesekra stretch is about 5,5 km and descend of 200 meters. I am not a big fan of asphalt roads of course, but I new that the most demanding climb was ahead. Luckily there were only 2 or 3 cars in the whole time. And the views of the other side of Toubkal were amazing!
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I got to Ouanesekra no later than 11:30 and found a small shop. I was going to get myself a drink, but when the owner offered me Tajine I thought it was a good idea to break for lunch since I had enough time. I negotiated for 60 dihram and sat down on a terrace overlooking the village.
The owner told me that it was about 3-4 hours to Oukaimden which matched my expectations, my plan was to be there no later than 5 pm.

It took way over an hour for Tajine to arrive, which I didn't expect, but in hindsight it wasn't a restaurant and the lady of the house must have had to cook it from scratch.
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I payed 90 dihram for the meal including Tajine, Coke and Tea which I didn't ask for, felt like was ripped of somewhere, but probably not by much. It was nice to have some hot food in belly.

From there I had about 1 km to Tamguist on a relatively flat path and than the fun would start. To reach the top of the pass I had to climb 700 vertical meters over 2,8 km, im my books anything which is more than 150m/1km is seriously steep.

On a way to Tamguist I met a local guy waking back from Imlil who was very surprised to hear I was on my own and of course offered me his services as a guide. To which I replied that I have GPS for a guide and added Je ne suis pas un turist, je suis voyageur to make my point!
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The pass is not immediately obvious, but with a few fingers pointed by locals and GPS it's quite easy to find. More over this is the only marked trail in Atlas mountains! At least the only one I found. See this pink marking? Not the obvious choice of color. They probably marked the trail by walking from Oukaimden, you could see it as the markings were all on the same side of the rocks. In fact the only way I could spot any of these markings was by looking back :-). Still beggars can't be choosers.
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The climb itself wasn't as hard as I expected. I guess I must have shaped up over the last 6 days and was moving up the hill like a machine. large_20170323_133744.jpglarge_20170323_141835.jpg

2,5 hours later I have finally reached this pass at 3,000 meters above sea level.large_20170323_151142.jpg

Once I was over the pass I knew it was a job done. Mostly because from there it was all the way down and because there was motorable road leading from the pass down. My guess they are building that road to connect to Tamguist and other villages on that side.

I choose to take a shortcut following this time blue markings!large_20170323_155347.jpg

It took slightly longer than an hour to get to Oukaimden, probably could make it faster if I did follow the road.

A few words about Oukaimden. This place is located at an altitude of 2700 m and is Africa's the highest and most famous ski resort!
When I entered it looked really weird. One hand you could see abandoned ancient villages and shepherds' huts on the other newly build hotels and ski lifts. It was made even weirder by the fact that the season was just over and the place was abandoned. Well at least it will be easy to get a room, right?large_20170324_080957.jpg

There is a French Alpine Club refuge where I was planning to stay the night. To my surprise they told me they were full! Apparently they had a group from British army, Moroccan police and a school group. The hotel next door was closed for the off-season. This is just what I needed after 10 hours on the trail barely dragging my feet.

On the way to CAF refuge I saw a hotel called Chez JUJU that claimed to be open all year round, it looked like it was my only option.
It was open, but there was no one except for some very sleepy workers. It turned out that the cheapest, most basic room there was 900 dihram (€90), and of course cash only.
Before leaving Marrakesh I have withdrawn just enough money for my journey + an extra day. This was the end of my journey and by spending less than I expected I ended up with about 1000 dihram, just enough to pay for the night and get a bus ride back to Marrakesh. Breakfast was 200 dihram extra so that was out of the question.

Somehow I think the boys binned my registration form and split the money as soon as I left.

I don't have a picture of the room, but it was not Hilton I can tell you that much! There were 2 beds one single and one double, and the fun part is that there was no door for the toilet, i mean it had a curtain for door! I would get it if it was a single room, but it was made for 3 people: 1 shitting and 2 listening?

I ate my last nuts and the final Snickers and was off to bed.

Day 7
Oukaimden-Imsker-Asni-Marrakesh. 19 km, 1500 meters of descent.

This was going to be a cake walk. 20 km all the way down...
Of course not having a dinner or breakfast didn't make me any stronger.

I had left at about 8 am, was beautiful day. The only disruption was the British army team, they left just before me and I have caught up with them really quickly.
The plan was to descent down to Imsker, have some lunch and be off to Asni.large_1893983BC15BC463728EC6D7F97533D9.jpg

At first I started steep ascent cutting the corners and crossing a jeep road several times. I was following GPS route, but soon found some markings, this time green and decided to give it a try.
Moving down was definitely much easier, but wasn't hell of a lot faster. Shortly I noticed that the markings were deviating me from the GPS trail, but I wasn't too worried as there wasn't anywhere I could go that would take me totally off track. It was the same valley after all.
I figured out where I had to go as I could see a village on my and worked out that if I get to a field it should connect to a village somehow. and Surely it did, I was down at the first village (halfway between Oukaimden and Imsker) just before the Brits, could see them up on the hill.

It's a much more demanding descent to Imsker that I imagined and definitely was not the cake walk. There are a few steep descents, villages and point where you have to walk along the mountain stream. It's amazing how quickly scenery changes; I left that morning in a freezing cold, and now I was walking under the scorching sun.
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It took me 5 hours to descent 11 km to Imsker. Much slower than 3 hours I though it would take. I lost the British army team at Imsker where they were picked up. They had 3 guides, yes - there were 15 of them but still how come you need more than 1 guide to lead a group? Well I don't wanna take anyone's job away...
Getting a lunch in Imsker clearly wasn't gonna work. As soon as I entered the village all the local kids swarmed around me. I was a local celebrity! I got through Imsker without spotting a shop which meant the lunch was delayed till Marrakesh.

From Imsker to Asni it's about 7,6 km, where first 2,6 are on a trail and the rest is on a proper road. where the trail end the fun ends. I was happy to get make the road though, I just wanted the journey to be complete and I could see Asni stretching below.

Once IO got to the Asno bus stop, which was more like a bus stretch I was swarmed by a bunch of entrepreneurial bums who really wanted to help me to get on a bus. The advantage of departing a destination is that you can act as if you know it. they were delighted at my donation of a walking pole, and kept asking if there was anything else I wanted to trade. That included swapping my waterproof coat, softshell and even fake Oakley shades! I return I was offered a lot of "silver" junk. I did fell like an Indian being cheated by Columbus and his conquistadors back in 16th century.

The real cost for a bus was 15 dihram and 20 for a grand taxi. So I was ripped of by a factor of two which I rated as acceptable. In less than an hour I was in Marrakesh. All the buzz and hustle of the city, it was so different from serendipity of the mountains...large_20170325_115221.jpg

Posted by dima.safr 13:31 Archived in Morocco Tagged snow winter trekking morocco imlil march tagine independent crampons high_atlas jebel_toubkal oukaimden tizi_mizik giti asni tizi_oussem Comments (0)

Atlas Mountains - 6 days independent trekking in Morocco

Video report on concurring Jebel Toubkal - Africa's highest peak in winter and exploring valleys and passes of High Atlas mountains independently.

snow -10 °C

The route: Imlil -Refuge Toubkal- Jebel Toubkal (4186 meters) - Imlil - Tizi Mizik - Tizi Oussem - Imlil (via a loop) - Oukaimden - Asni.

Posted by dima.safr 11:39 Archived in Morocco Tagged mountains snow winter trek imlil gite independent tizi high_atlas jebel_toubkal oukaimden tizi_mizik oussem Comments (0)

Exploring Myanmar by Train

Myanmar Railway: tickets, experience, best routs

Being a big fan of railways and having a rule to travel by rail as much as possible I couldn't wait to come to Myanmar. And I wasn't disappointed.
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The Network
Rail Network in Myanmar is actually more developed that you would expect in a way it's as extensive as in Thailand, nothing comparing to Indian network of course. I guess this is a part of British heritage.
You can reach all the main cities that are visited by tourist and although infrequent and slow trains usually run on daily basis.

The tickets
This is by far my favorite part. You can't book them online (daa). You can't buy them for the following day (Yangon might be an exception). You have to show up at the station about 20 minutes before train departure, skip the main ticket window and just pop your head into the station office. Someone will invite you inside sit you down and write a ticket. You get a special ticket which looks as if it was for West End show, while everyone else gets a scribble on a small piece of cardboard. Foreigners pay in Kyat same prices as locals, first class normally twice cheaper than taking a bus and a second class is next to nothing.
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The Trains
The trains look like they were delivered by Her Majesty's Rail back in royal times and are still running. There are two classes, first and second. Second class is the picture above. Basically flat plastic benches, perfectly fine for a couple of hours. First class - you get individual seats which look more like barber's chairs with armrest and everything. Just like barber's chairs these spin left and right and can recline far back - sound comfortable right? Wrong! They'd be comfortable if any of them worked. 99% chances that all levers are broken, which in best case means the chair is stiff fixed, worst case it has a mind of its own and spins out of control every time when train rocks and those trains rock alright.
We decided to be brave and took a night train in first class from Bago to Mawlamine. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, when double dose of valium has worn off, and seeing everyone in the carriage spinning around as if they were on a carousel.
The night was horrific, but experience priceless!
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Only when you experienced Burmese trains you start to fully appreciate comfort of Indian trains. And this says a lot...
The trains shake big time, you can properly appreciate the extend of rocking when you look through the passage that links two carriages as you see how they rock one against another.
The Accident
We were taking a ride from Pyin U Lwin to Kyaukme when we heard a loud bang like an explosion and the train got engulfed in ashes. After a second we realized that the train just derailed. The ashes were in fact concrete from the rail frame being sliced by wheels.
All the western folks jumped out in fascination while the Burmese hardly blinked an eye. They said not to worry this happens all the time...
And indeed no one including train guys worried. They got out a mega sized wrench which had two levers one to lift and lower and another one to shift it right or left. While two guys were spinning the wrench one was counting so they could spin it from both sides simultaneously. Within an hour we were back on tracks. More in this video.

About an hour before Kyaukme we reached the famous Gokteik Viaduct. As the train has to descent to reach the Viaduct it makes a few switchbacks so you see it from both right and left. The train slows down to about 5 km/h and crosses the Viaduct at a snail place, the views are breathtaking.

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Posted by dima.safr 06:43 Archived in Myanmar Tagged train burma railway backpacking video independent gokteik_viaduct myanmar_railway derailed Comments (1)

Motorbike Trekking in Shan State - Myanmar

2 day Independent village motorbike trek from Kyaukme


More on our Myanmar trip
Most of the village trekking in separatist Shan State of Myanmar is done out of Hsipaw. We heard that a town just before Hsipaw - Kyaukme is a viable and less touristy alternative.

Kyaukme itself is a very lively town on the Mandalay - Lashio trade route from China. There is a buzzing market where you can get all sorts of Burmese street-food and one Beer station that we found by following this instructions from Wikitravel:
(From A yone oo guesthouse turn left, then left again at the end of the street. walk for a few minutes til you go over the canal and the take another left, a few meters along is beer and BBQ!).

We quickly found Northern Rock hotel, which is made up of few large colonial rooms being partitioned into small, cozy and windowless box rooms. We got a double for $12. A charming house and a nice family, but cheep and cheerful rooms. However, since you won't be staying there any longer than a day it's not a big of a deal.

They guesthouse owner said that they can help us with a trek and put us in touch with Jay. Jay is a 20-something chap, who sometimes works as an English school teacher, grows corn to sell to China and doubles up as a cultural trekking guide.
Jay came back at 7ish bringing 2 girls back from a trek, who were very happy with their experience and highly recommended the motor-bike trek! Until this point we never heard of moto-trekking, and were more in favor of using our legs as you do.
There are a couple of options where you can do a fairly short overnight trek along tea growing villages ($20) being dropped off and picked up in the hills, or to take a motorbike a do a much larger loop visiting several villages ($25). The second option sounded more adventures!
Jay asked us about how confident we were on semi-auto motorbikes, by that point none of us had any motorbiking experience and driving it on steep mountain trails sounded like a suicide. For $10 we got drivers who were effectively Jay's students and grew up in highlands riding motorbikes since they were 5.

Next day we all met up, stocked up on water and petrol and hit the road.
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Very quickly we left the road and hit a dusty trail, and when I say trail I actually mean quite literally a cattle trail! Our first point of call was a fairly large village sporting a local school.
Out first point of call was large_IMG_4070.jpglarge_IMG_4073.jpg

All the adults were away away, either in field a working elsewhere until the dry season ends. A guy showed up selling ice lollies from the back of his motorbikes, Jay bought a whole bunch for all the kids, who were needless to say, happy to have their lesson interrupted.
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And as a gratitude they sand us a song. I included it into this short video which should give you an idea of what we encountered on the road.

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And in case you wonder - it's dusty - very dusty!
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After riding for another hour or so we arrived at a small roadside village to grab some Shan noodles for lunch!
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Than we arrived at a more substantial village featuring a pagoda, school and communal hole.
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It's worth to mention here that Shan is a separatist state, there are still occasional skirmishes between Shan army and the government troops. In fact Jay had to adjust our route as there were some reported fighting on one of roads.
People are quite open about supporting independence, in almost every house you will see pictures and calendars featuring Shan army Burmese opposition leader - Aung San Suu Kyi, who at that time was still under house arrest.

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Us having an afternno nap through the sticky March heat.
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Our moto-drivers having a tea break
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We were very happy that we decided to take drivers and didn't try to wing it and learn riding a semi-auto on this mountain trails. Most trails are as narrow as the one below, plus a lot of them pass along steep cliffs and sharp turns.

As we were approaching our overnight stop, one of the motorbikes broke down. large_IMG_4149.jpg
These were unbranded Chinese 125 semi-auto bikes, a brand new one costed only $300 and could be bought in any town. Apparently they were not half bad, to be ridden by two people up and down the hills on nothing more than a hiking trail is a lot of punishment to take. Next time I'm in Myanmar for a month or so I may just buy one for me.
The kids spend about half an hour trying to fix, than Jay took a second Argentinian girl on his bike and we left for the village leaving one of them behind. After dropping us of at the home-stay and introducing to the hosts Jay with one of his students went to his man's rescue.

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The home-stay was very basic but comfortable enough, we had a nice vegy dinner and a couple of Chinese beers for $1. My favorite moment when I told our host that this is beer from China, and he said it wasn't. I was like common it has Chinese written all over it, it's from China to what he responded - no it's from Lasio!

Later on the guys brought back the broken motorbike. Turns out that one of the kids forgot to top up oil and the engine simply burned out. So one more point for the Chinese bile, after all it hasn't simply died on us.

As a way of entertaining themselves and us, Jay and his kids engaged into improvised karaoke performance. It's so popular over there that every self respecting Burmese teenager has a Karaoke up on his smartphone.

Next morning we left one of the kids with a broken motorbike, the plan was for him to push it downhill to the next small town where there is a garage. He told Jay if I haven't called by end of the day please come and find me...

We rented a really shitty, oil leaking bike from one of the local guys. That guy wouldn't rent us his good bike even if it was for a half of a day, instead he gave us the shitty one and asked for $20. Jay said it was a really dick move, as the guy new we were desperate and in Kyaukme you could buy a used bike like that for $50.

We were off to the tea plantations...
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In the next village we visited Jay's family. He sent one of his cousins to drop off the rented bike and got the the other one to take a position of substitute driver with his good bike.
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After that we came down towards rice fields, which gave us a very welcome change to lush green from the gray dusty hills.

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By 5 pm we were dropped of at the highway bus station to catch a bus for Inle Lake.

Great trip, great value for money, the fee we payed included everything we had on the trek (except $1 beer obviously). Jay and his kids are very keen and sincere and I would definitely recommend them.

More on our Myanmar trip

Posted by dima.safr 04:17 Archived in Myanmar Tagged trek tea plantation myanmar backpacking costs independent village_trek motorbike_trekking kyaukme shan_state Comments (3)

3 weeks in Myanmar - Independent backpacking

Sample Itinerary, top highlights, transportation, accommodations, costs

This is my 3 week itinerary around Myanmar. We aimed to fit as many as possible sites which provide for variety of activities, while deliberately avoiding beaches (this because we had plenty of that on Tiaman island.)

Yangon

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Get To
Fly in from KL with Air Asia for next to nothing. A $10 taxi ride from the airport.

Top Highlights

  • Yangon itself - a great place to get a sense of Myanmar. Get accustom to pollution, street food and buzzing nightlife around the pub street.
  • Shwedagon Paya- the biggest and greatest Pagoda complex in Myanmar, a good place to visit at the beginning before you become totally sick and tired of Pagodas. $8. Make sure to cover your legs (man and women) otherwise you will be pressured into buying a Burmese skirt. I got one which made for a nice souvenir, don't see myself wearing it around London though.
  • take a circular ride around Yangon. $1 from central train station (site to behold!).

Where to Stay
Mahabandoola Guesthouse, Cnr of 32nd st and Mahabandoola Rd (directly opposite Sule Pagoda) - $12 double.

Bago

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Get To
Take a train. No need to book, just turn up at the ticket office an hour before, someone will see you take you into the station chief's office and write up a foreigners ticket - first class $1. Foreigners now pay in Kyat and the same fairs as locals.

Top Highlights

  • Reclaining Budhe - believed to be the longest
  • Shwe mawdaw Pagoda (Golden God Temple) - believed to be the highest

Both cost $10 - but actually free after 5pm.

Where to Stay
San Francisco Hotel, No.(14), Main Road, S/Zainganaing Qr - $14-25 double.

Mawlamine

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Get To
Nerve-wrecking night train from Bago. Don't remember the cost, but no more than couple of $.

Top Highlights

  • Pa Auk Taw Ya Monastery - 15km south of town, ask in your hotel about where to pic up a truck.
  • Kyaik Tan Lan Pagoda. Up on the hill, this is great place to see the sunset over town.
  • Rivera for a nice meal after the sun set.

Where to Stay
Breeze Guesthouse - 6. Strand Road $15-20 double

Hpa-an

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Get To
5 hour boat ride - $12, or Bus - $2.

Top Highlights

  • Biking around the cliffs
  • Bat Cave - be there at sunset for an unforgettable show of nature.
  • Shweyinhmyaw Paya - a pilgrimage site, for great views and authentic experience watching locals and pilgrims.

Where to Stay
Soe Brothers Guesthouse, No.(2/146), Thitsar Street - $12.

Golden Rock

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Get To
5 hour bus ride from Hpa-an to Kyaiko - $5, and a 30 min pic up truck to Kinpun where you spend the night.

Top Highlights

  • Golden Rock (surprise)
  • Ride to the Golden Rock (my personal favourite)!

Where to Stay
Once you get of the pic up truck there will be hoteliers offering rooms, they shout out prices so it's quite easy to spot the cheap one. I believe we stayed in a place at the end of the main road (it's a one road town) for $12.

Bagan

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Get To
An overnight Bus from Bagan (10-12 hours) - $15 and a $5-$10 for a taxi to take you from the bus stand on the highway to the ticket gate at Bagan.

Top Highlights

  • 1000 temples of Bagan, quite obvious
  • Sunrise view from the top of a Pagoda
  • E-biking around ancient temples!

Where to Stay
Plenty of places all along the main road. Prices higher than elsewhere in Myanmar. 20 fan double, 25 AC double.

Mandalay

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Get To
A 6 hour bus ride from Bagan - $8 from door to door.

Top Highlights

  • Snake charmer by the main Pagoda!
  • Not many other...

Where to Stay
ET Hotel, 83rd and 23rd/24th Street - $20 for fan double. Pay an extra $5 and get AC - really worth it!

Pyin U Lwin

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Get To
2 hour pic up ride from central Mandalay, ask at your hotel and they will easily explain where to get it, also confirm the price. I believe we paid 1500 Kyat.
Top Highlights

  • Anisakan Falls - make sure to take a dip in the ice freezing water.
  • The night food market - all sorts of stuff!

Where to Stay
Cherry Guesthouse, next to the clock tower on the Lashio Road. $20 for a double

Kyaukme

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Get To
Only the train! Well there is a bus of-course, but you must take a train which takes best part of the day and in the general class costs around $1.

Top Highlights

  • Motorbike village trekking, what a great alternative to reportedly overcrowded Hsipaw.
  • Train over Gokteik Viaduct - I'll have a separate post on this point!

Where to Stay
Not a lot of choice. Northern Rock, Shwe Phi Oo Road - $12 per double.

Inle Lake

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Get To
12 hour excruciating bus ride from Kyaukme - $15, the bus leaves from a station on the Lashio highway, your hotel will arrange a ticket and call a tuk tuk to take you there. You will need to take a tuk tuk from main road to the town - $1.

Top Highlights

  • Boat ride on the lake. Make sure to include further side of the lake where monastery is.
  • A bike ride around the lake to hot springs!
  • Trek to Kawar (we haven't actually done it)

Where to Stay
Diamonds star guesthouse, Yone Gyi Road, a short walk from the pier - $15 for a double.

Kalaw

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Get To
3 hour painfully slow train from Inle or a 1 hour bus.

Top Highlights

  • Circular village trek - can do on your own with a GPS map
  • 3 day Kalaw - Inle trek

Where to Stay
Pine Land Inn - main road, $12 for a double

After researching the web and reading a lot about high accommodation costs and inflated attraction fees we have set ourselves budget of $70 per couple per day. In fact $50 was more that sufficient.
ATMs- plenty
USD - if binning cash, make sure it's brand new - literally brand new!
Language - English is widely spoken
Internet - widely available, cheap and slow

Posted by dima.safr 11:05 Archived in Myanmar Tagged accommodation hotel bus train bagan mandalay golden_rock pagoda transport inle_lake yangon backpacking viaduct kalaw independent bago bat_cave myanmar_rail motorbike_trek e-bike Comments (0)

Jaipur Monkey Temple

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Jaipur is't my favorite city in India by a mile. I love busy, buzzing with life cities of Rajastan, but there is something about Jaipur that just didn't sit well with me. It isn't as authentic as Jodahpur and not even ounce as hectic as Delhi. Although this is only one traveler's opinion.

There is one place, however, that sunk in my mind - the monkey temple! A place which sadly often bypassed by travelers who are too busy visiting Palace of Winds and Amber Fort.
How to get to, the easiest thing is to negotiate hard and get a taxi to a Galta Gate, or if you already in down town you could probably walk it in a 30-40min. Here is the map-

The reason you go to the Monkey Temple is - the monkeys! But not only, as soon as you cross the gate you see a perfect family of monkeys. cows, goats and pigs all fiddling with each other. All of them are clearly very well looked after, we bought a bunch of bananas to feed, but really struggled to stick them to anyone.
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This picture is of Dovile trying to feed banana to a monkey. What you don't see is the monkey taking the banana reluctantly and than tossing it away.
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A minute later we saw an Indian couple coming with a stuck of chapati! Now it all made sense- these were Chapati Monkeys!

Once we were done with enjoying the monkey show, we left for the actual temple. The temple is a 20 min hike away. Funny enough you don't see as many monkeys over there...
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The temple itself is actually very peaceful. You get a little bit of hustle for donations, but not more than any other temple and there are enough of donation boxes where you can deposit if you feel being a bit apprehensive about giving money to fake priests, which there are plenty in India.

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All in all a very good a half-day out doing something other than Palace-hoping in Jaipur.
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Posted by dima.safr 08:51 Archived in India Tagged monkeys temple rajastan monkey_temple hanuman_temple galta_gate Comments (0)

Desert safari in Rajastan

Independent desert safari out of Jaisalmer on a backpacker's budget

You can't spend a month in Rajastan without going for a safari.
We tried to research for it to get an idea of the cost and what to expect. But all that internet and Lonely Planet told us that it's a bit hit and miss and you should just come to Jaisalmer and go and see few travel agent.

I had a 5 year old LP where there was a good review of a place called Badal House, in a village of Khuri, 40 minutes out of Jaisalmer. A 5 year old LP said Mr. Badal Singh was charging 500 rs for a full board home-stay and organised safaris for another 500 rs per person per day, so we decided to give it a go.

We arrived Jaisalmer at 6am on an overnight train from Jodahpur and went to the road towards Khuri where we were supposed to catch a Bus. LP and Wikitravel were stating that you can catch a bus from the first cross road on road rd '15', where there is a large Banyan tree and a small shrine. We easily found the place, but after asking some locals who were hanging out on the streets at 6 am, and most of whom speak hardly any English, we realized it wasn't the right place. Bus departs from a small Bus stand further down that same road, you have to walk for about 10-15 minutes until you see a bunch of buses and jeeps parked. We had to wait for till 8 am for the first bus to depart and it took us under an hour to get the place. Tickets - 30-40 rs.

You can't miss that place it's right in the middle of the village and anyone can point you towards Badal House.
Here is the man himself -
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To our surprise we found out that none of the prices has changed in the last five years. Mr. Badal was providing a little sanctuary of home-stay where you live in mud huts from the smurf kingdom. The food is great, the family is very kind and you really feel like you staying at someone's home. He used to work as camel driver for decades, than when he got too old for that he put a sign on his house and waited for people to come.
He is a very modest man who has never been to Delhi, doesn't like Jaisalmer because it's too busy and is absolutely in love with desert.

Totally of point, but Also make sure that you spend at least one night on the roof under the desert stars!
We decided to take it easy and use this opportunity to have some rest from buzzing cities of Rajastan.

There isn't really much to do in Khuri, it's literally just a gateway into the desert. We strolled around to take pic at the quiet and somewhat primitive desert life.
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We decided to go for a 2 night desert safari, frankly it's hard to handle more than that on a camel.
We left in a late afternoon each accompanied by a camel driver. I don't think we were riding for longer than an hour, but we managed to cross a couple of dunes to find a remote and lonely spot for ourselves.
Our drivers managed to collect some firewood and cook us an intricate desert dinner, we in turn shared some whiskey. Sun set and an hour later we were of to sleep under the stars.
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The next day we got up for a sun set, had some breakfast and set off deeper into the desert. This is where we actually experienced what it's like to ride a camel and I mean galloping across dunes and desert bushes. The ride starts really cool and 15 minutes later you pray for it to stop...

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An hour and a half later we arrived at this little settlement in the middle of nowhere, where we were greeted by our camel driver's family.
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The re isn't whole lot to do during the day so we wondered about around the village, explored the dunes and after having a basic but very tasty desert lunch we set off back into dunes for another night under the stars.
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Next morning we got back home just before afternoon, leaving enough time to get a clean shave.
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I would recommend Badal's place for: great value for money, great relaxed atmosphere, 0 pushiness, open and honest service.

Posted by dima.safr 08:20 Archived in India Tagged desert india safari budget cheap camel rajastan cost badal_house Comments (0)

Ping Pong show in Bangkok

How to see a ping pong show in Bangkok and stay safe

Prologue...

There is no one who has been to Thailand and never heard of Ping Pong shows. When I visited Bangkok for the first time back in 2010 I agreed with one of my fellow travelers that we must go to see a Ping Pong show when we return to Bangkok. Unfortunately James got stuck in Cambodia and I decided that it would be supper creepy to go and see one on my own. Hence I had to leave Thailand without ticking this one of my bucket list.

5 years later fate brought me back to the Bangkok, this time accompanied by my girlfriend. This time it had to happen!

There are herds of tuk tuk drivers hawking around Khao San road making "pouch"-like sound and saying "you want see ping pong?" and sticking a menu like that right in your face.
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needless to say going anywhere with those scammers is a sure way to get ripped off and find yourself in the whole heap of trouble.

I have tried googling around on "how to see a ping pong show in Bangkok" and came up with a whole lot of reports on "how to NOT to see a ping pong show in Bangkok".
Apparently it's a massive scam, where you are likely to be overcharged for everything including the air you breathe, locked in in a basement and ruffed up by a bunch of naked women while being threatened with Thai mafia. The common trick is to lure you in promising something like 200 bath for show, and than tell you that that was only to see one show, but there were several girls on the stage and each of them did several performances and your bill comes to 8000 bath.

I also read about one story which made to fall of my chair and almost pee myself while being seriously concerned. It was about a guy who was shot in his eye by a ping pong ball. The eye got infected and had to be removed. I wonder how does he respond when asked "mate how did you loose your eye?" "I was attacked by a rancid pussy...".

Basically our internet research showed that there is hardly any decent ping pong shows left in Thailand, and most of them are confined to Pattaya...

Field research

We decided to not despair and go and try our luck in world renown Soi Cowboy.
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Soi Cowboy looks much more civilized than we would expect. The street is fenced off from both sides and there are heavy cops guarding entries. Inside the alley there is hardly any hustle, a lot of offers and price lists are on display. Actually we found it to be a way more relaxed place to grab a drink than most of Khao San. We got a couple of drinks and took a seat outside to people-watch. I'm not judgmental, but this was a real delight, some of the guys you see there look as if the came out straight from "To catch a predator", hugging two adolescent girls and heaving the biggest, dirtiest smile ever. I'm gonna get it tonight, fuck yeah! Ok, I am judgmental.
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When we ensured that there were no ping pong championships going on at Soi Cowboy, we decided to go for a walk and pop into Nana Plaza. I red that there was a place called Angel Witch which had sex shows including ping pong.
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Nana Plaza is way creepier place than Soi Cowboy. Essentially it looked like a sex ghetto, with a bunch of working girls lining up outside as if they were waiting for a bus which will never arrive.

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To be fair Angel Witch is actually a nice place, very professional they give you a bill with your drink, a beer is 150 bath, no hustle and the show is actually very artistic and nice to watch. Recommended, but no ping pong.
Well that was it, the next morning we were going to Chiang Mai and the ping pong show was gonna elude me once again...

Not so fast!!!
We got back from Chiang Mai a day earlier, this was a sign from above! Now or never! We had to go to the dirtiest, sleaziest and dodgiest part of Bangkok - Patpong.
Being aware of all the possible scams that were waiting for us we decided not to take any chances. I left a the hotel my walet, all the cards, mobile phone and my watch, taking only 1000 bath which I was prepared to loose.
Patpong is nothing like Soi Cowboy or Nana. It's a cross between a Brick Lane market and Soho with a bunch of Pimps eager to take you to the Ping Pong show.
Patpong is made up of two street Patpong 1 and Patpong 2. We circled around and peaked in windows until right at the middle of Patpong 2 we haven't settled on this one.
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In Case you wonder the place is not really called "Super ussy", the "P" is out.

There was a girl at the door who explained that all is included, we only had to pay to her and that is it. 300 bath would get you an entry card which includes one drink and the show. We payed up and went up. First we missed the show room and went up to the second floor which looked supper creepy, but we were turned away by one of the Bangkok's finest pimps.

The Ping Pong Show

Am I actually going to write about a ping pong show? About time init?

We took a sit at a corner by the door (so we could do a runner if anything), but we were quickly moved to the front row VIP seats. At this point we realized that we were the only-ones there.
There were 3 girls who were quickly swapping one another.
I'm not going to describe all the tricks as you probably already know what they are and my description won't make them any justice. The only thing I'm going to say - I didn't find the show sexual in any way it was more like watching a circus performance. I didn't found it degrading ether, this probably follows from the previous point.
After completing all the tricks from that menu in the beginning of the post the girl proceed towards the highlight - Ping Pong.
Some things you just cant unsee...
Suddenly we were given ping pong rackets. This was the moment when alarm bells rang in my head - "The LOST EYE"!!! I put my sunglasses on and went into a defense mod! I'm goint to stand my ground and not surrender any of my eyes to a rotten pussy!
She was loading two balls at once and launching them right at our heads. There is only one thing I can say - What a shot, what a precision! Respect!
We managed to fend of all the balls and NO Eyes Were Lost during this experiment!
While leaving a gave a girl a tip as I though that was expected and see was genuinely surprised.
All in all it was a good experience and a good thing to tick of your list, it ended safe and without having to put a fight with fierce Bangkok mafia!

Hopefully this post will help someone on their next trip to Siam.

Posted by dima.safr 09:00 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok patpong ping_pong_show super_pussy sex_show Comments (0)

Pebbly Beach

kangaroo on a beach

There are many reasons to visit Australia, and one of them without a doubt is to see kangaroo on a beach. Well where else?

After spending a couple of days roaming around the most boring city in the world ( - and the award goes to... drum roll - Canberra) we jumped on a bus to Batemans Bay to spend a few days camping on Pebbly Beach. Like just about any place in Australia it's not easy to get to unless you have a car. Firstly we were planning to hitchhike, however, we had to stock up on food and pic up a goon bag and trying to hitch a ride while carrying your grocery shopping is to say the list awkward. So we settled for hiring a taxi which only cost us 20 AUD for a 20 km ride.
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Pebbly Beach is located within Murramarang National Park, however, there are no permits or any restrictions applied. As I understand you can't wild camp, but that is about it.
You have to pay camping fee of 10 AUD per person per night. For that you get a generous patch for your tent, normally complete with a bench and a barbecue set, clean toilet and shower, use of gas barbecue, and even firewood nicely delivered from a local lumber-mill.
To me camping infrastructure in Australia is beyond amazing. Being Ukrainian imagining anything that well developed and that well maintained without costing you the world is next to impossible. Back in the old country we tend to leave scorched earth everywhere where we camp, in the best case scenario the garbage is burned or buried. Well, kudos to ozzies!

Check this out, these guys are not shy...
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In addition to the kangaroos there is also an ample population of comodo dragons and possums. Possums freaked us out more than once. On one occasion we woke up in the middle of the night because it sounded like someone was having a party next to our tent. Then we saw a possum munching away our carrots while holding them with his human-like hands. He did look very human.
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It's an amazing place where kangaroos feel like sheep in Wales. They are very friendly and will surely come and sneak around your tent. Although they are still wild animals and I wouldn't risk petting them, same stands for comodo dragons.
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The beach itself is OK but nothing to write home about. Just like most of the places in South Australia a lot depends on the wind, waves and currents can get very violent.
That's me running for my life.
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To break up our day we decided to go for a 2 hour hike towards Clear point and than to a mini-cape a couple of miles further on. There is a map of local hikes at Pebbly so you could plan a few short ones for the time of day when it's ether too hot or too windy to laze on the beach.
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It was nice 3 days and a good opportunity to experience Australian wilderness while still have usual amenities of civilization. We managed to hitch a ride back to Batemans Bay with an English expat. The guy was a keen bushwalker (that's a hiker in English) and only saw a snake twice over the past 20 years. That really put our minds at ease for the next chapter - Blue Mountains

Posted by dima.safr 10:42 Archived in Australia Tagged australia new_south_wales camping kangaroo komodo pebbly_beach Comments (0)

3 days in Delhi

Why I love this city

Prologue

Delhi was the place of my first encounter with India back in 2008. I remember experiencing a culture shock while taking a taxi from the airport to a hotel. The noise, the smell, the traffic - the Incredible India. Right at that moment I said to myself that I will go back to this amazing country.
Having said that, I'm probably the only person who actually rates Delhi as his favorite city in India if not in the world.
This post is about what you can do in Delhi besides waiting for your next train and not go crazy from the hustle of one of the world's largest mega-cities.
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Day 1

The chances are you are staying either at Karol Bagh or Main Bazar Road right at the heart of the old town and across a rail track from the full-on madness of Old Delhi.

Hence, a good idea for your first day is to familiarize yourself with the area, and absorb Delhi atmosphere. Both Karol Bagh and Main Bazar Rd are actually quite stress free, even the shops and markets tend to have fixed prices. This is because there are so many backpackers, who all developed sick skin and are naturally quite opposed to all forms of hassle at the area where they stay. Well there are plenty of other places to be hassled...

Once you are ready cross the train tracks at New Daily station and go over to the heart of Old Delhi. This is a totally different scene. Prepare to be attacked from all sides. There will be overly keen rickshaws who will be eager to give you an hour long cycle tour, show you spice bazar, etc for 20 rs each! Bargain!
This is of course is a scam you will end up being taken from stall to stall where you will be hard pressed to buy all sort of useless crap. Having said that, if you have the time, know what is happening and have sick skin, then it can be well entertaining and you are guaranteed to finish a day with a story to tell.

Right in the center of the Old Delhi there is Jama Masjid, pretty much everyone can point in you in the right direction and you are still guaranteed to get lost several times.
Jama Masjid is one of the greatest mosques and is claimed to be the second largest by capacity (after the one in Mecca).
Well it is great, there is no doubt about it. At entry to a mosque free, they need to make their money somehow, so they apply a 250 rs camera charge which of course includes mobile phones. You can of-course argue that all the Indians go in with their phones and no one seems to pay, but really save your breath pay 250 rs for one camera/phone among however many of you and enjoy the place.

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I highly recommend climbing a minaret right to the top for spectacular views over the old town. 100 rs.

The second stop is Red Fort.
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This is a place you go to if you are eager for local's to come and ask you to take pictures with them, over and over and over and over.....
The fort itself looks better from outside than inside (IMHO). If you decide to go in wait till the evening and go for a night lights show. 250 rs.

By this point you are probably well tired and hopefully somewhat acclimatized to the Delhi atmosphere.

Day 2

For a sake of contrast this is a good day to dedicate to New Delhi as in new side of Delhi.
Since this is where you will have to take Rickshaws it's worth to talk about coupon system.
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To be fair this doesn't happen now as much as 10 years ago when coupons were Delhi's leitmotif. Rickshaws will be eager to take you anywhere for as little as 20 rs, the catch is that they will also take you to several shops on the way. The way the system works is when a driver brings a client to a shop that get a coupon which entitles them to something from the shop. This is regardless of whether you buy anything or not. The main problem is that they try to lure you in the whole coupon thing, you feel being out of control and don't know what comes next and when the whole experience is going to end. In some cases drivers are quite upfront about coupons and it's a part of negotiations when you can agree for a ride for X price + 2 coupons for example.

To start with you can take a metro ride or walk to Connaught Place or CP. CP is a large roundabout that features modrn restaurants and shops, it's not much in itself but provides a bit of a breather from the suffocation of old town.

From CP it's quite easy walk to the India Gate. Check out the wasp nests right under the roof!
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From here it's about a one mile walk to the presidential Palace down the Rajpath. This part can be more fun than it sounds... mostly thanks to over entrepreneurial rickshaw drivers. They will see you as an easy prey with literally nowhere to run (as you have a 20 min walk in-front of you) and offer you a tour... After you told them a 1000 times that you know what you are doing and don't need any help, they are likely to offer to give you a quick lift to presidential palace for like 10 rs, well why not? it's a hot day after all... Well... once you are in the auto the whole tour sales pitch starts again... hang on - I told you "no thanks" you told me "understood no problem", why are we having this conversation again????
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You can't actually enter the palace, but like most of the things in India they look better from outside than inside...
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The next place to visit is Ghandi Smriti, a memorial house where Ghandi was assassinated. It's an easy 20 min walk, and if you managed to find it on a map than my advise would be to walk it. Otherwise it's a no more than 50 rs metered ride, with only problem than no one will want to use a meter will quote you 200 rs and will ultimately try to sell you a day tour.

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Ghandi Smiriti is a very calm a peaceful place, there is a nice park and a lot of information about Ghandi's life and death. You should spend some time going through the house and reading up on the Indian's transition to independence. It's amazing to see Ghandi's room, how basic it was. The guy had a billion people nation behind him and he still kept to his basics and didn't become corrupt by power and money that come with the job.
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Day 3

Humayun's Tomb - a massive complex which is a burial place of several monarchs across multiple generations. While not being made of brilliant white marble it's a more important historical site and a much grander structure than Taj Mahal.

You can get there by taking a Metro to JLN Stadium and doing a short walk. This is best done in the morning as this is a popular site for Indians and tourists alike. You will need at least 2-3 hours to fully explore the grounds.

Than take a metro Qutub Minar. Actually you should take metro in Delhi just for a sake of it. And check out this list of Dont's...
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My favorite is obviously - riding on the top of the train.

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This is an impressive site, but like everywhere else tends to get very busy with locals who all are too eager to take a picture with you. So just be ready for it.

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Once you done in Qutub Minar you can go to Lotus Temple which is located also in South Delhi. Negotiate with a rickshaw for about 150 rs, it's a long ride along a motorway which makes it a bit scary.

Lotus Temple or Bahá'í House of Worship is a unique place.
From Wikipedia
he Lotus Temple is open to all, regardless of religion, or any other distinction, as emphasised in Bahá'í texts. The Bahá'í laws emphasise that the spirit of the House of Worship be that it is a gathering place where people of all religions may worship God without denominational restrictions.[6] The Bahá'í laws also stipulate that not only the holy scriptures of the Bahá'í Faith but also those of other religions can be read and/or chanted inside the House of Worship regardless of language; while readings and prayers can be set to music by choirs, no musical instruments can be played inside. Furthermore, no sermons can be delivered, and there can be no ritualistic ceremonies practised.
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When you arrive prepare to be shocked by a queue which stretches around half a mile and that's outside the gates. Don't be alarmed the queue moves very quickly, we arrived at the end of the day and thought we wouldn't make it but were inside in 30 min.

Inside setting is very plane, most people come in just to look at the temple, a few stay for a while to meditate. All in all I think it's a beautiful structure from outside and a place worthwhile to visit inside.
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The easiest way to go back is to catch a metro from Orkla station.

Posted by dima.safr 05:49 Archived in India Tagged india delhi india_gate rickshaw red_fort qutub_minar lotus_temple bazar jamu_masjid site-seeing ghandi_smiriti humayun's_tomb Comments (0)

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